Reminiscences of a Pioneer Missionary By Rev. Chrysostom Verwyst Wisconsin Historical Society Founded 1849 The State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Separate No. 173 From the Proceedings of the Society for 1916 Contributed by Timm Severud
I was born November 23, 1841 in the land of windmills, dikes, and wooden shoes, in Uden, a town of North Brabant, Holland. My parents migrated to the United States in 1848, and of my life in Holland I remember almost nothing.
The occasion of our removal to the United States was as follows: Rev. Theodore Van den Broek [Note: Rev. Theodore J. Van de Broek, after officiating for the whites at Green Bay from 1834 to 1837, established in the latter year his mission for the Menominee at Little Chute on Fox River. The Indians built a wigwam for him and then a log church twenty-two by thirty feet, roofed with bark. Later the church was covered with boards, and about 1844 a schoolhouse was built. After the removal of the Menominee to their reservation in Shawano County, the mission buildings were used by the whites. See letters of the Father Van den Broek in Wisconsin Historical Collections, XIV, 192, 196-205.], a Dominican priest, had come from Holland to this country in 1832 and had resided for a time in a house of his order, St. Rose, near Springfield, Washington County, Kentucky. In 1834 he removed to Green Bay where a brother Dominican, Father Mazzuchelli [Note: For a sketch of Father Samuel Charles Mazzuchelli see ibid., 155-61. His Memoir (Chicago, 1915) has been translated and published in book form.], had been working among the whites and the Indians. Thereafter the two Fathers labored along the shores of Green Bay, sometimes separately, sometimes together. Father Van den Broek was stationed at Little Chute and along the upper Fox River until his death at Little Chute in 1851. In 1847 he returned to Holland on some family mission, and his description of the cheap and good lands to be had in Wisconsin induced many of the people of North Brabant, among them my father, to migrate thither. Accompanied by Father Van den Broek and by Father Goddard, a Franciscan, they set sail in three ships [Note: The three ships were named, respectively, Mary Magdalena, Liberia, and American.], two of which landed at New York and the third at Boston.
On the latter ship my father had embarked. We were fifty-five days on the ocean but the voyage was a prosperous one and none of the passengers died at sea. On reaching America Father Van den Broek returned to the scene of his labors at Little Chute, while Father Goddard went with a number of his countrymen to Hollandtown, Brown County. This settlement was originally called "Franciscus Bush" [Note: The settlement is still known as Franciscus Bosch.] in honor of the patron saint of the church. On the arrival of our ship at Boston most of our fellow passengers went immediately to the West, but our family and another by the name of Verkampen were obliged, through lack of means to travel farther, to stay in Boston. It was in the month of May and we therefore made our living at first by going into the woods, to Dorchester and other places near Roxbury, and picking blueberries, blackberries, and huckleberries, and cutting water cresses.
Soon after our arrival a laughable adventure happened to our neighbor, Verkampen. Rooms had been engaged for the two families together, the Verkampens occupying those in front of the building and our family those in the rear. One night the owner came with a German boy who acted as interpreter and told Verkampen we would have to vacate the premises immediately. When Verkampen at length comprehended the demand thus made upon him he seized an ax and made for the proprietor with the intention of scaring him away. The latter promptly beat a hasty retreat, but shortly afterwards Verkampen was arrested and lodged in jail. His poor wife was disconsolate. "Scarcely in America and my man in jail," she lamented. Verkampen, however, urged her not to feel worried. He was getting plenty to eat, more than he had ever enjoyed in Holland, and was living, he wrote, "like a prince in a palace."
A few days after his arrest many of the townsmen celebrated the Fourth of July by imbibing too freely of liquor, and as a result were landed in jail. Verkampen, who had a bottomless stomach, ate not only his own rations but also those of the drunken fellows incarcerated with him. For the first time in all his life, probably, he enjoyed a full meal. A day or two after the Fourth the prisoners were brought to trial. Verkampen, who was defended by a German lawyer, was dismissed since it was shown that the owner of the building had had no right to attempt to eject us in the middle of the night and that Verkampen had intended only to scare him away and not to kill him.
We soon removed to East Boston where my Father and my oldest brother engaged in the cooper trade. About the year 1850 we moved to Roxbury where they obtained employment in a rope factory. I have omitted to mention, I find, that prior to 1850 Father and my two brothers, Martin and John, went to Vermont to work on a railroad, and there John died. Thereupon my Father and my brother Martin returned to Boston or East Boston. We two boys--both of us still alive (1916)--attended the German Catholic school in Boston.
Finally, in the early spring of 1855, our family migrated to Wisconsin. We left Boston in pleasant spring weather but when the train reached Rutland, Vermont, the same evening it was snowing and when we arrived at Albany it was raining. In the depot at Albany there was posted in a conspicuous place a large placard warning travelers against "thieves, pickpockets, and confidence men." The notice appeared somewhat strange to us but to our cost we found out that it was not uncalled for. Father engaged a man to convey our baggage to another depot, paying him in advance. When we arrived at the depot he refused to surrender our belongings unless we again paid him. In vain Father protested. Finally, he appealed to a policeman, and that worthy representative of law and order declared that Father had had no right to prepay the baggage man; so he was compelled to pay the bill a second time.
From Albany we went by way of Niagara Falls, where we passed over into Canada, to Detroit. The train moved very slowly, and it took us many days--how many I do not now remember--to reach Chicago. That city left a decidedly dismal impression on my boyish mind. It certainly did not look neat and clean like Boston. From Chicago we took a steamboat, which brought us to Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Here mother and we two boys tarried for over a week while Father and my oldest brother started out in quest of land. Finally, they returned and we hired a conveyance to bring us and our baggage to Fond du Lac. On the way a man ran against our wagon; the two drivers became very angry, each blaming the other for the collision, and nearly came to blows. We dined at Green Bush [Note: Greenbush is a town in western Sheboygan County. The first cabin was built there in 1844; the village platted in 1848, and became a station on the plank road between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac.] and arrived late that evening at Fond du Lac. The next morning we took a small steamer on Lake Winnebago, which brought us to Menasha. From there we took a wagon and through mud, stones, and deep holes on the road we finally came to Hollandtown in Brown County.
