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State Historical Society of Wisconsin / Wisconsin domesday book. Town studies
Volume 1 (1924)

Eagle,   pp. [unnumbered]-44 PDF (5.0 MB)


Page 41


WISCONSIN  DOMESDAY  BOOK-TOWN  STUDIES
EAGLE
LZOCATION.-The town of Eagle, organized in 1853,
       occupies township 9 north, range 1 west of the fourth
       principal meridian in Richland County. It is bounded
 north by Dayton, east by Orion, south by Wisconsin River,
 which makes the boundary between Eagle and Muscoda (in
 Grant County), and west by Richwood. From 1868 Mus-
 coda village was reached by bridge over the Wisconsin, where-
 as previously a ferry was maintained at that place. The
 village of Orion (once called Richmond) flourished for some
 years hard by the southeast corner of Eagle, on the same side
 of the river. 1Richland City (at one time a smart trading
 point) lay eight miles farther east, and Richland Center
 about the same distance northeast over the ridge. Port An-
 drew, in Richwood, a steamboat landing in early days, was
 another prime trading point. The building in recent times of
 the Wisconsin River bridge at Blue River has made that town,
 located nearly opposite the southwest corner of Eagle, the
 trade center for a good share of the town. Basswood and
 Eagle Corners are the principal villages located within the
 town, though Byrd's Creek, just over the line in Richwood,
 serves the farmers of Eagle also.
    SURFACE AND DRAINAGE.-The town lies in the Driftless
Area. It is crossed from north to south by Eagle Creek,
which has two main branches (the easternmost of them usually
called Hoosier Creek, and the western Mill Creek) and a
number of small affluents of each branch. The longer of
these (Mill Creek) enters the town in section 6 and flows out
through section 36; Hoosier Creek enters at section 26. (For
the lesser streams see the plat.) The Richland Center Quad-
rangle of the United States Topographical Survey covers
only the eastern two-thirds of the town (fig. 7). It shows
most of that portion to be low, either valley land or terrace,
but between the two streams is a ridge which joins at the north
the broad upland terminated on the east by the Pine River
valley. The portion of the town which lies south and west of
Mill Creek valley is largely upland, with, however, a flat
stretch near the Wisconsin River. The part of Mill Creek
valley which lies within the town is approximately two miles
in breadth of cultivable land, including the alluvial, the ter-
race, and gentler slopes of the bordering bluffs, thus afford-
ing opportunity for many excellent farms. Hoosier valley
(called Hoosier Hollow) is much narrower and also much
shorter. The terrace along the Wisconsin in the southern
part of the town is considerably more than a mile in breadth.
There are cultivable areas on the ridges also, though these
are much restricted.
   TYPES OF Som.-There is no regular soil survey of Rich-
land County. The government surveyor in 1840, Orson
Lyon, pronounced upon the quality of the land along the
official survey lines. He found it first-rate in the valleys, sec-
ond- and third-rate elsewhere. The reputation of Eagle as a
corn producing town suggests that the valley soils must be
a very rich Wabash loam or Wabash silt loam, and probably
the other soils are analogous to those in Iowa County which the
survey described as Knox silt loam on the ridges, and Lintonia
silt loam on the terraces and lower hill slopes. Some sand
mingled with the soil of the southern part of the town makes
it warm and easy to work. Eagle is recognized as one of the
best farming towns in the county.
    TIMBER.-Unlike the towns of Muscoda and Castle Rock
south of the river, Eagle was originally heavily timbered.
The surveyor noted, among the kinds of timber, elm, oak,
lynn, sugar, ironwood, walnut, aspen, cherry, and ash, aside
from the undergrowth. Some small tracts on the hills were
"lightly timbered," but in general the land bore a heavy
growth which had to be removed before cultivation was pos-
sible.
   BEGINNINGS OF SETTLEMENT.-The first land in the town
to pass into private hands was the west half of the southwest
quarter of section 26, bought by Thomas Jefferson Parish
in 1841. This was later the site of Rodolf's Mill. The water
power of Eagle Creek, called Mill Creek on account of the
mill built there, was the object of the purchase. Parish and
Estes built a dam and a sawmill there apparently within a
year after entering the land. It was a time when the first
impulse of settlement affected the north bank of the Wiscon-
sin in that region. In the beginning it was the timber which
attracted settlers. Steamboats plying on the Wisconsin re-
quired wood supplies at frequent intervals, and the scarcity
of timber on the south side was one reason for establishing
wood yards on the north. The lands had recently been sur-
veyed, so that settlers could select claims with reference to the
excellence of the land for future cultivation. The removal
of the land office to Muscoda in 1842 suggested the develop-
ment of an important town at that point. Transportation by
steamboat was assured, and railway projects, like heaven's
lightning, were as liable to strike that region as any other
lying so far west. In fact, for several years when the Milwau-
kee and Mississippi Railway project was in its infancy, the
question of route so far as the two banks of the Wisconsin
were concerned was left open.
   John Coumbe, the first settler of Richland County, estab-
lished himself near Port Andrew in 1840, having selected his
location two years earlier.' The Waters family and Edward
Coumbe soon joined him. Esau Johnson also settled there
   See sketch in Wis. Mfag. of Hist., vi, 438448 (June, 1928).
temporarily in 1841, and got out logs to raft down the Missis-
sippi.2 Thomas Matthews and Captain John Smith settled
at Orion, built the mill dam for Parish, and also established
the ferry on the Wisconsin between Muscoda and Orion.
Thomas Laws established another ferry higher up the river
near the later Richland City. Within three years men were
working in the pine timber on upper Pine River at Rock-
bridge, where a sawmill was built, while others-including
Esau Johnson-were operating in the pine forests along the
Kickapoo. In a word, the region north of the Wisconsin was
the "big woods," and the men who sought it were mostly those
who were capable of surviving as woodsmen.
   The first settler in Eagle-Matthew Alexander, a Ken-
tuckian-took up land in 1840 near the river, where he lum-
bered and rafted till 1852. Hardin Moore, a bachelor
blacksmith, is said to have been the second settler in the town.
But these men were "sooners," to use the western phrase.
Very few neighbors came in till 1848, 1849, and 1850, when a
large number of claims were entered and a smaller number of
families actually settled in the town. It was in those years
that Hoosier Hollow was occupied by families from Indiana,
some of whom were and long remained of the distinctive
"Hoosier" type, related to the mountaineers of the Appala-
chian Highlands. The biographies of early settlers in the
town show how generally the families had been inured to
frontier conditions before coming to Richland County.8 Very
few were from the Northeast; more were from Virginia,
Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, and Illinois.
Aside from Hoosier Hollow and the lower valley of Mill
Creek, the early settlers spread over the terrace along Wis-
consin River. All of the lands in the southern tier of sections
except state lands were sold in 1845 to 1850, but not all were
occupied in those years. By far the larger number of settlers
in the town arrived during the years 1852 to 1857, the rail-
road building years, though in comparison with Castle Rock,
which filled up during the same period, a much larger num-
ber of pioneers were on the ground prior to the coming of the
railroad. They were engaged in woods work rather than
farming.
   CONDITIONS AFFECTING THE PURCHASE OF LAND.-The
first of these was the division of the town between smooth,
rich bottom land and rough, steep hill land. In every section
the hills remained in the government's hands for a number of
years after the bottoms were taken up by settlers or by
speculators. The amount of speculator land in the town was
not large, though some good tracts were entered by men who
soon sold to settlers. The state located in this town school
   *Narrative of Esau Johnson. MS. in State Historical Library.
   'History of R4vhland County, Wisconsin (Madison, 1906), chap. xvL
41


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