NEW DIGGINGS IS AN OLD DIGGINGS
The Indian Wars and "Hard Times"
Pages 11 - 14
The Indians in this part of Michigan Territory in the early part of the nineteenth century, mainly Winnebagos with a scattering of Fox and Sacs, did not rebel openly at the influx of settlers, since a treaty with the government in 1804 had stipulated that a tract of land five leagues square in the Galena area was to be allowed the whites for mining purposes. Nevertheless they resented their coming, and when some of the early propectors disregarded what the redskins considered a boundary line of this square, - a ridge running east and west about two miles north of Shullsburg, - feeling ran high, and they began openly to show their discontent. Two "incidents" occurring near Prairie du Chien brought about active hostility, and word was sent out to the settlers to prepare for an attack.
Thoroughly frightened, some of the people in the New Diggings vicinity fled to Galena, while those who remained set to work to prepare themselves for an attack. A stockade was constructed on the land which was later purchased from the government by Abraham Looney and is now farmed by Jack Bennett. Here, under the direction of Durrett Oliver, two blockhouses were erected with a forty yard square palisade of logs, which sheltered about one hundred men, women and children. No company of soldiers was organized but the men armed themselves and waited for the attack, which happily, didn't take place.
The Indians, soon realizing that they had made a mistake, surrendered their leader, peace was declared, and the so-called Winnebago War ended almost as soon as it had begun.
The stockade was taken down and the logs wee used in P.A. Loramier's furnace, which had been erected during tha same year, not far from the spot. (PAGE 12) Some of the settlers who had fled into Illinois returned, while the folks who had remained went back to their work.
Up until this time little farming had been done, since the land in this section had not yet been put up for sale by the government. But the price of ore in the late '20's and early '30's fell to a point where mining was not profitable, and the settlers who came during those years turned to the soil for a livelihood. Pork during this period, we are told, was $40.00 a barrel, flour from $15.00 to $20.00, coffee 50 cents and sugar 30 cents a pound. Lead, on the other hand, was selling at but $5.00 per thousand pounds, so that the miners transporting their smelted mineral to Galena, hardly realized enough from it to pay for its transportation. This state of affairs continued until 1832, when another Indian war sent the settlers once more scurrying for shelter, this time in the vicinity of White Oak Springs, where two forts were erected.
At Fort Clark, so-called because the company in charge was under the command of Captain Benjamin Clark, many of the women and children spent much of their time from May to October of that year, while farming was at a standstill, although we are told that the mines on New Diggings Ridge, the Bolles and Ferguson leads and the Oliver mines, were worked more or less regularly.
Most of the men responded to the call for volunteers, and records show that some served actively in some capacity during this brief struggle. Solomon Oliver, for instance, was detailed by Col. Strode of Galena to carry express matter from Galena to different localities in this territory, and we are told by William Murphy that his father-in-law, Warren Johnson, who served actively in the Black Hawk War, used a sword which he afterward carried when he acted as body-guard at the only legal hanging which ever occurred in the state of Wisconsin, at Mineral Point.
Judge J. W. Blackstone, who lived in New Diggings at this time, held a Lieutenant's commission (PAGE 13) in Captain Clark's company under General Dodge. He moved to White Oak Springs in 1835.
New Diggings people are familiar with the buildings in old Council Hill, just across the state line to the south. There is a story that in the yard of the Branton House, which served as a hotel and relay for horses in the days of the Frink and Walker Stage Line, stood a huge white oak tree, under which Colonel Henry Gratiot, then acting as Indian Agent for the Winnebagos, met Black Hawk and told him that the Winnebagos would not join him in his struggle against the whites. This meeting is said to have helped bring about an earlier termination of the Black Hawk War, since Black Hawk then realized that it would probably be a futile struggle.
(PAGE 14 -- Fig.3. Diagram showing how the Fever or Galena River Winds through the Town of New Diggings)
Stagecoach and Tavern Days Pages 15 - 18
County Coordinator Dori Leekley
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© 1997-1999 Dori Leekley
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