"Memories of Early Days"
Melinda Ann Warren Weaver,
Darlington Wis., December 21, 1875
Transcribed and Edited by Michael R. Reilly
Last Revised 05/25/2013
We had very pleasant weather all the way from home except one day, and that was a rainy day. Except that one day, we could be on deck nearly all day. Of course, when it was foggy it was not so pleasant, but it was warm. The sun shone bright and beautiful except those two days. We did not go to bed the night we got to Milwaukee, for the captain had told us that he expected that we should get there in the evening, and if it was night, that is, if the wind was favorable for him to go right along. So, late as it was, we had to go ashore in a small row boat, which went three times from the schooner to the land to take the passengers and goods. We went the second time. It had grown cloudy and we heard distant thunder. We found that the lake was getting rather rough. There was no harbor or pier, and the sailors rowed as near as they could and then jumped on shore with a rope in hand and then pulled the boat close to the shore helping the rest of us to land, and there we were with two little children on the beach of the lake along way from any house or building and so dark was it that we could scarcely see to walk on the beach and keep clear of the lake.
We came to a small log house where lived three families. We saw a light at a window just before we got to it, but it was gone by the time we got there, and it was beginning to sprinkle. We rapped at the door and a man called out to know what was wanted. My husband answered that he had just landed from a schooner with his wife and two children and would like to get shelter for the rest of the night. A lady let us in, the only man at home being lame and could not get out of bed. He had been out chopping and had cut his foot very badly with his axe. They were kind enough to give us shelter, but had no bed for us, so my husband went back to where we landed and brought back a loose bed that we had and got back before it rained very hard; but we had scarcely lain down with the children when the rain came down in earnest. The thunder was heavy and the lightening sharp, and altogether, with the roaring and dashing of the waves, (for we were close to the lake), there was not very much sleep for us, but we were thankful that we were on land, and that it was no worse. When daylight came the sun rose bright and clear, and it was very pleasant indeed. My husband went back to where our boxes, chest and barrels lay, for they had to lay where we landed, and brought our provision box so that we could get our breakfast, and then went out and found his brother-in-law [David Bonham] who had just come down the river two miles, to his work.
He came in a small boat. He took me and the children in his boat and rowed back home with us, my husband staying to care of our luggage till the boat could come back for him and bring our baggage home, which was done in the course of the day. They lived in a small log house, with only one room below and one above, and these very small. They had three little ones and there was a family staying with them, a man, wife and four children. They stayed about a week after we got there and then they moved, but we had to stay there as there was no other place, not even one room that we could find to get into, and we could not get into the country as we expected to, until spring . Those who had gone and made their claims were not going to spring, and it would be too lonely for one family to be out there without any neighbors. It was lonely enough where we were, a mile and a half from the town, and not much of a town at that, and did not look as if it would ever be much of a place. We had expected to pay for our land that fall , but as it was not in the market, we could not; but as we found provisions and everything that we needed so much dearer than we had been used to paying, we found it necessary to use all of our ready money before we could raise anything on our land.
Flour was $8 a barrel when we first got there, and we were told that as soon as navigation closed it would be raised to $15, and so we thought we would get our winter stock, but merchants had already raised the price and we had to pay $10 and $12. We paid $16 for a barrel of white fish and $32 for a barrel of pork, $6 a hundred for beef by taking the half of one anima; butter 25 cents, and not fit to eat, so we did not buy any for a while, but used a jar full that we brought from the east, and then went without any for two months. At the end of that time there was a man came from Illinois with a sleigh load of nice butter that he sold for two-and-six pence as we used to count money then, but the merchants sold what they called good butter at the time for five schillings a pound; very poor brown sugar 18 cents a pound; a little better kind, 20 cents; and loaf sugar 25 cents a pound. Tea, coffee and spices were also dear accordingly and went up in price when navigation closed, but not quite so much in proportion as some other things. Sure enough, flour was $15 a barrel when navigation closed, and there came a time, about the middle of winter, that flour had to be brought by teams from Chicago, and those who had to buy then had to pay $20 a barrel. We paid a dollar a bushel for potatoes, and 50 cents a bushel for turnips that were raised near where we lived. Clothing was very dear, but we had supplied ourselves so well that we did not need much for two years, and by that time, it was a little more reasonable.
