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Recollections of a Long Life 1829 - 1915
Chapter XII


In enumerating the professions or avocations not represented in our lumbering communities along Green Bay before the middle of the last century - and which we were able to do without - I might have added politicians. There was none of the machinery of elections, no voting, no local offices to be filled, no contests to be decided, and consequently no fervent campaigning or discussion of popular rights. In the absence of township or city organization the superintendent or "boss" was supreme, although his position brought him nothing but responsibilities, a condition which suited our purposes much better, I have no doubt, than an elaborate system of local government. With reference to the larger questions of national polity we were in a situation of splendid isolation. The only matters that occupied our attention were those of our immediate environment, and they had to do exclusively with lumber.

My own interests, however, extended beyond this restricted field; and I was one of the few, I dare say, who reached out to the broader horizon of politics. This could be accomplished through the medium of the Congressional Globe, for which I subscribed in the fifties, which served the purpose of the Congressional Record and published a detailed account of the activities of the national legislature. It was printed by Judge Blair, one of whose sons, Francis, a general in the Civil War, subsequently became a candidate for Vice-President with Seymour, and another, Montgomery, was Lincoln's Postmaster-General. In the logging camps in the forest at times and at the mills I was able through the columns of the Globe to follow the progress of legislative events; and not a few times, with the information so obtained, discomfited in the course of political argument men from Milwaukee, Chicago, and other cities who assumed that a knowledge of national affairs had not percolated to the out-of-the-way places in the northern forests.

One incident in this connection stands out with peculiar distinctness. Horatio Seymour, who was elected governor of New York in 1862, came to Escanaba in the spring of 1861 and loitered there for a week or more, remaining incognito for political reasons. On his way south he stopped at Marinette, where he was to board the "Queen City" for Green Bay. For six hours we discussed political matters in my office at the mill. He held to the pacific view that the cotton states should be permitted to secede if they wished to do so and that they would return to the Union of their own volition. This I met with the argument that the same rule could be applied to counties wishing to withdraw from states and townships wishing to withdraw from counties, a course that would obviously lead to chaos. None the less the time passed pleasantly and when the boat had taken on her cargo Seymour embarked. At Green Bay, it appeared, he was to have met Judge Lord of St. Louis and a prominent politician from the South who inadvertently disclosed the purpose of his visit while playing a game of cards. Seymour went on to Milwaukee, where his presence was discovered, and made a short and noncommittal speech on the question of secession. On this, as on other occasions, my familiarity with debates in Congress enabled me to discuss intelligently the various aspects of public problems.

My earliest introduction to politics came when I was a youth in Bangor. Before that I had seen as a small boy something of the excitement which attended the campaigns and elections in New Brunswick,—very often marked by hostilities between the Orangemen and the Catholics,— when my elders were importuned to cast their "plumpers," whole votes as distinguished from fractional votes, for one or the other of the rival candidates. But it was in Maine that the responsibilities of citizenship were first held up to me. While driving across the bridge with the sister of Mrs. March, whose husband was a partner of Mr. Sinclair, we saw in the public square a floating banner inscribed with the names of Polk and Dallas, presidential and vice-presidential candidates on the Democratic ticket. "Isaac," said my companion, who had acted to some extent as my teacher also, "if I had anything to do with politics, I would be a Whig. I certainly wouldn't be one of those old "loco-focos."

Whether or not I acted upon her advice, I followed that course. The men with whom I had been associated were Whigs, the sailors on the lakes, as I have said, were Whigs, and it was but natural in this environment that I should become a Whig also. Before I attained voting age, however, the party became defunct and was succeeded by the Republican party, to which I have given my support from the time of its organization down to the present day. The only part I played in the affairs of the Whig party was that of an ardently interested onlooker (luring the election of President Taylor in 1848, when I was nineteen years old.

One of my earliest recollections of a political event in the Middle West is of a gathering in the courthouse square in Milwaukee in 1847, when Governor Dodge, of the Territory of Wisconsin, delivered an address. Shaking with malaria,—"ague-and-chill " fever, as it was more commonly called,— I sat on the ground with my back against an oak tree on the outskirts of the crowd, a melancholy figure, while the governor conveyed his message, whatever it might have been, to the populace. If he had any political principles to expound, they were lost on me.

The first service I rendered the Republican party was to "peddle" tickets for Fremont and Dayton, at the City hall in Chicago, on November 3, 1856. At this time I was associated with Holt and Mason, for whom I logged by contract at Masonville, and happened to come to Chicago on a business trip with Mr. Holt at the time of the national election. He was an ardent Republican and induced me, although I was unable to vote, to render such service as I could by distributing ballots. The day was cold, and the sleet and snow whipped by a gale from the lake had turned the streets of Chicago into a dismal area of mud. But I stuck to my post all day, hailing voters and urging the claims of Fremont.

