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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 8:


Trempealeau Prairie

-As transcribed from pages 86 - 87


Trempealeau Prairie lies in the southern part of Trempealeau County, about fifteen miles long and from three to five miles wide. Over this prairie all the early settlers of the county hauled their grain to market. There were three main routes from the Trempealeau Valley after the ridge was crossed. The Beaver Creek Valley and the Tamarack Valley route joins at Centerville, then called Martin's Corners. The Pine Creek route reached the prairie at Wright's Corners. After the hills, sloughs and log ways were passed, the early settlers were assured of a safe, steady passage to Trempealeau, situated on the south edge of the prairie on the Mississippi River, then the great highway of commerce.

Settlers began to locate on the prairie surrounding Trempealeau at an early date. Their story has been told in connection with the history of the village. Not long afterward a populous settlement sprang up at what is known as West Prairie. The first permanent settler on West Prairie was Hollister Wright, who located in 1853 at what was afterward known as Wright's Corners. He bought out an earlier claimant who had selected a location and planted potatoes. It is said that Wright was walking over the prairie, met a man digging potatoes, and bought him out after a five minute conversation. In 1854 came W. A. Cram, D. A. Segar, O. Whitcomb and William Lee. These four, with Wright, all had their crops harvested when D. O. Van Slyke arrived in November of that year.

About 1855 settlers came in large numbers, mostly in wagon trains drawn by oxen. They crossed Black River at McGilvray's Ferry on a flat boat propelled by poles and held in place by a rope stretched from one bank to the other. The oxen were often the cause of a great deal of trouble, for, after being turned loose on the prairie at night to feed, it often took all the forenoon to round them up ready to move on.

On the east bank of the Trempealeau settled Isaac Nash, who, with his large family, were well adapted to a new country, because they were versed in the use of the natural resources of the land. From the woods they secured logs for a house and fuel for their stove, while the river abounded in fish and the land in small game. With the family came Jacob Holbrook, also a man of resource. With an ax and auger he could fashion a bob-sled or an ax-yoke. He operated the first mill and made sorgum syrup.

Among the first settlers were Avery Wellington (he was called "Duke," and the street on which he lived bears that name), William Burns, Seba Atwood and Amos Whiting, educator and leader in public affairs. One of the interesting characters of the time was Dow Ladd, a down-east Yankee, who served as justice of the peace. He was full of whims, and a bitter feud existed between him and the boys of the neighborhood, who often raided his melon patch and annoyed him in other ways.

John Gillies and family, Alex Stevens and family, and John and George Brewin arrived in June, 1855, and settled on South Prairie. No lumber could be obtained at Trempealeau, and John Gillies and Alex McGilvray went to Douglass Mill, near Melrose, and rafted timber down to McGilvray's Ferry, whence it was carted to the prairie.

Many others came this year and the years immediately following, and the prairie was soon thickly settled.

The early settlers were for the most part New Englanders, and, coming from a hilly and rocky country, were attracted by the easy turning of the soil and its quick production.

Often on Sunday evenings the people gathered at some home for kindly greeting and mutual comfort. By common impulse their thoughts turned to far-off New England, with its religious atmosphere, and as their memories lingered on the familiar scenes and places of the past, there floated out on the evening air the hymns and songs of other days - to the boys and girls evenings never to be forgotten.

The first schoolhouse on what is known as West Prairie was built east of the present brick structure as the result of the work of Amos Whiting. The building was later replaced on the present site by a large building which more recently gave place to the brick structure. A Union Sunday school has been held there almost continuously since 1858.

In 1863 a cemetery was laid out on the corner of the farm of I. D. Carhart, under the direction of Amos Whiting, whose daughter was the first to be buried there. The land was given by Mr. Carhart. The cemetery in charge of an association, has been several times enlarged and is now permanently fenced. An artistic pagoda has been erected and a permanent fund provided for its maintenance.

From Trempealeau Prairie the settlers gradually penetrated the Little and Big Tamarack, and slowly working up that valley, settled in Holcomb Cooley, Thompson Valley, Norway Cooley, and in numerous other branching cooleys and valleys.

 


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