Pages 277-291 From the book
"History of Wabasha County" Published in 1884
Concerning Wabasha and Winona Counties in Minnesota
Among the settlers on Wabasha prairie during the early part of the summer of 1852 were the Rev. Hiram S. Hamilton and his son Charles S. Hamilton, who arrived about the first of June. After exploring the prairie in search of claims, without settling on any, they made choice of one across the slough at the foot of the Sugar-Loaf Bluff, where they built a small claim shanty and commenced pioneer life. Finding the location a lonesome and unpleasant one, they moved their shanty and housekeeping material over on the prairie, and put it up on the bank of the river ~ on a mound at about what is now the foot of Main street.
After living on the levee for a short time, they moved into the shanty on claim No. 2 ~ the claim held by Caleb Nash. While living there, H. S. Hamilton acquired possession of the claim, and soon after built a house on the bank of the river, a little way above where the saw-mill of the Winona Lumber Company now stands. He here located himself with his family, consisting of his wife and two sons, Charles S. and Eugene, and made it his home for about ten years, when he sold his property on Wabasha prairie to Henry D. Huff and moved on a farm in the southeast part of Wisconsin, there he died a few years ago.
Rev. Hiram S. Hamilton, or, as he was most commonly called, "Elder Hamilton," was a prominent and well-known citizen of this county in the pioneer days of its settlement. Through his influence very many of the early settlers came into the territory, and a large number of his relations and personal friends, as well as strangers, were induced to settle in this count, many of them on Wabasha prairie, now the city of Winona.
Mr. Hamilton was a gentleman of liberal education, of fine personal appearances, pleasing and entertaining in his manners, but of quiet, unobtrusive habits. He was a Congregational minister, and had preached for many years before he came here. On account of poor health, he resigned his position as pastor of a church in Dubuque and came to Minnesota, expecting to be benefitted by the change of climate and locality. At Dubuque he was popular with his congregation and held in high esteem as a citizen. During his residence in Minnesota he was popular as a preacher and respected by the early settlers, among whom he had many warm friends who knew him personally, many who now hold pleasant recollection and retain that respect to his memory.
From the time he first landed on Wabasha prairie until after the society of the Congregational church was organized, of which he was the pastor, he preached quite regularly to attentive congregations of mixed religious ideas and beliefs. His well written and impressively delivered sermons were interesting and instructive, and were always listened to with respectful attention. Their influence helped to maintain a moral restraint over the community of unorganized citizens, of a locality in which uncertain public opinion was the controlling law. His services were gratuitously disposed, but were none the less valued or beneficial in the settlement.
Although Elder Hamilton lawfully came in possession of and lawfully held claim No. 2, the circumstances and manner by which the claim was secured caused a feeling of opposition from intered (sic) individuals, which, for a time, threatened to lessen his influences as a teacher or adviser, but public opinion indorsed his action in the matter. His popularity as a preacher was maintained, and his reputation as a citizen was unimpaired by the transaction.
The charges against him by his opponents were, that he had taken possession of and held the claim regardless of the rights of others; that in his proceedings in the matter he had laid aside his "Sunday clothes" and descended to the level of other settlers, and "jumped the claim."
Claim jumping was not considered as a criminal offense in public opinion if sustained by the laws governing claims. The wrong, if any was committed, was generally forgiven and forgotten by the public is the attempt was successful, and particularly if the claim proved to be valuable. Some incidents relative to the change of proprietors of claim No. 2 will be given to show the circumstances under which it was jumped.
Charles S. Hamilton was about seventeen or eighteen years of age when he came here with his father. He was a reckless, dashing and rather fast young man, inclined to be inconsiderate and forward in his manners. He was brought here to withdraw him from the evil influences of "young America" in Dubuque. Although "gassy" and volatile, Charlie was not considered a vicious boy, and for awhile he was a general favorite with the settlers, ~ his restless freedom was more amusing than offensive. Many things were overlooked because he was Elder Hamilton's son. Without occupation he amused himself in hunting and fishing and in explorations of the country. He studied the mystery of claims among the groups of settlers who gathered to discuss this general topic of conversation.
