of Oconto in 1870
A History of Oconto - Series
By George Hall
Old newspaper clippings and records, some yellow with age and in fragments, forcefully tell the story of Oconto during its first decade as a chartered city.
Told in the words of those who lived here then, the writings reveal the tempo of the times and show life, as it was in the strong spirited, rough, exciting, growing Oconto.
Causing much discussion and some action in those days was a "Letter to the Editor" which reads as follows:
GREEN BAY ADVOCATE,
FEBRUARY 2, 1870
Editor advocate: - we may divide our present population into two grand divisions - millmen and nonmillmen. The short opportunity afforded me during last week of receiving ample information relative to these two classes must serve as an excuse for dereliction on my part in this communication, Among the prominent millmen are Holt & Balcom; Farnsworth, president of the Oconto Company; Bray and Shote; Hall and Snover; Mix and Orr; Brunquest, and Comstock and Simpson.
Some miles up the river we find Leigh and the Stiles company. I can not inform you whether this last company is to continue in the mill business, as the great success attached to the efforts used in "boring for oil" during the last summer months may further induce these enterprising gentlemen to still continue on a voyage of discovery beneath the soil.
Among our grocers we find Milledge, Royce, Newton and others, who seem to use every effort to secure their patrons general satisfaction. The hardware is represented in the persons of Hall and Barlow, who have furnished respectable stores, well stocked and suited to the wants of the community. DonLevy and Haggerson and George Davis, in the boot and shoe business, guarantee a sound understanding to the inhabitants and are always prepared to furnish the latest styles and the more sensible commodities. The steamboat interest is represented in the person of E. Hart, a pioneer and worthy gentleman. We are blessed with two drug stores, which cannot claim a "beggarly account of empty boxes". One is kept by Mr. Adams, our present representative in the legislature, and the other is owned by the veteran Coleman, a physician of long experience in our midst and a gentleman enjoying the full confidence of the community. The physician are few in number, but enough for the health of the people. Esculapius has his votaries and sugar coated night blooming cereus; Hahnmann has the admirer. Our lawyers, Fairchild, Hubbell and Ellis, are social, pleasing gentlemen - or at least so appear - and merit indeed the patronage of troubled individuals. The churches are three in number - The Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Methodist. I believe the Episcopalians worship weekly in the courtroom, and will no doubt soon erect a church of their own, which will be a credit to the city, as that denomination seldom does things by halves.
Funke's, the empire, and the Richard House are the most prominent institutions for weary travelers and hungry folk in general. The tables of each are passable for the season and "opportunities", and a visitor to our city will not disappointed by a call at either. A pleasant and commodities billiard hall has been fitted up by Mr. Antoine Link, the proprietor of a large and agreeable beer saloon.
The public offices are filed by persons who really are a credit to our people. Always obliging and ready, ever present, competent and liberal, we have little to regret in confiding to the sacred trust of our public officers the management of our internal affairs.
There are many places of business, but they are controlled chiefly by the mill owners. The latter can have their stores, their boarding houses; they own everything, thereby withholding from the general business a large share of patronage. And, indeed, the people seem to feel this disadvantage. A poor man labors hard all winter is compelled to purchase all his necessaries at these stores, and has not the pleasure of handling one dollar of money that he has earned by the honest sweat of his brow. The constant compulsory trading is a great drawback to the place, and were I a friend of strikers, I would almost advise a general strike in the woods, demanding at least half pay in cash for the work performed. We are young here, and money spent in erecting places with 30 odd species of wood in cities of maturer years might be some advantage to us, allowing the avenue nabobs a palace presenting at most 15 kinds of architectural beauty. We are not over requiring and maybe allowed at least half of what we earn. CORRESPONDENT
P. S. - I just see our venerable P. M. Moving into more commodious and comfortable winter quarters, and with aide of his efficient assistant, he will in a few days have tidied up as tasty a post office as we generally find in such regions.
