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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"100 Year Historical Album of Independence, Wisconsin, 1976":

Donated by Bill Russell

Independence - Agriculture is Backbone...       

Agriculture in Trempealeau County has its origin near the Mississippi River when the Squaws of Decorah's Band and later the Wabash's Band planted small cornfields.

White man's agriculture in the county began in 1836 when a Swiss Missionary, the Reverend Daniel Gavin and his helper Louis Stram, broke some ground east of Mountain Lake, three miles northwest of present Trempealeau.  The object was to teach farming to the Indians but the project was short lived because chief Wabasha took a dim view of it.

John Doville arrived in 1838 and started a garden on the abandoned Gavin and Stram tract, and also cleared and tilled a tract in the upper part of present Village of Trempealeau.

When the pioneers arrived in the Independence area in the 1850s and 1860s they found the virgin land covered with heavy brush but not much timber.  From time to time the Indians scorched the earth with fire to promote berry crops hence trees had little chance to reach maturity, however some timber grew along water courses.

Farm implements and tools of the pioneers were few and crude.  They used a heavy plow to break the soil and a V drag or even heavy tree branches to break up the clods.  Grain was sowed by hand or "fiddle".  A sythe and "craddle" or hand sickle, were used for cutting the mature grain.  Threshing was done with a flail.  As there was no mechanical source of power the oxen and later horses were the beasts of burden and power.  Soon, however, improved equipment was coming on the market such as the reaper, the binder, the disc, the steam powered threshing machine.  Today combines and multi-bottomed plows are common.

The main crop, as soon as land was broken, was wheat.  The decade of the 1860s saw a tremendous increase in wheat production in Wisconsin.  By 1870 the counties of Trempealeau, Buffalo and St. Croix became the important wheat producers.  Until the arrival of the railroads the Village of Trempealeau was the wheat market of Western Wisconsin.  Caravans of ox teams wended their way from as far north as Chippewa County.  This was the heyday of Trempealeau with its long street along the river front congested with ox teams awaiting a chance to unload at the warehouse which lined the levy from which wheat poured into the holds of steamboats.

Farmers received gold for their wheat and because of frequent holdups they traveled in caravans when returning home.

Several small cheese factories were started in Trempealeau County in the 1860s but the output was of small importance.  The production of milk was not regarded with high favor.  Wheat was the big crop and while each farmer had a few cows for the purpose of providing milk and meat for family use, stock raising was looked upon merely as a sideline and dairying was of not much more importance than kitchen gardening.

Wheat was the staple and on this farmers depended for their living.  But with the passing of years land fertility declined and heavy crops of wheat were at an end.  The cinch bugs also came to work their havoc.  An almost total failure of the wheat crop came in 1878.  For three days, when the wheat crop was in the milk stage, there were alternating periods of rainstorm and of intensive heat, which resulted in baking the kernel and stopping further growth.  At harvest only about three pounds per acre was realized and great distress followed.  This failure was almost coincident with the rush to the Dakotas which affected all the northwestern states; many farmers left the county.  It was at this juncture that people turned their attention to dairying.

The most recent official reports show that in 1974 Trempealeau County produced 10,800 bushels of wheat on 400 acres, an average of 27 bushels per acre.  When wheat was king it was said that the yield per acre was 40 to 50 bushels.  Burnside Township had 22 acres in wheat.


Dairying got its first real start in the mid 1880s with establishment of creameries and with them came the first icehouses on the farms.  Prior to that time butter was a drug on the markets and during the summer months a headache for the merchants.  The farmers had few facilities for caring for dairy products and there were few outstanding buttermakers.  They received a top price of 15 cents per pound the year round.

A few years after the decline of wheat, creameries were established in Trempealeau County at Arcadia, Galesville, Ettrick, Dodge, Elk Creek, Whitehall, Blair and other places.

The Independence Creamery began in 1890 and operated under private and cooperative arrangement until 1969 when it became a milk collecting plant.  Currently the Elk Creek Cheese Company uses the plant for cheese packaging operation.

The 1975 Wisconsin Statistical Reporting Service and other reports shows that Trempealeau County had 2130 farms and 427,000 acres in farms; 105,500 cattle and calves.

The 1974 Trempealeau County assessors report shows the Burnside Township had 2602 acres in farmland; Chimney Rock Township had 1502 in farmland and Lincoln Township had 1572 acres in farm land.


The following narrative is based on an article which appeared in the June 30, 1958 issue of the Independence News Wave.