Learning the history, condition and approximate value at which every claim was held, he became interested in the idea of forming a stock company and laying out another town site on the Nash claim. Nash had made his claim under the instructions of Johnson, and held it under his directions and patronage, hardly conscious that it was his own by right. Knowing this condition of the claim, Charlie proposed his plan to Johnson and W. B. Gere, who favored the scheme. Johnson readily induced Nash to enter into an arrangement with them and become one of the company.
The plan proposed was, that Nash should transfer his claim to the new company for a specified consideration, when it was to be surveyed and plotted for trhe company, composed of E. H. Johnson, W. B. Gere, Caleb Nash and Charles S. Hamilton. To secure equeal rights and privileges to the proprietors, the services of a lawyer in La Crosse were secured, to draw up all necessary papers, by making him also one of the stockholders.
As a preliminary movement, a quit-claim deed was drawn up, transferring all of the right and interest of Nash in the claim to Johnson and Co. This deed was given to Charlie Hamilton, to procure the signature of Nash. Except a nominal consideration, the payment of the full amount agreed upon was postponed until the company was organized.
To get the signature of Nash to this quit-claim deed Charlie went to "Goddard's," where Nash was then stopping, laid up on account of sickness. On learning the object of his visit Mrs. Goddard advised Nash against signing any papers until he received the money down for his claim. Her advice was unheeded. Charlie Hamilton's representations that "it was all right" ~ "only to show that he meant business, so that they could organize the company" ~ induced Nash to sign his name.
In narrating this occurrence "Aunt Catharine" said, "I suppose the boys thought I did not know anything about business, but poor Nash was sorry enough afterward that he did not listen to me, when I told him he was giving his claim away."
The deed was given into the hands of the "attorney of the company," at La Crosse, for safe keeping. To secure the claim and prevent Nash or anyone else from attempting to get possession, it was proposed to allow Elder Hamilton to occupy the claim, and utilize him as a tool in the affair.
H. S. Hamilton and Charlie were then living in their shanty on the public levee. By "request of the company," he was induced to move into and occupy the Nash shanty until the necessary papers were made out and the company were ready for business. He accordingly took possession, sent for his family and made it his home. He thus became an actual settler on the claim, and its sole possessor in full conformity with the laws governing claims.
The "joint stock company" lost all right, title and interest in the claim they had induced Nash to transfer to them. Neither the company nor individuals of the company were ever able to dispossess Mr. Hamilton, or obtain remuneration for the losses resulting from this failure of their scheme, although several suits at law were brought to recover damages. Some effort was made to arouse sympathy for Nash, whose claim, it was reported, had been jumped by Elder Hamilton, but without avail. The settlers generally understood the matter and took sides with the elder.
H. S. Hamilton afterward obtained a quit-claim deed direct from Caleb Nash, giving him a reasonable compensation for it, although he had previously relinquished his rights to it to Johnson and Co. It is said of Nash, by whose who knew him, that he was an industrious and well-disposed young man, of very moderate acquirements. He had unlimited confidence in Johnson, who really held the claim through him and actually controlled it. Caleb Nash left Wabasha prairie and went down the river in the spring of 1853. It is not known that he ever returned to the territory.
Rev. H. S. Hamilton held quiet possession of claim No. 2, now known as "Hamilton's addition," until about the time of the public land sale, when he became involved in another "difference" relative to it, which eventually resulted in bringing about a division of the Congregational church, by the withdrawal of a part of its members and an organization of another society, the Presbyterian church.
When Henry C. Gere brought his family to Wabasha prairie he attempted to take possession of the Stevens claim, but was prevented by the decisive opposition of Mr. Stevens and his friends. Professing to have a just right to the claim, he was not satisfied to let the matter rest. Not daring to attempt a forcible entry on the land, and as there was no legal authority to appeal to, Mr. Gere made application to the Wabasha Protection Club for aid to secure possession.
