Spring Valley 2011 Football Team Advances Playoffs
Coached by our Cousin Matt Ducklow
Published November 3rd, 2011

The Spring Valley 2011 football season has been quite successful and it is not over yet.  Coach Matt Ducklow has the Cardinal's advancing into the third round of the Wisconsin State High School football playoffs.   In the first round of the tournament, Spring Valley traveled to Minong in far northern western Wisconsin.  They easily handled the Evergreens out scoring them 39-0.    The following week Spring Valley played host the Marathon Red Raiders.  Marathon is a small community not far from Wausau. The game was one-sided rout with a score of 42-6.  On November 4th, the Cardinals take on the Ramblers from Regis High School.   The game is to be played on Friday night Carson Park under the lights in Eau Claire.

If the Cardinals defeat Regis, they advance to the semi-finals in Level 6 play. (Level 6 indicates the student body size of the schools, matching liked sized schools in the tournament).  Two more wins and they become crowned state champions!  Below is a link to a short interview of Matt Ducklow done by TV station WEAU out of Eau Claire and a nice play-by-play article published by the Spring Valley Sun (under mygateway.news).

Matt is cousin to all Ducklows.  He descends from George and Emma Ducklow.  Oh, and who is the Cardinal's assistant coach? That happens to be a Ducklow too -- Matt's brother Corey.  Congratulations to our cousins Matt, Corey and the entire community of Spring Valley!


Link: Spring Valley Sun Online Article Here
Link: WEAU TV Article Here

On Butternuts and Ducklows in Pierce County
Published October 25, 2011

In a recent post I wondered why my great grandfather George Ducklow left Dodge County in about 1873 as a young man of 20 years of age and how he happened to end up in eastern Pierce County.  I wrote,

“A question that has fascinated me is why did George come to Pierce County?  It seems likely that after learning the trade of blacksmithing, George was ready to make it on his own. It would be unfair to stay in the Ashippun area and compete directly with the man who gave you your training. So by the nature of the apprenticeship arrangement, George needed to re-locate as to not be in direct competition with his master, Mr. Campbell.  But the question remains, why Pierce County?”

In the 1860s investors based in Milwaukee had heard reports that the entire eastern half of Pierce County was thick with pine, basswood, maple and elm trees.  Based on these reports, they sent scouts to size-up the timber opportunity. And beyond simply assessing the size, number and species of trees, the scouts considered locations for establishing a water-powered sawmill, and perhaps even building sites for development of a small village.  The area they found most attractive is what became Rock Elm Center.  The scouts returned home in the fall of 1866.  Shortly after (within a few weeks) investments of land and equipment along with the commitment of pioneers, began producing lumber.  The lumber hauled 15 miles over hills and valleys until it reached Maiden Rock on the Mississippi River. There it could be shipped up or down stream to many markets, or reach train depots to be shipped back east.  George Ducklow came to Rock Elm some seven years later (about 1873) to serve as a blacksmith.

So what is new to this story?

Butternut Trees.

As it turns out, the main attraction to the forests of Pierce County was not just the large tracts of elm, maple, basswood, and pine trees for lumber, but more so for its many butternut trees.  In the late 1860s butternut wood commanded a premium, going for $60 to $80 a thousand board feet in Milwaukee. This was apparently considerably more than what traditional lumber would bring. During the 1860s and likely extending in the 1870s, butternut wood was in strong demand by cabinet makers, giving sawyers (and their investors) opportunity to make more money than if they pursued a forest full of the conventional wood. And because the forests of Rock Elm were full of butternut trees (see footnote) along with the elm, maple, basswood and pine, it became the target for investment.

