corner header home search engine what's new
sidebar USGenWeb Project photos tools histories databases archives about us WIGenWeb Project
Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":


-As transcribed from pages ix - xv

The hills and valleys of Trempealeau County have made their striking appeal to the human mind since the far distant days of prehistoric man.  The venerable heights have witnessed the coming and going of successive races and unnumbered generations.  Its crags have watched the building of Indian mounds in the ages now dark with oblivion, and have heard the aboriginal legends told and retold - changing as they drifted through the centuries, until they have died away and been forgotten.  They have looked down on the haunt of the Indians whose hunting-ground abounded with gave, and whose canoes were the only vessels on the waters of the Mississippi.  And they have seen the early French explorers, driven by the restless spirit of adventure and the love of conquest, work their way through the wilderness into the remote regions of the unexplored country.  They have beheld the self-sacrificing missionaries braving the perils of the savage-infested regions of the land, for the purpose of lifting the barbarous mind of the Indian to a religious plane; and they have witness the fur trader with his hunters, trappers and voyageurs penetrating the remote parts of the county in quest of furs.  And at last they saw the coming of the pioneers, who clambered up their sides and broke the silence of the solitude by felling the scattered and scanty trees for cabin homes.  These tillers of the soil established permanent homes, and today, far and wide over the surface of the county, are rich farms; thus has the favorite hunting-ground of the Indian been transformed by the march of our Western civilization.

Trempealeau County is in the western part of Wisconsin, on the Mississippi River.  It is bounded on the east by Jackson County, on the north by Eau Claire County, on the west by Buffalo County, as well as by Winona County across the Mississippi River in Minnesota.

The area of the county is 748 miles.  Its greatest length from north to south is 42 miles; its average width is 18 miles.  The northern part is a rectangle, four townships (townships 21, 22, 23 and 24) long, and three townships (ranges 7, 8 and 9) wide.  The southern part would be a rectangle three townships (townships 18, 19 and 20, ranges 7, 8 and 9) were it not extended on the west by the course of the Trempealeau River, and cut off at the southwest by the course of the Mississippi River, and at the southeast by the course of the Black River.

The area belongs entirely to the Mississippi system, and is separated into three distinct divisions, the Trempealeau Prairie Region, the Trempealeau Valley Region and the Beef River Region.  The Mississippi bluffs are broken at Trempealeau village, and this opening stretches back into a fertile prairie, reaching from the Black River bluffs to the Mississippi River bluffs, the ancient bed of the Mississippi.  This prairie opens at the northeast into the Beaver Creek Valley, which contains the Galesville and Ettrick country.  At the northwest, the Trempealeau Prairie opens into valley of the Tamarack River, which flows south between high ridges and then west across the prairie into the Trempealeau River a few miles from its mouth.

The valley of the Trempealeau River occupies the central part of the county.  Entering from Jackson County on the east, the river describes a great bend to the north and then flows southwardly, forming for a part of its course the western boundary of the county, dividing a few miles north of its mouth into two branches, and then spreading into marshes and sloughs on its way to the Mississippi.  The Trempealeau River receives two important tributaries from the north, Elk Creek and Pigeon Creek, both of which have rich and fertile valleys.

In the northern part the Beef River flows east and west.

The three divisions of the county are separated by high ridges, and all the valleys have tributary valleys and cooleys which in turn are likewise bordered by ridges.

The physical geography of Trempealeau County has been the important feature in its settlement.  Its pioneers came first to Trempealeau, scattered back on the prairie, and up the Tamarack and Beaver Creek Valleys.  From the ridges of Buffalo County to the west and from Jackson County to the east, they poured into the Trempealeau Valley, and from that valley into its tributaries.  From the older counties to the east and south they poured into the Beef River Valley.  Geographical expediency has also located  the incorporated villages, all being at natural trading centers near the mouths of important valleys, and all being the sites of natural waterpowers.  At or near the present sites of all the incorporated villages, there were stores before the railroads were built.  Physical geography has also been an important part in determining the political destinies of the county, political divisions having been made with a view to geographical convenience, and only four of the townships following the lines of the government survey.

