Lakes area by squire acres (approximate)
1) Bertram Lake - 137 acres | Depth – 42 feet
2) Long Lake - 160 acres | Depth - 35 feet
3) Mud Lake (Middle) – 25 acres | Depth - 35 feet
4) First Lake – 14 acres | Depth - 37 feet
5) Beaver Pond – 18 acres | Depth - Varies
Otter creek flows into the west side of Bertram Lake from Birch Lake to the west. As it flows through the property, it is regulated by the dam at Bertram and by other sources of ground water plus water from Beaver Pond. It flows out of First Lake, through the Monticello Golf Club by Otter Creek Park to the Mississippi. Many local townsfolk often refer to Otter Creek as First Creek because it flowed out of First Lake. In the early years of Monticello, a grist mill was built by the Creek where it enters the Mississippi and for years was referred to as Mill Creek.
The Land consists of:
- 201 acres of tillable farm land
- 20 acres of pasture (horse grazing) but in the past it was used for sheep grazing
- 120 acres of pine plantation
- 170 acres of deciduous forest
- 200 acres Otter Creek, and miscellaneous (roads, building, etc.)
“Frontier Justice” wasn’t always limited to cowboy towns as seen in many old movies – it happened right here in Wright County.
Henry Wallace settled near Rockford in the spring of 1858. He cleared land to farm and built a log home. He was educated and reputed wealthy.
Oscar Jackson settled 2 miles from Mr. Wallace also clearing land and building a small home.
The two sometimes worked together during the summer haying season.
Early September a rumor spread that Wallace was missing and an ensuing search party found his remains in a clump of willow.
Suspicion was on Mr. Jackson and based on some evidence he was arrested and indicted at the next district court which was held in Monticello in March, 1859. The case went trial and in April 1859 Mr. Jackson, to the surprise of all, was found “Not Guilty”.
After leaving for a month, Jackson returned to Wright County and was arrested on a charge of larceny. While in custody (Monticello) an armed body of enraged citizens stormed the jail, took Jackson to Rockford, where he was hung at the Wallace farm.
News of Jackson’s death spread and other residents of the area clamored for the arrest and punishment of the “lynchers” or “mob”. One of the “lynchers” was arrested and jailed in Monticello only to be set free by the rest of the “mob” for fear of being turned in.
All of this forced Henry Sibley, Governor of Minnesota, to issue a proclamation “….in view of the fact that the civil officers of Wright County are perfectly powerless to enforce and execute the laws, I do hereby declare the said County of Wright in a state of insurrection…..”
Three separate groups of police or “Guards”, each numbering around 40, for a total of 120, were sent to Wright County, along with military wagons of arms and provisions to keep the peace and prevent riot and rebellion.
As a result “peace” was restored and the laws upheld.
Why do I write about this? because, the sheriff during all of this was our own George Bertram.
After moving to Monticello area in 1855, George Bertram spent several years as Sheriff of the newly formed County of Wright so it seemed right to him that at the outbreak of the Civil War he would volunteer to serve. He enlisted in the 3rd Regiment of Company H of the Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. Their duty took them south to Tennessee where they met the Confederates at Murfeesboro, Tennessee which is 40 miles southeast of Nashville. They were outnumbered 4-1 by southern volunteers and Texas Rangers yet they were still able to put up a valiant effort before being taken as prisoners. It was during this imprisonment that George Bertram suffered sunstroke that was to plague him the rest of his life. After being “paroled” by the rebels, he was transferred to the Invalid Corp and was assigned to “light” duty at Fort Snelling.
Julia was the wife of George Bertram. They moved to the Monticello area in 1855 after spending a few years in the newly formed town of Excelsior, Minnesota. For a while she was the only white woman west of St. St.Anthony, Minnesota and was well thought of by the Sioux of the area.
In moving to Monticello in 1855, the only “roads” available were oxen trails that followed the paths of the natives of the area. Therefore, the only means of transportation was by wagon or on foot.
Julia and George were involved in the very early establishing of the town of Monticello, especially the faith community. The Congregational Church was born in their home with them both being charter members. It is interesting to note here that in most organizational listings of the time only men were listed.
Julia’s life was always a busy one, whether in charitable endeavors, comforting the sick or aiding the needy, white or native.
Due to her husband business and busyness, she did the majority of the raising of their 5 children (3 boys and 2 girls) while still maintaining as active involvement in the community.