The strong link between early families in Dodge County and early families in eastern Piece County seems to stem from this scouting party and the subsequent building of the Hawn sawmill.   The names of the scouts who evaluated the forests around Rock Elm Center in 1866 were Otis Churchill, Willard Rider, and Oscar Fowler.  They were so convinced of the opportunity for lumbering success that they went to the owners of an existing sawmill in Dodge County: Mr. Charles Hawn and Mr. David White.  The scouting team persuaded Hawn and White to pull-up stakes in Dodge County and re-establish themselves in the frontier of the “Big Woods.”  While the connection between all these men is not yet clear, some sort of trusting relationship must have existed for such persuasion to be successful. The news Hawn and White moving naturally gained attention of all their network of employees, friends, customers, and acquaintances.  Some followed the mill on its move north.  Thus, the Dodge – Pierce County immigration pipeline became established. 

It is said that the Milwaukee investors intended to induce 25 families to move with the relocation of the sawmill and form a colony.  It is not obvious that 25 families actually came all at once.  But over time it seems that at least this many did eventually come from the Dodge County area. One of the families that did come with the sawmill was that of Sylvester John (S.J.) Fox.  Sylvester was persuaded to establish a mercantile store near the mill.  He invested $1,000 in supplies to initially stock his store.

So it can be said that many of the families in eastern Piece County, including George Ducklow, the ancestral grandfather to many living Ducklows, established himself in Pierce County because he followed Dodge County sawyers who were after the butternut trees.



Many people are not familiar with butternut wood. It is a relativity soft wood that is easy to work, has a color that is natural medium dark, and often features strong grain patterns.  The butternut tree is so named for the crop of butternuts it produces every three or four years.

Much of this information comes from a book published in 1937 by Charles Lowater.  The book is called the “History of Pierce County.”  Mr. Lowater was also the publisher of the Spring Valley Sun and Elmwood Argus for many years.  This book is available at the River Falls Area Research Center.  Charles Lowater [1867-1944] is buried in the Popular Hill Rock Elm Cemetery.  He is related to the Ducklow family by marriage.  His wife was Estella Weldon.  Estella's aunt was Emma Hamilton, wife of George Ducklow. 

The Churchill surname continues to be a well-known Rock Elm and Elmwood family name in eastern Pierce County.

Sylvester John Fox [1831-1915] is buried in the Rock Elm Cemetery.  He was about 22 years older than George Ducklow and about 19 years younger than George’s father, Thomas Ducklow. 

It must be noted that the Rock Elm area was not without settlers prior to 1866 and the building of the Hawn mill.  The William Craig family came in 1863, and for several years Mr. Craig was head sawyer in the Hawn mill.  The James C. Miles family also came in 1863 and the William H Miles in 1865, the James Colletts and Alexanders in 1863.  

The establishment of the Hawn mill in Rock Elm in 1866 is hardly the first mill in the area.  W. Holman is reported to have had a mill on the Eau Galle in 1852. Its location is unclear, but may have been as far north on the Eau Galle to be in St. Croix County (just north of Spring Valley).  The Carson and Rand sawmill near what is now the village of Eau Galle also dates back in the early 1850s.

Early Place Names of Pierce County
Published July 31, 2011

I’ve been meaning to post a big long essay on the history of place names of Pierce County for a few weeks now.  I can’t seem to put together a nice coherent story, so for now I’m going simply post a few interesting facts.  

Piece County is of interest to the Ducklow family history as it is where George Ducklow, the sixth child of Thomas and Elizabeth Ducklow, put down roots.  George’s descendants are yet thick in Pierce County.  While I am no longer a resident of the county, its history fascinates me.  Its story, and the broader history of Wisconsin helped to shape the how George arrived in Rock Elm Center and as a consequence why nearly all other Ducklow’s now living western Wisconsin were born in Pierce or St. Croix Counties.

The remainder of this post is a bit disjointed.  I ask for your pardon until I get a chance to write a nice story to tie it all together.


Rock Elm Center, often simply called Rock Elm, was literally the center of the woods that were chock-full of elm trees.  Rock elm is a particularly dense form of elm and an apt description of how hard the wood was to chop, cut and mill. Rock Elm Center was established in 1865 with the arrival of a mill and a handful of lumbermen. George Ducklow arrived in Rock Elm Center at at age 22 in about 1873, some eight years after it was initially established. 

