Use It or Lose It: Historical Travel and the Pleasure of Day-Trips

Written and submitted by: Barbara Smits, Old Northwest Frontier Tours

There is much more to Lake Winnebago than fishing, boating, sturgeon spearing, camping, and all of the other amazing physical attractions that bring people to its shores.  Where is it written that we must climb the highest peak, canoe turbulent whitewater rapids, challenge ourselves to a grueling cross country bike trek, or claim some other type of high-risk or high-challenge physical adventure in order to feel that we have done something worthwhile on vacation?

Or, flipping to the other side of the coin, are we meant to walk aimlessly through the many festivals that fill the summer calendar, concentrating our attention only on food, drink and entertainment?  It is a sad state of affairs when we equate travel with eating, sleeping,  spending money and going into debt, or sitting all day in a lawn chair around a campfire idly chatting the hours away — or letting children dictate what our vacation will be!

GAR – Grand Army of the Republic — 1861 – 1865 — In Memory of the Neenah Veterans who served in the Civil War 1861 – 1865. Erected by C. B. Clark Circle, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic 1932. Barbara Smits photo.

Shorter, quiet adventures that challenge the mind along with the body can be quite satisfying, and when you make the effort to learn something about the history of an area that you have visited, it becomes part of you— a life-long friend, not just a physical triumph to be remembered in periods of self-aggrandizement!

The last time I visited Kimberly Point Park along the lakeshore in Neenah (August, 2016), it was  overflowing with young people who took up most of the parking spots, all wandering around, heads bent down and eyes glued to their cell phones!  After waiting patiently for some minutes, I finally had to ask a group clustered around the Civil War marker if they would move for a moment so that I could take a photo.  Surprised that I was even there, they politely complied — they were all looking for Pokemon, hidden somewhere near the marker, and were completely unaware of me and everything else that was going on around them.  Not one of them knew or cared what the historical marker said, or what the Grand Army of the Republic was, or who the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic were who erected this monument.  What a shame — they were exchanging so much for a chance to find Pokemon!

Many people don’t have enough money to meet expenses today, much less spend it on extended vacations.  Why not make your own adventures by exploring things within easy reach rather than waiting for someone else to entertain you?  I laugh to myself when I hear people say, “There is nothing to do!”  Learn to use your imagination as well as your body and you will never be bored!  With so many things to see and do in the world, and all of the modern technology and conveniences, you only need to expend the energy toward finding new experiences to have them pop up before you!

Cedars Lock, Kimberly, WI – near Treaty of the Cedars historical marker. Barbara Smits Photo.

I enjoy many day-excursions taking photographs of subjects that I like to write about, such as finding the eighteen locks (many of them very well hidden!) along the Fox River from De Pere to Lake Winnebago.  I have noticed that the older generations are intrigued by the engineering behind the locks and ask questions of the lock tenders, fascinated as they watch the water rise and the boats pass through, but the younger people have been coerced by their peers into thinking that such “ancient” things are “boring” and they are never allowed to look up from their cell phones to marvel at what people built without modern machinery years ago!

There are many places to find, like the Treaty of the Cedars monument along Fox River in Kimberly, or the Military Road tollgate marker at Roosevelt Park in Taycheedah.  In my imagination, I can see the stagecoaches traveling the road and stopping at Fuhrman’s Stagecoach Inn at Pipe.  Wow, all of those people coming and going, and the sound of the stagecoach horn and the horses galloping up to the inn…what a scene it must have been!

Fuhrman’s Stagecoach Inn, Pipe (now Capones) was built in 1846 by Henry Fuhrman and served trav-elers on the Military Road and excursion boats on Lake Winnebago by offering food, shelter, an ice cream parlor, and tavern. As was usual for stagecoach inns, it served as a community center and a dance hall. Barbara Smits photo sketch.

To name just a few items, the Lake Winnebago area has a history that includes Indian villages, Voyageur canoes and trading posts, Native American mounds, the Old Military Road, the Stockbridge and Brothertown Indians from New York, the Niagara Escarpment, Augustin Grignon’s Hotel at Butte des Morts, the Poygan Paygrounds, the U.S. Government’s Agricultural Mission at Neenah, Governor Doty’s “Grand Loggery” log cabin on Doty Island…all just words and places on a map until you dig deeper and find out more about them — then they become very real and can enrich your life and your understanding.  It’s an empty feeling to merely read a historical marker and then turn and walk away without wanting to know more.

The historic Augustin Grignon Hotel in the Village of Butte de Morts on Big Lake Butte des Morts is in line for historic preservation and repairs. Barbara Smits photo.

