One of the Northwoods earliest pioneers
Daniel Gagen, after whom the township of Gagen was named, and who was familiarly known as “Dan” Gagen by the inhabitants of not only Oneida County, but all over the Northwoods. Gagen was one of the notable pioneers of northern Wisconsin, using the word pioneer as applying to someone who came first and settled and remained in the area to build and civilize the region.
Gagen was born in England in the year 1834 to John and Charlotte Bates Gagen and Daniel had eleven brothers and sisters. Dan Gagen came to America in 1851 at the age of 17 years. Gagen already had a good business education, but he first worked in the copper mines of northern Michigan. It was a pretty wild country then and Native Americans outnumbered the white folks, and it was here that Gagen learned to love the Native Americans and their culture. The natives depended on the whites for many of their supplies, and would trade their furs for blankets, tools, firearms and sometimes liquor. The trade between them had been going on for more than two centuries since the first white man penetrated the region.
After a year working in the mines, Gagen moved to the Eagle River area, building a log cabin on what came to be known as “Gagen hill”, later known as Mitchell Point on Yellow Birch Lake. Gagen ran a trading post out of his log cabin in the 1860’s, making annual trips to Berlin, Wisconsin to sell his accumulated furs to L. S. Cohn. In 1862 Gagen married “Mary”, an Ojibwe tribe Native American, while living on Gagen hill in Eagle River. Mary was a gifted needle worker, an avocation she loved her entire life.
Towards the end of the Civil War, the fur trade dropped off and Gagen tried his hand at logging and lumbering and also took up farming, establishing himself at Pine Lake in (what is now) Forest County.
For years Gagen was a member of the Langlade County Board (which Pine Lake was then located in) and was a man of such prominence and influence that he was referred to as “the King of the North.” Gagen was a particular friend of the natives and was often called upon to act as arbiter or judge of claims or matters of dispute between the natives and the white man.
Gagen was always known for his hospitality, which he extended to both red and white men in times of privation or starvation. He made money rapidly and spent it freely. It is said that he made and lost several fortunes, caring more for his friends and neighbors that about money.
Around 1896, Gagen and his Native American wife, Mary and their two sons, James and Henry, moved to Three Lakes, Wisconsin. Dan and Mary had a total of four children born, but only John and Henry survived. Gagen was a chairman of the town board and at the time of his death was Three Lakes school clerk. Gagen remained in Three Lakes until his death in 1908 at the age of 74 years. After Dan’s death, Mary returned to her Ojibwe tribe roots, returning to the upper peninsula of Michigan.
The Township of Gagen, nears Starks, Wisconsin, was named after Dan Gagen.