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Contributed by descendant: Gayle Volk

Pioneer Life in Wisconsin

By John Volk

 (Jan. 22, 1809 - Dec. 11, 1892)

Published Feb. 13, 1875 weekly through April 17, 1875 
in the
Oconto County Reporter

This version typed by Gayle Volk, 11-2009

Chapter I

In the winter of ’42 & ’43, I left the State of Illinois, about 15 miles north of Chicago, for the pine region in Wisconsin, on the Kewaunee River, having been informed that there was a mill establishment on that river, built by Montgomery and Paterson, of Chicago in the year 1838, I think.  After building the mill and some other buildings, they were unable to stock it with supplies in the fall, and the men in their employ had to scatter during the following winter.  This mill had been deserted since that time.  The mill site had not been paid for, and went back to the original owner, Joshua Hathaway of Milwaukee.

It was to view this establishment that I undertook a journey in one of the coldest winters on record.  My informer and myself started for the north in the month of Feb. 1843, in a one horse cutter or sleigh, with a good rifle, blanket &c.  In about three days we reached Milwaukee.  After seeing Mr. Hathaway, the owner, and got what information we could, took up the line of march through frost and snow with here and there a settler’s habitation, and very bad roads.

First day from Milwaukee, we got to a place called Sockville, on Milwaukee river.  Here we put up for the night, with a Mr. ___, from the state of New York.  Next morning, with worse roads and no beaten track, we marched on until we got to Sheboygan Falls.  There we put up with a Mr. Cole; our next day’s journey was to Manitowoc Rapids some 30 miles without a habitation and no track; snow, at least, 18 inches dep.  On, on, at a slow pace until about noon, when we reached the desired haven, nearly frozen and benumbed.

Any of you, my readers, who have been in similar situations can appreciate our feeling when we were seated by a warm stove, in safe harbor, at least for the night.  Well, daylight came and with it another day’s journey.  This took us by, the then village of Manitowoc, and also Two Rivers.  From there we took the beach of Lake Michigan until we came to a fishermans Peter Rowleys.  This was as far as we could go with a horse and cutter.  Here we built a stable for our horse out of poles and hemlock brush and left him in the care of Mr. Rowley.  The net morning my companion and self took up the line of march on the beach for Kewaunee, distance about 20 miles to the mill, with snow about 2 feet deep.  Sometimes we were on the bank of the lake, sometime on the beach, and sometime on hammocks of ice, or where ever we thought the traveling least fatiguing.  At least, being nearly worn out, we came in sight of the river.  On the north hill, some 60 or 80 rode from the river, stood a log house built by the early settlers.  In this we went, took up part of the puncheon floor and built a fire in the centre, and after partaking of our lunch or supper, one on each side of the fire, we passed the first night in Kewaunee. 

Chapter II

When daylight appeared, we made preparations for the days journey.  After lunch or breakfast, we girded up our loins and started, having to retrace part of our journey of the day before, to find a trail on the south side of the river, leading up to the mill.  It was here for the first time that I saw the prints of snow shoes, made by some Indians who had camped near the river a few days before.  I had often heard of snow shoes, but my idea was very imperfect.  After wading through the snow sometime to find the trail, until our feet were nearly frozen, we had to give it up, and made for the river which was nearly double the distance to the mill.

At least we came to the place for which we had traveled many a weary day.  There it stood, (the mill), alone in its glory as it were.  This was 25 miles north from Two Rivers and 30 miles East from Green Bay.  There was broken down dam on the south side of the mill which had been imperfectly built.  On the north side was a stone pier about eight feet wide and from 50 to 60 feet long, planked in front and on top, while the rest of the dam to a stone ledge on the north, was built of logs and spars with some plank or slabs.  There was also one log house standing on the south side of the river, the other buildings having been burnt.  This then was the place for which I had thought of selling my farm of 400 acres of prairie and timber land, about 15 miles from Chicago, and surrounded with schools and religious society, with good new frame buildings and no incumbrance thereon.  This then, was the place for which I had traveled over 200 mile to see: this dreary, desolate and isolated spot.  This then, was the place to which I was to take my family of little children, to be deprived of schools, deprived of fellow play mates and deprived of many comforts of life.  And all for what?  Many of you, my readers, may not agree with me when I tell you that I was led, as I verily believe, by a kind providence.  The country had to be opened for settlers to make homes for many a poor family.

