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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

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

Donated by Bill Russell

Independence - Frontier Life...       


The Indians of Western Wisconsin had been compelled by 1837, to give up their lands, however, they were reluctant to leave their ancestral lands which sustained them and where their dead were buried.  The settlers of the Town of Burnside encountered them for many years after 1837.  From all accounts various tribes had lived in and around the Independence area but historically the Winnebago was the principle tribe.  Apparently the relationship between the Indians and the settlers was for the most part cordial.  The Indians sometimes came to the homes of the settlers to beg or to trade for food.

In 1862 the Sioux Indian uprising in Minnesota frightened many white settlers.  Rumors were spreading fast that a horde of Indians was on a war path and might appear at any time.  George Hale, in the employ of Markham, drove to Fountain City and obtained a keg of powder and lead for defense purposes.  The Watson family fled from its home in the town of Hale and took refuge with the Markhams in the Town of Burnside.  The Indians never came, and the rumors appeared to be groundless.

Sometime before the Minnesota Indian disturbance the local Indians borrowed a rifle from Giles Cripps of the Town of Burnside promising to return it a little later.  Cripps was sure that he had lost the gun and was greatly surprised some weeks later when the Indians returned the rifle in good condition.  To his inquiry as to what they had been doing they replied that they had done some hunting with the gun.  Cripps felt sure that the gun had been used in the Mankato, Minnesota Indian fighting.

There was one local incident which could have developed into a serious conflict.  Jim Hunter who in 1870 settled in the Town of Burnside with his father, brothers, and four sisters related the story of an Indian scare.  One summer in early 1870 Little Beaver, with a large number of his Winnebago Indians camped near the mouth of Elk Creek (on the east side of present Independence).  They caused little trouble aside from their habit of begging and carrousing among themselves.  One day a well known character of those days came to Jim Hunter's home with a companion, but under the influence of liquor, and exhibited a badly cut head claiming that the Indians had attacked and tried to scalp him.

With the 1862 Minnesota uprising still fresh in their minds the first thought was to attack the Indian camp without warning and exterminate all.  But wiser advice prevailed and it was decided to investigate the matter a little further.  Little beaver met the accusation with the request to see the man so savagely attacked.  Further inquiry brought to light the fact that the two men had not seen the Indians but that the wounded mans cuts were suffered when he fell into a grain cradle. 

Editorial Comment:

Jim Hunter, the narrator of the Indian incident was born in Scotland in 1852 and with parents came to America and settled in the eastern coal mine regions of the United States.  At the age of ten he was taken out of school and sent to work in the mines.  In early 1870s the family moved west.  All personal belongings were burned on steamer "War Eagle", in the La Crosse Harbor.  The family settled in the Town of Burnside, Trempealeau County.  Jim Hunter served on the county board for many years.  His home was in Independence at the time of death in 1930.  He was then 78 years.

Long after they were to have departed for the west many Indians remained in the Independence area and sometimes camped on the banks of the Trempealeau River and the flat lands south of the village.  Some camped in the area of the little hamlet of Elk Creek.  They trapped, fished, and hunted and traded with the settlers.

The pioneers found many Indian artifacts when tilling the fields.

An incident in the Elk Creek area involved some Indians and two year old Anna, daughter of Frank Sluga.

On returning from a berry picking outing, the Indians picked up Anna, whom they found in the roadway some distance from her farm home.  When her absence was noted, the father pursued the Indians on horseback and retrieved the child without incident.  It was a common belief among many people that Indians held Anna for a whiskey ransom.  However, Edward Sluga, brother of Anna, has declared that there was no bargaining of that nature.


George H. Markham was among the first permanent settlers in Township of Burnside, Trempealeau County, Wisconsin.  He was active, for many years in civic and community affairs.

He was born in Yorkshire, England, on January 24, 1837 and passed away in Independence on May 6, 1920.

He was the son of Captain John Markham and Marianne Wood Markham.  The Captain was born in 1797 and at 13 entered the British Navy.  As a young cadet he served on a ship which gourded the great Napolean I who had been banished, after defeat at Waterloo, to St. Helena Island in the South Atlantic.  The Captain returned from the Navy in 1835 because of failing health.

