First Settlements at Winona City ~ Winona County, Minnesota
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Winona County, Minnesota
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: FIRST
SETTLEMENTS AT WINONA CITY
From the book
"History of Wabasha County" Published in 1884
Concerning Wabasha and Winona Counties in Minnesota
This chapter was transcribed by Greg Lafavor and proofed by Kitty Lafavor
To catch the drift from the colony above, Johnson offered the choice of an acre of his claim on Wabasha prairie to each of the disaffected ones who would stop there, build a house, and make it their residence for one year. At that time the claim had not been surveyed or divided into lots and streets. This offer was accepted by several and a number of locations selected.
Rev. E. Ely made choice of an acre south of Johnson's shanty, about where the Ely block now stands, on the corner of Center and Second streets. Jacob S. Denman selected an acre adjoining that of Mr. Ely's on the east; Dr. Childs an acre on the south of Mr. Ely's; E. B. Thomas on the south of Mr. Denman's and east from that of Dr. Childs'; John Evans selected an acre west of Johnson's shanty; John Burns, a member of the association and one of the party who camped on the bank of the river from the Dr. Franklin on the 9th of May, accepted the offer of an acre from Ed. Hamilton on his claim on the same conditions as the others. The acre chosen by him was in what is now the front yard of the residence of Hon. R. W. Lamberton, on the corner of huff and Harriett streets.
Mr. Burns planted a small garden and set out a few small apple trees, which he had brought up the river. Some of these trees afterward grew to be of considerable size. These were the first fruit-trees, or trees of any kind, planted on Wabasha prairie by the early settlers. These fruit-trees were planted in a trench near together, as in a nursery. When Mr. Huff took possession of the Hamilton claim he built a fence around the few trees that had escaped the ravages of the cattle, and after two or three years transplanted them in his garden.
W. H. Stevens gave the use of his shanty on the Stevens claim to Mr. Denman until he could procure lumber and build a residence for his family. Mr. Denman found occupation for his team and plow by breaking the land selected for himself and others. They all made small gardens by way of occupancy and improvements. Mr. Denman enclosed his acre and that selected by Mr. Thomas with a temporary fence and planted the field with corn. This was his first attempt at farming in Minnesota. It was not a profitable enterprise. The fence that enclosed this corn-field was the first fence built on the prairie by the settlers. It was put up by George W. Clark and his brother Wayne Clark. Mr. Denman paid them for it by breaking four acres of land on Clark's claim across the slough.
Neither Mr. Thomas, Dr. Childs or Mr. Burns ever made any other improvements on the lots selected. They abandoned them and made locations elsewhere. Mr. Thomas and Mr. Burns held claims in the colony, but left the territory in the fall. Dr. Childs remained on the prairie for several years after.
Mr. Denman built a house on his acre of prairie as soon as he could procure lumber. Mr. Ely built one in the fall. During the summer his family lived in Johnson's shanty after they came up from La Crosse, where they staid for a short time. He paid Johnson four dollars per month rent for the use of the "Hotel."
The house built by Mr. Denman stood on Lafayette street, between Second and Third streets. This was the first house built by the settlers on Wabasha prairie, not expressly designed as a "claim shanty." It was a balloon frame building of considerable pretensions for that date of improvements, about 16 X 32, one story high, the sides boarded " up and down " with rough boards and the cracks battened. The roof was of boards, and because of its peculiar construction the building was given the name of "car-house," from its fancied resemblance to a railroad ear. The doors and windows were furnished with frames and casings-the first improvements of the kind. The floor was of dressed lumber, a luxury heretofore unknown. This building was divided into rooms by board partitions, and parts of it ceiled with dressed lumber.
Mr. Denman occupied this house as his residence until fall, when he moved on his claim. About the first of July he opened a store in the front room of this building. He brought up from Galena a small stock of goods suitable for the market, and here started the first store on Wabasha prairie for the sale of goods to the settlers. Jacob S. Denman was the first merchant to establish himself in business in what is now the city of Winona.
It was in the "car house" that the first white child was born within the limits of this city. While living here the family of Mrs. Denman was increased by the addition of a daughter on the 18th of July, 1852. Mrs. Goddard, after consultation with Mrs. Ely, gave to this first native settler the name of "Prairie Louise Denman," the name by which she was afterward known. She has been dead many years. The oldest native settler, born in the city of Winona, who is now living, is Mason Ely, the second son of Rev. Edward Ely, born in 1853.
