Melinda Ann Warren Weaver – Memories of Early Days: Milwaukee Arrival

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“Memories of Early Days”


Melinda Ann Warren Weaver,

Darlington Wis., December 21, 1875

Transcribed and Edited by Michael R.Reilly

Last Revised 05/25/2013

Milwaukee Arrival

    We had very pleasant weather all the way from home exceptone day, and that was a rainy day. Except that one day, we could be on decknearly all day. Of course, when it was foggy it was not so pleasant, but it waswarm. The sun shone bright and beautiful except those two days. We did not go tobed the night we got to Milwaukee, for the captain had told us thathe expected that we should get there in the evening, and if it was night, thatis, if the wind was favorable for him to go right along. So, late as it was, wehad to go ashore in a small row boat, which went threetimes from the schooner to the land to take the passengers and goods.We went the second time. It had grown cloudy and we heard distant thunder.We found that the lake was getting rather rough. There was no harboror pier, and the sailors rowed as near as they could and then jumpedon shore with a rope in hand and then pulled the boat close to theshore helping the rest of us to land, and there we were with two littlechildren on the beach of the lake along way from any house or buildingand so dark was it that we could scarcely see to walk on the beachand keep clear of the lake.

We came to a smalllog house where lived three families. We saw a light at awindow just before we got to it, but it was gone by the time we got there,and it was beginning to sprinkle. We rapped at the door and a man calledout to know what was wanted. My husband answered that he had just landedfrom a schooner with his wife and two children and would like to getshelter for the rest of the night. A lady let us in, the only man at homebeing lame and could not get out of bed. He had been out chopping andhad cut his foot very badly with his axe. They were kind enough to giveus shelter, but had no bed for us, so my husband went back to where welanded and brought back a loose bed that we had and got back before itrained very hard; but we had scarcely lain down with the children whenthe rain came down in earnest. The thunder was heavy and the lighteningsharp, and altogether, with the roaring and dashing of the waves,(for we were close to the lake), there was not very much sleep forus, but we were thankful that we were on land, and that it was no worse.When daylight came the sun rose bright and clear, and it was very pleasantindeed. My husband went back to where our boxes, chest and barrelslay, for they had to lay where we landed, and brought our provisionbox so that we could get our breakfast, and then went out and foundhis brother-in-law [David Bonham] who had just come down the river twomiles, to his work.

He came in a small boat. He took me and the children inhis boat and rowed back home with us, my husband stayingto care of our luggage till the boat could come back forhim and bring our baggage home, which was done in thecourse of the day. They lived in a small log house, withonly one room below and one above, and these very small.They had three little ones and there was a family stayingwith them, a man, wife and four children. They stayed about a weekafter we got there and then they moved, but we had to stay there as therewas no other place, not even one room that we could find to get into,and we could not get into the country as we expected to, until spring[1837]. Those who had gone and made their claims were not going tospring, and it would be too lonely for one family to be out there withoutany neighbors. It was lonely enough where we were, a mile and a halffrom the town, and not much of a town at that, and did not look as ifit would ever be much of a place. We had expected to payfor our land that fall [1836], but as it was not in themarket, we could not; but as we found provisions and everything thatwe needed so much dearer than we had been used to paying, we found itnecessary to use all of our ready money before we could raise anythingon our land.

Flour was $8 a barrel when we first gotthere, and we were told that as soon as navigation closedit would be raised to $15, and so we thought we would getour winter stock, but merchants had already raised theprice and we had to pay $10 and $12. We paid $16 for abarrel of white fish and $32 for a barrel of pork, $6 a hundred for beefby taking the half of one anima; butter 25 cents, and not fit to eat,so we did not buy any for a while, but used a jar full that we broughtfrom the east, and then went without any for two months. At the endof that time there was a man came from Illinois with a sleigh load ofnice butter that he sold for two-and-six pence as we used to count moneythen, but the merchants sold what they called good butter at the timefor five schillings a pound; very poor brown sugar 18 cents a pound;a little better kind, 20 cents; and loaf sugar 25 cents a pound. Tea,coffee and spices were also dear accordingly and went up in price whennavigation closed, but not quite so much in proportion as some otherthings. Sure enough, flour was $15 a barrel when navigation closed,and there came a time, about the middle of winter, that flour hadto be brought by teams from Chicago, and those who had to buy then hadto pay $20 a barrel. We paid a dollar a bushel for potatoes, and 50 centsa bushel for turnips that were raised near where we lived. Clothingwas very dear, but we had supplied ourselves so well that we didnot need much for two years, and by that time, it was a little more reasonable.

