Caledonia

As published in "Commemorative Biographical Record of Racine and Kenosha Counties" (Chicago: 1906), pages 479-484

I have the word of Mr. Elam Beardsley for saying that he was the first actual white settler in Caledonia. It has been said that John Davis preceded him, but through Mr. Davis may have first asserted a claim in the town, I think that Mr. Beardsley established the first actual settlement, and that Mrs. Beardsley was the first white woman who came into the county for a permanent home. He came from Michigan, bringing with him his family, and on the third night after he set out on his perilous journey he and his household jewels slept in a shanty on his claim in Caledonia.

In February, 1835, Levi Blake and his three sons, C. H. Blake, E. S. Blake and Lucius S. Blake, set out from their home near Niles, Michigan, for some place they scarcely knew where. They arrived in Chicago on the 10th of February, where they provided themselves with supplies and a Mackinac blanket. They left Chicago, and at night arrived at Grose Point, eighteen miles north, and were hospitably entertained by the French traders. The next morning they set out for the next point of prominence, which was Skunk Grove. It was a cold winter's day. The snow obscured the trail on which they were traveling, and they had a long, long, weary day, with apprehensions of a still more dreary night. Night found them in a grove about three miles west of the present site of Waukegan. The cold was intense; they kindled a fire with the last match that was left them. They spent the night standing around the fire and constructing a sled. In the morning, leaving behind them their wagon, they proceeded on their journey. At noon their eyes were delighted with the sight of a human being leading a pony.

On his approach he informed them that he and that pony were the United States Route Agents on the way from Chicago to Green Bay with the mail. He gave them directions and informed them of the landmarks that would guide them to Skunk Grove, which they reached after the darkness of night had fallen upon them, and after much suffering from the severity of the weather. Arrived at a trading post at Skunk Grove, they were the recipients of the hospitality of Jok Jambeau and his squaw, and remained over night. On the next morning they began explorations for a place to locate. At a point on the river three miles northwesterly from Jambeau's they found John Davis, who had entered a claim and was residing upon it. They remained with him several days, and looked over the country. The representations of the country which they had heard from others proved truthful. They took exception only to the climate, but Mr. L. S. Blake thinks the winter of 1835-36 the coldest he ever experienced in Wisconsin.

On the 15th day of February they made their claim. They staked out, as they supposed, enough land for four; but when the survey was made it was found that they had only secured a sufficient quantity of land for two claims. They then visited the Rapids, and found there Mr. See, who was building a mill. Upon returning to their claim they built a long shanty without a window in it. They soon returned to Michigan and removed to Chicago, where the family lived two years. Meanwhile, Lucius S. Blake and his brother A. H. Blake came back to the claim and resided in their cabin two seasons. They ploughed a portion of the land, made some fencing, and held the claim by actual occupancy until Mr. Levi Blake removed to it with his family in the fall of 1837. Captain Blake's capacious log house, which he built on his premises, was a landmark in the country. It was always open to the settlers, and the hospitality of its proprietor gave it the appropriate name of "Our House." The farm now owned by James Wilson constituted part of the Blake claim. Early in 1835, Edward Bradley and his brother made claims in Caledonia, and during the summer of 1835 and the spring of '36 other settlers arrived with their families; among them were Simeon Butler, Isaac Butler, Thomas Butler, Joseph Adams and Shintafer, whom Mr. Blake describes as a daring specimen of a borderer. I think at about the same time Ezra Beardsley, the father of Elam Beardsley, and Ira Hurlbut, also settled in the town. Ezra Beardsley was known as a sturdy pioneer of great heart and noble hospitality.

About the 22nd of September, 1835, Walter Cooley and his family came to Caledonia, accompanied by Eldad Smith and Mr. Elisha Raymond, Sr., and family. Mr. Cooley came first to Racine alone, in May, 1835. He settled on a claim southwest of the Rapids, but afterward located about one mile north, on or near a line of blazed trees which at that point marked the route from Chicago to Milwaukee. In the spring of 1836 Mr. Cooley removed to the premises which until a late day he continued to own as his homestead, and as his country resort after he became a resident of Racine. His removal in 1836 was occasioned by the fact that he one day discovered that he had located on the southeast corner of another man's claim.