George spent his boyhood, on the Island of Guernsey in the English Channel, with his parents and three brothers - John who entered the Army and later the British consular service, Albert who entered the British Navy at 14 and eventually reached the rank of admiral, and Arthur.

George left England in August 1856, in company of his parents, brother Arthur, Walter Maule and Mr. Lynn, the Markham boys' tutor.  Mr. Davis a family friend, had gone ahead to locate suitable farm land and found it in the Trempealeau Valley, Wisconsin, across from where Midway Club now stands on Highway 121.

The family landed in New York and proceeded west by train, boat and stage coach to Columbus, Wisconsin, where a message from Mr. Davis awaited them.  George and Mr. Lynn left immediately and met Mr. Davis on Yorktown.  When word came that 300 acres of government land was  purchased on the Trempealeau River (adjacent to the north and east sides of present Independence) the rest of the group made ready to follow.  Because of various mishaps, including theft of much of the goods, the journey did not begin until November 23.  By the time they reached Black River Falls, winter was well on the way and roads, poor at best became impassable.  Therefore, the winter was spent in Black River Falls.

In the meantime George, Lynn and Davis had erected a crude dwelling and a shed for their oxen, at the homestead.  Suitable timber was hard to find.  Then came the winter of "big snows" (1856-57) and bitter cold.  The oxen died and the men almost starved to death.  Mr. Lynn walked to Galesville for provisions and George made two trips to Black River Falls and brought back food on hand sleds.  Sometime during the winter Arthur Markham and Walter Maule walked to the new Markham settlement to lend a hand with whatever was needed to be done.  Mr. Davis was laid up with a badly frost bitten foot.

In the spring of 1857 Captain Markham and wife finally reached their new home.  As a family the Markhams were said to be the first permanent settlers in Burnside Township.

Because of poor health the Captain was unable to do much, however, George and Arthur, with help of Walter Maule and others, began to develop the farm which eventually covered 720 acres.

In the early 1860s the Markhams erected "Ronceval" the (8 sided) house which became popularly known as the Markham Castle.  It was built on a slope and from it the Markhams had a magnificent view of the valley to the east and south.  Butternut and other nut bearing trees were planted around the house and in the rear a large orchard was started.

The Markhams raised horses and cattle and harvested much grain and vegetables.  Like other settlers they felt the lack of nearby markets.

On October 8, 1862 George married Fannie Bishop, daughter of Dr. Edmund Bishop of Portage, Wisconsin.  Their only son George A. was born May 7, 1865.

George H. was the first Town of Burnside clerk and also town treasurer for several years prior to incorporation of the Village of Independence in 1885 and continued in that office until 1907 when he resigned.  In 1879 he represented Trempealeau County in the State Assembly.

When the Polish people came into the community George H. and brother Arthur donated 5 acres of land, in 1873, to the S. S. Peter and Paul congregation for church purposes.

The Markham farm was split, George retaining the portion with the castle.  Arthur erected a large home on his tract, at 215 Whitehall Road (Highway 121).  Lavern Hertzfeldt is current occupant.

The original Markham land holdings have been broken up into smaller tracts and sold.  "Ronceval" was razed in the 1930s.

George retired from the farm in 1912 and with his wife moved into their new home at Independence where he died.  He is buried in the family plot in Greenwood Cemetery.


Giles Cripps was head of the second family that settled in Burnside Township, Trempealeau County, preceded only by the John Markham household.  He was born in England on November 5, 1833, and was but three years old when he was brought to New York state by his parents.  In 1843 the family moved to Waukesha County, Wisconsin, where they raised sheep.  The next move was to Dane County, Wisconsin, where the family bought a 200 acre farm.  There on June 9, 1853 Giles married Harriet Wood.  There they continued farming for four years.

In 1857 the Giles Cripps family came to Trempealeau County and selected a homestead on what is now Highway 93, about three miles north of present Independence, making them the first settlers in Elk Creek Valley.  Their first house was built of logs occupying the approximate site of the present vacant frame building.  The farm is currently owned by Andrew Dejno.

