NEW DIGGINGS IS AN OLD DIGGINGS
About the Author
Margaret S. Carter
Born March 21, 1899 in River Falls, Wisconsin of Scandinavian immigrant parents, she was christened: Margaret Lorraine Smith. Her father, Christian Smith, came from Denmark; he conducted a band and composed songs when not barbering. Her mother, Minnie Pedersen, came from Norway. Margaret was the fourth of six children. Her brothers were Richard and Julian; her sisters were Marie, Helen, and Margaret (deceased in infancy).
She graduated from the local high school to attend River Falls Normal School (now University of Wisconsin, River Falls). After graduating with a major in English and teaching certificate, she taught at schools in Luck and New Richmond, Wisconsin, before coming to teach at Benton High School.
In 1927 she married Fremont J. Carter, a miner who was born and grew up in Leadmine. His father was born in New Diggings, and the family had lived in the lead and zinc mining region since early in the previous century.
They had three children: Richard (1928), Marlys (1829), and Laurel (1932). The family, on Sunday drives to visit relatives, passed and talked about many of the mines in the area, stopped to examine cemetery markers and old structures, and listed to accounts of past and present family activities.
She retired from teaching when her children were born, but returned during the second World War to help out at New Diggings High School. She worked there with Walter Calvert, Charles Lacke, and Jack Smythe (at different times). Students and faculty were few, so she had to teach more than English. The history course stimulated her longtime interest in the region's past.
The Junior Historical Society of New Diggings High School emerged from her new assignment. She asked the students in 1945 to gather materials with which to describe their town's colorful history. They formed, in 1947, the sixth of the state's (over 400) junior historical societies. They scoured attics to provide records which helped translate the visible traces of earlier life.
Family letters and old store accounts revealed the day-to-day lives of settlers and itinerant miners. A fabric of adventure, suffering, and courage could be woven about the relics still standing in the township: the old Masonic cemetery and lodge; the church built by Father Mazzuchelli on the hilltop, and the scattered piles of rocks and tailings from the old mines. They documented the boom-and-bust economy of the lead region, linked to the need for bullets in our country's wars. Students could delight in the knowledge that their community once enjoyed greater prominence thanChicago.
The centennial celebration in Wisconsin was approaching. She compiled, as she said in her introduction to New Diggings Is An Old Diggings, the information her students and their elders had discovered and donated. The monograph was published during the centennial year, 1948. Benton honored her by making her their centennial chairperson.
She was rewarded for her effort by the enthusiasm which greeted the monograph. It sold out and was republished. Readers also sent additional materials and information, which she used to publish another monograph in 1959: New Diggings on the Fever, 1824-1860, and on which she based articles for the Wisconsin State Historical Society's official magazine.
Her topics ranged from historic places (Natchez, Etna, Meekers Grove) to historical events (masonic gatherings), the first Wisconsin hanging -- in Iowa County). She also wrote on the value of old records for historical analysis, and she assisted the State Historical Society in several investigations.
Her productive fascination with the region's history continued until a tragic accident in Hazel Green hospital crippled her. Afterwards, she and Fremont shared their encyclopedia knowledge of the area with others, especially when offered rides through the countryside.
"This area," she said, "was the hub of the whole upper midwest."
August Derleth, the noted midwestern author, said in reviewing her second monograph that she had accomplished much and done it well. She was a serious scholar, he said, one who dedicated herself "to record history, not legendry."
Margaret S. Carter resided in Lafayette Manor, Darlington, Wisconsin. She died ?.
Preface Pages - V, VI, VII
County Coordinator Dori Leekley
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© 1997-1999 Dori Leekley
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