Elmwood lies in the valley of the Eau Galle river some five miles north and east of Rock Elm Center.  Of course it too is named for the abundance of elm trees that dominate the surrounding woods; Elmwood is among the newest of communities in Pierce County, being established in 1905. It too got its start as the location of a sawmill.

Olivet: In about 1875 George Ducklow moved from Rock Elm Center and recreated himself as a mercantile man in the now nearly vanished settlement of Olivet.  While there is some uncertainty, most sources indicate that Olivet name is from the Bible – specifically Mount Olivet. The French word “olivette” means the place were olives grow, and of course there are references in the Bible of gardens of olives.  It sees most likely that early French explorers and trappers who traversed the area named it based on these facts.

El Paso: Olivet was connected to a neighboring settlement of El Paso by stagecoach in the mid 1800s.  The name El Paso is mysterious to many people as it would seem to indicate some sort of connection to a heritage of Latin America, Mexico or some other Spanish speaking people.  This is totally incongruent with the known early history of the area. The mystery becomes unlocked by learning more about the stagecoach line, or more precisely, the shape of the road that the stage followed.  When viewed from an elevation, the road formed an “L” as it passed along the river and between the hills defining the bounds of the valley. Up to this point the area apparently had not been named. So when the stage driver made a stop he called out, “L-pass.”  The name eventually morphed into El Paso.  El Paso is one of the earliest settlements in Pierce County, with roots as early as 1858.

Spring Lake township that holds Spring Valley, was named after a now vanished spring fed lake.  The lake was apparently adjacent to the Eau Galle River just a bit upstream of the the Spring Lake Lutheran Church.  It was described as being quite beautiful.  Accounts of the lake simple state the spring and lake disappeared prior to 1900. It seems likely that it became a victim of the logging operations that pushed great rafts of logs down the Eau Galle in the spring to the mills. Spring Lake Township was organized in 1868, some 24 years prior the establishment of village of Spring Valley, the community that now dominates the township.

Martell: A Frenchman founded a small settlement on the Rush River and named it Sunrise. Not many years passed and the founding Frenchman died. In honor of the founder, the  people living in the settlement was renamed Martell.  Sunrise / Martell too have a long history going back to the late 1840s.

Perry: Not many people today will recognize the village name of Perry. Perry came into existence in 1857 as the county seat.  It was renamed Ellsworth in 1863, in honor of the heroics of Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, a friend of Abraham Lincoln and the first conspicuous casualty of  the Civil War.  Col. Ellsworth had no direct association with Pierce County.  So renaming Perry in his honor showed the strong feelings of support for the Lincoln and the desire of the area to remain a united union. The city of Perry/Ellsworth created as an outcome from a nasty political battle around the location of the Pierce County courthouse.  Its location is the approximate geographic center of the County, a compromise location that the majority of residents could agree upon.  East Ellsworth came into existence because railroad officials refused lay tracks up a steep grade to get to Ellsworth proper.  Naturally businesses sprung up around the depot and thus East Ellsworth came to be.

Beldenville – laid out by David and O.H. Belden in 1856.  They both left the area not long after the area was plated, but the name forever after is known as Beldenville.

New Centerville gained in name from the fact that it lies about half way along the common border between St. Croix and Pierce county. New Centerville was also known simply as Centerville.  The source of the “New” has not been uncovered.  It seems to have been established as a logging town in the late 1870s.

Gilman is another village that no longer exists.  It was founded in 1869.  The township of Gilman remains and is named after the area’s first settler.  Prior to being named Gilman, the area was called Deerfield. 

Hudson, while not in Pierce County, has a strong linkage to Piece County’s history.  It had two prior names.  It was named Willow River and Buena Vista (prior to 1851).  Some of the early founders were involved in the Spanish-American War and had pick-up some Spanish terms, including the phrase for beautiful view - Buena Vista.  The name Hudson was finally settled upon as it was reminiscent of the Hudson River Valley in update New York, the former home of many of the early settlers.