Who would go and make a beginning?  Who would leave all the comforts of life to open the way for others?  When we take all these things into consideration and weigh every thought, of all the trials and difficulties to be encountered, who, I say, would go unless (as I said before) he was led by a kind providence.  And this I verily believe.  I could give many instances to sustain this assertion, but not in this sketch of pioneer life.  One thing I must say, before going any further: I lay no claim to exemptions.  I am only an instrument.  Hundreds have gone before me and suffered more than ever I did.  They were instruments in the hands of a kind providence. 

Now we will return to the mill. We went through it we ……ded it; we surveyed it all around.  When there was no more to see, we ate our dinners and began to prepare for the back track.  We got back to our hotel of the night before, in time to prepare wood for the night, and after supper, we made up our beds for the night, one on each site of the fire.  How many times I had to turn over during the night to warm the other side.  I cannot tell you, for I kept no account, but it appeared to me a very long night.  But morning came at last and with it our preparations to retrace our road on the beach. 

Chapter III

We got an early start on the beach for Mr. Rowley’s and arrived there some time before night.  After resting a short time, we made a visit to our horse, to ascertain, if possible, his abilities for a safe conveyance on the back track.  Found him all right.  Next morning bade our new made friends, Mr. Rowley and family, adieu, and started for the south as fast as it would do to drive our horse.  We arrived in Milwaukee on the 21st day of February, 1843.  Next morning, went to see Mr. Hathaway.  And this day, Feb. 22nd, crossed the Rubicon, whether for good or evil, will be best known at the great day of account.  I bought the Kewaunee mill property and by that transaction, placed self and family in a very isolated position.  In due time, we arrived at home in Illinois, and found the snow very deep for that part of the country, and it continued until late in the spring.

I now had to find a purchaser for my farm and personal property.  Before this was accomplished, it was nearly mid-summer.  Now the question was, how were we to get there?  To charter a vessel expressly was not advisable.  There was no landing at Kewaunee, but on the beach—no one there to render assistance in case of need—no shelter for my family until we got up to the mill and a very poor one then.  So it was concluded, like one of old, to become two bands.  My wife and family to go by land, which was slow but sure, while I was to get on board a vessel and hasten on, and make the best preparations I could before they arrived.  After purchasing a new wagon and putting on a cover, getting ready for a start.  It was the 11th day of July when my wife and four children started fro the wilderness, with Charles Anderson as driver—brother-in-law—also David Olinger, took four cows and calves.  The wagon was fitted with various articles needed, also a box of fowls and two cats.  After seeing them off, I went to Chicago to prepare for my exit as soon as possible.  I will now leave the caravan and inform you how I reached Kewaunee.

The only vessels going near Kewaunee were the Green Bay fleet going after lumber.  Many of those would not stop on the way.  I finally made arrangements with an old hulk called the VAN BUREN, Capt. Heckson, I believe, to land me and my men and supplies at Kewaunee.  We set sail, stopping at Milwaukee.  I got three more men, and in due time were landed at Kewaunee on the beach.  There we were, no boat to take our supplies to the mill; no team to haul them.  It was finally thought best to leave one man with the traps, while the others went to the mill by land to build a boat, scow, raft or float of some kind to get up the supplies.  We took nails and tools, but when we arrived at the mill, there was no lumber suitable unless we took the boarding from the mill.  We stripped the mill or at least what would do us, and the boat was built.  Next day, we commenced boating up the supplies and kept at it day after day until the supplies were all landed at the mill.  The next work was to fit up the log house to receive my family, and we worked with a will.  By that time, I began to think it was about time for me to go and meet the caravan with my wife and children.  After appointing one man as cook, and giving directions to the others, I got ready for an early start the following morning.