A friend just suggested
to me to inform the public at large that our school system is now on a
basis that further filling up the ranks of our militia has been
as we are fully prepared to withstand the terrible attacks of the
enemy, as discovered in the imagination of our Chief Executive. Parents
wishing their children placed in strong education fortresses would do
to patronize the public institutions of Oconto.
A Young Man Comes "West"
A reading adapted from the book, "Life of a Lumberman", as told to Charles Seridan by John Nelligan, affords a glimpse of some very real old days and the Old timers of Oconto.
John Emmett Nelligan, son of Patrick Nelligan, and Johanna Sullivan Nelligan from Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland, was born on a wilderness farm in Northumber County, New Brunswick, March 31, 1852. When John was very young his father came to death in an accident by drowning. This left the widowed mother with three daughters and John and his younger brother "to eke out a sufficient, if slender, livelihood on their farm."
At fifteen, when he was no longer really needed at home on the farm, he struck out from his happy home on foot in search of work. After walking about 40 miles, he got a job as cook for a crew of six men who were getting out timber on the Barnabay river.
"When 19," he said " I was fully grown and measured over six feet from head to heel, and had four years' experience on the woods', was an accomplished camp cook and had worked as a woodsmen and riverman." He had left New Brunswick, had worked in the woods in Maine and was working in a logging camp on Kettle Creek in Pennsylvania. In March, at the close of the logging season, he went on a river with a drive.
" While working on the drive," he relates, " I began to look West with speculative eyes. The lumber industry was then at the beginning of the heyday of its property in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. It offered the greatest opportunity for a young man who had chosen logging as the business he was to follow.
" One of my sisters was married and living in Oconto, Wisconsin, and this provided an additional reason, if I had needed any, for listening to Horace Greely's famous advice:
" About the first of
April 1871, I set out from Westport, Pennsylvania, went to Erie, and
a train for Chicago.
Trains were not fast or convenient as today. In Chicago I made connections with the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad train which was to carry me through Milwaukee to Green Bay. Chicago was not as large or wild, but it was big. I decided not to get lost and I did not venture outside the great depot. At Milwaukee I went out of the station far enough to note that Wisconsin Street was not paved. At Green Bay, which was a little more than a small country town, although one of the oldest settlements in the Northwest, my railroad journey came to an end. Green Bay was the railroad head for all the lumbering towns as far north as the Copper Country. During the winter freight was hauled by teams on the ice. In the summer, rough roads cut through the wilderness were used.
" Stages made regular trips between Green Bay and towns to the north. To reach Oconto it was necessary to take passage on a flat bottom boat, which ran between the two cities. It was a fairly large passenger craft run by steam power, owned by the Hart Steamboat company which, incidentally, ran boats in those waters until a few years ago."
" My long journey from Pennsylvania came to an end on the tenth of April, 1871, in the little lumbering town of Oconto.
" Although rather large for a city so far north - it's inhabitants then numbered 4,000 - it was as typical lumbering town as you ever could have encountered."
" Plank sidewalks, chipped by the caulked boots of rivermen, lined its muddy streets and behind the sidewalks stood the mercantile establishments of the booming little city, most of them saloons. "
Lumbermen - " Young Giants of the North"
" The lumberjacks -
those hardy forerunners of our present day civilization - walked the
HAG LaFORTUNE - One of the "splendid young giants of the north" of the 19th century
" Rough in dress and speech and manners, gaining their labor, living, loving and laughing crudely, still they were gentlemen. No man could offend a women on the street or speak lightly of a women without suffering swift and violent justice at the hands of his fellows. So, I pay tribute to the lumberjack - an unsung pioneer, a hero, a gentleman - and more then a gentleman - a man."
" About a month after my arrival in Oconto, I went to work on the north branch of the Oconto River for a company owned by my brother-in-law, William Bransfield, and the Sargent brothers. We put in about two months there and arrived back in Oconto. The town was still in a ferment over a tragedy."
