Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
April 7, 1999, Page 24
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
Good Old Days
Compiled by Dee Zimmerman
THOMAS JEFFERSON LAFLESH
(Wisconsin Civil War Leader – Black River Lumberman – Pioneer)
(Having an interest in their township’s history, Lowell Freedlund and Kay Scholtz, both residents of the Town of Sherwood, have written a biography of Thomas J. LaFlesh, an early area lumberman.
Their search for data, started about three years ago, reaching as far as finding a grandson, Jack LaFlesh, living in California. Photo of Thomas LaFlesh, courtesy of his grandson, Jack LaFlesh
Many Neillsville area residents will remember the large LaFlesh house that was located on the Nelson Industries site and was destroyed in by a fire in the early ‘40s. D.Z.)
Taking a trip back in time 120 years ago, to Clark County, Wisconsin, and the Township of Sherwood Forest, you might find more happening than you’d expect to. Around 1880, things were bustling in Sherwood Forest (as it was then named), especially in the community known as Nevins. Nevins was located about 16 miles east of Neillsville on what is now Highway 73. Captain Thomas LaFlesh kept Nevins hopping with his immense logging interests for several years. Here the captain oversaw his logging camps and the construction of dams on the East Fork of the Black River and its tributaries during the peak harvest of the great white pine.
Thomas Jefferson LaFlesh was born June 3, 1836, in Leamington, Ontario, Canada, of French and Canadian parentage. His parents were Pierre and Elizabeth (nee Elliot) LaFleiche. It is believed that Tom LaFlesh’s first stay in Clark County occurred in about 1850, when as a teenage he assisted Amos Elliott with logging interests north of Neillsville. What Tom saw in the towering white pines along the banks of the Black River as a young man left a lasting impression on him, one that made him want to return and share in the beauty of the land and wealth of the timber as well.
The Civil War took Tom away for a time. In December of 1861, in La Crosse County, Company B of the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry was created. The unit was mustered into service at Camp Washburn, near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on February 6, 1862, with a roster of 100 members. Thomas J. LaFlesh was named at the onset of the unit as Second Lieutenant. On March 24th, the Company, with the Regiment, left Wisconsin and had four years of active participation in the war. The 2nd Cavalry had taken part in the battle at Vicksburg, Miss. among others. When Tom LaFlesh was mustered out in November of 1865, he had worked his way up to the rank (of) captain of Company B. The “1918 History of Clark County” book tells of Captain Thomas LaFlesh, along with other veteran officers, leading the Civil War Reunion parade on their steeds in the city of Neillsville, Wisconsin. These reunions became popular for the different regiments in the state and were held annually in the fall for many years after the war’s end. LaFlesh participated and was an organizer and speaker at several of these reunions. In 1871, he obtained permission for “Old Abe,” the war eagle, to attend the Neillsville Soldier’s, in Reunion.
During LaFlesh’s war service, he took time out to marry Elizabeth Summerside, daughter of George and Mary Summerside, on August 27, 1863 at Black Earth, Wisconsin. The first land entry for Tom purchasing acreage in Sherwood Township was in 1869. At that time he is believed to have moved from Necedah, Wisconsin, with his wife and two small children, Mary and William, to the Sherwood area. Here his logging operations began with the assistance of General Cadwallader Washburn (lumberman, huge landowner, Wisconsin Congressman from 1869-1871, and governor of Wisconsin from 1872-1874). At its peak, the Washburn ladn holdings covered some 15 to 20 thousand acres of valuable timberland located by Captain LaFlesh in central Wisconsin, along with land in other areas. Washburn organized Company B of the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry at the onset of the Civil War and apparently took a liking to LaFlesh.
After a short initial stay in the Sherwood area, the LaFlesh family moved to Neillsville and Tom formed a partnership with James Hewett in 1871. LaFlesh and Hewett operated a general store in Neillsville, which sold dry goods, groceries, and notions. The partnership soon dissolved and LaFlesh continued to run the store with J. W. St. John and brother-in-law William Summerside until 1873. William and his family then moved to Necedah, Wisconsin, eventually settling in the Dakotas. The LaFlesh family moved about four miles north of Neillsville to live on the Cawley Farm (which, some said, was haunted). They stayed on this farm for a year or so and soon relocated back in Sherwood to concentrate on logging interests there. Back at Nevins, the family prospered for several years. An excerpt follows from “The LaFlesh Chronicles,” a story written by Tom LaFlesh’s oldest daughter, Mary (Maymie) LaFlesh Hunter, later in her life as she referred to her childhood diaries and reminiscences of Sherwood, “At my first remembrance it was a wilderness, a little clearing in a forest. I think every evergreen tree in America grew there, tamarack, cedar, fir, spruce, pine and then there were maple trees, oak and one elm. I remember the tamarack gum, the hazelnuts, the cranberry marsh and all the wonder-fully flavored wild berries, plums and cherries.”