Father bought sixty acres of land from a man named Stephen Fink, and we started to erect a cabin of unhewn logs, the neighbors helping at the raising. The house had no floor but there was a wretched wooden chimney, which at times smoked fearfully. I cold weather the occupants would be too warm in front while their backs were almost freezing. Luckily for us we carried a floor about with us in the shape of wooden shoes made of poplar. My brother, Cornelius, and myself worked hard all winter with Father cutting down hardwood and other trees and chopping them into logs about sixteen feet long. We tacked a piece of old cloth to our wooden shoes and tied strings together around our legs below the knees to prevent the snow from falling into our shoes. In this way we kept our feet dry and warm, better in fact, than we could have done with leather boots.
In the spring father would split fence rails, at which work we boys faithfully assisted him. After the clearing had been fenced, having neither horses nor oxen to plow the ground, we made potato hills and planted corn and potatoes, doing the work with heavy grub hoes. There was a clearing of about seven acres when we bought the land of which one-half was meadowland. We had to work like beavers all the year round and our only leisure was on Sunday afternoons, when we were allowed to visit the neighbor boys. At the end of four years of such toil we had thirty acres cleared, on which we raised wheat, rye, barley, potatoes, beans, and other vegetables.
In Hollandtown, where a stately brick church now stands, prior to 1855 a small church had been built. A priest used to visit our settlement about once a month, the good man being obliged to walk all the way from Little Chute, a distance of about fifteen miles, over most horrible roads. Every Sunday we had religious services. As the church had neither steeple nor bell the blowing of a horn announced the time for religious services. An old man named Van der Hey used to give out the prayers and read a short sermon. The men and boys sat on one side of the church and the women and girls on the other. The women used to wear those queer Holland-fashioned dresses and some had gold earnings. Nearly all of them came to church in their wooden shoes. A man named Verhulst was doorkeeper and woe to the luckless canine that happened to get into the church. Verhulst would grab him in his giant hands and drag him out of the church, the poor dog howling loudly. Once outdoors Verhulst would swing the dog in a circle and hit him against the church, the animal meanwhile is howling for mercy. When finally released the unfortunate dog would take care to avoid the vicinity of the church in future. Of course such proceedings did not serve to increase the gravity and attentive devotion of the youngsters.
Whenever the Father came from Little Chute there was always a great rush to get to him first to make one's confession. I think if any of our non-Catholic people had been present on such an occasion and had seen how we fairly raced to get to the priest first, they would have concluded that confession after all is not so difficult an ordeal as some of those outside the church have imagined it to be.
I will now give the names of some of the people I recall who were at Hollandtown and its vicinity in the period from 1855 to 1860: Van den Berg, Verkuilen, Kobussen, Verhulst, Van den Loop, Ballard, Beach, Fink, Eittings, Verkamp, Van der Jagt, Loftus, Curtin, Malloy, Glachine, Sievers, Kersten, Rolf, Kordsmeier, de Bruin, School, Hoevenaar, Tillemans, Van Aerts, Hintermeister; besides these there were many others whose names I cannot now remember.
My countrymen used to have an occasional jollification. There was, for instance, the carnival entertainment just before Lenten fast. After mass was over they would betake themselves to the home of Mr. Van den Berg. The house was a large building for those primitive days, and there they would dance--the younger generation, of course--all day till sundown, when all would go home. Night dancing was never carried on, and I believe the present generation religiously follows this custom of their grandparents; that is, they dance only during the day, and every decent woman and girl is supposed to be at home before dark.
Our people also had a guild, that is, a certain kind of society at the head of which were a king and a queen for the year. On an appointed day all the members would meet at the chosen rendezvous to shoot down the wooden bird, made every tough material, placed at the top of a high pole like a flagstaff. Sometimes it took much shooting to bring down the last piece of the wooden bird, whereupon the lucky marksman would be proclaimed king, with the privilege of choosing a queen and getting a large silver heart made which he was to wear during the year as a token of his royal dignity. Of course innocent day dancing and other jollification were indulged in by the younger generation on this great day.
Occasionally we heard of a fight, or of some poor fellow becoming tipsy, but nothing more serious than that occurred. There was universal good will among all and towards all. Our neighbors lived the simple life of hardworking, religious, God-fearing people. From time to time they gathered on Sunday afternoon at the house of some neighbor, where the men played cards and took an occasional drink from a jug of liquor; the women, meantime, sipped their tea or coffee and chatted over household affairs and current news; while the boys found amusement in innocent games. Such entertainments fostered friendly neighborly feelings and promoted good will in the community. Indeed, in the four years I spent on the farm from 1855--60 I do not recall a single instance of a man or woman being arrested for disorderly conduct.
At house raisings and marriage feasts there would be some liquor consumed and all kinds of fun indulged in, but all with a neighborly feeling and not for the mere indulgence of drinking. When I recall my boyhood days in Wisconsin sixty or more years ago, I feel a certain regret that they are gone, never to return. It seems to me that people are now becoming too civilized, and their life is too artificial and filled with too much sham.
In those days bears, deer, raccoons, and wild pigeons abounded. In some years pigeons could be seen on the ground and in the air by millions, but alas! Man's greed has exterminated thee wild pigeons. Year by year they become scarcer until now I believe there is not a single one in the whole length and breadth of the United States We have exterminated the pigeon as we have exterminated the buffalo, and as we are fast exterminating the deer, elk, whitefish, and lake trout. The white man's philosophy seems to be summed up in Mark Twain's observation when told that we should provide for posterity: "Provide for posterity! Do something for posterity! What has posterity done for us?" In those days bears were plentiful and occasionally they paid unwelcome visits to the farmers' cornfields and pigpens. They were fond of pork and would often catch a squealing pig and make away with him to the woods to enjoy a hearty meal.