A majority of the members of the claim club were non-residents, living in La Crosse. The constitution and by-laws of the club, to which every member was required to affix his signature, provided that all questions of difference relative to claims should be examined by a committee of three appointed by the club for that purpose, who were required to make a report of their action to that body for its final decision. Each party was entitled to counsel and allowed to present witnesses.
Mr. Gere's appeal was duly referred to a special committee for investigation. After numerous adjourned meetings, at which the parties appeared with their attorneys and witnesses, without arriving at a decision, it was agreed to submit the matter to arbitrators. The referees were Jacob S. Denman, of Wabasha prairie, and F. M. Rublee, of La Crosse.
Attorneys and witnesses came up from La Crosse two or three times to attend this arbitration court before an agreement could be effected. The case was finally settled by the parties consenting to divide the claim between them, ~ Silas Stevens to retain the west eighty acres, and the east eighty was to be given up to Henry C. Gere.
It was said that the sympathies of the members of the club and of the referees were on the side of Gere. Mr. Gere was a large, fine-looking man of social habits and pleasing manners, a smooth talker that could represent his own side of the question. He was a poor man and had a large family dependent on his individual efforts for their support.
Mr. Stevens was supposed to have considerable capital which he was using in speculations. He was not a popular man with settlers in a new country. He was a rigid church member, a strict and zealous temperance man, and in politics an abolitionist from the old Whig party. He was a man firm in his own opinions and in his own ideas of right, and was self-reliant in all of his business affairs. He discouraged familiarity and but few comprehended him as a many.
Silas Stevens was a native of the State of New York, born in 1799; in 1829 removed to Pennsylvania; in 1840 moved to Illinois, driving through with his own teams; in 1841 settled on a farm in Lake county, Illinois. In the spring of 1851, leaving the management of his farm to his son Wm. H. Stevens, then a young man living with his mother and sister on the homestead, he visited the upper Mississippi for the purpose of making investments. He stopped at La Crosse, where he opened a lumber yard and speculated in real estate, claims, etc. ~ moderately and carefully, never indulging in wild schemes.
It was through Mr. Stevens that Gere came to La Crosse, where he placed him with his family on a claim to hold until a sale could be effected. Mr. Stevens furnished the supplies, and, with the men employed in his lumber yard, boarded with the family. He also employed Gere in his lumber yard as salesman, where Gere's pretentious style led many to suppose that he was the responsible head in the business.
In Illinois both Stevens and Gere were zealous members of the same church. In La Crosse Mr. Gere found different society. The free and easy sociability and western style of speculation to which he was introduced, suited his active temperament and visionary style of business.
Early in the winter Gere attempted to secure the claim he was holding for Mr. Stevens, but was prevented by Mr. Stevens entering it at the land office before Gere could file his pre-emption papers. From this transaction Mr. Stevens lost confidence in Gere, and all friendship ceased. He dissolved all association, for Gere had represented that they were partners in their business transactions.
Mr. George W. Clark, who was in Mr. Stevens' employ at that time, says he never heard of a partnership between the two men. Gere took charge of business when Mr. Stevens was temporarily absent. Mr. Stevens once bought a raft of lumber on which he was given thirty days' time. Being asked for an indorser, he, for form's sake, asked Gere to sign the note with him. The security was satisfactory and the note was paid by Mr. Stevens when due.
Mr. Stevens retained the half of the claim which he had made in good faith for himself, in the fall previous. The other half as justly belonged to him. He submitted to this division as a final settlement of all difficulties with Gere. The west eighty of the original Stevens claim is now known as Stevens' addition.
Leaving his affairs in Minnesota in the hands of his son, W. H. Stevens, Silas Stevens continued his speculations elsewhere for a year or two longer, when he made arrangements to locate permanently in Winona, but never accomplished this design. While on his way here from Galena with horses, traveling by land, he was taken with cholera and died after a few hours' sickness. His death occurred at Fayette, La Fayette county, Wisconsin, on July 20, 1854.
