Western Farm and Village Association, Winona County, Minnesota
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Winona County, Minnesota
CHAPTER TWENTY: WESTERN
FARM AND VILLAGE ASSOCIATION
Pages 185-194 From the book
"History of Wabasha County" Published in 1884
Concerning Wabasha and Winona Counties in Minnesota
On February 26, 1852, William Haddock and Arthur Murphy arrived in this part of the Territory of Minnesota. They were agents of an organization called the Western Farm and Village Association, explorers and prospectors for a town site and farming lands. With packs on their backs, each carrying a buffalo-skin and some camp supplies, they came up the river on skates from La Crosse.
In a letter or report to the Association, published in the official organ of that body, "The Farm and Village Advocate," Mr. Haddock says: "After leaving La Crosse, we pursued our journey slowly up the river on the ice, hugging as closely as possible the Minnesota side of the river, for the purpose of making observations. After traveling until about noon we stopped for dinner at a young trader's, who happened to have a smoking dinner just ready for consumption.
"Having no time to lose, we resumed our tramp. Without perceiving any cabin or other dwelling, we proceeded on our journey until the shades of evening began to gather round. Having brought up at the lower extremity of a sandy island, we doffed our buffalo-skins, selected a spot for a camp, collected wood, lit up a fire, spread out our skins, and entered upon the full enjoyment of the dubious pleasure of ‘camping out.' To camp out, however, is not a very agreeable thing to a person not accustomed to it, especially in a cold February night.
A few miles of travel in the morning, after camping, brought us to a new town site, just developed, called Waubashaw, situated on a small prairie running out from the foot of a range of bluffs toward the river.
"According to the opinion of many persons at La Crosse, this place is destined to be the largest town below Lake Pepin. Although there are only four or five shanties on the prairie at the present time, yet the whole site is taken up, and already have the claimants begun to fight about their ‘claims.' Waubashaw will yet furnish some rich examples of discord, and is destined, I fear, to become a prey to speculation, whatever may be its natural advantages. In our opinion it has not much to boast of except a good landing. The land is poor and generally low, and a portion of it subject to overflow.
"A few miles above Waubashaw we came to a quiet little opening in the almost endless range of bluffs, and hove to on our skates for the purpose of making observations. On reaching the shore we passed over an open, but rather a low and marshy prairie, for about half a mile, when we came to a most beautiful opening of comparatively high table-land, covered with oak.
"The extent of this opening is fully large enough for our entire village plat, exclusive of the low land on the river, which can ultimately be filled up and divided, as business plate among all our members, proving a source of great gain as business increases and the town becomes settled. There is considerable variety of surface in the town plat which settlement will remedy, but take it as a whole, I do not know that I have seen anything to surpass it. Indeed, I may say that it is beautiful., and throws Waubasha2w and Prairie La Crosse entirely in the shade."
Haddock and Murphy, on their way from La Crosse, passed Wabasha Prairie and skated up Straight Slough, supposing it to be a main channel of the river. On their way up the slough their attention was attracted to the general appearance of the mouth of the Rolling Stone Valley. On examination of this locality these townsite hunters found, to their disappointment, that their ideal village sight, so opportunely discovered, was occupied. Civilization had already sprouted on this part of the late "Sioux Purchase."
Israel M. Noracong claimed one hundred and sixty acres in the mouth of the Rolling Stone Valley, where he had built his shanty, his claim covering the present village of Minnesota City. They put up with Noracong and explained to him the object of their visit, the designs and advantages of the association represented by them, and the benefit the organization would be in the settlement of the part of the territory in which it was located. Mr. Noracong at once became interested in their plan of colonization.
Finding that he was willing to compromise matters with them, they made arrangements by which he was induced to relinquish all of his claim, except about fifteen acres of land where his cabin stood, which included a mill-site on the stream. This mill-site is the locality where the flouring mill of A. E. Elsworth now stands.
After satisfactory arrangements had been made with Noracong, and before any explorations of the surrounding country had been attempted, Haddock and Murphy, in the name of the association, made claim to all the lands in the valley of the Rolling Stone, and to all the country lying adjacent. This was the largest claim ever made in the county under any pretense whatever.
They at once commenced to lay out a village plat in accordance with a general plan, previously adopted by the association, which they had brought with them. This was the first town site surveyed and platted in southern Minnesota.
A rough plat of the locality was made, with which Mr. Murphy returned to New York city to report their discoveries. Mr. Haddock remained to hold the claim and continue his survey of village lots. The survey was commenced with a pocket compass; the measurements were made with a tape line belonging to Mr. Noracong.
