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(journey icon)1843

Life in Territorial Wisconsin

by Elizabeth Thérèse Baird
from Wisconsin Historical Collections   1900

A trip across the territory was made by Mr. and Mrs. William Bruce and my husband and myself in February, 1842. We encountered deep snow throughout our entire journey, but the sleighing was generally good. Our sleight horses, and robes were of the best; Mr. Bruce would own no other. He was an excellent driver and prided himself on his horsemanship; his wife was equally skilled. Mr. Bruce came to Green Bay at an early day, and was largely engaged as a commission merchant and in the transportation business. At one time he was appointed Indian agent. He was an active, industrious man, and in his wife possessed the most capable helpmate that ever man was blessed with.

Never did younger people depart from home more gayly than we. We left after an early breakfast, expecting to reach Stockbridge, on the east side of Lake Winnebago, before dark, where we intended to stop at William Fowler's.1

We took the military road, which was uniformly good. Snow had fallen the night before and covered all of the bad places, so of course we plunged into them in an alarming way.

At noon or soon after, we reached Gardner's place. This was kept by a colored man and his wife. We stopped here to dine. No one ever passed Mrs. Gardner's dinners. She was an excellent cook, and got up very nice meals. The rooms, too, were good. Everything about the house was neat, and it was a real comfort to occupy one of her beds after a trip over the road.

We had been traveling on the "straight cut road." The old landmark, the "eagle's nest," was in view long before we reached it and long after we passed it. Some time after leaving Gardner's we came to the end of Captain Scott's portion of the military road. The way that followed was good, but one was never sure of missing the stumps. We were now in the Stockbridge settlement, where the log houses mere rather near together for farms. There were many stumps in the very streets of Stockbridge, and as they were covered with snow it was an easy thing to hit one. One of them upset us at Fowler's very gate.

We were well cared for at the Fowlers'. The next morning we again took an early start--so early that the stumps in the road were no more visible than the night previous. We had driven but a few rods when again we upset. I was thrown against a stump and one arm was hurt, though no bones were broken. The pain from the injury, however, was severe. I was carried into a little hut, where the people were just rising, and placed on a bed which some very untidy-appearing folk had just vacated. I would have preferred the floor. We finally set out again, reaching the home of our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Perry,2 at Taycheedah, that afternoon. We arrived in time to enjoy one of Mrs. Perry's famous dinners. I will not attempt to tell of the warmth with which these friends met us. How wholesome and grateful such meetings are! They seemed as glad to see us as we to see them. We spent two days at Taycheedah. Our good friend, Mrs. Beall, lived there at that time. We were guests of Mr. and Mrs. Perry the first day. The second day we spent with Mrs. Beall; her husband was absent. The third day we went to Fond du Lac. At that time Taycheedah was the larger. We made but a short call on Dr. Mason C. Darling, the only acquaintance we had at Fond du Lac.3

We left Fond du Lac for the Fox-Wisconsin portage, taking in Waupun and Fox Lake on the way. At Portage or Fort Winnebago, we met friends--Capt. and Mrs. Gideon Low, who had previously been stationed at Fort Howard, while Captain Low was in the army. We found him at a large hotel which he owned. Their daughter, Elizabeth Low, was soon to marry our friend, Henry Merrell, of Portage. Here we had to call a physician to attend to my arm. He discovered that my collar bone was fractured.

The day following our arrival we had many gentlemen callers. On the third day we left for Madison. On our arrival there we found the legislature in session, and the usual, gaieties of the capital under full sway.

We drove to the American House, which stood on the north corner of Washington avenue and Pinckney street, where the First National Bank now stands. The landlord, Col. James Morrison, told us that the house was more than full and that he could not accommodate us. However, we were not to be disposed of so easily. Our gentlemen said if only beds could be provided for the ladies, they would sleep anywhere on the floor, making a bed of their buffalo robes. There was a Southern gentleman, a State officer (I have forgotten the office that he filled), whose daughter was with him, but, as it chanced at this time, she was absent. The landlord gave us her room. We certainly felt very grateful for the favor. Before supper we went to the room, and found it very small. We prepared for supper, and left the room, not even whispering to each other our thoughts about its dimensions.

After supper we had a call from Theophile la Chappelle, brother of the first Mrs. Mitchell. He was a member of the legislature, a bright and intellectual young man, and an agreeable talker. His sister, Mrs. Mitchell, had died the December previous, and his desire to see me was great, knowing the friendship that existed between her and myself. Poor young man! He became insane soon after this, and spent the remainder of his life at the Hospital for the Insane, near Madison.