Town of Burnside was established in 1863 and the first township meeting was held in the Giles Cripps log house.

The Cripps School, one of the very first in the township, was built on land donated by Giles Cripps.  Farming was his primary interest but he was also interested, with Noah Comstock of Arcadia, in the grain elevator and farm implement business in Independence.  He served as township chairman and early justice of the peace.  His home was also the post office for the area.  Mr. Cripps died on March 21, 1885.

Giles and Harriet Wood Cripps were the parents of five children:  Charles, Emma, Frederick, E. Adelbert, and Giles Eugene (Gene).

Charles was born in Dane County and married Hanna Ducher.

Emma was born in Dane County in 1855.  She married William Nicols in 1874.  He died in 1916.  They were parents of eight children.  Emma died in 1930.

Frederick was born on November 23, 1858.  He was the first white child born in Burnside township.  He married Lillian Dales of Galesville on February 25, 1883 and settled on a farm in Section 11, Burnside Township.  He sold the farm in 1891 and moved to a 240 acre farm in Section 1 of the same township.  Two children were born to Frederick and Lillian.  Arthur was born on June 19, 1888 and Josephine was born on July 24, 1890.  She became the wife of Paul Van Horn, a merchant at Elk Creek, Township of Hale.

E. Adelbert, the fourth child, was born in Burnside Township.  He married Alice Sickles.  They became the parents of four children:  Oakley, Charles, Eva and Clarence.  E. Adelbert and family moved to the State of Oregon.

Giles Eugene (Gene) the fifth child was born on October 19, 1861 in Burnside Township.  On December 30, 1883 he married Eliza, daughter of John and Margaret Wunderlich Zimmer.  The young couple settled on a large farm in Burnside Township on Highway 93, three miles north of Independence.  They became the parents of three children.  The first child died in infancy.  Ralph, the second child was born November 6, 1890.  In 1916 he married Jennie, daughter of Samuel and Martha Arnold Cooke of Independence.  Mildred the third child was born September 12, 1894.  She has been the librarian in the Independence library since 1935.


John Sprecher, one of the two founders of the Sprecher and Senty private bank in 1897, which in a few years became the State Bank of Independence, was born in Troy, Sauk County, Wisconsin, in 1850.  He was of Swiss parentage, the oldest of five children of John A. and Martha (Schiers) Sprecher.  He was born on a farm and had a country school education and in 1874 got a diploma from Naperville Business College.  He got a job with Kendrick and Muir in Arcadia where he loaded wheat and assembled machinery.  In 1876 he opened a branch office in Independence for the company.

In 1878 he acquired the Independence interests of Kendrick and Muir.

In 1894, William Steiner was made a partner, and later, he bought Sprecher's interest in the implement business.  Sprecher stayed in the grain business.

With Henry Schaefer, Mr. Sprecher engaged in the lumber business under the name of Sprecher and Schaefer.  In 1910, the name was changed to Sprecher Lumber Company.

Mr. Sprecher was married February 5, 1876, to Caroline, daughter of Christian and Elizabeth Schaefer.  To them were born five children:  Lizzie, John, George, Walter and Carrie.  Lizzie and George died at 2 and 6 years of age.  Mr. Sprecher died May 31, 1924.  He was buried at Blackhawk, Wisconsin.

Mr. Sprecher had served as president and alderman of Independence.


Anton Senty, one of the two founders and cashier of the Sprecher and Senty private bank in 1897, which in a few years became the State Bank of Independence, was born in Buffalo County, Wisconsin, October 4, 1865.  He was the son of John George and Margaret (Gasser) Senty.  His father was born in Switzerland and came to the United States in 1845 at the age of 19, settling in Sauk County, Wisconsin, where he taught school in winters and worked on farms when not teaching.  In 1857, he moved to Buffalo County.  He died in Montana Township of that county in 1879 at age 53.  His wife, Margaret, died in 1913 at age of 75.

