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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 8:


-As transcribed from pages 88 - 92

Arcadia, the first settlement in the Trempealeau Valley above Trempealeau Prairie, had its beginning in 1855. Soon after the Indians relinquished their rights to this region, in 1837, James Reed, the first permanent settler of Trempealeau County, made several journeys up the Trempealeau River in search of furs. The Bunnells, Willard B. and Lafayette H., came to Trempealeau in 1842. Willard B. Bunnell hunted and trapped on some of the tributaries of the Trempealeau in the autumn of the same year, naming Elk and Pigeon creeks because of his successful hunts there-upon. In the autumn of 1843 the two brothers Bunnell, in company with Thomas A. Holmes and William Smothers, ascended the Trempealeau as far as the present village of Independence, where the party camped and spent several days hunting elk in the surrounding country.

The valley had been a favorite hunting ground of the Indians long before the coming of white hunters, and tradition concerns itself with some of the principal landmarks, such as Barn Bluff; but the occasional hunters and trappers who penetrated into the interior, enjoying their wild life of adventure, had no purpose to settle the country, and little dreamed the low marshy grounds along the Trempealeau River would ever afford a site for a village such as Arcadia is at the present day.

When the first settlers arrived at Arcadia they found a defense of breastworks, proving that some time soldiers had visited the place. The apparent age of the excavations at that time indicated they had been built several years before. Julius Hensel, a veteran of the War of Secession and an early settler in Arcadia, reports that the Indians claimed that a company of soldiers carne up the valley shortly after the Black Hawk War, and near the present village of Arcadia met a band of Indians. No hostilities occurred, but the soldiers deemed it prudent to be prepared in case any evidence of enmity on the part of the tribesmen should be shown, and therefore erected breastworks. Where the soldiers were going or what their mission may have been has never been ascertained, and any effort to gain more information concerning their movements has thus far been futile.

The first permanent settlement of Arcadia carne about in the autumn of 1855, when four men carne up from southern Wisconsin by way of La Crosse, with a drove of cattle. They crossed the Black River at McGilvray's Ferry and made their way across country to Fountain City. The few people they met had much to say of the Trempealeau Valley, a region as yet little frequented except by hunters and trappers.

These men were Collins Bishop, George Dewey, George Shelley and James Broughton. Having reached Fountain City and disposed of their stock, they started out one bright autumn morning to see for themselves whether the Trempealeau Valley was a suitable location for their future homes, for they were actuated by no other motive than home-building.

They had lived for several years previous to this time in Dodge County, where the stone was so numerous in the fields that the only sales of land were made when the snow was deep. They spent so much time in looking over the country as they carne along that they only got as far as George Cowie's that day, where they stayed all night, and the next morning resumed their journey to the river. Arriving there, they drew cuts to see who should cross and find a suitable fording place. This was soon found, and they crossed the river near the site of the present bridge. For several years all the travel to Fountain City was through this ford.

After passing through the river they followed an Indian trail east to the table land over nearly the same ground now occupied by Main street. Upon reaching the hill they looked around for some mark to indicate a section corner, and about a half mile due east from there saw two burr oak trees standing close together.

These trees were at that time about six inches in diameter at their base, and proved to be witness trees, or, as the pioneers sometimes called them, "bearing trees," so the settlers had no difficulty in establishing section lines with these for a starting point. They located four homesteads, now owned by W. E. Bishop, George Schmidt, J. I. Dewey and M. N. Lehnerts, respectively.

The settlers returned to Mr. Cowie's for the night, and the next day carne back and completed their preparations for entering the land, and picked out building spots. They were well satisfied with the appearance of the soil, and while the distant hillsides were covered with brush through which a team could make its way anywhere, they did not doubt that when prairie fires were no longer allowed to run, there would be a sufficient growth of timber for all their needs. The manner of choosing those homesteads was so unique that a brief mention may be of interest.

They agreed to draw cuts for choice of quarter-sections, and the man who had first choice paid $100 into a common fund, the second paid $90, the third $75, and the fourth $60, and then the whole amount was divided equally between them.

They returned to Fountain City, and late the same autumn Collins Bishop hired James Broughton and a Mr. Davis to build a house on his land. They erected this near the bearing trees, using logs mostly, and boards for the roof. This was the first house built in Arcadia, and some of the boards are still doing service in a barn on the place, built a few years later. One of the trees was used for firewood the following winter when the snow fell to the depth of four feet on the level, but the other still stands, having now a circumference of twelve feet at its base, and is a fitting emblem of the lives and character of the pioneers who first reposed beneath its branches.

The next spring Collins Bishop took possession of his new home and broke several acres of land, which he planted to corn and potatoes.