The primary object of all of the early settlers was to secure land for farming purposes on which to locate a future home. About the first thing done was to "make a claim." Mr. Denman began prospecting as soon as he landed, and on tine 9th of' May discovered and formally made a claim on the upper prairie. He and his mother there held 320 acres. The high water flooded the bottom lands, and their claims covered all of the land not overflowed, lying east from the Rolling Stone creek, to about where the highway now crosses the railroads, and extended south far enough to include the table next to the bluffs. It was on this table that he blazed the trees and inscribed his name as proprietor of the claim. It was on this table that he built a very comfortable log house, made other improvements, and moved his family there in September. The land selected by Mr. Denman had been previously claimed by Haddock and Murphy for the Western Farm and Village Association. Mr. Denman was duly notified that he was trespassing on grounds claimed for the colony, but he persisted in holding it and making improvements, without regard to the protestations of the members of the association.
This was the first collision of a settler with that organization. The first person to encroach on the territory claimed was an ex member. To get Denman off, the colonists tried "moral, legal and physical suasion, but he tenaciously adhered." He lived in this log, cabin under the bluffs for about three years, until he built a more modern house and large barns near the center of his firm. This claim, or more properly, the claims of Denman and his mother, are now known as the Denman farm. It is at present owned and occupied by Mr. George Fifield.
Mr. Denman sacrificed this large farm, which he had secured by honest industry and years of hard labor, in his mistaken zealous efforts to aid the "Grange movement" for cheaper freights, cheaper supplies and cheaper agricultural implements. He removed to Texas, but his good luck at farming failed him there. It is said that Mr. Denman is now a poor man, and in his old age again a pioneer, looking for "a home in the west" in one of -the territories. None of his family are now living in. this county.
Dr. George F. Childs, with his wife and niece, lived for a short time in Johnson's shanty. While there his niece was taken with the measles and died after a few days' sickness. Her remains were taken to La Crosse for burial.
About the middle of May Dr. Childs bought the east half of the claim made by Jabez McDermott. He paid McDermott eighty dollars for a quit- claims deed and possession of the eighty acres. This was the first claim sale on Wabasha prairie. Whether this deed was ever made a matter of record is now very uncertain, as at that time there was no county organization in Wabasha county, of which Winona county was a part. All matters of record were filed in Washington county, with which Wabasha was connected for all judicial purposes. Possession of land was then more important than title-deeds. The land still belonged to government and no surveys had been made.
The machine-shops and surrounding buildings of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company, the Winona wagon-works and the Winona plow-works are on what was once the McDermott claim. This locality was a favorite camping-place of Wabasha's band. When Dr. Childs took possession there were about half-a-dozen of their large bark cabins, or tepees, yet standing, but in a somewhat dilapidated condition, the settlers having taken material from them for use in other localities. In the vicinity of the machine-shops was an old Indian burying-place. The graves were scattered over that locality; very many were exposed and destroyed in the excavations made. Relics of the past ~ stone hatchets, flint arrowheads and pipe of red pipestone ~ were found. Sometimes fragments of bones or a tolerably well preserved skeleton would be unearthed and used to help form a railroad embankment in some other locality.
Indian graves have; been found in several places on Wabasha prairie and in the mouths of the valleys. Quite a number were exposed by the caving of the river bank on the lower part of the prairie. Two modern Indian graves were on Johnson's claim when the whites first took possession of the prairie. They were left undisturbed for several years. The covering of sticks which were placed over them by the natives marked their location until the ground was plowed by Johnson in the spring of 1855. These graves were on lot 2, block 17. When it was improved and buildings were erected, the bones buried there were thrown out in excavating a cellar and taken possession of by Dr. Franklin Staples. These bones were the remains of young persons and were very much decayed. It has been stated that some of Wabash's children were buried in these graves, but there is no evidence confirming this statement. Wabasha's special home was in the mouth of Burns valley.
The Indian village located on the McDermott claim, a part of which was purchased by Dr. Childs, was said to be the grand gathering-place of the Mdaywakantonwan division of Sioux. It was in this vicinity that Wabasha's bands met for their amusements, sports and games, as well as more serious and important affairs. From this village the Indian trails diverged as from a common center, some leading to the valleys, others up and down the bank of the river. The wild grass, common on every other part of the prairie, had almost entirely disappeared around this village or summer resort, and had been replaced by a fine turf of blue-grass found in no other place except along the bank of the river on the lower part of the prairie, where Mrs. Keyes now lives.
