Histories: Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:
"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":
-As transcribed from pages 164 - 166
I left the State of New York in the spring of 1851 for the West, traveling by rail, by stage, and on foot, and by steamboat, arriving at Montoville, now Trempealeau, Wisconsin, on May 6, 1851. At this place I found James Reed. He lived in a log cabin. His business was buying furs from the Indians for the Prairie du Chien Fur Company. While here for a short time I went out each day in different directions exploring the country, going on one trip north to the Trempealeau River near where the village of Blair now stands, finding the country everywhere swarming with wild deer and game of all kinds, and many large or small camps of Indians. The soil appeared to be of good quality, - some prairie, some burr oak openings, some rolling, and high bluffs and deep valleys, with plenty of good pure water, springs, creeks and rivers. After being out several days I returned to Mr. Reed's and then procured an axe of Mr. Reed and went northeast into the burr oak openings, and I selected a claim of 160 acres of land and cut logs and rolled up the body of a cabin, and marked out my claim, cutting name and date on the logs of the cabin, then returned to Mr. Reed's, after having made the first claim known to me in Trempealeau County. I then took the boat up the Mississippi River to look for work, arriving at the mouth of Chippewa River and going up that river to the falls I obtained work for one year at good wages. During the year I wrote many letters to my father and friends in the East, describing the country about Montoville and urging them to come and settle there, and at the end of the year, the last of May, 1852, I returned to Montoville to look after my claim, and finding there a most wonderful change, new buildings along the river, and here and there out on the prairie. Mr. Reed was still there in business. I went out to see my claim and found one, William cram, had bought the land on the south and adjoining my claim, and was building a log house. I then did a little work on my claim, and then to keep my promise to work for the company another year I went back to Chippewa Falls, where I worked one year and seven months. Then in January, 1854, I returned to Montoville, then finding that a more wonderful change had taken place. Hotels, stores, shops and other business places, churches, school houses and farms scattered here and there in all directions, and going out to my claim I found that my father, with all of his family, had bought out William Cram, the place adjoining my claim, and that a man had jumped my claim and had made some improvements, for which he would not give up except upon the payment of fifty dollars, which I paid and took possession. Later I sold it to Charles Pickering.
In the spring of 1854 Alexander McGilvray settled on Black River and ran a ferry boat across the river, instead of fording as before. The place then became known as McGilvray's Ferry. In the summer I bought property there and built a store, blacksmith shop, and also opened a farm, and early in 1855 our settlers found the need for a school and rented the front room of my house for one year and employed Cecelia Segar to teach the first school at McGilvray's Ferry. A new school house was built for the second term, and Fanny A. Olds was employed as teacher, and here in this school house at the first term was organized the first debating school in the county. Our people all became so deeply interested that they came from far and near and took part in the debates, and established a weekly newspaper called the "Singinezia," to be edited by the members and read at each meeting. These schools were kept up for a number of years, discussing many great and important questions to the lasting benefit of all that took part in them. Mr. McGilvray, the grand old Scotchman, being the first settler here, named the place Caledonia, after his native place in Scotland. Soon after Trempealeau County was organized and the county seat was established at Galesville, a beautiful young town on the banks of Beaver creek. Our early settlers were a very intelligent, industrious and progressive people. Thus school houses, churches, villages, hotels, stores, grist mills, saw mills, and all kinds of public improvements was the order of the day from the beginning of our early settlement. Always manifesting the highest degree of intelligent progression, thus changing a land that was once the home of the Indian and wild beasts of the forest to a land that now stands upon the highest pinnacle of American civilization. Thus we mention but a small part of the events of our pioneer days from 1851 to 1861.
From 1861 to the spring of 1864 I kept my place at McGilvray's Ferry, and in the month of May, 1864, Benjamin Oliver and I went north to look for land to homestead. We found a few settlers in Trempealeau valley near the mouth of Pigeon Creek. The settlement was called Whitehall. From there we went up Pigeon Creek about six miles. There we found Hely Fitch, his mother and sister, who told us that they had settled there the year before, and that Mr. Fitch froze to death in the winter of the deep snow; that the old man had to go up into the cooley about three miles to cut and stack hay to winter his oxen on, and that the snow got so deep that he could not driver the oxen there after hay, and to keep them alive he would go on his snowshoes everyday and bring a bundle of hay on his back. The weather turned very cold and he went for a bundle and came back about half way and feel with his hay, where they found him next day froze solid. Though the snow being so deep they could not walk through it and had to shovel and break a path to get to him, but they got him home late that night. Thus that cooley was named Fitch's Cooley. After hearing their heartrending story, we went on up the creek about four miles into a cooley southeast of Pigeon Falls, where Mr. Oliver selected his homestead. We then went north over the bluffs about one mile. There I selected my homestead. This Fitch family were the only settlers up in Pigeon valley in Trempealeau County. Mr. Oliver and myself moved onto our land in August, 1864, and George H. Olds and James Phillips moved in one month later. Then in the spring Wm. Olds and L. B. Man and H. Smith, P. Peterson, L. Larson, Phineas Wright, C. H. Hines, Andrew Peterson and Mr. Richardson, and some others, moved in during the summer of 1865.
In the fall of 1864 and early winter 1865, Mr. Oliver, Mr. Phillip, G. H. Olds and myself bought and hauled lumber from Merrilan and built a school house, and employed Mary Nott to teach the first term of school in Pigeon Valley, beginning with twelve scholars, but having some more at the close of the term. The second term was taught by Jane A. Olds, and the third by Marilda Lyons. In these early days our people organized debating schools, where some of the most profound questions affecting the weal and woe of our people were discussed, and to this day we can see and realize the benefits from the food for thought that was brought out in those old debating schools, and I am happy to know that some of those lights that shone so brightly in those early days have not all gone out yet in 1912, and I hope that other and brighter lights will continue to shine until the end of time.
Among the many early settlers of Pigeon Valley was one, Mr. Fuller, who settled in a cooley northwest of Pigeon Falls about one mile, where he had built a small farm house, and during a heavy thunder storm had laid down with his wife upon a bed that stood with its head near a south window. Mr. Fuller lay on the bed, his head in line with the window, his wife lying back of him, when a bolt of lightning passed through the window, striking him on top of the head and passing the length of his body and from his feet to the floor and out through the side of the house and to the ground, thus killing him instantly, while his wife was unharmed except a slight shock. Thus this cooley was called Fuller's Cooley. A year or two after his body was taken up from his farm and was found to be petrified, and required five or six persons to take it out of the grave.
(J. D. Olds in letters to Hon. H. A. Anderson, Feb. 14 to Feb. 17, 1912)
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