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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 8:


Beaver Creek Valley

-As transcribed from pages 79 - 83

Beaver Creek Valley. According to Winnebago tradition, Joseph Roque, a famous Indian guide and trapper, erected a cabin on Beaver Creek near the present village of Galesville, possibly soon after the War of 1812. His son, Augustin, likewise a guide and trapper, is said to have built a cabin and spent a winter hunting in the same locality about 1820.

But to Americans Beaver Creek Valley was not opened for settlement until after the purchase of the Indian rights to all this territory, in 1837, and even then it was several years before an actual settlement took place. James A. Reed, the first permanent settler in Trempealeau County, hunted and trapped along Beaver Creek as far back as 1840, and in 1843, in company with Willard Bunnell and Antoine Grignon, explored the head-waters of the valley.

While the fur trade played an important role in the opening of Trempealeau County for settlement, but few of the trappers remained to till the soil after the fur had been gathered, but pushed on westward to the unsubdued wilderness.

The agriculturist who came to find a permanent home in the fertile valleys of Trempealeau County was the natural successor of the fur trader, for here there was no pinery to bring the lumberman, as in other portions of the State.

The autumn of 1851 saw the first Beaver Creek settler arrive in the person of Abram Trepena, who came up from Racine County to look for a homestead.  Mr. Trepena came from Oswego, New York, to Racine in 1848, and had resided in the southern part of the State since that time.

There was a vast amount of unoccupied land in this section in that early day, and the homeseeker could take his choice of locations. After looking over the country thoroughly Mr. Trepena finally selected a quarter-section of land in the Beaver Creek Valley about a mile and a half southwest of the present village of Galesville. He then returned to Racine and in the fall of 1862 in company with his family and John Hess came north. They drove two yoke of oxen and carried all of their household goods in two immigrant wagons. On the night of October 11 they arrived at their destination and went into camp, but before they had hardly settled for the night a snow storm of unusual severity came up and continued with unabated fury until morning, and when the new settlers awoke they found the ground covered to a depth of ten inches with freshly-fallen snow. This was indeed a wintry greeting for the pioneers, but with dauntless courage they went to work and arranged their camp for the winter; protecting it with wagon boxes, and making as comfortable a home as a tent could afford.

In the spring the men began the construction of a log house which was completed and occupied by the first of May. They also cleared and brake eight acres of land, and the crop raised during the season indicated the fertility of the Beaver Creek soil.

In 1853 Judge George Gale of La Crosse purchased about two thousand acres of land, including the present location of Galesville, with the water power on Beaver Creek; and, in January, 1854, he procured from the state legislature, the organization of the new county of Trempealeau, with the location of the county seat at Galesville, and at the same time obtained a charter for a university, to be located at that place. In June of the same year the village plot of Galesville was laid out, and subsequently the flour mills were erected. A. H. Armstrong was the first man to put up a building in the new village and Ryland Parker opened the first grocery store, keeping it in conjunction with a hotel.

One of the first to settle in the township of Gale after Galesville was conceived was B. F. Heuston, who had settled in Trempealeau in 1851. During the winter of 1853 he moved into a house which he had built about half a mile south of what afterward became the site of the county courthouse at Gale. In the fall of 1853, or early in 1854, Peter and George Uhle settled in Crystal Valley, three miles from Galesville. John Dettinger also settled near-by in that year.

Galesville grew rapidly, and in a short time new settlers were turning their eyes to the upper Beaver Creek region. The land seekers were looking for a farming section, and it is not strange that the rolling lands of this fertile valley attracted their attention.

As early as May, 1855, John Cance settled in what is now the town of Ettrick. Cance came from Glasgow, Scotland, to America in 1854, and remained in Jersey City, N. J., a short time, when he decided to move west to Freeport, Ill. He remained in Freeport all winter, and in the spring of 1855 he started for Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, and on May 25 arrived at Beaver Creek. His brother-in-law, Andrew C. Purvis came with him, and the two men took up land and selected suitable building place within a few days of their arrival.

In 1856 Charley White and Mike Cullity settled in the valley, and in 1857-58 Robert Cance and Alexander Cance arrived and located land adjoining their brother's farm. During the next few years Dan Kennedy, Thomas Wall, John Mahony, Darby Whalen, John Lynch and James Corcoran joined the Beaver Creek settlers.

The first settlers in what is now known as North Beaver Creek were Iver Orianson (Torblaa) and Iver Knutson (Syse), who came in 1857.

In 1858 K. K. Hallanger, Amund Olsen, R. Richelson, Thomas and Nels Herreid, Ole Skaar, Simon Nelson, T. R. Thompson, N. B. Henderson, Lars Hanson, Ole Ellingson, Orians Totblaa, Ole Dale, Erick Tronsen and Nels Oakland came. Anve Olsen, Arne Arneson, Torkel Gunderson and Torkel Halderson came in 1859, and Knudt Hagestad in 1860.

