Humans on the barrens: Severne’s lilacs

The lilacs of Severne Bradley were the telltale, opening a window on a century-old community of struggling farmers in the sands of northwest Wisconsin.

In a mixed forest of pine, oak and aspen a half mile south of the main unit of the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area in East Blaine, Vern Drake, Mark Nupen and I spent a late May morning exploring remnants of at least four settler homes in what was the community of Fivemile.

Fivemile was a short-lived and geographically ill-defined barrens farming settlement of more than a 100 people, with a general store and a post office that lasted from 1908 to 1920. What we saw were a few tangible reminders of a few farm families who settled on the dry, sandy barrens starting just after 1900 and remaining a few decades at most. Two sisters who grew up there recalled years later that this was a time of picking blueberries with Indians, house parties, cold winters and, finally, departure.

We were guided by Kraig and Kory McConaughey, brothers whose family has had a cabin in the area for decades and who have poked around in the woods for years.

We made several stops and identified the scant remains of homesteads of William and Grace House, Olaf and Rena Johnson, Henry and Mary Zach and, perhaps most satisfying and evocative, Ingebregt T. and Severne Bradley.

The Bradley homestead lies on 160 acres mostly southwest of Bradley Lake, on the Burnett-Washburn county line. A short driveway off Fivemile Road led to a clearing in the mixed forest several hundred feet across. Most remarkable was the pink-lavender lilac bush in full and fragrant bloom.

The lilacs seemed to provide more clearly than anything else we saw an account of a century-plus-old effort at settlement and domestication. We easily found the adjacent square foundation of a house measuring about 36 feet by 36 feet, each block of poured concrete about two feet long and perhaps 10 inches wide. The walls were gone, of course, but there were smaller depressions nearby, perhaps outhouses, storage places or the like.

We saw two other structures nearby. Another set of poured concrete blocks marked the rectangular foundation of what was perhaps a barn, and a circle of blocks were the remains of what was apparently a silo, about 12 feet across and several courses high.

The Bradleys arrived in east Blaine Township around 1904, according to the Burnett County plat book, and homesteaded the 160 acres. Ingebregt (sometimes spelled Engebregt or Englbregt) was born in Norway in 1854, Severne (sometimes spelled Severene or Severena) was an Olson from Minnesota, born in 1868. They had married in Albert Lea, Minn., in 1887.

They came to the barrens with at least three children, possibly five, and had a sixth while living there. The 1910 census shows four children living with them, ages 3 to 17.

Ten years later, the 1920 census shows the only person living with the couple was their granddaughter Evelyn Bertone, apparently the child of their daughter Tena. By this time, Ingebregt was 66 and Severne was 52. Records are incomplete but it seems likely that three of their children, daughters Carolyne and Stella and son Severt, lay buried a mile west in Evergreen Cemetery.

By the time of the 1930 census, Ingebregt had died, and Severne was living alone, listed as a “farm manager” in the census enumeration. Daughter Tena was married and living in Chisholm, Minn. Her daughter, Evelyn Bertone, likely born on the barrens in 1913, lived with relatives in Spooner and later worked in St. Paul, Minn., as a file clerk. In 1935 or 1936, apparently after a failure to pay property taxes, the farm was foreclosed on and the land went to the county.

That was the eventual end for virtually all homesteads on the sands of the barrens, but this homestead stands out among those for miles around partly because the buildings were of a size that almost suggests relative prosperity and also because it had been inhabited by the same family for so long. The building foundations and the lovely touch of lilacs are all that remains. Lilacs were introduced to the North American colonies in the 18th Century and were a popular – and long-lived – flowering bush in climates where the May blooms were particularly welcome after a hard winter. It’s compelling to think of them as Severne’s lilacs, marking a homestead where she gave birth to her youngest, saw a daughter grow up and move on, witnessed the death of other children, then outlived her husband.

The four homesteads we explored didn’t last long and there is little left of them. The land has largely grown over in aspen, oak and jack and red pine and is mostly owned by Burnett County as a result of the difficulty settlers found in making a go of things. But they are evocative remnants of a group of hardy people who came from all over, struggled to make a living on tough land and ultimately had to concede to the reality of nature.

barrens map 5-26-18

(This map shows the four sites of early 20th Century farmsteads just south of the north unit of Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area (dark green outlined in blue). 1. William and Grace House. 2. Olaf and Rena Johnson. 3. Henry and Mary Zach. 4. Ingebregt and Severne Bradley.)

 

 

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Isle City Academy Charter School of Cumberland Visits the NBWA

Ms. Zipperer and Ms. Johnson of the Isle City Academy Charter school led a group of students to visit the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area on May 8, 2018. more…

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2018 Explore the Barrens Annual Event

2018-05-27_21-13-40Join us Saturday, June 9, 2018 for our annual Explore the Barrens celebration event.

8:30 am Nature Walk: Identify birds, butterflies, & wildflowers.