Chapter IV

Next morning I left the men in charge with instructions and took the beach on foot, to meet my family and convey them to my new home.  I travelled all day, and at night I arrived at Manitowoc Rapids where I put up for the night, and started again in the morning.  The road from the rapids to Sheboygan Falls had been cut out some time before, but not worked or improved-said to be 29.5 miles to the Falls.  Wagons had never attempted passage.  This road I was measuring off on a warm summer day as fast as I could, and before night I got in sight of the caravan.  I had expected to meet them before, and began to feel—reader, perhaps you can imagine my feelings better than I can describe them. Imagine yourself in search of an object of great importance, for instance your wife and children.  You have been seeking them for some time, and you journey along, you will look ahead, but still they are not to be seen, and you will think something must have happened to them or you would have met them before now!  You begin to get uneasy, but still nothing can be seen of them, and you think, no, you do not know what to think, and you are seriously alarmed.  Just at that moment, you raise your eyes and look ahead, and there in plain sight is the object of your search.  You rush ahead and shout for joy, and you feel, dear reader, just as I did.  After comparing notes, which took some time, telling over our trials and hardships, I found that my brother-in-law had been run over by the wagon and hurt but not seriously.  My wife had one of her fingers mashed, and upon the whole, had a hard time of it. One day was lost after crossing the Milwaukee river, by the cattle going back in the night in search of water.  The next day we reached Manitowoc Rapids and the day after, which was our last days journey by wagon, we came to our friend Rowley’s on the beach.  But before we got there, we met with an accident that came near being serious.  On the beach near Mr. Rowleys was a large pine tree which lay lengthwise, or nearly so, into the lake.  There was considerable sea on at the time, and to drive around the top and would take us farther into the lake than was safe, and to go around the butt, we could not.  So we piled up smaller logs and sticks against the tree to raise the wheels over, but neglected to put similar logs on the other side to ease the wagon down.  When everything was ready, as we thought, we undertook to come over, but alas, when the off hind wheel went over, the nigh one was still on the log, and over went the wagon and all it contained into Lake Michigan.  You had better believe there was work, first to get out the children and then the other traps.  Everything was soaked, some of the children nearly drowned.  –Agnes in particular, who afterward became the wife of Rufus Andrews.  As it was mid-summer, it was not so bad as it might have been in other weather.  Some small articles were lost.  The sand had covered them, no doubt, so they could not be found.  In this wet condition we arrived at Mr. Rowley’s, where we had all the kindness we could ask for.  There we staid until everything was dry.  The next morning we made preparations for the last day’s journey that was to take us to our home in the wilderness.

Chapter V

The next morning we made ready, as we hoped, for the last day’s journey.  We could go no further by wagon.  The beach, from Mr. Rowley’s to Kewaunee was so full of down timber that a wagon could not pass.  Through the woods there was not a vistage of a road and there were so many deep ravines near the Lake as to make it impractical for a wagon.  So we concluded to drive the cattle on the beach and have Mr. Rowley bring my wife and children in his fishing boat as soon as the wind was favorable.  This, however, was not the case when we left, so Mr. Anderson and self started with the cattle.  We had a hard day’s journey before us, and had to drive the cattle around so many tree tops, way out into the lake, while there was quite a heavy sea running.  Many times the cattle had to swim around the tree tops, and we had to follow them, up to our arm pits in water, yelling and shouting to get them around, and when we got on the beach again, it was quite a relief, but this breathing spell was of short duration before we were along side of more trees and the same operation had to be performed again.  Thus we went on.  At least we came in sight of the beach of Kewaunee.  Now let me give you a brief description of Kewaunee as it was in 1843.  When viewed from the lake, the landmarks are very prominent.  The river discharge in the lake on a low sandy beach covered with cedars &c, while north and south, projecting somewhat into the lake, are high hills, while the low beach stretches from the one to the other in a circle, or arc.  The river in its course, comes near the lake near the south hill, then turns north, runs parallel with the lake nearly half a mile and discharges near the north bank.  My wife had to remain to Mr. Rowley’s for some days on account of head winds.  At least I began to get impatient and started for Mr. Rowley’s.  The next day, I think, the wind became favorable.  We started and arrived safely.  Now came more difficulties and hardships.

