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Flash From The Past - 1971

Oconto County Reporter 
November 11, 1971

Written by Bruce Paulson and posted with his permission.
Contributed by Dave Cisler
Transcribed by  Cathe Ziereis

Pioneer Days In How and Hayes Were Happy Times.

Little has changed today except for the remodeling of Miss Anna Holl's store, shown at left. At one time, Hayes had three stores, three saloons, a busy blacksmith shop and a cheese factory. Hayes and the town of How were settled in the 1870's.
(1999 note: on the far right side is the Holl General Store with owner John Holl, his wife Veronica Kurz Holl and daughter Kate standing on the porch. the next building is the Saloon, then the Cheese Factory, and across the street is the Blacksmith Shop. None of these building remain.)

In the late 1860’s, Alexander Grignon came to what is now the town of How and settled there with his small family. He was assigned there as an instructor for the Menominee Indian reservation nearby. Arriving shortly after the Grignon’s was Julius Suring, who cam from Belle Plain in Shawano County. Suring operated a small store there, and in 1880 erected a sawmill on the Oconto River a short distance from the hamlet of Hayes. In 1882 he moved his family into a small home near the sawmill and founded the village of Suring. At that time, the area, which is now Suring, was a swampy wilderness.

Other early settlers in the township were the families of Robert and Herman Yakel, William Bartz, Mike Ehlinger and Edward Suring. Henry Johnson, who later became treasurer of the state of Wisconsin, arrived in the town of How in 1879. While state treasurer, he wrote the following article concerning early life in the township:

“What I shall write here of the pioneer days in the town of How may appeal to some people as a hardship but, to one, it is a pleasure to make a home out of what was at that time a wilderness, and it maybe an inspiration to the younger generation to start out and do something for themselves instead of having everything done for them.”

“On the morning of June 16, 1879, in company with Fred Stienke, I started on foot from Shawano for the town of How for the purpose of looking over some land. The distance was 28 miles and we arrived at Herman Yakel’s place at noon. At that time there was located in the town of How ten families. In company with said Herman Yakel we looked over section 15 and concluded to buy land in that section. We started back on our trip in the afternoon with the expectation of stopping at Mrs. Kruse’s house four miles west of the Yakel’s.”

Among those shown are Mrs. William Thielke, Tom Hodgins, Henry Netzer, Mabel Stackpole,
Mrs. S. Donald 
(Spring logging drive through town of How
to the sawmills downstream)

“We found Mrs. Kruse at home and her only companion was a big dog.  I happened to have my dog with me and, on entering the shanty, my dog followed me and immediately there was a dogfight. We had a great deal of trouble parting the dogs and finally Mrs. Kruse ordered us out of the house. The only place we could possibly stop was at

Shawano, a distance of 24 miles, so we proceeded on our way and arrived in Shawano
the next morning at four o’clock. This was my first trip to the town of How.

“During the summer of 1879, I cleared off a plot of ground, and what few neighbors there were helped me erect a log house, 16X24 feet. The next spring my wife and I moved to the town of How to take up what is supposed by many as hardship – clearing up the land – but the pleasure in doing it is such that it inspires a man from day to day, and the friendly associations that were formed among the settlers cannot be duplicated by any social center established nowadays.”

“We were a busy lot, living strictly up to the eight-hour law - eight hours in the forenoon and eight hours in the afternoon, and sometimes a little over-time. When a new settler came in we were always ready to help him build a house and, when he had some chopping done, we helped him to log up so that he might be able to get in a patch of potatoes.” 


THE OLD SLOUGH ( town of How on the Oconto River near Suring) has been filled in and and will be the location of a mobile home court owned by Mr. and Mrs. Howard Johnson.  A.C. Cato was photographer in this 1908 view of the slough

“The early settlers had this advantage. There was plenty of fish in the brooks and in the lakes, plenty of deer and no game wardens. In fact, the early settlers lived a good deal like the Indians. We used what was there. In the summertime we used to make salt licks and someone would go out and kill a deer and divide it up among the settlers, or two or three would go to the Indian lakes and spear a lot of fish and the next day everybody would have fish.”

