Elisha W. (Elisha Williams) Keyes.

A reminiscent history of the village and town of Lake Mills, Jefferson County : embraced in a period of ten years, from 1837 to 1847, and while Wisconsin was a territory online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryElisha W. (Elisha Williams) KeyesA reminiscent history of the village and town of Lake Mills, Jefferson County : embraced in a period of ten years, from 1837 to 1847, and while Wisconsin was a territory → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook









3 1833 01077 0342

Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2010 with funding from

Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center


£'"4 "3

1837. 1847. 1894.








' All of which I saw,
And part of which I was."




Ladies and Gentlemen of Lake Mills: To fill up the gap from
1S37 to 1S94 would require fifty-seven years and those years
would only measure the time since my father's family settled
here in 1S37. To commence at the beginning of this period
with a backward look from today; to carefully scan the succeed-
ing ten years, bringing to the fore from that long buried past,
the facts, incidents and prominent figures of that early settle-
ment, would seem to be a draft upon one's memory that could
not be honored. Yet. knowing myself and the tenacity of my
memory, from those boyhood days, I know that it is clear, and

"True as the needle to the pole,
Or as tlie dial to the sun."

From the storehouse of that memory, I have brought forth
the facts and reminiscences embodied in this address. Fiction
is given no place and nothing is credited to the imagination. I
only fear you may set down as trifling and uninteresting, so
much that is necessarily personal to myself in many of the inci-
dents herein related. But, being dear to me, I submit (hem to
your kindly interest.

I remember when a boy in Vermont my father procured an
old-fashioned atlas, with the apparently unsettled northwest
territory traced upon it, and calling my older brothers to him,
pointed with his forefinger on the map to that portion of the
territory which began along the southern point of Lake Michi-
gan, and extending therefrom in a northwesterly direction. He
pointed to the mouth of the Milwaukee river, and, said he,
'•'Roys, there's where we want to go; that country offers splendid
inducements for sen lets. There/' said he, "must be water powd-
ers and timber."

At this time I was but seven years of age. still I remember
the deep interest I took in the conversation, and the impression

that it made upon my mind. Following this discussion about
locality, in the year 1836, my father wended his way thither,
going to Milwaukee and later to Jeffersc n county, finally mak-
ing' claims to lands in that portion of the county afterwards
known as Lake Mills, though the land was not then in the mar-
ket. Having made up his mind to settle at that point, he com-
municated with my mother, then resident with her children at
Xorthfield, Vermont, and arranged that the family should start
for the country that had just been organized into Wisconsin

In pursuance of this determination, on the second day of May.
1837, the family, consisting of my mother and brothers, Abel
and Oliver, and sister Katharine and myself, started in wagons,
with a few household goods, for Burlington upon Lake Cham-
plain'; thence by steamboat to Whitehall in Xoav York, and from
that point by canal. Xear Utica, my father, coming from the
west, met us upon the way and guided us to our new home.
Embarking at Buffalo upon the steamer Bunker Hill, after a
very pleasant voyage, with scarcely a ripple upon the lake, we
landed in Detroit.

From Detroit we traveled in covered wagons along the
swampy roads of Michigan, and through Northern Indiana to
Chicago. After dragging our wagons through the muddy
streets of that embryo city, little dreaming that some of us would
live to see it contain nearly two million people, we started on
our winding way for Milwaukee. The road was muddy and the
country almost wholly unsettled. In the heavy timber between
Racine and Milwaukee, and nearer to the latter city, we be-
came stuck in the mud and were obliged" to remain all night,
waiting for daylight: to extricate ourselves. In flip morning
we proceeded oil ear way. and finally, in the afteWiobii of the
17th day of June, 1S37, we emerged from the heavy timber upon
the banks of the Milwaukee river at what was then known as
Walker's Point.

We remained in Milwaukee until ant num. occupying a frame
building, two stories with basement, on the northeast corner
of Ouieda and Broadwav. This house had been constructed by
my father at a place called Navariiio on Green Bay, and shipped
to Milwaukee where it was put up. Its location at that time

was reallv in The woods. There were ho buildings in front of
it to the river, anil but one between it and Wisconsin street.
After Ave became settled I attended school at the old court-
house taught by Eli Hates, and between onr house and the
court house the bush Was so thick that I frequently became lost,
until 1 had thoroughly learned the way.