I had changed my business.  I was ignorant of lumbering.  Here I was about to engage in a business of which I had no knowledge.  I had brought with me a little money, my all, the accumulation of years of toil.  Was this to be spent in a vain endeavor?  Things looked gloomy and I had many dark hours.  I looked my difficulties in the face, I knew of but one way to get out and that was persevere.  I was not too old to learn, and dear reader, I have been learning ever since.  I had two men who were somewhat familiar with milling and with them I had the mill fitted up for business.  The dam, we repaired and got ready for making lumber.

Now we needed logs; how were we to get them?  I have, often, in after time, had to smile when I thought of our knowledge.  The Boss should have known what he was about, or how could he control his men to advantage?  We built a cretch or travoy, and went cutting and hauling logs.  But our long link chains of that day would break and give us a deal of trouble.  I had blacksmith tools, but no blacksmith, and such blacksmithing as we did, perhaps you never saw!  Our travoy did not work well.  Nearly every log, travoy and all would roll over a number of times before we got them to the river.  We learnt something every day, but it was not very profitable.

Chapter VI

After we had some logs in the river, we started the mill.  It was one of the old fashioned kind, with flutter whorl and sash saw, and very slow.  I had, as I stated before, one man that was handy and had considerable knowledge of milling in those times.  With him as head sawyer, at it we went.  From four to five thousand feet per day was about all we could make.  Then came the rafting.  There was a ‘rapid’ from the foot of the mill, about 60 or 70 rods to deep water.  Over these we ran the lumber, single, to a boom where we rafted it, after which we ran it to the lake, or outlet of the river.  From our rafting place to the lake, the river is deep water and very little current, and very crooked and with high winds, it was difficult getting rafts down.  We called it a day’s work for 2 mon to run a raft to the lake (about 6 miles, our measurement) by water. 

While we were thus engaged in the manufacture of lumber, we received a visit from a stranger, a Frenchman.  He told my wife that he had brought his family with him; that they were at the lake, and he intended to settle in our vicinity.  This made her feel happy, to think that she would, at least, have a woman to converse with in the wilderness, and perhaps other would follow after.  But we were greatly disappointed when he brought his family up the river, to find it was an old squaw and 2 or 3 young Indians.  They camped in our vicinity for some time and were somewhat troublesome.

After we had made lumber enough to load a vessel, I went to Milwaukee to engage one, and also to get supplies to last us during the coming winter.  After winter set in, there was no way for us to get provisions if we happened to be short, and I remember the fate of there of former times who came near perishing before they got to Green Bay.  How men and women and children in undertaking to leave in the winter, got lost in the woods, and would have perished but for the aid of some friendly Indians who found them.  All these things I had been told before I went there.  Forewarned is forwarned and they made me cautious.  For all the caution, we came near being placed in a similar condition, as I will relate hereafter.

I went to Milwaukee, engaged a vessel, bought our supplies, got them aboard and away we went for Kewaunee.  Got them safely landed and then came the work of loading the vessel.  The river at Kewaunee is often completely barred up with sand.  I have seen it so for 4 or 5 days at a time, when the beach was as smooth as where the river bed had been, as any other part, and from 40 to 50 feet wide, until a large head of water had accumulated in the river and forced a passage.

This was the state of the river at that time, and lumber could not be got out. We carried some across the bar and got it aboard, but a storm arose before she was loaded and she had to leave and came back no more.  This was the difficulty I had encountered after the lumber was ready for shipping, and vessels were hard to be got for Kewaunee.  This difficulty was not overcome until some year after, when we built a pier some 500 or more feet into the lake.