In Marinette, which was then included in the territory of Oconto County, by reason of my position in the industrial life of the community, I was singled out for political responsibilities almost as soon as the town emerged from the camp stage of its development. In 1859, the year after the mill of the N. Ludington Company came under my charge, I was elected supervisor of the town, an office which I held for fifteen years. For fourteen years, also, as justice of the peace, I did more than my share to settle petty disturbances, patch up disagreements, officiate at weddings, and otherwise otherwise keep the life of the community running smoothly.

In the latter capacity, however, I tried but few cases and accomplished much more as a peacemaker than as a magistrate. In most instances the litigants could be persuaded to settle their differences amicably. In two cases I awarded damages of twenty-five dollars, which were increased to fifty dollars when appeal was taken to the Circuit Court by the disgruntled party.

Serious cases, fortunately, we did not have, but some of them were what might be described as stubborn. One in particular arose over a half-barrel of pickles worth about four dollars. Two residents of Marinette who had been good friends for years became glowering enemies, engaged attorneys, to whom they paid ten dollars each, and settled down defiantly to fight to the last ditch until they had secured justice - or vengeance, all to determine merely who owned and who did not own the pickles. When the case was brought before me I continued it for a week, hoping that time would subdue the enmity, but when it had elapsed there was no cooling of belligerent spirits. They appeared in court with their counsel prepared to argue the case.

Thereupon I laid my magisterial dignity, or whatever I had of it, aside and led the two principals into a corner. "The pickles," I said, "cost four dollars. You have each paid a lawyer ten dollars, lost three or four days of time, and spoiled your peace of mind. When it is all over neither of you will have any satisfaction and both of you will have more expenses. Why go to all this trouble?"

The. two litigants began to see the situation in a different light. Their defiance melted, they shook hands and dismissed the lawyers, and became the good friends they were before. Technically speaking this might not have been administering justice, but it was the course I chose to follow.

As justice of the peace it also became my duty to officiate at more than a score of weddings, most of which were of my own making. Many of the young men who could wield axes in the forest masterfully, drive logs in the turbulent river, and saw lumber were more or less inarticulate when it came to wooing and needed impetus of one kind or another to encourage them to take the plunge. I adopted the method of suggesting adroitly to the man and woman that the one was very much interested in the other and kept the interest of the young people alive, if necessary, by constant reiteration. Sooner or later this inspired confidence, the shyness was overcome, and the match was made.

Not all of these weddings, however, were of an idyllic sort. One day I was summoned to the house of a trapper who, following a rather primitive practice not unusual at the time, had for twenty years lived with an Indian woman of the Menominee tribe. During all these years they had not regarded a marriage ceremony as a necessity, but the advantage of it was brought home to them when the government required a marriage certificate as a condition precedent for the payment of five dollars a month to the wives of men who had enlisted. The trapper was drafted and to insure the payment of the money to his squaw they sent for me to perform the civil ceremony.

The woman in her feminine way looked forward to the event with elation. She appeared smiling radiantly, with her face shining, almost dripping with sturgeon oil, the Indian idea of cosmetics, and decked out in the glaring finery that stirred her aboriginal sense of beauty. The groom was less radiant, regarding the affair as an unavoidable bother. I did my best to enter into the spirit of the occasion from the woman's point of view, made the ceremony as impressive as possible, joined their hands with great gravity, and pronounced them man and wife.

"Now," said the groom when I had finished, glowering at the smiling bride, "I hope to heaven you're satisfied!"

During the campaign of 1860, when Lincoln was a candidate for the first time, I was again in Chicago and did not vote, but took an active part in the canvass in Wisconsin. These were days of stress and storm and the shadow of war already seemed to be upon us. If we had escaped the turmoil of politics up to this time it was only to have it thrust upon us in more than full measure with the discussion over the slave question and other problems that threatened the disruption of the nation. The Republicans were, of course, for Lincoln and there were a number of Douglas Democrats who were opposed to secession and were not altogether sympathetic with the Southern point of view. But there was also among the laboring men a large element of "copperheads," constituting more than half the Democratic voters, who were bitter in their antagonism toward the administration and rejoiced whenever a Confederate victory was proclaimed. They cultivated very zealously the foolish fear that if the slaves were liberated they would overrun the North and demoralize the labor market.

