Clark County Press, Neillsville, Wisconsin

August 29, 2012, Page 15

Contributed by "The Clark Co. Press"

Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.

Index of "Oldies" Articles 


Compiled by Dee Zimmerman


Clark County News

 Neillsville Press 1922


Some Old Clark County History as Told by Her Pioneers:


Memories of Mrs. Jane Gates


It was a gloomy afternoon when the Neillsville Press reporter called on Mrs. Jane Gates. With the fact that Mrs. Gates has been confined to her room and mostly to her bed for several years past, might lead one not to expect a very cheerful visit. We were happy to find this not so.


Mrs. Gates still notes with keen interest the events of the day and goes back with still keener pleasure to the old times gone by.


“Yes, we came here at an early day,” she said.  It was in 1856.  Major Wedge was then logging on the creek that is named after him.  Mr. Gates and I went to work for him. I was to do the cooking in camp and my husband went to work outside.  I was taken sick and had to quit work.  When I got better, I took charge of the tavern, or stopping place at the mouth of Wedge’s Creek where I stayed five years.  It was pretty new here then, lots of deer all around. Major Wedge killed a great many and we ate venison most of the time. Between our place and Neillsville, the only houses I remember were Dr. French’s, Mr. Clark’s, where Geo Bandelow now lives, and Rob Ross at Ross Eddy, until we got to Cawley’s.


We had the first horse team brought to Clark County. All sorts of people stopped at our place, settlers coming into the country, or going back and forth for supplies, lumbermen, tote teamsters, and now and then a bridal party.  Judge Dewhurst and his bride ate dinner with us as they came in from Madison where they were married.  Mrs. Dewhurst was formerly Miss Maria Curtis, niece of the wife of Gov. Taylor. Chauncey Blakeslee, then a prominent businessman of Neillsville and his bride, Miss Boardman stopped for dinner with us on their way to Sparta to be married. There were some great romances in those days, too.”


At this juncture, Mrs. Gates’ daughter, Mrs. J.J. MacBride, came to call on her mother and together they recalled many an incident of early times.


There was a schoolhouse in the vicinity of the Lowery farm, where Mrs. Mac Bride and her brother, Jas L. Gates first attended school. Their father took them on horseback. George Richardson was the first teacher, being followed by Miss Pope and Robert Sturdevant, afterward a District Judge in Washington. (This would be the Riverside School in Levis)


Blakeslee ran a store and hotel where the Neillsville Bank is now located.  He built a large barn where the First National Bank is now located.  When the barn was finished, Mr. Blakeslee gave a big dance in the barn, which was attended by nearly every person in Clark County.  The guests all got supper at the hotel and were well fed. Between the hotel and the barn, there were then no buildings, but a big vegetable and flower garden that covered the area. When the Blakeslee’s moved out of the hotel, Mr. and Mrs. Gates moved in and ran it a year before moving to the farm home where Mrs. Gates still lives. (The Gates’ farm home was located on Neillsville’s south edge and by State highway 73. DZ)


Mrs. MacBride says she remembers well her first Christmas experience.  “We didn’t hear anything about Christmas when we lived down at Wedge’s Creek,” she said, “but I remember well when my brother, Jimmie, told me that he had heard that if one would hang up his stocking on Christmas Eve, there would be something in it in the morning.  We resolved to try it and each got a chunk of loaf sugar and a silver quarter.”


Reminiscences by Mrs. Emma F. Robinson


The following paper was originally written for by Emma F. Robinson, Nov. 25, 1901, for a reminiscence party given at the home of Mrs. S. M. Marsh in Neillsville, and later was read at an old settlers’ reunion at Loyal.


“I came to Clark County Wis., in January 1859, with my husband, and a 23 month old girl, now Mrs. James O’Neill.


We drove through from La Crosse with a team of horses, to what was then known as Weston Rapids.  We were four days in making the trip. There were but few settlers then in Clark County. Among them was the late James O’Neill, founder of Neillsville, Judge Dewhurst, Robert Ross, Chauncey Blakeslee, B. F. Chase, James Hewett and S. C. Boardman.


Neillsville was then a mere hamlet, although the county seat was there then.


It was three that I attended my first Fourth of July celebration in Clark County.  Dr. B. F. French was the orator of the day.  That day I met Mrs. French, Mrs. A. W. Clark and Mrs. John King, at that small gathering of patriotic settlers.


