Clark County Press, Neillsville,
February 2, 2005, Page 17
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
Compiled by Dee Zimmerman
Clark County News
There’s a long stretch of years between the times that Neillsville was one log cabin overlooking O’Neill Creek from a grove of whispering pines, to the day that a television antenna was erected on the Henry Becker building.
It covers something like 100 years, but there are men who saw that cabin and they are still living in this day of jet propulsion and television and talk of rockets going to the moon.
They are the three Frantz brothers: Conrad, who is 93, George who has 85 years behind him and Rudolph, the youngest at 78. That totals 256 years of Clark County life. And, the three of them are a living guidebook to the colorful history of the city of Neillsville.
Conrad, at 93, is spry and quick witted and a cool, calculated Sheepshead player. His hearing isn’t good as it once was, but otherwise he seems as able as most men half his age.
Asked for some eating habits that might account for such longevity, Conrad remarked that he eats limburger cheese daily, usually for breakfast. But, he pointed out, people today don’t live as they used to. In early years, a man was brought up on coarse food. And he must have something there, as he’s living proof of what the right kind of life can do for a man, whatever kind of a life that may be.
Conrad was born in 1856. From accounts that Rudy, Conrad and George pass on from their mother, we learn that the Frantz family was one of the first in the then-primitive and thickly forested Neillsville country.
George Frantz, the father, immigrate to the New World from the Old. He left Saarbrucken on the Rhine, in 1829, to settle in the rough-hewn, young United States, bringing his young wife, finally to Pine Valley. Rudy told the story of their arrival here.
Father and Mother Frantz came north from Jefferson in the late weeks of a cold December. Their little three-wagon caravan brought a cow, two geese, some chickens and a pig into this howling wilderness where Mrs. Frantz was to be the first white woman, she believed.
It was a bad trip, north from Jefferson to Wisconsin Rapids, then over an Indian trail west to Black River. The wagons broke through the river ice and had to be chopped free with the aid of friendly Indians. They pushed on, against snow and wind, reaching the cabin that George Frantz had built the winter before. But the clearing Father Frantz had hacked out of the pine forests was empty. A low heap of rubble and charred timber marked the site of the little cabin, burned a short time before by Indians who didn’t like the coming of the White Man.
The pioneer couple, unhappy but not discouraged, built another cabin and Father Frantz took employment in the lumber camps. Mother Frantz rolled up her sleeves and took a job as cook in the camp where her husband was cutting the big pines that gave Pine Valley its name.
They cleared a farm and in pioneer fashion attended house raisings and aided their neighbors in pushing back the forest to clear farm land, watching the little town to the north of them grow. Father George even had time to organize a Fourth of July parade, consisting of neighborhood youngsters marching in paper caps as they banged on a drum he made of an empty keg. He built a wagon, with solid wood wheels for the parade.
Mother Frantz was in her nineties when she passed away, having lived to see her children settled in a country that had been the frontier of a young nation.
Conrad remembers the country when it was still of little changes. He recalls going to picnics in the forest grove on the present site of the Fullerton Lumber Company building. Neillsville was made up of a handful of cabins, a saw mill, a hotel, and a couple of saloons. The saloons catered to the payday celebrations of hog-wild lumberjacks.
The city grew and the forests thinned and at age 18, Conrad began playing his cornet in the newly formed City Band. As Conrad recalls it, they had present day musicians beat. There were only 15 men in the band of that day, but they could play louder than the present-day 50-instrument bands, he says.
He remembers when Neillsville was nearly wiped out when a forest fire came raging in from the west and swept into the city as far as the west end of livery barn at the Rossman House, the old hotel. The blaze began, he believed, when the Hewett saw mill went up in pitchy smoke on Wedge’s Creek.
The horses were trapped in the blazing livery stable and a man named Breed almost lost his life attempting to rescue them. Conrad remembers standing on a porch and watching the flood of 1881 sweep out both of Neillsville’s bridges while the water rose visibly in minutes.