In 1856 the settlers petitioned the county board that Preston township be divided and a new town formed. Then it became necessary to decide upon a name. Hitherto the neighborhood had been known either as Bishop's Settlement, in honor of its founder, or as Barntown, on account of the number of barns erected by the early settlers. The petition regarding the formation of a new town was granted, and so, one winter day, the pioneer neighbors met at Bishop's cabin to name the town. The families represented were those of James Broughton, George Shelly, David Bishop, Collins Bishop, Mrs. Annie B. Bishop, Jessie Penny and Noah D. Comstock. To the women was accorded the privilege of selecting the name. Mrs. David Bishop, afterward Mrs. Charles Mercer, offered the name of Arcadia, which had been suggested by Noah D. Comstock.

Mr. Comstock was a man of varied experience and possessed a broad and practical mind. He had crossed the continent in quest of gold in the excitement of the days of "Forty-Nine," but he saw in the quiet valleys of Arcadia a richer promise of gold than in the mountain regions of California. As he gazed on the numerous ranges of hills and the nestling valleys, he was thrilled with the grandeur of the scene. Its pastoral beauty appealed to him, and he saw the agricultural possibilities of the rough land and thought of the rugged mountain region in faraway Greece, the old home of the Arcadian peasants, who led a life of simple contentment amidst their wild surroundings. From Mr. Bishop's window the pioneers looked out on the New Arcadia, and on their way homeward admired with a new pleasure the scenes of their daily life. Rising above the low range of hills that skirt the western horizon was "Barn Bluff," its clear-cut sides white with snow and with the little round peak contrasting sharply with the smooth contour of the distant hills. Toward the southeast rose "Noah's Bluff," and in every direction were ranges of hills encircling the lower basin, where stood the new-born town. And in among those hills were valleys, indented nooks and cooleys, with here and there a flat table land. Winding along among the low bushy bottom lands was the Trempealeau River, draining the broad fertile valley that as yet was scarcely disturbed by the hand of man.

Until this time it had been known as Bishop's Settlement. In 1857 Daniel C. Dewey and Dr. I. A. Briggs moved to Arcadia. The good doctor not only attended to his medical practice, but found time to cultivate more or less land, and one summer, a few years later, it was noised around that he had a fine watermelon patch. They were not all old settlers in Arcadia by this time, and some of the young settlers started out one pleasant afternoon to investigate the truth of the report, supposing the doctor to be far away. They had no difficulty in finding the melons, but, unless all signs failed, there were no ripe ones. Just at the moment when they were busiest thumping on the melons and hunting for one that might do, they were startled by a slight sound from the fence alongside the patch. They looked up to see the doctor's blue eyes beaming on them in kindly humor as he said, "Well, well, boys, better wait till they are a little riper."

In the spring of 1857 George Shelley began keeping store at his home on the present site of the George Schmidt residence. The first town meeting was held this spring, and Collins Bishop was elected chairman. The school system of Arcadia dates back to 1857 when District No.1 of the town of Arcadia was established and Sarah MacMaster installed as teacher. The schoolhouse, which afterwards occupied three or four different sites and was used in turn as courthouse, printing office, feed mill and dwelling house, was originally located just across the street from John Danuser's residence in East Arcadia. It was built by James Warren, with lumber rafted down the river to Fountain City and hauled from there with ox teams. But such lumber can scarcely be found today.

Two-by-fours were two inches by four inches, and generally a little more, and the builders had the privilege of throwing out any board found having a knot in it. The next year Albro C. Matterson started a blacksmith shop, and near it stood a frame for shoeing oxen.

In 1860 Dr. Briggs and David Massuere undertook to build a flouring mill, but on account of the Civil War breaking out, were unable to complete it until five years later. In the meantime it was used as a residence until 1865, when the machinery was installed, and the settlers were no longer obliged to make the long trips to Trempealeau or Pickwick for flour. The same year Gay T. Storm erected a store with lumber hauled from Trempealeau, and two or three years later built a brick store building, which still stands. That fall D. C. Dewey, with Dr. Isaac Briggs, opened a store at Dewey's Corners, now called Old Arcadia.

Up to the outbreak of the war the arrivals, while not by any means unusually large, were fairly numerous and were composed of a superior class. With the advent of that calamity immigration entirely ceased. From 1860 to 1867 times were dull and little improvement of any kind was undertaken. During the war the Federal Congress passed a Homestead Bill that attracted a large foreign element which was distributed over the country tributory to the village, and furnished the means of developing the agricultural resources of the vicinity to a wonderful extent. From 1867 times began to improve, and considerable progress was made in all lines, increasing with each year and culminating in 1873 with the completion of the Green Bay & Minnesota Railroad. The lower town was built up at once, and many buildings from the upper town or "Old Arcadia" were removed to the new location.

In looking over the Arcadia of today, we see the dreams of the pioneers more than realized. Since the day they waded the river and looked for the first time on the Trempealeau Valley, Arcadia has changed from a favorite hunting ground of the Indian to a productive agricultural land; from the home of wild fowl to a populous community, where instead of hills and valleys in a wild state of nature, we have all the evidences of an advanced civilization which is doing its part to "make two blades of grass grow where one grew before."

Bishop's Settlement became the center for travelers looking for land, and in time the valleys leading into Trempealeau Valley received their first settlers.


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