Histories: Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:
"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":
Beaver Creek Valley
-As transcribed from pages 167 - 169
John Hess settled in Beaver Creek Valley in the fall of 1852. "There were very few families in this part of the country at that time," said Mr. Hess. "James Reed was living at Trempealeau or Reed's Landing, as it was called then, and he was the first white man I saw after coming here. The second season we were here I had a good crop of winter wheat, which had to be threshed with a flail. It was difficult to get it clean without a fanning-mill, and so I went down to Prairie du Chien to buy one and had it shipped to Trempealeau by boat. It was the only fanning-mill for miles around and I used to loan it to farmers up at Fountain City and across Black River in La Crosse County.
"Flour was hard to get, and one day when I was debating in my mind where I could get the next sack of flour, for we were out, James Reed came along and told me there was a mill over in Lewis Valley in La Crosse County, and described the trail leading to the valley so that I would have no trouble in following it. The next morning I got up at three o'clock and started over the trail for the mill, my wife accompanying me as far as Heuston's near Galesville. I found my way to Luther Lewis's mill, bought a fifty-pound sack of flour, and walked home with it on my shoulder, having traveled between 25 and 30 miles.
"Pork was a luxury in those days and I remember walking up to North Bend to buy some of it from Thomas Douglass, who operated a sawmill on Black River. When I got there I found Mr. Douglass at work repairing a breakdown in the mill, and when I told him my errand he said he could let me have the pork, and as he was very much in need of help in repairing the mill he suggested that I pay for it in work.
"I worked for him five days for a hundred pounds of pork, and when I was ready to start home I built a raft of kant timbers, and loading my cargo onto it, started down river. I landed at the mouth of Beaver Creek and hid my pork in the woods and set out afoot for home to get an ox to 'pack' the meat with, but, as luck would have it, I came across my oxen feeding in the edge of a wood less than half a mile from where I landed. I drove one of the oxen down to the river and tied the pack of meat on the back with my suspenders and then drove him home.
"I'll tell you how we got our blacksmithing done the first few years after we came to Beaver Creek. We drove with an ox team to Trempealeau and then borrowed a skiff and rowed across the river to Richmond, Minnesota, where there was a blacksmith shop. Sometimes it would take two days to make the trip, for if the smith had work ahead we would have to wait.
"Along in 1856-57 I bought a threshing machine. I went to Racine and bought a horse-power machine of the J. I. Case Company and paid $725 for it, and they shipped it to Chicago and thence to Dubuque, and from there it was shipped by boat to Trempealeau. It was the first threshing machine in this county, and I used to go many miles over might rough roads to do threshing. I went over to Arcadia and threshed for Noah Comstock, James Gaveney and Collins Bishop."
Mrs. Hess also has told in her quaint and pleasing way stories of pioneer experiences. She says: "The first few years we lived here our nearest neighbor was Charles H. Perkins, who lived over in the Tamarack, and as there was no road to their place from our home we used to go back and forth visiting, over a trail that lead across the bluffs. Mother was a great hand to knit and always took her knitting along when she went visiting, and that is how we happened to get our first chickens. You see we hadn't any chickens and had almost forgotten what an egg looked like, but Perkins' folks had a flock of chickens, though they didn't care to sell any. Well, Mother was at their place one day and was just finishing a pair of stockings she was knitting when Mrs. Perkins asked her if she would sell a pair or two of them. Mother said no, she would not sell them, but would trade for some hens and offered to knit two pairs for four hens. The trade was agreed to and when mother completed her knitting contract she took the stockings over to Mrs. Perkins and brought the four hens home across the hills in her apron. To complete the flock father went to Trempealeau and succeeded in buying a rooster from Mr. Reed.
"Hogs were difficult to get, and the first one we were able to procure after we settled in our new home Mr. Hess got of James Reed in exchange for work. He cut nine cords of wood over on the island opposite Trempealeau for a sow, and was well pleased with the bargain.
"There were no churches anywhere near our place at that time, and it was a great treat when a preacher happened to come along and stay over Sunday with us. The neighbors would gather at our log house to hold religious services and after the meeting was over they would stay and visit.
"La Crosse was only a little country village then, with one hotel, a half dozen small stores, a blacksmith shop and a burned-down mill with the brick chimney left standing."
This was pioneering with all of its varied phases. There were hardships but joys as well, and it is hardship that give zest to pleasure. There was a backwoods adventurous spirit in the rough life of that age and the pioneer will tell you that he took real comfort in his cabin home. And so we look back and see the log cabin dreaming in the solitude where the wild roses bloom in profusion, and the ox team and the breaking-plow creep slowly across the clearing, while the sunlight streaming through the valley turns the old grub-piles into heaps of gold.
(By E. D. Pierce.)
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