One day--it was on a Sunday and the people had all gone to church--a big bear invaded the precincts of Mrs. Van der Heide of Hollandtown. Hearing the squeals of one of her pigs, Mrs. Van der Heide rushed out of the house and saw a bear trying to carry one of them away. The animal was attempting to pull the struggling porker over a rail fence. In this he failed, however, for Mrs. Van der Heide, forgetting all fear, grabbed the hind feet of the pig and pulled with might and main while the bear, growling fiercely on the other side of the fence, did likewise. It was a pitched battle between the undaunted woman and the bear for the ownership of the pig, but at length the woman won. She told her little boy to take a stick and hit the bear on his hind legs. The bear growled fiercely but had to give up. Mrs. Van der Heide save pig, but the animal had to be butchered as it was so badly lacerated by the teeth of the bear. Everyone wondered at the courage of the woman and that the bear did not attack her. Let her name be immortalized in the annals of Wisconsin!
Occasionally an Indian would pay us a visit, although I never saw one in the village itself. The neighbors advised us not to give them anything when they came to beg for something to eat, for if we once gave them food they would come again and again. I considered their well-meant advice heartless. Mother, too, pitied the poor people when they would come asking for something to eat. I remember perfectly one occasion when she gave a hungry Indian a whole loaf of bread. He asked for a knife and cut off a slice two or more inches thick to eat immediately.
One time the Father in Little Chute had several guests at table, among them an Indian. When the meat was passed to the latter he emptied the whole dish into his bag thinking that it now belonged to him. The other guests were not particularly pleased with the procedure, but the thing was done, and they had to make out their dinner as best they could.
Another time mother had made some homemade beer, which consisted of hops, water, and molasses boiled in the wash boiler. This time the brew proved to be a failure. We had some neighbors as guests on Sunday afternoon, and some of this homemade product was served them, but very little of it was drunk for it was fearfully bitter. An Indian happened to come along, and mother offered him some of it, but after taking some of it in his mouth he spat it out. Mother afterwards threw away the remainder of the beer. Next day I was working, planting or hoeing potatoes near a creek that ran through our land. Suddenly I heard mother screaming at the top of her voice, I ran up to the house to see what was the matter. On reaching it I found four Indians on horseback who said they had come to drink beer of which their comrade--the Indian of yesterday--had told them. We explained to them that we had thrown it all away because it was not good. Father, who was working near by for a neighbor, hearing mother's loud call came running with pitchfork intent on defending his wife and children, but luckily he was not needed, the Indians laughing good-naturedly at the poor man's simplicity in thinking to fight four Indians with a pitchfork.
A neighbor of ours, a distant relative, Martin School by name, lived some three miles away in a deep valley, or rather ravine through which a creek ran. One night he heard some noise near the creek and thinking it was a deer coming to drink he tried to shoot it. His gun, which was one of the old, fashioned kind, failed to go off, and so he went back in the dark to his house to fix it. In a moment in rushed an Indian in a terrible rage, exclaiming:
"You want to shoot Indian! Shoot Indian!" The Poor man tried to make the Indian understand that he was very near-sighted and that he had thought it was a deer drinking at the creek. Gradually the Indian comprehended his explanation, which was given more by signs and motions than by words. The red man's anger gradually died away but he insisted on having a dance then and there. Probably he had imbibed too much firewater somewhere. So School had to do the singing and clapping with his hands to keep time, while the Indian danced around on the floor until finally he became tired and departed.
On one occasion in the wintertime my oldest brother, Martin, who used to work every winter in the pineries near Green Bay to help support the family, was walking along when he came upon a drunken Indian. The latter insisted on dancing with him immediately. Martin had never danced in all his life and, in fact, knew no more about dancing than the man in the moon, but dance he must, for the Indian demanded it and to refuse might cost him his life. So the two jumped around it the snow on the road, yelling as loudly as they could to keep time and moving about like two inmates of a lunatic asylum My brother began to get tired of this strenuous exercise, but he dared not stop for fear of the Indian's gun. At length the Indian suddenly started off and Martin gladly took the opposite route.
The roads in those primitive days were generally poor, often in miserable condition. The only good one I knew of was the military Road from Fond du Lac to Green Bay. It was a plank road from the county line between Calumet and Brown counties to Green Bay, a distance of about twenty-four miles. The south end of the road--not planked through Calumet County to Fond du Lac-- was fairly good, considering the general condition of Wisconsin roads in those days, but it was very poor when compared with the public roads of the present time. Two or three times in my boyhood days I went to Green Bay on this plank road; the first time with my father about the year 1857. My brother had earned a little over $200 in the pinery north of Green Bay, but instead of the cash had received only a note, or check, for his pay. He had left the check with Timothy Howe [Note: Timothy Otis Howe, who was born in Maine in 1816, came to Wisconsin in 1845 and opened a law office at Green Bay. He was circuit judge from 1850 to 1855, when he resigned and retired to private practice until his election in 1861 to the United States Senate. He was twice reelected and was tendered the positions of chief justice of the United States and of minister to England, both of which he declined. In 1881 he was appointed postmaster-general and while an incumbent of that office died, Mar. 25, 1883.] in Green Bay for collection. I went along with father to act as interpreter on this occasion; but we made a long journey of some fifty miles going and returning for nothing. Ever since then I have felt rather unkindly toward lawyers. The second occasion was about a year later when I went to call Martin Van den Broek, then working in Green Bay, to the funeral of his father. The latter had died from the effects of partaking too freely of ice-cold water while assisting in haymaking at Ballard's farm. On this occasion I walked continuously for twenty-four hours, going to Green Bay in the daytime and returning to Hollandtown the ensuing night, a total distance of about fifty miles.
