Early Life Among the Indians
Copyright 1891 B.G. Armstrong & T.P. Wentworth, Ashland, WI.
1892 Press of A.W. Bowron, Ashland, Wis.


Chapter XV.

Early Settlers in the Lake Superior Country - John W. Bell, "King of the Apostle Islands" - The County of Ashland Organized - The First Town Meeting - The First White Children born in Ashland - A Change of Babies - "Jos." Austrain Up a Tree


I cannot close this work without mentioning the names of some of the men who braved the dangers of the new west in the early days and who are entitled to the good opinion of all who write of the early days in this country. John W. Bell, whom I met at La Pointe, the first time in 1842, was a remarkable man. It was just previous to the treaty of that year that he related some of his past history. He told me he left Montreal at the age of twelve years and engaged with the Hudson Bay Company to stay until he was twenty-one and about the year 1841 came to Lake Superior but how he came I do not remember that he told me. He first located at Iron River about 12 miles west of Ontonagon, and there, as was the usual custom, he married a Chippewa woman and engaged in the coppering business in the employ of the American Fur Company, but did not remain there a great while, but one season, making barrels for salting fish. When I saw him in 1842 I think he had moved to La Pointe with his family and was hen engaged in a bakery, making bread for the Indians from flour the government had sent for distribution. He remained at La Pointe until died, in 1889, during which time he educated himself, and for many years was lawyer, judge and jury for the county of La Pointe, which when first organized was a very large territory, and his title "King of the Apostle Islands" was accepted by everybody. No one ventured or desired to dispute his title or authority. He virtually conducted the whole business of the county up to 18782, at which time the name of the county was changed to Ashland, and the town of Ashland was organized and made the county seat. The first town meeting held in Ashland was in the spring of 1872, electing a town board of supervisors, clerk, treasurer, assessor, etc. Hon. Sam S. Fifield was chosen chairman; A.S. Perinier and myself were chosen for side supervisors. At this time there was there was $45,000 in the hands of Mr. Bell as county treasurer, which was to be apportioned to the different towns in the new county as fast as they were organized and the proportion of each was ascertained. But as the new town of Ashland was much in need of funds to carry on improvements it became necessary to go to Judge Bell for relief. He saw the situation but had no authority to divide the money without orders to do so according to law, but finally said, "Go on with your improvements and I will honor your orders to the extend of $10,000," and gave us $1,000 for a school house and $1,000 for a bridge, saying as he did so: "I am overstepping my authority in this matter but will try and keep the accounts straight until the apportionment is made and then deduct the amount that you receive from the total that shall be apportioned to be your due." In a few years thereafter it was thought advisable to investigate the books and accounts of Mr. Bell, over which he had exclusive control for many years. Experts were appointed and this work completed without finding any considerable discrepancies in them. The number of men in any community is not legion that would for more than twenty years and with a check of any kind upon them leave to their posterity the record of Mr. Bell. A case in 1853 where he played the part of complaining witness, warrant issuer, warrant server and judge on the bench is worth of note. In that year a man by the name of Wright came to the island on business and was there several days waiting for a boat to take him to the head of the lake. During the subject of his stay he became the object of an interference of the law and the judge complained to himself and issued the warrant, which he served himself, bringing the prisoner before his tribunal, where he sentenced him to pay four hundred dollars or serve six months in jail. He would not pay the fine and the judge put him in jail, but it was not properly provided with locks and the prisoners escaped. It was not long before he had heard where he had gone. He followed him to Douglas County, where he seized him and returned him to the jail that he now had provided with proper fastenings where the prisoner remained until a boat arrived at the dock, when the judge discovered that the opening at the jail that had been left for the chimney had not been closed and Mr. Wright was the first man to arrive at the dock. But the judge was not to be thus outwitted and again seized his man on board the boat, where happened to be a lawyer to whom the prisoner had told his story, and as the lawyer saw a loophole through which he thought his client could escape prevailed on the judge to reopen the case and give the man the benefit of legal counsel, to which Mr. Bell assented and all three marched to the hall of justice where the judge, good to his word reopened the case upon his books and told the attorney to proceed - giving the lawyer the full use of his stock of law books and precedents. But the lawyer ignored them all and relied upon the one point to clear his client. He pointed to the statutes upon the point he had chosen and had the case boiled down to his own satisfaction and sprung his point. "Your honor! You far exceeded your jurisdiction when you went into the county of Douglas and arrested this man," and straightening himself up to his full height continued, "You cannot go into another county and take a man on your warrant;" to which the judge listened and then replied, "Can't eh! But I did and the man is now in my jurisdiction and will take the