This locality was the scene of many important events in the early settlement of this county, some of which will be noted in other chapters.
In the spring of 1852 the ice went out and the Mississippi was open in this vicinity on March 15. The first steamboat from below was the Nominee, which arrived at Wabasha prairie on April 1. This boat only went up as far as Lake Pepin on account of the ice. On its second trip it passed through the lake April 16, and was the first steamboat to arrive at St. Paul.
Capt. Smith brought up on the Nominee quite a number of passengers, who landed on Wabasha prairie, and also some lumber and supplies for the settlers. As soon as the material arrived, Johnson built a shanty on Mo. 4, his claim at the upper landing. This building was on what is now Center street, between Second and Front streets. It was 12 X 16, with a shed roof of boards, the eaves of which were about five feet from the ground. This was for awhile the hotel, the general stopping-place for all who got off at what was then known as Johnson's Landing. Every claim shanty was, however, the stranger's home, if application was made for shelter and food.
Jabez McDermott built a log shanty on his claim, a little southeast from where the shops of the Winona & St. Peter railroad now stand. The roof was a covering of bark. All of the material for this shanty was taken from the Indian tepee which stood near by. This locality was the site of Wabasha's village ~ the village of the band of Sioux of which he was the chief, and their general gathering-place. There were seven or eight of their cabins standing when McDermott made a claim of their village.
These Indian tepees were constructed with a framework of posts and poles fastened together by withes and covered with broad strips of elm bark. The roof was peaked, the bark covering supported by a framework of poles. For the sides the strips of bark were of suitable length to reach from the ground to the eaves. They were oblong in shape, about 13 X 20 feet, the sides about four or five feet high. The bark covering was fastened by poles outside secured by withes. No nails or pins were used in their construction. Inside they were provided with benches, or berths, from two to three feet wide and about two feet from the ground, extending around three sides of the hut. These seats, or sleeping-places, were composed of poles and bark. Some sawed lumber was also used about these tepees. The lumber, boards and planks, found there by the early settlers was probably taken from the river, brought down by floods from wrecks of rafts.
There were two or three of these tepees in the mouth of Gilmore valley near the Indian cultivation. One much larger than the others was about 20 X 30. There were also two or three in the mouth of Burns valley. They were all of the same style of architecture and similarly constructed.
These cabins were but summer residences for the Sioux and were but temporarily occupied in cold weather, when they usually fixed their hunting camps, of skin or cloth tents, in the timber on the river bottoms. The Indians sometimes halted in their migration and stopped in them for two or three days at a time after the first settlers came here in 1851, but they abandoned them entirely in the spring of 1852. These tepees were torn down in the forepart of this season. While the Sioux remained in this vicinity they sometimes visited the settlements, and were at all times friendly without being familiar or troublesome.
Soon after the opening of navigation another town site was discovered on the Mississippi below the mouth of the White Water. Two or three brothers by the name of Hall selected this location. It was known as Hall's Landing. No special effort was made to develop its advantages until the following year, when the town of Mt. Vernon was laid out, about two miles below the mouth of the White Water.
During 1851 and 1852 there was quite a rush of immigration to the country on the upper Mississippi. Among the localities in the western part of the State of Wisconsin which attracted considerable attention from this moving population was La Crosse. After the treaty with the Sioux in 1851 many of these immigrants made La Crosse a temporary halting place until opportunity was given to make selections of locations on the west side of the river. A very large majority of the first settlers in southern Minnesota were of this class.
With the exception of the colony that settled at Minnesota City, Winona county was first settled almost entirely by these temporary residents of La Crosse. During the winter some of these citizens of Wisconsin came up the river on the ice and selected locations on Wabasha prairie and in its vicinity. In the spring they, with others, visited this part of the territory to see the country, and made claims in a more formal manner.
These claims were usually marked by writing the name of the claim-maker on the stakes which defined the location selected, or, if in the timber, the trees were blazed and the name of the claimant conspicuously displayed. As the season advanced it became necessary to represent some improvements. A few logs laid up, as if a future cabin was contemplated, a few furrows with a plows, or a little corn or vegetables planted, gave evidence that the claim was occupied. These claims were usually acknowledged by the settlers and mutual protection given, although the laws governing claims were not fully complied with.
Among those who came up during the winter and selected locations, and who afterward became residents of Wabasha prairie, was William R. Gere, commonly called "Beecher Gere." He made a claim south of and joining bother of the claims of Johnson and Stevens. Although a settler could not hold, legally, but 160 acres, this claim was laid on a sliding scale, and for a while Beecher Gere's claim covered twice that amount of land.