Anton Senty graduated from Arcadia High School; Gale College, Galesville; Winona Normal School, and La Crosse Business College.  He taught in public school for five winters and then worked as bookkeeper for Listman Milling Company, La Crosse.  Later he worked for Muir Implement Company, Arcadia, and in 1892, came to Independence to work as bookkeeper for John Sprecher.

Besides being a founder of the bank, Mr. Senty held various positions in it:  cashier, vice president and director, which position he held at the time of his death, September 12, 1947.

From 1898 to 1909, he bought hay in the area which he baled and sold to the logging camps.

He was a school board member from 1905 to 1926 and Village President from 1919 to 1920.

Mr. Senty was married January 25, 1900, to Nellie, daughter of Michael and Sena Lockway.  To them were born 4 children:  Lester, Margaret, Dorothy, and Erma Jean.

In 1928, the Northern Investment Company was formed by Lester Senty and Anton Senty.

Lester, son of Anton and Mellie Senty, was born in Independence May 19, 1903, is President of the State Bank of Independence and a director since 1947.  Thus, the name of Senty has been associated with the State Bank since it was founded 79 years ago, a span of years exceeded by no other business name in Independence.

Lester married Emogene Darling, a daughter of Willis and Margaret (Engleman) Darling on April 4, 1931.  To them were born 3 children:  John, James & Marilyn.  John, at present, is a vice president and director of the bank.


E. Scott Hotchkiss, pioneer, business man, farmer, sheriff and former United States consul was born in New York State in March, 1837, and died at Winona General Hospital in November, 1922.

In 1856 Mr. Hotchkiss located in Richland County, Wisconsin and in 1859 joined a colony and set out for Osseo, Wisconsin where he homesteaded the southeast quarter Section 14, Sumner Township.

In 1868 he sold the land and went into the mercantile business in Osseo with W. H. Thomas.  In 1870 he and others built the Sumner Mill in Osseo.  Two years later he and J. L. Linderman erected mills east of Osseo on Beef River.  The mills were destroyed by fire in 1880 but were soon rebuilt.

In 1876 Mr. Hotchkiss was elected sheriff of Trempealeau County.  In 1880 he brought a lumber yard in Independence which later became the Sprecher Lumber Company and is currently the Independence Lumber Company.  He also bought a farm on the north outskirts of the village.

In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Mr. Hotchkiss to serve as consul at Brookville, Ontario, Canada.  He also established a consulate at Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  He declined a similar post in Tasmania, Australia.

Mr. Hotchkiss was married in 1862 to Hariet A. Field, a school teacher.  Two children were born to them, Mrs. Alice Maurer of McLean, Virginia, and Frank of Independence.

Frank Hotchkiss was born at Osseo in 1860.  He came to Independence with his parents E. Scott and Hariet Hotchkiss and settled on a farm near the northside of Independence.  He raised pure bred Percheron and Belgian horses and was also interested in pacing and trotting horses and won many racing prizes with them.

Mr. Hotchkiss took part in many civic and business affairs of the community.  He served on the village board and on the Trempealeau County Board of Supervisors.  He was chairman of the county board from 1914 to 1916.  He was president of the Farmers and Merchants Bank which he helped to organize.  He was also head of the Independence Grain and Stock Company.  He died in October 1941.  He was survived by his wife, Agnes Muir, whom he married in 1893, and three children, Ina, Mrs. L. W. Halverson, Scott and Addison.

Addison was Independence postmaster from 1955 to 1975.  He married Pelchie, daughter of Mike and Victoria Skroch Kampa.  To them were born four children, Ann, Agnes, Frank and Robert.

By Eva John Kuhn

Printed in the Independence News Wave, May 13, 1953.

I ran onto the most delightful story written by S. S. Cooke way back in September, 1866.  The writer was the father of the late S. P. Cooke of Independence, and the grandfather of Mrs. Ralph Cripps.  He was one of the really outstanding pioneers around here.  The story in its entirety was published in the Alma papers in 1906 and reprinted in the News-Wave in 1928.