We received a great many callers, as Mr. Baird knew all the members of the legislature. Among them was Charles C. P. Arndt ; and as he was a Green Bay boy, we enjoyed his call very much. He was naturally of a rather serious turn of mind, but that night he was very full of fun. He was elated at seeing friends from home, and coming to my side he sat down by me and asked innumerable questions about his wife and children. I was glad to tell him all I knew. His two little daughters were winsome and pretty. He said: "I will write to my wife. The news you have given me has made me very happy. It is the next thing to receiving a letter from her." Poor boy! It was only about two weeks later that he was fatally shot, while in the council chamber, by James R. Vineyard, member of the council from Grant County. Arndt was a member from Brown County. As he was shot he fell at the feet of his father, Judge John P. Arndt, who was also a member of the same council. We had just returned to Green Bay from our trip to Madison, when his remains were brought home for burial. His tragic death darkened forever the lives of his widow and two daughters, the former remaining in widowhood throughout her life. He had planned a happy home for his family, having erected the main part of the building which is now occupied by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

But I must resume my story of our stay at the American House. After spending a pleasant evening with friends, we ascended to what was called the "school section," where our room was situated. Why it was so called I know not.4

Our gentlemen had not yet seen our sleeping room. When they were admitted into it, the expression of their countenances was indescribable. We four could scarcely stand in it. What were we to do about lying down in it? The old proverb, "Necessity is the mother of invention," we found to be true. Let me describe the room. A bed, not a large one, stood with the back and head touching the walls, and the foot of the bed was about three or four feet from the other end of the room. In front of the bed, against the other wall, was a washstand, a trunk, and a chair, and near the door stood a very small stove.

Just imagine us in this room, making plans for the night. We ladies were seated on the edge of the bed; one gentleman occupied the chair, the other the trunk. Of course, we ladies were to have the bed, but what were the gentlemen to do? was the question. There was not room enough in front of the bed for them to lie down. A happy thought came to Mr. Bruce: "We will spread our buffalo robes under the bed, and we can have our heads against the wall." All was arranged as planned, Mr. Baird feeling well satisfied with the arrangement. The gentlemen went off for the robes and we retired. They soon returned and began to fix their bed. They were a great while about it, and we felt they were very awkward. I think by this time Mrs. Bruce wished to jump out of bed and help them; for the gentlemen, growing somewhat impatient, were not as particular in their language as they would have been under other circumstances. At last they said, "It is of no use, these robes will not spread out." The bedstead was so low that they could not look under it without a light, so they took up the greasy whale oil lamp and set it on the floor. On looking under the bed, a large, long box was discovered. It was made of plain boards, with a cover not fastened. The gentlemen were very curious to see its contents. Two canvas-covered hams were revealed. The shouts of laughter that followed, must have been heard all through the "school section." After the investigation the box was pushed back as far as possible, and the buffalo robes were spread down. Mr. Baird being short, could lie under the bed; but Mr. Bruce, being tall, had to lie outside; on the floor. Almost as soon as they had assumed a horizontal position they were asleep; I had anticipated that there was to be no sleep, as it was far into the night before quiet settled down in the room.

The next morning the gentlemen declared they had slept well, and the day found us all bright and happy. We took a final leave of the room, not desiring to spend another such night as the previous one had been. We concluded the best thing we could do, was to continue on our journey.

Before leaving Madison, I must describe the capitol of Wisconsin, as I first saw it. It was a very small and squatty-looking house, having so much the appearance of an inverted wash bowl that it was called "Doty's wash bowl." The dome of the present capitol covers the site of the old building. A common rail fence surrounded the grounds. The city in that early day was not crowded. The legislature was then the sole motive that brought people to Madison, and everyone was expected to entertain the members throughout the entire session.

