SETTLEMENT

   The original incentive to attract pioneers thitherward were the immense pine forests, which with other species of timber occupied not less than sixty-five per cent of the surface of the county forty years ago.
    It was this that attracted the Mormons into the present limits of Clark County, in 1844, and theirs was the first visit of white men, with the exception of St. Germain. In the Fall of 1836, the latter, then in his sixteenth year, hired out in Canada, to the American Fur Company, made his way to the then Territory of Wisconsin, by the Lake Superior route, and was sent south the same Fall with a party of traders, passing the ensuing Winter on the east fork of Black River, in the present county of Clark. At the date above mentioned, the Mormons came into Black River for the purpose of cutting logs, and sawing them into lumber at Black River Falls, thence to be run down the Mississippi, for use at Nauvoo in the erection of the Mormon tabernacle projected at that point.
    The representatives of Hyrum Smith, accomplished their work in time, without endeavoring to proselyte or preparing to practically illustrate their peculiar creed in this section. For a year after their departure, Clark County, as it afterwards became, was uninhabited.
    In September, 1839, James and Alexander O'Neill, who had resided in Prairie du Chien for a number of years, determined to abandon that point, and visit the pineries, skirting Black River and vicinity, with a view to engage in the business of milling at some available point on that steam. Accordingly, having laden a canoe with furniture and provisions, they proceeded up the Mississippi to the mouth of Black River, thence continuing their journey, reached Black River Falls late in the month of their departure from Prairie du Chien. An examination of the resources of the country decided them to remain, and selecting a site three miles below the Falls, on a creek to the east of the river, erected a mill. Here they remained for nearly six years, during which period they did a large and lucrative business.
    In the Spring of 1845, they decided to once more change their base of operations, and in June of that year, James O'Neill, Henry O'Neill, who died in 1859, with E.L. Brockway, who subsequently became a resident of Little Falls, in Jackson County, and Samuel and William Ferguson, accompanied by a number of laborers, removed to the present village of Neillsville, and became the first settlers in what has since been organized as Clark County. The party came overland in a wagon, drawn by an ox team, cutting their way through the brush and other obstructions, and were two days on the trip. This was the fist road ever made in the county.
    At that time the village site, as also a large portion of the county, was an uninhabited wilderness. Game of all kind was abundant; deer, wolves, otter, mink, beaver and martin were very plenty. Deer could be shot from the door of O'Neill's log cabin, and wolves would frequently chase them around into the clearing, the deer escaping by taking refuge in the dam behind the mill. The Indians inhabiting the county were principally Chippewas. The dividing line between that tribe and the Winnebagoes on the south was nearly at the confluence of the East Fork with the Black River. They received the new comers in a friendly spirit, and as settlers began to come in, brought peltries to sell or exchange for pork and flour. They excelled the Winnebagoes in cleanliness and intelligence, were neither vicious nor dangerous, though given to stealing, and it was the boast of their chief that none of his tribe ever shed the blood of a white man or his family.
    Immediately upon their arrival, trees were felled, hen and shaped, and within a brief period, a rough hewn cabin, 18x24, was erected on the bank of O'Neill's Creek, near where the mill was afterwards built. This was the first house raised in the county. It was, as compared with the domiciles, which have since been substituted, a cheerless abode, but for the times, comfortable if not luxurious. Upon its completion, the mill was begun, and before the close of the year in readiness for work. It also was of logs, and was located in the present bed of the creek. It was of sufficient dimensions for all business of that day, supplied with one upright saw, with capacity of 4,000 feet every twelve hours, and worked continuously, as pine logs could be easily obtained along O'Neill's creek, which were floated down to the mill. When the same were cut, the lumber was rafted in platforms at the foot of the mill, run to the mouth of the creek, where ten platforms wee arranged in a more compact and solid manner, and combined in rafts which usually contained about ten thousand feet. Having reached the falls, these rafts were combined into large ones containing from forty to fifty thousand feet, and run to the Mississippi, thence to Burlington, Iowa, consigned to Alexander O'Neill, and sold for an average of then dollars per thousand.