My husband went to work at two dollars a day, the dayafter we landed, and worked until he had earned onehundred and twenty dollars, sometimes with carpenters andsometimes with masons. Then came dull times, no more building thatwinter except to finish off those that were commenced, consequently therewas no work except for regular tradesmen. There were a good many men outof employment that would have been glad to have had work to do. Our men boughtsome oxen and got a chance to draw some wood for the steam boats. Theyhad to pay twenty-two dollars a ton for hay, and they bought corn and oatsto feed and to sow. They paid two dollars a bushel for oats and two and ahalf for corn.

Their job of hauling wood lasted aboutthree weeks, and then they went through the woods where itwas more open. Oak openings as they called it, with oncein a while a small prairie, and began to build a log louse [had to be Bonham’s home and public house]. It was eighteenmiles to their claim, so they would take provisions for a week and goand work a week, and then come home, get more and go again. It was very coldand they found it very slow business to get even a log house built. Theyhad to saw all the boards they used by hand, and it took three men [who was the third man? Mr. Ralph] four weeks,including the time it took to go to and from the place, and break theirway through the snow and cut trees and brush, so that they could get throughwith oxen and sleds.

The third man was a neighbor who was going to live nearus. When they had one house they thought we could live in,we moved – three families into the house and all livedtogether four weeks. One of our neighbors [this was probably the Redfords] fixed up a claimshanty, as they called it, and moved his family into it on the same daythat we moved, that being the fourth day of March 1837. We were a mile anda half apart and could not see each other’s cabins. Our men hired a man witha span of horses and a sleigh to take us with our children, and we had togo through fifteen miles of timber, and only one place in the timber land that we could see out, and then only as we looked overhead.

There were no houses all through the woods, as we went toour new home in the opening beyond, except the Half-wayHouse – as our men called it – and that was rather morethan half of the way through the woods, but it was only aplace where a man had cut down a few trees, and laid up a few logs as if fora house about twelve feet square, just to save his claim. There was no roof,not even rafters, but a few pieces of bark, and a little brush laid overat one corner. There was a doorway cut through, but no door. There were somepieces of flat stone laid up against the logs in one corner, and as our menwent to and fro once a week for four weeks, while they were getting readyto move, they would give their oxen some grain, and as there was no onethere to entertain them, they would entertain themselves in the best mannerpossible. They would enter this wayside inn, build a fire in the center,where stood those flat stones, and prepare their tea or coffee, whichthey always carried with them and their lunch of bread, cold meat, pie andcake and such things we could cook and put up for them. When they had finishedtheir meal and warmed themselves as well as they could, and their teamshad rested and fed, they would drive along again on their lonely road, nevermeeting or over-taking anyone, for there was no one but themselves thattraveled that road, until the day that we three families went, and then therewere two men that went to look for land, and they stayed in our house nightsand looked around for several days, until they suited themselves for landto make homes for themselves and families.

As soon as it was known that we had moved out in thecountry men kept coming, so that our little log house wasalways full. The four weeks that the three families of uslived all together in one house, our floor was strewn withmen, (those who came to look for land and make claims0, every nightbut one, and that night we felt rather lonely. There was only one room thatwe could use, except to stow away some things out of our way for the upperfloor was laid only half over, and no stairs to go above. Some had to crowdthemselves and their families into one end of the room, (fourteen of usaltogether), partitioned across, and between beds with quilts and blankets,so as to leave the rest of the room for our company. Some of them broughttheir provisions, and we prepared it for them, and some of them boardedwith us, but they all had to lay on the floor, as we had no bedsteadsbesides those we used ourselves, and these were homemade and roughlymade at that. But crowded as we were, we were only glad to divide oursmall room and accommodate as well as it was possible in our poor way, forwe wanted neighbors as well as they wanted homes; and if we were somewhatselfish, we had a desire to be kind and neighborly.