The county was created Jan. 24, 1854.  The supervisors of Montoville Township met as the supervisors of Trempealeau County, March 11, 1854.  Gale Township was created at that meeting, and the first regular meeting of county supervisors consisting of the chairmen of Montoville (Trempealeau) and Gale Townships met May 1, 1854.  The commissioner system, with a commissioner from each of three districts, went into effect Jan. 1, 1862, and the supervisor system was revived Jan. 1, 1870.  The courthouse was ready for occupancy at Galesville, July 23, 1856.  In 1858 a petition was presented to the legislature asking for the removal of the county seat of Trempealeau, and in 1868 the legislature passed a bill authorizing a vote on the subject.  Nov. 7, 1876, the vote was taken by the citizens of the county, removing the county seat to Arcadia.  A year later the voters removed the county seat to Whitehall, where the supervisors held their first meeting Jan. 23, 1878.  A proposition to remove it to Blair was rejected by the voters in 1878, and a proposition to return it to Arcadia rejected in 1862. In 1883 a petition asking for a vote on the removal to Independence was declared to have too few signatures.

The courthouse at Whitehall was started in 1883 and completed early in 1884.  The jail was built in 1886.  Courthouse and jail were rebuilt in 1911.  The County Insane Asylum at Arcadia was started in 1899 and completed in 1900.  Efforts to establish a poor farm and alms house have thus far failed.

The townships of the county are:  Trempealeau, created as Montoville by the county supervisors of La Crosse County before Trempealeau County was organized, the exact date not appearing in the La Crosse records; Gale, created March 11, 1854; Preston, created Nov. 21, 1855; Sumner, created Nov. 20, 1856; Arcadia, created Nov. 20, 1856; Caledonia, created Nov. 11, 1857; Lincoln, created Nov. 13, 1860; Ettrick, Dec. 16, 1862; Burnside, Dec. 31, 1863; Hale, Feb. 16, 1864; Albion, Jan. 20, 1870; Dodge, Jan. 4, 1875; Pigeon, Jan. 4, 1875; Unity, Nov. 20, 1877; and Chimney Rock, Nov. 22, 1881.

The metropolis is Arcadia with a population of some 1,400.  The other villages are Whitehall, Trempealeau, Galesville, Dodge, Independence, Blair, Ettrick, Pigeon Falls, Osseo, Strum, and Eleva.

The population is 22,928.  The Scandinavian element largely predominates.  The German and Polish element is next in numbers.  In 1860 the population was 2,560, largely from the eastern states.  In 1870, the population was 10,732, the ratio of the population elements being practically as at present.  In 1880 the population was 17,189; in 1890 it was 18,920; in 1900 it was 23,114.  The decrease to 22,928 in 1910 was due to the young people moving to the cities and to the West.

The county is entirely an agricultural one, all of the villages depending upon the people of their immediate rural district for their support.

The earliest explorers of the upper Mississippi River found Trempealeau under the domain of the powerful Dakota Indians, who from their headquarters in the Mille Lacs region of northern Minnesota, used the great river as their route of war and the chase.  But pressed hard by the Chippewa, who had secured firearms from the whites, the Dakota abandoned their ancient northern villages, and the early fur traders found them ranging the Mississippi from St. Paul southward to Prairie du Chien, and on the prairies to the westward.  The Winnebago, who, like the Dakota, or Sioux proper, were members of the Siouan family, had held ancient sway of the valleys of the Rock and Fox Rivers, and the territory around Lake Winnebago and Green Bay, were met at Green Bay by the first explorers, and in early fur trading days were ranging as far westward as the Mississippi.  Tradition tells of many a murderous foray against the Dakota and the Winnebago in the vicinity, not only by their hereditary enemies, the Chippewas to the northward, but also by the combined Sauk and Foxes to the southward.