My husband went to work at two dollars a day, the day after we landed, and worked until he had earned one hundred and twenty dollars, sometimes with carpenters and sometimes with masons. Then came dull times, no more building that winter except to finish off those that were commenced, consequently there was no work except for regular tradesmen. There were a good many men out of employment that would have been glad to have had work to do. Our men bought some oxen and got a chance to draw some wood for the steam boats. They had to pay twenty-two dollars a ton for hay, and they bought corn and oats to feed and to sow. They paid two dollars a bushel for oats and two and a half for corn.
Their job of hauling wood lasted about three weeks, and then they went through the woods where it was more open. Oak openings as they called it, with once in a while a small prairie, and began to build a log louse [had to be Bonham's home and public house]. It was eighteen miles to their claim, so they would take provisions for a week and go and work a week, and then come home, get more and go again. It was very cold and they found it very slow business to get even a log house built. They had to saw all the boards they used by hand, and it took three men [who was the third man? Mr. Ralph] four weeks, including the time it took to go to and from the place, and break their way through the snow and cut trees and brush, so that they could get through with oxen and sleds.
The third man was a neighbor who was going to live near us. When they had one house they thought we could live in, we moved - three families into the house and all lived together four weeks. One of our neighbors [this was probably the Redfords] fixed up a claim shanty, as they called it, and moved his family into it on the same day that we moved, that being the fourth day of March 1837. We were a mile and a half apart and could not see each other's cabins. Our men hired a man with a span of horses and a sleigh to take us with our children, and we had to go through fifteen miles of timber, and only one place in the timber land that we could see out, and then only as we looked overhead.
There were no houses all through the woods, as we went to our new home in the opening beyond, except the Half-way House - as our men called it - and that was rather more than half of the way through the woods, but it was only a place where a man had cut down a few trees, and laid up a few logs as if for a house about twelve feet square, just to save his claim. There was no roof, not even rafters, but a few pieces of bark, and a little brush laid over at one corner. There was a doorway cut through, but no door. There were some pieces of flat stone laid up against the logs in one corner, and as our men went to and fro once a week for four weeks, while they were getting ready to move, they would give their oxen some grain, and as there was no one there to entertain them, they would entertain themselves in the best manner possible. They would enter this wayside inn, build a fire in the center, where stood those flat stones, and prepare their tea or coffee, which they always carried with them and their lunch of bread, cold meat, pie and cake and such things we could cook and put up for them. When they had finished their meal and warmed themselves as well as they could, and their teams had rested and fed, they would drive along again on their lonely road, never meeting or over-taking anyone, for there was no one but themselves that traveled that road, until the day that we three families went, and then there were two men that went to look for land, and they stayed in our house nights and looked around for several days, until they suited themselves for land to make homes for themselves and families.
As soon as it was known that we had moved out in the country men kept coming, so that our little log house was always full. The four weeks that the three families of us lived all together in one house, our floor was strewn with men, (those who came to look for land and make claims0, every night but one, and that night we felt rather lonely. There was only one room that we could use, except to stow away some things out of our way for the upper floor was laid only half over, and no stairs to go above. Some had to crowd themselves and their families into one end of the room, (fourteen of us altogether), partitioned across, and between beds with quilts and blankets, so as to leave the rest of the room for our company. Some of them brought their provisions, and we prepared it for them, and some of them boarded with us, but they all had to lay on the floor, as we had no bedsteads besides those we used ourselves, and these were homemade and roughly made at that. But crowded as we were, we were only glad to divide our small room and accommodate as well as it was possible in our poor way, for we wanted neighbors as well as they wanted homes; and if we were somewhat selfish, we had a desire to be kind and neighborly.
There was such a body of snow on the ground that there was good sleighing nearly half the month of March, which made it very convenient for our men to get hay and grain, and such things as they had to have, for they had to go to Milwaukee for everything that they needed, as there was nowhere else to go to get anything; but wood and water we had plenty at home. They made hay and stacked it in the previous summer, when they went to make their claims; hoping to have abundance in the spring if they needed it. Knowing that the Indians were in the habit of setting fire to burn prairies, marsh and openings, to make clear their hunting grounds from grass and herbage, they thought best to set fire themselves and burn around their stacks at some suitable time, for the purpose of trying to save them when the Indians should set fire to the prairies, but they had the misfortune to lose all their hay, seven large stacks, by the shifting of the wind which drove the fire back, and sparks of fire lighting on the stacks set the hay on fire, and they could not save any of it. So they had to buy hay in Milwaukee and draw it home, seventeen miles, to the place that has been known for many years as the town of Lisbon, in the county of Waukesha.
