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Margaret S. Carter

The book can still be purchased from:
Southwest Graphics, Box 96, Darlington, WI  53530

New Diggings and the "Forty-Niners"  
Pages 85 - 90

(PAGE 85)

The Murphys parted company with New Diggings during the 1840's when Dennis moved westward into the area so recently referred to as Swindler's Ridge.  (Murphy called his newly chosen homesite Cottonwood Hill, but renamed it Benton when he became the first postmaster in the settlement in 1844.)  James Murphy remained on the original homesite within the horseshoe-shaped piece of land that is formed by the Fever as it swings into the town of New Diggings.  When the river became the boundary line between the two towns of New Diggings and Benton in 1849, James also became a resident of Benton.  In the newly organized county, the two areas on either side of the river became Fever River Precinct and Benton Precinct until the town lines were definitely and finally drawn in 1849.

As LafayetteCounty set about to put its house in order, the Territory of Wisconsin moved into statehood.  By the time these changes had been accomplished, the "new diggings" had in a sense become "old diggings," for the peak year of lead mining (1847) had receded into history. 1  From that time on, zinc was gradually to replace lead as the important product in the economy of the mining region; companies and corporations were to supersede prospectors and mining "pardners" as depth mining and the need for more and better machinery made the cost of operation prohibitive as far as the individual miner was concerned. The miner-farmer, in many cases, was to turn to full scale farming as a means of livelihood less precarious than mining with its dependence on the fluctuating price of ore.  The pocked hillsides were soon to be fenced in for cattle, with owners of widespread holdings often leasing or selling their lands and buildings for agricultural or business purposes and retaining "mineral rights".

But these eventualities could hardly have been forseen by the inhabitants of the town of New Diggings in 1849, when they chose Ammi Dodge to represent them on the newly organized county board.  Nor could they have forseen that the initial exodus of inhabitants brought on by the Mexican War during the preceding year would soon develop into a full scale stampede as word came to the mines of the discovery of gold in California.  Almost overnight the floating population disappeared, "The evils

(PAGE 86)

which were the outgrowth of the metropolitan character of the inhabitants were greatly dissipated if not entirely abolished," wrote the county historian.  That they were not entirely abolished is a matter of record. Sometime during 1849, James Simpson walked out of his place of business early one morning and saw Hiram May emerging from John Morgan's saloon across the street.  There was "bad blood" between the two.  Simpson whipped out a gun and fired at May, killing him instantly.  Arraigned before Dennis Murphy in Benton, Simpson pleaded self-defense and was acquitted.  Another incident of this character took place in 1855, according to the records of the Justice of the Peace, when Jackson Hudson killed John Richards during a drunken brawl. The lawbreaker, the drifter or "floater" made up only a small percentage of men who felt the pull of Eldorado in the West.

"Fully one-half of the male population grown to man's estate", says the county historian, "departed with ox teams and crossed the plains via St. Joseph, Leavenworth and Council bluffs".  A story is told of a bachelor in the town of New Diggings who was said to have set out for the West with a wheelbarrow and to have returned in like manner.  So successful was his quest for gold, -or so the story goes, -that when he died in a dilapidated cabin in the diggings some years later, an attorney who had been appointed executor of his estate, enjoyed an all-expenses-paid tour of Ireland looking for possible heirs, who, if they were found, did not appear to claim the prospector's gold.

Among the English newcomers who made preparations for a trip to the Golden West was John Redfern. Having come to the mines in 1839 when times were bad, he had been able to lease and eventually buy, from Champion and Dering, land on New Diggings Ridge which soon was paying him a handsome return. Meticulously during the years from 1847 to 1879 he recorded in "John Redfearn's own book" his accounts from year to year,- the "Redfearn and Company" mining operations, his "thrashing" accounts, his "rail and wood" sales, the initial expenses for operation of the Race Track School, his purchase of stock in the Milwaukee and Mississippi R.R. Co., his plantings of apple trees, his "reciepts" for a variety of things from rheumatism to tanning hides.  In spite of the fact that he was successful in his mining operations almost from the time of his arrival, he began during the winter of 1849 to make preparations for a trip to the gold fields.  On March 10, 1850, he listed "Expences for   (The spelling of  REDFERN/REDFEARN'S name was that of the book and not a typo on my part)