Milwaukee was then but a village of a few hundred inhabit-
ants, yet it was the largest and most important point, if I re-
member rightly, in all the vast expanse of country west of Mil-
waukee. For some years after, it was thought that Milwaukee
was more likely to become the great city of the west than Chi-
cago, but subsequently the railroads turned the tide in favor of
the latter city.

The year before, which was in the summer of 1836, my father
had visited the country now known as Jefferson county, and
made claim to about a section of land, now comprising Lake
Mills village and its surroundings. lie was very anxious to
move his family to that point. Therefore, in the latter part of
September, we were on the move again to roach, what was Then
pictured to us to be, "The Promised Land.''

We left Milwaukee with two teams, one of which was a
wagon drawn by oxen, containing our household goods and the
women of the party, who could not well walk over the rough
and muddy roads. We passed through Prairieville, now Wau-
kesha, which place had only one or two log houses, and across
Summit Prairie through Oconomowoc until we struck the
woods, through which we traveled until Ave reached the pres-
ent site of the city of Wa ten own. At a place in the heavy
timber, hot far from the Rock river known as Saeias, we were
OA'ertaken by a heavy rainstorm, and wo had to Search for the
bestshelter we could find. In a clearing near at hand we
found a shanty with the body niade of small logs, and with the
roof partly Covered with split timber. Into this we all hud-
dled; and after partaking of the last of onr provisions waited
for the morning, which finally came and found us thoroughly
wot from the storm. We gathered ourselves together, formed
anew the procession, and started with the two wagons for
Watertown. not very far ahead, at which place we arrived in
the afternoon. All Ave saw at this place avus a dam across the
river, partially constructed, and the foundation for a sawmill


with, two shanties not far away. We crossed the river, passing
on to our objective point, and at about a mile or so distant, in
open country, we reached a log house occupied by the family
of Timothy Johnson, where we stayed all night.

The next day was to finish our journey, and while the dis-
tance Avas only about twelve miles, we knew it would be a great
undertaking to reach our destination by nightfall. After mak-
ing the best time we could during the da}', we reached the ford
at a place now known as Milford, just as the sun was declining
in the west, and we ferried across the river in a boat con-
structed of two Indian canoes, bottomed with split bass wood
planks, upon which the wagons rested, the horses and cattle
fording the stream.

After crossing the river we started through the oak open-
ings with no road, not even an Indian trail, seeing no human
being, not even a shanty, until after dark when we struck the
present site of Lake Mills where, near the lake, after crossing
the slough, on the property now owned by Gherika Bros., we
found a lioorless shanty shingled with a hay stack. Our horses
and oxen were picketed in the best manner possible for the
night, and .some of our household goods were unloaded from
the wagons, "We were entirely out of everything to eat, and
we were certain to go supperless to bed unless something could
be cooked. The sheet iron cook stove was placed upon its legs
upon the ground, and a lire started. The program was to make
some biscuits and boil the tea-kettle for a cup of tea, and that
was to be our supper. A lire was started in the stove but it
would not burn. There was no draft. The smoke issued from
it in every direction. It commanded our best efforts to make
it perform its duty, but it would not. We were nearly discour-
aged. ' Our party had gathered around it watching with deep
solicitude the result. -Ml the ingenious devices Me could think
of were applied to it to make it work, and we were all giving
up the effort in, despair. My father said, "We will try two
things more, and if they f;iil we will give it up." The first was
to set some hay on fire and thrust ii into the pipe hole, which
was low down, to <\vy qui the dampness, whhrh, he thought,
might have gathered lliere from being so long exposed to the
rain during our journey. This was done. No change in the
.stove. The next and last move was to pm up a long stretch of

pipe pointing towards the stars, at least, twelve feet. When
the pipe was erected, new fuel was applied, and soon the stove
was singing away right merrily with a splendid draft that
made our hearts glad for we knew it meant a supper for a nun*
gry party. Soon the cakes were mixed and baked, the tea-
kettle boiled and tea was made, and we sat around upon the
ground partaking of our supper, very thankful that it had been
vouchsafed to us.

