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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 8:


-As transcribed from pages 72 - 78

Trempealeau - Reed's Town in the forties consisted of about half a dozen log cabins scattered along the river front near James Reed's large log house, and occupied by French families, most of whom had moved into the new settlement from Prairie du Chien. Beside these there were a few French-Canadians, and after 1846 a few American families joined the community.

The fur trade and the Indian trade furnished the principal industries, though some farming was done on a small scale, and the inhabitants kept their stock (cattle, hogs, and horses) on a common range which extended across Trempealeau Prairie and included the Trempealeau Bluffs.

Life in the French settlement was filled with adventures of the back-woods type, and the hunter and trapper matched his skill of woodcraft with the Indian. With an abundance of fish and game and wild berries and plums, and with the vast expanse of wild grass lands for grazing, there was little need of food shortage.

John Doville, who maintained a wood camp on the island opposite Reedstown, had the first farm in Trempealeau. He sowed oats, wheat, flaxseed, potatoes and beans.

Stram broke the first land in the county, but he used the ground for garden purposes only, while Doville extended his agricultural pursuits to grain raising, and has the honor of being the first Trempealeau County farmer. Though Doville worked on the island and had a temporary camp there, at the woodyard, he found it necessary, on account, of high water, to erect a permanent cabin on the main land near the river and not far from the lower end of the present main street. He afterwards built a house on the site, used later for Melchoir's brewery.

In 1842 James Reed found employment in the Government Indian service at Winona, where he was engaged as farmer and storekeeper for Wabasha's band of Sioux. A few years later he was joined by John Doville and Charles H. Perkins, who likewise entered the Indian service. They still kept in touch with Reed's Settlement, however, and when their contract with the Government expired returned to their Trempealeau homes and became permanent settlers in the county.

Intermarriage between these early inhabitants of Trempealeau and the Indians took place as in other frontier settlements, with a resultant mixed blood offspring, whose descendants can be traced down to the present generation.

But few family records of this period remain, though one has beep preserved of the Willard B. Bunnell family, which discloses the .fact that his son, David Porter Bunnell, who was born in November, 1843, was the first white child born in the territory of Trempealeau County. His daughter, Louise, born in 1848, was also the first white girl born in this locality. Bunnell located on land about a mile above the present village, of Trempealeau, which later became the Jack McCarty farm.

The Americanization of Reed's Town came about rather slowly, and it was not until after 1850 that the influx of Americans began.

Travelers and traders journeying up and down the Mississippi often stopped at Reed's hospitable log tavern, and on their departure carried to the outer world rather glowing accounts of the new country, but the town-site speculator had not visited as yet the locality, and little thought was given by the frontiersmen to the future possibilities of the place, and they looked with aversion on the increasing settlers as a hindrance to their wild, free life of hunting and trapping.

In the fall of 1851 there arrived at Reed's Town a man who grasped at once the possibilities of the location for a town site. This was Benjamin F. Heuston, and it did not take him long to interest Ira Hammond and James Reed in a project to found a village. In partnership with Mr. Hammond, he began the erection of a warehouse on the river front, which was completed the following summer.

Others who came in the fall of 1851 were A. A. Angell, Charles Cameron, N. B. Grover, Horace E. Owen and Elizur Smith.

On April 5, 1852, William Hood, as surveyor, made a plat of Reed's Landing, with B. F. Heuston, Ira Hammond and James Reed as proprietors.  The new village was formally named Montoville, but almost before the ink on the plat became dry another survey was completed under the direction of Timothy Burns, F. M. Rublee and Benjamin B. Healy, and the name Trempealeau, the terminal of the sentence which the French voyageurs gave to Trempealeau Mountain, was adopted for the doubly named village.

Montoville-Trempealeau thrived for a few weeks, and though overburdened with new names, it was still known as Reed's Town or Settlement by the inhabitants, and as Reed's Landing by the rivermen.

On May 9, 1852, according to the records of the Post Office Department at Washington, a post office was established at Trempealeau, with B. F. Heuston as postmaster. On January 15, 1853, the name of the office was changed to Montville, but on July 17,1856, the name of the office was again changed to Trempealeau.

For a period of fifteen years Trempealeau remained the only settlement in the territory comprising Trempealeau County. The first ten years of this period was devoted almost entirely to the fur trade. Then came the land seeker, tradesman, speculator and adventurer, and with the rapid influx of settlers from 1854 to 1856, new portions of the county were opened for settlement, and Trempealeau history thereby became limited to one section of the county.

