Reminiscences of Clark County, Wisconsin, Pioneer Women


Sources: "Historical Contributions" from "History Of Clark County, Wisconsin"Compiled By Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, Chicago And Winona, H. C. Cooper Jr., & Co.1918

MRS. AMANDA SMITH, who came to Clark County in 1878, says: "I was born in Rutland County, Vt., in 1838. My mother died when I was 3 years old. When I was 12 years of age I came to Manitowoc County, Wis., with my uncle. At the age of 15 I was married, and subsequently reared a family of eight children, all born in Manitowoc. In 1878 we came to Clark County, traveling by rail to Hatfield, then by team and wagon to a settlement called Christie. We passed through Neillsville, which at that time was a small village. There were some farms cleared, but most of the land was covered with timber. From Christie we moved to Greenwood and lived there one year, then went to Longwood. Here we built a house, which was all open. We could see stars through the roof at night. We had no stairs and had to climb a ladder to get to the second story. We soon started to repair and improve the building, and when completed we opened the house as a hotel. For a time our guests were obliged to sleep on straw spread on the floors. We finally enlarged the building and used to keep the logging crews. Just as we had gotten the house all fixed up and paid for, it caught fire and burned down. We then moved over the Longwood store, starting another hotel, and soon had a fine trade, but immediately started a new building, and soon had it ready to move into. We lived at Longwood, keeping hotel all the time, until 1900, when we came to Withee. The town has grown about two-thirds since we came here."

MRS. AUGUST HOMSTED, in narrating her early experiences, says: "I was born in Ohio, in 1860, and came to Wisconsin with my sister to Stevens Point. The railroad at that time was six miles from that place. We drove from Stevens Point to G. W. Holtan's farm. I stayed with him - my brother-in-law - and took care of the children. I spent a good deal of my time at Neillsville and used to walk from the farm to Loyal in one day. There was no wagon road and I used to follow the cow trail through the woods. The trail was blazed and a part of the way cut. I stayed on the farm and at Neillsville until 1879, when I was married at Colby. I ran the Colby Hotel for a short time, then went to Unity and ran the old Forest House for a couple of years, then came to Dorchester. My husband was a druggist, and after coming to Dorchester opened a drug store in a small building which we rented. We built the building where our store now is. The first post office was located in Miltimore's store, Bradley G. Miltimore being the first postmaster, serving for a while under Cleveland's first administration. Henry La Bossier was appointed and served until Harrison was elected president. My husband, August Homsted, was appointed and served four years under Cleveland's second administration. Peter Shafer was appointed and served until his death in 1910. During the early seventies all supplies were brought in by team, except that some men carried them on their backs. When we first came to Dorchester the buildings were small frame structures. In 1888 fire visited the town and burned all the places of business, except one store and a building which stood when beyond where the Smith Hotel now stands, and burned the entire block to the corner."

ROSANA HOREL thus relates her experiences: "I was born at Belfast, Maine, in 1839, and lived there until 15 years old. In 1854, with my parents, I left the place of my birth for Wisconsin. We traveled by way of the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to Milwaukee and by railroad from Milwaukee to Madison. In October of that year we went to Black Earth, Dane County. The next spring we moved to Richland County, where we lived for four years. In 1859 my mother died and I came with my father to Osseo, Trempealeau County. I was married there and lived there for six years, then came to Clark County with my husband and settled on a farm three miles west of Humbird, where I lived thirty-seven years, moving to the hamlet of Humbird in 1902. When I came to Clark County in 1865 there was no town of Humbird or Fairchild. The whole country was covered with tamarack and oak timber. The land where Humbird now stands was owned by Almond Alderman. The place was once called Rocky Mound City. Jake Humbird built the railroad through here in 1869, and the village was named for him. The town experienced quite a boom when they talked of building a railroad from here to Neillsville, but when the plans were changed to Merrillan it subsided. G. W. King had five sawmills and D. D. Travis owned and operated a mill two miles from this town. We used to haul all our grain from the farm to Sparta and bring back our supplied from there, taking about three days to make the trip to Hudson, and the settlers used to take turns going to Garden Valley once a week from the mail. There were lots of Indians here but they gave us no trouble only by their everlasting begging. When we first came to Clark County we used oxen, which at night were turned out. One night our dogs made such a noise and fuss that the men got up to see what was the matter. When they went out there was a whole pack of wolves surrounding the open(ing?). We used to have plenty of wild game, and used bear grease for cooking. It was nothing to see a drove of deer pass by the door. One day a bear went by acting as thought he was wounded and we thought we would get him, but when we got close to him Mr. Bear leaped over a five-rail fence and was gone. All our furniture in those days was of the homemade variety, including beds, chairs and tables. Everyone was sociable and all acted together, and while we had many hardships, we had some pleasant times. John Branstedter, Peter Beaver, A. Webster, Joseph Emer, Orin Wilson and Mr. Colgrove were some of the early settlers."