After supper, with darkness having set in all around us, my
father found another most difficult problem to solve. The ques-
tion was, ''Where were we all to sleep?" It must be in some
manner beneath the shelter of the hay stack that topped the
shanty. Across one end of the same my father gathered away
the chips and chunks and limbs and old musty hay, supplying in
their places hay of a better quality over which were spread
some blankets, and one large resting place was provided. When
it was ready we all gathered around and went to bed in the fol-
lowing order. Xext to the logs was placed my brother Abel;
next to him Mr George Farmer; then came his wife and my sis-
ter Kate; then my youngest brother Oliver, and next in order
was myself; and when Ave were all packed in snugly my father
took the outside, and his place came mainly upon the ground
with nothing between. I will state here that Mr. George
Farmer and wife accompanied us from Milwaukee, and that
my mother left us in the Watertown woods in order to lighten
our load, and went to Aztalan in company with other travelers.

While we were occupants of the shanty, we had some rather
interesting times and varied experiences. From the south, to-
ward Illinois, my father had secured a yoke of oxen fur labor,
and a cow had followed them in. which animal was designed
for food. As we had no ford for her, it became necessary that
she should be dispatched and made into beef. So one bright
morning all hands were called together to participate in the
slaughter. We had corraled the animal in the bush, in fact
surrounded her. and George Farmer with his rifle was to be the
executioner. The cow was as wild as a doer, and seemed to an-
ticipate what was in store for Iter. It was some time before an
opportunity was presented for a shot. The rifle went off with
a loud report, and away went r the cow — over the hills and out
of sight. We all rushed after and surrounded her again. All


were very much, excited. Soon another shot was made— aimed
at her head by George Farmer, the marksman, though not a
farmer. The cow shook her head ami away she went again.
This was very discouraging. My father became alarmed. He
thought we were going to lose our hold upon the animal. The
time came when there was another opportunity for the rifle to
be brought into play. My father shouted to Farmer at the top
of his voice, saying, -'Shoot again. If you cairt hit her in the
head this time, shoot her in the paunch." The rifle sounded
again and the cow came down, and an ax finished the final
effort. This occu rred a little way from our shanty and the dress-
ing took place where the cow fell. We had made sure of our
beef. We did not wish it to become food for the wolves. We
wanted it. ourselves. It was brought in and protected as fully
as possible, but that night, a drove of gray wolves surrounded
the shanty. The smell of blood had sharpened their appetites,
and portions of the animal had been seized by them and
dragged quite a distance, but we all rallied to save it from loss.
The next night it was arranged to lie in wait for the savage
brutes. Xo sleep for us that night. Volney Foster, who joined
us, was posted in a secure place armed with a rifle. As the
night progressed the howling of the wolves was heard, and
some of them approached within a few feet of the shanty.
Soon the report of the rifle rang out loud and clear and a big,
gray wolf fell pierced with a rifle ball through his body. Though
not dead my father finished his career with a blow upon the
head with an ax.

We occupied this primitive habitation for a number of weeks,
but it was necessary for us to have a belter place than this to
live in during the winter; therefore, my father proceeded at
once to construct a log house upon the Bite now occupied by W.
H. Eaynes" dwelling, it was built and ready for occupancy be-
fore the cold weather came. In this house we lived f<>r several
years. We had very little, if any, furniture to furnish the house
with after it was finished. Only a few of the most essential
articles conlcl be moved from the eastern home. No chairs, no
tables, no bedsteads, nothing hardly but the old traditional
featherbed, and a meager lot of crockery for the table. I re-
member very well the manner of construction of our log house.
Logs were rolled one upon the other, crossing at the ends and


interlocked together and between the logs we put wedges of
split oak, filling the chinks in with niml from the hank. The
floors were made from plank split from oak, and the shingles
were turned out in the same manner. The table, which Ave used
for many years, was made of oak, and the chairs were simply
three-legged stools with plank to cover the three legs. Old set-
tlers have a keen recollection of them.

