Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI

April 30, 1997, Page 36

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


Good Old Days


Compiled by Dee Zimmerman


Early Settlements of Clark County


The Mormons came up the Black River in 1844, seeking lumber for their tabernacle in Nauvoo, Ill.  As they entered land which would become Clark County, they cut logs from the vast forests along the river, floating them down to Black River Falls, where they were sawed into lumber to be run down the Black and Mississippi Rivers to their destination.


Evidence of the Mormon occupancy of Clark County long remained in four places along the Black River, one at the Mormon Riffle below the mouth of Wedge’s Creek, one on the west bank of the river, about a mile below Neillsville, one near Weston’s Rapids (2 or 3 miles north of Neillsville), and one south of Greenwood.  In 1854, the four camping places were grown up with wild plum trees, after the sudden abandonment of the Mormon groups in 1846 when they returned to Illinois.  Remains of the log cabins, built of unhewed logs and chinked with mud, were still visible and holes still showed where the root cellars had been excavated.  Years later, broken crockery was unearthed at various times at all four of the locations.


In the meantime, influences were in the making which would bring Clark County its first permanent settlers, preparing the way for its development, first into a busy lumbering region, and later into a progressive dairy country.  The lumber occupancy was brought about by the stretches of forest, so situated as to be accessible by waterways to the great lumber markets of the upper Mississippi.


After searching new territory upstream of the Black River, in 1844, the O’Neill brothers returned to setup their saw mill on the creek that would bear their name.  James and Henry O’Neill were accompanied by E. L. Brockway, Samuel F. and William Ferguson as well as a number of laborers, to the new creek side site.  They became the first permanent settlers in what would be later organized as Clark County.  The O’Neill party came overland in a wagon drawn by an oxen team from Black River Falls, cutting their way through the brush and other obstacles.  This was the first road made into the county.


In 1846, James O’Neill built the first frame structure house, to replace his log cabin built the previous year.


Two other settlements came into existence in 1846, one on Cunningham’s Creek, two miles below the O’Neill settlement, and one on Cawley’s Creek, three miles above the O’Neill settlement.


The Cunningham Creek settlement was started by Andrew Grover, Hamilton McCullom and James Beebe, who came from Black River Falls, and opened a saw mill of the same dimensions and capacity as the O’Neill mill.


The settlement of Cawley Creek was started by Jonathan Nichols and John Perry, Perry being accompanied by his wife.


In 1847, immigration of Clark County was extremely limited.  Among those who came were: Samuel Cawley, after which Cawley Creek is named; I. S. Mason, Thomas J. LaFlesh, Nathan Myrick, H. J. B. (“Scoots”) Miller, and William Dibble, who built a mill on Cunningham Creek.


On June 7, 1847, came the great flood which wiped out the saw mills, and caused general suffering throughout the newly settled portions of the Black River Valley.  On the afternoon of the previous day, the rain began to fall and the refreshing shower was hailed with delight.  With each succeeding hour the area of the storm was increased and, from gentle drops, which were eagerly taken by the parched earth, it gradually assumed a violent downpour.  The rain fell in torrents until after midnight, and when morning dawned, the Black River had risen 25 feet and was flooding the land up and down the river.  As a result, every mill on the stream was swept off, causing great damage which required months to repair.  But as the day advanced, the sun came out, the waters receded and the river retreated within its banks.  Eventually the debris of the mills, logs which had been swept into the woods, and other evidences of loss, was all that remained as a result of a war of the elements.


In 1848, a few new settlers came.  Among them were: J. W. Sturdevant, Leander Merrill, Benjamin Merrill, John Morrison, Moses Clark, John Lane, Robert Ross, Albert Lambert, and a few others.  The Merrills built a saw mill one mile below Myricks & Miller’s Cunningham Creek site; Lane, another in the same vicinity and Morrison near that of Lane, Van Dusen & Waterman began milling eighteen miles above Neillsville, as also did Albert Lambert.  Somewhat later Elijah Eaton purchased the mill of Van Dusen & Waterman and carried on the business many years ago.


The year of 1849 was marked by several arrivals.  Benjamin F. French, Allen Bidwell, James French and John French came that year to stay.


In the next few years the newly formed settlements continued to grow and, in 1853, a new center was established when Samuel Weston and David Robinson, with a number of men, arrived from Maine to locate at Weston’s Rapids, two miles above Neillsville, for the purpose of getting out logs and running them down the river.


All settlers who came during the early period were connected with the lumber business.  The mill employees and those engaged in rafting timber down the river, had no intention of abandoning their chosen pursuits for the occupation of grubbing out a living among the stumps.  Pioneers who desired to establish farms looked for unoccupied, cleared land ready for breaking, without the tedious process of clearing timber.  However, some early settlers did come to clear their land of timber and develop it into farming after the Civil War.  Civil War veterans were each granted a parcel of government land for the asking. 


The first farm in the county opening at Neillsville was that of James O’Neill who by 1850, had about fifty acres cleared, with the clearing extending up the hill.  The same year, Hamilton McCullom opened a small farm in connection with his saw mill near the mouth of Cunningham Creek, and a little later, Moses Clark opened a farm near his mill on the creek.


When the county was organized, in 1854, there were probably not more than 25 occupied homes in the county.  At that time, the occupied portions of the county extended along the Black River and up its tributary streams, from the mouth of the East Fork to the present site of Greenwood.  Weston’s Rapids and Neillsville were already developing into villages, and in addition to the mill settlement, Hugh Wedge had erected a tavern near the mouth of the creek that bears his name, just above the bridge.


Prominent among the early settlers of the late 1850s were James Hewett, Richard Dewhurst, John S. Dare (Dore?), G. W. King, Chauncey Blakeslee, S. N. Dickinson, W. C. Tomkins, L. K. Hubbard, James Lynch, Orson Bacon, James Furlong. Edward Furlong, Anson Green and others.


Settlers to the east of Neillsville, toward the county line, were Nelson Marsh, Levi Marsh, and Robert Reidel, near Granton, (not far from Mapleworks and the Windfall Communities).  Charles Sternitzky, John D. Wage, Archibald Yorkston, William Yorkston, Bartemus Brooks, Carl Schlinsog and Ferdinand Yankee, in or near what is now Lynn Township.


The Huntzicker’s, Henry, George and Jacob, were in the central part of the county, some miles south of what is now Greenwood.


The first settlers in the Loyal area came in 1857 when Erastus and Daniel Mack purchased land from the U.S. Government.  A couple of years later, John Castner bought 80 acres of timberland, to be followed by Welsh, Sitts, Hills and Smith.


The new settlements developed northward through the county as long as land was available.


A complete census of Clark County was taken in 1860.  A list was made up with the name of the head of each family given first, the age next, the value of his real estate, value of personal property, his birthplace and the family members’ names.

These ornate steel girders with Grand Avenue cut into the overhead frames, bridged O’Neill creek for many years; the end girders were saved when the old bridge was dismantled and can be seen in Schuster Park on Neillsville’s southeast side.


A late 1800s view of West 5th Street, from the Hewett Street Intersection looking west

(Photo courtesy of the Clark County Jail Museum)



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