10:30 am “Mini-monsters of not so Deep Pond” Demonstration

10:30 am Geology of the Namekagon Barrens Demonstration

Noon History of the 1863 Stagecoach Road

12:30 pm Status of the NBWA and future plans

PLUS Displays of Plants; Flowers; Soil Samples; Furs

FREE LUNCH Served from 11:30am to 1:00pm  Burgers, Brats & Beer!

RAFFLE and DOOR PRIZES!! Everyone from the surrounding area is invited to join us at the rustic cabin in the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area and learn about this globally significant wildlife habitat right here in our own “backyard.” Learn about the Barrens and Prescribed Fire Management, and about the discovery of remnants of the most historic land travel route in Northwestern Wisconsin: the 1863 Stagecoach Road that went through the Barrens.

DIRECTIONS to the Namekagon Barrens Clubhouse at St. Croix Trail & Gomulak Fire Lane  From WI Highway 35: Go east on St. Croix Trail about 9 miles and follow the signs. From Highway 77: Go north on Namekagon Trail 6 miles; east on St. Croix Trail 2 miles and follow the signs. From Minong: Go west on Nancy Lake Road about 6.5 miles to County Line Rd; north 1 mile to St. Croix Trail; west 1 mile and follow the signs.

Mark Nupen, President (651) 249-1013 marknupen@gmail.com

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UPDATE – Viewing Blinds for Sharp-tailed Grouse on the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area

Spring is here. Roads are in good shape. Enjoy the show!

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UPDATE – Sharp-tailed Grouse Viewing Blinds

Update from Nancy Christel, Wildlife Biologist, Wisconsin DNR:
April 13, 2018

Hello Viewers,

As of April 13th, the blinds are up and ready for use on the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area. If you have made a reservation, please use a blind on your reserved dates. If you haven’t made a reservation, you may do so here.

Please drive and park only on the main town roads so you do not get stuck and so our firebreaks do not get too rutted up. Main roads include: Dry Landing, St. Croix, and North County Line Road. 

Call with any questions. Thanks!

Nancy Christel

Wildlife Biologist – Wildlife Management

Phone: (715) 635-4091

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No Viewing Blinds Before April 10 – Update Apr 9, 2018

Hello Viewers,

April 9, 2018 Update

We will visit the property at the end of the week to see if we are able to put up the viewing blinds in time for the weekend. The birds will dance as soon as they are physically able (as long as they are not falling through fluffy snow). If we are still unable to access the dancing grounds due to deep snow conditions, we will attempt it again on Monday, April 16th and will update you with information as it becomes available.

Prior to this last snow fall, birds had been just started to arrive on the grounds with very little activity, especially since most parts of the dancing grounds had deep snow. In more normal springs, they would be more active by this time. It would be extremely difficult for you to safely reach the dancing grounds right now, although there is sketchy access along St. Croix Trail and Dry Landing to go to other parts of the property. You are welcome to still come to the property, but the blinds will not be there. We were there last week and saw rough-legged hawks, eagles, a ton of deer and of course, flushed some sharp-tailed grouse. I’d request that you stay on the main town roads so you do not get stuck and so our firebreaks do not get too rutted up.

If this impacts your viewing dates, please check the calendar for more opportunities and updates. I hope you are able to find another viewing day that will work for you. I made a couple more days available in April and there are plenty in May, which probably will be good viewing this year. If dates are full, check back periodically, because I expect more will open up.

Call with any questions. Thanks!

Nancy Christel

Wildlife Biologist – Wildlife Management

Phone: (715) 635-4091

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No viewing blinds before April 10, 2018

Note from Nancy Christel, Wildlife Biologist, Wisconsin DNR:
March 30, 2018
Hello Viewers,
 
Some of you may already know that we still have many inches of snow on the Barrens. Those of you that live an hour or more away may be completely surprised by this news, but it is still thigh high in most of the landscape. Ugh, it seems like spring is never going to arrive!
 
Because of the late spring, we will not have viewing blinds up and available for use until at least Tuesday, April 10th. Birds have been just starting to arrive on the grounds with very little activity, especially since only parts of the dancing grounds are snow free. In more normal springs, they would be more active by this time. It would be extremely difficult for you to safely reach the dancing grounds right now, although there is good access along St. Croix Trail and Dry Landing to go to other parts of the property. You are welcome to still come to the property, but the blinds will not be there. We were there yesterday and saw rough-legged hawks, eagles, a ton of deer and of course, flushed some sharp-tailed grouse. I’d request that you stay on the main town roads so you do not get stuck and so our firebreaks do not get too rutted up. 
 
Please check the calendar for more opportunities. I hope you are able to find another viewing day that will work for you. I made a couple more days available in April and there are plenty in May, which probably will be good viewing this year.
 
I’ve tried to call all of you, but I wanted to make sure you received this message. 
 
Call with any questions. Thanks!
Phone: (715) 635-4091
Cell Phone: (715) 645-0072
3-31-2018 5-21-08 PM
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