Hiller, Don
A Sayner Legend [Neal Long]
Vilas County Historical Museum Newsletter, Vol. 11, #2, Summer, 2009.
Vilas County Historical Museum
Original Date
  • Bookwood Historical Collection, Star Lake

One of the most respected taxidermists in the Northwoods, Neal Long, perfected the are of mounting a fish. He has filled his home with a lifetime of memories.

Neal, at age 85, said he always enjoyed the outdoors and he is still more comfortable walking in the woods than on any city street. Erect and slim, with his ever present filet knife at his hips, he can recall mounting many fish during his lifetime. he largest mount was a 150 lb. Sturgeon.

Prior to World War II, Neal worked for the DNR, both as a forester and in fisheries. During this time, he loved to paint and carve fish and other decorative objects. After serving in the Army Air Force, Neal came back to Eagle River, where he took up taxidermy under the G.I. bill with his uncle, Jim Congleton.

Starting on his own, Neal opened up a shop on the main street of Sayner. He decided to locate his shop in the woods and Carl Eliason bulldozed a site for him at no charge because he wanted to keep him in the Sayer area. He located to his no location about 1949. Once on the property, Neal moved his family into the home that was built by the community after his grandfather died in 1937.

Frank Long, his grandfather, was one of the early game wardens. Frank Lake, west of Sayner is named after him. During the John Dillinger raid at Little Bohemia in 1934, Frank Long was asked to help. After the shootout, the FBI, didn't have any money to pay him, so that gave him a .44 cal Smith and Sesson that they found in Baby Face Nelson's room. The family still has the gun and in tracing the gun they found that it had been stolen in St. Louis.

Muskies were the mounts that most fishermen kept as a display for their walls. The cost of mounting a fish was 50 cents per inch as compared to $10.00 per inch today. Neal's work was always recognized for its realistic quality. Even today, knowledgeable sportsmen can recognize a Neal Long mounting. Neal's son, Al, took over his place in the shop about 20 years ago. But Neal has never really retired. he recalls how he would paint Pop Dean's fishing lures that are highly sought after. He also carved the first Indian Chief, which stands in front of the St. Germain Chamber of Commerce. He still has the small carving that he used as a model. His friend, Bill Maines, posed for the statue.

He recalled a special friend, the late Ben Bendricks, who was a game warden from Boulder Junction. He laughed as he recalled how Ben told him that if he ever caught him poaching, he would arrest him, but Ben would pay the fine.

While serving in the Army Air Force, he bunked with Bill Maines of Sayner. Bill introduced his sister, Betty, to him and he fell in love and they married. Betty and Neal were best friends of Al and Ruth Camp. Ruth and Betty were friends from their school days. AFter Betty and Al died, Neal married Ruth. Inside his home, he has a picture of his two wives, standing by the Rainbow Flowage when there were still trees standing in the riverbed.

While Neal doesn't hunt or fish much anymore, the walls of his home are filled with a lifetime of memories. He walks straight and tall, a man filled with the knowledge of the outdoors.