His wife and daughter had already moved to Winona, where they made it their home while living. His daughter was the wife of H. C. Bolcom, a well known citizen, who came here in 1854.
Wm. H. Stevens is the oldest settler now living on Wabasha prairie, the oldest inhabitant of the city of Winona. Norman B. Stevens, an older brother, came here in 1856, and is now living in the city of Winona.
After the death of Silas Stevens the Stevens claim passed into the possession of W. H. Stevens. He sold an undivided interest in it to Wm. Ashley Jones and E. S. Smith. It was surveyed into lots and streets on the same scale as the original town site of Smith and Johnson, and designated as Stevens' addition.
Wm. H. Stevens has been interested in many of the enterprises by which the city of Winona has been developed. He has held several official positions. In the fall of 1853 he was elected justice of the peace. He has served as deputy sheriff. In later years he was a member of the board of education. In 1872 and in 1873 he was a member of the state legislature as senator from the eighth district in Winona county.
Mrs. Stevens, the wife of Wm. H. Stevens, was an early settler in this county. She came here in 1852 and lived in the colony at Rolling Stone with her relatives. She is a sister of Mrs. S. D. Putman and of S. A. and O. H. Houk, who were members of the association. In the fall and winter of that year Mrs. Stevens (then Miss "Hetty" Houk) taught the first district school at Minnesota city that was ever held in southern Minnesota; she also taught the first district school ever opened in the city of Winona, in the fall of 1854.
About July 1, 1852, Byron A. Viets came up from La Crosse with a small drove of cattle, principally cows and young stock. He landed them on Wabasha prairie, where he was successful in disposing of his entire herd to the settlers on the prairie and at Rolling Stone.
In a trade with Johnson he purchased two or three lots in the town plot. This was the first sale of lots after the claim was surveyed and plotted; the first sale of real estate in the new town or village of Montezuma, now city of Winona.
One of these lots, purchased by Mr. Viets, was lot 2, block 10, on Front street; another was lot 4, block 14. The quit-claim deeds by which the title to these lots was transferred from Smith and Johnson to Byron A. Viets, were placed on record in the office of the register of deeds of Washington county at Stillwater, the county seat.
Mr. Viets also bought a claim of eighty acres lying between the claim held by Wm. B. Gere and the one held by Elijah Silsbee. It was early discovered that the Beecher-Gere claim was an expansive one, covering more territory than allowed by law, and S. K. Thompson gave notice that he had selected a claim in that locality, but he failed to protect it by improvements.
It was in nominal possession of several different persons who jumped it one from another, while each failed to occupy it. Early in the summer Isaac W. Simonds came up from La Crosse and took possession of it. It was said that he was in the employ of Peter Burns. To show that it was a claim held by a bona fide settler, he planted a few potatoes and cultivated a small patch of ground. This garden spot was in the vicinity of where the State Normal School now stands.
It was generally understood among the settlers that this was Thompson's claim, although he had not occupied it, ~ he was living with John Evans at the time. In the absence of Simonds at La Crosse, where he made his home, Thompson took possession by building the customary log pen, and with the aid of John Evans held it for a short time. To settle this claim dispute, it was agreed that Thompson and Simonds should hold the land jointly or divide it between them.
Without the knowledge of Thompson, Mr. Simonds traded off the claim to Mr. Viets, and gave him possession. Thompson lost his interest without realizing anything from the sale. Mr. Viets built a shanty on it, and on the 20th of July brought his family from La Crosse, and became an actual resident on the prairie.