The first settlers in the French Creek district were Peter A. Hogden, John A.. Hogden and Andrew A. Hogen, who came in 1859. Ole Gilbertson came in 1860, and the same year Gilbert Nelson and Hans Johnson moved into the South Beaver Creek region.

When a postoffice was established in the new settlement and John Cance received the appointment of postmaster, he turned to his native land for an appropriate name for the office. He was a great admirer of Scott's works, and in Marmion introduction to canto second appears the following couplet:

"The scenes are desert now and bare,
Where flourished once a forest fair,"

and again, further along in the same canto, mention is made of "pathless Ettrick." According to a foot note in Marmion, Ettrick Forest was a mountainous region anciently reserved for the pleasure of the royal chase. The game preserve was known far and wide throughout Scotland as Ettrick Forest or Ettrick. And so John Cance chose this ancient Scotch name for the new postoffice, and when the town was organized at the first town meeting held in Cance's residence April 17, 1863, the name Ettrick was again chosen.

Settlers poured into the valley rapidly during the next ten years, and though markets were distant, the slow, but sure, ox team hauled the farm produce that brought a harvest of gold to the hardy pioneers.

L. L. Grinde of Galesville many years afterward recalled many incidents of pioneer life in upper Beaver Creek, where he settled in the fall of 1860. Speaking of that period, he said, "Many of the early settlers lived in dug-outs - just holes hurrowed in the side of a hill or bank, and they remained in these cave dwellings until they were able to build log houses. Often two families would work together on a log structure and when it was completed would occupy it jointly until circumstances were such that another log cabin could be built. Markets at that time were La Crosse, Sparta and Trempealeau, and it took several days to make the round trip. What was called speculator land could be bought in the valley then for five dollars an acre, and there was still considerable government land which could be taken by pre-emption."

Cornelius Lynch of Ettrick told of his first visit to Beaver Creek in 1859. "A number of settlers were living here then," said Lynch, "in their log houses, but a comparatively small amount of land was being cultivated. There was an abundance of game here at that time, such as deer, wolves and bear and the prairie chickens, pigeons, native pheasants and quail."

Nora Cullity, who was born in Galesville September 22, 1855, and reputed to be the first child born in Beaver Creek Valley related experiences of the early settlers. Our nearest neighbors, she said, were John Cance and Dan Kennedy, and neighbors were appreciated in the sparsely settled country, for it was sometimes necessary for a family to borrow flour sufficient to last until they could get to the distant market. It was customary to change work in the pioneer day, and people turned out to help at a house or barn raising or in threshing time the men generally helped each other and the women were as eager to lend a hand at the quilting bee.

"I have often heard mother tell of watching the wolves on the hills through the chinks in the log house as she sat knitting by the fireside, and their howl often broke the white silence of a wintry night with a startling suddenness."

What changes have taken place in this valley in the last sixty years. The dugout was soon obliterated and the log house that took its place, though it stood for years, has long since faded into oblivion and made way for the frame house, which in turn has been succeeded by the modern pressed brick residence. There are some of the old-time frame houses left in the valley, but no log cabin remains to mark the pioneer epoch-no log school house lingers by the way. No savage war cry has echoed from these hills since the days of Decorah, but of a summer evening one can hear the farmer boy calling the cattle home, and the wildest sound in all the broad valley is the bay of the watch dog.

The large valley, whose length is approximately thirty-five miles, has some of the most progressive farmers in the state. One may find plenty of farms with registered stock, and with modern dwelling houses that would grace the residence section of any city, and then the splendid barns and other farm buildings are in accord with the dwellings. And one will be surprised with the equipment, which is the best that money can obtain, and consists of electric lights, water works, sanitary feeding stalls, the silo and all of the very best and latest farm machinery.

What early settler ever dreamed of all these modern improvements? They had not even the shadow of a dream that approached the reality.

Looking over the names in this locality one is struck with varied human activities, remote and present, which they suggest: The trappers' paradise, Beaver Creek, so named on account of abundance of beaver in its waters in former times; French Creek and Frenchville, names that point back to the days of Rocque, the trapper and trader, who built a cabin near the present Galesville in 1820; Iduna, a name taken from one of the characters in Norse mythology; Ettrick, the ancient Scotch name, and Hegg, which brings to mind the fame of our state in the Civil War; Galesville, which suggests the sturdy character of that man whose brain felt into the future; the sentinel peak, Decorah, named from an Indian chief with a corrupted French name.

Over a century ago the Winnebago and Dakotas divided hunting ground in the Beaver Creek territory. A century has fled since Decorah stood on his famous peak and watched his braves battle with the Chippewa, and sixty-one years have passed since John Cance came into the valley and built his log cabin, thatching the roof with wild grass so that it resembled the low thatched cottages of far away Scotland.

In the years to come no period of American history will be filled with more romance and hardy adventure than the heroic pioneer age, nor fraught with greater interest, for on this rough hewn foundation our national character has been developed.
 


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