Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

February 14, 1996, Page 28

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


Good Old Days


Clark County’s Early Settlers


By Dee Zimmerman


A name which appears when researching early settlements in Clark County is the name of Frantz.


George Frantz, Sr. came to Wisconsin in 1847.  He was born in Saarbrucken, Germany July 8, 1929, son of Conrad and Julia Frantz.  His father was one of Napoleon’s soldiers, having served in his army ten years.  Educated in his native country, he learned the butcher’s trade.  At the age of 17 he came to the United States, landing in New York. Upon his arrival in that city he had just $1 in his pocket with which to begin life in the new country.


He arrived in Clark County in 1848.  Coming up the Black River, he got off the boat or scow at Black River Falls which was as far as he could go. Accompanied by two men, Winerich and Windle, they backpacked their provisions that had been on board, walking to about a mile below the mouth of Cunningham Creek.  There, they built a log cabin and made shingles all winter.  In the spring, they went up to a mound which was called Hemlock Mound at a place they called “Hardscrabble” (Hemlock area was north of Greenwood).  They cut shingle timber in the summer of ’49 and drove it down the river to their cabin, where they made shingles for 2 or 3 years.  At that time, they did as everyone else was doing, taking whatever they thought they could claim.  They reasoned, “We had to pay for all they got anyway.”  The shingles were rafted down the Black River, starting from near their cabin, going down to La Crosse.  La Crosse wasn’t much of a town as it just started in the spring of ’49.


Returning from rafting and selling the shingles, Winerich and Frantz built a shanty about two miles above what was later called Weston Rapids, or about four miles north of Neillsville.  They had a yoke of oxen and wagon that they made by cutting a big oak log and putting an axle in the wood.


Not having a boat, they had to swim the river twice a day to get to and from their work.  All winter, wood was cut and driving down the Black River to the Big Eddy with the help of Michael Conlon, referred to as a “fine old chap” by Frantz.


“The following spring brought a streak of bad luck when my cabin and all my belongins burned – losing everything but what I had on, which was a pair of shoes, overalls, a hickory shirt and a straw hat – well fixed, yet far from another start,” as stated by Frantz.  He had what he wore and one ox.  His partner lost all; including about forty dollars, part gold and part silver, and a nice gun.  The partner was in Black River Falls at the time so Frantz went there to tell him about it.  The two men agreed to rebuild a cabin.  Frantz returned to the place contemplating his future.  In a few days a man named John Gooden came up the river looking for –Frantz, telling him he had bought but the partner’s share and wanted to buy his share, too.  Frantz sternly stated, “No, you can’t get my share.” 


George Frantz, Sr. and wife Barbara (Sontag) were married in 1855, and then journeyed to Clark County, settling on a plot of land one mile south of Neillsville.  Developing a farmstead out of the wilderness, both lived to see many changes that took place around them in the seventy plus years as residents. 


On Nov., 15, 1855, Geo. Frantz, Sr. married Miss Barbara Sontag in Jefferson County.  Born in Baden, Germany on Jan. 25, 1934, she came with her parents to America, at age 14.  They settled for a time in Buffalo, NY, but later traveled westward and settled in Jefferson County, Wis., near Fort Atkinson.  At the age of 21, she and her husband, as newlyweds set out for Neillsville to make their home on a tract of land south of Neillsville.  Frantz had recently purchased 100 acres of land and prepared living quarters, by building a log cabin.   Traveling by an ox team and covered wagon, they were accompanied by five other men with ox teams, but Mrs. Frantz was the only woman in the party and when she arrived here, only six Caucasian women lived in the county.  They got to Neillsville on Christmas Day and found that someone had burned their log house.  Frantz got a job working in a logging camp and his wife worked there as a cook.


In the spring, they returned to their land, where Frantz built another log house, and there they started to develop a farm out of the wilderness.  The farmland, which they cleared, is located ½ mile east of Highways 95 – 73, on Maple Road, one mile south of Neillsville.  The shake roofed house had but one room and as heated by a fireplace, yet was comfortable and pleasant for the young couple.  The pioneer couple started out living together under primitive conditions on their new land.  One cow, a few pigs, some chickens, and two geese formed the domestic property of the new comers.  The two geese were the first geese in Clark County.