The most wretched road I remember was the one from Hollandtown to Kaukauna, or Kaukaulo, as it was then called. This road followed no particular town or section line but zigzagged through the woods. There were innumerable mud holes; each one apparently worse than the rest, and no attempt had been made to improve the road. It struck the river bottom not far from Beaulieu's Mill and then continued up the river to the dam, above which people would cross the river to the village of Kaukaulo. This consisted of some half a dozen houses in addition to a stroke kept by Hunt. On the south side of the river there were in 1855 only two settlers; one was Beaulieu, an Indian, or half-breed, who had a small farm and a gristmill [Note: Paul H. Beaulieu settled on the south side of Fox River in 1835 and purchased the mill that had been erected by the government for the Stockbridge Indians. He died at Kaukauna in 1850. His son Bazil was a partner in the mill, and in 1842 first clerk of the town of Kaukauna. In 1871 the Beaulieu property was sold for a paper-mill site, and in 1878 Bazil removed to White Earth, Minn., where he died in 1894.]; the other was Sanders, a Dutchman, who had a large farm across the river from Hunt's store.
One time a Dutchman named Jan den Dickken (John the Thick, John the Fat) wanted to buy some pork at Hunt's store. Someone had told him he should ask for pig's pork. When he told Hunt what he wanted, the latter did not understand him. Finally, thinking that John wanted to buy a pitchfork, he brought some samples of the latter article for him to choose from. "No, No! Pick pork!" replied John the Fat. Luckily a pig chanced to run by the door, whereupon John pointed at it, at the same time making a motion with his knife as if he wanted to cut off a piece. Thus assisted Hunt at length comprehended the fat Dutchman's request.
In those days it was sometimes difficult to obtain provisions. For some time our nearest store was Hunt's at Kaukauna, eight or nine miles away. After some years Bertus Van den Berg opened a store at Hollandtown, and then we were no longer compelled to travel through mud and slush to Kaukauna to procure the necessaries and conveniences of life. Before our arrival at Hollandtown things had been still worse. Some of the settlers actually had to carry sacks of flour on their backs all the way from Green Bay to Hollandtown, a distance of about twenty-four miles. I remember vividly an incident of my own boyhood days. Father and I carried a sack of grain, either wheat or rye, I have forgotten which, on our backs to Beaulieu's gristmill about a mile or so below the dam opposite Hunt's store. It was a trip of some sixteen miles going and coming, over horrible roads. We were compelled to make this trip three times before we got our grains ground.
After a time things grew more convenient. In the wintertime farmers near Fond du Lac used to take loads of flour to Green Bay, a distance of about sixty-five miles. Of course they would gladly sell their whole load somewhere on the way if they could fine a buyer. John Kobussen, our rich neighbor, occasionally bought one or more loads of flour and then disposed of it to his neighbors.
There was a stopping place at Dundas, about one mile from our place, kept by an enterprising American named Beach, the father of a large family of boys. He kept the post office and had a large, well-cultivated farm. At his place most of the travelers and flour sellers were in the habit of stopping. He was about twenty-five years ahead of his surrounding neighbors with respect to his buildings and other improvements. On one occasion a Hollander asked Beach to give him the post-office address in full, in order that he might send it to his Boston relatives. Beach wrote: "Send your letters to Dundas Post Office, Calumet County, Wis." Thereafter the Boston correspondent would always address his letters to his Wisconsin relative thus: "Mr. Henry Fink, send your letters to Dundas Post Office, Calumet County, Wis." Naturally the queer address caused much merriment among the postmasters.
Another enterprising Yankee, a regular New Englander, was Ballard, a good-hearted industrious bachelor. I often worked for him, for he lived only half a mile from our place. In spring and fall especially, he would hire "the general," as he delighted to call me, to help him plant or dig potatoes and do other light work. He kept his house scrupulously clean and tidy and had periodicals and newspapers and quite a library. With "the general" he would discuss all kinds of questions, occasionally urging me to hurry up when I paid more attention to my employer's talk than to my work. He doubtless conceived a liking for me because I was fond of reading and he had a large number of well-chosen books, which I delighted to read.
Road making was carried on in those days in rather primitive fashion. The citizens would vote a certain amount of road tax at the regular town meeting, or Election Day. The farmers elected a "path master" who had charge of the road in a certain district. When the time came to work on them, he would send notice to all the taxpayers within his district to come on a certain day to the place appointed to work on the road. The farmers would meet, perhaps at nine o'clock in the morning, with axes, shovels, and grub hoes and begin to build a corduroy bridge over some creek, throwing over the logs a few shovels full of dirt; or, if there was a mud hole to be filled up, they would cut some green brush, throw it into the hole, and scatter over it a few shovels of earth and lo! The road was fixed. More than once I have worked on the road and though but a boy of fifteen to seventeen years I believe I did more work than the average farmer when working out his road tax.
I traveled very little during my boyhood. I went a few times to Green Bay, Appleton, and Little Chute. As to Depere I have no distinct recollection, although of course I must have passed through it on my way to Green Bay. In those days we called the place "Rapides des Peres," which was afterwards abbreviate to Depere. The ancient name, a French appellation, was derived from the fact that from 1672 to about the year 1720 the Jesuit Fathers had a house of their order and a church there.