When B. F. Heuston came here he secured a residence by purchasing the house of John Doville, a small story and a half building, standing on Front street, below what is now the Burlington station. Thus possessed of a permanent location, he prepared to erect a warehouse designed as a steamboat shipping point for the agricultural produce which the promoters believed would result from the rapid influx of settlers and the consequent development of the rich valleys and prairies adjacent to the proposed village. Before winter set in he had completed the stone foundations. In the meantime he procured lumber at Black River Falls, floated it down the stream to the mouth of Beaver Creek, carted it over to the building site, and in the spring completed a warehouse, 24 by 50 feet, two stories high, located on Front street, two or three rods east of what was afterward the site of the Utter House. In the fall James A. Reed, as justice of the peace, married his daughter, Madeline, to his stepson, Paul Grignon.

Early in February, 1852, N. B. Grover, who had previously traded here, came up from La Crosse and opened a shoe shop opposite the later site of the Utter Hotel. In this store he sold notions and a few dry goods, thus establishing the first store in the county. In May of this year George Batchelder and his wife made their appearance and put up a house below the Hammond & Heuston warehouse. Later they opened a hotel, but not before the wife of Charles Cameron had arrived and established a boarding house in. the residence which Mr. Heuston had purchased from John Doville. Thomas Marshall came in that spring and put up a house above the Big Spring. Israel Noyes came about the same time. He boarded with the Camerons until October, when he was joined by his wife, and went to live in the second story of the Hammond & Heuston warehouse, where shortly afterward a child was born to them. Marvin and James Pierce came and built a small house on the north side of Front street, above what afterward became the site of Melchoir's brewery. Ira E. Moore and Alvin Carter built a residence near the present location of Hoberton's blacksmith shop. About the same time Alexander McMillan came up from La Crosse and put up a blacksmith shop, the first in the village. These, with Alexander McGilvray, C. S. Seymour, B. B. Healy, Robert Farrington, William Cram, Charles Holmes, Mary Huff, Catherine Davidson, A. M. Brandenburg, Rev. Mr. Watts, and possibly a few others, constituted the list of arrivals in 1852.

There were two interesting social events this year. One was the opening of the Trempealeau House, at which was served a banquet which was long remembered by the old settlers, Mrs. Batchelder, the landlady, having secured many dainties from points further down the river. The Fourth of July celebration was another important event. It was held in the upper story of the Hammond & Heuston building. Mr. Heuston read the Declaration, and talks were made by several citizens.

"In 1852," says Mary Brandenburg, "when the Brandenburgs landed in Trempealeau, then called Montoville, they found among other settlers James Reed in a log house on the river bank at about the Barney McGraw place. Other settlers were George Batchelder, the first merchant, first school teacher, first store keeper and first hotel keeper; Isaac Noyes, the first postmaster, and Alexander McGilvray, who afterward ran the first ferry boat, and N. B. Grover, an Indian trader, and his brother, Archelaus, both single men, and B. B. Healy. These were most of the early settlers."

In 1853, 1854 and 1855 the arrivals were not numerous. La Crosse was a thriving village and attracted those who desired to grow up with a future metropolis, while the Black River country, with its timber, its springs, and its open meadows, attracted those who were seeking farm lands and rural homesteads. Among the arrivals of these years were J. D. Olds, who had selected a claim in 1851; A. P. Webb, Patrick Drugan, Thomas Drugan, Aaron Houghton, Joseph Gale, Patrick Lowry, Gilbert Gibbs, Oscar Beardsley, Lewis Huttenhow, William Olds, Frank Feeney, Hiram Brown, and others. Some settled in the village, others scattered back on the prairie.

The real influx of population began in 1856. In this year the pioneer mill of the county was erected. That spring, the Messrs. Bredenthal and King, with the determination of establishing a mill in the Black River country, shipped some machinery to the mouth of that river, and made inquiries at La Crosse as to a suitable location. Meeting J. M. Barrett, they persuaded him to join them in their venture, and the three called on &. D. Hastings, who was the La Crosse representative of the townsite proprietors of Trempealeau. Mr. Hastings, in the name of his employers, offered a free site for the new mill south of the village. At that time the river was unusually high, and the location seemed a most suitable one. But while it was in the progress of construction, the water subsided, and the owners of the mill began to realize that their venture was not likely to prove profitable. When they began to operate, these apprehensions were fully verified. Access to the mill was difficult, and the expense of hauling was great. After a while the venture was abandoned, the mill was sold and moved elsewhere, and of the proprietors, only Mr. Barrett remained in Trempealeau.