When the gathering storm broke, shortly after President Lincoln's election, the task of making preparation for it overshadowed all other activity, and much of my time was given up to filling our quota of troops. On March 4, 1862, Colonel Balcolm, of Oconto, went to Washington and offered the President a regiment of soldiers of which, according to the plans we had made, he was to be colonel and I lieutenant-colonel. The organization was to be one of lumbermen, who, after a winter in the woods, were in the best possible physical condition to undergo the vicissitudes of a military campaign except for the lack of training. It would be, we contemplated, one of the "crack" regiments of the army. The plans, however, were never carried out nor our ambitions achieved. The government declined the offer on the ground that it had all the men it wanted at the time and was without guns to equip more.

In September, 1862, a draft was ordered and my name appeared in the list. I was anxious to go to the front, but the other members of the N. Ludington Company contended that I would be of far greater service to the country by remaining where I was, as there was no one else available to take charge of the mill and keep the business upon which a large part of the community depended for a living, going. I therefore went to Green Bay and secured my release by purchase, paying at the same time for the release of several of the men whose services at the mill could not be dispensed with.

In the meantime I did what I could to encourage enlistment. In 1863, when a ninety-day company was organized, I induced thirteen men to join by paying them, in addition to the thirteen dollars a month they received from the government, another thirteen dollars; so that their pay while in service would amount to twenty-six dollars. Later I induced ten or twelve other men to enroll by offering a. similar bonus. I also took the initiative in having the county board adopt a resolution to pay one hundred and twenty dollars to every man that enlisted and was credited to Oconto County. In other ways, too, there was aid to be extended. A carpenter, by way of illustration, said he would go to the front if he could dispose of his tools; and I paid him fifty dollars for them, though they were scarcely worth ten.

The last call for recruits came while I was on my way to Washington to attend the inauguration of Lincoln the second time. Word was sent to me at Green Bay and I immediately made arrangements for supplying fourteen men, contributing $2,200 to that end, and telegraphed to the New York Company suggesting that they subscribe a similar amount. These men did not proceed farther than Madison when peace was declared, and a part of the money we had contributed was repaid in town and county orders reduced in value to thirty cents on the dollar. Although very sparsely populated, Oconto County supplied two companies during the war. Brown County, in which Green Bay is situated, contributed more officers than men during the first two years -a, comparison not unfavorable to us.

The news of Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1865, was brought to its by a boat, the captain of which sent me a note as soon as he had dropped anchor at time mouth of the harbor. It was Sunday morning. My buggy, was at the door and I was about to drive to church with my wife when a man rode up with the brief message that the President had been shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater in Washington.

Even under the shadow of this national catastrophe the hostility of the misguided "copperheads" was not altogether suppressed. As I turned to read the captain's note to a group of persons that had gathered about me, one of them, an employee at the mill, clapped his hands in manifestation of his approval of the murder and turning to the others said: "Let's go over to Jack's saloon and get a drink." For the moment I could scarcely control my indignation, and I told him in no uncertain terms that the earth would be well rid of him and his kind. By way of retribution, perhaps, for the offensive remark, the arm of the man who made it was blown off by an exploding cannon on July 4 of the same year, an accident over which, I must confess, I felt little regret. The doleful message announcing the assassination of Lincoln was sent down to the minister, who read it to the congregation; and even in this far distant village, despite the exultation of the "copperheads," the gloom of mourning fell. I hope I may never see the turmoil and the bitterness of those days again.

There was one other occasion during this period when the villages along Green Bay and throughout Wisconsin generally were stirred to the pitch of military excitement and made elaborate preparations for defense. This was in 1862. An Indian massacre at New Ulm, Minnesota, had awakened the fear of a general uprising of the savages which spread like a prairie fire, increasing in intensity as it progressed. Soon the obsession assumed the proportions of a panic. Everywhere throughout the state people on isolated farms or in forest camps congregated around the nearest villages for protection. Even in the vicinity of Milwaukee men, women, and children hastened to the city and for several days the streets were congested with refugees encamped there.

The danger was remote. It was preposterous to assume that a band of Indians, even though considerable in numbers, could traverse a wilderness of several hundred miles and raid cities and towns. Nevertheless, the fear was genuine though groundless. In Marinette the Indians and half-breeds were as panic-stricken as the white people, and to meet the situation and prevent the workmen at the mills from deserting their posts we perfected a military organization and commissioned Dr. Hall and one or two others to go to Madison to obtain a hundred Belgian rifles, a part of the stock Fremont had purchased in Europe at the outbreak of the war. These weapons were all but useless, but they served our purpose as they restored the confidence of the people in their ability to defend themselves. The company elected me captain and, with the aid of Hardy's tactics, which I studied assiduously, I drilled the men for more than a month. At the end of that time the panic had abated and normal conditions were restored.


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