THS students take part in first annual Darlene Wurl Memorial Writing Contest
Essays focus on Tomahawk history
By Samuel Hernandez
Social Studies Teacher
TOMAHAWK – Last week, the winners of the first annual Darlene Wurl Memorial Writing Contest were announced at Tomahawk High School.
Darlene’s life was dedicated to helping kids appreciate language, and her own passion for writing. Tomahawk Area Historical Society President Patricia Pietila and board member Bill Sparr came up with the idea of an annual writing contest to honor the life of Darlene Wurl, and to work with the social studies department at THS.
All students in United States History at THS took part in a writing contest with the prompt: The History of a Part of Tomahawk’s History.
Students began the activity by taking a tour of the Tomahawk Area Historical Society at the end of September, which was coordinated by the members of the Historical Society.
Following the field trip, students researched various topics, people and events related to the history of Tomahawk as part of the U.S. History class.
The winners of the first annual Darlene Wurl Memorial Writing Contest and their prizes are: First place, Alli Palmer, Native American History of Tomahawk, $100.00; second place, Mathian Vojcik, Impact of Tomahawk Soldiers in War, $75.00; third place (tie), Caylie Swan, Mitchell Hotel Fire; and Riah Petta, Tomahawk Hospitals, $25.00 each.
A special thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Bishop for helping to fund the prize money for the contest.
Copies of the winning essays will be available at the Tomahawk Public Library, 300 W. Lincoln Ave., and Bumper to Bumper Auto Zone, 128 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Featured below are three of the winning essays.
‘Native Americans in Tomahawk’ by Alli Palmer
Some people think that the History of Tomahawk started when our founder William Bradley first purchased the land of Tomahawk. When actually, the history of Tomahawk dates back decades before the events of William Bradley. Before any logging company set foot on the forests of Tomahawk, the land belonged to the Ojibwe people. But who were the Ojibwe people? And why did they like Tomahawk so much?
In 1785, the Ojibwe people began to move to Wisconsin and its surrounding areas. They lived in wigwams and traveled the long rivers of Wisconsin in birch bark canoes, which made Tomahawk a very popular area, as it is right on the Wisconsin river. This helped with transporting goods to trade with neighboring tribes. The Ojibwe relied heavily on the fur trade, they would often value their relationship with the Dakota, a nearby tribe. The Ojibwe people made as much use of the land as they could, without wasting it. They hunted game and fished in the rivers and lakes, and made maple sugar and syrup. Tomahawk was known as a favorite hunting territory, and soon, they decided to name this area Tomahawk, which means “by nature’s own hands”.
The Ojibwe believed in a single creating force and multiple spirits that play roles in the universe. Ojibwe culture was structured around reciprocity, and gift-giving played an essential role in their society. This can be seen in the relationship between the Ojibwe and the nearby Dakota tribe. Due to the fur trade, the two tribes relied heavily on one another, and their relationship grew. The two tribes were often more at peace than at war.
Ojibwe communities were much different than the communities we see today here in Tomahawk. They were structured around animals and their spirits. Different communities, called clans, represented different aspects of Ojibwe society. Political leaders came from loon or crane clans, while warriors came from lynx, martin, and wolf clans.
The collapse of the fur trade affected the Ojibwe people dramatically, as it was one of their only sources of income and trade with other tribespeople and some settlers. This left them with a tiny portion of what was their homeland before the 1800s. In 1866, a final treaty was signed by the Ojibwe people. They all agreed to live on reservations at Odanah and Lac De Flambeau. This left the territory open to settlers and logging companies, which soon took over. Logging procedures started on the Tomahawk Territory.
To this date, our history can be seen all around the town, and even in our school mascot. The Hatchet, also known as an axe was used by the Ojibwe people in battle, its sharp blades were a reliable weapon. It was also used as a symbol of peace. When chiefs of a tribe would meet, they would bury their hatchets and other weapons as signs of peace.
‘History of the Mitchell Hotel Fire’ by Caylie Swan
Chain reactions are insane, knowing that one small thing can affect hundreds of people and over a dozen buildings. They can be both for the better and the worse though and Tomahawk has many positive chain reactions along with negative chain reactions. One of Tomahawks’ worst chain reactions happened on a cold Wednesday back on March 6, 1929.