Eldad Smith was one of the early settlers in Caledonia. He arrived in Racine on the 22nd day of September, 1835, and, remaining there a short time, went into Caledonia and purchased the claim of John Davis. It was a claim covering 240 acres. He built a log house and went there to live, on the 1st of November, 1835, remaining until the winter of 1841, when he removed to Racine. He says that in the fall of 1835, in addition to those already named, Trystam Davis, Mr. Fowler, Mr. Stillman, Hugh Bennett and Hiram Bennett were settled in Caledonia.

Mr. Smith built his house by rolling up logs and putting on a roof made of shingles of about the size of staves, split out of white oak logs. He and his family did not suffer for want of provisions in their new home. He had in the fall of 1835 bought two barrels of flour at Chicago, and enough other supplies to last them through the winter. In January or February, 1836, janies Kinzie brought in a drove of hogs called "prairie racers," and the settlers supplied themselves with pork.

Prairie wolves and Pottawotomie Indians were equally abundant. During the winter there were three encampments of Indians uncomfortably near Mr. Smith's house. In 1837 or '38 the Indians were removed west of the Mississippi.

Mr. Smith says that in those days they had neither rats, beggars nor thieves!

As early as December, 1835, Sheridan Kimball settled in Caledonia. During the summer of that year Mr. Kimball, while living in Chicago, heard of a settlement on Root river in Wisconsin, and in the month of December, in company with Sandford Blake, Stephen Sanford and a man whose name he cannot now recall, he set out for the Root river settlement. In the evening of their first day's journey upon a new wagon road through the woods, which had been previously an Indian trail, one of the evidences of which was a dead Indian child, deposited in a rude coffin and lodged in a tree which stood by the wayside. On the second night of their journey they arrived at Sunderland's tavern. In the evening of their third day's journey Mr. Kimball and his comrades arrived at a log tavern in the edge of the woods, and were rejoiced to learn that they had reached the Root River country. Some of the settlers called at the cabin that night and talked cheeringly of the richness of the land, the future prospects of the town of Racine, and the general development of the country.

The proprietor of the tavern was a Mr. Strong who died long ago, and was buried near his cabin, two miles north of Mygatt's corners, and the crumbling walls of which yet stand [in 1906]. Leaving Mr. Strong's cabin Mr. Kimball and his companions traveled on until they reached the cabin of John Davis, where they breakfasted.

At the crossing of Skunk Creek, where Mr. Hood now resides, men were building the first bridge across the stream. Among them was Symmes Butler, who had located near what is now called Caledonia Center. Resuming their travels, Mr. Kimball and party soon reached the house of C. H. Blake, who was living in a log cabin on the claim which was afterward the home of Captain Levi Blake. Resting there until toward evening, they continued their tramp until, at night, they arrived at the residence of Symmes Butler. He was living on what was called Hoosier Creek. Several families were living in the neighborhood, among them Mr. Janes, the founder of Janesville. They were cordially welcomed. The next morning as they were preparing to depart, Mrs. Butler remarked: "When you get out in the woods, you will know the reason why my husband is so ragged, he has been running through the woods so much he has left a rag on every bush." With Mr. Butler as their guide, they rambled through groves of timber and openings, and crossed beautiful prairies and meadows, with only here and there a claim, and greatly exhilarated by the thought that all this goodly land could be bought for one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre! Mr. Kimball made a claim at that time, and settled on it. In the latter part of February, 1836, he returned to Chicago, and immediately made preparations for removing to Root River, with his aged parents. His brother, Leonard Kimball, preceded them to make preparations for their arrival. About the middle of March they started with three yoke of oxen and a wagon, and were two weeks making their journey. Arrived at their destination, they found an unfinished cabin on the premises, which was soon completed with its shake roof, rude stone chimney and elm bark floors.

During the first four or five years of his adventurous life in his new home, Mr. Kimball was compelled to struggle against hardship and destitution. He had in store a small quantity of provisions and nine dollars in money. Bereavement soon followed in the death of his brother, which occurred about the 16th of May, 1836.

