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Curtiss-Wedge, F.; Jones, Geo. O. (ed.) / History of Dunn County, Wisconsin
(1925)

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


Page 23

HISTORY OF DUNN COUNTY
the taunt by the aristocratic Southerners that Lincoln had been a rail splitter was
met by the retort that Davis had been a "lumber jack." Davis' friends wished
to clear up the matter so far as he was concerned, and he finally wrote a letter to
his friend Gen. George W. Jones, then of Dubuque, Iowa, dated january 5, 1872.
A newspaper copy is in the library of the Wisconsin History Society marked F834-
3D. F.I.
This letter reads in part as follows: "In 1829, I went to Fort Winnebago, then a
stockade, and was put in charge of the working parties to obtain material for the
construction block houses, barracks, and stores. Gen. (then captain) W. S. Harney
was sent with his company to the maple, ash, and oak forest on the Baraboo River;
both parties used the whip saw, and being among wild Indians were, doubtless,
objects of wonder. When the timber procured on the Wisconsin was brought down
to the portage of the Wisconsin and Fox rivers, the former was so full that its waters
flowed over its banks and ran in a broad sheet into the Fox River. Taking advan--
tage of the fact, we made rafts suited to the depth of the water and floated the
lumber across to the site of the fort on the east bank of the Fox River." Again,
referring to the year 1831, he writes: "Was ordered to Prairie du Chien and sub-
sequently was sent up the Yellow River, where we (the government) had a sawmill,
to cut lumber for Fort Crawford. Pine logs were obtained on the Chippewa and
rafted to the mill on Yellow River, oak logs were cut around the mill and the lumber
of both kinds rafted and floated to the landing at Prairie du Chien."  He than adds:
"To this extent was I a'lumberman' in Wisconsin, being then in the United States
Army."
The Yellow River mentioned by Davis, is a stream flowing into the Mississippi
River from the west, in the state of Iowa, about two miles above Prairie du Chien.
(see Wis. Hist. Colls. vol. 2 p. 156 and vol. 5 p. 126, note). This river was a well
known place as early as 1766. Jonothan Carver in an account' of his travels of
that year says that, on leaving Prairie du Chien and proceeding up the Mississippi,
"A little farther to the west, on the contrary side; a small river falls into the Mis-
sisippi, which the French call Le Jaun Riviere, or the Yellow River. Here the
traders who had accompanied me hitherto took up their residence for the winter."
Carver's Travels p. 42.
In the Memoirs of Davis by his wife on pages 80, and 81 it is stated;' In 1831 while
Fort Crawford was still in the process of construction Lieut. Davis was ordered.up
Yellow River to superintend the building of a sawmill."  "The weather was in-
tensely cold and he was often wet to the skin for hours." "The exposure brought on
pneumonia, and he lay for many months at this isolated place, directing as best he
could, the operations of his men from his bed." It will be noted that Davis' himself
says, that he was ordered to a mill already built. As to the other statements of
Mrs. Davis, it must be said that it is very singular that Davis should have been
left sick at this place for so long a time when medical aid was within two miles.
If the weather was intensely cold the iiver must have been frozen over and
he could have been taken to the fort. Or, if too sick to be moved, it is singular
that some other officer was not put in command. It may have been such improba-
bilities that induced Hon. A. J. Turner, in his account of Fort Winneabago and
Portage, in 14 Wis. Hist. Colls., to transfer this Yellow River episode, sawmill and
all, bodily, to Yellow River, a tributary of the Wisconsin River, and to picture
Davis successfully running a raft through the Dells of the Wisconsin, instead of
unsucessfull? into Beef Slough off the Chippewa. And for a similar reason Dood in
his "Jefferson Davis" may have thought it proper to locate this Yellow River, as
he says; above Chippewa Falls, some three hundred miles from Fort Crawford."
Davis' statement and the army records show that Harney ranked Davis, so
it is evident that he did not have charge of the Upper Wisconsin expedition of
Harney in 1829, SO probably Davis was notat Yellow River on the Wisconsin or if
Yellow River above Chippewa Falls be taken as the site of the sawmill, then, it is
evident, logs from the Menomonie were not sawed there.
In pursuing this subject it is well in connection with Davis' letter and the
Memoirs to note the statement of Saterlee Clark an early resident of Wisconsin,
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