Forest County connections to the Great Peshtigo Fire

Today, October 8, 2021, marks the 150th anniversary of the most devastating forest fire in American history, the Peshtigo Fire.

According to the Wisconsin Historical Society at least 1,300 people died in the Peshtigo fire that left 7,500 people homeless. Many people were not aware of the catastrophic nature of the fire due to the great Chicago Fire that made headlines the same day.

150 years ago the land that we now call Forest County was in the same political jurisdiction, Oconto County as the ill-fated Town of Peshtigo. It was not until 1880 that the large county of Oconto was re-mapped and various counties were created.

Wisconsin counties in 1871. Source: Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. Newberry Library.
Date accessed: October 8, 2021]

Forest county archives begin upon the creation of our County in 1885, fourteen years after the fire but numerous mentions of the fire highlight the impact the fire had on the lumber industry, the fear of wild fire and the collective memory of those alive during that time-period.

One of the most interesting stories to note is the recognition that Peshtigo Fire survivors Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Deau moved from Peshtigo to Laona in 1901 and are buried in the Laona Cemetery.

Alexander and Mary Deau were both teenagers when the fire occurred in 1871. According to details published on the Family History website Find-a-grave, Alex Deau recalled that during the fire his father lowered his children “into a well with only a small amount [of] water at the bottom”. His wife Mary Grandaw Deau told her grandchildren the story of the fire which included “how her dad got heavy winter coats and her mother got the other children. They all ran into the river, put the wet coats over their heads and [she told us] how hot the river water was. That’s all that kept them alive.”

Alex and Mary were married a few years after the fire and had eleven children. The family moved to Laona in 1901 where Alexander was employed as a carpenter for the Connor Land and Lumber Co. Alex passed in 1945 and Mary in 1950. Two of their children, daughters Anna Harris and Laura Martin lived in Laona after their parent’s death.

A few of Laona’s families today can trace their roots back to these two children. Anna Harris’ daughter Iola married John Novak and Laura Martin’s daughter Verna married former Town Chairman Edward Bowling.

While this anniversary may serve as a grim remembrance for those who did lose their lives in the fire, it is also an opportunity to reflect on those that survived and the stories they preserved. If you are aware of any additional stories connecting Forest County to the Peshtigo Fire, we’d love to hear them. Email us at or comment here.

Stories of Metonga : Part 1

Good afternoon Crandon residents. Last week I presented at a History On-Tap Program at the Hotel Crandon to a crowd of about 85 people. Afterwards, I received a few different requests to share my power-point presentation and while I am willing to do that, I also am planning to post the material online in hopes that others will find their way to it. (Local history is much more fun and exciting if it is shared!) Publishing my research on this site will also allow people to post comments about the presentation and hopefully, we will continue to learn from each other about our county and its heritage.

What’s in a Name?

When Forest County officially became a county by an Act of the Legislature in 1885, the lake that we now know as Metonga, was called Sand Lake.  And in truth, the lake today is still called by that name.  The definition of Sand Lake is in fact the Indian name “Mitaawangaa”, or as the English spell it, Metonga.

In fact, only a few short months after the county was established, the editor of the Forest Leaves published a description of the lake known as Metonga.

Additional research from The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary defines the word “sandy” as “mitaawangaa”

Another source document that was beneficial in determining the origin of the Lake’s name was provided by the Forest County Potawatomi Library and Cultural Center. In September of 1941, Mrs. Wm. Tahwah of Wabeno provided the following list of names of Forest County Lakes and their meanings:

source: Forest County Potawatomi Library collection

Page 1 of Forest Leaves, published in Crandon, Wisconsin on Thursday, August 6th, 1885

Lake Cisco?

Lake Metonga residents might also be suprised to learn that they were at one time destined to live on a lake named after a the fish Cisco, also known as Lake Herring.  


The Forest County Spy, published in Pelican Lake, Wisconsin on Tuesday, May 26th, 1885

The Forest Leaves, published in Crandon, Wisconsin on Thursday, August 27th, 1885

Calling the lake by its Indian name caught on, and very soon there was no doubt the lake would be called Metonga.

However, its possible that not everyone agreed to have the name returned to its proper Indian title. As you can see from this 1906 Crandon map that hangs in the Forest County Courthouse Treasurer’s office, the name Sand Lake stuck around for some time.

Next week we will begin our tour around Lake Metonga courtesy of a March 1887 newspaper article. Don’t forget to leave your comments and share some of your local history related to Lake Metonga.

Remembering WW1 Soliders: Lynn Paul

The biographical sketch below was part of the Crandon Public Library’s 2016 Cemetery Tour featuring WW1 soldiers laid to rest in the Crandon Lakeside cemetery.  Research for the sketch was conducted by Library staff using original documents and newspaper resources found within our Local History room.  We welcome any additional historic information on our soldiers, including photos.  Please contact us at to submit this information.  –Thank you.