Mr. George W. Clark says "That on McDermott's claim there was a large flat stone, the center of a large circle of smooth, level ground, with well defined boundaries, plainly to be seen in 1851. This stone was taken away by some of the early settlers."
Dr. Childs lived during the summer of 1852 in the little cabin with a bark roof which McDermott occupied as his claim shanty. He built a comfortable cottage near by it, in which lie lived for several years. The logs and poles of the Sioux tepees were used in the construction of sheds and as posts for his fences. The bark covering of the huts was carefully gathered and used as firewood for his kitchen stove.
It was the custom of Dr. Childs to date all of his correspondence and business papers from his residence on this claim, to which he gave the name of "Ozelle cottage." This name was derived from the one given by the old French voyageurs to Wabasha prairie. Ozelle was but the French pronunciation of Aix Aile anglicized by Dr. Childs in writing.
When Dr. Childs left New York he supposed that he would find the Indians occupying this part of the territory, and brought along an assortment of goods for the purpose of bartering with them, but found that the Sioux had forsaken their homes in this locality. He after a time traded his Indian goods with the Winnebagoes for dressed deerskins and got rid of his goods without loss. Dr. Childs was a botanic physician, but never practiced his profession in this vicinity, or only to a very limited extent. He engaged in mercantile business for a year or two after he sold his land. He moved to Minneiska, Wabasha county, where he lived for awhile. Dr. G. F. Child is now a resident of the State of Maryland, where he has charge of a benevolent institution, a home for aged people.
Among the passengers who landed at Johnson's landing from the steamer Caleb Cope on May 12, 1.852, were Abner S. Goddard, wife and three children, from La Crosse. They arrived at about four o'clock on a dark and rainy morning, and went directly from the landing to the shanty on the Stevens claim, in accordance with a previous arrangement made with Silas Stevens. On reaching the shanty they were surprised to find the table, benches and other furniture of the cabin, which they supposed to be occupied, irregularly piled outside. When the inmates were aroused they discovered that the furniture had been removed to afford sleeping quarters for the occupants. William H. Stevens and a young man living with him held one corner, while the family of Mr. Denman, seven in number, were in possession of the remainder of the little 10 x 12 shanty, not occupied by the cook-stove. To accommodate the newcomers, the future occupants of the cabin, Mr. Denman provided for his family by making a shelter for them with the lumber he had laid up loosely to dry for use in the house he was then building. While living in this manner the loose boards were blown from over their heads during a severe thunderstorm one night when they were all in bed. They were compelled to seek shelter in Johnson's shanty, but again occupied their lumber piles in the morning and continued to do so until their house was finished. During the previous winter Mr. Goddard had been living in La Crosse. He there taught the village school-the first school ever taught in La Crosse, the first school ever taught on the Mississippi river between Prairie du Chien and St. Paul, if the Indian mission schools at Red Wing and Kaposia are excepted. His schoolroom was in the court-house, which was built during the fall and fore part of the same winter. To add to their income and to accommodate some personal friends, Mrs. Goddard opened a boarding-house.
"Aunt Catharine's" table was then, as it is now, always full, without soliciting patronage. Silas Stevens became a boarder and made it his home while with them while in La Crosse. After the attempt of Mr. Gere to jump the Stevens claim Mr. Stevens offered to furnish Mr. Goddard a shanty of sufficient capacity to keep a boarding-house on Wabasha prairie if he would go up and live on his claim, and also promised him an acre of the claim on which to build a house if he would continue to reside there. Others, then living in La Crosse, who had made claims, urged him to accept Mr. Stevens' proposition. As Mr. Goddard had been up to the prairie with a party of claim hunters early in the spring, and had been solicited by the settlers in that locality to come up, he was the more readily induced to change his residence.
Immigrants were landed from every boat, and the little shanty was crowded with hungry guests as soon as their arrival was known. Meals were provided for all that came, but they were required to look out for their own lodging-places. The beds of their guests were sometimes the soft sands of the prairie, the bed clothing their ordinary wearing apparel with the addition of a blanket.