But the mill was the cause of a rapid growth for the village. Property advanced in value and importance. Many eastern people were at that time seeking in the West opportunities for investment which they believed would bring them large returns. The village was filled with new settlers, houses, cabins and shanties were put up, and the incomers began to buy land in all directions.

This demand created the utmost excitement, and the price of lots appreciated so rapidly that no one was able to predict a possible value in advance. In the spring, the most desirable lots could have been purchased for from $40 to $50. In May, when the building of the mill was arranged for, double this price was demanded, and when the mill was completed, as high as $1,000 was refused for the same pieces of property that could not have found a purchaser a year previous. As an instance, it may be stated that while this scale of prices was maintained, $2,100 was offered for lots on the river bank opposite what was afterward the Melchior Brewery, and it was declined. They could not now be sold at anything like that figure.

Among the prominent arrivals for 1856, were O. S. Bates, S. D. Hastings and family, Noah Payne and family, W. T. Booker, J. H. Crossen, J. P. Israel and family, S. F. Harris and family, Thomas Van Zant, William Held, A. W. Hickox, C. W. Thomas, John Smith, Dennis Smith, D. W. Gilfillan, D. B. Phelps, C. C. Crane, and many others. The improvements consisted in part of the mill and a large house adjoining for the accommodation of hands employed therein; the Congregational Church put up under a contract with C. C. Crane, and numerous private buildings for residence and commercial purposes. Gilfillan built a hotel. Hastings erected a residence opposite the public square. Robert Jones, a brick residence on Third street, the first brick house in the village, and the Rev. Mr. Hayes put up a frame house on the hill. In addition to Gilfillan's tavern, C. S. Seymour was proprietor of the Trempealeau House, built in 1852, by A. A. Angell, and Frederick Harth occupied the old log house of James Reed, as the Washington Hotel. Jasper Kingsley maintained the only saloon in the village, and the commercial and river interests were divided between J. P. Israel, W. T. Booker; Mills & Van Zant and N. B. Grover.

J. A. Parker came in this year. He was the first lawyer in the village. Dr. Alson Atwood also came in and built a house, and is claimed by some as the first physician to settle in Trempealeau, though it is contended by others that this honor legitimately belongs to Dr. E. R. Utter. Lafayette H. Bunnell, who settled here in the forties, was not a physician until later in life. Money was plenty, it is said, and times unprecedentedly prosperous. Almost every steamer bore hither, as passengers, people who were out prospecting, ready to avail themselves of any opportunity that presented itself for purchase. The Fourth of July was celebrated with unusual pomp, the Baptist Society was organized, and a terrible cyclone passed over the village in August, doing great damage.

A pioneer, John H. Crosen, arriving in Trempealeau on November 13, 1856, has this to say of the village in those days: "There were three stores on Front street, and a few frame residences, with here and there a log house. Further back on Second and Third streets were other residences, perhaps thirty all told, very much scattered. People were coming and going constantly. Each boat brought a new crowd of prospective settlers, and took away some that had looked the country over and gotten their fill, so to speak, and had made up their minds to look elsewhere for locations. And so it went, coming and going, here today and gone tomorrow, although, of course, some remained and became permanent settlers in the village.

"But the steamboat was not the only means of bringing people to Trempealeau.  Many came overland in covered wagons. During 1856-57 a number of caravans of settlers passed through here and were ferried across the river to Minnesota, where they took the road leading up the Pickwick Valley onto the Minnesota prairie. I have seen the old ferry owned by Wilson Johnson busy. a week steady ferrying teams across the river. This ferry was a horse tread power, and it carried many a prairie schooner over the river.

"These long strings of covered wagons made a picturesque sight winding along the road with their white tops showing against the green landscape, always reaching towards the west-the land of the setting sun and many of the occupants of these prairie schooners became the sturdy pioneers of Minnesota.

"During the wheat times, Trempealeau was surely a lively place. I have seen wagons loaded with wheat reaching from the loading dock down Front street and part way up the hill, waiting for their turn to be unloaded - a procession half a mile long, composed mostly of ox-teams, with a few teams of horses. At night you would see fires out on Trempealeau Prairie where the wheat haulers were camped for the night. Every idle man in Trempealeau could find employment there loading wheat on the steam-boats, and I have seen two and three boats loading at a time, and steamboat men scouring the town for more help. The flush wheat times lasted until a few years after the Civil War."