Having some surplus funds, Mr. Viets at once made arrangements to improve his town lots. He decided to build a house for the accommodation of the traveling public on lot 2, block 10, fronting on the levee. He brought up material and carpenters from La Crosse, and put up a building about 24 x 28, a story and a half high ~ a low porch extended across the front. It was afterward, in 1853, improved by the addition of a long one-story attachment in the rear for dining-room, kitchen, etc. This was at first known as "Viets Tavern," then as the "Viets House," but was better known to the early settlers as the "Winona Hotel," and later as the old "Winona House."
This house was built in August. The roof was the second on the prairie covered with shingles. The first was on the house of John Evans, on the Evans claim, the third was on the shanty built by Dr. Balcombe, and the fourth on the house built by Elder Ely, on the corner of Center and Second streets. In October the rooms in the lower part of the house were plastered. The first plastered rooms on the prairie were in the house of Elder Ely. Mr. Viets occupied this tavern for about two months, when he leased it to David Olmsted for a private residence, and moved his family down to La Crosse to spend the winter.
Late in this season Hon. David Olmsted, accompanied by a brother, arrived at Winona from Fort Atkinson, Iowa. They came through the country on the same trail Mr. Olmsted had traveled before when he accompanied the Winnebagoes on their removal from Iowa to Long Prairie, Minnesota. The trail was up through Money Creek valley, and along the divide between the Burns and Gilmore valley, on the old government trail leading down the ravine back of George W. Clark's residence. They traveled on foot from Fort Atkinson to Wabasha prairie, packing their camp supplies on a pony which they brought along.
Mr. Olmsted then proposed to locate himself on Wabasha prairie and make it his home. He leased the Viets House for a residence, and had some furniture sent on and stored there, but his wife remained east on a visit, and did not return until the following spring. In the meantime Mr. Olmsted changed his plans and located in St. Paul. This part of the territory was always a favorite locality with Mr. Olmsted. He came to Winona in 1855, and made it his home while he remained in Minnesota. On account of poor health he removed to Vermont, where he died of consumption in 1861. The memory of David Olmsted deserves more than this brief notice of one of the early settlers of this county, and if space permits farther reference will be made of his residence in this locality.
In 1852, when David Olmsted leased the house of Mr. Viets, he placed it and the furniture stored there in the care of Edwin Hamilton, who lived alone in it during the winter.
About the last of January, 1853, Mr. Viets learned that a stranger was occupying his claim on Wabasha prairie that he bought of Simonds. He came up with his wife to look after it. On arriving here, he found that a man by the name of Benjamin had jumped his claim, and was then in possession of it, professing to hold it as an abandoned claim.
Mr. Viets, accompanied by Wm. B. Gere, went immediately to his shanty with their revolvers in their hands and requested the claim jumper to vacate the locality as soon as possible. Not being able to resist so urgent a request presented for his consideration, he hurriedly left the claim and went back to La Crosse, where he had been living. It was said this man was in the employ of a Mr. Healy, for whom he had jumped the claim.
In the spring Mr. Viets sold out all of his interest on Wabasha prairie and moved back to La Crosse, where he settled in La Crosse county.
About the first of July, 1852, George M. Gere came up from La Crosse and settled on Wabasha prairie. He brought with him his wife and a very large family of children. He also brought up, with his household furniture, tools and material for a boot and shoe shop. He was the father of Wm. B. Gere, and brother of H. C. Gere.
For temporary accommodation they went to the shanty of H. C. Gere, where the two families lived together for a month or two. It was said that there were eighteen regular occupants of that little shanty, 12 x 16. The summer was dry and warm, and they found plenty of room outside without inconvenience.
In September, when Mr. Denman closed out his mercantile business and moved out on his claim, Mr. Gere leased his house on La Fayette street and occupied it with his family during the winter. He was a boot and shoe maker by trade, and occupied the front room of his residence as a shop. He here started the first shop in the county for the manufacture and repairs of boots and shoes of the settlers.
The following spring he built a shanty on his son's claim. It stood on the south side of Wabasha street, back of where the high school building now stands. It was 16 x 32, one story with a shingled roof. He occupied this locality until he left Winona.