Three or four days after the arrival of Mr. Goddard, another shanty was put up by Mr. Stevens to meet the increasing business and the demand for better accommodations. This shanty was a one-story building about 16 x 32. To increase its capacity an awning of canvas was stretched from one side, which served as a shelter for the cooking department. The two rooms were subdivided by canvas partitions. It was customary, however, for guests who lodged there to blow out the candle and go to bed in the dark. This was a rule of the house.
This shanty stood about where the "Davenport house" now stands, not far from the corner of Third and Kansas Streets. The original shanty on the Stevens claim was torn down, and the material used in the construction of this second one.
"Goddard's" was the favorite stopping-place-the most popular and commodious "hotel" on Wabasha prairie. This shanty was the "home" of many of the early settlers of this county who came that season. It was here they gathered for social enjoyment, to get the latest news, to discuss the matters of claims and current events. It was the place of gathering for all public meetings, and the headquarters of the Wabasha Protection Club, of which Mr. Goddard was elected secretary. A select school was, opened here by Miss Angelia Gere, a young daughter of H. C. Gere. This was the first school attempted on the prairie. It was kept in operation but a short time. Here the first stated religious meetings were held with regular preaching on the Sabbath day. This history would be incomplete without some special notice of Mr. Goddard and his family, so intimately were the early settlers connected with this "settlers' home."
The summer of 1852 was known in the west as the sickly season. The extreme high water of the early spring was followed by another extreme of low water, with remarkably dry and hot weather. This occasioned a general epidemic of severe forms of malarial diseases, which were unusually fatal. These diseases prevailed extensively along the river. Wabasha prairie and the colony at Minnesota City were seriously affected by it. The settlement of this county was retarded through the loss of many of the settlers by death, and the removal of very many others to escape the threatened dangers of sickness in a locality where there was so limited accommodations, even for the healthy.
The settlers considered themselves fortunate, indeed, if in their attack of sickness they could get in at Goddard's. The accommodation was prized, for there they felt sure of kind attention and watchful nursing. There were no regular medical practitioners in the county who followed their profession-none nearer than La Crosse, and domestic management was an important consideration with the sufferers.
The following extract from a letter to "Aunt Catharine" (Mrs. Goddard), written a score of years afterward, will illustrate somewhat the general sentiments of the early settlers in connection with the occurrences of that year "I cannot forget the many deeds of kindness and motherly care my brothers and myself received at your hands when your house was a hospital and you the ministering angel. With nice sick persons, including your husband; with but two rooms in which to lodge and make comfortable your sick household, how admirably and patiently all was managed."
In the latter part if this season Mr. Goddard and his two youngest children were prostrated with the prevailing diseases and died. Mr. Goddard's death occurred September 11. The loss of a citizen of such promising usefulness in the new settlement was a calamity seriously felt. He was a man of the strictest integrity and of correct(***) moral principles.
In his native state, Pennsylvania, Mr. Goddard was honored with the office of justice of the peace, and held that position for many years. He there acquired the title of "Squire Goddard," by which name he was generally known. He was appointed postmaster, and received his commission during his last sickness, but never qualified or attempted to serve in that capacity.
Mrs. Goddard, now known as Mrs. Catharine Smith, is yet a resident of Wabasha prairie. She is the oldest female resident of the city of Winona. Indirectly through her some of the best citizens of Winona became residents of this county. She is a sister of the Lairds'. Although the mother of many children, she has but one living, a son, Orrin F. Smith.
Aunt Catharine is a woman whose social nature, kind heart and real worth have secured to her hosts of sincere friends. Her Easter parties, birthday gatherings and social reunions of old settlers are annual enjoyments to herself as well as to her numerous relatives and friends. Mrs. Goddard was connected with many incidents of pioneer life which might be mentioned, some of which will be noticed.
Prominent among the settlers who located on Wabasha prairie this season was Dr. John L. Balcombe. About April 1 he came up the river on the Nominee and stopped at La Crosse. Being a gentleman of much more than usual general intelligence, with fine social qualifications, and also an invalid, he readily formed acquaintances and found friends among the best citizens of that place. Wabasha prairie was then attracting considerable attention from the residents of La Crosse, and not long after his arrival he was induced to join a party who proposed to explore the late Sioux purchase for farming lands. Their prospecting excursions only extended to the valleys along the river, where some claims were selected. It being too early in the season to attempt any very extended trip without a more suitable outfit than could be procured, they returned to La Crosse.
