NEW DIGGINGS ON THE FEVER 1824-1864
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Pages - 25-30
Early in the spring of 1833, the first government survey of the mining region was made by Lucius Lyon. Using as a base line what was then designated, if not accepted, as the line dividing state and territory, Lyon mapped 'Township 1N, Range N.1 East, 4th Mer., N.W.Terr.", - in other words, the lower two thirds of the present towns of Benton and New Diggings. On his map he indicated the 'old diggings" that had been worked by the Indians. In what is now Benton township, these diggings were in the vicinity of Buncombe and the present village of Benton, and on 'Raccoon Cr." (Coon Branch) near which Ahab Bean had settled. In the New Diggings area, they were located (1) just east of the present village (2) on the line between Sections 25 and 26, near the present Shawneetown Cemetery (3) on the Ridge near what we know as the Champion Mine (4) north of the village, between Ellis Branch and Shullsburg Branch, on the line between Sections 15 and 22, somewhere between the present John Curwen farm and Abe Looney's early home.
These locations are of interest for two reasons. One is that a study of land entries made during the years immediately following the surveys reveals that the land chosen by the early settlers already mentioned was in the neighborhood in which these old diggings existed, although in every case, the part of the section in which the diggings were shown on the map to have existed was withheld from sale until the mineral lands were put up for sale in 1847.
The other reason is that ore body comparisons made by studying a map prepared by the U. S. Department of the Interior Geological Survey in 1948 (showing the location of the major zinc ore body trends of this area) reveal that the major ore body trend lines pass over the 'old diggings" locations indicated on Lyon's map. I This map and a study of the "land office business" transacted by Field and Champion, Blackstone, Oliver, Earnest, Looney and the Murphys also help to reveal why and how these men became wealthy and influential citizens of the Fever River area of the early nineteenth century.
Lyon's map shows a cluster of houses on the site of the present village of New Diggings, but he did not indicate that there were buildings on the site of Natchez except to pinpoint George
(PAGE 26) (picture) Lucius Lyon's Map - 1833 (This map is very fuzzy)
(PAGE 27) (picture)
Key map showing the location of the major zinc orebody
of the Hazel Green-Shullsburg area, Lafayette and Grant Counties, Wisconsin )
(This map lays side ways)
Ferguson's house, which was located, apparently, at the big spring near where the old Champion home (Morgan Fraser's) now stands. Yet in Lyon's 'General Remarks", dated April 30, 1833, he wrote:
'The population of the township is mostly located along the 'West Fork of Fever River' running through it. The principal settlements are at Buncombe, Natchez and Murphy's Mill, at each of which places there are about 6 or 8 families. "
We can only conclude that following the Black Hawk War, as the miners moved up the valley along the Branch, the two places, Natchez and New Diggings, came to be thought of as one and the same place.
Lyon's notes bear out the statement in the county history that little mining was done during the Black Hawk War 'except on the New Diggings Ridge", for he wrote:
"Most of the diggings. . . are now abandoned except those in sections 23, 24, 25 and 26 which still afford profitable employment to the persons engaged in them. "
The village of New Diggings lies in the northeast corner of Section 26 and extends across the Branch into Section 23, so that it is located almost at the point where the four sections mentioned by Lyon meet. Within these four sections Field, Oliver, Champion, Dering, Blackstone, the Earnests, Ferguson and the Williamses were either mining or holding for entry land that contained mineral, while waiting for the land office to be established. It goes without saying that there were many more so engaged, but the names used here are the names of those who remained in 'the diggings" after 1850, -- those who prospered and became influential citizens, who are buried in local graveyards and have descendents still living in the vicinity.
In 1833, Lyon described the population as being 'rather of an agricultural than a mining character". He said that the land was generally rolling and along the river in some places, hilly." He added that the soil was mostly of good quality and that some parts of the township were 'thinly covered with small trees and bushes of oak' while the remaining was prairie. He made mention of Long's furnace (formerly Lorimier's) near the Looney cabin, and described in his "Remarks" the site of the Murphy grist mill with "two runs of stone' at the Bend, "one of the best in the western states.' he wrote, 'made by
cutting and blasting the rocks to considerable depth through a ridge about two chains wide, so as to allow the water of the river to pass and to give it a fall of about 20 feet."
This year of the survey was a year for getting your house in order if you intended to stay in the mines. As has been said, William Field left a record of some of his activities. Early in the summer, he and his partner, Daniel McMullen "com from the mines to Spring Field Ill.", he wrote in his journal. He added that he was "thar five weakes" and while he was "thar", he made 'too Thousan Railes an Seven Hundred Stakes' and paid '$60 for re Paren the Place" and $2.50 for a 'Dead" (deed). Apparently this 'place" consisted of eighty acres recorded in the office of the Register of Deeds at Springfield as entered oil June 10, 1833.
In August, Field made another trip south, going this time to St. Louis and 'from that to Spring Field and "from Sangamon County to Galena maken the trip in fifteen days". In his records Field makes no mention of his wife, Sara Sheffer Field, formerly of Ohio; but since Elizabeth, their first child, was born in New Diggings in 1834, we assume that he may have been married at this time or that Sara may have remained in Sangamon County during the Black Hawk War. Field, although he had come from Kentucky, seems to have lived in the Springfield area long enough to have become acquainted with some of its inhabitants, for he recorded the names of several men there who owed him amounts of money ranging from 'too hundred Dollars in US States Paper" to " one an fifty cents".
By the time he has returned from his second trip to Springfield, prosperity had returned to the mines. The price of ore had gone up; preparations were being made to open the land office in Mineral Point; the miners who had been waiting to cross to the Dubuque mines had been allowed to do so; roads were being improved; smelters were once again in business, and speculators were waiting eagerly for sale of lands in the area.
Benjamin J. Crossman, who sat in to bord" for ten months at the Field table, platted the village of New Diggings. His plat consisted of ten long narrow lots and six larger lots of irregular size north of New Diggings Branch and facing it, with four more narrow lots and one slightly wider oil the other side of the Branch at the foot of the Ridge. All of the village plat was in Section 23. Nowadays, all but a small part of the village is in Section 26, south of the Branch. A few crumbling rock walls are all that remain of the buildings put up in Crossman's Plat during the early years. The frame homes north of the Branch were built more recently.
What occurred in the neighborhood in the way of mining and building between the time that Lyon made his survey in the spring of 1833 and the government opened the land office at Mineral Point in November, 1834, we have no way of knowing. Since, as Lyon remarked, 'the population was rather of an agricultural than of a mining character," we assume that settlers in general were making improvements on their holdings, since it would be necessary for them to file proof of cultivation and occupancy when they appeared at the land office to press their claims. Meanwhile, since they would be obliged to protect themselves from eager fortune hunters and land hungry speculators who were once again swarming into the country, they banded into groups to protect their claims, possibly arming themselves with digging permits for further protection.
'He who came first and staked out his ownership was regarded as lord of that portion of the Territory', wrote the county historian. When partners quarreled, the weaker gave in or the neighboring group of miners acted as mediators between the two. -When an outsider attempted to jump a claim, the group used force, if necessary. 'Many a broken head and ugly wound resulted," says the same chronicler, but the miners in general felt that the administration of this type of frontier justice provided the fairest means of solving their problems.
From Diggings to Smelter Pages 31-33
County Coordinator Dori Leekley
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