Pierce County is named after Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States.  Pierce County and Polk County were formed by dividing a then super-size St. Croix County.  This naming of the new counties happened in 1853, five years after Wisconsin became a state and while Franklin Pierce was just beginning is term as President (1853-1857).  Pierce County originally had only one township that covered all of Pierce County – the Township of Elizabeth.  The name is from a child named Elizabeth who is reported to have been the first white child born in the area, in the year 1845.  Elizabeth also was the original moniker for the city of Prescott. Philander Prescott was an Army officer stationed at Fort Snelling and attempted to corner property ownership rights for his personal benefit from the Indians.  He felt that the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers was an ideal location for a large future city.  That city did come to be, but not at Prescott, but rather up stream on the Mississippi now known as St. Paul.

Cousins, We Share Common Genes and Common History
[Published June 30, 2011]

"We all grow up with the weight of history on us.  Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies." ~Shirley Abbott

Memorial Day Tribute
Published May 30, 2011

Today is Memorial Day.  It is a day to reflect and give thanks to those who served our nation in defense of our democracy. The 36 names that follow are greater Ducklow family members who where in the military and have since joined the Lord.  I exhort you to take a minute to read the names to yourself and say a prayer of thanks for their service to our county.

Two of the 36 of this list where soldiers killed in action: Dwain Hanson, and Robert Francis Ducklow.  Both were killed in WWII; Dwain as an infantry man during the Battle of the Bulge in Germany, and Bob as medic in the Pacific Theatre.  The story of Dwain’s military service and death are posted elsewhere on this blog. I hope to learn more details of Bob's heroic story and publish them here.  My prayers of gratitude to these men who scarified themselves for my freedom.

If you are aware of other members from the Greater Ducklow family that should be added to this list, please let me know. I wish to honor all in our family who served.

Melvin Clyde BLAIR 
Served in US Army
Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Milton “Buck” Charles BLAIR
Served in US Calvary
Roselawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Madison, Wisconsin

Eldon Dean CATURA 
Served in the US Army
Riverside Cemetery, Withee, Wisconsin

William “Bill” Good CATURA
Served in US Army Signal Corp
Riverside Cemetery, Withee, Wisconsin

Evan Charles “Bud” DAVIS
Severed as Frogman in US Navy
Northern Wisconsin Veteran’s Cem., Spooner, Wisconsin

Arlin Dwain DUCKLOW
Served in US Army
Cuban Missile Crisis
Willow River Cemetery, Hudson, Wisconsin

Fay Ellsworth DUCKLOW
Served in US Army
Spring Lake Cemetery, Spring Valley, Wisconsin

Frank Erwin DUCKLOW 
Served in the US Calvary 
Spring Lake Cemetery, Spring Valley, Wisconsin

Frank Ruthbin DUCKLOW
Served in US Army
Sacred Heart Cemetery, Spring Valley, Wisconsin

George “Duck” William DUCKLOW
Served in US Navy
Resurrection Cemetery, Mendota Heights, Minnesota

George Nicholson DUCKLOW
Oak Hill Cemetery, Neenah, Wisconsin

Gerald Erwin DUCKLOW
Amery Cemetery, Polk County, Wisconsin

James Elmer DUCKLOW
Served US Army
St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery, Tomah, Wisconsin

John “Jack” Edward DUCKLOW
St. Josephs Cemetery, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

Keith Ellsworth DUCKLOW
Served US Air Force - Entire Career

Lamont Vernon DUCKLOW
Served US Army
National Memorial Cemetery Of Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona

Robert “Bob” Francis DUCKLOW 
Resurrection Cemetery, Mendota Heights, Minnesota

Robert “Bob” Charles DUCKLOW
Highland Memorial Park, Appleton, Wisconsin

Thomas “Tom” Clayton DUCKLOW 
Resurrection Cemetery, Mendota Heights, Minnesota

Victor “Vic” Neal DUCKLOW
Severed in US Marine Corp
St. John’s Cemetery, Spring Valley, Wisconsin

William “Bill” Thomas DUCKLOW

Charles “Charley” J Francis GOOD
Served in Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry
Mount Hope, Ashland, Wisconsin

Francis Gerald “Gerry” GOOD
Highland Memory Gardens, Cottage Grove, Wisconsin

Glenn Merrill GOOD 
Roselawn Cemetery, Monona, Wisconsin

James “Jim” Walter GOOD 
Gordon Cemetery, Douglas County, Wisconsin

Budd John HANSON
Lakeside Cemetery, Cumberland, Wisconsin

Dewain Charles HANSON
American Cemetery, Luxembourg, Germany

Jerome “Jerry” Theodore John HANSON
Unknown Burial Location

James “Jim” F HOGAN
Copenhagen, Denmark

John “Jack” Good HOGAN
Mount Hope Cemetery, Ashland, Wisconsin

James Richard HOLMAN
Holy Cross Cemetery, Fargo, North Dakota

William Allan “Bill” HOLMAN
Riverside Cemetery, Fargo, North Dakota

Clair George “Red” LAGRANDER
Drain IOOF Cemetery, Drain, Oregon

Drain City Cemetery, Drain, Oregon

Mary Patricia “Mary Pat” REYNOLDS
Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Ames Cemetery, Ames, Iowa

Ducklow Cousin Crows over His Latest Book
New Book Released Geared for Elementary-Aged Audience

[Published April 22, 2011]

The Greater Ducklow family has an active children’s book author – Tony J. Ducklow. He is the son of the late Lyle Ducklow and descends from our common ancestral grandparents, Thomas and Elizabeth Ducklow.   Tony has just announced the release his latest novel, called “The Summer of the Crows.”  It is a tale of the adventures of Tucker McTeal a fifth-grader who, among his many summer exploits with friends, develops a special relationship with crows.  The initial reaction from readers who where given a sneak-peak of the book have been enthusiastic.  One reader says, “This book is good for kids because it’s like a kid’s life.  There’s a lot of action and I learned a lot about crows.”

Tony drew on his own childhood experiences to write this book, including raising a pet crow. He says, “I had the unique pleasure of having a pet crow as a boy and I’ve always known how smart they were.  I wanted to share some of the fun with readers.”

As a St. Paul elementary school teacher, Tony knows his audience.  He has taught in an elementary setting for 14 years.  And beyond teaching children, Tony once produced and starred in children’s cable TV show called Captain McCool that was patterned after Axel and Carman, Casey Jones and Roundhouse Rodney, and Clancy the Cop, three shows that were the staple of Twin Cities children programming during the 1960s and early 1970s.

The “Summer of the Crows” is a lot of fun and sure to entertain many young readers this summer. The book is now available as an e-book and can be purchased for $2.99 by going to this link at Amazon.com and will also be available in paperback for $5.99 soon.   It has its own facebook page too. You can find that http://www.facebook.com/l/2f884LiTJZSo2EcM-zxNzfMMFhA/SummeroftheCrows.com.

Besides penning The Summer of the Crows, Tony has also written Where Angels Tread in 2002 and is currently working on an autobiography with former Olympian and pro hockey player Frank Sanders.

Congratulations to Tony!