In the end of our log house *was an old-fashioned chimney,
with a hole cut through the end for the stone work, with the
chimney extending to the top of the roof, built of split oak and
mud. It was several years after this log house was constructed
before a frame house was erected in any part of the county.
After the saw mill commenced operations and we could saw
boards for building purposes, a frame addition of one room and
chamber was built on the north end of our log house. It was
a great addition and was appreciated very highly. The old
land marks, the log houses, have now almost wholly disap-
peared, and with the old pioneers will, soon have returned to

My father had selected this site upon the si ream near the
lake with the intention of constructing a saw mill and a grist
mill there. The former was built and in running order in '39,
and the grist mill in '4:2. All his efforts during this period, and
under the most discouraging circumstances, were devoted to
the construction of the mills, which, I think, were about the
first, if not the first built in Jefferson county.

The early settlers of Lake Mills and Jefferson county were
all men of small means. They had but little money. Many
of them found it difficult to furnish bread for their families
during the time the ground was being cleared and broken in
order to produce a crop. At the .lime, and for several years
subsequent, provisions were very high, and the markei ihe early
settlers had was Milwaukee, some fifty or more miles distant,
with the roads almost impassable. [ remember that in the
spring of '.">s. we had gotten out <>t' provisions, and my father
started for Milwaukee for some flour and pork. The weather
was bad and the mads almost Impassable. A filer an absence of
over three weeks, during which time the family was very much
alarmed for his safety, he returned, having spent all his money,
with just one barrel of flour. This was nearly all loaned out in


a short time to the settlers, who had not even money enough
for their necessary wants.

A kindly and fraternal feeling prevailed most emphatically
among all the early settlers. There was no fighting, no wrang-
ling. They all agreed and were desirous of helping one another
in whatever they had on hand to do. If one had a barrel of
flour and a little pork; he most cheerfully loaned a portion of
it to his neighbor, and thus some families were enabled to sub-
sist that otherwise would certainly have gone hungry.

It hardly seems possible in this day of plenty to realize the
condition of things which then existed. There was a time
when the settlers in the vicinty of Lake Mills and Aztalan
really suffered from hunger. They were apprehensive that they
and their families might starve to death. A meeting was held
one Sunday in a log house at Aztalan occupied by Capt. Thomas
Brayton, where the settlers came together and considered this
difficult problem, which had become to them a serious one, that
is, what they were to do for something to eat. At this meeting
the oxen in the settlement, which were about the only beasts
of burden, were counted up and an estimate made as to how
long the band of settlers could subsist upon them in case they
should be reduced to that extremity. The question was most
carefully and prayerfully considered by the men and women
who were present at that meeting. I have seen my father with
his head bowed low upon his hands in deep thought and medi-
tation, and when my mother attempted to arouse him by the
inquiry. •Joseph, what is the matter?" he would lift up his head
and say. "Olive, I know not where we are to get provisions to
live upon much longer.''

I recollect one instance, which I shall never forget, when we
were entirely out of provisions of every kind, and my father
started in the afternoon for Capt. Brayton's at Aztalan to see
if he could not borrow a few pounds of flour. The sun went
down, and he had not yet returned. Darkness came, and my
mother and the children were much worried for fear some ac-
cident had befallen him. Tie had gone on horseback, leaving
one horse in the stable. About nine o'clock we heard the neigh-
ing of a horse in the distance, which was answered by its mate
in the stable, and shortly afterward my father emerged from
the opening across the creek, and soon reached the door, lead-