While Neillsville grew into a roistering lumbering town, Conrad operated his own farm, did some logging and ran a threshing machine at various times. He went to Milwaukee via the old stage line, too, with other members of the city’s “Sherman Guard” when the Civil War vets had a reunion there. The City Band was becoming famous as a hard playing and energetic troop of musicians. They played at ballgames, political rallies and at any celebration that called them, pounding out melodies for torchlight processions, giving concerts or what have you.
Conrad moved into the city of Neillsville after 40 some years of farming. His place was located near the present Borde farm, south of the city.
Rudy took up the story of Neillsville and the Frantz brothers. Like Conrad, he believes that people “had better times then than they do now.”
He recalled the celebrations the Civil War vets held each October ninth. There’d be 20 barbecue trenches up at the fair-grounds, with sizzling half-beefs and whole hogs, along with side shows featuring snake-men and what all else.
“Why, you should have seen those balloon ascensions,” Rudy recounts. They filled the balloon over a wood fire in a vacant lot where the Brewer tailor shop now stands, with a gang of enthusiastic Neillsville citizens yelling advice and holding the balloon down with ground ropes.
At the signal from local aerialist Pete Alberts, the ropes were dropped and Pete went soaring aloft, his shoes dropping off in the process and bouncing from the heads of cheering onlookers below.
As Rudy remembers it, Neillsville was buzzing with such hardy individualists who, like Pete, greeted the Air Age with open arms. One, Walter Moldenhauer, even built an airplane. This fearsome beast, constructed of cane fish poles and canvas, was given its trial run at the fairground before a large and noisy crowd.
Rudy and George both remember the day when Neillsville made its bid as home of the airplane, but disagree on the success of the flight. George feels that the plane didn’t get off the ground and had to be pushed by strong-armed Neillsvillites about the total extent of its trip.
Rudy is equally sure that the plane had some type of hand-built power plant and rose 10 feet in the air before it returned to earth. Whichever it was, the Wright brothers had nothing on the forward-looking adventurous men of Pine Valley.
Rudy had plenty of opportunity to see Neillsville grow. He worked here as a logger and also on the East Fork in the same capacity, occasionally taking a tumble in the icy river when temperatures were below zero. For 30 years Rudy was a blacksmith and a mechanic, operating his own threshing rig, using a steam engine and water wagon. Rudy played in the old Shortville Band too, playing cornet, under the direction of Frank Darling.
Rudy was farming the Frantz place in 1894 when a forest fire swept from the south, endangering the buildings. Mrs. Rudy Frantz recalled that she had been prepared to abandon the farm, carrying her baby, when 25 men came charging onto the farm property and began a fight that saved the buildings.
In those years, fires and lumbering cleared vast areas of land about Columbia and promoters began selling the cleared land as farming property, Rudy recalls. One of the promoters was known locally as “Jack O’ Diamonds” and must have been something of a knave, as the land proved worthless. A swarm of settlers, referred to locally as “kickapoos,” came into Columbia and to the east of there. Overnight, Columbia became a small city with blacksmith shop, millinery store, dance hall and other appearances of a civic center. But the bubble burst when the “Jack O’ Diamonds,” the settlers and the city trickled away. Columbia became a ghost town.
Rudy recalled the time men came seeking silver on the old Frantz farm, south of Neillsville. The glittering metal was there, but not in commercially extractable amounts.
There was a time, too, in Rudy’s recollection when the Neillsville business district ran from the present site of the North Side Store to the George Tibbett home. A saloon there advertised itself dramatically as “The first chance coming in; the last chance going out.”
Buffalo Bill came here deer hunting on at least one occasion, Rudy said. He stood in front of the Hewett store, corner of Hewett and 5th streets, shooting eggs as his companion threw them in the air.
It must have been a rough life, but a lively one. Rudy reported that for a time an outdoor bowling alley was set up near the old Rossman house, then on the Dr. William Leason property north of O’Neill Creek. Lumberjacks amused themselves by firing extra-large balls across the greensward until their strength began to fail and refreshments were needed.