Enos P. Williams, then in the employ of Silas Stevens at La Crosse, selected the location adjoining Gere's on the east. This is now known as Hubbard's addition.
Elijah Silsbee selected the one next west of that claimed by Gere, and a man by the name of Hobbs took that next to Silsbee's on the west.
Frank Curtiss discovered that there was room for another claim between that selected for Scott Clark and the claims of McDermott and Keene, and located himself there.
Walter Brown selected a location in what is now Gilmore valley, in the mouth of the ravine about where the brickyard of Mr. Bersange is now located.
George G. Barber made choice of one adjoining Brown's in the valley above.
Rev. George Chester, a Methodist minister ~ the first that settled in La Crosse ~ made a claim in Gilmore valley where the county farm is now located. The first sermon ever delivered to the early settlers of Winona county was preached by Mr. Chester on Wabasha prairie while on this visit to Minnesota. Mr. Chester never made any improvements on his claim, neither was he ever a resident of the county.
A colored man, a barber in La Crosse, by the name of Williams, made the first claim across the slough on the upper prairie. It is now the residence of George I. Parsons. The claim shanty was near the railroad.
Some of the early visitors from La Crosse who came up with Mr. Chester, Mr. Barber and others, returned without selecting locations, although they afterward became residents of Wabasha prairie. Dr. John L. Balcombe, John C. Laird and Abner S. Goddard were among this number. Mention will be made of them at a later date.
Henry C. Gere came up from La Crosse early in the spring, and landed at what was then known as Johnson's landing, with his family, household goods, and lumber for a shanty. During the winter previous he visited the prairie and professed to have selected a claim, but refused to point it out, ~ none of the settlers were aware of his choice of location.
It afterward appeared that about the time of the "difference" between Bunnell and Johnson, a friendship, or rather an acquaintance was formed between Gere and Bunnell, and a plan laid to jump the Stevens claim. As Mr. Stevens was a non-resident, Gere was to locate himself on the claim with his family, and Bunnell was to aid him to keep possession of it. It was represented by Bunnell that he had selected this claim for H. C. Gere, and had made some designative marks on the back side of it, next to the claim selected by Wm. B. Gere. Until spring no boundaries were marked on any of the claims, except the claim-stakes driven along the bank of the river by Stevens and Johnson in the fall of 1851. After the frost left the ground in the spring these claims were marked by corner stakes in the rear.
Gere also pretended that he was a partner with Stevens in the lumber business at La Crosse when the claim was made, ~ that it was a joint speculation which Mr. Stevens ignored.
A day or two before Gere left La Crosse with his family, Silas Stevens learned that he professes to have an interest in claim No. 3 on Wabasha prairie, and that he was going there to live. Being well acquainted with Gere, and fearing trouble from him, Mr. Stevens came up to the prairie and there awaited his arrival.
With well-assumed confidence that he had an undisputed right to the Stevens claim, Gere secured the services of Johnson with his oxen and sled, loaded with lumber, and started with a friend or two to take possession of it. As he approached the west boundary of the claim with his load of lumber, he was met by Silas Stevens, Wm. H. Stevens, George W. Clark and Allen Gilmore. With the exception of Silas Stevens this party was armed, although no revolvers were in sight. Each carried a strong cudgel, except Wm. H. Stevens, who handled a gun and assumed the position of leader. He ordered Gere to halt and not attempt to cross the claim line with his lumber. This claim boundary was a line due south from the claim stake, which stood on the bank of the river about midway between what is now Walnut and Market streets. Meeting so firm an obstruction, Gere and his party with the load of lumber moved back on the prairie along the designated line, escorted by the Stevens party, until the south boundary of the claim was passed. The escort then stood guard while Gere put up a shanty on the claim of his nephew, Wm. B. Gere.
The shanty built by H. C. Gere stood on the east side of Franklin street, between Wabasha and Sanborn streets, on the lot where Thomas Burk now lives. It was 12 X 12 when first built, and covered with a board roof, but was afterward enlarged to 12 X 18, and covered with a shingled roof, sloping the length of the shanty. Mr. Gere lived there until the spring of 1854, when he moved onto a claim in the mouth of West Burns valley. The writer occupied this shanty as his residence and business office in July and August, 1854.
This was but the beginning of Gere's efforts to get possession of the Stevens claim. Other incidents relative to this claim will be given.
Among the earliest arrivals this spring were John Evans and S. K. Thompson. Mr. Thompson did not at once make a claim, but lived on Wabasha prairie, a passive looker-on for some time before he took an active part as a bona-fide settler.
