The history of Bear Paw begins 1.7 billion years ago. Much of the exposed rock that you see as you drive into camp is an igneous intrusion, thrust upward by the collision of plates. The small island of exposed granite around Bear Paw is among the oldest rock in Wisconsin and can be found throughout the northern highlands.
The biggest event in Wisconsin geological history is the advent of the ice age. Glaciers covered camp about 18,000 to 12,000 years ago and Bear Paw was among the last places to see retreat. A majority of the landscape around camp is a pitted outwash plain, formed when the glacial meltwaters deposited gravel and the sand that now covers the dining hall floor daily.
The depression that is Bear Paw Lake was likely formed in the recession of the Green Bay lobe of the Wisconsin glacier and the erosion and deposits from its melt waters. A small spring, southeast of camp, ensures that Bear Paw Lake remains supplied with clean fresh water.
 Native Heritage
The first recorded residents of the lands north and west of Green Bay were members of the Menominee Tribe. Oral traditions hold that the Menominee migrated from points in Upper Michigan in the 1400's when pressured by westward migration of the Ojibwe and Potawatomi. It was the Menominee who first met the French voyegeurs following Jean Nicolet's landing in Green Bay in 1634.
European settlement pressures in the east in the mid 17th century forced many eastern tribes to seek refuge in occupied lands. This brought tribal confict to northeastern Wisconsin and the near extinction of the Menominee. The influence of the French fur traders with treaties and trade agreements brought some stability to the region in the second half of the century and ultimately inspired visiting tribes to other lands. Menominee alliances and knack for steering clear of major conflict protected their homestead in through the 18th century and British control.
At the beginning of the 1800's the pressure of American westward expansion started to appear in Wisconsin. In 1822 the Americans gave the Menominee permission to sell land to the ousted Iroquis from New York. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 and Statehood in 1848 forced Menominee to sell more of their Wisconsin homelands. Noting the less positive fates of other relocated tribes, the Menominee signed a treaty in 1854 creating their current reservation land just miles southwest of Bear Paw.
Northeastern Wisconsin is littered with locations bearing names of Menominee origin including: Peshtigo, Oconto, Shawano, Suamico, and of course Menominee, MI.
 European Settlement
The first European visitors to northeastern Wisconsin were French fur traders. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries the fur trade grew and British, Canadians, and eventually Americans replaced the French presence. With the addition of the Northwest Territories in 1787, these lands became part of the United States of America. In 1827 the first Oconto County settlement was established in Pensaukee with a granary and sawmill. Logging and farming upset trapping as the primary land uses in northeastern Wisconsin.
The Anson Eldred Company began logging in the Mountain area in 1860 and permanent settlers first arrived in 1877. It was the extension of the railroad to Mountain in 1896 that brought the logging boom that would last until the Great Depression of the 1930's. The 1898 Plat Book for Oconto County shows the property surrounding Bear Paw Lake under the ownership of one of the biggest and most successful logging companies, The Oconto Company.
 The CCC and Everybody Wants to Camp
The Great Depression of the 1930's brought the end of financial success for massive logging operations in the northwoods. Former loggers returned to farming, but most found that the soils around Bear Paw were unsuitable for crop production and the area suffered.
Recognizing the need for proper forest management after the heavy logging of the last 70 years, Congress and the State of Wisconsin authorized the purchase of lands by the US Forest Service. Beginning in 1928 the Forest Service began purchasing large portions of land in northern Wisconsin, including areas in Oconto County in 1932. In 1933 this land was named the Nicolet National Forest and the 409,000 acres in 1929 has grown to over 1,500,000 today.
In 1933, Congress and President Roosevelt authorized the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program to employ young men on civic projects. Lead by the Army, CCC men worked building fire roads, constructing fire towers, planting trees, constructing erosion control devices, and developing outdoor recreational facilities. At one time or another 94 CCC camps were built and in operation in Wisconsin. It is fitting that the first Camp Bear Paw, was a CCC Camp.
Boy Scouts from the DuPage Council in Illinois were the first to use Bear Paw Lake for a scout camp. Through the late 30's and early 40's, the Oconto Company granted Illinois Boy Scouts permission to hold summer camp. An old log cabin, built on the site of the Nicolet Dining Hall was the only permanent building. The story of the first Bear Paw is best told in this Bill Eagan Letter to modern Camp Ranger, Andy Anderson.
 Finally...Bear Paw Scout Camp
Since 1922, the Nicolet Area Council of Green Bay had been camping on property purchased by Judge Henry Grass on Moonlight Bay in Door County, Wisconsin. By 1945, the scouts had outgrown Camp Grass and found themselves in the market for a permanent Boy Scout camp. New Scout Executive E.A. Rowley tasked himself with finding suitable land to build a camp. After discovering the former DuPage Council camping grounds he convinced the Oconto Company (who had stopped major logging operations in 1943) to sell to the Boy Scouts for $15,000. Council President Mike Anuta worked tirelessly to spearhead funding, raising about $100,000 to purchase the land and develop a camp.
During the spring of 1946 Rowley spent his efforts drawing plans, moving dirt, and with the help of new Camp Ranger Ralph Riggio constructing camp. Rowley and Riggio became the core of the camp staff and that summer, campers first visited Bear Paw Scout Camp.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The story of the creation of Bear Paw Scout Camp is best told in this Allyn Rowley Essay, a first hand account of those crazy days in 1946.
 Links to BPSC.org
- Geology of Wisconsin - Steven Dutch
- Menominee Tribal History - Lee Sultzman
- Oconto County History
- History of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forests
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