This article was written for the Oconto County Reporter in 1894. It is an interview with one of the first, if not the very first, settlers to Oconto City and County. Huff Jones, his father, Captain Jones, and two brothers, at first lived in City of Green Bay, but in 1846 they built the first lumber mill construction on the Oconto River, successfully taking over the site of a previously failed dam attempt. Huff Jones offers his memories nearly 50 years later, and over 100 years ago.
THE 1894 ACCOUNT OF HUFF JONES
1894 APRIL 28, SATURDAY,
"l believe I was the first settler in Oconto, " said Huff Jones Tuesday morning to a representative of this paper. "l came here in September 1845, my parents residing at that time in Green Bay. I engaged two or three men to accompany me and we began fishing at the spot where now stands the Jones water mill. We made a good catch and sold to Chicago parties. Fish were then put up in barrels of 100 pounds each.
"Along in February, when the bay became frozen, father came across the ice with four or five men, a horse and some tools, and we went to work getting , out timbers for our water mill, and when the water got warm enough we built the dam. All our business was transacted in Green Bay and our journeys were made in birchbark canoes with the Indians,until we got to lumbering and our company sent vessels up from Chicago on which to ship lumber, we having a lumber yard at that point. When the vessels began running we
First Oconto River Mill,
built by the Jones family
discarded canoes as freight haulers and brought our provisions in on the large boats. I never saw better beef than we had at that time, and I have often wondered how cattle were better raised and fattened than they are today.
"There was no road between here and Green Bay and the only communication was by water. Many a day and many a mile have I traveled in this way. The forests were almost impenetrable trails not being sufficiently open to carry anything, and mud holes and small streams were bridged with poles and logs. ,
"Desiring to manufacture more lumber, in 1850 we built the Spies mill which I managed 15 years, keeping it in operation night and day.
"Indians were generally peaceable, but when in liquor were ugly as sin. Each river had its band of 'redskins' and every band had a 'head man'. There were about 200 here (note: now City of Oconto), Pensaukee had a few, Peshtigo had a band and the Menominee River had one. We could always secure passage with our dusky neighbors to any point which we desired to reach and paid them out of the store with any thing they wanted to eat or wear, never giving them liquor or money. The next nearest trading point was Green Bay, 30 miles away.
"Father built the first mill at Peshtigo in 1842, I think, and the dam is there today. I used to ride back and forth with him in a canoe. "Speaking of fishing, I made what we called a fish baskets of timber, about 30 feet in length, with slats far enough apart to let the smaller fish through and stop the big fellows. Sturgeon as large around as a telegraph pole and six feet in length, lots of them, clogged up our basket and we had to shove them out and let them go downstream. The flesh of the sturgeon was not relished then as it is now; in fact, the present market shows a demand for that a demand for that particular species.
"I was standing on the walk the other night and the row of street lights along Main street reminded me of a night on the river which now flows through the city. The water ran swiftly and so completely filled with fish that you could not see the bottom of the stream. At night the Indians were out in force with their canoes, spears and torches, and as they formed in line up and down the swift moving current with their lights fastened to the bow of the boat there could be nothing more remindful of a string of incandescents. In two hours the boat would be filled and the Indian had accomplished a good day's work. We used to catch in our baskets more than we could consume and allowed the Indians to help themselves.
A WOMAN'S BEAUTY
"One day when the millwrights had been working on the timbers for the mill, and we were sitting around in the shade after dinner eating melons, we saw four or five people coming up the road, and among them a woman. When they came within hailing distance, someone of the visiting party shouted: 'Hello, Jones, what are you doing here?' It was John Volk from Chicago., The other members of the party were a Mr. Hayes, a gentleman named Ingham, and the wife of the latter. She was the most beautiful woman that I ever saw and the brains of our little party were reeling in alarming confusion. After introductions had followed, adieus had been spoken and we had seen them off in their bark canoe headed for Oconto Falls, one of our man stood staring after them like one possessed. When I asked him what had come over him he replied: 'My God, Huff, where did that woman come from? She's the handsomest creature that I ever saw and whoever would have dreaded of beholding such a vision in these wild woods?' She be came the mother of three children in later years, but I never know whether they were the first white children born in Oconto county. (note:7/25/1851 Alphia Sophia Ann Couillard, Effie, is recorded as the first white child born along the Oconto River.)
Thomas Lindsay, father of Mrs. Milledge, came along from the east and contracted to put in logs for us. Mr. Milledge worked in the woods, in the Spies mill and afterward started a small store. Ernst Funke was among our employes in the mill and Sam Gilkey employed among the pines. Wages were from $16 to $20 per month. Some years afterward, I built a mill where the Holt shingle mill now stands, costing me $7,500, which I had earned in logging, but fire swept it away and the people gave me the office of register of deeds, which I held 22 years, the fees averaging from $400 to $700 per year.
"It does not seem a long time
to look backward, and when I have been around the county electioneering
something new constantly attracted my attention in the way of
and when I think of the history of the first years here my greatest
is how under the sun men and an ax could make it all a prairie country.
In the early days one could walk in the shade from morning until night
- an unbroken forest - no openings anywhere.
"After we had cut away the pine and abandoned the supply roads, people went in and cultivated the land and made homes. Some purchased the land, but others did not. Not long ago a man came to me and said he was residing upon a portion of the Jones estate. I said to him that I should not molest him; that he had lived there long enough to own his home, and that the frugality and industry he had practiced should be rewarded by a free tenancy."