HISTORY OF LAFAYETTE COUNTY, WISCONSIN 1881
The Beginning of
The first settlements perfected by permanent occupation in La Fayette County, were made during the year 1824, and were due to the existence of the lead mines, which have since contributed so materially to the accumulation of wealth and increase in values. there had been visitors who came into the country prior to that date, but these were made up, as a rule, of transients, adventureers and the like, to whom no place was home, and the pressing experiences of the hour the uncertain lines wherein their lives were cast. The history of their occupation of the territory now comprehended within the limits of La fayette County, is consequently enshrouded in mystery, which the lapse of almost three-quarters of a century has tended to intensify. This is due in a great measure to the absence of records and the fact that those who came, as also contemporaries, have all passed away, rendering it impossible to determine with any degree of certainty the name of him who is entitled to the distinguished honor of record as the first who even temporarily sojourned in the lead regions of what was then known as Michigan Territory. The weight of opinion inclines to the belief that a few straggling soldiers of fortune, with the habits and restless disposition of a bohemian gypsy, may have strayed into the mines and sought their development. They had been identified, it is said, with the operations undertaken by Dubuque and D'bois, but tiring of the monotony and sameness of the scenes about the settlement, made by these French cavaliers, sought with a change of "base" that relief which it brings. We know that Jesse W. Shull, as early as 1818, traversed and explored what is now La Fayette and some French, then the only inhabitants of the county. Some rude mining had been done, some mineral raised, even before that date; and here and there, he found evidences of where smelting had been done, even long before that early period.
Settlements had grown up in the region adjoining subsequent La Fayette County, at a date anterior to that mentioned herein, notably at Galena and other points, which afterward became the source of supplies to miners, and were built up by the immigration to the mines, and the patronage such immigration attracted. It would seem strange indeed, with the knowledge of the immense deposits of lead and the abundance of game in this region, if its settlement was procrastinated beyond that of other points possessing no more fruitful sources of wealth nor advantages for settlers. Roving traders and agents of fur companies who operated throughout the Northwest, could hardly have overlooked the value of sites, since fringed with flourishing villages, which have been built up and become the residence of intelligence, enterprise and wealth. They undoubtedly came into the wilderness annually, and remaining only long enough to exchange their commodities for furs and minerals, returned to their abiding-places without leaving any finger-boards to guide the historian in his pursuit of facts. But, thus far, no records of such occupation have been discovered, and the only positive evidence of settlements available after decades have elapsed, is to be found in the statements of those to whom the award is made by universal acclamation. The proof that visitors had ventured into the wilderness prior to the coming of settlers in 1824, is established by the traces of mining which they discovered, evidently
the work of other than Indians. Some of the largest leads in the mines, particularly about Shullsburg, were advertised to white men by the Indians, who elaborated eloquently, it is said, and with great earnestness, upon their inexhaustible sources of wealth. They had tested their richness for years, and spoke familiarly of the vast deposits of mineral to be found beneath the surface.
At this time, the present county was an almost uninhabited wilderness, possessing, as would seem from the refusal of traders and strollers to remain within its limits, few attractions, and those few of the most limited character. The nearest settlements were Galena, Dubuque, Prairie du Chien, at that time, and relatively of as much importance as St. Louis subsequently became, Chicago then consisted of a few rude cabins inhabited by half-breeds, and gave no indications either from its location or the immigration tending in that direction, of what was reserved for the future to disclose. Peoria was at the south and further east. Vandalia, subsequently the Capital of Illinois, with a number of struggling settlements, filling up the intervals, so to speak, between these ambitious but impromptu municipal weaklings, constituted the permanent growth of that day in the great territory which has since reflected back the star of empire. St. Louis was then struggling for existence, and , notwithstanding the wealth and enterprise therein residing, the battling was difficult if not desperate. The confines of civilization, in its most perfect development, were limited to the settlements contiguous to Lake Erie and the western parts of the Eastern States. He who struck out for a home in the Territories was regarded as an adventurous traveler to a country whence return was a question of chance and not of probability.