(PAGE 87)

California outfit by Redfearn & Co.", adding to the list from time to time as follows:

March 10

to one span of horses


Expences on the journey  


two covers

5.62 1/2


4 Sweat collars  2 Bridles


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1 Rasp  pincher  & Rench


1 saw  3  augers  1 hatchet


2 lbs nails   hinges




chocolate  6 lb.


peper  & mustard


pain killer


waggon & plank


one stove


water & molassess  BB1


tea caddy


two Bows


1 Sythe


1 lb. wrote nails


5 doz of screws nails


1 qt (?) of tar


Expences by E Cain


to one span of horses


to 3/4 ton of hay


E. Cain Expence

187.92 1/2

1/2 lb. cut nails


1 gross of screws


120 ft of rope - 18 1/2


130 lb Biscut   4


20 1/4 yd Bagging


1/2 lb. Saleratus


10 lb Biscut


17 1/3 Bu Oats   23


20 lb Salt  a  2


70 ft of rope






Black Lead


Dried Beef


10 Bushels of Corn Meal


Pills & bottle


Powder  3 canisters




Expenses listed on another page consisted of

23 1/2 Bushels oats   a   23


6 yds water proof  clt  a  75


6  Do     60


2 Bufalo robes


cutting out coats  .50 (this may be the
.50 to Susanna in above items)

7yd teaking & Buttons


(PAGE 88)

If Redfearn actually embarked on this soujourn into the West, his stay must have been brief, for his records indicate that Redfearn & Co. hauled many thousands of pounds  of mineral each year from 1847 to 1853 to Leekley's Furnace on the Fever north of New Diggings.  If a considerable number of miners, like Redfearn, soon returned from the West, many, we are told, "succeeded beyond their most sanguine expectations" and "from that day, it is said, New Diggings was by no means the objective point for emigrants or capital to tend toward."

For those who remained behind, however, mining seems to have paid off well for the next few years. Refearn and Co. received from $19 per thousand pounds in 1847 to as much as $38 a thousand in 1853. Wm. Field recorded receiving $703 in "rent" from Dunlap and cothren for mineral ground he leased to them sometime before 1856.  Men with a little capital were in a position to take advantage of the trek to the west by buying up the lots and tracts left behind by their more adventurous fellow men.  To illustrate how land changed hands during these early years of the 1850's, we turn again to the records of William Field.  It was 1850 before Field was absolute owner of the 160 acres which comprised his home place at the time of his death, eight years later.  But meanwhile he had been involved in numerous land deals, chiefly in the town and village of New Diggings.  Most of his holdings lay directly north of Section 25 in which he lived, in sections 24, 13, 36 in range 1, in Section 25 in range 2, and in the town and village of White Oak Springs on the east.