    The year following it is said but few visited Clark County to settle permanently. James O'Neill, however erected a more commodious house to live in, on present site of Frank Darling's residence; and when the log house was vacated, the water in the creek undermined the bank upon which it stood, when the first building was precipitated into the waters, and floated onward to the Mississippi. This year Mr. O'Neill became wearied of housekeeping without the aid of female intelligence and expedient, to remedy, which he procured the services of a Mrs. Kennedy, who had come into Wisconsin some time before, from Rock Island, accompanied by her husband. She arrived at Neillsville in the Summer, and, taking charge of affairs in the O'Neill household, is to-day remembered as the first housekeeper, and the first white woman to take up her residence in Neillsville, Pine Valley Township, or Clark County.
    At this time, the Mormons had not yet bade adieu to Black River and its vicinity, and a number of them had strayed down into that part of Crawford County now included in Clark County, to log. While thus engaged, one of the "latter day saints," named Cunningham, inadvertently slipped into a creek that ran through the forest wherein himself and companions were at work, and before assistance could be afforded him, was drowned. His body was subsequently recovered, and removed to Black River Falls, where it was interred according to the rites of the Mormon Church. His was the first death in the county, and the stream wherein the rider of the pale horse claimed his allegiance, is still known as "Cunninghan's Creek."> In 1846, Andrew Grover, accompanied by Hamilton McCullom and a man named Beebe, reached Neillsville, and erected a mill on Cunningham's Creek, two miles below the village, of dimension and capacity similar to the O'Neills' mills. Jonathan Nichols, John Perry and wife, who located in what is now the town of Weston.
    These enterprising speculators, together with Kennedy and wife, composed the arrivals of 1846, and the buildings cited the only improvements completed.
    An event occurred during 1846, which occasioned inestimable enjoyment to the settlers for miles around, and put a period to the bachelorhood of James O'Neill, it might be added without benefit of clergy, for the union between himself and Miss Jane Douglass was accomplished through the intervention of a Justice of the Peace. On Christmas eve, 1846, Mr. O'Neill gave a dancing party at his house to which the world at large, in Clark County and about Black River Falls, were invited. Among those who attended were: W.T.Price, Jacob Spaulding, Jonathan Nichols, Thomas Sturges, B.F.Johnson, Levi Avery, John Perry and wife, Mr. Yeatman, Mr. And Mrs. Van Austin and daughter, Joseph Stickney, Alonzo Stickney, Miss Susan Stickney, Benjamin Wright, Samuel Wright, the Misses Wright, Thomas Douglass, Robert Douglass, Mark Douglass, the Misses Isabella and Jane Douglass, Miss Lucinda Nichols, and some few others. Hudson Nichols and James Bennett ere the fiddlers, and the dance was kept up until daylight on Christmas morning. That day the guests returned to their homes, and Mr. O'Neill, hitching up his team, accompanied the Douglasses to their farm, near Melrose, going thither on the ice, up Black River. It is to be presumed that as the sleighs glided down beneath the branches, which, silvered with frost, over-reached Black River, on that lovely Christmas morning, the maidens were as happy, and their lovers' hearts were as strongly moved with the tender passion, as are those of lovers to-day, when the forests have given way to beautiful farms and thriving villages. There began the courtship of James O'Neill, which culminated in his marriage to Miss Jane Douglass, the event being celebrated on the 7th of March, 1847, at Melrose, now in Jackson County, John Valentine officiating, in his capacity of Justice of the Peace. The happy couple came at once to Neillsville, where for many years they drifted, hand in hand, down the tide of time, until her race had run its course, and her firmament was rolled up like a scroll.
    The first marriage within the present limits of Clark County is claimed to have occurred this year, also. It was that between Simon Winfield and a girl in the employ of Mr. O'Neill. She was the first "young lady" to settle in the county, and before she had been long established, plighted her troth and dismissed the frivolities of youth, to assume the cares of married life. A Justice of the Peace was called into requisition, Mr. O'Neill commemorated the event by a select party, after which they left the vicinity, and wee heard of no more.