Mr. Evans was an old pioneer, familiar with pioneer life and the settlement of a claim country. He at once commenced prospecting, and soon discovered that Clark was holding two claims. Considering this to be a favorable opportunity to secure a good location near the landing, he selected the one Mr. Clark had made and was holding in the name of his brother, and announced his purpose to make that his claim. Clark earnestly protested against this, but Evans asserted that he had a right to it, that Scott Clark had never been in the territory, and George W. Clark was then holding a claim on the prairie. Evans, with the help of Thompson, had already commenced cutting logs for a cabin, but seeing that Clark was extremely anxious to retain the claim across the slough, offered to let him take his choice of the two he was holding. Finding that Evans was determined in the matter, Clark very reluctantly decided to relinquish the first claim he had made, claim No. 6, provided Evans would abandon the other.
John Evans then took possession of the claim relinquished by Clark and commenced making improvements. This was afterward known as the "Evans Claim." Chute's and Foster's additions were parts of that claim. It was on what is now known as Foster's addition that Mr. Evans placed his buildings. It was here that he lived while a resident of the county, and where he died. While living here Mr. Evans opened up a farm and inclosed the whole claim with a rail fence. He at one time had a field under cultivation which comprised about half of his claim, on which he raised several crops of wheat, corn, etc. He then disposed of a part of it (Chute's addition), and divided a portion into suburban lots, retaining what is now Foster's addition as his homestead.
Mr. Evans did not bring his family here until late in the summer of 1852, ~ not until he had built a house for them to move into. His house was covered with the first shingled roof ever put on any building on Wabasha prairie; the first shingled roof in the city of Winona.
The family of Mr. Evans, when he located here in 1852, consisted of a wife, two daughters and a son. One of the daughters married O. S. Holbrook; the other became the wife of Erwin H. Johnson. Another daughter, the wife of James Williams, came here about two years after. James Williams is yet a resident of the county. Mr. Evans and all of his family mentioned above are now dead, except his son, Royal B. Evans, who is a resident of the county, living in the town of Wilson.
When George W. Clark relinquished his claim, No. 6, to John Evans, he took possession of the land across the slough in his own name. When his brother came on he aided him in securing another location. Mr. Clark never speculated in city lots or suburban property. His choice of claims was undoubtedly the decisive point in his life as to his future business occupations and home.
Mr. Clark left the State of New York in 1851, with the design to secure to himself a farm somewhere in the western country. He first went to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where he had relatives; but learning there of the rush to the upper Mississippi country, he with others started on foot across the state to La Crosse. He there sought employment and secured a situation in the lumber yard of Silas Stevens, where he proposed to remain until he should learn of a satisfactory location for a permanent settlement. Influenced by a higher rate of interest than he had been familiar with in the east, he placed what funds he had with him in the hands of his employer. Familiar acquaintance increased a mutual confidence of the two in each other, and when Mr. Stevens decided to make a speculative investment on Wabasha prairie, in the Territory of Minnesota, he selected Mr. Clark as his agent. His arrival here on November 12, 1851, has already been narrated.
The force of circumstances compelled Mr. Clark to make selection of the farm for which he had left his father's house and come west. Having decided to locate on his claim across the slough, he gave his whole time and attention to its improvement and increasing his possessions by securing adjoining property by way of speculation.
The first rails used by Mr. Clark in his farming operations were a relics of a fence built by the Sioux to keep their ponies from ranging over their cultivation in the mouth of the valley above. This Indian fence extended from the bluffs to the lake or slough on the bottoms, about on the west boundary of his claim, and nearly on the west line of his farm.
These were some of the circumstances of his first settlement here, which, with his determined purpose to locate on a farm, made George W. Clark, the pioneer farmer, the first practical farmer to settle on a claim held exclusively for farming purposes. He began his first improvements on this claim in March, 1852, using the horses of Mr. Stevens for his first team-work, to haul the logs together which he had but for the purpose of building a claim shanty, before it was jumped by John Evans. Mr. Clark's original claim shanty was located about where his hay-shed now stands, in the meadow near where the lane leading to his present residence leaves the Gilmore valley road.
Mr. Clark has lived on the farm he now occupies about thirty-one years. The little log shanty and straw-covered sheds have been superseded by a large farmhouse and a commodious barn and sheds. He has been a prosperous farmer. Although others engaged in farming operations early in the season of 1852 and made as much improvement on their claims as Mr. Clark, he was the first to settle on any land now held as a farm in this county.