ing his horse, and from the open door and by the light of the
fire, which shone through it, we saw something had happened
to him. He was wet and muddy, and held in his arms a little
bag or bundle. His firsr remark to my mother was, '"Olive, we
are ruined." lie proceeded to relate that upon his homeward
way in crossing the Big Slough, about midway between the two
places, his horse had stumbled upon the floating logs, and
thrown him and the bag of dour he carrie 1 into the mud and
mire, where the horse and rider -and Hour remained until he
succeeded in extricating himself. lie then grasped the bag of
flour and carried it to dry land, the horse following. Thence
he wended his way homeward. The flour had been soaked in
the muddy water of the slough, and he had reason to think that
it was entirely destroyed; but my mother, who always took a
hopeful view of things, endeavored to comfort him by saying
that perhaps it was not so bad as he expected. The horse was
put in the log stable, and the bag of flour brought in and laid
upon the floor, inul my father and mother and us children gath-
ered around the bag as the strings were unfastened waiting in
eager expectancy for the result. As the top of the bag was
opened, sure enough, so it appeared, the muddy water had done
its work, but soou the dou^h cracked open, and inside there
appeared good dry flour. The end of the bag was turned back-
ward, and the dry flour taken out. After this had been secured,
then the dough, the result of the mixture of the marsh water
with the flour, was carefully scraped off and sacredly preserved
and eaten by the family. For a little while we had two kinds
of bread upon the table, that made of the mixture T have spoken
of for the children, ami the beiier quality for Ihe older people,
but the children did not complain. We were satisfied with it
because it would appoasd our Imngor.

The early settlers were noi good hunters nor expert fisher-
men. They had to learn these arts by practice. Tn those days
there were no breach loading i;nns. Tf a settler could get hold
of an old flint-lock fusee from ihe Indians for a little barter and
use that for his gun. he was doing exceedingly well. It was a
longtime het'on- any white man proved himself alert enough to
shoot a deer. It was said that a disease known as the 'T.uck'
Fever'' rendered their aim so unsteady that they failed to bring
down such game, although the wood ; were tilled with it. There


were deer in great abundance, prairie chickens, partridges,
ducks and geese. At that time there were no (mails nor rab-
bits for the reason, as I supposed, that the wolves and foxes de-
stroyed them. The streams were full of fish. One of the most
useful and substantial articles of diet for the early settler was
the ''sucker," which was found in great abundance in the lake
and in the Crawfish river, and in the springtime sou Id be ob-
tained by the wagon load. Reaching the lake here late in the
fall, we, of course, did not "catch on" to the ways of the fish,
but the following spring, which was in '38, the great wealth
of our lake was most singularly unfolded to us. Our log house
was but a few rods from the bank of the stream. A little way
from the house was the stable and near this stable was a small
dam that had been constructed across the creek that flowed
from the lake, to raise the water on a level with the bank so
the horses could drink more easily. It was springtime. The
snow had gone, but the ice was not all out of the lake, and the
water in the creek was singing merrily as it proceeded on its
way. Just at sundown one day, my brother Oliver and myself
went to water the horses at this rise of i lie water above the dam,
where they were in the habit of drinking. In looking into the
stream we discovered that its bottom Avas literally covered
with very large fish. I called out to my older brother Abe to
come there and see what it meant, lie at once took in the
situation, and ran to the stable and came back with a pitch
fork, when he commenced pitching out the fish. Very soon my
father was called and put in an appearance, and we all pitch-
forked those ••stickers" until late in the evening, not stopping
until we had secured, at least, a barrel full. It was with great
satisfaction that my father remarked to my mother, f \Xow, we
are all right, There is no inure dauger of starving when we
can get plenty of fish, and, the indications are that the supply
will be fully equal to the demand." As soon as we got fairly
started in the ti-di business, we had fish for breakfast and fish
for dinner and fish for supper, and. in fact, fish all the time.

There was a young. «$reen fellow, a sort of a Pennsylvania
Dutchman, who had wandered west, working for niyJaiiher. He
was possessed of an enormous appetite; and he also seemed
possessed of great courage, for he never feared that he might
choice himself with fishbones. The rest of us were a little rare-


t'ul upon that point and looked over our fish with eare, but
Laurence Becker had a knack of eating fish that double dis-
counted ours, and it was frequently said that lie could shovel
tish in at one side of bis mouth, and the bones would fly out at
the other. His skill in this respect was certainly wonderful
and my statements in regard to it are not in the least exag-
erated. After mentioning this circumstance a number of years
ago at a meeting of the old settlers in Fort Atkinson, an old
pioneer, whose name I have forgotten, but who resided in the
southeastern part of Jefferson county, said. "Keyes, you have

1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryElisha W. (Elisha Williams) KeyesA reminiscent history of the village and town of Lake Mills, Jefferson County : embraced in a period of ten years, from 1837 to 1847, and while Wisconsin was a territory → online text (page 1 of 6)