That tragedy is now
referred to as the shooting of Josef Rouelle and the hanging of Louis
Bystander Killed by Wild Shot
According to an account by George Merline, an "eye witness", (told to Giles Megan, a native of
It was from upstairs in this building, where the Turner Verein was holding a dance, That Louis Nohr descended to the street and fired several wild shots at a group trying to crash the affair. One of the shots struck and killed a bystander. Nohr had a butcher shop on the first floor. Later, the building was the blacksmith shop of Albert Franks. It was razed last year (note: 1968).
"It was in the pioneer days of the lumber industry, and a large part of the population was made up of so-called lumberjacks who followed the lumber camps in the winter, log drivers in the spring and sawmills in the summer. They constantly shifted from place to place where lumbering was in progress. They were, for most part, strong and hardy men and some were of a rough and tough make-up."
"On the evening of May 2, 1871, the Turner-Verein, whose membership was made up of persons of German descent, held it's annual ball in a hall located in the upstairs of a building on the west side of Superior Street and near the Holt Lumber Company's mill. Such brick building still stands and the lower part of same is now occupied by Albert Frank as a blacksmith shop. The lower story of the building was occupied as a butcher shop at the time by Louis Nohr. He was about 40 years old, 5 feet six inches tall, weighed about 150 pounds, and was a member of the turner Verein. It was generally known that only members of the Turner Verein and their families were to be admitted to the ball.
"Between 10 and 12 o'clock in the evening, a small group of men gathered at the bottom of the outside open stairway leading to the hall. Some of their number had been drinking and one Dennis White, a river driver 22 years old, climbed the stairs and attempted to enter the hall. Previous attempts of the same kind had been made and Louis Nohr, the butcher, stood hard at the head of the stairs. He cautioned White and bad words were exchanged. Nohr held a butcher knife about 18 inches long at his side, which he raised and struck at white, exclaiming he would cut his head off. White threw up his arms, and the butcher cut of them to the bone, severing arteries and muscles alike, with for the result that for several weeks afterwards he had to be fed at the Dillon House, where he boarded.
"After being slashed, White ran downstairs and Nohr followed halfway down with a loaded revolver in his hand, at the same time shouting to the gathering of men at the bottom of the stairs to leave the premises. Apparently they did not heed his command and he fired a shot into or over the crowd assembled a little to the south of the stairway. The bullet grazed the chin of John Noyen, burning the flesh and cutting off part of his whiskers as well. Nohr then pointed his gun in a northeasterly direction and fired a second shot which struck Joseph Ruelle, a young man 21 years old, who was standing near a hitching post away from the crowd in the temple. Ruelle was taken to the Funke Hotel, where the Schedler House now stands, and died one hour later. Ruelle had finished the common schools and was about to enter college. He was a musician in the local band.
Lynch Mob Hangs Man on Court House Steps
The Schedler House, at right, was called the Ernst Funke hotel at the time of Oconto's "murder" case. The young manstruck by a wild bullet was taken there following the fracas at the Turner hall. Albert Hidde was propriator for many years and seven of his nine children were born in the hotel. (The woman in the foreground is Mrs. Anna Kaye, Oconto school teacher, now deceased).
"The anger of many local people because of the shooting ripened into a mad frenzy and hysteria, and on Sunday evening a mob formed at the jail. There were probably only 15 or 20 men actively engaged in the undertaking, but several hundred people gathered, goading and encouraging the leaders on. A six by six timber, 16 feet long, was produced and with six or eight men on each side was used as a battering ram to knock down the jail door. A. P. Call, a constable who lived in the jail with his family, was in charge of it. I do not recall who was the sheriff.