In a letter dated at Green Bay, June 11, 1831, Right Reverend Bishop Fenwick of Cincinnati speaks of Reverend Mazzuchelli as having traveled with him from Mackinac to Green Bay; also of Mrs. Dousman [Note: For a sketch of Mrs. Dousman see Wis, Hist. Colls., XIX, 105, note 42.], a pious Catholic widow. I met the latter later on in Keshena in 1866 where she was then a teacher, perhaps also a government interpreter to some extent. She acted as interpreter for me also, and I never saw a woman so lively, energetic, and expressive in gesture and tone in her conversation. The Bishop also states in the letter to which I have referred that he had chosen the site for a new church halfway between Averino (Navarino) and Shantytown, for which two acres of land had been promised. I remember passing through Shantytown on my trips to Green Bay and hearing the people speak a language of which I could not understand a word. I learned afterwards that they were Belgian Walloons.
I made several trips to Appleton. On one of them, I remember, I went with a neighbor of ours to get a load of grain ground. Both Green Bay and Appleton seem to me to have been then about the size of Bayfield at the present time. Little Chute was a rural hamlet with from twelve to fifteen houses, a store belonging to John Verstegen, and a long, low, and framed church on the bluff facing Fox River. The majority of the farmers in that vicinity were Hollanders who had come to America in 1848 and the following years.
Farming in those days on land full of stumps and roots was conducted in very primitive fashion. When a man had succeeded in cutting down the trees and chopping them into logs of fourteen to sixteen feet in length, he had to pile them up. This was a laborious task, especially if he had no oxen or horses. I remember how, when I was a lad of about thirteen, we had to work with might and main to roll up the heavy logs into piles to burn. Father was a small man, below medium size, but Mother was a large and strong woman and we boys had to work like little men. When the difficult task of burning the logs and brush had been accomplished, we cultivated the land thus wrested from the primitive forest.
For the first two years we had no oxen and so were compelled to plow with heavy grub hoes. Oftentimes our wrists would ache from digging and working in the hard, rooty ground. We would hoe a great number of hills in which to plant potatoes and corn. When the plants appeared above ground it was necessary to hoe them again to kill the weeds and get the crop to grow. Of course we had dig the potatoes with our heavy grub hoes and stow them away in some kind of root house or cellar. It was hard, slavish work throughout the entire year. There were no mowing machines, and I remember seeing Father cut our grain with a sickle, such as was used 4,000 years ago. The first improvement on the sickle was the cradle, with which a good cradler might cut five acres in a day, provided he had strong arms and an iron will. Haymaking was carried on much as it had been in Old Testament times. Heat, fatigues, and sweat were expended lavishly in procuring food for the stock.
In spite of the want of modern machinery, however, the farms grew in size and value year by year. First, five to ten acres of stumpy and rooty land, a small log house with wooden chimney and floor made of hewn logs or rough boards, a small stable for the cattle, a pigpen, and a henhouse--such were the rude beginnings of farm life in those days. However, things began gradually to change for the better. Frame house and barn took the place of the old log buildings; horses replaced the slow, patient oxen; the roads became more fit for travel; board fences replaced those made of rails; thus primitive Wisconsin developed into one of the most prosperous states of the Union. This transformation was largely wrought by the strong arm and tireless industry of the now-sometimes-despised foreigner. The German, Dutch, and Irish immigrants dug our canals, built our railroads, cleared our forests, and made a paradise of what was but a few years before a dreary wilderness, the habitation of uncivilized Indians and of wild animals.
In the summer of 1859 I determined to train for the priesthood and began to study Latin, Greek, and French under the instruction of our first pastor in Hollandtown, Reverend Father Spierings. He was a countryman of mine and was also dear friend whom I shall never forget. After the death of my father Reverend Spierings sent me to the Seminary of St. Francis near Milwaukee to continue my studies. A neighbor took me as far as Brothertown and from there I walked all the way to Fond du Lac, arriving late in the evening or rather in the night. If ever there was a tired boy, I was the one, for I had walked twenty-five or thirty miles carrying a heavy grip. Next day I took the train to Milwaukee and walked out to the Seminary, a distance of about five or six miles. A Jew, a countryman, accosted me on the sidewalk and, overflowing with suavity, smiles, and friendliness, invited me to enter his store and urged me to buy a watch, but his officiousness and excessive suavity made me distrust him.
I began to surmise that he must be a Jew, a race of which I had heard so much at home, and I told him I did not need a watch just then, nor anything else. He then pressed me to buy at least a pair of suspenders, but without avail, and I finally got away from my importunate Jewish countryman.
My seminary days were passed during the stormy period of our Civil War, 1861-65. I was drafted for service but I attempted to be released on the plea of being a subject of the king of Holland. To establish this fact I obtained from our Dutch consul in Milwaukee a document about two feet square, the cost of which was $3. Armed with it and with $300 in my pocket, partly procured at home and partly through the efforts of kind friends, especially Father Gernbauer, I presented myself at the provost marshal's office in Milwaukee. That officer questioned me as to my parents and I told him that Father had taken out his first citizenship papers in Boston; and that subsequently he had voted in Wisconsin, as other aliens had done. I was thereupon most solemnly declared to be a citizen of the United States, having been a minor when I came into the country in 1848 and my Father having voted; accordingly I was told to step into a side room to be examined. I was as sound as a dollar and knew that I would not have any chance to escape military duty on the score of physical ailments or defects. So I told the marshal I would pay the commutation fee of $300, in order to be absolved from military duty. I was then taken by a soldier to an adjoining building where I paid my money and received a receipt exempting me from military duty for three years. This document is still preserved in the courthouse in Superior.
I walked back to the Seminary in a very pensive mood. About three or four months later came the spring election, and as I had paid $300 for my American citizenship I thought I would go to the polls to vote. The voting lords recognized that I was a stranger and some one challenged my right to vote, requiring me to swear to my citizenship. I told them how I had been drafted and been declared a citizen liable to military duty, and that I had paid $300 commutation money to exempt me from military service. Notwithstanding this the election board declared I was no citizen and, therefore, had no right to vote. I was so deeply disgusted at this manifest humbug and conceived so great a dislike for Uncle Same that I did not take out my citizenship papers until about fifteen years later.