The Mitchell Hotel was located right on Main Street making it a popular hotel. March 6 was an exceptionally cold day out which did not help the fire that took place a little after noon. The fire supposedly started in the cloakroom of the hotel. Thankfully everyone got out of the hotel unharmed. The Tomahawk Fire Department reported first but they couldn’t take it on by themselves so neighboring towns were called in; Merrill didn’t arrive here until around 2:00 pm because the roads were snow covered and dangerous to travel on; however, as soon as the Merrill Fire Department arrived in town they broke down after the long road trip. Phillips didn’t arrive until a little after 3:00 pm with the slippery and dangerous roads.
Meanwhile, the very hot temperatures of the fire caused chaos throughout the town with bursting windows of the hotel and surrounding buildings even across the street, the windy air spreading the fire to 18 other buildings and sewers started cracking with the cool temperatures mixed with the heat. Not only that, but the cool temperatures outside led to lower pressure in the water hose and frozen water nozzles. The fire was spreading fast and with electricity out the whole town gathered around in hopes it would stop soon and anyone who could pitched in to help. The Fire departments were desperate to get the fire to stop. They thought using dynamite to make a space in the buildings would help break up the buildings and the fire wouldn’t spread any farther; however, the exact opposite happened and it spread even faster.
The fire wouldn’t end until mid morning on March 27, 1929. The fire was battled for a little under 24 hours and left smokey residue and ash all over the town, especially on main street. Many people described it as fog on the streets. The fire ended up costing around $234,500 along with the Mitchell Hotel owner claiming that he was going to rebuild a fireproof hotel with 50 rooms.
The Mitchell Hotel Fire caused a chain reaction that included 18 other buildings getting burned and scarred by the fire. Everyone in the town of Tomahawk felt the reaction of the Mitchell Hotel Fire and was a little bit burned both figuratively and literally but gratefully everyone came out of the fire alive. This fire will go down as one of the worst fires in Tomahawk history and is a very significant event that took place in the community but is often forgotten about.
‘History of the Tomahawk Hospitals’ by Riah Petta
When the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother arrived in Tomahawk on Oct. 19, 1893, it was the start of something extraordinary. Sisters M. Anna Niegel, M. Alexia Baurer, M. Gabriel Ortleib, M. Clementia Raes, M. Dionysia Griebel, and a few others immediately put forth their efforts into starting and establishing a sister’s hospital here in Tomahawk. Because of the urgent pleading of the Reverend Charles Hoogstoel, pastor of St. Mary’s Church, the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother officially agreed to start the first hospital ever in Tomahawk Wisconsin.
The Sister’s hospital was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on July 20th, 1894. It was a small two-story building located at Fourth Street and Wisconsin Avenue. However, this hospital was poorly suited for its purpose at the time. After a couple of months of cold and hardships, the sisters accepted the opportunity to rent Mrs. E. J. Theiler’s residence at 127 Spirit Avenue and Sixth Street. The early records of this second hospital show that nine patients were admitted between Dec. 2, 1893, and Jan. 12, 1894. During the winter of 1893-1894, Fr. Joch drew up the plans for once again, a new hospital. After a conference with William Bradley, it was agreed that the site for the hospital should occupy a plot of ground directly north of the newly constructed church and parsonage. This hospital was a two-story building and it was declared the Sacred Heart Hospital.
The first seven years were extremely difficult for Sacred Heart Hospital. The sisters had to make many measures for them to be able to keep the institution open. The income was poor and they even had to beg for worn-out sheets and pillow slips. On top of that, the sisters had to gather firewood directly behind the hospital to reduce their fuel expenses. For a short time, they were even forced to beg for charitable donations and travel from one logging camp to another to sell hospital tickets to lumbermen. This later worked to their advantage and brought them a lot of business.
During the first 14 years of its history, the Sacred Heart Hospital became very successful and accomplished much good for the community. In 1908 an addition even increased the length of the building by 60 feet and raised the capacity to 32 beds. For this addition, the Bradley Company offered a donation of $6000 and it was returned to the sisters as a donation toward future maternity care and an isolation unit. This was a big deal and helped aid in expanding the hospital even more.
The women and men who founded Catholic healthcare in Tomahawk worked together as one. They carried out both the ministry of healing, and serving the community. Because of everyone’s actions and hard work, these people are a living sign of God’s love and healing presence. Although the Sacred Heart Hospital no longer remains where it last was, the now Aspirus Sacred Heart Hospital’s mission is the same as it was from the very start. To be rooted in the loving ministry of Jesus as a healer, to serve all persons with special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable, to offer spiritually centered, holistic care that sustains and improves the health of individuals and communities, just like back in 1893.