In the forepart of May Dr. Balcombe again visited Wabasha prairie. He brought with him a horse, or pony, and camp supplies. He here secured the services of Ed. Hamilton, whose robust strength and experience as a cook made him a valuable acquisition in the exploring excursion he proposed to make. After transporting their outfit across the slough they started for the back country, Hamilton leading the way on the trail with a heavy pack of supplies, the doctor following on horseback with the balance of their outfit, which included a sack of corn and a bundle of hay.
Following the trail to Minnesota City they went up the south valley and out on Sweet's prairie on a trail marked by the settlers of the colony. They spent three or four days in exploring the country along the branches of the White Water and Root river as far as the western part of this county. In the vicinity of what is now the town of Saratoga they saw a large herd of elk, the last that have been seen in this vicinity.
They returned through the Rolling Stone and arrived at Johnson's landing on the evening of May 12, and went directly to the shanty of Mr. Goddard, where the doctor was provided for as a guest with such accommodations as the place afforded, although Mrs. Goddard had hardly taken possession of the premises. The next day he returned to La Crosse.
About the last of May another exploring party was organized in La Crosse by Dr. Balcombe, Rev. J. C. Sherwin, Rev. William H. Card, and other prominent citizens. Provided with horses and necessary supplies for camping out, they took passage to Wabasha prairie. The services of Ed. Hamilton were again secured. As the grass had by this time become sufficient for the support of their horses, the trip was only limited by their inclinations or the extent of their camp supplies.
This party went out through Gilmore valley. Keeping on the divide between the Root river and the White Water and Zumbro rivers, they explored the country as far west as the head-waters of the Cedar river. On their return they camped on the head-waters of the White Water, spending the Sabbath in the vicinity of the present village of St. Charles. Religious exercises were observed and Elder Sherwin delivered a sermon to his companions. This was the first religious meeting held in the country back from the river.
While on this excursion Dr. Balcombe made discovery of many choice locations. His habits of close observation, with a retentive memory, gave him a decided advantage over other explorers, which were afterward of pecuniary value. He could long afterward point out the choicest locations to the early settlers seeking farming lands. While on this trip he first discovered and located the present site of High Forest: It was not until a year or two afterward that he found sale for his rights of discovery.
This exploring excursion satisfied Dr. Balcombe that the resources of this part of the Sioux purchase, when developed would amply support a large commercial town on the river and that the outlet must be in this vicinity. He decided to locate on Wabasha prairie, and accepted Johnson's offer of an acre of ground on the same terms offered others. The acre selected was west of and adjoining that chosen by John Evans. He built a shanty on Main street, between Front and Second streets, near the alley. It was 12 x 16, one story, of little better style than common claim shanties. It had a gable roof instead of the ordinary shed roof. This was at first of boards, but was afterward covered with shingles.
Dr. Balcombe also bought an undivided one-third of the Hamilton claim, No. 5. Mark Howard, a gentleman residing in Hartford, Conn., purchased another third, Edwin Hamilton retaining one-third. Walter Brown, of La Crosse, was appointed agent for Mr. Howard. This property is now known as Huff's addition to the original town plot of Winona. The claim was valued at $200. The shares were $66.66 each. Mr. Hamilton then supposed he had made a good sale.
About June 1, Dr. Balcombe brought his wife from Illinois, where she was on a visit with her son. Stopping at La Crosse for awhile, she came to Wabasha prairie on June 13. They boarded at Goddard's until they commenced housekeeping in their own shanty in July. About July 1 he built a shanty on the Hamilton claim, which he leased to O. S. Holbrook, of which mention was made in earlier pages.
Early in July Dr. Balcombe went down the river and brought up some household furniture and supplies. He also brought back with him a span of horses and a colt, double and single harnesses, a lumber wagon and a buggy. This was the first buggy ever brought into the county and the only one for nearly a year afterward.
After spending the summer and fall in Minnesota, Dr. Balcombe sold his interest in the Hamilton claim, with his horses and wagons, to Edwin Hamilton for $661, and with his wife went down the river on the last boat in the fall. He spent the winter with his only child, a son, St. A. D. Balcombe, then a druggist doing business in Elgin, Illinois. He returned the following spring. Further attention will be given him in the occurrences of that year.