Some time in the middle years of the first half of the nineteenth century, Decorah of the Winnebago had a village at what is now Decorah's Prairie,, and Wabasha of the Dakotas had a village near Trempealeau Mountain, while Red Bird of the Winnebago had a village near the mouth of the Black River, from which he and his followers, as well as Winneshiek and his followers, ranged Trempealeau County.  The Winnebago were allies of the Dakota, and the two mingled in friendly intercourse and even in marriage.  Dakota dominion in Trempealeau County ended in 1837, when the chiefs and head men signed a treaty relinquishing all their lands east of the Mississippi and the islands therein, and withdrew west of the river.  The Winnebago, however, in spite of many efforts at removal, persisted in staying in Trempealeau County, and some of their descendants are to be found straying here to this day.

The shadowy Spanish sovereignty had no influence on Trempealeau County, where its vague substance nominally continued until the approach of the French, or on the neighboring lands across the Mississippi River, where it continued until after the securing of the "Louisiana Purchase" by the United States.

The French Period in Trempealeau County extended from the discovery of Wisconsin in 1634 until the fall of new France.  The adventurous Father Louis Hennepin, in company with Accault and Auguel, passed the mountain with his savage captors in 1680, on that memorable trip which was to give to civilization its first knowledge of St. Anthony Falls, about which now centers the greatest milling industry in the world.  A few months later the rocks of Trempealeau heights beheld the historic rescue of that missionary by the gallant young Sieur du Luth.

Nicholas Perrot was the first to actually visit Trempealeau County.  In the winter of 1685-86 he built a Post and established his winter quarters about two miles above the present village of Trempealeau.  Just when he abandoned this post is now known.  At least he was in this region for several years thereafter.   Linctot reoccupied this same post in the fall of 1731.  The site of the post is now definitely fixed, as its ruins have been unearthed and mapped.  Linctot was succeeded late in 1735 by St. Pierre, who removed the post higher up the river early the following spring.  Other Frenchmen during the French period noted Trempealeau Mountain, and some stopped here.

The English period officially dawned with the signing of the treaties of 1762 and 1763, but the last French garrison had left Wisconsin in 1760.  During this period, Jonathan Carver, a Connecticut Yankee, viewed this region in 1766 and published the first description of Trempealeau Mountain.  This description, which is fairly accurate, has been preserved in Carver's works to this day.  British domain in reality continued from the arrival of the English detachment at Green Bay in 1761 until the beginning of the American military occupancy at Prairie du Chien and Green Bay in 1816.  But in the meantime, American sovereignty had been inaugurated by the Treaty of 1783; had been exercised by the passing of the Ordinance of 1787; had been confirmed by the Treaty of 1796; and had been interrupted by the British military occupancy during the war of 1812 and the hostility of the Indians immediately following that war.

The dashing Lieut. Zebulon M. Pike, on his way up the river in 1805, camped near Trempealeau Mountain and spoke glowingly of the scenery.  In 1817 came Major Stephen H. Long with his little band in a six-oared skiff.  He climbed some of the hills in this region and advanced some interesting theories as to the original contour of Trempealeau Mountain and Prairie.

With the establishment of Ft. Snelling at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers in 1819, Trempealeau County was placed within the pale of civilization, and soldiers, traders and visitors were frequently passing.  About the same time, a sawmill was built at the Falls of the Black River.  Gen. Lewis Cass, James D. Doty and Henry R. Schoolcraft passed Trempealeau Mountain in 1820 and described its peculiar formation and position.  A mill was built in 1822 on the Menomonee branch of the Chippewa.  In 1823, Long, accompanied this time by the scholarly William H. Keating, again passed Trempealeau Mountain, and the same year the sleeping echoes were awakened with the puffing of the "Virginia," the first steamboat to navigate the upper Mississippi.  Among the distinguished people aboard was J. Constantine Beltrami, the famous Italian explorer.  He wrote of Trempealeau Mountain with his characteristic enthusiasm.

Trempealeau Bay continued to be the rendezvous of the traders.

The first trapper and trader known to have actually built a cabin in Trempealeau County, after the early French explorers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was Joseph Rocque, an early trader and guide.  Winnebago tradition locates a cabin of his on Beaver Creek, in Trempealeau County near Galesville, where a branch of the stream is still known as French Creek.

