The Bad River name comes from a region of northern Wisconsin that played a significant role in my family history. If you look for it today, you’ll likely find it associated with a Native American settlement and reservation.
The Ojibwe indians, also known as the Lake Superior Chippewa or Bad River Band, migrated to the area during the seventeenth century. They were the first to give the river its name Mashkiziibi — or Swampy River — which French explorers translated as “Bad” River.
But during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the area became known more for its rapidly growing timber industry. Sawmills and lumber camps dotted the land, and waterways like Bad River became the backbone of numerous logging operations.
My grandfather George (1896-1981) worked as a logging man during this time — eventually running his own camps and owning his own timber company.
He saw firsthand the devastating impact that logging had on the land. In later years, George became one of the timber industry’s first conservationists, leading efforts to replace the trees that axes and saws had taken away.
My dad grew up working for his father George in the woods and on the family farm. He has told me many stories of what that life was like. When I was just a kid, Dad would take me along to trim branches with him in the Corrigan pines. And in recent years he showed me a path through the woods — hidden to most — that leads to a large stand of Maple that is still in the family name.
A few years back, Dad and I were salvaging the modest building that grandpa George used to call his office. Back in the day, this shack was moved on skids to wherever George was working at the time (mostly in the woods). But more recently, it has settled in across the drive from our family’s summer cabin.
Over one of the long Wisconsin winters, the old chimney had given out, and nature was having her way with the rooms inside. As Dad worked to patch up the walls and ceiling, I cleaned up what was left of the office. I came across some personal stationery in George’s old desk that bore his signature and the mark of the Bad River Timber Company. I had always been drawn to that name, and it seemed like a perfect way to honor the past.
My dad still uses the Bad River name for the timber property he owns — land that had once been part of my grandfather’s logging operations. Part of that land still yields high quality Maple timber. And that Maple wood can still be found in banjos that bear the Bad River name.
George Corrigan wrote his own first-hand account of the logging industry of northern Wisconsin in the early/mid 20th century, and had it published toward the end of his life in 1976. It’s a wonderful, meandering personal history of his life, the people he encountered and the livelihood he pursued. Pictured here is my own personal copy — a rare, signed first edition of Calked Boots and Cant Hooks.
When we were all kids, George used to take us on long walks in the deep woods. Along the way, he always had time to sit for a sandwich and tell a story. He always planned his hikes with the best spots in mind to stop; places he had known from decades of traveling by foot through the woods. One of these was a location he discovered on his own as a young man. And in the years since, countless visitors, hikers and locals have enjoyed its breathtaking views. For as long as I can remember, it’s been known as Corrigan’s Lookout.
It’s just a short hike from HWY 122 in Iron County, WI between the small towns of Saxon and Upson. Our family cabin (the one George built on the shore of Weber Lake) is located just a few miles away. On summer vacations, we always reserved time to make the trek on foot. And in keeping with George’s tradition, we always packed a lunch.
Here’s more information about Corrigan’s Lookout, along with a recent traveler’s photo essay of the experience. And if you’re interested in reading George’s book, a few used copies are still available.
Corrigan Street, in nearby Iron Belt Wisconsin, was named after George Corrigan. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Society of American Foresters in 1990.