This, then, was the condition of affairs as they existed sixty years ago, according to sources of information in that behalf, presumably correct. There was naught to attract save the intrinsic merits of the location, which, combined with the hopes of a future, were sufficient to direct the residents of southern and Eastern states to Wisconsin Territory as an objective point of great interest. To those who at home were independent, it furnished as an incentive the resources for enabling men of means to add to their accumulations. To the imprudent and impoverished, pulling with steady stroke against the current of an adversity both pitiless and uncompromising, it held out a hope for better days, when he, too, could enjoy a home with his household gods clustering, like olive plants, about his table. To the speculator, it afforded a field for operations incalculably valuable; to the scientist, and opportunity for discovery; to the scholar and the Christian, the occasion for labors that have since returned to bless the inventors.
As a consequent, the class of people who established themselves in La fayette County, and have since been identified with its growth and the development of its wealth, were men of rare excellence. Earnest, frank and kind, they made all men friends by being friends of all men. Illustrating by example rather than precept, they bridged the brief interval between purity and sin by the power of kindness, and looked with eyes of charity upon the mistakes and fialings of man. Brave but tender, they were indeed loving, generous Christian men, who have left the shore touched by a mysterious sea, that "has never yet borne on any wave the image of a homeward sail," their deficiencies made up in the book of life by the love they bore their fellows.
And so, too, of the pioneer women, those who braved the absence of home, friends, and congenial associations to accompany their fathers and husbands and sons into the trackless waste of the Northwest, and contemplated a future the horizon of which was darkened by discouragement and gloom. Yet they faltered not, but sustained and soothed their husbands by a trust in the outlook that was constant and bore an abundant harvest. as wives, they were the most agreeable of companions, and as friends, the most fiathful and affectionate. As mothers, gentle as children ever had the misfortune to lose, who corrected the most pernicious of evils by the most tender management of them. Prudent from affection, and , though most liberal of nature, they practiced economy from the love they bore their husbands, and, at critical periods, preserved order in affairs from the care of which the husband was relieved. She reclaimed her choice from despair, urged his indolence to exertion, and was constantly by to admonish industry, integrity and manhood.
THE EARLY MINERS
Prior to permanent settlements, temporary residences had been established by lead prospectors in various parts of this county. Indeed, the settlement of the vicinity was induced by lead discoveries made by miners who radiated from Galena, which at that time was a point of importance. Whenever the discovery of ore was made, a settlement followed, composed, as suggested, largely of fortune-hunters, a portion of whom became permanent and influential residents. In 1824, it is said, lead was discovered in large quantities in the southwestern part of the present county, near New Diggings, by a party from Galena, consisting of Duke L. Smith, George Ferguson and a few others, who began their work and succeeded in turning out immense quantities of the metal to their profit. There can be no doubt but that La Fayette County--or, as it was then known, MICHIGAN TERRITORY--would have been settled at an earlier date but for the hard-ships imposed through a Government Superintendent of Mines, and also the danger apprehended from attacks by the Winnebago Indians.
In 1824, A Superintendent of Mines was appointed for the mineral country claimed by the Government in the Upper Mississippi district. His duties were confined to the enforcement of rules and regulations formulated by himself, and, as they did not always represent that portion of remedial justice in which the law, by reason of its universality, was deficient, their renforecement was calculated to create a variety of opinion, generally adverse to this official. Miners were compelled to locate their claims on land which was free from the claims of others, and regulations, because there was no retreat, and the proof of damage the county sustained by the peculation indulged is to be found in the increased numbers who immigrated into La Fayette when these regulations were removed, and mining became the business of private individuals, compaies or corporations.
Another influence that was exerted disastrously in the earlier settlement of this portion of Michigan Territory were the menaces of the Winnebago Indians. They manifested a vindictive uneasiness from the date when adventurous miners first appeared in the future county and began their prospectings. These expressions of uneasiness, as well be seen further along, culminated, in 1827, in open rupture between the savages and the settlers, which compelled the Government to interfere and conquer a peace that was concluded three months later at the Portage. To these two almost impassable embargoes is to be attributed, in a very great measure, the delay experienced in effecting permanent occupation of the domain.
Notwithstanding the difficulties cited, the wave of emigration began to tend in the direction of the lead mines at a day when the Indians were prime factors in its prevention and lords of the soil. As above noted, the first permanent settlements made are said to have been commenced in 1824. The authority for this is general repute, though there are those who claim that their coming occurred during the year 1828.
