Air Quality:

Sawlog War

In the spring of 1851 occurred the famous saw log war. At that time it was a common practice for the early settlers, engaged in the logging business, to cut timber from Uncle Sam’s vast domain without permission. This however was before the lands had been surveyed in this region. There was a large section covered with tall and graceful pines along the upper waters of the Baraboo River. It was here that the logging operations started.


Among those who cut and rafted logs from this region were George and Edward Willard of Baraboo. The building of a dam at Reedsburg seriously interfered with the successful pursuit of rafting. Reed conceived the idea that if he could prevent the moving of these logs, it might serve him two-fold. First, it would prevent the destruction of his dam and secondly, it would be the natural order of things, that the large number of logs then lying in the river, could be purchased at a very low price.


When the Willard’s insisted upon the right to pass the logs over the dam, Mr. Reed, backed by a number of citizens of Reedsburg, positively refused them the privilege. They returned to Baraboo with the avowed intention of mustering a sufficient number of their friends to help them cut the dam and pass the logs over. In the meantime, Mr. Reed dispatched a messenger to Madison for the United States Marshal, whom, as he supposed, would seize the logs cut from government lands. He was disappointed, however, for when the marshal appeared, he ordered the dam cut away and the logs released. The Reedsburg people looked upon this action as a step beyond the province of the marshal and they immediately arrested him.


The affair caused considerable excitement in both villages. However, under the diplomatic supervision and advice of Reedsburg’s first lawyer, Mr. E.G. Wheeler convinced them that it would be the height of folly to attempt resistance to United States authority. It is worthy of record that there was no recourse to violence, and although the cutting of the dam was a vital blow to then leading interest in Reedsburg the citizens bore their misfortune with true pioneer fortitude.

Excerpted from the book,
Reedsburg Remembers 100th Anniversary (1948)