Join us in our quest to experimentally create a fire-wrought dugout canoe using methods practiced since time immemorial.  On the last Friday of the month between May and September, we will progress through the process of carefully burning out a dugout canoe, each time trying out new methods and ideas.

What is a crackling fire without stories?  Imagine the world of centuries past through stories from the travel diary of Henry Schoolcraft—an explorer who spent many months dipping an oar into the legendary waterways of Wisconsin's uncharted frontier.

Whether you come to get your hands dirty or you prefer to simply observe and enjoy the stories, we hope you will join us in navigating uncharted waters as we experiment with the ancient art of turning a tree into a watercraft. 

FREE EVENT thanks to a grant from the Antiquarian Society of Wisconsin in memory of "Cissy" Bryson

Last Friday of each Month May-Sept.

Canoe burns last

from 6 to 8 pm, weather permitting

May 28: Getting Started

Peeling bark + splitting log + wooden wedge experiment + first burn


June 25: Interior Burn

Interior burn + historic char chipping experiment

July 30: Interior Burn

Interior burn + historic fire-starting methods

Aug.14: Exterior Shaping

*Special Sat. burn during Enduring Skills Workshop*

August 27: Exterior Shaping

Interior burn + fire-shaping bow and stern


September 24: Wrapping Up

Final Burn (hopefully!) + finishing experimentation

Adults and teens (accompanied by responsible adult) only

Come with an appetite for hands-on learning...and hot dogs!

While you're here, grab a stick from the woods and enjoy roasting a frank over this one-of-a-kind campfire. The cost of $7.00 includes a dog, bun, bottled water, and your choice of condiments. Your purchase will help support historic preservation at our historic site.


Dugout Canoe Diary

Rediscovering a Lost Skill

With the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, iron tools drastically changed how dugout canoes were made.  By the era of the Agency House (early 1830s), the ancient way of making canoes out of logs was a distant memory.  The adze and hatchet marks on canoes made from that time forward contrast with pre-Columbian specimens which exhibit charring and few, if any identifiable, tool marks.  How did Indigenous peoples make canoes with the tool kits we find through archaeology? The quest for the answer to how canoes were made with fire rather than iron tools has led researchers to the archives in search of the narratives of the earliest explorers, and then out to the woods to test theories using fire and stone, bone, and shell tools which are discovered through archaeology. Our project is indebted to earlier researchers, but is an ongoing process of experimentation in which we are excited to be involved.

Project Preparation: Feb / March

Dugout canoe construction is a massive undertaking. Literally. The tree needs to big enough to sit in. As can be imagined, that takes an awfully big log. The trunk must also be straight and have few low branches since every branch will leave a knot which could leak. Our log is from an ash tree and is about 12.5 feet long and 22 inches in diameter which is on the small end of the spectrum, but is similar in size to known examples. This tree was killed by beetles and has been standing dead for over a year. It sounds a little hollow, which could be good (or not), but we won't know until the top is split off. Wood species used in dugouts vary by region, but the use of hardwoods is well documented in the upper Midwest.

May 28: Getting Started

Check back soon!

Stories of Wisconsin: Dugout Canoe Project