"Mr. Call attempted to block the entrance of the mob by standing in front of the door, but when the timber was thrust in his direction he soon got out of the way. After the door was broken in, about 15 men climbed upstairs. The fellow in the first jail cell told the mob leader 'It isn't me your after. It's Nohr, he is in the other cell.' They proceeded to the other cell where they found Nohr and with axes and hammers broke down the bars and took him out of jail. They immediately put a rope around his neck and started dragging him north toward the bridge. The rope was about 40 feet long and was pulled by 15 to 20 men. He tried to break away and also stop the progress of the mob by digging his heels in the ground, but to no avail. When they came to the bridge, somebody told Nohr to say his prayers because he was going to hang there. They passed the bridge, however, and kept on going north until they came to the present court house grounds, which then consisted of a field with a board fence around and a creek running through it owned by Tom Millidge.
"There was a large crowd of people all along the route. The rope was finally thrown over a limb of a twin oak tree that stood near the northeast corner of the court house grounds, and he was hung there. He was still alive at the hanging but was badly used up, being punched and pummeled by the mob. There was sufficient daylight at the time of the hanging so that everything could be plainly seen. At the scene someone yelled, 'Look out for revolvers.' The crowd scattered and someone fell into the creek and nearly drowned.
"About 4 o'clock Monday morning, a dump cart drawn by a team of horses passed the Merline homestead, which still stands at 144 Washington Street, Oconto. It was observed by Mrs. Merline, mother of the relator, and it was afterwards reported such dump cart contained the body of Nohr, which had been cut down. His body was buried in a sandhill back of the Bond Pickle Company's plant in a grove of Jack pines. Thereafter, there was cut in one of the pines nearest the grave the initials 'L. N. '71'. It was reported that the burial was not deep and that dogs dug up the remains, which were afterwards collected in a blanket and reburied by Dr. Benz, local coroner, at some other place.
"George Smith, Sr., father of George Smith the former chief of police, was mayor of Oconto and John Merline, father of the relator, was city marshall at the time of the hanging. It is reported that several members of the Turner Verein left Oconto immediately after the shooting of Ruelle and the hanging of Nohr, and did not return for several weeks thereafter.
"The relator remembers
that during the same year of the hanging and on October 7 and 8, 1871,
the Peshtigo fire occurred. He distinctly recalls a steady line of
teams, and people on foot going from Oconto to Peshtigo and returning,
some from curiosity, others to bring back the bodies of dead relatives
and friends. He went to Peshtigo the day after the fire and saw the
in the lawn of Colonel Lee's home.
(note: no names, further information or date of photo was provided in the newspaper issue)
A History of Oconto
By George Hall
At the Court House
Residents of Oconto County took great pride in the new Oconto County Court House.
Inscribed in gold lettering on an ornamental slab of white marble in the main corridor is the following:
County Board of Oconto County
Chas. Quirt, Chairman
A.C. Frost J.S. Harvey R.Gillett
J.M. Armstrong H.D. Whitcomb
W. Cooley S. Fabry D. Caldwell
B.B.Barker R.McIver I.N. Heller
O.W. Block Wm Guthrie L.W. Brazeau
Chas. Norton, Co. Clerk
J. Merline, Treasurer
Wm Kasten Rau and Kirsch
The plaque was placed in the building with appropriate dedication ceremonies when the building was completed in 1891.
Above the front door on the outside of the building appears an oval terra cotta plaque with a molded log and beneath it a fish denoting two of the basic industries of Oconto at that time.
Then, hardly a tree was growing in the court house square. High board sidewalks surrounded the square and led into the front and side doors. Nevertheless, the new brick court house, complete with a clock and clock tower surmounted with a big gold-leafed statue of Justice with her sword and scales, rose high above every other building in Oconto.
For the first time County Court and Circuit Court chambers and all the county offices, with the exception of the Sheriff’s office, were under one roof.
On September 6, 1907, a fire of unknown origin broke out in the clock tower and destroyed the entire top of the building, including the statue of Justice and the clock. They were replaced with a domed tower, tile roof, and clock and statue more impressive than the originals.
