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 will 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 Corrigan worked as a logging man during this time – eventually running his own camps and owning his own logging 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. He wrote a book about what it was like back in the day, and the evolution of the logging industry “from horses to tractors and from crosscuts to chain saws.”
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 little 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 could hear Dad working outside and it made me smile, thinking of the three of us together at that moment, and the spirit of the great north woods that surrounded us.
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 maple timber. And that maple wood can still be found in banjos that bear the Bad River name.