The Mystery of Maria Jane Dukelow
[Published March 29, 2011] [Updated March 30, 2011]

There has always been somewhat of a puzzle over the exact number of children born to our ancestral grandparents, Thomas and Elizabeth Ducklow / Dukelow.  The number has appeared to 13 by accounts of from many different sources.  But there has be a bit of lingering doubt if this number should be 14 due to a mysterious baptismal record for a baby named Maria Jane Dukelow -- whose parents were Thomas and Elizabeth Dukelow.  This record of baptism is from St. Paul’s Episcopal church, the same church were Thomas and Elizabeth and family were very active members. Despite the name being linked to Thomas and Elizabeth, this record seemed spurious, as no other references to Maria Jane have been discovered.  It also puts the child count beyond 13 which conflicts with other reliable information on the children of the family.   The name Maria Jane Dukelow is only known to be documented by this one church record. It has been tempting to disregard the record, but the source is so authoritative that to do so would be a compromise of research integrity. So this one record of Thomas and Elizabeth's Maria Jane has remained a mystery.


Left: Elizabeth Ducklow Hanson and John Hanson. Circa 1922.  Picture from the Ruth Sandmann Photo Collection. Elizabeth is about age 66 here.

Examining the records again today, I think I have unknotted the issue.  

The ninth child of Thomas and Elizabeth Ducklow was Elizabeth Ducklow born on October 10, 1856. This Elizabeth grew into adulthood and went on to marry John Hanson.  Together, John and Elizabeth farmed and raised their family of eight children near Poskin in Barron County, Wisconsin.  It seems very straightforward to concluded that the Elizabeth Ducklow Hanson was named after her mother, Elizabeth Nicholson Ducklow. This reasoning is logical and traditional, but now appears to be not quite accurate. I believe that Elizabeth Ducklow Hanson was originally named Maria Jane Ducklow.

Why would her name change? How did Maria Jane become to be known as Elizabeth?

Maria Jane had a slightly older sister named Elizabeth.  About four months after Maria Jane’s birth, older sister Elizabeth died in February of 1857. Elizabeth was about 18 months old.  In the grief of losing a loved baby, the family decided to rename four-month old Maria Jane to honor baby Elizabeth.  Naming a new baby after a sibling who died as an infant was quite common during this period.  In fact Thomas and Elizabeth had done this once before when infant son George died and they named their next son George (see footnote).  No doubt the short gap in age (maybe 14 months) between the first Elizabeth and re-named Maria Jane blurred the line of identity of the two infants and eased the grieving process. So Maria Jane became Elizabeth. What seems to be unique about this case is that is s a re-naming of a several-weeks-old baby after its sibling died in contrast to the naming a new-born.

While there is not absolute proof that this name change occurred, the known facts support the argument well.  Here are five reasons why I believe this to be true:

(1) There is a baptism record for a Maria Jane Dukelow born to Thomas and Elizabeth Dukelow (not Ducklow – see footnote) recorded in the St. Paul Episcopal church records.

(2) Beyond this one baptism record, there is no further mention of a Maria Jane in other known records for Thomas and Elizabeth’s family, including a Federal Census taken in 1860.

(3) No baptism record can be located for the second baby Elizabeth born to Thomas and Elizabeth.  However all of Thomas and Elizabeth's other children that were born in Wisconsin have baptism records at St. Pauls, including the first baby Elizabeth baptized 11 November 1855.

(4) The baptism date of Maria Jane is Nov 9, 1856.  Second baby Elizabeth's birthday is October 10th 1856, a one-month period typical of the time elapse between a birth and baptism.

(5) The obituary for Thomas Ducklow (Sr.) states that he and Elizabeth had 13 children. Accounting for Maria Jane would require 14 children.  By recognizing the Maria Jane and second baby Elizabeth are the same person restores the count to 13.

You may wonder that when Thomas and Elizabeth changed Maria Jane's name to Elizabeth did they have to change Maria Jane’s birth certificate?  The short answer is no.  Recall that Wisconsin became a state in 1848 and had very a limited government regulation in 1856.  It was not until 1907 that the state required births to be registered. So in this case there was no birth certificate to be concerned with.  The lack of red tape meant there was no real barrier to renaming a child, especially a child that was only four months old.  It was simply a matter of calling the baby a new name.  The church may have frowned a bit on this, but no doubt there are many other examples of children being baptized with one name, but called by something completely different in day-to-day life.