consequences of my sentence, which I now re-affirm. [Exit the lawyer just in time to catch the boat.] In the summer of 1886 the writer of the work went to the home of Judge Bell of La Pointe with the intention of taking notes from his conversation from which to weave a sketch of his life, but found him a sufferer from an injured limb and unable to physically by reason of this and his advanced years to submit to any extended interview and took from him a few sentences which are here repeated; "I came here from Montreal in 1835 with the American Fur Company as a cooper. Great quantities of fur were then brought to this place from all parts of the western country and shipped to Montreal. I came here in the brig John Jacob Astor, Captain Standard (or Stanard.) She was built this side of the River Sioux. Her frame was built in Canada and put up at the River Sioux. I went to Washington from here with a delegation of eighteen Lake Superior Chippewa Chiefs. We had two or three audiences with President Lincoln. We were in the theatre when Lincoln was assassinated. I put in at Washington a claim in favor of the Chippewa Indians of seventy-three thousand and six hundred dollars, one-third of which belonged to the Mississippi Chippewas and two thirds belonged to the Lake Superior Chippewas. These arrearages are still held back by the government. I have an arrangement with the Chippewa Indians, which is to allow me two thousand dollars of this money for my trouble and expenses on this trip to Washington. When we started on this trip to Washington we walked from here to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, on snowshoes. We went first to Bad River then to Leihy's farm at Lac Courte Oreilles, from there to Chippewa Falls, thence to Eau Claire at which place we got three teams to take us to Sparta. One Gurneux was interpreter on this trip. He is now at Lac Courte Oreilles, which name means "Short Ear" and is a Chippewa name. The land around the old church here was once tilled. A man by the name of Austrian owns about five-sixth of it. We once polled between four and five hundred votes here and as long ago as 1856, but there are not now thirty votes on this island. We use to build boats here. This house I now live in was built in 1853 by David Oakes. Dr. Borup's youngest daughter, now living in St. Paul, was born upon this island." This was all the writer got from Mr. Bell as he was it was fatiguing to him. He was a man of very powerful frame and in his prime must have been almost a giant. The town of Bayfield was locate, surveyed and platter in the spring of 1855. Major McAvoy, who was the agent of the town site company, remained about two years. A man named Day was another early settler in Bayfield. Sage & Mathews were early carpenters here. The first married a daughter of Major McAvoy and Mathews married a Mrs. Jeffrey. Jacob Schafer was an early settler there and married Ann Steel. Andrew Tate came about a year later. James Chapman, who recently died in Bayfield, came there quite early. Asaph Whittlesey was there and remained there until he died. Samuel S. Vaughn was one of the first settlers in Bayfield and moved to Ashland in 1872. Ashland's first settlers were Martin Beaser from Ontonagon. It had been claimed that Asaph Whittlesey mad the first clearing in Ashland, but only for a building. George Kilbourne was here about the same time and Conrad and Adam Goeltz and Martin Roehm came here about 1854. Katie Goeltz, now Mrs. Ellis, of Calumet, Michigan, was the first white child born in Ashland and she was presented with a building lot by Martin Beaser, in remembrance of this distinction and she still owns the lot. About this time Edwin Ellis came and located at a place called Bay City, which is now a part of Ashland. His son Edwin was the first white boy born here. The mission was built at Bad River about 1842 by Leonard Wheeler, who continued there until 1864 or 65. Erwin Leihy settled at the Falls of the Bad River bargained with and bought out a man named Woods who claimed to own the falls property. He moved from there to Bayfield about 1870. Elisha Pike settled about two and one-half miles south of Bayfield at what is now called Pike's Creek in 1853 and bought the mill property there that was owned by Julius Austrian. Mr. Pike built a house on it where he lived until his death about two years ago, leaving a wife, son and daughter. His son R.D. Pike now lives in Bayfield and his daughter is Mrs. Bicksler, of Ashland. While this mill property was in the possession of Julius Austrian and quite out of repair he bargained with me one day to fix it up and run it, he to furnish all supplies for logging and sawing for half the lumber I could make. I was o do all repairing and furnish the help for logging and sawing for the other half. At this time Julius Austrian had a brother in his employ about fifteen years old who was kept busy at any odd jobs that he was large enough to do. One day he was sent from La Pointe to our mill with a load of supplies. He had quite a load for his one horse and it was his first trip over this road and he could not lose his way; to keep to the bay until he reached the ridge and to follow it until he came to the mill. The boys name was "Joe" and he did as he was told and in due time found himself at the top of a hill near the mill. The mill set quite low down in the ravine on the creek bottom, the hill was quite steep and the slipping nice. Joe saw the hill was steep but others had been down and anticipated no trouble in getting safely to the mill. His sled was made entirely of wood and with much more regard for strength and durability than beauty and was a load of itself, the thills being made of iron wood poles that were at least four inches in diameter and turned out at the end trill fashion so as not to injure the shoulder of the horse.