Chapter VII

In the last chapter, I referred to a time when we were nearly out of provisions at Kewaunee.  I will now state the facts as they were.  It was the year of the great famine in Ireland, but I cannot give the year as I do not remember.  I had contracted my lumber to Green & Holden, a Chicago firm, who were to send vessels for it, but owing to scarcity of vessels and high freights, they held back for cheaper freights.  The consequence was we were nearly starved out, having no supplies since the fall before, and this was about mid- summer.  We waited until the allowance began to run short, but no vessels came.  Then as a last resort, we built a boat large enough to hold a number of barrels, rigged out of a sail, and sent it on a coasting voyage of over 200 miles to Chicago after provisions, with 2 men to manage it.  They coasted along shore in the day time and at night or stormy days, hauled the boat on the beach.  While they were gone, we were on short allowance.  I went down the beach to Mr. Rowley’s and got what flour I could pack on my back, and thus we held out for three weeks, when the boat returned loaded with provisions.  Then we had a jubilee of rejoicing.  Once more we had plenty to eat.  Those who have never been on short allowance or starved, have no idea of the depressing feelings a man has in that condition.  And who of us are not liable during a life time to be placed in that position from some cause or another.  Lumber at that time ruled low, seldom over $5.00 per thousand feet, and often less.   This left but a small margin for the manufacturer, if any.  But small as it was, I never failed in a single year to have a balance due on the credit side.  This enabled me to pay as I went along, and if at any time I wanted any credit for a short time, I could get it.  I do not say this boastingly, for I have felt through life that my abilities were of an inferior order to those of many others, and that I was but an instrument in the hands of a kind providence. But small as they were, (Bless the Lord), want of integrity was not one of them.  I could here enlarge on this subject, and perhaps it would benefit some of the rising generation in the race of life, but for fear of being called egotistic, I forebear.  Some may call me cowardly, and I confess I would rather have your good will than bad.  In cases where duty requires, I feel as though I could storm a battery.  But allow me to say this to you: one who has journeyed on the road of life 70 years gives this advice: Beware of the evils of life; shun them as you would the plague.  Examine yourselves; see that you are on the right road.  If you have started aright, persevere.  If on the wrong, see to it there is no time to be lost.  Get on the King’s highway, and the word of an old man for it, you will never regret it in after life.

I have detained you for some time in describing my journey as I found it in Kewaunee in ’43 & ’44.  I will now lead you to Oconto Falls with which I became acquainted in 1845, where I expect (no preventing Providence) to end my journey of life.  In the early part of 1845, one of the men in my employ went to Green Bay and while there was told of the vast amount of pine on the west shore of Green Bay.  That on the Oconto river there was plenty of pine and good water privileges, but no manufacturers of lumber.  That at Oconto Falls was a great water power held by a Mr. Eaton, but, who for some reason, wanted to sell and leave the country.  This individual wished to purchase but had no means.  So he induced me to go and see it.  As it required more capital than I had at that time.  I induced two gentlemen from Chicago to embark with me in the enterprise.  Here I leave you for another week.

Chapter VIII

The gentlemen of whom mention was made in the last chapter were Benjamin F. Keys and Edwin Clark, merchants in Chicago.  I went to Chicago to negotiate, if possible, with some parties to enter into the enterprise.  I found these gentlemen willing to go and see it.  Accordingly, Benjamin F. Keys started with me by water to Kewaunee.  After we had made preparations for the journey to Oconto, we started early in the morning, expecting to reach Green Bay by night.  But some of the party got foot sore and gave out, and we had to seek lodging for the night in the French settlement some 6 or 8 miles from Green Bay.  Next morning, we started again, and after seeing Mr. Eaton, we made arrangements to start next day for Oconto.  We spent the remainder of the day in viewing the city that was to be.  Some time before that, I had made the acquaintance of most of the residents of Green Bay.  They were not very numerous at that.  Amongst those found there was early as ’43 were Albert G. Ellis of Mill Greek near the Bay, Henry L Baird, Gen. Weelock of the Washington House, D.W. King, druggist who for some years was Postmaster, D. Agry, John Last, David Jones, Frank Desmoyer, Elisha Morrow, and others whom I do not remember at this time.  With Morrow, I have traveled many a time from Green Bay to Fond du Lac in his open wagon called the Stage at that time.  I do not know why it was, unless that I was always treated kindly, but it always made me feel as if I were among friends when at Green Bay.  I often think of those times and with a pleasant feeling; and now memory will often take wing and soar with me over the past, and then if the intercourse has been pleasant, how sweet and soothing to the mind.