In the morning of our departure from Madison, we made the acquaintance of two young gentlemen who were on their way to Janesville. They were journeying in a cutter. We joined forces, traveling together. The gentlemen both bore the name of Wright, though not bound by any tie but that of friendship. One, as we later learned, was on a journey of love; the other was only a looker-on. The sleighing was fine, and with these young spirits our ride was one of pleasure. We reached Janesville in due time, and there we found a friend of Mr. Baird's awaiting us. Gen. William B. Sheldon seemed at that time to be almost the sole occupant of the town of Janesville, as there were not a half-dozen houses there besides his. There was no hotel of any kind: but that made no difference to us, as the General had kindly invited us to be his guests. The house, I think, was of one story. It was large on the ground, with a wide porch in front, and was painted white, with green blinds. We were taken to this delightful home by its genial host, who acted as usher upon our arrival there, conducting us to our different rooms, and informing us that supper would be ready as soon as we wished it. As we were very hungry, our toilets took but little time. We found our rooms delightful, large, and warm; I believe they were heated by fire-places. Certainly they formed a striking contrast to our room of the night before, at the American House at Madison. The gentlemen, after a few touches, were ready for supper. As we came out of our rooms, properly paired, we met the General, who led us to the parlor. And here, to our great surprise, we met our compagnons du voyage. They were seated with the two beautiful young daughters of the host. One was the fiancee of George Wright. I assure you that the surprise was not received in silence. It afforded much sport throughout the remainder of our visit. I believe these lovely girls had no mother, nor can I remember any brother.

Miss Sheldon and Mr. Wright were married the next spring or summer. They lived in Racine, where, in a few years after, Mr. Wright died of softening of the brain. I have been told that Mrs. Wright, after some years, married again and lived in Chicago. General Sheldon I never saw again after this visit, though Mr. Baird met him often at Madison, where every gentleman went for his country's good.5 During our stay the General took us through the country round about. I was going to say the town, but there was no town there, as yet.

We were taken to Beloit, which then was a very small place. Had we gone in the proper season, there was a chance in the city limits to find the berries for which the city of Beloit is named--the huckleberry. The French called it au beloit.6 On the following day we bade our new but kind friends good-by, little dreaming it was a final one.

We drove from Janesville to Elkhorn, in Walworth County, to visit a brother of Mrs. Bruce, who was living on a farm. We also visited at Delavan. Here the great event of our journey took place. We reached Mr. Valentine's late in the day, and found only the ladies and an elderly gentleman at home. When Mrs. Bruce inquired for "the boys," the reply was that they would soon be in. "They had gone to hunt deer." This implied to me that they must have gone a long way off. Soon, however, we heard tramping about the house; "the boys" had come and were in good spirits, as they had brought home two deer. They came right in with their hunters' dress, which was white. The stories of their hunt were very exciting. They told of the number of herds of deer they had met, and how they could chase them without the animals taking fright. The stories were so very exciting that we quite forgot to eat our supper, although we were hungry and the meal was excellent. We went to the table, but we did not allow "the boys" much chance to eat, we had so many questions to ask.

"The boys," who were nearly all married men, were very enthusiastic in describing the whole affair. As we progressed with this very cheerful meal, they began to think we did not believe the whole story. Mrs. Bruce did not hesitate to tell them she did not. They began to banter us, and said they would take us to the hunt if we would go. As a matter of course we all wanted to go. We were furnished with sheets, which we were to put on over our cloaks and wrappings, and we were to make ourselves as white as possible. The men wore regular suits, made of white cotton, both trousers and coats. As our gentlemen only went to look on, they did not wear white trousers. Before we started, I made the gentlemen promise that they would not kill a deer, as they had all the venison that they needed. They replied that they would not kill one, but would shoot at the last, or we would not see the best of the sport.

We started soon after a seven o'clock breakfast. The three sleighs were all made as white as possible; even the black horse had a sheet on him. Our phantom procession made no noise, the state of the snow making it possible. Imagine the picture: three white sleighs with their loads of white, gliding along through the beautiful oak openings. Some may not know what an oak opening is: it is a tract of land covered with large trees, but without underbrush. The one I am writing of, had very large trees of all kinds of hard wood of this country. As we rode along, we were all on the alert. We had gone but a little ways when we came in sight of a large herd of deer. As we looked at them there seemed to be hundreds of them. As soon as they spied us they stopped quite still, all turning the same way and gazing at us. We, of course, did not stir, we hardly seemed to breathe. They gave us ample time to admire them, collectively and individually. Such a sight one can expect to see but once in a life time. Finally, they seemed to scent danger, and away they went. Their fleetness was marvelous. We also sped along rapidly, but were soon left far behind; one would have thought the hunt over. But it is the characteristic of those beautiful animals to return on their track, as if to see what is going on. This peculiarity our hosts knew, and were prepared for their return. Soon we saw them coming back. They had divided, and that made the number seem even greater. There seemed to be hundreds on each side of us, making the same graceful, thrillingly beautiful picture as before. The delight of such a chase and scene cannot be told. As the hour of noon approached, "the boys" felt we must go home. We then drove around so as to get; the herd into as small a compass as possible. The animals were quietly standing, when one of the sportsmen fired his gun into the air. At this they bounded away, more fleetly than before, and where there had seemed to be hundreds at first, there now seemed to be thousands. The parting view we had of these dainty, graceful creatures was more than beautiful; it was grand.