The last time that they went to town while the sleighing lasted was the last week in March, and not as good going as it had been, for the snow was wasting fast; but as they were wanting more corn, they thought they must fetch it before the snow was gone. As they were very busy with other work, our neighbor who lived in the house with us, took a yoke of oxen and a sled and went to town alone after the corn. He was not much used to driving a team, and my husband told him that he would go as far as the Menomonee River the next day to meet him and help him if he needed help, he started the next morning in good time so as to be sure to meet him at the river; but when he got there he could see nothing of the team, so he walked along three or four miles farther before he met him. Then he took the ox whip himself and hurried the team along as fast as possible, for he had seen cracks in the ice, when he crossed the river, and water above the ice, half way to his boot tops, and when they got back there, the water was deeper and the cracks in the ice wider. Mr. Rolf [Ralph], our neighbor who had been after the corn, did not know what to do; but my husband told him that they must carry the corn across on their shoulders a bag at a time, and they carried it across in that way, then took the sled and drew it across by hand, and unyoked the oxen and drove one over alone; then they went back for the other, and when they had driven him about half way over, the ice broke and the ox dropped into the river with nothing but his head remaining above the water. They caught hold of his horns and tried to pull him out, but could not, and the current of the water drew him under the ice. They then cut the ice away with an axe, hoping that he might rise so they could help him out. But he did not, and when they found that he was still going under they threw themselves down on the ice, in the water, and caught the ox by the tail and pulled him back, until he could get his head above the water. Then he could help himself some, and with their help he scrambled upon the ice and got over to the other side with his mate. He came near being drowned, and the men trying to save his life came near drowning themselves. Every thread of their clothing was as wet as water could make it.
There they were as much as nine miles from home, or from any house, and they were about tired out, and it was almost night. It was growing cold and beginning to freeze, but they loaded their corn again and drove on until they came within a mile and a half of the Fox River. By that time it was getting too dark to drive much farther, and their clothing was frozen, and there appeared to be no alternative, but they must stop there for the night and perhaps freeze to death before morning. They stood by the fire and kept from freezing, but after a while Mr. Rolph [Ralph] felt so tired and sleepy that he laid down to sleep. My husband did not dare to, for he thought that if he did that they would both freeze to death. So he kept stirring around and kept up large fire, disturbed Mr. Rolph every few minutes, trying to wake him for fear that he would freeze to death. After awhile he succeeded in arousing him so that he got up to stir himself about and kept awake, and when daylight came they started for home. But when they had crossed the Fox River, and were going up the bank, their load of corn slipped from the sled and all went into the river, and they were obliged to wade in and carry it out a bag at a time, and load it again, making their garments as wet as they were the day before, and in that plight had to drive home. They arrived home about eight o'clock, tired, cold hungry and faint. When they had taken a warm bath and put on dry garments, and had taken some warm food, and had lain in bed a few hours, they felt better and went to work. They built a scaffold of their homemade boards and other timber which they had sawed by hand, and spread the corn thereon to dry, taking it out in the morning and into the house at night, until it was dry. They concluded they had earned the corn, with their troubles, besides the two dollars and a half they had paid for it.
A few days after this, and on the first day of April, 1837, we moved into our own little log cabin with our little family, one mile away from our brother-in-law's [David Bonham], and neighbors that we had lived with nearly a month. There are many people in these days that would think that such a place as our cabin was at that time was a comfortless place indeed, but we thought it a pleasure to be by ourselves once more, after living so crowed as we had done for six months, and of course, it was quite pleasant for others to have their own house to themselves, especially where there were so many little children, where there were three families in one small house. Our cabin was small, with only one room below and one above, or rather only one room when we went into it, for it was not finished. There was no upper floor for the reason that we had boards only to lay the lower floor, and had to wait three weeks for that until our men could get time to saw them by hand over a pit, with a thick veil over his face to keep the sawdust from blinding him. It was a slow and very tiresome way of making lumber, but our neighbor Mr. Rolph, and my husband, sawed all of the lumber in that way by hand that was used for the first six houses that were built in our neighborhood, all log houses, and of course they made a little to finish them; but there was an upper and a lower floor to every one of those six houses, and certainly one door, and to some two, and casings for the doors and windows. Some had one window, some two, and others three, but generally not more than two, and frequently only one below and very small one above, and when two men had to saw by hand all that was used, there was a good deal of hard work for a comparatively small pile of lumber.