There was such a body of snow on the ground that there wasgood sleighing nearly half the month of March, which madeit very convenient for our men to get hay and grain, andsuch things as they had to have, for they had to go toMilwaukee for everything that they needed, as there was nowhere else to goto get anything; but wood and water we had plenty at home. They made hay andstacked it in the previous summer, when they went to make their claims; hopingto have abundance in the spring if they needed it. Knowing that the Indianswere in the habit of setting fire to burn prairies, marsh and openings,to make clear their hunting grounds from grass and herbage, they thoughtbest to set fire themselves and burn around their stacks at some suitabletime, for the purpose of trying to save them when the Indians shouldset fire to the prairies, but they had the misfortune to lose all theirhay, seven large stacks, by the shifting of the wind which drove the fireback, and sparks of fire lighting on the stacks set the hay on fire, andthey could not save any of it. So they had to buy hay in Milwaukee and drawit home, seventeen miles, to the place that has been known for many yearsas the town of Lisbon, in the county of Waukesha.

The last time that they went to town while the sleighinglasted was the last week in March, and not as good goingas it had been, for the snow was wasting fast; but as theywere wanting more corn, they thought they must fetch itbefore the snow was gone. As they were very busy withother work, our neighbor who lived in the house with us,took a yoke of oxen and a sled and went to town alone after the corn.He was not much used to driving a team, and my husband told him that hewould go as far as the Menomonee River the next day to meet him and help himif he needed help, he started the next morning in good time so as to be sureto meet him at the river; but when he got there he could see nothing of theteam, so he walked along three or four miles farther before he met him. Thenhe took the ox whip himself and hurried the team along as fast as possible,for he had seen cracks in the ice, when he crossed the river, and waterabove the ice, half way to his boot tops, and when they got back there,the water was deeper and the cracks in the ice wider. Mr. Rolf [Ralph],our neighbor who had been after the corn, did not know what to do; butmy husband told him that they must carry the corn across on their shouldersa bag at a time, and they carried it across in that way, then took thesled and drew it across by hand, and unyoked the oxen and drove one over alone;then they went back for the other, and when they had driven him about halfway over, the ice broke and the ox dropped into the river with nothing buthis head remaining above the water. They caught hold of his horns and triedto pull him out, but could not, and the current of the water drew him underthe ice. They then cut the ice away with an axe, hoping that he might riseso they could help him out. But he did not, and when they found that he wasstill going under they threw themselves down on the ice, in the water, andcaught the ox by the tail and pulled him back, until he could get his headabove the water. Then he could help himself some, and with their help hescrambled upon the ice and got over to the other side with his mate. He camenear being drowned, and the men trying to save his life came near drowningthemselves. Every thread of their clothing was as wet as water couldmake it.

There they were as much as nine miles from home, or fromany house, and they were about tired out, and it wasalmost night. It was growing cold and beginning to freeze,but they loaded their corn again and drove on until theycame within a mile and a half of the Fox River. By that time it was gettingtoo dark to drive much farther, and their clothing was frozen, and thereappeared to be no alternative, but they must stop there for the night andperhaps freeze to death before morning. They stood by the fire and kept fromfreezing, but after a while Mr. Rolph [Ralph] felt so tired and sleepy thathe laid down to sleep. My husband did not dare to, for he thought that ifhe did that they would both freeze to death. So he kept stirring around andkept up large fire, disturbed Mr. Rolph every few minutes, trying towake him for fear that he would freeze to death. After awhile he succeededin arousing him so that he got up to stir himself about and kept awake,and when daylight came they started for home. But when they had crossedthe Fox River, and were going up the bank, their load of corn slippedfrom the sled and all went into the river, and they were obliged to wadein and carry it out a bag at a time, and load it again, making their garmentsas wet as they were the day before, and in that plight had to drive home.They arrived home about eight o’clock, tired, cold hungry and faint. Whenthey had taken a warm bath and put on dry garments, and had taken some warmfood, and had lain in bed a few hours, they felt better and went to work.They built a scaffold of their homemade boards and other timber which theyhad sawed by hand, and spread the corn thereon to dry, taking it out in themorning and into the house at night, until it was dry. They concluded theyhad earned the corn, with their troubles, besides the two dollars and a halfthey had paid for it.

A few days after this, and on the first day of April,1837, we moved into our own little log cabin with ourlittle family, one mile away from our brother-in-law’s[David Bonham], and neighbors that we had lived with nearly amonth. There are many people in these days that would think that such a placeas our cabin was at that time was a comfortless place indeed, but we thoughtit a pleasure to be by ourselves once more, after living so crowed aswe had done for six months, and of course, it was quite pleasant for othersto have their own house to themselves, especially where there were so manylittle children, where there were three families in one small house. Ourcabin was small, with only one room below and one above, or rather only oneroom when we went into it, for it was not finished. There was no upper floorfor the reason that we had boards only to lay the lower floor, and had towait three weeks for that until our men could get time to saw them by handover a pit, with a thick veil over his face to keep the sawdust from blindinghim. It was a slow and very tiresome way of making lumber, but our neighborMr. Rolph, and my husband, sawed all of the lumber in that way by handthat was used for the first six houses that were built in our neighborhood,all log houses, and of course they made a little to finish them;but there was an upper and a lower floor to every one of those six houses,and certainly one door, and to some two, and casings for the doors andwindows. Some had one window, some two, and others three, but generally notmore than two, and frequently only one below and very small one above, andwhen two men had to saw by hand all that was used, there was a good deal ofhard work for a comparatively small pile of lumber.