It is asserted that Henry and J. P. B. Gratiot came in the year 1824. Others maintain that it was not until early in 1825 that they came into the country. At all events, they were there in the latter year, engaged in mining and smelting and conducting business with the Indians and settlers. They are believed to have been the first white men who effected a lodgment in the vicinity which resulted in both permanence and profit. To them is due the honor of laying the foundation in Southern Wisconsin for a large proportion of the wealth, intelligence, morality and enterprise which has ever characterized the inhabitants of that favored region. To these, as also to Col. Parkinson, Col. Moore, Jesse W. Shull, Samuel H. Scales, the Murphys, and the thousand and one men of nerve and character who came in during this period, is to be attributed the prominence La Fayette County has ever occupied in the history of the State. The occasion is here availed of to commend them to the honorable consideration of generations yet unborn for their courage, their steadfastness and pioneer perseverance. The Gratiots settled at a point near what has been known as Gratiot's Grove, which became celebrated as the location of Fort Gratiot during the Black Hawk War. The settlements made in 1825 were included between the present Shullsburg and the Ridge.
Among those who made their advent during 1826, both before and after the Winnebago troubles, were the Van Matre brothers--John, Joseph and Lewis--who began mining in Shullsburg Township, developing what has since been known as the Badger Lot diggings, having been discovered by these adventurous men through the information imparted to them by an Indian squaw, who pointed out the ore thrown up by Badgers in mining. Jesse W. Shull came the same year and settled in the same vicinity, as also did Devee and Hawthorne, who opened the Stump Grove mines on the Ridge, between the Fever and Pecatonica River; Work and Redford, who employed about twenty men and operated mines on lands east of Shullsburg, now owned by the McNulty Brothers; Abraham Miller, a man named Wakefield, Isaac Hamilton, Humphrey Taylor, George Earl, the Townsends, and many others who made the vicinity of Shullsburg their abiding-place. It should be observed this section of the county had been sought a year previous by Choteau & Pratt and Col. Henry Gratiot, as a field of operations for lead mining. In the summer of that year, the latter gentleman purchased the privilege of sinking for ore in the vicinity from the Indians, paying $500 therefor, and was employed in profiting from his investment when the rush of '27 began. As early as 1826, there were six log furnaces in operation, and sixty French and Indians employed at Gratiot's Grove.
To continue with the list of settlers who came to the county in 1827: D. M. Parkinson and family reached New Diggings that year; John Armstrong established himself, it is claimed, in 1826, and struck a promising lead, which he afterward sold to George Ferguson; Solomon Oliver settled on Fever River, near the Benton line; Abraham Looney located on the same stream, as also did D. Oliver, a Mr. Leland, Caleb Dustene, a brother-in-law of Gov. Henry Dodge named Willard; P. A. Lorimier, who subsequently removed to the Dubuque mines; Warren Johnson, A. D. Wakefield, Thomas Oliver, a family named Jones, Peter and Benjamin Carr, George Wiley, James Hutchinson, Harvey Carvener, John W. Blackstone, Calvin Curry, Mr. Vosburg, Mr. Harper and others, all of whom put up habitations in the present limits of the New Diggings.
In the spring of the same year, a number of straggling miners had made some approach toward settling up Benton, though here, as in New Diggings, the claim is urged that the township was first visited by pioneers, who came to stay, in 1826. These were a Mr. Rawlins, accompanied by Ashford Rawlins, his son. In March, 1827, Andrew Murphy adventured into Benton with his family, consisting of a wife and five sons, and to that gentleman does the present properity of the township owe its origin. Attending him into the wilderness was Peter O'Leary and Catharine, his wife, and old family servant named Peggy, and a French adventurer by the name of Francois. The "group" hailed from St. Louis, and erected their temporary domiciles east of what was afterward known as Murphy's Mill and Furnace. These composed and concluded the roster of settlers who came into Benton that year.