We cleared up our land in the summertime and in the winter we had plenty of chance to work in the woods and earn enough money to tide us over to next summers work. We did not have the privilege of banking facilities as there are today, nor did we undertake to run in debt as people do nowadays.”

“After the harvest we used to make a trip to Shawano with our grist and lay in our supplies for the winter. And such loads we used to come home with! Today that would be considered hoarding, but at that time we considered it thrift.”

“The first mail route to the town of How was established by Mr. Weinhold who, once a month, would go to Oconto – a distance of 35 miles – and bring back our mail. Later we hired him to make the trip twice a month. Nowadays we must have the mail at least twice a day or we are not satisfied.

“The early settlers had to blaze the way for roads, surveying and cutting them out, digging the stumps, putting in corduroy and bridges. The early settlers are entitled to some credit for the road system. A man on the road was paid $1.50 per day, and $2.00 for a team.”

BARN RAISING - The Matthias Philippi family gathers in 1898 for the raising of the new barn in town of How. Rock rubble in the foreground was hauled in from fields for foundations. Trees from the property were logged and taken to the sawmill for  building lumber. Four generations of the family are pictured here. The following Saturday morning, friends and neighbors came by wagon to join in the "Barn Bee" ending that evening with a large group meal and barn dance in the completed building.

“The question maybe asked: ‘Well did you have any fun at all?’ Surely we had. We had our picnics and baseball games. There was a settlement ten miles from How which was known as Hickory and, when the road was open between the two towns, there was as much rivalry in the baseball games as you would find anywhere. There was Billy Mills, star pitcher, and Fred Butler, first baseman. The town of Hall always had good material for baseball clubs and we had some great games. It was nothing to run the scores up to 30 and 35, and the more the scores the better the game. On one occasion there was always what nowadays would be considered a banquet, and it was a seven-course all right, too. What dinners our good wives would put up! We had our dances and if there was a wedding or a baptism, everybody was there. We all knew each other and it wasn’t like it is today where we don’t even know our own neighbor.

“I have seen the town of How improve in the way of building. First there was a little log barn and later splendid frame barns with all the modern improvements. And in place of the little log houses, we now find splendid residences which could be a credit to any city, but as the country improves, sociability disappears, and I doubt very much the people now living in the town of How are enjoying life socially as well as the early settlers did.”

“The little schoolhouse used to be a rendezvous not only for school purposes but for church and our political meetings. Backwoodsmen seemed to have their ideas about politics as well as the city men and, in looking over the past years in Oconto county, I remember how the farmers used to put it over the city fellows at our county conventions. Nowadays we would call that corruption. So we had our fun in that line.”

HAYES SCHOOL HOUSE - was built in 1883 as the first schoolhouse in town of How. It is pictured here in the 1890's with the entire student body grades 1through 12 and staff. Religious services, voting, community meetings, family celebrations,charity events and campaign speeches were just a few of the many activities also held within its walls. 

“Our businessmen could hardly be called profiteers, as I know they did business for years and years and seemed to be satisfied with what is considered legitimate profit.”

"I have said but little about our wives who are entitled to as much credit in pioneer life as the men are. They had the cares, sorrows and troubles. In sickness we had no doctors, but there was always the Good Samaritan on hand to help out as the occasion required. There certainly were some splendid women in the town of How. They seemed to have been sent there just for the purpose of looking after humanity.”  

“So I say to those people who look upon the hardships that we had to contend with in order to build up a home in northern Wisconsin will undertake it, they will find that there is a great deal of pleasure in making a home. I have gone through it and have seen all sides of life. I suppose there are people today who envy me the position that I hold, but let me say there is no brighter spot to me then the home that I made in the town of How, and I expect to return to it someday to mingle again with the old settlers.”

In the early 1880’s, free land grants were given and a mass immigration from Germany brought Hischke, Schuettpelz, Buhrandt, Zaddock and Tuschy families to the area.