In 1835 Featherstonhaugh visited the Trempealeau country and describes the view from the summit of Trempealeau Mountain.  Catlin, as well as the Dragoons of the Albert Miller Lee Military Expedition, came the same year.  The following year Daniel Gavin, representing the Protestant Missionary Society of Basle, Switzerland, established a mission among the Sioux at Trempealeau Bay, and with the assistance of Louis Stram, a fellow countryman, endeavored to teach the Indians agriculture; but Wabasha, their chief, did not take kindly either to the mission or the farming; and after the treaty of 1837, by which all the Sioux claim east of the Mississippi was ceded to the United States, Gavin abandoned the mission and proceeded north to more favorable fields at Red Wing.  Although the enterprise was temporary, it was the first made in the county in the nature of a permanent settlement, and was the first farming therein under the direction of a white man.

The next attempt at settlement came about under the auspices of the fur trade.  Francois la Bathe, a shrewd half-breed, and a near relative of Wabasha, induced John Doville and Antoine Reed to proceed to the present village of Trempealeau and cut cordwood on the island opposite for steamboats, and in so doing hold the Trempealeau River front as a landing and thus prevent any trade drifting away from Wabasha's village, at the present city of Winona, the American Fur Company being the real factor back of this move.

Then came the period of actual settlement, when James A. Reed brought his family from Prairie du Chien and located on the site of modern Trempealeau.  Under his direction, Doville, his son-in-law, tilled the soil broken by Stram at the bay, and became the first Trempealeau County farmer, as he sowed grain and raised potatoes, while Stram had devoted himself to gardening only.

During the next ten years a number of families moved into the new settlement which was known as Reed's Town, or Reed's Landing.  These families were mostly of French origin, though some were mixed bloods, and they thrived largely by the fur trade, though nearly all raised good gardens, and those who were fortunate enough to have stock used the prairie as a common grazing ground.

It was not however, until after 1850 that nay large number of settlers came into Trempealeau County, and the real influx did not start until 1855, but form that date until 1870 may be considered the real pioneer period in the county's history.  Settlers poured into the new country, penetrating its remotest valleys and taking up the choicest lands of the various sections, their lot in the undeveloped country were largely farmers or experience; and but few came unprepared to grapple with the wild forces of nature and subdue the hunting ground of the Indian.

However, conditions were entirely new.  Little sawed lumber was available.  Some of the pioneers lived in their wagons for a while; some built log cabins; some constructed dugouts; some few went to far off sawmills and obtained boards.  The county was but little wooded, and material even for log cabins was scarce.  Except on the prairies, it was not thought possible to sink wells, and water for household and farming purposes had to be secured from the creeks.  Horses were not suited to the inclement winters, the inferior protection of straw sheds and the coarse fodder of marsh grass, and so oxen were the principal beasts of burden.  Tools were few and hard to obtain.  Market places were far distant.  The people from the eastern states missed their convenient stores, the nearby schoolhouses, their village churches, and their cultural opportunities.  The immigrants from the British Isles and from central Europe missed the day-by-day routine which their ancestors had for centuries followed, and were thrown as never before on their own resources.  The Scandinavian, though in a more fertile land than one of which he had ever dreamed, missed the waterfalls and mountains of his native land, and was confronted with the necessity of entirely changing the methods of farming to which he was accustomed.  These Europeans also missed their churches, their schools, and their neighborhood gatherings of childhood friends.

In settling along the principal streams of the county, the pioneer followed a law that has been adhered to since the race began; in fact, the stream may be considered the trail leading into the interior of the country.

For the first few years the valley were sparsely settled.  Then came more pioneers, and communities were formed and named as a usual thing after the first settler, though sometimes they took their names from some home country or from a class of people natives of a common country.  Thus there are Reed's town, Galesville, Scotch Prairie, Bishop's Settlement, Caledonia, Williamsburg, as instances of the naming of a community.  The same holds true of the valleys which were most generally named in honor of the first settler, as Lewis Valley, Newcomb Valley, Holcomb Cooley and Latsch Valley.