So with this explanation, the mystery of the name Maria Jane Dukelow / Ducklow is solved. Elizabeth Ducklow Hanson was actually, at least according to St. Paul's church’s records, Maria Jane Ducklow Hanson.



(1) Elizabeth’s older brother, George was the second George of the family.  Infant George was born September 1849 and died October 14, 1850.  The next child born to Thomas and Elizabeth was also named George.  He was born 10 August 1851.

(2) As documented elsewhere in this blog, the spelling of the surname Ducklow took several forms, especially before the 1860s.  Dukelow was a common spelling, and was used by several of Thomas’ half-brothers. It is possible that another Thomas Dukelow lived in the Ashippun area and had a child named Maria Jane and attended church at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.  While possible, it seems unlikely. 

(3) Of all the records viewed, Elizabeth Ducklow Hanson name never appears with a middle name.  A possible future discovery of her middle name of being Maria or Jane or Maria Jane would certainly add  credibility to this story.

(4) In a bit of ironic near miss of overlapping names, my wife's name is Jane Marie Ducklow.

The Joy of a Sugar Bush
And the Price of Maple Syrup in 1918 and 2011
[Published February 26, 2011]

In a few short weeks maple syrup making season begins.  Near Spring Valley the season normally starts shortly after St. Patrick’s Day and runs until the first or second week of April.  I love maple syrup season as it signals spring is here (or nearly here) and it offers a chance to play in the woods.

Left: Harley Rudesill sampling sap ca. spring 1951

Two years ago my brother-in-law Andy decided to start a small maple syrup making operation— called a “sugar bush”—in the woods surrounding his home.  His motivation was for mostly for the joy of it as it is a great way to bring family and friends together after a long winter.  Jane and I have been heavily involved with Andy’s operation and expect to do so again this year.  We call our family sugar bush the  “Jewel of the Spile.”  A spile is the name for the hollow peg driven into the trees that directs sap into a collection bucket.  Our little operation has just over 100 taps and that results in producing maybe 75 to 100 gallons of syrup each season. Roughly 40 gallons of sap boiled down produce a single gallon of maple syrup. We have an open-air pan in the woods, fueled by a wood furnace that is the heart of the syrup-making operation.  On weekends friends and family gather to collect the sap and taste the various stages of the nectar from the maple trees.  It can be a lot of fun.  We have had many wonderful times and made many memories from the family little sugar bush operation. We are getting excited about the new season about to start!

OK, but what’s the history connection?

Right: Tillie Rudesill canning maple syrup ca. 1951

Left: The author and his nephew adding sap to the pan of boiling sap/syrup mixture. 2009.

I wish I could say that one our Ducklow long-past ancestors had a sugar bush too and that it earned the family funds to supplement their primary income.  I cannot (at least not yet).  However, producing maple syrup was one way many Wisconsin families earned a living the 1800s and into 1900s and it seems very likely that someone in the family ran the own sugar bush.  My immediate family was involved in helping our neighbor, Conrad Stein, in running his sugar bush when I was a teenager in the 1970s. Conrad’s small operation gave him a little extra spending money from the sale of syrup and our family got the joy of helping a kindly old neighbor, with good exercise in the springtime warmth, and a reward of a gallon of syrup for our season’s work. 

Right: A collection bucket and spile hanging off a maple tree 2009.

Here is a connection to history - specifically maple syrup price history in Western Wisconsin. Today my wife was looking over a section of the Spring Valley Sun-Leader from 1918 in doing some of her own family research.  The June 1918 Sun-Leader had a small note that the going price of maple syrup was $2.25 a gallon!  This price stuck me as kind of high for 1918.  So I started a bit of research to put this price in context.