Barbara Brown of Independence was crowned the eighth "Alice in Dairyland" at Wausau, Wisconsin.  She was selected by five judges over 15 other finalists.  She will be an employee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and as "Alice" will have the duty to promote the Wisconsin dairy products.  She will make frequent appearances before civic groups and other gatherings.  Her tenure is for 1 year.

The Independence people turned out in great numbers to give Barbara a rousing welcome home.

Barbara graduated from Cornell High School and has completed one year at Stout Institute, Menomonie where she was majoring in home economics education.  Her father is superintendent of Independence Public Schools.

Independence News-Wave, January 31, 1884

Market Report
  • Spring Wheat No. 1,$.80
  • Spring Wheat No. 2, .75
  • Spring Wheat No. 3, .70
  • Buckwheat, .78
  • Barley, .50
  • Oats, .26
  • Rye, .45
  • Corn, .40
  • Potatoes, .22
  • Butter per pound, .18
  • Eggs per dozen, .20
  • Lard, .15


The pioneers in Trempealeau County found much of the land to be covered with a heavy growth of brush and some timber.  Very little of soil erosion was apparent.  But as more and more acreage was converted to croplands the problem of erosion became apparent, particularly in hilly areas.  Here and there individual farmers tried to cope with the difficult matter.

In 1910, William Raichle, Town of Hale farmer, built a rock masonry flume or spillway at the head of a gully which was just beginning to advance up a ravine, the latter extending through the center of his farm.  This flume, built entirely by his own efforts, still protects his field from gullying.

In 1927, O. R. Zeasman, Extension Soil Conservationist of University of Wisconsin, conducted a number of meetings in Trempealeau County.  In 1929 Zeasman assisted in the construction of soil saving dams on the Rasmussen structure was a twin drop inlet, with an earthen dam and two risers of 2-foot sewer pipe.  Due to partial failure, the structure was rebuilt in 1934 and 1935 with reinforced concrete by the CCC Camp at Independence.  The structure at the county farm developed trouble in 1935 and was repaired by Camp Independence.


With the advent of the CCC Camps, soil conservation began to make rapid progress in Trempealeau County.  These camps furnished much in labor, technical assistant, and materials necessary to build the comparatively new types of erosion control structures.

The first camp was established at Independence in 1933.  Immediately the following camps were established at Gilmanton, Buffalo County, and North Bend in Jackson County.  Crews from these camps did work in Trempealeau County.

The efforts of the camps in 1933-34 were directed principally to the building of erosion control dams, in terracing a few eroded fields, and to the planting of trees.

During the first two years of the CCC, the erosion Control Camps were administered by the Wisconsin College of Agriculture.  In 1935 the administration was transferred to Soil Conservation Service, USDA.  Under this latter administration, complete soil conservation plans were prepared for each cooperating farm.  The plans featured the proper use of each acre of land on the farm as determined by a soil survey and needs of the farm.

In June, 1935, a new camp was located near Dodge.  It was closed in September 1937, and Camp Independence closed in January 1939.  The Ettrick camp closed in 1942.


In September, 1935, the Chimney Rock Erosion Control Project was set up with headquarters at Independence.  It consisted of watersheds of the Chimney Rock and Borst Valley Creeks, both tributaries of Elk Creek which flows through Independence into the Trempealeau River.  The primary function of the project was the demonstration of practical erosion control and soil conservation methods under actual farming conditions.  The Soil Conservation Service furnished a considerable quantity of materials, labor, and equipment to cooperators.

It is interesting to note that brome grass was first introduced into the project area by the Soil Conservation Service.  Hybrid corn was first grown in the project as a result of demonstration set up by the Conservation Service in cooperation with the College of Agriculture.  By the end of 1938, 84 cooperating farms established 1965 acres of contour cultivation and 1437 acres of strip cropping, fertilized 467 acres, limed 2421 acres and renovated 479 acres of pasture.  Labor furnished by the project built 756 feet of diversion, constructed 36 miles of fence, planted 368,000 trees and shrubs, protected 4050 feet of streambank, constructed 9 permanent and 694 temporary structures and improved 30 acres of woodlot.  Hundreds of tests and observations were made on all phases of soil conservation.


Trempealeau County has the distinction of bing the first county to take advantage of the 1937 state law enabling farmers and land owners to form soil conservation districts for the purpose of controlling erosion.  In 1939 the legislature amended the law so as to provide for the setting up of county wide districts rather than several small districts.

In May, 1940, the Trempealeau County soil conservation district was established and in July of the year the district office was set up in Whitehall where it has remained ever since.  The county agriculture committee administers the work of the district.

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