I can truly say it is pleasant to me to recall the past.  I often think that the old Pioneers were a different class of beings from those of the present day.  They appeared to feel that we all had a common father, and that the good of one was the good of all.  I am only giving you my own feelings, how it appeared to me at that time, and do not wish to compromise any one who differs with me.  There was not that grasping disposition that we now meet with in every day life.  It was then a startling occurrence to hear of defaulters or public plunders as our ears are now greeted with every day, and causing feelings of sadness to think of the frailities of human nature.

Ye who are in public life, and boast of the arts and sciences and the rapid strides we are making toward greatness.  Ye who allow others to plunder the people and do not sound the alarm, and for aught we know, you are participants with them.  Tell us!  Is this the way to usher in that great day, the Millenium?  Is this the way to make us feel we are all a common brotherhood?  No doubt you will call me an old fogy, or demented.  Well, so be it!  But remember I now tell you that you are leading us all to destruction as fast as you can, and if you continue, long before another century shall have passed, this boasted land of liberty will be numbered with the past.  You who are now in the meridian splendor will be known and placed in the same list with those that we now read of as destroyers of their country.

We made arrangements for a boat and two young Frenchmen as voyagers and we started next morning along the west coast of Green Bay.  When the wind was fair, we sailed, and when we had no wind, they used the setting pole, until we arrived at Oconto.  We entered the river and saw nothing but marsh around us for miles.  We went up stream until we came to where Mr. Brunquests’s water mill now stands.  There we found a log house owned by David Jones of Green Bay, and occupied by a Mr. Powell and family.  Mr. Powell, I am told, is now living in the town of Pensaukee.  Mr. Powell’s oldest child, a girl, I should think about 12 or 14 years old at that time, is now living in Little Suamico and is the mother of a large family.  So we go.

Chapter IX

In my last chapter I left you at Mr. Powell’s on the Oconto River.  I will now endeavor to lead you up to the Falls.  The boat we got at Green Bay not being very suitable to take us up to the Falls, we engaged some Indians, with a bark canoe to take us up the river, which was low at this time.  We took our seats in the canoe and started up stream, but our progress was very slow.  Sometimes the canoe would grate over the stones, and then the Indians would make use of a word I cannot spell.  In making the passage up, we had to stop 2 or 3 times to mend the canoe with pitch.  The grating over the stones made it leak.  Then a fire had to be made and the pitch melted and smeared over the leaky spots.  At last we came to the landing place about ½ mile below the Falls.  While we went up to see the Falls, the Indians went a fishing and when we returned they had a number of fine speckled trout.

The Falls and its surroundings we found in a state of nature, with the exceptions of a bark shanty, 10 or 12 feet square and some few pieces of square timber, got out, it was said, for the intended will.  After satisfying ourselves with the sight, we returned and found the descent down the river more pleasant.  The next day, being the 17th day of September, 1845, we got back to Green Bay, and on the 18th of Sept., I bought all the title, claim or interest of Samuel S. Eaton, to and about Oconto Falls for $400.00.  That is now about 30 years ago.  Then all this region was one vast wilderness.  Then the place where the city of Oconto now stands, was solitary and along in its glory, covered with tall grass that made it obeiance to every gentle breeze or sepher passing over it.  Had it remained in this state, that land of six under which it now greens would never have been committed.

Messrs.  Hays & Clark agreed to take one-half interest in building the mill, while I retained the other half.  We made arrangements to commence as soon as materials could be got on the spot.  We chartered a vessel, the REINDEER, Capt. Peter Flood, to take in supplies at Oconto Falls.  Mr. Hays and Mrs. Clark and her children, also a Mr. Perkins and family and some other accompanying the vessel, were landed at Oconto, while I left them at Kewaunee to make some arrangements before I went to Oconto.  After this was accomplished, I took 2 men with me, one called Churchill and who a few years ago resided in Oconto, and many of you Ocontoites may have known him; also John Onselman, a German, and when we arrived in Oconto, the vessel had landed the supplies and left.  We had a boat which was put aboard at Kewaunee and with that landed our supplies at Mr. Powell’s in safety before we went up to the Falls.  Then came the tug of war, on in other words, to get those supplies up the river.  Our boat was not large enough or properly built, so we got one from Green Bay, called a Durham, which would carry more than the stage of water would allow.  We loaded her and started up river and when we got 3 miles above where Stiles now is, we came to the Big Rapids and could go no farther with our boat.  We selected a place for landing them, and went back for another load, and so continued until we got all that it was absolutely necessary for us to have at that time, and then came the moving of the women and children.  So one morning we started, taking above Mrs. Clark and the children, and Mrs. Perkins and her children.  By this time we began to think we were somewhat acquainted with the navigation of the river.  And so we were, but with all our knowledge, we frequently ran on a stone, then had to back, if we could get her off.  If not, someone had to jump overboard to try and remove the stone or pry off the boat.  Thus we labored until it was near sun down when we arrived at our former landing at the foot of the Big Rapids.  We went ashore, selected a place for camping and thus passed the first night on the Oconto.