Many of these first settlements became the present villages, and some of the villages will become cities in the future.  Reed's Town became the present Trempealeau;  Judge Gale's village grew into modern Galesville; Bishop's Settlement developed into Arcadia; Old Whitehall moved a mile became Whitehall; Fields' Colony became Osseo.  But Skillins' Corners, later called Williamsburg, Coral City and New City became reverse examples of the settlements growing into villages, and today their past glory is only a memory, recorded on a page of local history, for conditions were unfavorable for the growth of a town in those localities.

During the pioneer days, the first drawback was the hard winter of the deep snow in 1856-57; the next was the financial crisis of 1857.  Then, just when prosperity was dawning, came the Civil War.  However, from an economic standpoint, the increased value of agricultural products recompensed for the loss of labor caused by the absence of so many men, and the county received no severe setbacks.  In fact, the population increased, for there was a large influx of settlers from the old country, men who were not liable to military service.  The Scandinavians, who had begun to form colonies here in 1855, came in increasing numbers; the Germans, wo had started to colonize here in 1857, also flocked in; and during the opening years of the war the Polish and Bohemian settlers began to arrive.  The Minnesota Sioux massacre of 1862 caused much unrest among the settlers of Trempealeau County as to the attitude of the neighboring Winnebago camps, and was the occasion of many a fright, the incidents of which are now told with relish, but in reality was of great benefit to Trempealeau County, as many pioneers who had intended to settle on the western Minnesota prairies were deterred from continuing the journey, and thus cast their fortunes here.

During the pioneer period Trempealeau village was a steamboat center, the great grain shipping point of this and neighboring counties.  The Black River and the Mississippi River were filled with great rafts of logs from the Wisconsin forests, and even the shallow Trempealeau was used as a logging highway.

The railroad period begins with the building of the Northwestern into Trempealeau in 1870 and the building of the Green Bay through the valley of the Trempealeau River in 1873.  The extension of the Northwestern to Galesville in 1883, and the building of the Burlington through Trempealeau in 1886, the building of the Omaha through the northern part of the county in 1887-89, and the building of the Ettrick and Northern from Ettrick to Blair in 1917 opened up new avenues of trade, but marked no particular epoch.

From 1870 on, Trempealeau County history becomes tinged more and more with modern methods and improvements.  The railroad terminated Trempealeau's activities as the main market town of the county and at the same time the steamboat industry on the Mississippi received a most formidable rival.  With the building of the Green Bay, Whitehall, Arcadia and Blair became important points, Dodge became a trading center, and soon Independence was started.  The county advance rapidly now, as the railroad made the markets of the world more accessible, and with the progress came the inevitable changes that have been the wonder of our western civilization.  People quickly adapted themselves to the new conditions and fell in with the trend of things.  The farmer discarded his breaking plow and rode across his fields with the modern sulky, while his oxen were fattened and sold to market to make way for well-bred horses.  The mattock was flung into a corner of the tool shed to rust out its existence, while the stump-pulling machine took its place and made grubbing a mechanical piece of labor rather than slow, plodding work.  The cradle and flail were hung on the wall, and in their place came the reaper, binder and steam thresher.  The old tallow candle that burned through the pioneer days was laid aside, and the kerosene and, still later, gasoline and even the electric light cast a glamor on the household and lighted the room so that grandmother could knit even better than she could before the old fireplace.

The population increased rapidly, nearly 7,000 by 1877.  At the beginning of this period there were but two graded school, one at Galesville and one at Whitehall, and but on district, that of Arcadia, where there were two school houses.  With the creation of the new villages, graded schools became more general, and in a short time high school studies were introduced.  New churches were established; old congregations built new edifices.