Not long after Mr. Gere came into the territory he was appointed a justice of the peace for the county of Wabasha, by Gov. Ramsey. After Fillmore county was created he was continued in the same official position. He was also elected justice of the peace at the first election, in the fall of 1853.
His shoe shop was his office and where he held his court. Then he moved from the house belonging to Mr. Denman he built a small shop on the alley near the west side of La Fayette street, between Front and Second streets. His shop was a favorite lounging place for the settlers to while away an idle hour. His house was often used on Sundays for preaching and other religious exercises.
Mr. Gere was a large, dignified appearing man, about fifty years of age. His intimate friends speak of him with respect, as being an intelligent, consistent and exemplary Christian gentleman; usually cheerful; a good-humored, companionable man, who enjoyed a harmless joke and innocent sport, ~ one who did not consider it a sin to smile when pleased.
Soon after Winona county was created Mr. Gere moved to Chatfield, then the county seat of Fillmore county. He left Winona about the first of July, 1854.
During the spring and summer of 1852 Andrew Cole, a lawyer, living in La Crosse, made frequent visits to Wabasha prairie. These visits were to acquire a knowledge of the country, to form the acquaintance of the settlers, speculate in claims, and also to attend to professional business.
Although there were no courts of justice, nor even a county organization, there was business for the lawyers in contesting the claim difficulties, which became frequent as soon as the settlers began to wrangle for what they considered to be the best claims or choicest locations. These claim disputes were sometimes brought before the claim clubs for settlement. It was important to have counsel who had some knowledge of claim laws. When justices were appointed these claim disputes were for awhile tried before them, until it was discovered that, as matters relating to title in real estate, they were not under the jurisdiction of that court.
In the fall Mr. Cole brought his wife up from La Crosse and became a resident of Minnesota. He was the first lawyer to settle on Wabasha prairie ~ the first to settle in southern Minnesota for the practice of his profession. Being the only lawyer on the west side of the river, it was said that for the accommodation of his clients, he sometimes acted as counsel on both sides in the same suit, and at the same time acting as confidential adviser to the claim committee, or of the court, if matters of law were not clear to the inexperienced justices.
The house he occupied was one built by E. H. Johnson, which stood on lot 4, block 10, fronting on the levee. It was a small one-story building about 16 x 24, with a lean-to on the back part of the east side about 10 x 12. This was the third house with plastered rooms. The roof was shingled. There were seven buildings with shingled roofs at the close of this year.
Mr. Cole had his office in his residence. He occupied this place for three or four years, when he built a house on the corner of Fifth and Harriet streets, opposite the First Ward Park, where he lived during the remaining time of his residence in Winona. In about 1858 he went east and located himself in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he yet resides.
When Fillmore county was created Mr. Cole was appointed judge of probate by Gov. Ramsey. He was the first official in that position in this part of the territory along the Mississippi.
During the first three or four months after the settlement at Minnesota City was commenced, commendable zeal was exhibited by the members of the association at their meetings in providing for the general interest and future development of the colony. Matters of towns organization, providing for public improvements ~ public buildings, roads, bridges, etc., ~ were earnestly discussed and undertaken with a spirit of enterprise that was worthy of success.
They were ambitious and desirous of having a newspaper published in the colony. A subscription was circulated, and quite a sum promised as a bonus and for its support, provided a paper was started and a printing-office established at Minnesota City. Mr. Haddock was a practical printer, and from the encouragement offered decided to make the attempt and bring on material for starting a small weekly newspaper, to be called the "Minnesota City Standard." While east after his family, then living in the city of New York, he procured a press and material for a printing-office, which he brought along as far a Dubuque, where he was compelled to leave it in store for want of funds to pay freight. He never brought his press up the river.
They decided to build a town hall: the lumber and material was purchased and brought on the grounds, but owing to sickness and its attendant misfortunes the project was abandoned and the material used for other purposes. The public spirit of the settlers of this colony would have made the association a success if the location had been a proper one.