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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 9:

Commissioners and Their Doings

-As transcribed from pages 109 - 111

With this board the pre-bellum period came to a close.  From one township, in 1854, the county had increased to eight.  Settlements were springing up here and there, and farmhouses were dotting the landscape in every direction.  Without exception, the members of the board had been men of ability.  All had been men from the eastern states, with good district school educations, who had brought with them all the traditions of the New England town meeting, and who fully realized their responsibility as the founders of a future important county.  The knowledge that they were laying a foundation for future years is everywhere apparent, and in many of the resolutions is actually expressed.  John Nicholls, who was county clerk during this period, was a man of orderly mind, an excellent penman and possessed of considerable legal knowledge, so that the affairs of the county were well conducted and the records kept in an adequate manner.  The successive boards had met with many problems.  Taxes had to be laid on a people struggling with poverty in a new country, bills had to be paid out of a slender treasury, and every account was pared to its utmost limit, roads had to be laid out along routes which would reach the greatest number of the scattered settlements, bridges had to be constructed to accommodate the travels of the inhabitants of the county, and also to facilitate immigration.  Towns had to be created, and the nature of the ridges and valleys made it necessary that frequent changes be made in townships already created, in order that the people who were geographically related might be placed also in convenient political units.  Even at this early date there were poor who must be cared for, and the successive boards had been divided in their opinions as to whether this should be done with a township or a county system.

Strangers were constantly passing through the county, and many of these travelers were of an unsavory character.  Unidentified bodies of murdered men were frequently found along the highways, and corpses were often washed up at Trempealeau, a mute testimony to the grim sternness of life on the Mississippi in those early days.  The expense of disposing of these bodies had to be met by the appropriations of the county board.

Struggling as they were, with pioneer conditions, many of the settlers were unable to pay their taxes, claims were frequently deserted by restless pioneers who found it more convenient to seek their fortunes further than to meet their obligations here, and the problem of disposing of unredeemed tax titles was constantly before the board.  The question of drainage was also an important one and was frequently considered.

But these farmers met all these situations with clear brains and good common sense, and the affairs of the county were in a satisfactory condition at the close of this period in its history.

The new system of county government in Wisconsin went into effect January 1, 1862, and it was under this system that Trempealeau County underwent the great stress of the Civil War.  The new board convened January 13, 1862, George Batchelder of Trempealeau representing the First District, A. R. Wyman of Galesville the Second and Henry Lake of Preston the Third.  Batchelder had served on the first county board in 1854.  Wyman had served in 1857 and 1858.  Lake was a pioneer who had settled at the mouth of Lake Cooley in Preston Township and had already become prominent in township affairs.  This board had to defend the existence of Trempealeau County as a county.  At its first meeting William A. Cram, the sheriff, reported to the board that he had been summoned before the Superior Court of Wisconsin to show cause why he had illegally performed the duties of sheriff in certain townships, George F. Haswell, representing Buffalo County, alleging that Trempealeau County had been illegally created, and that a larger part of its townships were therefore still a part of Buffalo County.  The board placed the matter in the hands of George Gale, through whose efforts the county was created, and in due time the organization of the county was confirmed by the Supreme Court.4

The Civil War occupied the attention of the board for the next few years.  Fortunately, during these years a considerable sum was realized from the sale of tax titles, and in spite of the numerous bounties paid to war volunteers, the financial standing of the county was not impaired.  November 12, 1862, the county board voted to raise $3,000 as a part of the general tax fund, for a Soldiers' Bounty Fund, for soldiers from this county, and their families.  December 16, 1862, it was decided to pay $4 a month for seven months to the wives and families of all non-commissioned officers, musicians and privates enlisting from this county.  At the December meeting the first bounties were voted.  With this beginning, the board continued to grant $4 a month to families of volunteers throughout the war.

An ambrotype of the company of volunteers raised in Trempealeau County having been taken, the board on December 20, 1862, voted to present the picture to Galesville University.

Ettrick was created on December 16, 1862, and the first town meeting called for April 7, 1863, at the home of John Cance, in Section 36, Township 20, Range 8.  This made nine townships in the county.

The board for 1863 was the same as the previous year.  War-time problems increased.  The bounty of $4 a month to families of volunteers was continued.  November 10, 1863, it was voted to pay a bounty to each volunteer (or heirs) who had enlisted in the military service of the United States from this county during the Rebellion, and who should die in service or be honorably discharged.  Later it was determined that in case the monthly bounty had been paid, that the amount of the monthly bounty should be deducted from the enlistment bounty.  The first to receive this enlistment bounty was F. J. Miller, honorably discharged from the First Wisconsin Battery.