In the beginning of '36 Mr. Kimball went to Chicago, and delivered stone for Chicago harbor, continuing through the summer and part of the fall. In the summer of 1837 Mr. Kimball conceived the idea, also, of getting wheat from a brother, who lived west of Chicago, and taking it to a mill on Fox River to be ground into flour and then hauling it to Wisconsin to be sold for twelve dollars a barrel. He began hauling soon after harvest, and made three trips, oftentimes supplying, on his journeys, the necessities of settlers whom he met and who were without bread or money.

At the land sale in 1839 Mr. Kimball secured the land which he had claimed, and continued to reside upon it until he removed to Racine, which has since been his home.

In 1836, William Sears, Luther R. Sears, James Bussey, Joel Horner, Emanuel Horner, Daniel Wooster and his sons, and Alexander Logan and Thomas Spencer made their settlements.

Daniel Wooster and his son Adney, on the 1st day of January, 1835, started from the town of Derby, Conn., with his team for the West in search of a location where he could settle and make a home for himself and family. Traveling through the States of New York, Michigan Indiana and Illinois, he reached Wisconsin in the month of March of the same year, and located in the town of Caledonia. The spring following Mr. Daniel Wooster's son, Julius Wooster, with the family, came to Caledonia, by way of Buffalo, around the lakes. Mr. Wooster remained on the farm where he first located until his death, which occurred about four years since. John Wheeler and Joseph Cannon were also among the early settlers, but the years of their arrival are unknown to me. Esek Sears came in 1838.

1836 is remembered as the year in Caledonia, and even elsewhere, when the settlers received from Michigan all importation. of flour which nearly cost some of them their lives. It was called in those days "sick flour." and nobody but Shintafer, could eat it.

Samuel Hood located in Caledonia, May 24th 1838; George F. Roberts and Henry B. Roberts in 1837, and John Trumbull in August, 1839. Timothy Morris came in October. 1838, and made a claim, which he sold in 1840. In 1839 he and his brother, who owned land adjoining, broke up twenty acres, which was the first land plowed on the north side of the prairie. During the following winter and spring Mr. Morris made rails and fenced the breaking. He procured his timber for rails on the adjoining section, belonging to the government. Isaac Place thought he would make rails from the same timber. Each tried to get in advance of the other by claim-marking Uncle Sam's best trees with all the speed of men running a foot race. A few years later Mr. Morris sold his original eighty acres and bought the tract where he and Isaac Place had cut the timber without leave of Uncle Sam, and now owns and resides upon it.

Daniel B. Rork settled where he now lives, in Caledonia, in June, 1837. He bought the claim of Jok Jambeau. Jambeau asked him $2,000 for it but finally sold it for $525. It was fenced in 1834, and was probably the first claim fenced east of Rock river. Mr. Rork came to the county in 1835, and in that year made a claim at Burlington. Other parties jumped it, but he succeeded in maintaining it, and afterward sold it to Silas Peck for $200. Mr. Rork knew all the settlers east of Rock river, and assisted in the erection of the first frame house built in Milwaukee.

Rev. Cyrus Nichols settled in Caledonia in the fall of 1836. He bought a claim and built a log house about forty rods from his present residence. He was a missionary and traversed the country preaching to the settlers. On one occasion. when he held religious services at the trading post at Skunk Grove, the settlers- attended-among them Mr. Lucius S. Blake- armed with guns, and he administered to them a sharp rebuke for carrying firearms to church.

Mr. Nichols and family were victims to the "sick flour" that came from Michigan, although it cost him $22 a barrel. He says that although the settlers had but one apartment in their houses, there was always room for all who came. He had previously lived in Missouri, and there had but one room in his house and that the kitchen. On coming to Wisconsin he resolved he would have a parlor. He kept his resolution, and had a parlor, and lived in it, but that was the only room in the house!

The first white child born in Caledonia was Mrs. Maria Bacon, daughter of the late Joseph Adams. She was born on the 2d day of September, 1835, and it is an unsettled question whether she, or Helen Mars, daughter of Samuel Mars, who was also born in 1835, in Mt. Pleasant, was the first white person born in the county.




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