There was a place cut through one end of our house for agood sized fireplace, and a sort of chimney built from the ground up to abovethe roof, with split sticks on the upper part, laid cob house fashion, andplastered thick with clay. It was built on the outside and closely joined to thelogs of the house, so as to form jambs to the fireplace. Then there was a stoneback laid up about five feet high, and laid in mud instead of in mortar. For theinside of the jambs we had a large flat stone for each side about four feethigh, and wide enough to fill out the jambs and keep out the fire from the houselogs. There was no hearth laid when we first went into the house, and for threeweeks we had to step down one step to get to the fire. At the end of that time,was the upper floor laid, and also a stone hearth, which made it more convenientas well as more comfortable, for it had seemed somewhat like living in a barnwhile there was no floor overhead; and the first four dayswe had no window, neither was there a place cut for one through the lays, so wewere not afraid of the wolves coming in to disturb us at night.

It was Saturday that we moved into our house, and onMonday my husband went back to the saw pit to work. I expected him home atnight, but in the afternoon Mrs. Rolph came and told me that our men had allgone to Milwaukee and would not home before the next day, which was town meetingday and that was the reason why they went, but they thought they would be homeby three or four o’clock. She wanted me to go home with her and stay until themen came home. But I told her that I could not as I was very tired. I had beenwashing and did not feel able to walk and carry a child in my arms, and I mustmake up my mind to stay alone, lonesome as it was.

There was nothing to look at out of doors but the ground,the trees and overhead the sky and clouds. There was no settlement nearer thaneight miles, and only three log houses there. That was where Waukesha now is,and none nearer than Milwaukee east us, and no settlement within the bounds ofknowledge, north or west of us, knowing that our men were all gone, made itlonely indeed. I fastened my door early, before it was fairly dark, and went tobed, but did not sleep much. I heard wolves howl nearly all night and was verythankful to see the morning light once more, and still more thankful to see myhusband coming, when it was nearly dark at night, with a window sash in his handand a glass to put into it. I thought that the largest day that Ihad ever seen, and the next day our neighbors came to help us to put in ourwindow.

The four days we had lived in our cabin without any lightexcept what came down the chimney and in at the door when it was open, had beenvery warm and pleasant, so that we could have the door open all day, and we gotalong very well, but it seemed much more pleasant and homelike even to have onlyone window, and that a small one; yet it looked like living in a barn, while wehad no floor overhead. But in a little over two weeks that inconvenience was remedied, and we had an upper room and ladder, on which to go upto it, which was quite an improvement. The steps of the ladder were made of woodabout four inches through, split in the middle and rounded at the ends and letinto the side pieces, the flat side upwards. Although it was very plain andrather rough, with no casing, it had to serve our purpose for two years anda half and compared very well with other parts of the establishment. Our floorswere laid with rough boards, just as they were when they came from the saw,never having been planed, except with the mop and broom. It was hard work tokeep them clean at first, but before many weeks they were quite smooth and easyto clean, and looked quite comfortable and tidy, everything considered, and Ibegan to be proud of our plain little home.

I did not allow myself to feel discontented or homesick aslong as we were all well, or so as to be up and around; but when we were sick Imissed my relatives and former friends, and the more so because there was no oneto be hired for either love or money for a number of years, as almost every newsettler who came into the neighborhood came with a young family, if with any.If young persons did come into the place who would go and who could be sparedfrom home, they would go to Milwaukee. We in the country were unable to hireanyone, and if we needed assistance, there was none to be had, except in casesof extreme sickness, and then neighbors would take turns, and do the best theycould for each other, but when they were well, they of course, had to do thebest they could for themselves.

