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Recollections of a Long Life 1829 - 1915
Chapter V


THE only industries of consequence in the Territory of Wisconsin were farming and lumbering, both of which had just entered upon the period of rapid development that constitutes an epoch in the exploitation and expansion of the resources of the United States. The one was the corollary of the other. As the prairies were settled and towns and cities were established and enlarged, lumber was required for building; and as the volume of immigration pouring itself over the broad acres of the Middle West grew, the lumbermen pushed their way the more energetically into the forests.

Both of these industries absorbed Mr. Sinclair's attention. In the neighborhood of .Janesville he owned a large tract of land, as yet in a virgin state, which he purposed to bring under cultivation. From his brother-in-law, Mr. J. B. Smith, afterward mayor of Milwaukee, he also acquired an interest in a sawmill at Flat Rock, now Escanaba, Michigan.

The exigencies of the time left no opportunity for diversion or relaxation nor did we regard it as necessary to recuperate from the effects of our long and trying journey. There was much hard work ahead of us and we set about doing it without a moment's delay. The morning after our arrival at Milwaukee, Mr. Sinclair hired a horse and buggy and we drove to Racine, which he intended to make his home. Here he left me, returning to the city where, as it happened, he was obliged to remain for four weeks because of the illness of his children. During this time I lived at the Congress Hall hotel, which had just been erected, one of the largest in the territory. When Mr. Sinclair came back to Racine he brought with him his family and we took up our residence in one of the only two brick houses in the town.

Before we could adjust ourselves to our new environment we encountered further difficulties. Almost at the outset of our activities in the new field there was a period of "hard times" which, at seemingly regular intervals, occurred to impose further hardship upon the struggling settlers. Business was demoralized and there was little or no market for the products of the farms. The Sinclair family, also, after residing at Racine for five or six weeks, found life there too monotonous after the advantages of Bangor. Mr. Sinclair, therefore, decided to return to Milwaukee, which he did in January, 1846, renting a house on Mason Street.

This gave me another opportunity to resume my interrupted studies for about three months, until April 1, 1846, during which time I went to school at "Professor" Skinner's on what is now Jefferson Street. In the meantime Mr. Sinclair made a trip to Escanaba. He took with him two teams and sleighs laden with supplies for his camps, the first to go northward on ice on Green Bay. From Milwaukee to Green Bay City the country was to some extent settled but beyond that point it was practically uninhabited except for the Indians, who maintained a small settlement or center at the mouth of the Menominee River on the site of the present city of Marinette, and several small lumbering settlements.

With the advent of spring I set out for Janesville to begin the work of "breaking" some of the land which Mr. Sinclair owned in Rock Prairie, about five miles south of the village and within three miles of Turtleville, or Turtle Creek, as it was then called. There were two sections, twenty-eight and twenty-nine, with smaller parcels near by. I left Milwaukee with a six-horse team, which I drove through Water Street, and a wagon laden with lumber and supplies with which to build a shanty to begin farming operations in April.

We brought two hundred acres under cultivation, one hundred and thirty of which I plowed alone, and paid a neighboring farmer two dollars an acre to cultivate two hundred more. Turning the unbroken soil was no easy task. The plows held themselves, making a furrow twenty- two inches wide and only two and one-half inches deep, but the turf was tough with roots in places and it was necessary to stop and sharpen the share with a file about every mile of the distance traversed. This required some skill, as the share, if not pitched correctly, would cant out of the furrow or bury itself in the ground.

Our equipment, as might be expected, was somewhat primitive. For plowing, oxen were generally used, for which purpose they were better suited in many respects to the conditions then prevailing than horses. They required no water, a decided advantage in view of the fact that we were obliged to haul our supply from Turtle Creek, two miles away. It was not until some time later that we sank a well, being obliged to dig ninety-five feet before striking the water level. Neither was it necessary to feed the oxen. They sustained themselves on such provender as they were able to secure when they were turned out at night to graze.

We purchased six yoke of oxen, together with a "hoosier" wagon, a large covered vehicle built in Pennsylvania in 1834, from the Lovejoys, of Princeton, Illinois, cousins of Mr. Sinclair, who afterwards became persons of some notoriety. One of them, Owen, was a Congregational minister with an ambition to go to Congress. I heard him say to Mr. Sinclair, using the expression of the time: "Eight dollars a day and roast beef is better than preaching in a country village." All of them were abolitionists and gained distinction as orators during the agitation over the fugitive slave question.