Now I must briefly conclude the narrative of our visit with these our hospitable hosts and hostesses. The day following the hunt was made one of rest and recreation for household and guests. The ladies had a variety of work to show us, such as nimble fingers love to do. There were patchwork quilts and woven quilts, spun yarn, socks, stockings, etc., much more than that family could need.

We had a drive through the surrounding country, going to Delavan, which then was not much more than a name. Again, we had to take farewell of our friends, some of whom I met again as guests of Mrs. Bruce. But it has been long years since then. I do not know that any of the members of the family are living.

We started from Elkhorn on a fine morning, with a new fall of snow, to go to Racine. I cannot now tell the distance between the two places. Only a few uncleared farms were to be seen in the distance, on the right and left, as we drove along. Mr. Bruce was so well acquainted with the country that he did not hesitate to take a straight course from one place to another. As we drove along on that day in February, the surroundings were beautiful, though one sheet of snow covered the country over. It seems to me now that there was never anything more beautiful than that part of this State. We were on an extended prairie, with trees in the distance. Our spirits were buoyant, and I, though not well, enjoyed everything in turn.

We reached Racine that afternoon, but I was not well enough to go to Kenosha. Our gentlemen drove over there and returned with Mrs. Blish, afterwards Mrs. William Strong, of Kenosha, and her sister, Miss Mary Irwin, now Mrs. Mitchell, of Chicago. We were all invited to Col. Thomas J, Cram's, where we passed a delightful evening. Our lady friends returned to Kenosha that same evening. The next day we left for Milwaukee, where we remained for a day. We had no acquaintances there at that time. My eyes now began to trouble me, the snow having been very trying on them. On the second day we left for Sheboygan, and on our arrival there I was entirely snow blind. I was very anxious to get into the quiet of my own home. We made short stops at Manitowoc and Kewaunee, but there was little at either place.

Between Kewaunee and Green Bay we came to a hill so steep in the descent that it seemed as though the sleigh must tip over the horses. Mr. Bruce stopped, and, upon talking the matter over, it was finally decided that we could not drive down that hill. What were we to do? I suggested, as a jest, that we should roll down, little thinking when I spoke how it would turn out. We ladies started to walk down, but we could not stand up, and as we fell we could only get up by rolling over once or twice, before getting on our feet. As this happened frequently, we considered that we must have rolled at least half of the way down hill. The gentlemen fared better, as they held on to the sleigh, and it enabled them to descend without trouble.

At last we reached our home and found all of the dear ones well, except our young housekeeper; she had been indulging her taste for buckwheat cakes, which had so changed her complexion as to greatly alarm us at first sight. Our relief was great when the cause was discovered.

Governor Doty's residence in Madison

The Old Capitol

1 A Brothertown Indian who served in the third session (1845) of the fourth territorial legislature, being one of the three representatives in the lower house, from Brown, Calumet, Fond du Lac, Manitowoc, Marquette, Sheboygan, and Winnebago counties.-- ED.

2 Nathaniel Perry was one of the first settlers of Taycheedah, of which be was also the first postmaster. At the time of Mrs. Baird's visit, he kept the principal hotel.-- ED.

3 In 1844 Darling gave the site for a county court house at Fond du Lac; this proved a death-blow to Taycheedah, which before that time was the larger settlement of the two. It is now a small hamlet.-- ED.

4 The United States government granted to each Western state, when organized, out of the federal domain, the sixteenth section in each township, to be sold for the endowment of schools. This "school section" was generally reserved from sale until the county was settled. It remained vacant, for a time, therefore, often in the immediate vicinity, or indeed in the midst, of a fast growing community. This gave rise to the term "school section" being facetiously applied to generally-unused or outlying portions of large buildings--for instance, the garret of a frontier hotel which would be called into service only when the advent of a crowd of customers compelled its use.-- ED.

5 Henry S. Baird was president of the territorial council, in 1836, and member of the first constitutional convention, 1846. William B. Sheldon was a member of the lower house, in the territorial legislatures of 1836 and 1837-38.-- ED.

6 See History of Rock County (Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1879), pp. 614, 615, for another version of the origin of the term.--ED.

Baird, Elizabeth Thérèse. "Reminiscences of Life in Territorial Wisconsin." Wisconsin Historical Collections 15 (1900). 252-263.
From the collection of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin: F 576 W81.