Joe started; the horse began to move slowly, its own instinct telling it that the chances were not even for getting to the bottom of the hill without a mishap. The load soon proved too heavy for the horse to hold back and Joe pulled and tugged away on the rope lines to assist the horse in holding the sled. In doing so he reined the horse a little to one side of the track where stood a tree leaning at an angle of about 45° away from the road. One thill point hit the tree but glancing off brought the horse upon the tree roots, the load kept pushing and the horse at last was full length up the tree and entirely off the ground. Joe who had jumped off the load inflated his lungs and whoop after whoop escaped him until the mill stopped and all hands proceeded to the spot where the mishap had occurred and there Joe took shaking from head to foot, a perfect picture of despair. The sled was got away and the horse rolled off the tree but little worse for the accident, but Joe, I dare say, has not forgotten it and never will. Joseph Austrian is now a resident of Chicago, Illinois, and has been for several years past. He has accumulated a considerable fortune, now being principally interested in the Austrian-Leopold line of steamers plying on the Great Lakes. There was another incident at this mill that will interest a few still living. Henry Smitz, an old comrade of mine, was acting as tail sawyer for me and Joseph Hole, an Indian, was taking the lumber from the saw. One day as the saw was nearing the iron dog that held the log in place Smitz having forgotten to get it out of the way, and just as the Indian was leaning over to take the slab the saw struck the dog and flew in a dozen pieces that went screeching in many directions. The floor of the mill upon which we were was twenty-five above the creek bed beneath us and the whizzing of the broken saw so frightened the Indian that he ran and jumped headlong into the creek below. He was not seriously injured and picking himself up lit out for Bayfield. Henry Smitz afterward lived upon a copper claim northeast of Duluth and had an interest in a shingle mill at La Pointe but removed his family to Hancock, Michigan, leaving his shingle business in the hands of his partner, occasionally returning to see it. He was in business in Hancock at the time the village was nearly destroyed by fire and his property went with the rest. He rebuilt and was nicely started again when he came to La Pointe to see to his business interests, but just as he reached the mill the boiler exploded, killing him and several others who were working about the place. His remains were taken to Hancock and buried. In the spring of 1855 M.H. Mandlebaum, formerly of New York, but then from Cleveland came to La Pointe to take charge of the local business of Julius Austrian. He was certainly one of the most pleasant men I ever met, honest and square in all his dealings. From the start he ingratiated himself into the highest regard and esteem of all with whom he had dealings. He was a whole-souled, live and let live man whom everyone respected, but as his motto was to give to give dollar for dollar and strict weights and measures, his way of doing business was not in conformity with the manner of doing things that had obtained for the past few years in this country and his place was filled by another. He was induced to go to Bayfield by his friends and became a candidate for clerk of the court. He accepted the nomination and was elected, serving his term, after which he was urged to run again but declined, as there was not sufficient salary to the position to suit his ambition. While in the capacity of clerk a dispute arose between the judge and himself in regard to some point in his duties and Mr. Mandlebaum was compelled to travel in the dead of winter and on foot to Superior and get an attorney to defend him. He got and attorney, however, his case was tried and his position vindicated. Soon after this he went below, bought a stock of a goods and established himself in business in Hancock, Michigan. In his business career here as at La Pointe and Bayfield he was fully up to the standard of an honest man. Sickness and death overtook him while he was in the prime of life and his untimely taking off was mourned by all who knew him. I do not think he had an enemy in the world. At his death he left a wife and two or three children. A son bears his father's name, whom I met in the winter of 1891. During the stay of Mr. Mandlebaum at La Pointe he was a great favorite with the Indians, always ready with tricks and jokes to keep them in high glee - was greatly missed by them and was often inquired after by them when he had gone to Hancock. An example of his happy turn of mind and general disposition to be merry on festive occasions was exhibited on an occasion when a dancing party was in progress in Bayfield. Unknown to anyone he succeeded in changing the clothing of the babies, several in number, that had been brought there by their mothers and were sleeping away from the noise of the dance, and so completely disguising them that an hour was spent before every mother could tell her own and the merriment indulged in over this freak of his imagination can be pleasantly recalled by a number of persons still living. At Ontonagon, the first settler after the government had abandoned the fort at that place was Lathrop Johnson, who purchased the buildings formerly used by the government, and settled there about 1844. About 1847 James Paul come there and claimed to own the town site, and between him and Johnson there were bitter feuds and disturbances, which culminated in the shooting of Paul, the shot coming from a rear window of Johnson's house. Paul's breast was punctured with many shot, which only went through the flesh, but a more frightened man would be hard to imagine. Johnson was put on trial charged with the crime, but the only witness who saw the shooting was a Cornishman who was boarded with Johnson and it was evident that he did not care to see Johnson convicted, for all the evidence he would give was "I saw the shot fired but faith I cannot say whether he or she did it." The first firm to locate at Portage Lake, Michigan, was the firm of Douglas and Sheldon and the first at Marquette, in the iron district, was Bob Graverot about 1844.

 

Contributed and used with permission on this site by Timm Severud. The Lac Courte Oreilles Historical Preservation Office created this reproduction.Timm Severud manually typed it in and some minor changes to text have been made from the original, to correct spelling mistakes, and slight grammar mistakes. There is no copyright on this book or this reproduction. Feel free to use and share with others. Enjoy what I consider the best historical biography I have ever read. T.L.S.

 

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