There was a dam and bridge across Black River at Weston’s Rapids. A sawmill and gristmill were in operation there.


There was a large hotel, or tavern, as it was then called, which served as the accommodation for lumbermen and several tenement houses.  We lived in one of those houses for nearly two years and kept the first post office there. We only got our mail once a week and had no county paper at the time; in fact all literature was very scarce in those days. The books and periodicals, which we had brought from our Eastern homes, were gladly exchanged with our neighbors.  They were read and reread, passed about from one home to another until when returned they were often in a somewhat dilapidated condition.  After a time, we were favored by having a very good little district library, which was greatly appreciated.  Mrs. Melvin Mason, Mrs. Chandler and I composed the committee to select the books for this small library of 100 volumes.


A Methodist Church soon sprang up.  It was built in Neillsville, with everyone contributing most willingly.  Its good influence was soon felt and it was a means of bringing the old settlers together oftener, in a social way.  Many were the church sociable we attended when our only conveyance was a big wagon or sleigh drawn by oxen or a span of mules.  Before we had our little church, our only pleasures socially were the meetings in our homes to read and discuss our well-worn books and papers, or for dancing.  It was not considered a hardship by any means to have the big sleigh brought around right after supper and drive six, eight, or ten miles to a dance, gathering up our friends on the way.  Mrs. Stafford, Mrs. Blakeslee, Mrs. Clark, Judge and Mrs. Dewhurst were usually along and always ready for a good time.  By the way, it did (not) take as much to give us a good time then as at the present day.  We were all young and full of health and hope, enjoying every thing to its fullest extent; our books, our dances, our drives and last but not least, our church meant much to us in the wilds of Northern Wisconsin.


There was a log shanty near what is now known as Schofield’s Corners, which was then used for a trading post for the Indians, by quite a notorious character in the early history of Clark County, by the name of George Pettengill.  He was a tall, muscular fellow and affected Indian style by dressing in buckskin and wearing his hair long, reaching to his waist.  He spent his time hunting, trading with the Indians.  He, at one time, openly shot and killed a half-breed, which so enraged the Indians that the settlers were obliged to have Pettengill arrested and lodge in jail at La Crosse. But, he was afterwards acquitted.  He was not generally disliked by the white settlers, so was allowed to trade with the Indians in the shanty on the corner, without being interfered with, although all they got in exchange for their furs and game was a few gaudy trinkets and lots of poor whiskey; which often resulted in nights of hearing hideous weird cries of those poor residents of the forest as the went reeling by to their wigwams after indulging too freely in “fire water.”


Derivation of Clark County Names


Black River was named from the color of its water.


Cunningham Creek, from Thomas Cunningham, an early Mormon settler;


Wedge’s Creek’s name was from Major Wedge, an early settler.


O’Neill Creek from Neillsville’s founder, James O’Neill, Sr.


Jack Creek from “Jack” Murphy, a man educated as a priest, who lived on the farm where Mrs. Matt Noel lives.


Bruce Mound from Franklin Bruce, an early settler near here;


Greenwood, for the green timber that surrounded it;


Longwood, for the area’s tall timber;


Hemlock, from the species of timber that grew around it;


Abbotsford, after Mr. Abbott, an officer of the Wisconsin Central Railroad;


Colby, after president Colby of the Wisconsin Central Railroad;


Sherman, after General Sherman;


Mentor, after Mr. Mentor, an early settler;


York, from the fact that many of the township’s settlers were from the state of New York, or because of the Yorkston families who were its early settlers;


Fremont, after General Fremont;


Hewett, after James Hewett;


Pine Valley, originally named for the great amount of pine trees that surrounded the region;


Grant, after General Grant;


Lynn, from the basswood, or “Linn” wood, which grew abundantly in its area;


Levis, for Wm. Levis, an early logger and mill man who lived there;


Washburn, after Governor Washburn, who was governor of this state in 1872; He also owned and harvested much pine-covered land in that township.  Thomas LaFlesh was head foreman of Washburn’s lumber operations.


Sherwood, from “Sherwood Forrest” of England, named by Mrs. Thomas LaFlesh;


Hendren, after Rev. Hendren, the well-known pioneer Presbyterian minister of Greenwood;


Withee, after N. H. Withee, ex-county treasurer and ex-member of Assembly; He held these offices, while living in the city of La Crosse.