Julia outlived George by 22 years and upon her death was intured beside her husband at Riverside Cemetery. As a testament to her life, on the day of her funeral all the businesses and school were suspended in her memory.
Most Minnesotans have heard of the term “The Big Woods” but what exactly does it mean? The term was originally the name given to the region by French explorers: le Grand Bois. This region covered most of south central Minnesota, a portion of western Wisconsin and a part of south central Minnesota. It also covered some of the area along the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Most of the Big Woods was bordered on the west and south by the beginning of the Great Plains.
The Big Woods was dominated by American elm, basswood (linden), sugar maple, and red oak. The understory was composed of ironwood, green ash, aspen and birch. The entire area covered as much as 5,000 square miles and created a canopy that at times, blocked the sun and limited undergrowth.
A small part of the Big Woods is being preserved in pristine condition in Nerstrand – Big Wood State Park, which is located just east of Fairbault, Minnesota and there is a plaque commemorating the Big Wood located off Interstate 35 near Elko, Minnesota.
Wright County lies just off the northern edge of the region but some areas still bear the characteristics of the “Woods”. To see and experience what it may have been like one has only to visit Lake Maria State Park. But, there is also
an area of the Bertram Lakes that still has the “feel” of the Big Woods and that is in the area between Bertram Lake and Long Lake. Walk the area, get off the trails and find the groves of ironwood, basswood and maple. You will love it!
I am a very avid reader, however this has not always been true. Until the age of 20, I only read comic books and the Sunday funnies. My favorites were “action” comics where the good guys always beat the bad guys and saved the day. I guess this is why some of my current readings have followed this same theme. One such author is Clive Cussler. A voracious writer of action novels that center around lost ships, history, bad guys and heros. It was while reading his novel, Valhalla Rising, that I came across an interesting tidbit about Viking ships and the Monticello area – especially Bertram Lake.
One aspect of the book was that the Vikings in the eleventh century had discovered the New World (North America) and began exploring the land. During their travels they had created records of their trip on Rune Stones and placed them in certain locations along their route. One such place was west of the Mississippi River next to a lake that later became known as Bertram.
“…. she heard the thumping sound of a helicopter approaching her farm outside Monticello, Minnesota. Her house was typical midwestern farm structures: a wooden frame and siding, a chimney that rose from the living room through the upstairs bedroom and a peaked roof with two gables. Across a broad grassy lawn stood a red barn in pristine condition. The property had once been a working dairy farm, but now the barn was her office and the three hundred acres of wheat, corn and sunflowers were sharecropped and sold on the market. Behind the farm, the lane dropped down a sloping bank to the shoreline of Bertram Lake. The blue-green waters were surrounded by trees, and the shallow water around the edges was filled with lily pads. Bertram was popular with fishermen……….”
It seems that Mr. Cussler must have visited the location to have such detail. It’s nice to know that many people have at least read about our little corner of the world.
After World War II, the United States was involved in a large construction project and the demand for cement and lime was very high. The Lehigh Cement Company bought up the land containi
ng First Lake, Mud Lake, and Long Lakes of the Bertram Chain because they contained large amounts of “marl”. Technically, “marl” is a result of glaciations when lime (or calcium bicarbonate) leaches through the sandy soil of the area and dissolves into the ground water. During spring runoff, the water flows into the lakes and changes into insoluble mono carbonate which is precipitated to the lake bottom. After thousands of years these deposits have reached depths of 15 – 20 feet. Marl is very useful for agricultural lime and as a source for the manufacture of Portland cement.
The Lehigh Cement plant was located at the north edge of Mud Lake and it was there for 2 specific reasons. 1. It had access to County Road 39 and 2, the new dam on Otter Creek below Bertram could control the water levels of Long, Mud and First Lakes, thereby making the marl more accessible with lower water levels.
Because of the marl the water remains very clear and free of water “algae blooms” in the summer while inhibiting the growth of troublesome plants and limiting the production of organic matter.
In an earlier “Tidbit” called “A Monument to the Man”, I mentioned that George Bertram’s grave was located at Riverside Cemetery. This is true but Riverside Cemetery was not created and dedicated until 1883 – 5 years after Bertram’s death. This was the discrepancy that created the mystery – until now.
Upon researching the Hillside Cemetery (the one next to Perkins restaurant), I found that plot number 145 was held under the name of Bertram who died in 1878. After Riverside was opened in 1885, the body was moved to it’s present site where it lies in rest beside the grave of his wife, Julia. The exact date of the transfer is unknown, Bertram’s wife, Julia, died in 1901.