Rudy reported one bit of dangerous living that involved his entire family. A bolt of lightning struck their house one howling night, hitting only four feet from the baby son’s bed. Also, it narrowly missed a box of dynamite stored in the attic as well.
Mr. and Mrs. Rudy Frantz spent some 30 years on the home farm. They then came to Neillsville, settling in a spacious old home on Division Street while Rudy was employed in the city.
Rudy severed connections finally, with the Clark County garage on January 16. Being active, he is having a little trouble adjusting himself to the change.
George began his working years as a roustabout, a logging man. Like Conrad and Rudy, he did farming with steam engines. He ran the engine for the old Neillsville drying plant, a forerunner of modern-day dehydration. He did carpenter work on about 15 houses in the city and worked in the canning factory for a time.
At present he lives on Court Street with his wife, Mary. He fishes, hunts and plays cards with his brothers. George is now 85.
George told of the Indian movements along the course of the Black River. Occasionally, hundreds of them seemed to be passing the Frantz farm, he said and often they’d come inside to examine the home and its contents.
George recalls suffering a skin ailment one year. An elderly Indian lady announced that she could cure the trouble, so George agreed to try the treatment. She gathered some cranberries, mashed them and bound the paste around George’s arm in an old pillowcase. He recovered from the ailment.
The settlers themselves found a considerable amount of their medicines growing wild in the woods. Each fall, they collected wild herbs, bonesac, catnip, lobelia, bloodroot, peppermint and wild mustard. Each spring, the kids got their doses of sulfur and molasses.
In George’s childhood, he remembers Father Frantz often building a fire by firing cotton batting from his shotgun, using the blazing wad as a match. They’d sometimes load the gun with gravel and shoot ducks on the farm pond.
The traveling packmen were another trademark of those times. They came through in the spring, the summer and into the fall. They would dispense needles, ribbons, cloth and other oddments for the ladies.
James Hewett built big bateaux in the logging times, which were capable of hauling 14 or 16 loggers as they went and down the river on their various jobs. In the spring, the good townsmen of Neillsville would gather along Neillsville’s Main Street to watch the logging horses being brought back from their winter’s work in the camps to the north.
There would be 10 or 12 of the powerful draft animals going south perhaps as far as Sheboygan to get into shape for another northern winter.
George recalled the big Hatfield logjam. There were 4 million board feet of lumber caught in the narrows where the Hatfield Dam now stands. Dynamite and peavey holes wouldn’t break the locked timbers, though George and a host of lumberjacks fought to clear the towering jam.
The old Dells Dam and Hemlock Dam were opened and the flood-waters lifted the mass of logs, ripped through it and carried the tons of timber clear and southward toward the Mississippi River.
Also, the city had a cyclist. It was Frank Hewett, or Fred Hunzinger (Huntzicker?) who possessed a wondrous cycle which had a gigantic front wheel and a small wheel in the back. It was his custom to mount the bike atop Hewett’s hill and then race at suicidal speed down into the city while strong men paled and ladies screamed to this exhibition of rocket-like velocity. Somehow, he always arrived safely at the bottom of the hill, but his trips were considered a local event.
In 1915, George purchased his first car, a 1912 Ford. His wife, Mary, said he could buy the car if he could also swing the purchase of a house and George managed both.
The city owned an old horse, George remembered. The horse was normally the motive power for pulling the city dray wagon that hauled freight from the depot and such. But let the fire bell ring and the horse knew her duty for fire calls and she did it. Dray wagon and all, she would g tearing off for the firehouse to be hitched to the city fire pump. The firehouse was known as “Fireman’s Hall,” located at the present site of the Armory.
The Frantz brothers have seen much of the local history.
Orange Bowl Football Tickets of 1968; Note the cost of admission $12. What a bargain!
(Ticket holder for this game was Bill Lowe.)
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