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Town History

ATTN: Mayor Randall Schneider

Below is a brief history of Loutre, as per your request it is complete, if brief according to the best of my resources.

Eric Lafleur, town historian.

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Loutre is a village in Sawyer County, Wisconsin, United States. At the time of the 2010 census its population was 4,000. It is located near Lake Chippewa.

Geography

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 5 square miles (8.0 km²) of which 4.6 square miles (7.4 km²) is land and .4 square miles (0.6 km²) of it (12%) is water.

History

Loutre began as an outpost founded by French fur trappers in the early 1600s. The initial settlement was marked predominately by complete cooperation between the French and local Native American tribes. This may be due to the fact that the trappers lived there only in the summers, with the trappers spending the winters with their wives and families in more developed nearby settlements. In fact it could be argued that Loutre was more of a grown man’s summer camp. It has also, however, been noted that the Native Americans in the area seemed almost happy to give the land over to the settlers.

In time the fur trade gave way to the lumber trade and the bluffs, thick woods, nearby lake access made the shift from fur to lumber both gradual and natural. Loutre remained largely a seasonal town until 1858. The town had was actually situated some 5 miles away from the, at the time, more successful village of Hammond. It was during this summer that the children of the town began reporting seeing a tall man stroll the nearby woods wearing a hat and coat and carrying a cane.  The adults in town thought it nothing more than the flights of fancy of young minds. In July however, the stranger came startlingly close and began to be seen by adults. Now, the tall stranger would stroll down the center street of the village every night. According to reports at the time, the stranger would start at the north end then walk to the southern end and continue into the woods. Most accounts of his walks differ on many points with some asserting that the walk always took him exactly 999 steps or that the walks always lasted exactly on hour and fifteen minutes.

These reports are, of course, apocryphal. It is more likely that wolves or possibly mountain lions, neither of which at the time were uncommon for the area, moved closer to towns in order to steal what food they could from the townsfolk. For whichever reason, the “nightwalker” or the more likely wild animals, in August the men made the decision to move their families to Loutre with them. They left the village of Hammond almost overnight, leaving the structures standing and instead electing to simply curtail the export of lumber in favor of using the stock to build up Loutre. The seasonal camp adapted well to being a year round home for an established population.

The lumber trade was a booming business for the town until the 1910s when the state designated the forests around Loutre a state heritage site due to the numerous cultural artifacts that continually surfaced in the area. It was a slow death that took the form of increased red tape for logging companies to successfully cut, restrictions on where they could cut, and in an incredibly forward thinking policy against clear cutting. Rather than decide to deal with these impediments to move out of state to the west coast. This all but devastated the town and the population dropped steadily until 1920.

In 1920 life was back into the now sleepy town in the form of Hack Dunmill. Henry “Hack” Dunmill made a small fortune beginning in 1920 after being relatively unknown he began spending large sums of money fixing up the houses of his family members. Stories began to circulate regarding his newfound wealth including everything from a pact with some demon forged deep in the woods, to the discovery of some ancient Native American treasure found on his property, to the far more likely bootlegging. In any case once Dunmill began pouring money into the rest of the town the suspicions quickly died down.

Between 1920 and 1935 Hack Dunmill singlehandedly built a library which became the largest in the region, a grade school and high school, and a new city hall. All of which were built with locally mined rock to Dunmill’s own architectural design and decorated with grotesques and gargoyles designed by local artists.

It was during the period between 1935 and 1955 that Loutre was at arguably its highest point. Along with the beautification of the city the high school athletics program became a regional powerhouse with players regularly being scouted by regional colleges. With so many families coming to Loutre to watch their children play against the Loutre High School Trappers and therefore, in front of scouts word of its charm got out and it became something of a tourist town.

This period ended swiftly and drastically in the fall of 1956 when a rash of kidnappings broke out in the town. By the end of winter a total of 11 children were missing. Investigations, including a dredging of the entirety of Lake Chippewa, which cut considerably into the town’s emergency fund, turned up nothing and the trails eventually went cold. This lead to a sharp decrease in visits to the area and a high number of families moving away from Loutre.

Eventually the population bleed stopped as the relatively cheap land and housing prices began to draw people back. Loutre is once again beckoning tourists with its woods and lake access, not to mention the beautiful bluffs and the recently discovered cliff paintings which were curiously never mentioned by any of the Native Americans in the area. The schools in the area are on their way to surpassing their former high performance mark and the town is seeing something of a resurgence.

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