Another of the brothers, Elijah, established a newspaper in Missouri and became so energetic in his support of the abolitionist propaganda that a mob one evening descended upon his newspaper office, seized the printing press and threw it into the river. Undeterred by this misadventure he went to Alton, Illinois, and established another paper devoted to the same cause. He was shot without warning one evening while standing in the doorway of his office. Owen Lovejoy achieved his ambition to serve in Congress in 1858 and was re-elected in 1860. During the following year, after the outbreak of the war, while delivering a speech in the House of Representatives he stalked defiantly down the middle aisle of the chamber and with clenched fist turned toward the Southern members and said: "You murdered my brother more than twenty years ago and I am here to-day to vindicate his blood."

Hard as the work was at the farm at Janesville our earlier efforts did not meet with success. The first crop of wheat was killed during the winter. The second crop rusted. At the same time the price was so low, only forty cents a bushel at Milwaukee, that it was scarcely worth the trouble of hauling it from Janesville. In spite of such early failures and the difficulties of breaking a way the tide of development swept on apace. In 1846 and again in 1850 on my way from Janesville to Milwaukee I passed from fifty to one hundred teams within a single mile, all hauling wheat to market. Not infrequently during this period, after the long and arduous task of cultivating the stubborn soil, sowing and harvesting his crop and transporting it to Milwaukee, the farmer received for a load little more than sufficient, after deducting his expenses, to purchase a few boards and a. barrel of salt, and other supplies.

In many instances the trip from the farm was longer than could be made in a single day and lodging houses were established along the road where, for approximately sixty-two and one-half cents, five "bits," a farmer could secure lodging and two meals for himself and stable room and hay for his horses. Of these institutions one of the most notable along the Janesville road was at East Troy, thirty-one miles west of Milwaukee, conducted by a man named Thayer, a favorite stopping place for teamsters who slept in a large room which, in taverns throughout the Wrest generally, was designated the ''school section." Each lodger, if he wished it, was given a cigar and glass of whiskey, both of indifferent quality, night and morning. It was a far cry from these establishments to the taverns along the St. John and the Penobscot stage route but they served the purpose for which they were created very well.

The road from Janesville to Milwaukee was a part of the main route from the lead district in the vicinity of Galena, Illinois, then the most notable town of the northern Mississippi River region. Farther south, toward Chicago, a city relatively of much less consequence in the West than it was to become after the advent of the railroads,— the roads were usually in bad condition and at times impassable, a fact which accounted for the more rapid development of Milwaukee at the outset of its history. The lead wagons, largely of the "hoosier" type, were drawn by from five to seven yoke of oxen and the drivers during the journey slept in their wagons at night. On the same route was a stage line, with coaches leaving daily, from Milwaukee to .Janesville, a distance of sixty-five miles, conducted by Davis and Moore. Its equipment was much less elaborate than the Concord coaches and well-groomed horses that carried one from Mattawamkeag to Bangor and the drivers were much humbler individuals. They received only twelve dollars a month and performed as well the duties of hostler.

In this environment the knowledge of oxen I had gained in the woods in Maine proved to be of great value to me. Mr. Sinclair, who was of a most practical turn of mind, was desirous of outdoing his friend "Mose" Ryan,— who with his brother, Stover Ryan, whom I have mentioned in connection with the Aroostook War, came from Maine some years before,-- in hauling flour and commissioned me to perform that exploit. I had been associated with him long enough to know that whenever he gave an order he expected it to be carried out regardless of the cost or consequences and I acted accordingly. Discarding my clothes, which I put in a paper bag, for a pair of overalls and a "hickory" shirt, the garb most frequently seen on the highway, I hooked up five yoke of cattle in October, 1847, and at Jackman's mill loaded twenty-five barrels of flour. This was the largest load ever hauled over the Janesville road, at least up to that time. Some drivers had taken as much as twenty-two barrels with a team of six horses in the winter time but no one had even approached in the summer the record I had established. Instead of a goad stick I used a whip similar to those with which the lead teamsters were equipped, a fifteen-foot pole with a lash of the same length. Slowly and laboriously we plodded along but we progressed steadily and reached our destination without mishap. These and many other trials of skill and capacity were a part of Mr. Sinclair's method of schooling me to meet the problems of the time and since then I have had many occasions to be grateful for the experience so obtained.

I have not exhausted the catalogue of difficulties which the early settlers of the Middle Wrest encountered. in addition to "hard times," the disastrous cold of the winters, and the drouth of the summers which sometimes withered the crops, there were epidemics of "ague-and-chill fever," malaria, which ran in virulent form through the Middle West. It. was a common saying at the time that in Illinois and Indiana even the dogs shook in the spring and autumn and reports of the unwelcome visitation carried back to the East caused many who were contemplating moving to the new country to hesitate, as I had occasion to discover at first hand on my trips to Maine.

