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(story icon)1949

From Wilderness to State

from It Happened Here
by Margaret G. Henderson, Ethel Dewey Speerschneider, and Helen L. Ferslev   1949

WISCONSIN--a wilderness! What was it like in those early days?

First of all, it was a land of loneliness. Many a settler's nearest neighbor was miles and miles away. Sometimes a man was sent four hundred miles through the wilderness to get the mail. When he came back, there was often great disappointment. People who had waited half the year to hear from their old homes wept bitterly because there was no letter for them.

Then, too, it was a land of fear. Many of the Indians hated the white people who were robbing them of the lands they had lived on so long. The settlers were afraid of the red men, many of whom were ready to kill the "pale faces" who had cheated them.

It was a land where a man rolled a barrel of pork and a barrel of flour from Milwaukee to Burlington over rough trails so that his family would have food throughout the winter.

It was a land where a Belgian woman trudged from her wilderness home to the mill in De Pere, carrying a sixty-pound bag of wheat. She set out at three o'clock in the morning and did not arrive until about six that evening. A sack was her bed for the night. The next day she started for home, carrying a precious bag of flour. She thought nothing of the lonely thirty-mile walk which was before her or of the heavy burden on her back.

It was a land where people had too little of everything--too little clothing, too little furniture, too little cabin space.

Yes, the Wisconsin wilderness was a land where life was hard, and yet it was the land of a white man's dreams. Here a man could have much if he would work for it. Here was wealth--lead mines, forests, and good soil. Here was a country where a man could have a cabin of his own. Wisconsin gave a man a chance to do the things he wanted to do. So, with courage and hard work, the settler changed the wilderness into a home.