In 1918 a typical family in America made an income of about $1,500 per year.  This breaks down to about $29 per week or $0.73 per hour for a 40-hour work week.  So a gallon of syrup cost many families about three hours of income. Today pure maple syrup runs in the range of $35 to $60 per gallon, depending upon whom you know.  Using $50 as a nominal price, it would take about two or three hours of wages for many American families to buy a gallon of “liquid gold.”  So the $2.25 price in 1918 and the $50 price in 2011 are roughly on par.  The run-up in price from $2.25 to $50 over 93 years is the result in having an avarage annual inflation rate of about 3.5 percent over the period.

Left: Quart of maple syrup from the Jewel of the Spile operation

So there is the history / economics lesson all linked back to the upcoming maple syrup season.  I wonder how much maple syrup I have left in cupboard?   I’m getting hungry for some pancakes!

Footnotes:  The 1950s era pictures were too good not to use.  They are ancestors from my wife's family.

Churchill Quote
"History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." —Winston Churchill 1874-1965

The Guilty Conscience
(Yet Another Connection Between the Vern Ducklow and Gideon Arneson Families)
[Published January 9, 2011]

This weekend I told my mother about the old postcard I purchased on eBay showing the spoke, stave and heading factory that was located in the “flats” between St. John’s Cemetery and the Eau Galle River in Spring Valley.  We discussed how funny / odd it was that the 1909 postcard was addressed to Mrs. Gideon Arneson—the wife of the man who was in a race of sorts to be married before my Grandfather Vern Ducklow.  To learn the full story of that check my prior posts here and here.

I asked my mother if she recalled what Gideon Arenson did for a living.  At first she couldn’t recall, but then an old memory surfaced that he was once in the mercantile business.  The reason mom remembered was due to a conscience-clearing letter sent from Vern’s daughter Audrey in the 1960s.  

Victor "Vic" Neil Ducklow
Smiling over the  counter of the "new" post office
Son of Vern and  Mina Bowen Ducklow

Circa 1969, age 47

Around 1964 Gideon stopped in the Spring Valley post office to pick-up his mail.  My father, Vic Ducklow, was a mail clerk there.  Dad retrieved his mail as Gideon purchased some stamps. As Vic handed Gideon his mail, he noticed one of Gideon’s letters had a return address of A. Thompson, Phoenix Arizona. He recognized the handwriting as that of his sister Audrey Thompson Ducklow – but had no idea why she would be writing to him.  He kept his professional poise making no note of the letter from his sister.

Audrey Ducklow Thompson
Daughter of Vern and Mina Bowen Ducklow
Circa 1960, age 56

Gideon looked through his mail and was immediately confounded by this letter from “A. Thompson Phoenix.”  He had no idea who this was and why anyone from Phoenix would be writing – so he opened the letter right in front of my father to discover its contents. After reading the letter to himself, he shared it aloud.

The writer said that when she was a girl she had stolen a 3-cent pack of gum from Gideon’s store (likely sometime in the 1920s). As she looked back over her life she had developed guilty conscience about swiping the gum and wanted to make restitution.  Enclosed was a dollar bill.  She did not sign the letter or offer her maiden name.  The only name was on the return address – A. Thompson.  To my mother’s knowledge, Gideon never did discover that A. Thompson was Audrey Ducklow.  My father too kept her identity hidden from Gideon – figuring that if she had wanted to share her complete identity she would have. Hearing this story gave me a better appreciation of the character of my Aunt Audrey.  If stealing a pack of gum was one of the worse sins she committed, and then writing a letter of apology some forty years later, she certainly ranks among the saints in the family!


Like Great Grandfather George Ducklow, Audrey suffered with asthma.  She and her husband Hank Thompson moved to Phoenix in the 1950s for the clear air and dry weather.  She died of complications of asthma in 1967.

So the answer to my original question to my mother was implicitly answered by this story – Gideon was, at least for a few years, a mercantile man in Spring Valley.

Upon receiving the dollar, it appears that Gideon received about 8% return on his 3-cent pack of gum over the 40-some years. 

Dad never brought up the story with anyone in the family, except my my mother.  I had never heard the story before she shared it with me on Jan. 9, 2011.