In 1846 and again in 1850 most of the people living in the vicinity of the lakes, principally in Manistee, Muskegon, Grand Haven and other places on the lower peninsula of Michigan, in middle and southern Wisconsin and in Illinois and Indiana were afflicted with the disease. It seemed to descend upon the country like a blanket and the popular superstition was that it was due to the plowing of the "wild" soil. Few escaped it and I was no exception to the general rule. For a time I was obliged to abandon my work and put myself into the hands of Dr. Wolcott, one of the best known physicians in Milwaukee. Although I recovered sufficiently to go to Escanaba in the latter part of 1846, the malady was tenacious and I did not rid myself of it entirely for five or six years. During this period I had a recurrence almost every time I went to Chicago or Milwaukee.

On every side one came in contact with unfortunate victims of the disease, sometimes trembling in the throes of a chill, sometimes burning with a. raging fever. It was no marvel that exaggerated reports of the prevalence of the scourge were carried hack East. The salutary effect of quinine as a remedy was very little appreciated at this early day. Many still regarded it as a dangerous medicine and in most cases if it were administered at all it was given in such small quantities, in fourth proof brandy, that it was entirely ineffective. I myself took liberal doses of it often by the spoonful, in its unadulterated form, and have relied upon it to a large extent ever since. To its stimulating effect I owe relief from many possible illnesses. The "chills and fever" did not disappear entirely until 1869 or 1870 and the only way of escaping it for a long time seemed to me to go north of Green Bay, beyond which latitude it did not extend in Wisconsin.

It was not my fate, nor was it Mr. Sinclair's purpose, that I devote myself to farming as a career. My training in that branch of activity was concluded with the brief experiences I have narrated. Thereafter my attention was to be absorbed by lumbering with the exception of brief excursions into other fields such as sailing. In 1846 Mr. Sinclair purchased from George Dousman, the "forwarder and warehouse man" of Milwaukee, the schooner "Nancy Dousman" for use in connection with the mill at Escanaba. The vessel, which I hauled out on the ways, was cut in two and lengthened twenty-five feet, rechristened the ''Gallinipper" and placed under command of Captain George W. Ford. In the autumn with a number of other men, among whom was Henry Gunsaulus - the uncle of Dr. Frank Gunsaulus, of Chicago - who was to receive wages of fourteen dollars a month as an axeman and sawyer, we embarked on the vessel for Escanaba or Flat Rock, arriving there on November 5.

At this time the entire region north of the city of Green Bay, formerly an army post, sometimes called Navarino, was practically a wilderness and the northern peninsula of Michigan was a trackless forest, the main outpost being Sault Sainte Marie, where Fort Brady was situated. There were two mills of considerable size at Green Bay, a large mill at the mouth of the Menominee River, mills with one saw at Oconto, Cedar River, and Ford River, and on the White Fish River at the head of Little Bay de Noc, four mills. At Flat Rock, or Escanaba, the Sinclair and Wells Company operated two mills, one about a mile from the mouth of the river, where the plant of the Stephenson Company is now, the other about two miles up. These two mills taken together were considered the largest lumbering establishment in the United States west of the Hudson River. The next in size was probably up at Grand Haven, Michigan, and there were smaller mills at Muskegon and Manistee. Although seemingly numerous these mills were primitive structures mechanically and otherwise and their output was very limited. It would be accurate to say, I think, that in 1846 all of the mills on Green Bay represented an investment of less than fifty thousand dollars and could have been purchased for that amount.

At Escanaba there were not more than a dozen houses, in addition to the company's boarding-house, clustered around each mill. Until 1861 there was not a house from the Escanaba to the Ford River, a stretch of ten miles. Building operations on the site of the Present city of Escanaba were not begun until 1863 when the Tilden House,— owned jointly by Perry H Smith, vice-president of the Northwestern Railroad; Dunlap, the superintendent, and the Ludington and Wells Company, successors to Sinclair and Wells,—was erected. Up to this time the place was known as Sand Point. Neither did the city receive its present name until the branch of the Northwestern Railroad from there to Negaunee was built in 1863. The settlement around the mills was known generally as Flat Rock, a literal translation of the Indian name for the river, Scoo-naw-beh, which ran through a flat, shelving geological formation. In casting about for a name for the station and terminus of the road Smith finally evolved Escanaba and so it was christened on the railroad company's maps.