The Frantz family and a few inhabitants in the vicinity would worship in a little rudely built church which was put up by them.  They promoted the first Fourth of July celebration in Neillsville, which was then but a small hamlet.  A few boys in the neighborhood being Sturdevants, Fergusons, and O’Neills, were invited to take part in the parade.  Mrs. Frantz prepared imposing uniforms for the boys, by making paper caps and bright uniforms.  The parade marched to the music of a fife and drum.  The drum, made by Frantz, was a piece of buckskin nailed to the end of a nail keg.  Although the music was far from harmonious, the spirit was there.


Frantz’s resided on their farm for 35 years.  Real coffee was scarce in the early days, so Mrs. Frantz made a substitute by drying and grinding rye and wheat.  Tin and crockery weren’t available so she baked bread on wooden shingles for many years.  In the beginning, they made occasional trips to Black River Falls for provisions.  As oxen were slow moving, it took them a week of travel time for the round trip.  A few sheep were always kept on the farm so as to supply wool into yarn to knit socks, mittens, and other apparel necessary for clothing.  Cloth for summer wear was made from spinning flax.


To the Frantz family, were nine children of whom not all grew to adulthood.  The children attended the first rural school built in Clark County.  It was located on a lot located a short distance south of what is now Division Street, east side of Highways 73 and 95, later to be the Albright property.


Medicinal needs were provided by home-made remedies made from plants growing in the woods.  Each fall they collected wild herbs, boneset, catnip, lobelia, bloodroot, peppermint, and wild mustard for the coming year’s health needs.  Each spring, the kids each got their doses of sulphur and molasses.


Often groups of Indians would travel along the course of eh Black River, passing the Frantz log house.  Seeing the new structure, they would stop, wanting to view the inside of the home and its contents. On one of those visits, an elderly Indian lady noticed one of the Frantz boys, George, was suffering from a skin ailment.  She announced that she could cure the malady.  His parents welcomed her help.  She gathered some cranberries, mashed them, and spread the paste around George’s arm, covering it with an old pillow case, which healed the skin back to normal.


Frantz’s watched the village of Neillsville developing to the north of their farmstead.  When the youngsters were small, they attended summer picnics in a forest grove on the present site of Kuhn’s Decorating.  The town consisted of a few cabins, a saw mill, a hotel and a couple saloons, catering to the lumberjacks.


Eventually, as time went on, more land was cleared and a nine room house was erected, replacing the log structure.  A large barn was also added to the farm buildings.  In 1883, the Frantz family moved to the Town of Washburn and purchased 80 acres of wild land in Section 9.  That tract was cleared; improved and modern buildings were constructed on that farm also.


In 1917, Mr. and Mrs. Frantz moved to the city of Neillsville, purchasing a house on Division Street.  They celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1905 and their 60th wedding anniversary in 1915, both celebrations featured open house with family and friends in attendance.  At the time of their anniversaries, there were four sons, living, who also resided in the vicinity, Conrad in Pine Valley, George in Neillsville, Henry and Rudolph in the Town of Washburn.  Rudolph lived on the Town of Washburn family farm after his parents moved to Neillsville.


In 1927, when the new concrete bridge across Cunningham Creek, completed on Highway 95 – 73, was officially opened for traffic, Mrs. Frantz had the honor of being the first citizen to cross it.


Mr. and Mrs. Frantz was a hardy couple, enduring every phase of pioneer life, taking their place in all the work and activities of the day, sharing their successes, difficulties and hardships.  One of Mrs. Frantz’s biggest thrills, in her later years, was going for a car ride.


George Frantz, Sr., passed away in 1920 at the age of 91.  Nine years later, his wife, Barbara, died at age 95.  Both kept active, physically and mentally, throughout their lives.  The rigors of pioneering livelihood didn’t stand in the way of their longevity.


Wouldn’t it have been interesting to have known them?


Neillsville residents watching a parade on Hewett Street, circa 1915 



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