Hello, my name is Lynn Paul.  I was born on December 2, 1893, in Lincoln County, Wisconsin.  When I was a few years old, my parents, James and Agnes Paul, moved my sisters and I to the town of Prentice, in Price County.  My father was a traveling insurance agent and in 1910 he traveled to Crandon.  He must have liked it here an awful lot because he decided to stay here and raise us kids in Crandon.

United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M1509, 4,582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library microfilm.

I was 23 years old when I registered for the draft. I was working in Karlberg’s grocery store in Crandon at that time and was a member of the Wisconsin National Guard.  After I was drafted and trained in the Army I was sent to an artillery camp in France.   While I was at the camp I saw a lot of German prisoners.  They were real young fellows.  Some of them were actually Hamburg University students who really didn’t seem to side with the Kaiser as much as other prisoners did.  I talked to a few prisoners who had lived in the States for awhile but unfortunately our superiors gave us the order forbidding us to talk to them so I never found out if they liked living in Wisconsin.

My buddy “Sloppy Weather George Gifford” came to my camp before his trip to Paris.  I wish George could have been in the artillery unit with Ben Ferguson and I as he was a blame good scout.  We were all proud and glad to fight for Uncle Sam especially after seeing the conditions of France and the Germans.  We were sure the Americans would bring home the bacon because us Sammies showed more pep in a minute than those Germans did in a week. In fact, I told Art Carpenter in a letter I wrote to him that was published in the Forest Republican that if “all the Germans and French are as slow as the ones I seen, it is no wonder that the war was lasting so long. It takes the German prisoners longer to fix a bath house or dig a sewer than it took Forest county to build the court house”

When I got back from the War, I married my girl Adah Moe and become a brother-in-law to Colonel Himes.  Ada and I had three children: two daughters and one son, Mary, Ellen and James. Many of you might recall that I was the owner and operator of Paul’s Grocery Store in town for 43 ½ years. My family and I lived above the store that is now the chiropractor’s office on Main street.  I always had candy to give to kids who came in my store, as well as candy to throw to kids at parades.  People said I was a very nice guy, highly thought of in the community. During the great depression I gave two bags of groceries to 7-year-old Homer Rosa at no charge shortly after his family moved to Crandon and had very little money.  After that, Homer’s mother never shopped for groceries anywhere else.

Crandon Street Scene. Crandon Area Historical Society Archives. Crandon Community Building Collection. 2013.1.1.138-2

I guess my patriotic feelings for our grand country must have made an impression on my own son James because during WWII he enlisted and as part of the 717th Bombardment Squadron and flew combat missions over enemy targets in southern Europe, Germany, Austria, France and in the Balkans.  Our family was devastated when he plane was shot down on February 19, 1945 and he was officially declared “missing in action” 

My wife and I and James sister’s Mary and Ellen had a headstone placed here in our family’s plot in memory of him.  I guess his name is also listed on a plaque in Florence Italy along with the names of the other soldiers missing in action and assumed dead.  We were real proud when the Government awarded Jim with the purple heart for his ultimate service to our country. 

Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 03 June 2019), memorial page for Corp James Lynn Paul (24 Nov 1925–19 Feb 1945), Find A Grave Memorial no. 143606612, citing Crandon Lakeside Cemetery, Crandon, Forest County, Wisconsin, USA ; Maintained by Kevin Jackson (contributor 47952677) .

My wife and I spent our last days in Crandon.  I died in 1975 at the age of 81.

Depression Era Photos of Forest County now available

Living in rural Forest County in the 1930’s was tough. Newspaper articles, court records and family stories tell of multiple families living in one room shacks trying to farm the cut-over land with little or no success. Now a U.S. government collection of historic photos offers us a glimpse at just how tough it was. The photos are just part of a new website with interactive browsing tools Photogrammar developed by Yale University.

Housed in the Library of Congress for the past half-decade, the images of rural America were commissioned by the government in 1935 to gain public support for efforts to resettle poor farmers displaced during the Great Depression. A story Forest County farmers knew first hand. In fact “an elderly couple who found it no longer possible to make a living on their farm in the Forest county cutover timber region” was the first family in the United States to receive the benefit of the United States Resettlement Administration. [Appleton Post-Crescent, 03/01/1937, p18.]

Only 35 of the 170,000 photos on the site are of Forest county.  However each of the 35 photos tell a story and remind us how grateful we are to those who chose to settle the land we now call home.

Click here to see Forest county photos.

Click here for an interactive U.S. Map of the photo locations.