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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Northern Wisconsin, 1881":

Settlement of Trempealeau County

-As transcribed from pages 1033 - 1035


The first settlement of the present county of Trempealeau is to some extent shrouded in doubt. That traders visited this section at a period anterior to that upon which the first settlement alleged to have been perfected was undertaken, no one can dispute. But that any came in to locate permanently and devote their energies to the building up of the county is still an open question.

Tradition relates that as early as 1836 an adventurous but educated gentleman came hither on a prospecting tour, and so well pleased was he with the appearance of the country and its surroundings that he determined to locate and did locate on Trempealeau Lake. This, however, is not confirmed by evidence that can be termed irresistible. Two years later, it is claimed, Jean Baptiste Bouville located near the present village of Trempealeau. If these statements are founded upon fact, Gavin and Bouville preceded by two years what is universally received as the first settlement made in the county.

In 1840, according to the best evidence of which the claim is susceptible, James Reed landed from his pirogue, in which he had floated down the Mississippi, and having made fast the majestic boat, began an exploration of the region immediately contiguous to the subsequent village of Trempealeau.

He was a Kentuckian, it is said, and prompted at an early age by that spirit of adventure inherited time out of mind by the natives of that historic commonwealth, fretted under the restraints imposed in the older settled regions, and fled to the wilderness of the West. After a continued residence among the Indians, trading and trapping, the desire to locate, to settle down as it were, seemed to have possessed him utterly, and while moved by these admonitions he floated down the Father of Waters in quest of a locality where he would be able to realize his modest ambition. Under such circumstances, as the story goes, Mr. Reed, in the full flush of health and strength, though past the meridian of life, a man of indomitable will, wonderful nerve, and of a quality of courage indigenous, it would seem, to those who excelled in the early history of the West, found himself opposite the present village in the spring of 1840.

A canvass of the surroundings confirmed his inclination to remain, and accordingly he set his stakes and prepared to build a house, which was in time completed. It stood on the present site of Krebs' hardware store, and after service as the residence of its builder, and subsequently as the Washington Hotel, was taken down and its timbers applied to other uses. Mr. Reed, in his old age, removed to his farm further east from the river, where he died, having survived to witness the success which followed his efforts, and to see the wilderness blossom as the rose. There were no other arrivals during 1840, so far as can be ascertained. Indeed, during the decade beginning with that year, the arrivals were less numerous than can now be witnessed in a single month. Those who came confined their observations to the site of the future village of Trempealeau, and if one can, the efforts they made toward the development of the country by the reports which have been handed down in that behalf, there was little accomplished.

The fact of the matter is, that about this time La Crosse was coming to the front, and no one was permitted to leave there who would listen to the persuasive eloquence of J. M. Levy or Scoots Miller. Some few of them slipped through, however, in spite of the periods of these silvery-tongued orators, but a majority went to Black River and began to court fortune in the lumber and logging camps. As a result, during the period above indicated, i. e., from 1850 until 1851, the arrivals embraced A. Chevevert, Paul Grignon, William Bunnell and Charles Perkins-a solitary quartette-who located at Trempealeau Village and began the struggle for life in that then frontier town. It might here be observed that this struggle for life meant not only to provide means for the procurement of meat and drink, but also to stop the attacks of rattlesnakes of which there were an unaccountable number hidden in the weeds through which paths leading from the bluffs to the river were beaten -waiting for victims.

From 1848 until 1851, the population of the county was not visibly increased. Occasionally a solitary trapper ran the gamut of its limits, and it is barely possible that some came in and entered, or rather possessed themselves of, lands in northern or western Trempealeau. But the record of permanent settlements during this interim is deficient. Indeed the settlement of any portion of the county was comparatively slow, and it was not until 1870 that the last township in the county was defined by metes and bounds.

In the latter year, the initial movement which culminated in the building-up of the county was begun with the arrival of B. F. Heuston, who settled in the present village of Trempealeau, and with Ira S. Hammond erected the first frame warehouse, it is believed, built in the county. It still stands on Front street opposite the river bank, though in a dilapidated condition, a ruined wreck, if such term can be to it applied, of days that were pregnant with promise as compared with days that since have come of the future and departed into the past. That winter, others came in, and among them was Mrs. A. A. Angell, the first white woman to become part of the population of the county.

Throughout the summer, the accessions to the number of inhabitants were far from numerous, and all who came settled at Trempealeau and in the vicinity. In the fall, James Reed, who was a Justice of the Peace, married Paul Grignon, his step-son, to Madeline, his own daughter. This was the first marriage in the county it is believed, as no one can be found who is familiar with another ceremony of a similar character either personally or by report.