Chapter X

Next morning we had to take out part of our lading and started to get over the rapids, but could not.Then we had to carry our lady passengers and children ashore. In the winter of ’42 & ’43, I left the State of Illinois, about 15 miles north of Chicago, for the We also had some of the masculine gender who were afraid to wet their feet.  These wanted to be carried ashore, which I refused to do.  I felt perfectly willing to carry the women and children, but not the men, no!  Mr. Churchill, however, was prevailed upon.  One of those who wanted to be carried ashore was a German, a six footer.  Churchill took him on his back, and when he came to the deepest water, he made a misstep (I always thought purposefully), and under they went.  This man didn’t want to be carried again.  When we got to the head of the rapids, we took in our passengers, and finally reached our landing, half a mile below the falls.  After they were all safely at the falls, I left my partner Mr. Hays in charge, and went back to Kewaunee after my family.  This had to be accomplished on land to Green Bay, without a road through the woods.

I caused 2 light sleds to be built, jumper fashion, and a yoke of cattle to each sled.  On these we packed our movables and with 2 men as ax men to clear a road as we went, we started.  But our progress was slow.  When night came upon our first days journey, we were so near the mill where we left in the morning, that we went back there to lodge.  The next morning, we started again and in three days after, we reached the French sugar camps near where the town of Casco now stands, my wife walking every step of the way.  From there I got some Frenchmen with their carts to take us to Green Bay, and from there to Oconto in a fishing boat.  From there Mr. Powell assisted us to get up to the Falls.  Having arrived at the Falls, our next move was to get up places to live during the winter that was approaching, where we could be comfortable.  After that was accomplished, we paid our attention to getting up the mill.  At this we labored during the winter, which was a mild one.  We laid up the stone foundation for the mill and got out the timbers, and whip-sawed plank for the floor, burnt a coal pit.  In fact, we got everything in readiness to raise the first mill built on the Oconto.

But now I had to go to Chicago to make arrangements for my lumber, made at Kewaunee.  So on my way, I went by way of Kewaunee, and from thense took my old road on the beach. It being early spring, many small streams had to be forded and sometimes up to the waist, and then traveling in wet clothes all day, brought on a fever that laid me up for six weeks in Chicago.  While there sick, I had a cargo of lumber come from Kewaunee that wanted immediate attending to.  I sent to a lumberman or merchant to go and see it.  He came and made me an offer. I told him to take it and do the best he could for me as I could give it no attention.  After it was partly unloaded, he came again and said the lumber was not as good as he had thought, and must have a reduction.  As I could not help myself, he had to take it at his own figures.  This was acting out human nature.  After I recovered I went home to Oconto Falls and we soon after raised the mill and got one saw in operation, when I sold out my interest to Mr. Ingham, got half the purchase money down, and have been waiting ever since for the balance.

Now I have given you a short sketch of my pioneer life for three years.  I have barely touched it here and there as my limits would not allow more.  I suppose you are tired of reading of my ramblings, and I am about tired of writing.  So we will say here, we rest our cane.   

Almira (Ketchum) Volk                  John Volk
 Volk Mill in Oconto Falls

For another story written  about the Volk family please click on:
THE  VOLK FAMILY OF OCONTO FALLS - Written by Mrs. Becker in 1893