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(story icon)1949

Wisconsin and Its Resources

by James S. Ritchie   1857



THE progress and prosperity of the new towns and settlements bordering on this magnificent lake nave been almost marvellous; yet Nature have been easily won, or her treasures gained without a contest worthy of their merits. Those who have viewed the first openings of some of these towns, must have been impressed with the comfortless, lonely, and even dreary look of the early settler's small log cabin. In the centre of a dense forest, the first footprints of civilization in this wilderness were to be recognized only by the felled trees and decaying boughs which mark the site of his labors to obtain a home in that distant wild. He seems not unlike the sinking mariner clinging in desperation to the wreck of a frail bark, beaten by the surging waves, which threaten every moment to engulf him. Every morning the same boundless forest greets his eye, and his only hope against its encompassing him forever, lies in the axe resting on his strong shoulder and the indomitable courage and noble resolution throbbing in his bosom. His heart beats as he recognizes in the many beauties of nature by which his every step is surrounded the beneficent hand of an All-wise Creator who has guided his wandering feet to these highly-favored shores, and he resolves, by perseverance and industry, there to establish his home.

The settler has a cabin, though apparently cheerless and devoid of comfort; but he is contented, and even happy. Every man is by nature a poet, and there is no path in life so rude and thorny that its miseries are not softened and its desolation gilded by poetry. "Hope springs eternal in the human breast," and stimulates him to new efforts.

This little clearing on the picturesque and beautiful shores of this "Father of Lakes," which, to some, might appear almost tillable to yield subsistence, is his home, and fancy has tinged, with her bright and glowing colors, the dreams of the early settler. As he gazes upon his small possession his heart swells in thankfulness to his Maker,

"For there are thoughts which God alike has given
To high and low--and these are thoughts of heaven."
He considers not its size; to him it encourages expectations of an extensive farm, fertile fields waving with golden grain, and hope adds, perhaps, an "Addition" to the future city. This poetical illusion, this dream of fancy, as you may style it, sustains him in his fatiguing labors, and contentment diffuses her bright and happy influence around his rude fireside.

Winter, in its cold cheerlessness, flies rapidly by, and, owing to the fine climate of Lake Superior, there are but few days in which he cannot toil in the open air. He is not annoyed by the piercing blast, rain, and sleet; it is true, earth is concealed by her beautiful covering of snow, but it serves to shield the tender corn he has planted from the destroying frost. But now the warmer air seems to predict the coming of lovely spring, and clothes in strange beauty his forest home. Twilight casts her softened beams over the waving forest, tinging it with the roseate hue of even. Near the cabin is seen the pioneer busy at his toil, and

His axe rings sharply 'mid those forest shades,
Which from creation towards the skies had tower'd
In unshorn beauty.
The laughing faces of his happy children speak peace and contentment; he has made himself a home in a dense wilderness, and it is the boast of his strength and manliness that here he will achieve the respectability of his family. He has heard the story of thousands of settlers in Wisconsin, who have been victorious in the same struggle with hardships, and he resolves to follow their noble example.

Spring has returned once more, bringing with it not only a new life to the earth, but also invigorating the strength of man. The ice king relaxes his iron grasp on the waters of the lake, and all nature smiles. Soon the sound of a bell is heard, and then a noble steamboat is seen ploughing the waves of this inland sea. Our settler receives with open arms the strangers and bids them welcome to his cabin until they have made their "claims." Thus every boat brings a full complement of emigrants--farmers, mechanics, laborers, speculators, etc., all busy and energetic; trees are cut down, houses are springing up on all sides, streets being cut out and graded, and a new town rapidly rises on the shores of this beautiful lake. The current of population still flows on to this favored spot. Now mark its progress; where the first lonely cabin of our friend the settler was situated, is now occupied by his own neat frame house; further on are rows of comfortable dwellings; here a saw-mill; there a church. One would think we were transported back to the days of "Aladdin," and his kind genius was moving about on the shores of Lake Superior. One of his dreams is accomplished--his "claim" is now included in the town; where he once toiled from morn till night to clear a few acres, is now selling at so much per lot; he sees himself growing richer every day with the growth of the town; the railroad bill is passed, and the road commenced a short distance from him. He cannot realize his good fortune; his children now are well dressed, and you meet their smiling faces on their way to the little log school-house. One would think that they had never known the hardships of a "pioneer life."

Winter comes again, and finds our friend snug and comfortable in his new house. The coldest winds may blow, the snow may fall, but what matter? All day long, and at night, huge fires are blazing in his hearth; his store-houses is filled abundantly with the good things of life. As he sits at his fireside, his thoughts revert to his native place--to the old homestead--to the days of his boyhood, when his father and himself toiled from morn till night, and barely eked out a subsistence, in one of the Eastern States. He well recollects the day he first heard of the Northwest--of Wisconsin--of Lake Superior--where thousands of acres were opened to pre-emption. It was hard to leave his childhood's home, but he had a young family of his own to look up to him. Shall he bring them up to poverty and want, or bid adieu to home and friends and try the Northwest? He emigrates; and now when he looks at his children, as they are playing about, and the dear partner of his life, his heart swells with thankfulness to the beneficent Creator of all things. He thanks Him, that he was born in a free and happy land, under the protection of such a government; for the pre-emption law, that protects the poor man, and enables him to have his own "vine and fig tree;" last of all, but not least, that his wandering steps were directed to these shores.

My readers, this is no fancy sketch, but a true picture of the life of many early settlers, not only on Lake Superior, but also in many other places in the Northwest. Here are golden opportunities opening every day to emigrants. Immense tracts of the finest land in the country are still open to pre-emption, and let no man say "I am too late," while he has land inviting, and the strong arm of the law protecting him. Should he want a market for his produce, here are steamboats and railroads at his door. Let the example of this early settler induce others to do likewise, and reap, as he now does, the reward of his sagacity and enterprise.