With the opening of the river in 1857, the hopes of the villagers ran high. Every steamboat was bringing new arrivals, new buildings were being erected, the prairie was being settled, the county was growing. But in the midst of this busy activity came the financial crash, nation-wide in its scope. Provisions became scarce and rapidly rose in price. Flour jumped to $12 a barrel, pork to $10 a hundred pounds, and other commodities in proportion. Wild game became an important article of food, and kept many of the settlers from starvation. Elk and deer, which even at this late date were to be found herded in the brush of the bluffs, supplied the absence of meat.

However, great faith was still maintained in the future of Trempealeau, and many strangers attempted to take advantage of the situation to secure land at a low price. But the people of Trempealeau, with dogged perseverance, stuck to the high prices that had been maintained during the "boom" years. The result was that many desirable citizens who would have located here and helped to build a metropolis, secured cheaper land in La Crosse, Winona, Red Wing, St. Paul and other places, and the advantage of their money and enthusiasm was lost to the little village in the shadow of the mountain. This short-sighted policy, together with the money stringency, retarded the growth of Trempealeau, and though with returning prosperity, the village was an important shipping point until the coming of the railroad, those who had demanded such high prices for their land never saw their hopes realized, and values of village property gradually declined.

Among those who settled here in 1857 were W. P. Heuston, R. W. Russell, N. W. Allen, Harvey Bowles, F. A. Utter and others, including Wilson Johnston, who established the first ferry from Trempealeau Village to the Minnesota shore.

A good crop of wheat was raised in 1858, and much of it was purchased at Trempealeau for shipment to various points down the river. Fully 1,000 bushels of wheat were shipped this year, and prosperity was revived. The absence of railroads in the interior, and the fact that Trempealeau was the most accessible point for the farmers of this region to merchant their produce, brought the pioneer agriculturists here in such numbers that the streets lining the river were often packed for hours with teamsters waiting for a chance to unload.

A later settler (Stephen Richmond) arriving September 8, 1870, a year before the opening of the railroad, has said of the village:

"Its one main street extending along the river from Melchior's hotel and brewery and Octave Batchelor's hotel, running east with the then numerous warehouses and business places crowding close together, and its neat homes nestling in sunshine on the hillsides and down to the foot of the Trempealeau Bluffs which appeared as mountains of moderate elevation - the town itself facing the Mississippi River, its streets filled with farmers and lined with farm teams of one hundred or more, a majority of the teams being oxen with wagons loaded with grain for the market, or with goods and supplies for the farmers' homes; and the most disconcerting and puzzIing condition to me was the language spoken by many of the people - languages with which I was not then familiar, many persons speaking the German, the Polish, the Bohemian and Scandinavian, this talk being coupled with the oddity of the dress of many and the general inter-social manner of the people and their truly democratic manners and customs, no notice appeared to be taken of difference in nationality. Even the half-breed and the Indian were kindly recognized. I counted 98 teams along Main street loaded with grain, waiting for a turn to unload at the warehouses, then under the management of Solomon Becker, Christ Reiminschneider, and Paul Kribs."

The village trade increased in volume until the completion of the railroad in August, 1871. Farmers came here with their wheat not only from this county, but also from adjoining counties, and during the last few years before 1871 it is said that the shipments sometimes averaged 5,000 bushels a day from the opening of the harvest season until the closing of the river in the early winter. A vast amount of money was thus put into circulation.

The village, however, did not grow materially. A few stores were put up, a few business houses opened, and a few residences constructed, but the men who would have contributed so materially to its prosperity had been frightened away by the high values at which the village proprietors held their property. When the railroad from the east was completed to La Crosse, Trempealeau's importance as a shipping point was increased, and La Crosse grew rapidly. It was therefore felt that with the building of the La Crosse, Trempealeau & Prescott Railroad, Trempealeau would retain its standing as a steamboat point, and grow to great importance as a railroad point. But when the railroad was put in operation it tapped many points that had hitherto been tributary to Trempealeau, and the hopes of the promoters were blasted forever.

In recent years, however, a group of active young business men of another generation are making the village a busy and important little center and the recent creation of Trempealeau Mountain as a State park has revived its former importance.

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