Before 1910 tram cars
hauled in earth and topsoil to make the present lawn. Cement walks were
put in and large trees were taken from nearby woods and transplanted by
Patrick Young and
The county offices were
housed on the first and second floors. The ground floor was living
for Custodian John Noffz. At that time, The Honorable Herbert F. Jones,
O.B. Parisey, Register of Deeds; Charles Norton, Clerk, and Joseph E. Keefe, Treasurer, had offices on the first floor. Miss Ellen B. McDonald, County Superintendent of Schools, and L.E. Whiting, Clerk of Court, had offices on the second floor. The Board of Supervisors room, pictured above, and the spacious andA young lady, Ethelyn Haines, was the only woman deputy and secretary working in the Court House at the time, with the exception of Miss Kate Hill and Mrs. Mayme Berkley,
abstractors, who had work in the building. Seeking a career in the business world, Ethelyn (Haines) Beorgeon, who had graduated from the first shorthand and typing class in 1910,
dictation. When Miss McDonald was elected County Superintendent of Schools, she asked Miss Haines to come to the Court House and work for her. The salary was $6.00 a month. Miss McDonald would help her get additional office work to supplement her salary. Miss Haines got the extra work taking dictation for Attorney Frank Morrow, Joe Keefe and L.C. Harvey.
In August 1911, Judge
Jones asked her to substitute for his secretary who had left on
His secretary never returned. Miss Haines was asked to remain and was
appointed court stenographer and register in probate September
Previous to this time,
all county records were written in longhand. Ethelyn operated the first
typewriter in the Court House and began the typewritten records for all
the different offices there. The typewriter was kept in the office of
Keefe, who was then County Treasurer, and all papers were typed in his
Oconto County Reporter
August 21, 1969
THE MIGRANT STORY
By Phil Haslanger
(Third in a series of articles on the Spanish-American migrants who came to Oconto each summer to work in the fields, as told by a worker of the Migrant Ministry Program, Phil Haslanger.)
After four years of association with the migrant programs in Oconto County, I would like to make a few personal observations in this final column of the summer.
The problems faced by
the migrant farm workers are not only local in scope, but are national.
As citizens of an area that relies on this type of labor as a vital
of its economy, we should be concerned about the total picture of
This means that we of
the area around Oconto have a responsibility to educate ourselves to
the needs of the migrant. It means that we as citizens in a democracy
a responsibility to inform our state and national representatives of our concern for the migrant. It means that as Americans proud of our freedoms, we must seek ways to ensure that all citizens of our country can share in those freedoms.
However, even with efforts on a national level, as residents of an area dependent on migrant labor, there are things that we should be doing on a local level.
Interfaith Migrant Ministry has programs in the areas of literacy,
and friendship which enable volunteers to reach out and meet the
From Marinette to the north and Green Bay to the south there has been a good response. From Oconto – the center of migrant life in this area – the response has been minimal.
Those who have responded
have been truly wonderful people to work with. Not only have they made
a contribution toward another human being’s happiness, but
they have become
Beyond such volunteer projects is the basic attitude which local citizens take toward the migrant.
During the Centennial
the city of Oconto prided itself on its hospitality to its visitors.
this same warm welcome is not always extended the migrant. The people
area certainly have the ability to be friendly. Hopefully this friendship will include the migrant as well as the tourist.
Still, all the friendship and all the volunteer programs aren’t going to make a big difference in the economic and social structure where the migrant finds himself.
Migratory labor as a way of life as it now exists is bad. This was clearly demonstrated within the last month as over 350 persons needed emergency assistance in some form because of the late crops and the lack of provisions made for them by the companies.
In a nation that is economically rich enough and technologically competent enough to stretch its horizons to the moon and beyond, such a situation should be considered outrageous.
As responsible Americans and concerned citizens of Oconto, I hope that we can meet the challenge of change that will allow the migrant to reach his full dignity as a human being. Description of Oconto in 1870 impressive, high-beamed ceiling Circuit Court room occupied the rest of the second floor. All the offices now had telephones and electric lights.