General History

The following is a little bit history of where our sports came from. It is important that our history if not forgotten. Modern day cities like Chicago and New York were first built of wood harvested by the old time lumberjacks.

River Driving (Rafting)

River driving originated as a way for the lumberjacks to transports the logs from the woods to the sawmills. The lumberjacks could be cutting timber hundreds of miles into the woods, so it was too far for them to build roads, or for them to be transported by the railroads. So during the winter cutting season, the logs would be cut and skidded to the banks of the frozen rivers by horse and oxen where they would be stacked until spring. When the spring thaw cam, the river drivers, equipped with nothing but caulked (spiked) boots and a piked (metal pick on the end) pole, would roll the logs into the rivers and would drive the mass of logs down the rivers by balancing on top of them. River driving was the most dangerous work in the camp. They could fall into the icy cold water and be crushed between the moving mass of logs, or they could even fall into the icy cold water and get hypothermia.

Log Jams

LARGEST LOG JAM IN THE WORLD – It took 150 lumberjacks, 5 teams of horses, and one steam engine 6 months to break up this log jam on the mississippi River in 1894. Located near Little Falls, MN, the log jam was almost seven miles long, a half-mile wide and 60 feet thick in most places. It was estimated to contain over four billion feet of lumber. Click on the photo to enlarge. (Photo Courtesy The Minnesota Historical Society)

There was also the danger of log jams. Log jams occurred at places where the water was shallow, or where there were bends in the rivers. The river drivers did their best to keep the logs moving, but with thousands of logs, it was hard to stop a jam once it started. Log jams were broken by either using dynamite, or by digging through the pile until they got to the key log. The key log was the one log that was holding the entire jam back. It could be many feet inside a log jam, making it very dangerous to remove. Many lumberjacks, sometimes five or six at a time, were killed while removing these jams. Due to the high danger associated with river driving, the river drivers were the most highly skilled, and the most highly respected men in the logging camps. They were able to ride the logs through rapids, fast water, even dams built in the rivers (dams were sometimes necessary for the water to be deep enough to transport the logs). Because the river driver’s work was the most dangerous in the camp, they were the most highly paid. For a days work, they were paid anywhere from seventy-five cents to a dollar.

THIS HUGE LOG JAM was on the St. Croix River in 1886 near Taylor Falls, Minn. The log were probably being floated to sawmills in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Click on the photo to enlarge. (Photo Courtesy The Minnesota Historical Society)

Log Rolling (Birling)

The sport of logrolling was a direct result of river driving. The art of standing on a log and rolling it was one that was perfected by the men as they drove the logs down the rivers. When they reached the sawmill, and all the river drives were finished, the lumberjacks and logging camps would have contests to see who was the best axeman, sawyer, or river driver. For the contest of river driving, they would put in upwards of two or three men on a log in a river or pond, and let them roll it out. The last person still standing on the log was the winner. And so the sport of logrolling was born.

RIVER MEN USE PIKE POLES to maneuver logs above a dam on the Mississippi River near Minneapolis in 1881. The logs were funneled into a sluice gate where they passed through the dam on their journey to the many sawmills along the river. Click on the photo to enlarge. (Photo Courtesy The Minnesota Historical Society)

Boom Running

When the logs got to the sawmills, they had to be sorted into different groups by the stamp that was burned into them. The stamps were used to indicate which camp or company had cut the logs. In order to keep them all straight, they would place the logs into booms. A boom is a long string of logs that are connected end to end. They would place the logs into these booms for easy storage, sorting purposes, even transporting them. If the boom needed to be opened, or if it broke, the runners would run out on the connected string of logs and fix it, or disconnect it. This job developed into the sport of boom running that we have today.