But with all this prosperity, the elements of disaster were present.  The farmers were devoting their attention almost exclusively to wheat raising.  A few experiments were made with other crops, but wheat was the staple.  The taking of rich crops off the same pieces of land year after year was depleting the soil.  The cinch bugs were appearing in increasing numbers.  Smooth-talking agents persuaded farmers to purchase machinery on time payments.  Better machinery soon made its appearance, and the unfortunate purchases of the earlier machinery found themselves with inferior equipment and with heavy bills to pay.  The price of wheat was going down.  Many lost their property through inability to meet their notes.  In 1878 came the wheat failure.  About this time also came the rush to the prairies of western Minnesota and to the Dakotas.  Many people deserted the county.

But with the dawn of the eighties there came improved methods and increasing prosperity, though for ten years there was little increase in population.  The farmers turned their attention to diversified crops, to stock, to swine and to sheep.  In 1883 creameries were started at Arcadia and Galesville, and in 1885 a cooperative creamery was started at Ettrick.  Banks sprang up here and there.  A small bank had been established in 1878 at Whitehall and moved to Arcadia, and before 1890 flourishing banks were in operation at Galesville, Whitehall, Independence and Arcadia.  Telephone connection was established with the outside world from Galesville in 1895, and soon Arcadia likewise secured outside connections, and in 1900-02 lines were built and exchanges opened in the Trempealeau and Beef River valleys.

During the past ten years scientific agriculture has occupied the minds of Trempealeau County farmers, stimulated largely by the agricultural department of the federal government and by the efforts of the agricultural department of the University of Wisconsin, more particularly, by the University Extension Division.  As there are few new fields to subdue, the farmer must develop his old fields to a higher stage of efficiency.  This he is doing, as the increasing acreage of alfalfa and the better quality of corn and small grain show.  Blooded hers and constantly developing graded herds are numerous.  The automobile has come into wide use, and since 1907 an extensive system of road improvement has been conducted with state aid.  The farmers from Illinois and Iowa have brought experience in tobacco raising, so that the tobacco industry is now an important one in the county.  The schools have introduced the teaching of domestic science, agriculture and the manual arts.  Beautiful farm homes with all modern improvements are to be seen on all sides.  Silos dot the landscape like ancient castles, Trempealeau County seed corn is widely known, the creameries not only add to the reputation of the county's products but give the farmer a goodly cash check each month.  The present generation is reaping the fruits that have been made possible by more than sixty years of toil by preceding generations.

The year of 1917 has brought its war cloud.  A company has been raised within the county, many have volunteered, the conscripts of the National Army have been called into service.  The farmers have responded to the President's plea, and, though the early frost has almost destroyed the corn crop and the cucumber crop, there has been a greatly increased acreage and greatly increased yield of all other crops.

The county having reached so great a prosperity, it now seems that this scientific age of agriculture should join forces with the electrical machinery now in the process of completion, and together make farming an ideal vocation - a vocation where the naturalist and scientist combine forces to wrest from Mother Earth a harvest such as would satisfy the most sanguine dreamer.  Then we shall see the lightning from the clouds harnessed, and plowing the fields, sowing the grain, and reaping it in harvest time, and in so doing it will simply be the application of natural laws in which the human mind is the directing force.

To the telling of this story of the county in more extended detail, the following pages are devoted.  First is given the history of the early days of the area that is now Wisconsin, and then is traced the history of the county from its formation during the geologic ages, through the early settlement of the various localities.  Then the county government is given, and the rest of the book is devoted to chapters on various topics of local interest, source material in the form of miscellaneous contributions, and biographies of the lives of those who have helped to make the county.

The WIGenWeb Project logo was designed and provided by Debbie Barrett.

DISCLAIMER:   No claim is made to the copyrights of the individual submitters.   The contents of this website may be used for personal use only by individuals researching their own ancestry.   Commercial use of this information for profit is strictly prohibited without prior permission of the owners.  Other genealogical websites may link to this website; however, permission is not granted to duplicate any of the contents.  Anyone contributing material for posting does so in recognition of its free, non-commercial distribution, as well as the responsibility  to assure that no copyright is violated by the submission.  This website and its coordinator are not responsible for donations of copyrighted material where explicit written permission has not been granted for use.
Copyright © 2000 - 2012
All Rights Reserved
This website was established on 31 Oct 2000