I'm sorry there isn't space for the entire piece, but here is the essense of it:

Mr. Cooke lived at the head of Elk Creek Valley and according to him, had "the best bear dog, the closest shooting rifle, the biggest tom-cat and the hardest fighting roosters of any many in the country."

When he settled there his nearest neighbor was six miles on one side and 27 on the other.  As he put it, "I got my land broke so late in the season that I raised three tons of grass per acre on it the next year, consequently had to buy and haul most of his provisions for two years from Fountain City, a distance of 30 miles, which was also my post office for one year.  Hauled in six thousand feet of lumber from Durand to build my house, distance of 30 miles, laid in my winter stock of provisions at Fountain City, (there was no Independence then), and got home just as the snow commenced falling.  Took my rifle next day and killed three deer, threw the hindquarters to my dog expecting to have no trouble in supplying myself with the luxury of fat venison steak all winter.  But the snow commenced to fall, piled up four feet on the level and the result for no more venison that winter."

The elk frequently came in sight that first winter, but all efforts to get one failed because Mr. Cooke's horse would mire in the deep snow.  In February, a hand sled, tied some boards to his feet, and started for the hay stack.  On the first slope, the sled ran over him and pushed him deep into the snow.  His children dug him out.  The next day he and his wife, with a shovel and maul, made a road to the stack.  That night a snow storm closed it and they had the whole thing to do over the next day.

In April, Mr. Cooke wrote, he was able to get to Fountain City, and found much to his surprise that whiskey and slavery were victorious and that J. Buchanan was president.

He was a lover for the chase, this Mr. Cooke, and his first ten seasons there he killed 21 bears, a large number of elk, deer, and wolves.  His favorite was elk hunting which he learned to do after the first winter when he needed them desperately for food.

With the first snowfall, he related, plan got underway for elk hunting.  Rifles were cleaned, moccasins, blankets and provisions for men and horses were tied onto the sled along with a plentiful supply of tobacco and pipes.  Then they were off.  When someone spotted a herd of elk a signal was given and the hunters bounded off but the wagon never slowed down.  The idea was that the elk would keep an eye on the moving wagon and team and never even notice the hunters, who by now were taking aim.  At a given word everybody fired, then the herd stampeded and everybody fired to get another while they were in sight.  If an elk is as big as I think it is, it's a mystery to me how they ever got so much meat back on one sled!  Anyway, the kill was dressed down then and the hunters built up a fire, roasted the meat (he particularly commented on the freshly roasted hearts)) and had a bountiful supper, after which the tobacco which he called "Indian leaves" was passed around, and the day was over.

Editorial Note
The farm of S. S. Cooke was located in Dover Township, Buffalo County, Wisconsin.

The S. P. Cooke, in the narrative was Same Cooke who operated a blacksmith shop in Independence from 1879 to 1924.


August A. Mish, 94, the oldest resident of Independence, was born August 6, 1882 in North Creek, Arcadia Township, Wisconsin.  His parents, Michael and Julia Reck Mish came from Upper Silesia, Prussia and settled on the farm where August was born.  Eventually the family took up residence in Independence where August reached adulthood.  He had a keen interest in sports and for several years played on the local baseball team which won the district championship.

Mr. Mish was active in civic and business affairs in the community.  He was city alderman for two terms and city treasurer for 27 years.  He has been a member of the fire department for over 55 years - a record unsurpassed by any other member.

He was in the retail store business for 13 years in partnership with Frank Wise and a cashier for 12 years, up to 1930, in the farmers and merchants bank.  Also, he was an appraiser for the State Bank of Independence.  He devoted time and energies to serve on various civic and business committees.  He was active in church affairs and for many years was treasurer for the SS. Peter and Paul Parish.

August and Anna Klimek were married in 1905.  To them were born four children, Basil, Pelchie (Sr. Reneta), Philip and Helen (Mrs. Jean Lamenzo).  Their adopted son is Lawrence M. Kampa.  Mrs. Mish passed away in 1965.

Mr. Mish enjoys reasonably good health and has keen interest in local and national affairs.  Sr. Reneta, his daughter, a retired school teacher lives at his home.

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