    Another claim is made that William Lewis was married prior to this date. While in LaCrosse, he became acquainted with an ex-Mormon wife, to whom he made overtures that resulted in her consenting to return with him to Clark County as housekeeper. The relations of the pair, however, were not acceptable to their neighbors, who urged them to procure legal sanction to a condition of affairs that existed by sufferance. To this they consented; a parson and a jug of whisky were obtained at Black River Falls, the couple were united, and a general carousal succeeded.
    In 1847, emigration to Clark County was extremely limited. Among those who came were: Samuel Cowley, after whom Cowley's Creek is named; I.S.Mason, Thomas LaFlesh, Nathan Myrick, H.J.B. ("Scoots") Miller, and a man named Dibble, who built a mill on Cunmningham's Creek, tow miles below Neillsville. Another mill was built this year, by Jonathan Nichols, three miles above the village, on Cowley's Creek. These constituted the improvements completed in 1847.
    The 7th of June, 1847, will ever be remembered by old residents as the day when the most extensive and disastrous flood ever known in Clark County over took and destroyed many of the material improvements which had been completed at that time. On the afternoon of the previous day, the rain began to fall and a refreshing shower was hailed with delight. With each succeeding hour the area of the storm was increased, and from gentle drops, which were eagerly lapped up by the parched earth, it gradually assumed violence never before witnessed. The rain fell in torrents until after midnight , and when morning dawned, Black River had risen twenty-five feet and was flooding the country in all directions. As a result, every mill on that stream was swept off, causing great damage, which require months to repair. But as day advanced, the sun came out, the waters receded, the river retired within its banks, and within twenty-four hours after the rains had ceased, the debris of mills, logs which had been left in the woods, and other evidences of loss, were all that remained to remind one of the recent war of the elements.
    About this time occurred the first murder in the county, which happened under the following circumstances: A man named Bill Flynn, a logger on Black River, became involved in a row with one of the Chippewa Indians during a drunken bout, and the altercation resulted in a hand to hand encounter, during which the latter received injuries which were speedily followed by death. Thereupon Flynn fled, and the Indians to which his victim belonged sought his where abouts without avail. He escaped the penalty of his crime, but never returned to the vicinity of its commission.
    In 1848, settlers came in more numerously than during previous years, but without sufficient frequency of arrivals to materially augment the number, or accelerate the clearing of the lands, or enrichment of their owners. The new comers included J.W.Sturtevant, a Mr. Van Dusen, Mr. Waterman; Leander Merrill, Benjamin Merrill, John Morrison, probably Moses Clark, John Lane, Robert Ross, Elijah Eaton, Albert Lambert, and doubtless a very few others, whose names do not occur to the informants of these facts. The Merrills built a mill one mile below Myrick & Miller's old site, Lane another in the same vicinity, and Morrison near that of Lane's. Van Dusen & Waterman began milling eighteen miles above Neillsville, in what is now known as Eatontown, as also did Albert Lambert. Somewhat later, Elijah Eaton purchased the mill of Van Dusen & Waterman, and carried on the business for many years.
    The year 1849 was neither characterized by large accessions to the population nor important events calculated to mould or concern the future of the county. Benjamin F. French, Allen Bidwell, James French and John French came in this year to stay, and in March Isabella Jane O'Neill, a daughter to James and Jane O'Neill, was born, the first birth in the county. The event took place in a house on the site of which stands the residence of Nelson Covill, to whom the most important arrival of 1849 was married in after years.
    The California fever, it was thought, was the cause of this absence of settlement, though stragglers, shingle makers, loggers, etc., came in, but remained only a short time before seeking other scenes and engagements.

"Settlement Continued on Page 2

Transcribed and Contributed to this site by Judy Groh


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.


This page was last updated on -- Friday, 01-Apr-2011 21:28:09 EDT

Back to the Top

 

Home  |  Biographies  |  Cemeteries  |  Census  |  Churches  |  Civil  |  History  |  Land  |  Lookup  |  Military  |  Newspapers  |  Obituaries   |  Photo Albums   |  Surnames  |  USGenWeb  |  Vital  |