MRS. JOHN SHANKS, in relating her early experiences, says: "We left Ontario, Canada, in 1866, traveling by rail to West Salem, Wis. When I reached Bangor in 1866 I was married to Mr. Shanks, and in the fall of that year we came by team through Sparta with William Shanks. We stayed the first night at Tom Emery's tavern, south of Black River Falls. There were many men staying there who were bound for the woods.
  The second night we stayed at Paddy's Rest, and the third night at Staffordsville, reaching Henry Huntzicker's the afternoon of the fourth day. We traveled in lumber wagons, loaded when we started with supplies, but at each place we stopped we were obliged to leave some. It was on this trip that I saw my first deer. The roads were bad on account of heavy hauling and we had to get out many times and cut our way through the brush to avoid the bad places in the roadway. I worked for Mr. Huntzicker that winter and stayed there the following summer. Henry Huntzicker kept a hotel for the lumbermen. On New Year's night, 1867, John Huntzicker was born, and I cared for him during that summer.
  In November, 1867, I went to camp on the Popple River, walking the distance. There I cooked for the men during the winter, leaving on March 17, 1868. That was my first experience in a logging camp. That summer I stayed at Huntzicker's, and in the fall we built a log hut sixteen feet square, with a scooped roof. My occupation was making buckskin mittens, shirts and buckskin trousers, which I sold to the boys going into camp. The buckskin I secured from the Indians. Mr. Shanks during this time was driving logs down the Black River. We commenced clearing our farm in 1868. Later we built a good log house and lived there and farmed until we moved into town. We hardly ever saw any women but Indians."

MRS. JULIA A. MEAD, who was born in Fulton County, New York, in 1842, says: "In 1851 I came to Jefferson County, Wis., with my mother, two brothers and two sisters. I was married in Jefferson County in 1861 and remained there until 1865, when, with my husband and two children, we started for Clark County. We went as far as Sparta by rail, and there took a wagon and started overland for Clark County through a wild country, and over rough roads. We reached Neillsville in two days. From Neillsville to Greenwood the timber was very dense, and where Greenwood now stands there was a forest of pine and hardwood. The first night we stopped at the house of C. S. Honeywell, the only house there. This building is still standing, though sided over and improved. The next day we started housekeeping half a mile north of town in an old house known as the old Dwyer house. In the spring of 1866 we moved on to our homestead six miles north of town and started living in our little log shanty, built without a nail in it. The snow was then three feet deep on the ground. The only clearing was where our house stood, the rest of the farm being densely covered with timber. We started feeding travelers, furnishing them with tents to sleep in, and I continued in this occupation for seven years, my husband in the meanwhile being engaged at logging and at clearing the farm. We built a new house in 1871 and remained on the farm till 1893. Our supplies were purchased at Black River Falls and were carried mostly on my husband's back. During the first seven months I was on the farm I saw just one white woman. We had a cow and calf, and I used to have to chain the dog to the door to watch the children while I hunted the cow and calf in the woods. There were many Indians but they caused us no trouble. For three years our nearest neighbors were in Greenwood. In the early days my husband and I carried the mail on horseback from two miles south of where Greenwood now stands to George Huntzicker's hotel, one mile south of where Longwood now is. C. S. Honeywell started the first store in Greenwood, which was burned down. The first hotel was built and run for several years by W. H. Begley. We used to hitch up our oxen and drive to George and Henry Huntzicker's and dance till broad daylight, to music furnished by one fiddle, played by Tom Syth. My best dress during all those times was taken from the back of sheep by my own hands, while I lived in Jefferson County. The Eatons' and Honeywell's wives and daughters - four women and four girls - were all who attendee these dances during the winter of 1866. When we passed through Neillsville there were only five houses. There were few buildings in Greenwood, except the Honeywell cabin, prior to 1871. After that a few settlers came in and people commenced to stump the land and get it in shape to work."