One morning when we had been living by ourselves about aweek, there came a young man to the door, a stranger. He bade me good morningand asked if he could come in and rest, and when I welcomed him and asked him totake a chair, he asked me if I could give him some breakfast. I told him I couldif he would accept of such fare as I had, for I had not much of a variety. Hesaid he did not wish to give me any trouble and he would not be particular whatI gave him to eat, if I could give him a cup of hot tea or coffee for he was notfeeling very well. I told him he could have his choice of hot drink, and hechose tea. While I was preparing it for him he told me he had been out all nightand had to lodge in a tree to keep out of the way of wolves; he was out alonelooking for land; he had been on the prairie where those three families livedeight miles south of us, and having been told that there were some settlers thathad just come in over north a few miles, he thought he would come yesterdayafternoon and see if he could find them.

He had a piece of timber to come through and he got lost.Night came on and as he could not see which way to go, he thought it best to liedown and try not to go any farther until morning. He laid down at the foot of atree that he thought he could climb easily, and had not lain there very longwhen he heard the howling of wolves, to all appearances not very far distantfrom him. Feeling no longer safe on the ground, he sprangas quickly as possible into the tree and had been there but a few minutes, whenalong came a number of wolves close to the tree at the place where he had lain,and began to sniff and growl and scratch and tear up the ground with theirclaws. As they found nothing to satisfy themselves, they began to hunt aroundand soon found there was something in the tree. As theycould not climb they seemed to get very angry and set up a horrid concert oftheir music, tearing up the ground all around the tree, eating and tearing ofthe bark with their teeth. They kept up their howling and tearing almostincessantly till morning. Soon after daylight they became quiet and went away.He counted seven as they walked off. As soon as he daredhe got down from the tree and went as fast as he could toward the opening whichhe saw from the tree top, and neither saw nor heard any more of the wolves.

The two men who came out with us from Milwaukee the daythat we moved from there, Mr. Rosebrook and Mr. Palmer, built a log shanty withonly a single roof, covering it with what they called shakes or house madeshingles, and for the floor they had split logs, using boards only to the door.About the middle of April they moved their wives and families into it and livedtogether until the fall. Old Mr. And Mrs. Palmer came with them. They were theparents of young Mr. Palmer and Mrs. Rosebrook. It seemed more like home to havemore neighbors, although not so near as we were used to have them. We could thennumber seven families that had come and settled within a month and a half. Mr. [Arthur] Redford moved from Milwaukee with us, or on the same day that we did,with his wife and six children. The two oldest were young men at the time, andare now living with their families, the one [Thomas Spencer Redford] in the townof Lisbon, the other [Henry Redford] in Menomonee, on their farms that lay onthe line that divides these two towns, and near where their father firstsettled, viz: Messers Henry and Thomas Redford’s family, Mr. Rolph’s[Ralph’s] andour brother-in-law, Bonhams. Ours were the first four families that settled inthe town of Lisbon, then the two Palmers and Mr. Rosebrook, and as we hadwritten to our brother, Mr. James Weaver, and given him a description of our newand wild looking country, not advising him to come, but telling him that we hadmade up our minds to stay, he made up his mind to come to us, and arrived withhis family about the middle of June.

He built his house not far from ours, in sight, which madeus feel more and more at home. With him came Mr. Edward Smith, and Mr. GeorgeElliott, who now lives in Lisbon near Sussex. They, too, brought their families.Mr. Elliott built his house one mile north of ours, and Mr. Smith built his halfmile west of ours. I neglected to mention another old and respected friend andneighbor, Mr. Lucius Bottsford [Botsford], who came to Milwaukee in the spring[1836] before we came, and had his claim in our neighborhood, worked all summerin Milwaukee, went back to New York State in the fall after his wife, child andmother, expecting to get back with them before the close of navigation, but onlygot as far as Fort Gratiot, in Michigan, and had to stay there until navigationopened in the spring [1837]. In January [1837] his wife died. He came on in themonth of April, leaving his mother and child until the weather should be warmerand more comfortable for the old lady to travel with his child. Mr. Bottsfordleft Lisbon twenty years ago and went to Illinois where heis living now [1875].

The same summer, old Mr. Doughtery [Daughtery] and old Mr.Peero came and made their claims about three miles west of us, and Mr. Doughterybuilt a log house and moved his family into it in a short time, but Mr. Peerolived in Milwaukee two years and then he moved his family to be neighbors withus. The twelve families mentioned above were all there were for several months,but after a little they began to come, one, two, three and sometimes fourfamilies at a time, until the country around was filled with people, as it were,and we began to feel as if we were again in a land of civilization.

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