Sam S. Fifield

Source: History of Northern Wisconsin: Containing an Account of Its Settlement, Growth, Development, and Resources, an Extensive Sketch of Its Counties, Cities, Towns and Villages, Their Improvements, Industries, Manufactories, Biographical Sketches, Portraits of Prominent Men and Early Settlers, Views of County Seats, Etc. Chicago: Western Historical Co., 1881. pp. 70-71

SAM S. FIFIELD, editor and proprietor of the Ashland Press, is prominently identified with the history of Northern Wisconsin. He was born in Corinna, Penobscot Co., Maine, June 24, 1839; the second son of Samuel S. and Naomi Fifield. The name is one noted for its pioneer experiences; both the father and mother springing from old and well-known families. The early years of the subject of this sketch were spent in the city of Bangor, where his parents located when he was but three years of age. He attended the city schools, until the death of his mother caused the breaking up of the family, and sent him, a lad of ten years, to seek his fortune. For four years he was employed as chore boy and clerk in a store; but at the expiration of that time, his father concluded to remove West, taking the two sons, H. O. and Sam S., with him, to Rock Island, Ill., arriving there Oct. 2, 1853. The older son is now a well-known editor in northern Michigan. In the Spring of 1854, the family removed to Prescott, Pierce Co., Wis., landing in the State on the 17th of April. Three days later, Sam obtained employment as clerk in the store of John R. Freeman, where he remained about one year; then became clerk and steward of the Prescott Hotel, owned by C. P. Barnard, now of St. Paul; remained until Oct. 20, 1856, when he entered the store of Wells & Stillman, general merchants, and served until the firm closed their business in the Fall of 1858. During the Winter of that year, Sam clerked for J. M. McKee, dealer in books and stationery; and in the Spring of 1859, not being able to obtain employment to his liking, he shipped as night watch with Capt. A. B. Green on the steamer "Equator," plying between Prescott and Taylor's Falls. He was soon promoted to steward and second clerk, which position he held when the steamer was wrecked, near Hudson, in May. After completing the season on the "Kate Castle," until Feb. 16, 1860, when, having formed the acquaintance of Capt. Frank H. Pratt, now a merchant of Rush City, Minn., then foreman of the Prescott Transcript, published by Charles E. Young, he accompanied that gentleman to Taylor's Falls, as an apprentice and business assistant in the publication of the Taylor's Falls Reporter, the first paper worthy of note established in the upper St. Croix Valley. Mr. Pratt, accompanied by his family and young Fifield, arrived at the Falls on the 19th of February, 1860. The press and materials for the office were taken there at the same time, and the paper was issued a few days later; the proprietor setting the first stick of type, and his apprentice pulling the press that printed the first sheet. Soon after the office received Ed. Folsom, present editor of the Journal, as "devil," and the subject of our sketch was promoted to the foremanship. He remained with Mr. Pratt until January, 1861, when ill health compelled him to give up the business. After a short visit to his friends at Prescott, he returned and accepted the position of toll-keeper on the bridge between Taylor and St. Croix Falls. Here he remained until Nov. 1, 1861, when, a situation being offered him as foreman of the St. Croixan, a paper that had but a few months previous been established at St. Croix Falls by J. D. Reymert and Junius A. Bartlett, he accepted it. On the 1st of December, the press and material were taken to Osceola Mills, the county seat of Polk County, and the Polk County Press was issued, the entire type-setting and press-work being done by him. On the 2d of April, 1862, he purchased the newspaper from Mr. Reymert and became its editor and proprietor. From that day the Polk County Press and its editor were recognized as institutions of the upper valley, the paper increasingly rapidly in influence and circulation, and its editor gaining a widespread acquaintance throughout Wisconsin and the Northwest. It was in stirring times that the Press was first issued. The dark clouds of war and treason overshadowed the Republic. The Press was immediately enlisted on the side of loyalty and the Union, and was earnest in support of the Government and its flag. The St. Crioxan under Reymert's control was Democratic, but under the new management it threw party to the winds, and supported the policy that Lincoln inaugurated to crush treason and save the Union. Its columns, during the long years that saw the beginning and the end of the great rebellion, teemed with earnest, patriotic editorials, and contained a history of the defeats and victories that followed the trail of its glorious armies. After peace, the Press became the earnest advocate and representative of Northern Wisconsin, and did much to attract attention to the varied resources of Polk County, and the country generally, inducing immigration and capital into the valley. In the busy and toilsome life that had so far followed his fortunes, Mr. Fifield had found time to study and gain a good practical business education, which adverse circumstances had deprived him of acquiring in the usual course of school training. After he had fully established himself in business, he took to himself a partner, in the person of Miss Stella A. Grines, niece of Silas Humphrey, then a merchant of Taylor's Falls. They were married at Prescott, Sept. 20, 1863, and since with her husband, she has become well known and highly esteemed by a large circle of friends and acquaintances. The times that hd witnessed the establishment of the Press had also drawn together the kindred souls of the earnest and patriotic men of the frontier, and its editor soon became intimately associated with the leaders and politicians of that day. The Press became the leading advocate of Republicanism for the northern tier of counties forming the frontier district of Wisconsin, which began to attain political importance and return large Republican majorities. Meantime, the northern counties, owing to the building of the Wisconsin Central Railroad, from Milwaukee to Ashland, assumed importance, and the development there presenting a favorable opportunity for business enterprise, Mr. Fifield decided to remove to Ashland and join his brother, whom he had already established at Bayfield in the printing business, in starting a newspaper at the terminus of that raod. The material, good will and patronage of the Polk County Press were quickly transferred to Charles E. Mears, who had served with the proprietor as devil, journeyman and partner, and in the Spring of 1872, after twelve years of constant and active labor, he removed to Ashland, and established, with his brother as partner, the Ashland Press, of which he is now editor and proprietor. He was elected chairman of the first Board of Supervisors of the new town, and has since been prominent in many of its business enterprises and as one of its foremost citizens. During his residence in the St. Croix Valley, he held several offices of honor and trust in his town and in the State Legislature. In 1870, he was assistant Sergeant-at-Arms of the Assembly, to which position he was promoted by the unanimous vote of his party in 1871 and 1872. In 1874, he was elected to the Assembly, receiving a majority of 1,326 votes over his Democratic opponent, Amos Gray. He was returned by largely increased majorities in 1875 and 1876. He was chosen Speaker of the Assembly of 1876, receiving the unanimous nomination of his party caucus. In the Fall of 1876, he was elected State Senator to fill the unexpired term of Hon. Henry D. Barron, who had resigned to accept the judgeship of the 11th judicial circuit. In the Fall of 1879, he was again eleted Senator for the term of two years, viz.: 1880 and 1881, his term expiring Jan. 1, 1882. While in the Legislature he has served on many important committees. Of Mr. Fifield it can be truly said that he is a self-made man. By his industry and business integrity he rapidly gained warm personal friends, who have never had occasion to regret his acquaintance or their fellowship with him. He has served his constituency with ability, fidelity, and with an earnestness that has been successful in gaining for his section of the State both favor and prominence. As his history shows, he commenced as a poor boy, and worked his way up the ladder by his own exertions, and his record is one that is certainly creditable to himself and his many friends.

 

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