Hixon, after Gideon C. Hixon, a partner of N. H. Withee;


Worden, after Zeph Worden, an old settler;


Reseburg, after August Reseburg, an old settler who lived there;


Green Grove, from its green forested area;


Mead, from Harry Mead, an old settler of Clark County;


Warner, after Mark Warner;


Beaver, after beaver dams on Rock Creek that ran through the township;


Unity after the “united” character of people;


Eaton, after Lige Eaton, an early settler on the town site of Greenwood;


Thorp, from J. G. Thorp, president of the Eau Claire Lumber Company;


Humbird, after, Mr. Humbird, an old officer of the Northwestern Road;


Veefkind, for Mr. Veefkind, who owned a heading mill at the village;


Loyal, from the fact that the early settlers of the town were “Loyal” soldiers of the Civil War.


Dr. Baxter, Our Earliest Surgeon


Dr. Baxter invaded Clark County at a very early date. Information gotten seems to point to the fact that he came here from Monroe County in the early 1850s.


He was somewhat of a migratory disposition and was familiar to all the early and later pioneers of the county.  He seemed quite ready to meet emergencies as it is told that one time a gentleman by the name of Ike Williams suffered from frozen feet, which necessitated amputation. Dr. Baxter lacked the necessary instruments for the work and at last resorted to an old case knife from which he made a saw by the means of a file.  This was the chief instrument used to carry out the operation on Williams.


Some Reflections of Homer M. Root


“I came to Clark County in 1869,” said H. M. Root, cashier of the Commercial State Bank, in response to the inquiry.  “I came west from New York State, stopped a few weeks in Chicago, came on to La Crosse and then came up Black River to where Greenwood now stands.


Greenwood was not thought of then, but had a settlement of five houses; the only person left of their original occupants is Mrs. Hattie Andrews. She lives nearly on the same spot that she did then.


Bob Schofield then lived at Schofield’s Corners, opposite Weston’s Rapids.  I went to work in camp that winter and worked for nineteen consecutive winters. That winter I scaled and tended landing, but I worked at every job there was to do in and about a logging camp, even cooking.


Up to 1880, all the timber was felled with an ax and I did a great deal of chopping.  In 1874, I went into partnership with B. F. Thompson and we logged together eleven long winters.  We did most of our toting from Hatfield and Wrightsville.  “The big winter for logging on Black River was 1871-1872; that year 350,000,000 feet of pine was put in; the next winter about 250,000,000.


In the “Al Brown Winter,” 1877-78, practically no logs were put in.  Farmers plowed every month during that winter, and on New Year’s, the road between Greenwood and Neillsville was impassable because of mud, and a log drive went on continually on Black River.


Hemlock Dam was built in 1878 and the old Dells Dam in 1879. We had some dry seasons in those years.  In 1874 and 1875, we had a plague of grasshoppers that hurt crops considerably around Greenwood.  They ate everything except tomatoes.


There were lively times when logging was in flower on Black River. Among the prominent loggers of those years were the Withee’s, Hixon, Bright, the Coleman’s, D. J. Spalding, Price, C. C. Washburn, Sawyer and Austin, Gile and Holway and Hi Goddard.


Provisions and nails were packed from Black River Falls to this point for a number of years.  It takes courage to shoulder a sack of flour at Black River Falls and carry it clear up into the town of Eaton. But that is what the Huntzicker’s and many others did some 60 years ago.  More than this, hardware and nails were carried from that same point to build the first houses in the area.


Neillsville Postmasters


Neillsville was first established as Clark Post Office, May 31, 1855 with Samuel C. Boardman as postmaster.  The name Clark was changed to Neillsville, October 6, 1856 and Mr. Boardman was appointed for a second year.


 Then followed: George W. King in 1857; Chauncey Blakeslee 1858; Wm. C. Tompkins 1860; C. W. Carpenter 1863; A. J. Manley 1865; Wm. C. Hutchinson 1867; J. W. Ferguson 1871; Wm. Campbell 1882; Isaac Carr in 1886; Fred Reitz 1890 and 1903; William Huntley 1894; L. B. Ring 1899; and A. E. Dudley 1906.



The above 1878 photo of Neillsville’s Main Street was taken on Hewett and 5th Street’s intersection, looking east.  (Photo courtesy of Bill Roberts’ collection)




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