The following spring some arrivals were noted, though they were few and far between, and, settling about Trempealeau, their names and the date of their arrivals will be found in the history of that village. In the summer of 1852, the monotony of the season was varied by the celebration of the national anniversary of American Independence, which took place at Trempealeau in the garret of Heuston & Hammond's warehouse, which was attended by the citizens of the county, who as already stated, resided almost exclusively in the village. The ceremonies were of a character appropriate to the occasion, unattended by those dissipations which in subsequent years became prominent features of the day. This year the village of Trempealeau was formally laid out into lots in the belief that purchasers would arrive during the years immediately ensuing, and command ready sale at prices that should compensate those who had been instrumental in procuring the survey. This year two came, Miss Catharine Davidson, the second young lady to visit the county, a young lady by the name of Mary Huff having preceded her a few weeks; also the Rev. Mr. Watts, the first minister of the Gospel. He was assigned to this district by the Methodist Conference of Wisconsin, but if reports concerning his labors are to be taken as evidence of his value, Mr. Watts was neither as persuasive as his illustrious namesake, nor as successful a disciple of Wesley as that distinguished divine could have wished. He is said to have scarcely undertaken the work set before him, though the harvest was ready, but employed his time in visiting portions of his circuit where the hardships were comparatively light, and the needs of spiritual service comparatively limited.

In the fall of 1852 a son was born to Isaac Noyes and wife, in the second story of Heuston & Hammond's warehouse on Front street. The event is worthy of notice, inasmuch as the claim is made that the first birth in the county was Gilbert 0. McGiloray, a son of Alexander McGiloray. The subject was referred to at a meeting of old settlers convened a year or more since, and the verdict was rendered that the claim of Mr. McGilvroy, Jr., to this distinguished honor was well founded. Further investigation, however, made by Mr. Heuston, serves to dissipate this conclusion and award the prize to the son of Mr. Noyes, born as above stated in the fall of 1852.

In support of this conclusion the following statement of births in the first years of the county has been prepared by Mr. Heuston, and is submitted:

A son to Isaac Noyes and wife, born in the fall of 1852, and now deceased.

A son to Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, also of Trempealeau, born in the spring of 1853, also deceased.

A girl to Mr. and Mrs. Alva Wood in the fall of 1853, about which time Gilbert P. McGilvroy was born, as also during the same fall were born Ella Heuston and a child to Mr. Culhety, both residing near Galesville, and Lizzie, a daughter to Jacob Holmes, of Trempealeau. The latter resides in California. Miss Heuston is deceased, and the others, it is believed, "still live."

From this it will be seen that the claim made for McGilvroy is not entirely predicated upon premises altogether correct. The winter of 1852-53 was passed without the happening of any event worthy of mention as affecting ultimate results, or of speculation as to what might have been had the case been different. The population of the entire county was less than three-quarters of a hundred with the dawn of New Year's Day, 1853, and throughout that year the situation as it existed on New Year's Day was not materially changed. In February, B. F. Heuston and Catharine Davidson were married; the first ceremony of the kind to take place among the white residents of the county. In the fall of the same year they removed to a cabin near the present village of Galesville, and were among the first, if not the first to settle permanently in the town afterward laid out and known as the town of Gale. This year also Judge Gale laid off the village of Galesville.

In this connection it may be stated that the first ball ever known to have been given in the county occurred in the winter of 1853. Dr. Young, who was interested in procuring the location of the county seat at Galesville, was abroad on the prairie between the latter point and Trempealeau, obtaining signatures to a petition for that purpose. The night was intensely disagreeable, and the cold blasts, laden with particles of sleet, beat fiercely in his face. Blinded and bewildered by the fury of the storm, the Doctor lost his reckoning and for a brief period wandered aimlessly about the prairie. At this juncture his sense of hearing was greeted by notes of music borne on the wintry winds, which proceeded from the direction of Trempealeau. He turned him about at once, and upon tracing them to their source ascertained that they came from a "fiddle" execrably manipulated by a settler who with bow in hand was keeping time to the steps of dancers in a log cabin on the old road to Trempealeau. The name of the host cannot be recalled, but the company assembled embraced the major portion of the population of the county, whites and halfbreeds, who danced until daylight, and the doctor, for the time being forgetting his business in hand, became one of the merry-makers.

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