The unemotional records, with their lists of bounties paid to the relatives of those who died in battle, give to present generations a glimpse of the stress and tragedy of those days.

While the young men were fighting for the preservation of the Union at the front, those at home were gradually increasing the agricultural acreage of the county.  The board, realizing the importance of raising sufficient food, and appreciating the vital part played in the war by the farms, voted on December 23, 1863, to contribute $50 to the work of the Trempealeau County Agricultural Society.

Burnside was created as a township December 29, 1863. It consisted of Townships 22 and 23, Range 9, the west half of Township 23, Range 8, and Sections 4, 5, 6 in Township 22, Range 8.  This embraced all of what is now Burnside, except the little strip in Township 22, Range 8, all of Chimney Rock, all that is now Hale west of the line that equally divides Range 8, and a small tract that is now the southwest corner of Lincoln.  The first meeting was to be held in April, 1864, at the home of Giles Cripps.

The board for 1864 consisted of E. Wilcox from the First District, Alex McGilvray from the Second District, and W. H. Thomas from the Third District. February 3 this board created Hale Township, embracing practically the entire present township of that name, with the exception of some slight variations along the northwestern line of Pigeon Township.  The first town meeting was to be held in April, 1865, at the home of D. S. Watson, Section 24, Township 23, Range 8.  The bounty question continued to be a problem.  At the time of the recruiting of Company C, Thirtieth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, it had been generally understood throughout the county that every volunteer was to receive a bounty of $50.  At the first meeting in 1864 the board therefore determined that the finances of the county were such as to justify a payment on account of $25 to all who had not already received that amount, either in person or through their families. The families that had received money in monthly payments amounting in all to less than $25 could receive the balance in cash, or request to have their $4 a month continued.  later in the year it was decided that widows of certain deceased volunteers should receive a monthly bounty of $4, just the same as though their husbands were still alive and serving at the front.  November 15, 1865, 115 bounty claims were adjusted.  It was during the administration of this board that the organization of the township of Chase was vacated, and the territory added to Sumner.  The same board served in 1865, A. R. Wyman succeeding John Nicholls as clerk.

George Dewey from the First District, George H. Smith from the Second, and Edward F. Wade from the Third, constituted the board for 1866.  This board attempted to construct a jail.  Crime was increasing with the growth in population and the augmentation of travel, and the cost of removing prisoners to the jail at La Crosse was a serious drain on the county's resources.  November 15, 1866, it was therefore voted to raise $1,500 for the erection of a jail at Galesville.

The next board, J. M. Barrett of the First District, George H. Smith of the Second District, and Charles C. Crane of the Third District, took office January 8, 1857, and on that date authorized Charles C. Crane to draw plans for the jail.  B. F. Heuston succeeded A. R. Wyman as clerk.  In the summer time this board ordered a tract index prepared for use in the office of the register of deeds.  November 14, a final readjustment was made of the bounty matter.  Many who declared themselves to have claims had assigned these claims to other persons for small sums, and the holders were pressing the county for payment.  The board found that in most instances these claims were of men who had not enlisted from this county, or else of men whose families had already received in monthly payments more than the volunteer was entitled to receive.  As an incentive toward good roads, the county decided to construct a pile driver to be loaned to the various towns.

James M. Barrett from the First District, Robert Cance from the Second, and C. C. Crane from the Third, made up the board for 1868.  Steps were taken toward erecting an almshouse.  The distribution of the care of the poor between the county and townships had not proven satisfactory.  Therefore it was determined that the proceeds of all lands that had been sold for taxes and bid in for five successive years by the county and appraised and sold before the annual meeting of 1869, should be turned in to the poor fund, and an unimproved farm bought for not more than $1,000, or an improved farm for not more than $3,000, and that the county assume sole charge of the poor after January 1, 1870.

In 1869 the board consisted of Noah D. Comstock from the First District, Robert Cance from the Second District, and N. P. Bruce from the Third District.  This board decided to abandon the plans for building a jail, and to accept the offer of the village of Trempealeau for the free use of the jail in that village.

The last board under this regime convened February 15, 1870, and consisted of Noah D. Comstock from the First District, A. R. Wyman from the Second District, and N. P. Bruce from the Third District.

Resources for the above information:

4 - The State ex rel. Geo. F. Haswell vs. William A. Cram, 16 Wis. 343-344.

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