Little was known of the region to the north with the exception of the old Indian trading settlements along Lake Superior in the vicinity of the Apostle Islands and at Sault Sainte Marie where there was an Astor trading house and a Hudson Bay Company store. Marquette had not yet been established. I remember Robert Graveraet, one of the pioneer mining men of the upper peninsula, representing Boston capitalists, saying that he took Peter White, the Pioneer resident, there in 1848 and left him behind in his tent. My first visit to the place was made in the winter of 1851-2 on snow shoes, on which occasion the first town meeting was held.

The mining of iron and copper which, with the forests, was to produce almost fabulous wealth, had not yet begun. A year or two earlier government surveyors at work near Negaunee, puzzled for a long time by the unusual variations of their compasses, which sometimes pointed almost south instead of north, found indications of magnetic iron ore; and the discovery of mass copper, chunks of pure copper weighing in some instances several tons, had just aroused the people along the lake to the possibilities of the mining of this very valuable metal. During the following year, 1848, I saw tons of mass copper on the dock at the "Soo" but no one would have predicted at this time the establishment of time great mines which have since made the region one of the most notable copper districts in the world. But the era. of development was soon to begin. In the wake of the sinking of the Jackson mine, the first iron mine to be discovered at Negaunce came many others and the mineral deposits of the region are still largely unexplored.

Escanaba was the southern outpost for the Lake Superior country. During the summer, of course, transportation was carried oil water, but in the winter time when the lakes were closed to navigation the only avenue of communication was north from Green Bay city on ice to Escanaba and thence up the supply roads we had established along the Escanaba River to our logging camps. Beyond this point was a trail to Marquette through the forest which one traversed on snow shoes. The mail was transported over this route on toboggans drawn, as a rule, by dogs, the trip from Green Bay requiring approximately six days. Most of the carriers were half-breed Indians or French.

When the Northwestern completed its road from Negaunee to Escanaba a line of steamers from the latter point to the city of Green Bay was established and maintained with a daily service until 187, after which the railroad was extended northward from from Green Bay. In 1846 the Sinclair and Wells Company had carried carried its logging Operations about twenty-five miles up the Escanaba River. Gradually we penetrated farther into the forest and the travel to Lake Superior followed the supply roads as our camps were advanced. Eventually we constructed a logging railroad, the Escanaba and Lake Superior, one hundred and eighty-five miles of roadbed and trackage on the main line and lateral branches, over which large quantities of iron ore from the upper peninsula mines are now transported to the big docks at Wells for transshipment on the lakes.

There were few Indians, when I first went to Escanaba, north of the Menominee River, where there was a trading post, and they gave us no trouble. Some Canadians and half-breeds trapped and hunted in the forests and traded in their pelts at the settlements along Lake Superior, but the evidences of human activity were very scant and the brooding silences of the primeval wilderness were rarely disturbed except by the cry of the wild fowl or the call of the beasts. There were some wolves which seldom molested us, deer were plentiful, and in exploring rivers and streams I came upon many haunts of the industrious beaver. In 1850 I purchased more than forty marten skins at Marquette for eight or nine dollars each. Mink pelts were sold at this time for fifty cents. Not many years later, in accordance, very likely, with the whims of fashion, mink became as expensive as marten had been and the latter could be obtained for one-twentieth of what it had cost before.

In many directions throughout this wilderness I made timber cruising expeditions, locating suitable lands which we purchased from the government, in a region which, so far as I knew, had never been tracked by white men except the surveyors. For several months in the year, particularly in the summer time,— during the winter time we were engaged in logging,— I drove my way through the forests on foot carrying a knapsack and compass with an exploring crew. In a period of twelve years at least four were spent in this fashion. Our equipment was as light as possible. We carried no tents, slept under the open sky, frequently were deluged with rain and at times floundered through bogs and morasses. Oftentimes, too, as we made our way through the dense brush, the moisture on the leaves and branches saturated our garments so that for days at a time, neither awake nor asleep, did we enjoy the comfort of dry clothing. We slept on the ground with a single blanket for covering and at times, after a torrential rain during the night, I awoke at dawn to find that I was lying in a pool of water.

These exploring trips carried me far beyond the range of the known country. In 1850 I went through to the mouth of the Sturgeon River, now Nahma, on Big Bay de Noe, Garden Bay and Fish Dam River at the head of the bay. On the Escanaba River I was the first lumberman to penetrate as far as Cataract Falls, four miles above what is now known as the Princeton mine.


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