During my vacation time in the summer of 1862 I was working at a neighbor's place helping to thresh grain. I believe it was the first time I ever saw grain threshed with a machine instead of with the flail as had always been done in my boyhood. While thus engaged there suddenly came to us the startling report: "The Indians are coming! They are killing the whites!" The threshing ceased instantly and every man hastened home to get his gun to go to fight the Indians. I, too, hurried home. Father was dead, and Mother and Brother Cornelius were the only remaining members of the family. The latter was confined to the house on account of a sore foot. Not having bullets or lead, I pounded some pewter spoons into bullets and started for Hollandtown with loaded gun. There all was in an uproar. People had abandoned their farms in terror and dismay, some to hide in the woods, others to seek refuge in the village. Reverend Van Luytelaar was then the pastor of the Hollandtown congregation. His house was full of women with crying babies, many of who were laid crosswise on his bed. All kinds of wild reports were in circulation; some said that the Indians had been driven into a swamp and surrounded; others had still wilder tales to relate.
I think it was in the afternoon when we first heard of the Indians coming and killing the white people. It was decided that after dark some men should be posted on the outskirts of the town as sentinels to watch and report any Indians that might be coming; others, myself amongst the rest, were to go to the intersection of the Military and Kaukaulo roads and watch there. It was a bright, moonlight night when my worthy neighbor, Ballard, carrying two guns, and I wended our way homeward, for we were hungry, not having eaten anything since noon. "Look out general," the fat Yankee would say to me, what I would walk carelessly along, "look out, general, walk as much as possible in the shade, not in the moonlight. The Indians may see and shoot you." At length we posted ourselves behind a fence near the road. Woe to the poor Indian, if he had come along that way! He would have been shot down without mercy or inquiry. Luckily no redskins showed themselves, and we finally got up and went home.
After eating supper I went alone to the crossing mentioned above. There was a small clearing near by in which I noticed a fire burning. Probably the people had been burning brush and chips on the land that afternoon and had fled into the woods or to town when news of the Indian foray came. Seeing nothing suspicious I walked a few rods from the road into the woods, stood my gun up against a tree, and lay down and slept soundly until morning, for I was tired out by the day's work and my trip to the village and return. I learned afterwards that some men, who had been working on the Fox River Canal near Little Chute and whose folks lived in or near Holland-town, had been on their way to this village that night.
When they reached the intersection of the Military Kaukaulo roads they saw the fire and all at once some pigs began to squeal. "Oh! The Indians are there! See the fire! Hear the pigs! They are killing everything!" And my brave countrymen ran at top speed back to Little Chute to tell the terrified people there the fearful news about the Indians' doings. "Of course they had not seen a single Indian, but terror made them imagine all kinds of wild sights. The next day the Indian scare which, I subsequent learned, extended all over Wisconsin was over, and many a ludicrous story was told about what had been done during the universal fright.
This scare on the part of the people of Wisconsin, especially of those dwelling in the northern part of the State, was not without some reason, for at that very time Hole-in-the-Day had planned to attack Crow Wing, Minnesota, and kill the whites there and in that vicinity. The project was frustrated by the efforts of a venerable Catholic priest of seventy-seven years, Reverend Father Pierz [Note: Francis Xavier Pierz was born in Carniola, Austria, in 1785. At the request of Father Baraga, Pierz in 1835 came to the United States and was a missionary at Sault Ste. Marie, La Pointe, and l'Arbre Croche. In 1852 he removed to Crow Wing on the Mississippi where he ministered until 1864. In 1873 he returned to his native land where he died in 1880.] (Pirec was his Slavonian name) who induced Hole-in-the-Day to give up his cruel design [Note: As the writers the Minnesota massacre, either designedly or from ignorance do not mention this fact, I will give the account as it is found in Acta et Dicta, III, 83--84, published by the St. Paul Catholic Historical Society:
"Through his [Rev. Pirec's] influence with the chiefs he frequently averted wars and hostile expeditions among them. He prevented the threatened massacre of the inhabitants of Crow Wing in 1862. From a friendly Indian he received the information that the Red men of Leech under the leadership of Chief Holeda were preparing to attack the above named village. Father Pirec at once set out towards the camp in a dark forest. When approaching the place were the council of war was held he was halted by two heavily armed horsemen, who refused to let him pass the "dead-line." The sentinels informed him that no white man was allowed to pass alive beyond that spot. But as the good father insisted, he was lifted bodily from the ground and carried across the danger point. The chiefs were sullen and silent at the approach of the aged black-robe; but after half an hour's convincing and serious talk on the evils of war Pirec succeeded in showing them how useless it is for them to wage war] against the whites. Holeda finally grasped the missionary's hand and promised that the next day the chiefs would come to Crow Wing to make peace. Matters were finally settled in an amicable manner the following day." This is but a summary account of the affair. Many years ago I read a more detailed description of it, but I cannot find it now. There is no doubt that Father Pierz averted--at the danger of his own life--the intended massacre of the whites at Crow Wing. He took his life in his hands in daring to go to the hostile Indian camp. What saved him from being killed was the respect they had for him, knowing him to be a kind-hearted, good old man. None of the Indians, as he afterwards declared, was Catholic. --C. A. V.].