There was a place cut through one end of our house for a good sized fireplace, and a sort of chimney built from the ground up to above the roof, with split sticks on the upper part, laid cob house fashion, and plastered thick with clay. It was built on the outside and closely joined to the logs of the house, so as to form jambs to the fireplace. Then there was a stone back laid up about five feet high, and laid in mud instead of in mortar. For the inside of the jambs we had a large flat stone for each side about four feet high, and wide enough to fill out the jambs and keep out the fire from the house logs. There was no hearth laid when we first went into the house, and for three weeks we had to step down one step to get to the fire. At the end of that time, was the upper floor laid, and also a stone hearth, which made it more convenient as well as more comfortable, for it had seemed somewhat like living in a barn while there was no floor overhead; and the first four days we had no window, neither was there a place cut for one through the lays, so we were not afraid of the wolves coming in to disturb us at night.
It was Saturday that we moved into our house, and on Monday my husband went back to the saw pit to work. I expected him home at night, but in the afternoon Mrs. Rolph came and told me that our men had all gone to Milwaukee and would not home before the next day, which was town meeting day and that was the reason why they went, but they thought they would be home by three or four o'clock. She wanted me to go home with her and stay until the men came home. But I told her that I could not as I was very tired. I had been washing and did not feel able to walk and carry a child in my arms, and I must make up my mind to stay alone, lonesome as it was.
There was nothing to look at out of doors but the ground, the trees and overhead the sky and clouds. There was no settlement nearer than eight miles, and only three log houses there. That was where Waukesha now is, and none nearer than Milwaukee east us, and no settlement within the bounds of knowledge, north or west of us, knowing that our men were all gone, made it lonely indeed. I fastened my door early, before it was fairly dark, and went to bed, but did not sleep much. I heard wolves howl nearly all night and was very thankful to see the morning light once more, and still more thankful to see my husband coming, when it was nearly dark at night, with a window sash in his hand and a glass to put into it. I thought that the largest day that I had ever seen, and the next day our neighbors came to help us to put in our window.
The four days we had lived in our cabin without any light except what came down the chimney and in at the door when it was open, had been very warm and pleasant, so that we could have the door open all day, and we got along very well, but it seemed much more pleasant and homelike even to have only one window, and that a small one; yet it looked like living in a barn, while we had no floor overhead. But in a little over two weeks that inconvenience was remedied, and we had an upper room and ladder, on which to go up to it, which was quite an improvement. The steps of the ladder were made of wood about four inches through, split in the middle and rounded at the ends and let into the side pieces, the flat side upwards. Although it was very plain and rather rough, with no casing, it had to serve our purpose for two years and a half and compared very well with other parts of the establishment. Our floors were laid with rough boards, just as they were when they came from the saw, never having been planed, except with the mop and broom. It was hard work to keep them clean at first, but before many weeks they were quite smooth and easy to clean, and looked quite comfortable and tidy, everything considered, and I began to be proud of our plain little home.
I did not allow myself to feel discontented or homesick as long as we were all well, or so as to be up and around; but when we were sick I missed my relatives and former friends, and the more so because there was no one to be hired for either love or money for a number of years, as almost every new settler who came into the neighborhood came with a young family, if with any. If young persons did come into the place who would go and who could be spared from home, they would go to Milwaukee. We in the country were unable to hire anyone, and if we needed assistance, there was none to be had, except in cases of extreme sickness, and then neighbors would take turns, and do the best they could for each other, but when they were well, they of course, had to do the best they could for themselves.