Section 25, Range 2 was timberland and farmland, as has been stated previously, and as its history shows to be true, no major mines having been known to have operated in the area.  But sections 24 and 13, T1, R1, have been rich in mineral for the hundred odd intervening years until the present time, and the land office busd4kh wT:۽zU*QCl%DEo0bz ݱwl#W|RhyF01F}#?$ӝˠiTm힝iү0*!OFiܐA'LڴфP8Qzfᷴh\V_w'H5k[Yym2A6 8Uy=n(8JnLEybywrbFO'^y?.[2xU xxvcH#r'U|]\q-EĞqNU:5Qtjx n$mұ,zOlwQt6Jz'8ϵr%>2şzө'ڽL6Ȳ)UG$#'Ʒ5ʢ|==#~ YDس8⹏ Z$yנ|FGsX>J<% ,r{=zq}>z?4!y~!_:kΎ>$p AC^.:{Lk|g/u&ʄsjJ2ǀ[º2@8>ڽLt(7(Ns@'Ұ~6h%@FH~Y,ZHQ G|>+8,(uElŻv`1]/5FXE7g9c-TQNaf#9֤7ңF| G8V=}=pkN1u-3[ׄ-H>k sxucS-̄ͺ6 nb3=)oXyHbA#8=5g=ӢKA8ϠkRm>@`G5SRmvFEDCZݐ%pA84dD=nA㚦P1yS[>-G&b $:=1A``O_]_Eok򖔂KgsCp)F׹9=%imI8pz` cSXji휒18zkT* P bsӌg9湛;n9 F8'9S\ћrIQ)] ʉ1X qҨy)Oƫ]Iޖ"27$n>+PZd4#c,Y[i@>+I,6/o PK*@86B}':Glw֍$ BLIe##)66*ђ g`WASӵL,nGV n1<9Sʑ\deNCnZ9T>3{i_[?dyS,;OȪSؓs ݸpT{gVxV$ .8qykm rFA=F?RjqC$(v$:#=i*U!H&CFH;S9 b3k&lwx nB* yo֥Ù]f'̇gpTr=N{q!\bB@8cQJ c&AyUH2y$O"{ 2O#֯Z3q2H@*v#ƸDwL s 9RԬM=S; m;IS#GzVX P u9\^QiR6s?mɩB-$˅8k*4E4EFPX,Gg~8i2LtM cxZf[r܂_\漙iR;~ϙӠ y=NT`WpG+N Z;r1ߓUEڕfTH$?騬6 rP?Hs+cH!͌>KD.Yib7d`$qk|1xW|y2t0pqגkLʕn=[>-uUj=F@P0N3\sҶ-Y >]9?I Iaj>Hn98#$w5D#9\:NGz璔wܩ&Ѿb@T qXC!V, GҰe^2~QA'nj[.c='j:@^P~g'0A9e_ {tc}Pyur:0s ӵxgq QՑA;;ӥUaw.C*Kzg|ZrcQ2.иǡ㓟ʈjN2O: ;ycĤy2=;w`p'x ͑8#^?bh.3:umug$`TtĞ0pPw*K\A+yd0 #E3cNy4WQ!qکjVrۍ0Ĝ q8,ڳ*t"F[q( {ֲ=I$lq>2F{pG#i8El'$sf@`AQɫ($uwl3ZGGP#9sJ%vFfn*@`q˞1EAGO[-],XV 77b=Yy*z³n A6mʶCusZzt~Y.@' L2xzj~gH2d$ }꜒ԾNgrM:!*7cժp!;@H9V;[Ί$v;B9g=;jVh/] rGqҲlMt5bH`y#OZY3U9rsVEyXFzwrUMَ2otfB s?:JmI$8=E],Akg$59Ӓ$ bI>Ɗ1z&m Ej/qӱ<q}-(3jАiUXJQ?z$tqFgr:RzoC:_ v20#8;UĨٖHwHA1fdyf` קj+`TJZZưwGF`]Óg>f6"RN#$.@to$H :q伸}ŕׯ׃pԼVZ. sxz~,w\rT"6l] l\_dgpNrGs\tkC'g.>=1ZZv;.݀0r1Zr y`ʮ]}̙Pmݴu)E%\G8<m@W b'! t/3 dp>HE$Y\YCR[Uԙ=I'=u0͝T=uu'Ak#@?jLgKw8'?=wPv5&89_8>!rVgj4jcqIbx {קxCYGhמiNMUTfw"iv$SJN''WA*vwOPn$ V 4TĹ8N28ۦkeL4c>gYY-tK˩ꎪ(X6bI$ֱR?>rH#jRVlZI4v$pwrȿ:HcS{kHm$ #S qd+ 3ͻO~W OkЛk%͸N$*=<$Yo55K4 .cUٮLre 0>Vy $;=zU-F.w]fM嘎>~mz$`kBJE] Ok"#BQcN'+ XxϹaI AOW'+  xY]EݘVVO%ш SE^eq p '^N]y1EnqA-*r؍s~jޕ2^N #UCOӌZFZiJ H^&s9'9gjh7eGTrpO$3[zdZR;z; {V$ Bz<3 d"x@ra*խxgR`GJXg 񞘬֏rުVv]Ƿx~/fI'$ F.*P''z`>⋖k@̡Z"YT ͹ŤoU5FNC?1^a*c&RW9`?wI$*P.˰v>9-YaϨAJǩ-Mo(-H+Lێ*+FEHm3!=u85;m\{rxO4AL-c}kQocP+D'io$ְ5'I"J1bx ҺiA%A9k4յ#T2Fw0'd>Pcj+Y+9Àz{c J!PJd<ר=MsNԁΌt sV_K[@+bÁxNONu\9SPӗO+jP1Ee93@l[tGl"wrl"NVFT ++2ֺBp@v=JpEe+cT=̭ gf{; &H2pzpC/%s+hTeG#\2z?-KkveTi9Uش~jMfXe#cVf٣YP7~ 2FFFz~xU]f>YT!'oNy-ؠ}l=s۟j钽. .J}R}b9-ʄ7;p\prye&V-+ o7 1`Lh8nP3|(쯌#M viness which occurred during the early years of