The German Lutheran congregation held it’s first church service, with the aid of circuit riders, in the Herman Yakel home. In the mid-1880’s, they erected a log church that served as a house of worship until 1904 when their present structure was erected.

The Evangelical United Brethren (German Methodist) built their small church in 1885. The Hankwitz, Gerndt, Luebeck, Strehlow and Kruschke families were its founding members.

Herman Hankwitz came to Hayes in 1882 and bought out Julius Suring’s store business. He also owned a sawmill on the banks of Hayes brook. His daughter, Mrs. Francis (Alla) Porter, now resides in Oconto. Mrs. Porter was a music instructor and taught many people in her day. She also was a teacher at the Hayes public school.

WASH DAY - Washing clothes, rendering lard, making soap, scalding fowl, dying woven fabrics, boiling Maple syrup, smoking and drying meats,  and summer cooking were among the many open fire tasks women faced, regardless of their heritage.

Posing with the tools of their trade, originally called "Creameries". The introduction of dairy farming followed the logging of the land and brought WI to the forefront of the national industry.

Many tales have been handed down concerning incidents between the townspeople and the Menominee Indians from the reservation, to wit:

When supplies were needed by the pioneer’s families, the men would have to walk as far away as Shawano to get them. While the men were gone, their women would peer out their windows at night and see Indians watching the houses from behind trees. When the men returned and reprimanded the Indians, they would say they were only watching over the women and children until the men came back. There were no reports of any harm ever being done, but it must have given the women settlers an eerie feeling, knowing they were being watched all night by strange Indians.

Town of How farmer, Joe Philippi, posed with one of his sons on the "stone boat" used in the fields to carry the spring "stone crop" off to the side of the fields before planting. Many hours were spent by young and old residents following and loading these skids while "rock picking" field stone that surfaced after winter freezing and thaws. Not folks to put anything to waste, these stones often became parts of building foundations and stone fences.

Herman Hankwitz would trade with the Indians and would have to go to the Indian agency in Keshena to collect money due him. Once while coming home with a large sum of money, he realized he was being followed by a not to friendly band of Menominee’s.  After rounding a bend in the road, and with the Indians temporarily out of sight, he jumped out of his buggy and sent the horses on home. He then hid in the thick forest until the next day when he felt it would be save to continue on his way.

Gus Otto and Chris Weinholt had a freight line from what is now Lena over to Hayes. A passenger stagecoach also ran through Hayes from Pulcifer to a point in upper Michigan. These freight and passenger lines were mule drawn. The hill down to what is now Suring (called Plank Hill due to the split logs laid as a cordory roadbed) presented many a problem as both mules and horses would sink into the soft sand.

Many of the early business people in Hayes were instrumental in the founding of Suring. The coming of the railroad to Suring brought an end to a hope that Hayes would become a large trade center of the area.

Today Hayes is a quiet and peaceful little hamlet except for the fourth of July, Miss Anna Holl, a general store keeper there since 1909, had endeared herself to many in the surrounding area with her annual fireworks display and Independence Day parties.

(Rita's Note: The original Holl General Store in Hayes was purchased by John Holl, Anna's father, in 1889. He rebuilt the store, enlarging it in 1896. The store was run by the John Holl until his retirement in the late 1920's, when Miss Anna Holl became owner and propietor. In 1954 she rebuilt and modernized the store to 4 times the size of the original and continued to serve the entire community until declining health caused her to sell the business in 1972. Independence Day fireworks, community picnics, and a visit by Santa to hear the wishes of the children were begun by John and his wife Veronica Kurz Holl in the early 1900's. Anna Holl continued to sponsor these events throughout her years of ownership. Penny candy, ice cream, and goods wrapped in brown paper and string are also among the childhood memories of many area residents, thanks to the family who saw everyone as friends).  The store was destroyed by fire almost 30 years ago, and nearly every building is gone, leaving only a few memories in this ghost town of Hayes.)