One morning when we had been living by ourselves about a week, there came a young man to the door, a stranger. He bade me good morning and asked if he could come in and rest, and when I welcomed him and asked him to take a chair, he asked me if I could give him some breakfast. I told him I could if he would accept of such fare as I had, for I had not much of a variety. He said he did not wish to give me any trouble and he would not be particular what I gave him to eat, if I could give him a cup of hot tea or coffee for he was not feeling very well. I told him he could have his choice of hot drink, and he chose tea. While I was preparing it for him he told me he had been out all night and had to lodge in a tree to keep out of the way of wolves; he was out alone looking for land; he had been on the prairie where those three families lived eight miles south of us, and having been told that there were some settlers that had just come in over north a few miles, he thought he would come yesterday afternoon and see if he could find them.
He had a piece of timber to come through and he got lost. Night came on and as he could not see which way to go, he thought it best to lie down and try not to go any farther until morning. He laid down at the foot of a tree that he thought he could climb easily, and had not lain there very long when he heard the howling of wolves, to all appearances not very far distant from him. Feeling no longer safe on the ground, he sprang as quickly as possible into the tree and had been there but a few minutes, when along came a number of wolves close to the tree at the place where he had lain, and began to sniff and growl and scratch and tear up the ground with their claws. As they found nothing to satisfy themselves, they began to hunt around and soon found there was something in the tree. As they could not climb they seemed to get very angry and set up a horrid concert of their music, tearing up the ground all around the tree, eating and tearing of the bark with their teeth. They kept up their howling and tearing almost incessantly till morning. Soon after daylight they became quiet and went away. He counted seven as they walked off. As soon as he dared he got down from the tree and went as fast as he could toward the opening which he saw from the tree top, and neither saw nor heard any more of the wolves.
The two men who came out with us from Milwaukee the day that we moved from there, Mr. Rosebrook and Mr. Palmer, built a log shanty with only a single roof, covering it with what they called shakes or house made shingles, and for the floor they had split logs, using boards only to the door. About the middle of April they moved their wives and families into it and lived together until the fall. Old Mr. And Mrs. Palmer came with them. They were the parents of young Mr. Palmer and Mrs. Rosebrook. It seemed more like home to have more neighbors, although not so near as we were used to have them. We could then number seven families that had come and settled within a month and a half. Mr. [Arthur] Redford moved from Milwaukee with us, or on the same day that we did, with his wife and six children. The two oldest were young men at the time, and are now living with their families, the one [Thomas Spencer Redford] in the town of Lisbon, the other [Henry Redford] in Menomonee, on their farms that lay on the line that divides these two towns, and near where their father first settled, viz: Messers Henry and Thomas Redford's family, Mr. Rolph's [Ralph's] and our brother-in-law, Bonhams. Ours were the first four families that settled in the town of Lisbon, then the two Palmers and Mr. Rosebrook, and as we had written to our brother, Mr. James Weaver, and given him a description of our new and wild looking country, not advising him to come, but telling him that we had made up our minds to stay, he made up his mind to come to us, and arrived with his family about the middle of June.
He built his house not far from ours, in sight, which made us feel more and more at home. With him came Mr. Edward Smith, and Mr. George Elliott, who now lives in Lisbon near Sussex. They, too, brought their families. Mr. Elliott built his house one mile north of ours, and Mr. Smith built his half mile west of ours. I neglected to mention another old and respected friend and neighbor, Mr. Lucius Bottsford [Botsford], who came to Milwaukee in the spring  before we came, and had his claim in our neighborhood, worked all summer in Milwaukee, went back to New York State in the fall after his wife, child and mother, expecting to get back with them before the close of navigation, but only got as far as Fort Gratiot, in Michigan, and had to stay there until navigation opened in the spring . In January  his wife died. He came on in the month of April, leaving his mother and child until the weather should be warmer and more comfortable for the old lady to travel with his child. Mr. Bottsford left Lisbon twenty years ago and went to Illinois where he is living now .
The same summer, old Mr. Doughtery [Daughtery] and old Mr. Peero came and made their claims about three miles west of us, and Mr. Doughtery built a log house and moved his family into it in a short time, but Mr. Peero lived in Milwaukee two years and then he moved his family to be neighbors with us. The twelve families mentioned above were all there were for several months, but after a little they began to come, one, two, three and sometimes four families at a time, until the country around was filled with people, as it were, and we began to feel as if we were again in a land of civilization.
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