Buckhorn State Park
Before the 1830s, this area of Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Indian land was considered "unbroken wilderness."
Reports of vast stands of pine timber enticed John Kingston to the area in the hope of finding these stands and establishing a lumbering company. In the winter of 1837, he and Samuel Pilkington walked miles of the frozen Wisconsin and Lemonweir rivers, finding no extensive pine forests. Discouraged, they returned to the Portage area believing the reports were only a myth. But in 1838, Kingston again tried exploring the Wisconsin River, this time starting from Grand Rapids. He found the mouth of the Yellow River where the dark color of the water convinced him that a large body of pine timber lay upstream. After staking a claim in the Necedah area, Kingston formed a lumber company with Thomas Weston and John Werner. Lumbering became the way of life in the newly established towns of Necedah, Germantown and Werner.
But his boom was short-lived. By 1877, most of the big white pines had been cut. Settlers moved in when the lumberjacks moved on. The whole area filled with small farms. Pasture was at a premium because of the area's marshes. Farmers' cows grazed woodlots, eliminating the brushy cover most wildlife needed.
But in the late 1920s, change was in the wind. There was talk that hydroelectric dams were coming to the area, which would forever change the rivers. Farms near the Wisconsin and Yellow rivers were being sold to the Wisconsin River Power Company in anticipation of the new impoundment.
Left unattended, the land began to follow natural succession, creating the typical central Wisconsin cover of aspen, scrub oak and jack pine now prevalent. This brush habitat allowed deer and other wildlife populations to increase dramatically.
In the late 1940s, upon completion of the Castle Rock dam, the Wisconsin and Yellow rivers backed up to form the Castle Rock Flowage. The towns of Germantown and Werner became just a memory as the flowage covered most of the land where they once existed.
But just as the water erased evidence of the area's past, it also etched the landscape, creating a new peninsula with countless finger-like sloughs that have become Buckhorn. The Department of Natural Resources purchased the land in 1974 with the goal that the state park and wildlife area planned would be managed to allow most of the land to again become "unbroken wilderness."
In 1999, the DNR bought an additional 3,221 acres of land along the Yellow River from Wisconsin River Power Company. Of this purchase, 2,581 acres were designated as the Yellow River Wildlife Area and 640 acres were added to Buckhorn State Park. In addition, the park acquired 116 acres of scattered small parcels between 1974 and 2004. 1,200 acres were purchased and added to the park in 2009.