Town History

Town of Wolf River – The early years

Winnebago County was, before the advent of the whites, occupied by bands of Indians belonging to various tribes. There were many who lived in the Town of Wolf River, near the mouth of Alder Creek and to the northwest of wherever there was a spring that provided water all year around. Many also lived in the Boom Bay area as indicated by relics found there. They lived in wigwams, fishing and hunting for food, such as deer, wolves, muskrats, and various other animals. The only animal the Indians would not eat was the mink. The Indian women would gather wild rice that grew along the riverbanks, lakeshores and the backwater sloughs. Three women would occupy one boat. One did the paddling, kneeling in the middle of the canoe; the one in front was usually right-handed; she would bend the rice heads over the port (left) side, striking the heads with a club to knock the grain into the boat bottom. The other one near the rear of the canoe too the other side and was usually left-handed for convenience. In this way, large quantities of rice were harvested for the long, hard winter. Each spring, they made maple syrup and maple sugar using mostly the sap of soft maples, which were located more abundantly. They used their ponies to rid and carry loads, but they never hitched them to a wagon. Stories are told of how they would wade these ponies across Lake Poygan, swimming them whenever it became too deep. At this time, Lake Poygan was little more than a widening of the Wolf River, where the marshes and wild rice beds extended for hundreds of yards in the shallow water from the shore.

The American Indians called the River "Mohosipi," meaning Wolf River. Wolf River was aptly named as wolves and bears were very numerous. Today, the name of Wolf River means two different things – the Town and the River.

In 1836, the Menominee Indians ceded all their lands between the Wolf and Fox rivers to the United States Government. Payment was made every October, in 20 annual installments on the grounds in the township of Poygan. All their remaining lands were ceded in 1848 and they were offered a reservation in Minnesota, which they refused. In 1852, they moved up the Wolf River where in 1854, they were granted 8 townships, the present Keshena Reservation.

It was in 1836 that the Territory of Wisconsin was separated from the Michigan Territory. The white population was increasing rapidly. Incoming immigrants and the Easterners entered the Territory in great numbers. There was tremendous pressure upon the state and federal authorities to make these Indian lands available for settlement. All over the country, Indian lands were being taken up. The state and federal governments recognized the Indians’ claim of ownership and felt honorably bound to respect their rights. They were forced, however, to yield to the overwhelming demand for the Indian lands. This meant that the Indian land had to be purchased and the Indians moved off.

A conference between government agents and the Indians was called to negociate for the sale and purchase of this vast territory. It was held on the banks of the Fox River near the city of Kimberly. The Treaty of Cedars was concluded on the Fox River on September 3, 1836. Under the treaty, the Menominee Indian Nation ceded to the U.S. about 4,000,000 acres of land for $700,000.00 (about .17 an acre). This area now contains the cities of Marinette, Oconto, Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Oshkosh, Wausau, Wisconsin Rapids, Stevens Point, and many others. The six-day meeting ended in a spirit of mutual respect and fairness. Governor Dodge said "I view it as a matter of first importance to do the Indians ample justice in all our treaty stipulations." And the Menominee Chief Oshkosh later affirmed "We always thought much of Governor Dodge as an honest man." The treaty was proclaimed February 15, 1837, and the Indians began moving to their new homes west of the Wolf River. As a results of this treaty, the Menominee moved to and settled in the Town of Poygan, on the south shore of lake Poygan and their teepees spread out about 6 miles along the shore in the Towns of Poygan and Winneconne.

When the Treaty of Cedars was signed, it was believed that the demand of the settlers for land would be satisfied for the next 20 years. However, in less than 10 years, the demand for new land became so strong and the pressure so great that the Government felt compelled to yield to that pressure and set about coming up with a new treaty to move the Indians off the land as soon as possible. The Indians resisted for many days, but eventually were told if they did not sign, they would be forcibly ejected. On October 18, 1848, the Treaty of Poygan was signed. Chief Oshkosh said "I signed it without my consent. I was compelled to sign." This treaty made the land on the west side of the Wolf River available to settlers in 1850. However, the Indians refused to move and stayed for another 2 years. On a bitter, cold day, November 2, 1852, the 2002 Menominee Indians with all their household goods and all of their capital lares and penates set out in birch bark canoes northward to a point 9 miles north of what is currently Shawano, to an area between the Wolf and Oconto rivers, where "no white man wants to go anyway." In 1854, the Federal Government took action that permitted the Menominees to retain as a permanent reservation the land they temporarily occupied and the Wisconsin Legislature adopted a resolution consenting to the action. This became the Menominee Indian Reservation, with contains 10 townships of timberland. 

In 1849, Mr. Andrew Merton became the first white settler. He stated that for several years, his neighbors were almost entirely Indians and that he never found a more honest or quiet people. By 1850, settlers were moving into the area fair numbers. In 1859, the first public school house was erected near where the current Triangle Farms Campgrounds is located. A few years later, another school was built on the west side of the River, which became known as the Bohren School, which was located about a half mile west of Orihula. In 1875, the population of the town had grown to 879. By 1879, there were 8 schools educating 393 children between the ages of 4 and 20 years. Around 1908, the population of the Town of Wolf River was 902. The stock of the town was listed at 504 horses, 2,600 cattle, 1,600 hogs, and 1,000 sheep. There were 2,500 milk cows, which produced 28,000 pounds of butter and 8,500 fowl, which produced 28,000 dozen eggs. The sales of the products produced by the 7 local cheese factories were approximately $51,000.00. 

January 4, 1855, by order of the County Board of Supervisors, all that part of Town 20, Range 14, lying west of the Wolf River and that lying east of the Wolf River and west of the cut-off, and west of the section line, between Sections 22 and 23, was set off from the Town of Winneconne and Winchester and organized as a separate town to be called Orihula. 

March 26, 1861 was the first mention of a meeting of the Board of the Town of Wolf River being held. Before this, it was referred to as the Town of Orihula. 

The Town of Wolf River has grown greatly since those early days. Operating farms have diminished and permanent homes are replacing weekend cottages and hunting shacks along the River, lake, and channels. Parcels of farmland are being sold to erect new homes in the country. The population of the town in 2004 was estimated to be 1260. 

In 2005, the Town of Wolf River celebrated its Sesquicentennial and published a book about its extensive history, the families that settled here, schools, churches, cemeteries, and business from those early years up until now. The above information is but a small excerpt from the book entitled, the Town of Wolf River, A River Flows Through, and is available for purchase at the Town Hall for $25 per copy. Thanks to the members of the Sesquicentennial Committee for all their hard work and devotion to putting this book together. Winchester Area Historical Society’s John J. and Ethel Keller Local History Center and Library The Winchester Area Historical Society has a library that is open to the public. It is located in the heart of Winchester at 5186 County Road II. The society serves the towns of Clayton, Vinland, Winchester and Wolf River. The WAHS library has been collecting local history material, church and cemetery records, school information, plat books, and town histories, in addition the library has a collection of children’s materials, a vast U.S. history section, and popular adult fiction for check out. The library has been actively creating a collection of Wisconsin related books including fiction books by Wisconsin authors and nonfiction books covering different aspects of Wisconsin including history, gardening, cooking and travel. The library specializes in genealogy materials for people interested in tracing their family’s heritage. The library is open Tuesdays 10 a.m. to 12 noon and Thursdays 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. You can call (920) 836-9513 to set up a special appointment if these times don’t work for you.