Historic marker near the Village of Butte des Morts: “Trading Post — First permanent post in Winne-bago County, 850 feet S.S.W. from this point. Founded 1818 by Augustin Grignon & Jacqques Porlier — Erected by Winnebago County Archaeology & Historical Society, 1920.” Barbara Smits photo.

Historic travel is a wonderful experience and is boring only to those who are completely self-absorbed.  History teaches us to get outside of ourselves and our cell phones and our daily frustrations and see the bigger picture — to understand how and why an area has become what it is today.  There were people here before us and there will be people here after as, and we are but tiny specks along the timeline of history.

If you consider that the oldest homo sapiens skeleton fossils recently found in Morocco are about 315,000 years old, spending time around the campfire discussing our latest laundry list of problems looks quite small and insignificant compared to the bigger picture,  Letting children run the vacation show by dictating that they will be entertained and happy only at high-adventure parks is depriving them of honest insights into what our country really was and is, both good and bad, and how it has been passed down to us.  Children should share in these experiences, not just seek escape from them in fantasy worlds hundreds of miles away.

Electa Quinney, a Stockbridge Indian, was the first public school teacher in Wisconsin. Her modern gravestone has been erected in the small Stockbridge Indian Cemetery north of Stockbridge. Barbara Smits photo.

When people pass through tiny Stockbridge and Brothertown along Lake Winnebago’s eastern shore, I wonder if they know that those communities were named for the Stockbridge and Brothertown Indians, and how those tribes really got here, transplanted all the way from New York.  Wisconsin has a rich Native American history that our children should learn and through it gain respect for our Native American countrymen.  Why do we pass through these tiny communities in a mighty rush to get somewhere else when everything we could want lies right in front of us?

Juliette Kinzie, wife of John Kinzie, the Indian Agent at Fort Winnebago, located on the Fox River at Portage, wrote about her life and travels in what would become Wisconsin in her book “Wau-bun”, which means “The dawn, the break of day.”   She wrote about the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago:

“The soil of this tract is deep, with a substratum of limestone, and being well watered with numerous small brooks, is well adapted to farming. The Military Road along here passes directly through the settlements of the Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians.

The farms of the Brothertown people are in a promising condition; and the clearings, fences and snug buildings show that their proprietors are not behind any of the farmers of Wisconsin in the art of agriculture. Their respectable appearance, civil and quiet demeanor and exceedingly industrious habits, all combine to render them good and worthy citizens of the United States.

It is to be regretted, however, that the general appearances of the Stockbridge settlements are not so favorable; and yet, were it not for the contrast of their neighbors, the Stockbridge people might be said to have evinced signs of civilization not often met
within the settlements of the red men.”

Log cabins of the same time period now located in the cultural heritage area of the Oneida Indian Res-ervation near Green Bay, WI. The Oneidas came to Wisconsin about the same time as the Stockbridge and Brothertown Indians and were later moved to the Green Bay area reservation which they now oc-cupy. Barbara Smits photo.

Use it or lose it…don’t be just another shallow traveler waiting for others to plan things out for you and keep you entertained.  Use your own head and your own imagination and passion for learning to guide your travel experiences; why let someone else tell you what constitutes a good time, or how to spend your money, or what you should learn?  Are we so embarrassed by doing something “boring” and out of the ordinary that we let many good things slip past us?

I firmly believe that if people are offered something worthwhile and substantial, they will choose to be part of it.  During Wisconsin’s Sesquicentennial in 1998, people lined the streets and country roads and watched with tears in their eyes as the Military Road Sesquicentennial Wagon Train passed through the small towns and villages on its 250 mile historic route across the state from Prairie du Chien to Green Bay — and there wasn’t a Pokemon in sight to find on a cell phone — the people came out all on their own to be part of history!

Life is all around you, and much of it is only a short day-trip away from home!  Learn and enjoy at the same time and you will really have something to talk about other than politics while sitting around that next campfire!  I had no idea these interesting things were around until I looked for them!  Although it is hard to miss, with four huge Civil War cannons and a stone plaque marking the spot, no one I asked could even tell me where this Camp Bragg memorial was located — and I’ll bet they never knew there was a Civil War Camp Bragg in Oshkosh — sheesh!

Four huge Civil War cannons and a historical marker commemorate the location of Camp Bragg near Menominee Park in Oshkosh. “Camp Bragg Memorial: Near this spot in the autumn of 1862 the 21st and 32nd regiments Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry were encamped for organization before proceeding to the front. Erected 1915.” Barbara Smits photo.

The views and opinions expressed by external organization do not necessarily represent those of Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance. Therefore, we cannot be held responsible for the accuracy or reliability of information provided by external parties.


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