(PAGE 89)

sales and particularly after the reserved lands were put up for sale indicated that settlers and speculators were aware of the fact.

In Section 24, three 80 acre tracts that had been reserved by the government were entered in 1847 by John W. Blackstone, M. M. Cothren and D. McCausland, all prominent local men who entered numerous tracts during that year.  Of the unreserved lands in this section, Field entered 80 acres in 1837 and 80 acres jointly with James Williams in 1838.  After 1847, in various transactions involving McCausland and Cothren, he acquired other lots in the section ranging in size from 26 1/2 acres to 40.  Following the sale of reserved lands he bought a "forty" from Judge Blackstone and another "40" from Wm. S. Dering, so that at the time of his (Field's) death in 1858, according to the Probate inventory, he was in possession of 337 acres or more than half the land in Section 24.

In section 13, just north of section 24, which contains the "Ellis Sheet" where some of the richest veins of ore in the mining country have been uncovered, such well know speculators of the time as William Baldwin, David Irwin, Henry Atkinson, Samuel Crawford and Charles Pole entered land, - the first three named entering in 1836, the last two in 1847.  Only 200 acres of this section appear to have been reserved.  Field acquired one unreserved "80" in 1837.  In 1857, he was able to buy from Pole a 40 acre tract of reserved land along with another 40 not reserved.  the same year he purchased a 20 acre lot from William Baldwin, so that by 1858 his holdings in section 13 amounted to 180 acres.

The 80 acres Field had entered in White Oak Springs township at the time of the first land sales, he sold to his friend Ab Townsend in 1844.  Another 40 he had entered in 1837, he sold to his neighbor Samuel Scales in 1844. Another 63 acres in the same section (19) which he had acquired in 1837, he deeded to his daughter Elizabeth following her marriage to John Chambers in 1854.  In 1847, Field was the beneficiary of a sheriff sale when the goods and chattels and property of one George F. Smith were put up for sale to satisfy his (Field's) claims against Smith.  As a result of this sale, Field became "proprietor" of four lots and a "frontage" on Main Street in the village of White Oak springs, and also of half of the NE 1/4 of the section (32) in which the village was located.

Another 60 62/100 acre tract in White Oak Springs, apparently valuable for either mineral or timber, he sold for $600 in 1852, while he entered 40 acres just north of the "Drummond

(PAGE 90)

place" at the land office and purchased another 98 acres in the same section (Section 30 in WOS) and adjoining his home place the same year.  In Section 7, farther north in White Oak Springs township, he sold and eighty to J. Peoples in 1854, and to his daughter Fanny, recently married to Abner Rock (at the time of F.'s death) he deeded another "forty" in this section.

In addition to his land in New Diggings and White Oak Springs, Field had purchased and held at the time of his death 200 acres in Green County, Wisconsin and 100 acres in Spencer County, Ky.  Thus by industry and shrewd investment this miner-farmer had become a figure of wealth and importance in his community by the time that the present English-Irish population was beginning to establish a foothold there.

After 1849, "lands were more generally utilized for farming purposes", according to the county historian.  "The song of the husbandman was heard where once the pick and gad disturbed the silence of hills and vales."  The coming of the railroad to Galena during the 1850's greatly enhanced the value rating of lands in the area.  according to the census of 1860, New Diggings led in value rating of lands in the leadmining area, being valued at $21.20 an acre, and increase of almost twenty dollars an acre over the original price paid to the government during the preceding twenty-five years. 2

  New Diggings in the 1850'S  Pages 91 - 97

  "New Diggings on the Fever 1824 - 1864"    

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County Coordinator  Dori Leekley

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