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Curtiss-Wedge, F.; Jones, Geo. O. (ed.) / History of Dunn County, Wisconsin

Chapter III: The Jefferson Davis myth,   pp. 20-26

Page 20

The story that Jefferson Davis, afterward president of the Southern Confeder-
acy, was at Menomonie in the early thirties is one that has found much favor with
those who later delighted in telling of pioneer operations on the Red Cedar. The
story was repeated from mouth to mouth, and has been published in many books,
including histories of the Chippewa Valley and its counties. Attorney Charles E.
Freeman, of Menomonie, has made a close study of the subject, which Las attracted
wide attention among historians, and is here reproduced to correct an error which
has been wide spread. In his article, Mr. Freeman says:
"While the second Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien was being built was Jeffer-
son Davis at the site of the present city of Menomonie?" Was he an officer of the
United States army, in charge, during that time of a force of men engaged in the
cutting of pine timber on the Red Cedar River?
The Red Cedar, or Menomonie, empties into the Chippewa River from the
north, at a point about 30 miles from the mouth of that river. The location of
the city of Menomonie is on this river about 18 miles from its junction with the
Chippewa. The first Fort Crawford was established in the year 1816, and the
second fort of that name was constructed during the years 18"29 to 1832. Davis
was in the army from July 1, 1828 until some time in August, 1835. Timber was
cut on the Red Cedar by direction of the commander of Fort Crawford during the
time of its construction, and while Davis was in the army. The army records show
that Davis was at three different times from 1828 to 1832 assigned to duty at Fort
It was customary at that early day for privates in the army, at the end of their
term of enlistment to remain on the frontier and engage in such work as they could
find to do. Among the privates at Fort Crawford who followed this custom were
Elisha Brown, Joseph Benson, Mr. Decker and Mr. Lemon. They came after
service in the army to the Red Cedar country and worked in the lumber camps.
It appears from the account books of the firm of Black and Knapp that Benson
and Brown were here as early as 1846, the former in June and the latter in September
of that year. Benson opened his account with the purchase of "2 plugs of tobacco,
$1.50" and Brown with "1 pair of Pantaloons, 84.50." It is probable from state-
ments of early residents of Menomonie as to their impressions, that these two men
had been here for some time previous to 1848, working for former owners of the
Wilson Creek mill to which the account book's mention pertain.
Upon the statements of Brown, Benson, Decker and Lemon as remembered
by those to whom they ever made, rests the local tradition, perpetuated in widely
circulated printed accounts, that Davis was on the Red Cedar in person, that he
was in charge of a force of United States soldiers, and was engaged in the cutting of
lumber with which to build Fort Crawford. Like all other traditions there is in
this an uncertainty as regards time and place. It may have been at any time from
1828 to 1832 or even earlier. As pine grew in abundance on the west side of the
Red Cedar River, the place of Davis' supposed operations is referred to as being on
the west bank, anywhere from the mouth of the river to the present site of Me-
It is a noticeable fact in trying to trace down these traditions that some of these
men were not free and explicit at any time in regard to their adventures in the
service of the government, and were extremely reticent in the early years in regard
to their army experiences. Benson continued to live in Menomonie during the
remainder of his life. He died in this county and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.
Brown lived in Menomonie for a number of years and then moved away, but fre-
quently returned to visit with relatives. Decker and Lemon lived many years in

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