“The house was built of hewn logs and Mother’s part was whitewashed on the inside. The other part was a cookhouse for the logging crew and they slept upstairs. It is of these stair steps I have a keen memory. I can see Pat Vaughn, the cook, coming after me with a long handled spoon in his hand. He had been stirring something on the stove and I probably thought while his back was turned was my chance to investigate the forbidden territory. I can see myself scrambling up those rude steps and watching Pat out of the corner of my eye. I never did get up those steps – maybe that is why I remember it so clearly. Pat Vaughn, like many of my father’s employees, was with us for many years, he cold bake the finest beans I ever tasted. Cooked in a Dutch oven in a bean hole, - made by putting heated rocks in a hole, covering the oven and keeping a slow fire going on top. We children loved Pat Vaughn… We probably moved (back) to Sherwood Forest in the spring of 1875 and lived there sixteen miles from Neillsville, for several years. The happiest days of my life were lived there. It wasn’t a wilderness any more. There were acres under cultivation, a small orchard where I have seen the deer jump over the fence to eat the fallen apples. There were barns, cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, everything one could ask for. The “tote team” went to Neillsville for such things as were needed that the farm did not produce. One night I remember hearing a most awful squealing from the hogs, and men rushing around, a couple of gun shots and the next morning a big bear skin was nailed on the blacksmith shop door. The house was enlarged – we had a large living room with Mother’s organ at one end and later, when I was eighteen, my piano at the other end. (Tom LaFlesh purchased the piano from C. C. Washburn’s estate as a gift for his daughter Mary’s eighteenth birthday.)… We had Mother’s room and it had an outside door leading into the garden. That was some garden. Grandmother (Tom’s mother) saw to that, nothing so good ever grew anywhere else, it seems to me… These years and many to follow were years of such plenty that I have never known the worth of money. We had much more than we needed and put no value on anything. If we wanted something, we had it. But our wants were simple then. There were twenty-seven cows milked morning and night. Down in the springhouse, great pans of milk and jars of butter, certain pans we youngsters could have, cream and all, some the men could drink. I can remember skimming the thick, yellow cream to put over a dish of wild berries. The cold, cold spring in the corner; from which we carried our drinking water. We had an icehouse where the men stored away chunks of ice cut from Tom’s Creek (Incorrectly labeled “Tomas Creek” on today’s maps) below the house. In the summer we could have ice cream. All our bacon and ham was cured on the farm, pork salted down, (and) beef corned. Down in the root houses were barrels and barrels of apples, kegs of sauerkraut, pickles, mince meat, everything. Grandmother made vinegar and soft soap. In the spring the maple trees in the grove were tapped and Grandmother superintended the making of maple syrup and sugar. Those were the days….”
Sherwood town records show the first meeting of the township (created in 1874) was held in the home of William W. LaFlesh, (William LaFlesh was Tom’s brother, who apparently lived at the homestead while Tom spent time in Neillsville and on the Cawley Farm. William, also a Civil War veteran, was Sherwood’s first town chairman and editor of a Neillsville newspaper in the early 1870s.) Sherwood’s original name was Perkins, but it has been inferred that Tom and his wife Elizabeth suggested the name be changed to Sherwood Forest. It was said that the area here reminded Elizabeth of her childhood homeland in England.
Thomas LaFlesh’s interests were diverse and many in the community. In 1876, LaFlesh built a schoolhouse for District #1, which included the northern half of Sherwood at that time. The LaFlesh children had a short walk to school, and often boarded various schoolteachers in their home. This was the school located on the northwest corner of the former Ralph Scholtz property, which probably burned around 1900. The school building was replaced by the Audubon School, which still stands today, just east of the original school.
Tom was first elected town chairman of Sherwood Forest in 1876 and served in that capacity at least four years. He also served later as clerk, treasurer, and supervisor in Sherwood Township. At this time town elections were held every April. The Personal Property Assessment Rolls from the Town of Sherwood Forest for the year 1878 showed T. J. LaFlesh as the most affluent man in the north half of the township.
In 1879, Thomas LaFlesh had the honor of being appointed the first postmaster of Sherwood at the newly-created Nevins Post Office, which of course was at his own home. The Nevins Post Office was named in honor of the former state senator and lumber baron, Sylvester L. Nevins, from La Crosse. (Nevins was a brother-in-law of C. C. Washburn, their wives being sisters.) Tom’s salary was $10.00 per year as postmaster and he also received $30.00 per year as a member of the Clark County Board. Tom was also a member of the Clark County Agricultural Society in the 1880s.
(LaFlesh story to be continued next week)
Thomas J. LaFlesh was one of Clark County’s early lumbermen, clearing land in the southeastern corner of the county. He was referred to as “Capt. Tom LaFlesh” in the late 1800s news articles, having been a captain in the Civil War.
LaFlesh Cemetery Records
The Thomas J. LaFlesh home was built on Neillsville’s east side in 1887, on property now owned by Nelson Industries. The house was said to have had several fireplaces.
To local residents, it was known as the Lanham house, the owners in its later years of existence. The house was destroyed by fire in the early ‘40s.
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