The arrivals in other townships were necessarily limited, immigration being mostly confined to sections of the county wherin ore could be obtained in paying quantities. Fortunatus Berry settled near Gratiot's Grove, in White Oak Springs; Col. William Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, in Wiota Township, and engaged in mining and smelting, erecting the first furnace in the county, save the furnaces built by the Gratiots. This settlement was known as "Hamilton's Fort." Hamilton also platted a village, which he named Wiota, hoping to induce settlements and hasten improvements; Jameson Hamilton began the building up of Darlington; George Skellinger came to Gratiot's Grove; Richard H. Magoon began smelting in Monticello, and afterward built and operated other furnaces in White Oak Springs; Samuel Scales, Capt. Frank and Mr. Deering began the settlement of White Oak Springs. These were aided in their labors by the willing brawn and "pat" advice of those who also came during the same year, notably, James and John Woods, William, Thomas and Augustus Chilton, Andrew Clarno, Hugh McGeary, Anthony Miller, Crawford Million, Mathew Colvin, Col. James Collins, Jerry Adams, A. V. Hastings, Conrad Lichtenberger, George Lott, John Atchinson, Anson G. Phelps, David Southwick, Sample Journey, Frank Washburne, H. H. Gear, George and Marvin Watson, John Shultz, George F. Smith, John Williams, and others throughout various portions of the county, who
exchanged the courtesies of pioneer life and united in acts of pioneer safety in Belmont, Kendall, Wayne, Argyle and elsewhere, though their names and the current of their lives have become obscured with the lapse of years. added to these was a colony of immigrants, who came hither from Selkirk, a primitive settlement on the Red River of the North. This colony was made up, in part, of Antoine Bane, Joseph Varien, Peter Gorey, the Breckler and Rendsburger families, Grabriel Gorke and others, who established themselves near Gratiot's Grove, where they engaged in mining and smelting.
THE FIRST FARM
The first farm, or what is now claimed as such, was opened up this year. Its location was at Gratiot's Grove, and the ambitious husbandmen were A. C. Ransom and Kingsley Olds, who came into the country from the American bottom, opposite St. Louis. They planted a crop of corn, but an early frost nipped the growth before harvest, and they were denied the profit of reaping their reward for the industry and enterprise they had manifested.
In the record of names of those who came during 1827, the claim is not indulged that it is complete. Far from it. There were others who ventured into the wilderness, as stated, but who, having left no "tracks" behind them to guide the historian in his search for facts and legends appertaining to their coming and going. The deeds they accomplished, the trials they endured and the triumphs which blessed their endeavors are reserved for future days to unfold and elaborate.
THE WINNEBAGO WAR
The most important event of this year was the Winnebago war, in which the unfriendly disposition of the savages culminated during the month of June. At that time old citizens state there was a considerable population in the county, and mining operations were being carried on with profit to all concerned. During this year, De Vee and Hawthorne, with other prospectors and miners, crossed the Ridge, which was regarded as the dividing line between civilization and barbarism, and trespassed upon the Indian mineral deposits. This Ridge is two miles north of the village of Shullsburg. All the territory north of the ordinance line of 1787 was in the undisputed possession of the Indians except the reservations at the mouth of the Wisconsin and Fever Rivers, and the mining district in Jo Daviess County and Michigan Territory. Many rich leads were discovered on Indian lands, and miners persisted in digging there in direct disobedience to orders against such intrusion issued by the Superintendent of the lead mines.
In treating of this episode in the history of the contest for supremacy in La Fayette County, it must necessarily be referred to generally the part taken in the struggle by the early settlers of that county forming incidents simply.
In exceptional instances the right to mine, as already stated, had been purchased of the Indians; but in a majority of cases the search for wealth in La Fayette County, as elsewhere in the lead region, had been prosecuted with an entire disregard of Indian rights or immunities. The crossing of this dividing line was consequently, the occasion for disputes without number, and occasional bloodshed. Jesse W. Shull, who had discovered a rich lead over the Ridge, was driven off, and his cabin and preliminary works destroyed by the Winnebagoes. But these, it is claimed by authorities presumably correct, were not the immediate causes of the war. Had the contrary been the case, they might have been adjusted without open hostilities. But while these disputes were pending, two keel boats, owned by the contractor, engaged in furnishing supplies to the troops at Fort Snelling, while en route to that post, halted in the vicinity of Prairie du Chien, where a large number of Winnebago Indians were encamped. The crews of these transports, it seems, visited the Indian camp, when they rendered the savages helplessly drunk, and kidnaping a number of squaws fled to their boats and pursued the trip to Fort Snelling with these Indian wives as enforced companions. Another version is that the squaws were detained for one night only. There is no dispute about the fact of outrage. When the Winnebagoes realized with returning consciousness the part that had been taken by these disreputable
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