MRS. EMMA F. ROBINSON was one of the early pioneers and her experiences were most interest. Writing Nov. 25, 1901, she says: "I came to Clark County, Wis., in January, 1859, my husband, myself and little twenty-months-old baby girl, now Mrs. James O'Neill. We drove through from LaCrosse with a team to what was then known as Weston's Rapids. We were four days making the trip. There were but a few settlers then in Clark County. Among them was the late James O'Neill, founder of Neillsville, Judge Dewhurst, Robt. Ross, Chauncy Blakeslee, B. F. Chase, James Hewett and S. C. Boardman. "Neillsville was then a mere hamlet, although the county seat. It was there that I attended my first Fourth of July celebration in Clark County. Dr. B. F. French was the orator of the day. I met Mrs. French, Mrs. A. W. Clark and Mrs. John King for the first time, at that small gathering of patriotic settlers.
 "There was a dam and bridge across Black river at Weston's Rapids. A sawmill and grist mill were in operation there. There was a 'tavern', as it was then called, for the accommodation of the lumbermen, and several tenement houses. We lived in one of those houses nearly two years and kept the first post office there. We only got our mail once a week and had no county paper at that time; in fact all literature was very scarce in those days. The books and periodicals which we had brought from our eastern homes were gladly exchanged with our neighbors. They were read and re-read, passed out from one home to another till when they returned they were often in a somewhat dilapidated condition. After a time we were favored by having a very good little district library, which was greatly appreciated. Mrs. Melvin Mason, Mrs. Chandler and myself composed the committee to select the books for this small library of 100 volumes.
 A Methodist Church soon sprang up. It was built in Neillsville, all contributing most willingly. Its good influence was soon felt and it was the means of bringing the old settlers together oftener in a social way. Many are the church sociable we attended when our only conveyance was a big wagon or sleigh drawn by oxen or a span of mules.
  Before we had our little church our only pleasures socially were the meeting in our homes to read and discuss our well worn books and papers, and dancing. It was not considered a hardship by any means to have the big sleigh brought around right after supper and drive six or eight or even ten miles to a dance, gathering up our friends on the way. Mrs. Stafford, Mrs. Blakeslee, Mrs. Clark, Judge and Mrs. Dewhurst were generally along and always ready for a good time. By the way, it did not take as much to give us a good time then as at the present day. We were all young and full of health and hope and enjoyed everything to its fullest extent -our books, our dances, our drives and, last but not least, our church meant much to us in the wilds of Northern Wisconsin.
 The woods abounded with wild game, which was the means of bringing a great many Indians to our country. But they were friendly - too friendly, we thought, when several would walk into our houses and demand food, without even stopping to rap. We soon learned to keep our doors locked day and night and not to be frightened when we saw their dusky faces looking in the window at us.
 There was a log shanty near what is now known as Scofield's Corners, which was then used for a trading post for the Indians, by quite a notorious character in the early history of Clark County, by the name of George Pettengill. He was a tall, muscular fellow and affected Indian style by dressing in buckskin and wearing his hair long, reaching to his waist, and spending his time hunting and trading with the Indians. He at one time openly shot and killed a half-breed, which so enraged the Indians that the settlers were obliged to have him (Pettengill) arrested and lodged in jail at LaCrosse. But he was afterwards acquitted. He was not generally disliked by the white settlers and was allowed to trade with the Indians in the shanty on the corner without being interfered with, although they got in exchange for their furs and game a few gaudy trinkets and lots of poor whisky, and the nights were often made hideous by the weird cries of those poor children of the forest as they went reeling by to their wigwams after indulging too freely in 'fire-water'. I think there was quite as much need of a Mrs. Nation and her hatchet in those days as there is now."


Contributed to this site by Kay Scholtz

Floral Bouquet © Copyright: All files on this site are copyrighted by their creator and/or contributor. They may be linked to but may not be reproduced on another site without specific permission from Clark County Coordinator Judy Groh, the State Coordinator, Tina Vickery and/or their contributor. My very special thanks to Holly Timm for the creation of the WIGenWeb Clark County graphic. The use of the Penny Postcard in the title graphic is used with permission of the Penny Post Cards a USGenWeb Archives Web Site.

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