The Saw Log War occurred in the spring of 1851 between the citizens of Reedsburg and Baraboo.It was a legal battle fought over who controlled the flow of the Baraboo River and may have been the basis for the friendly rivalry between the two cities today.
In 1847, David C. Reed built a dam across the Baraboo River near what is now downtown Reedsburg to harness water power for his sawmill.
Upstream from this dam stood a pine forest owned by the U.S. Government from which loggers routinely harvested or cut timber for their mills downstream.
As the logs were floated down the Baraboo River, Mr. Reed would lower his dam to allow the large rafts of logs to pass through.
Reed soon realized that there could be benefit from stopping this free passage.First, the deterioration to his dam would be stopped and second, as the logs backed up behind the dam, Reed could more than likely purchase them at a discounted price.
George and Edward Willard ran a sawmill in Baraboo and cut their timber from the stand of pines north of Reed’s dam.
Reedsburg Dam in the 1860's
They did not approve of Reed’s refusal to open the dam and went back to Baraboo to gather their friends to physically remove the dam.
Meanwhile, the residents of Reedsburg sent for the U.S. Marshal in Madison to arbitrate the situation.It was their belief that the law was on their side since the timber had been cut from governmental lands.
However, when the Marshal arrived, he ordered the dam cut and the logs moved downstream.
An “indignation” meeting was called by Reed and his followers who met at Sanford’s Store to plan their next move.“Inflammantory” as well as conciliatory speeches were made, but Mr. E. G. Wheeler convinced the crowd that it would be foolish to resist the authority of the United States Marshal.
With the dam gone, Reed was forced to close his sawmill, taking away a lumber source for the growing town of Reedsburg.New settlers to the area began to settle elsewhere.
By November 1851, however, a new settler named Abram West had repaired Reed’s dam and opened a flour mill alleviating the need for local farmers to travel to Baraboo or Delton to have their wheat ground into flour.By 1853, Reedsburg was once again prospering.