A short book intended to “give but a faint hint of the geology, archeology, history and scenic beauty of the Baraboo, Dells, and Devil’s Lake region,” was found by typing Wisconsin into the search box of Project Gutenberg. While only looking for books on the history of Wisconsin, I was delighted to find this little gem, Baraboo, Dells, and Devil’s Lake Region, as I have always wondered about the Wisconsin Dells.

Baraboo-DellsIt’s about geology, the rare formations, igneous rocks, the drift covered and driftless areas, and dells. I had no clue what dells were. Now I know!

American aborigine history is also covered, including the Black Hawk War. He talks about the first white settlers who went down the Wisconsin River in 1673.

Natural beauty in the area is explained in great detail, with directions to many items of interest. However since the book was published in 1920, it’s unlikely that the farmers mentioned are still around, although some of the road names or numbers may still be the same.

map-of-Baraboo-area-click map for larger image

What really struck a bell with me was mention of the Ringling surname. Everyone has heard of Ringling brothers, right? Specific directions are given to the spot where they pitched their first show tent in Baraboo:

Turning to the left on Second Avenue one block, then to the right one block, brings the visitor to the county jail, the site where Ringling Brothers first pitched their “big top,” May 19, 1884. The old jail stood farther back on the lot and the circus was given near the avenue, the gate of the fence enclosing the grounds standing open all day.

Although they had given hall shows before the first circus performance beneath a tent, that afternoon in May was the beginning of a road which ended in the making of several millionaires.

Interestingly enough, not too far away was the home of the Mr. and Mrs. G. G. Gollmar. They also ran a circus for many years. Their children were cousins of The Ringlings. Must have been in their genes.

One of the funnier stories he told was of a gristmill owner, puzzled why no flour was appearing after his wheels went round and round. After investigating further, he found a small grey mouse that was catching the flour as fast as it was sifting through! I did not realize a flour gristmill produced flour on such a small scale. Imagine how long a farmer might have to wait if he brought grain in to be made into flour for his wife.

Besides all the various glens, lakes, dells, streams, brooks, rivers, battlefields, deserted towns, lost cemeteries, Indian mounds, and battles mentioned, Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect, is also covered briefly towards the end of the book. Evidently not as revered for his occupation as he is now, it is the residence and a servant that draws the attention of the author:

A short distance west of the road which crosses the river near Spring Green is the location of Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘love bungalow’. Here on Saturday, August 15, 1914, Julian Carlson, a negro servant, killed seven people with a hatchet, wounding two others. The dead:

Mrs. Mamah Borthwick, a woman, like the owner of the bungalow, with unconventional ideas.

Mrs. Borthwick’s son and daughter, John and Martha Cheney, aged 11 and 9 respectively.

Emil Brodelle, aged 30, an architect.

Thomas Brunker, hostler.

Ernest Weston, aged 13.

David Lindblom, gardener.

The injured were William H. Weston and Herbert Fritz, the latter escaping with a broken arm and cuts.

With gasoline the negro set fire to the building and as the occupants attempted to escape through a door and window, one by one, he struck them with a hatchet. The murderer was found in the firebox of the boiler in the basement and died later in the Dodgeville jail as a result of taking muriatic acid soon after committing the crime.

Some of the bodies were burned beyond recognition. “All that was left of her” was buried at Unity Chapel, the Cheney children were cremated in Chicago, the body of Ernest Weston was placed in the Spring Green cemetery, Emil Brodelle was interred in Milwaukee, David Lindblom was lowered in a grave at Unity Chapel and Thomas Brunker sleeps at Ridgeway.

The owner of the property was in Chicago at the time of the tragedy, returning soon after. The building was partly destroyed and later rebuilt along more pretentious lines.

Taliesin was a Cymric bard, whom Welsh legends assign to the 6th century.

Very indicative of the times was his description of Wright’s girlfriend as “unconventional,” and his little dig about the house, calling it Wright’s “love bungalow.” I remember seeing a PBS special on Frank Lloyd Wright many years ago. His taking up with a married woman caused quite a stir across the country.

The book was very interesting to me because of the author’s style of writing–the way he gave his directions and descriptions almost enabled me to see what he was talking about. I thoroughly enjoyed his graphic writing. It’s the sort of book I’d pick up and read again.


Bridge across Dell Creek

~No cover available. Cover created from photo in book.