On November 5, 1865 I was ordained with many others and sent to New London, Wisconsin. The village at that time was small and the inhabitants consisted of Americans, Irish, Germans, and Poles. I think New London was not far from the site of the ancient village of the "Oudagamig" after whom Outagamie County has been named [Note: These Indians called themselves "Miskwakig," that is, "Red Land People," probably from the fact that they inhabited a country where red clay was the predominant soil. They were called by the French, Reynards (Foxes), and their territory seems to have stretched northward from Lake Winnebago and along the Wolf and Fox rivers. They were constantly at war with the Chippewa and later on with the French. Father Claude Allouez, S. J., first visited them early in the spring of 1670 and on March 25 of that year, St. Mark's Day, he said Mass at their village for the first time and hence named the place "The Mission of St. Mark." From Marquette's map of 1674 it appears that the village was located on Wolf River about due west from the head of Green Bay at Depere, which would indicate that it must have been somewhere in the vicinity of New London.--C. A. V.]. I had the whole of Waupaca County for my mission district and I was almost always on the road traveling from one place to another. The people, mostly Irish, were very kind to their priest and many a pleasant evening I spent with them, they telling me about old Ireland and generally winding up their narratives with some uncanny ghost story. A few days after my arrival in New London I had to go to Waupaca, the county seat, to register my clergyman's certificate. It was a warm, sunny afternoon when, on horseback and but thinly clad, I started for Waupaca via Weyauwega, but the weather soon changed. Shivering with cold I came to Weyauwega where I stayed over night. Next morning I continued my journey, the weather being still very cold. On the way the horse stumbled and fell, throwing me over his head on to the frozen ground. Luckily no bones were broken but my wrists ached from striking the hard ground with my hands. I rode on, however, and about noon arrived at Waupaca. I put up at a hotel and after dinner called upon the proper county official and had my certificate registered. Then I started homeward via Ogdensburg, Royalton, and Northport to New London. The weather was so cold that I was frequently forced to dismount and walk in order to warm myself somewhat; then I would mount and ride until the biting wind forced me again to take to walking. Finally, after dark, I arrived at the house of Sullivan, near Royalton, where I stayed over night. After a good warming up and an appetizing supper, I was shown my bedroom. "Father," said Mrs. Sullivan, "not long ago a woman died in that room and before she died she saw five ghosts coming into it." A creeping sensation of terror came over me at this news of walking spirits. I believe in all my life I never said my bedside prayers as fervently as I did that night; but I was tired out by the hardships of the day and when I got into the warm bed I slept as soundly as a bear, and if ghostly visitors put in an appearance I did not notice them. Next day I returned safe and sound to my residence, which consisted of a couple of rooms in the second story of an old frame house. Later on I built a small parsonage for myself near the church.
Towards the end of December, 1865 I went to Keshena via Bear Creek, Clintonville, and Shawano, riding all the way on horseback and carrying my vestments in a saddlebag. Here and there were small clearings and poor log houses. At Clintonville I saw but one house in the midst of a small clearing. Whether there was a village of the same name somewhere else, not on my route, I cannot tell, but I believe not. At Shawano, which was then but a mere hamlet, I stopped over night at the house of Doctor Wiley, who was married to a daughter of Mrs. Dousman, a half-breed lady, one of whose daughters was a governmental teacher at Keshena.
The Menomonees were first visited by Father Allouez in 1669, and subsequently by Father André, S. J. Father Marquette, who stopped at their village in 1673 on his voyage of discovery and exploration of the Mississippi, says that some of them were Christians. They tried to dissuade him from his intended exploration, depicting in most lively fashion the many dangers which he would encounter [Note: See Reuben G. Thwaites (ed.), Jesuit Relations (Cleveland, 1896-1901), LXIV to LXIX, passim.]. In 1853 Reverend Father Skolla, O. S. Fr. St. Obs. went to them and labored among them about two years [Note: Rev. Otton Skolla, born in Carniola, Austria, in 1805, was ordained in 1831 and came to America in 1841. He was stationed at Detroit in 1842; at Mackinac, 1843-45; and at La Pointe from the latter year to 1853. Thence he was sent to the Menominee Indians for whom he built a chapel at Keshena, Wis. Father Skolla died at Fiume, Austria, in 1879.]. They finally turned against him for various superstitious reasons. Occasionally Father Skolla played chess all by himself in his poor habitation, while some distrustful Indians watched him stealthily through some window or aperture in the wall. Seeing the chessmen of two different colors arranged on the board, fighting one another as it were, they concluded that the game was "bad medicine" used by the whites to exterminate the red man. The Father had also a large cat to which at times he would talk or say some words, and this again was interpreted as "bad medicine," for how could a man converse with a cat if they did not understand each other? At length a pagan Chippewa told them that the Father dug up the bodies of the dead (I suppose also for "bad medicine") and, pointing to a box on which he was sitting, asserted that it contained human flesh. These absurd and malevolent stories turned the people against the priest and he was obliged to leave in 1855, returning to his native land, where he died many years later.
After Father Skolla's departure Father Mazeaud [Note: Father was a French priest who officiated at Keshena, 1863-64. He was arrested and taken to Shawano where he was released and departed for Milwaukee, never to return.] was stationed in Keshena, where he became embroiled with the Indian agent and was arrested for persisting, contrary to the agent's prohibition, in having church services during a season of smallpox. At the time I visited the natives in 1865 and in March 1866, they had had no divine service for some years. The first time I visited Keshena I stayed for some days at the house of the Indian agent, who treated me very kindly. The second time, in March, I stayed at the house of Mrs. Dousman, who acted as my interpreter. Later on Father Maschelein [Note: Father Amandus Maschelein was at Keshena from 1875 until 1880. He built the Catholic Church for the Menominee in 1875. He did not know their language and obliged to communicate through an interpreter. In September, 1880 the Franciscans from St. Louis arrived and the aged priest, Maschelein, retired.] had charge of the Menominee mission for many years, but as he was getting old and infirm the mission was finally given in charge to the Franciscan Fathers. They continue to labor there, having a large frame church and boarding school for Indian children not far from the government school.
In 1868 I was sent by Right Reverend Bishop--afterwards Archbishop-Henni [Note: John Martin Henni was born in Switzerland in 1805; in 1829 he met Bishop Fenwick of Ohio at Rome, and at his solicitation came to America. Shortly afterwards he was ordained at Bardstown, Ky. In 1843 he was elected bishop of Milwaukee, and having been consecrated, preceded to his diocese, where he arrived May 3, 1844. He became archbishop in 1875, and his death occurred Sept. 7, 1881.] of Milwaukee to Hudson. Here I had a large territory under my care, namely, St. Croix, Polk, and Pierce counties, my mission extending from Long Lake in Polk County to Diamond Bluff, about fifteen miles below Prescott. The principal places were Hudson, Prescott, Big River, Somerset, and Farmington.
Hudson was at that time (1868-72) a thriving town with a good farming country adjacent. Before the railroad was built into it the farmers from Erin Prairie, New Richmond, Hammond, Pleasant Valley, and other places used to haul their grain to Hudson and do their trading there. I think the railroad took much of this trade away as thereafter people brought their grain to the nearest railroad station and did their trading at that place.
There are two St. Croix lakes, the upper and the lower. The upper lake extends from Solon Springs--formerly White Birch--to Gordon. The Chippewa name is Wigwassikag (Wig-wau-se-kaug), which means a place where there are many white birch trees. They call St. Croix River "Manominikeshi Sibi [Man-no-me-ne-kesh-e-Se-be]," Wild Rice Bird, or Snipe, River. The lower St. Croix Lake, from Stillwater to Prescott, where it empties into the Mississippi River, is called by the Indians "Gigo-Agomod [Ge-go-Aug-o-mod]. [Note: This signifies "something floating."]" An Indian told me the following legend concerning this lake. In the olden time, before the advent of the palefaces, two Indians were hunting on the shores of the Lake. Evening came and they had nothing to eat except two fish, which one of them had caught. "Friend," said he to his companion, "take one of the fish to eat." "Never mind," replied the other, "tomorrow we will get some game. When I eat fish, I become very thirsty and can't stop drinking." At length, however, he yielded to his friend's request and ate one of the fish. He became very thirsty and during the night his companion had to go frequently to the lake and fetch water in a birch-bark vessel; this the thirsty man would hastily drink and fall asleep again. In a short time, however, he would awake and call for more water. Finally, his companion grew tired and fell asleep. His friend awaking called out to him to get more water, but being sound asleep the water carrier did not hear the request; so the thirsty Indian arose and going to the edge of the lake lay down and drank to his heart's content. When his friend awoke he missed his thirsty companion and immediately went down to the lake. But lo! There was no more water in it! The thirsty hunter had drunk all the water, only here and there could be seen some pools of muddy water where some fish were floating about; hence the Chippewa name.
At a very early day there was a French fort or trading post up the St. Croix River, at the mouth of Yellow River, probably built about the year 1686. I suppose it was the French traders who named the stream "St. Croix [Holy Cross] River. [Note: The fur-trade post on Yellow River was built much later than the author thinks. It was established in the latter part of the eighteenth century. See report of a trader there in 1803-4 in Wis. Hist. Colls., XX, 396-471. There were, however, seventeenth-century trading posts on the St. Croix-Brule waterway. Duluth took this route in 1680 and may have established a temporary post at upper St. Croix Lake. Le Sueur had trading posts to protect this waterway in 1693. See id., XVI, 173, note 1.St. Croix River was named for an early coureur de bois of that name who was wrecked at its mouth. Ibid., 185-86.] "
In 1872 I was sent to Seneca, Crawford County, a hamlet of about a dozen houses some twenty-two miles north of Prairie du Chien. The people, about 130 Irish families, were industrious and well behaved, most of them being farmers. I was the first resident priest, the place having previously been attended by the priest from Rising Sun. During my six-year stay there I built a church and a parsonage. Oftentimes I used to go to Prairie du Chien to visit my clerical friends there. Through the generosity of John Lawler a large college was bought and liberally endowed, and a large academy for Notre Dame Sisters established [Note: John Lawler was born in Ireland, May 4, 1832; he came to America at the age of four and at fifteen entered the railway construction business. When the first railroad reached Prairie du Chien in 1857 he was appointed station agent and two years later general agent. Lawler accumulated a fortune in the transportation business, building in 1874 the pontoon bridge across the Mississippi; he was liberal patron of education and was awarded by the pope the knighthood of St. Gregory. He died Feb. 24, 1891. St. Mary's Institute for girls was founded in 1872 on the grounds of old Fort Crawford. The college of the Sacred Heart founded about the same time is now a training school for the Jesuit Order.]. Both institutions are in a flourishing condition and are doing a noble educational work. Lawler was a noble-hearted, energetic, self-made man and a model Catholic. While in Seneca I became acquainted with Walter Fardy, a bright young man, who was then teaching school somewhere in the vicinity. He studied for the priesthood, was ordained, and subsequently was stationed at New Richmond and Superior. For many years he was vicar-general of the diocese of Superior; he died last autumn in West Superior, where he was buried.
As the Indians of the La Crosse diocese had had no resident priest for three years (1875-78) Bishop Heiss, then bishop of La Crosse but afterwards archbishop of Milwaukee [Note: Michael Heiss was born in Bavaria, April 17, 1812. He was ordained at Munich in 1840, and two years later came to the United States. In 1844 he went to assist Bishop Henni at Milwaukee, and in 1868 was made bishop of La Crosse. In 1880 Bishop Heiss became coadjutor of Archbishop Henni, whom the next year he succeeded. He died at La Crosse, March 26, 1890.], requested me to go to the Lake Superior country. I arrived at Bayfield on June 19, 1878 and for about half a year had charge of this place, and also of La Pointe (Madeleine Island) and Bad River Reservation.
The whites first visited the region at the western end of Lake Superior about the year 1659 [Note: The date of the visit of the first white explorers of Lake Superior, Radiss