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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History

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This article was contributed by Kay Reitberger

Sheboygan Press - January 18, 1918

Respected Pioneer Tells Of Early Days

Following is a brief account of the early days in Sheboygan county as narrated by Mr. Henry Herzog, 1914 N. 12th street, who with his wife recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary:

I came to America with my parents when I was seven years old, leaving Hamburg, Germany, in the spring of 1852. There were several people in my native town in Saxony on the same ship in which we crossed the Atlantic. The voyage is one that will be remembered as one of the most eventful occasions of my life. After passing the British Isles our ship, a sailing boat, ran into a bad storm, and the cook was washed overboard. For two days we fed the crew and many passengers from our own private larder until an improvised fireplace could be constructed of a mortar made of flour and water. We were driven before the storm for two weeks, and expected at any moment to go down.

Arriving in Quebec we came to Niagara Falls by train, and from thence to Buffalo in street cars drawn by mules. At Buffalo we again took to boats, coming through the lakes to Sheboygan.

When we landed here practically everything was a wilderness. There were only two stores, a lodging house and five or six log cabins. With my parents we went to a settler about five miles north of Sheboygan where we stayed for a week, I purchased sixty-two acres of land along what is now the Lake Shore Drive. During that time Sheboygan county exported much wheat.

The dense forests were filled with game. Deer were plentiful and squirrels were to be had by the hundreds. Scores of sailing ships were always coming and going from the piers. It was not uncommon to see forty or fifty ships on the lake just in front of our place preceding a storm. The harbor offered ample protection from the winds.

Indian villages were numerous. They were of the Chippewa and Menomonee tribes and lived peaceably and happy among the white settlers. Their wigwams were made of bark and in some cases, especially during the winter, were covered with hides and furs. The Indian of those days didn't use firearms, but relied entirely on their flint pointed arrows, with which they were excellent marksmen, Shooting matches were often held, in which someone would place a penny upright on the stump of a tree and the arrow that knocked it off won the coin. Many remarkable shots from long ranges were often made. At twenty paces the Indian seldom missed the mark. Even today flint arrow heads are found on farms near here.

Indian dances were often held in our village, the ceremony not infrequently taking place in the lot adjoining the store. The Indians, men women and children would all gather in a large circle and dance to the monotonous beat of the tom tom. Young braves, painted in their gayest color and decked with flowing streams of feathers presented a truly impressive sight. Their ponies were also gotten up with a large assortment of colored feathers and leather strips.

The Indian of the days of the early settler in this district was not the warlike savage of the present day movie. They were quiet and unobtrusive. We never had any trouble with them in this region. There were always quite a number of them in the village, especially in the spring when they brought their maple sugar for trade. They raised their own corn and potatoes, shot their own game and lived apart by themselves. They often visited us and many times brought game and fish. Their numbers, however, gradually dwindled away as their forest hunting ground went before the white man's ax.

During the first few years we were here, we used very little actual money. What we wanted we paid for in cord wood or shingles. Cord wood during those times sold for 25 or 50 cents a cord. Later we made shingles and got a better price for our product.

Our home was a log cabin, two stories high. On the first floor in the front part of the house was the general living room and kitchen. In the back part of the same house the cows and oxen were kept. We boys slept upstairs. The cracks between the logs were filled up with mud and clay. Not infrequently have I had to shake the snow off my bed before retiring. The floors were at first on bareground, but later when a sawmill came in we were able to get boards on the floor and the cracks were effectively stopped up.

Clothing was of the crudest kind. Clean blue overalls and a bright red shirt were Sunday garments. Shoes, except those we brought from the old country, were unknown, until some time later when a shoemaker came to the village. Anything that would stay on the head was worn for a cap. Underware was entirely unknown, its place being taken by having the overalls lined with a heavy white goods. Jackets were worn over the shirts in the winter time.

Our principal social events were the gatherings of farmers at some designated place for a dance. We furnished the lunches and lights, which were tallow candles and lard burning lamps, somewhat resembling our present day lanterns. Lunch seldom consisted of more then black coffee and a piece of bread.

Passing from the early fifties, during which time the village of Sheboygan rapidly grew into a town, we come to the period of the civil war. The Sheboygan and Fond du Lac railroad began construction on its line, the first to be built out of Sheboygan in 1856. I worked with a grading crew of this road for some time. It was completed in 1860 and shortly after sold out to the Chicago & North Western. In 1859 Hiram Smith started the first cooperative cheese factory in the county. He had some difficulty in disposing of his product but finally succeeded in doing so in Chicago for eight cents a pound.

A few years later Crocker & Sons started to make chairs by hand. During this period I hauled logs for the Crocker boys. Gradually Sheboygan began to grow. A year or so later a foundry came in and other businesses found their way to the city. Needless to say Sheboygan sent a volunteer company to the Civil war.

Five or six years after its formation, the Crocker works burned out and the following year another company was formed which went into the chair making business. Five years later the Mattoon company was formed and began the manufacture of chairs. It was from this beginning that Sheboygan has become famous as a city of chair makers. One thing gradually led to another and factories became varied and numerous. Steamships replaced the sail boats; tall brick structures have sprung up on the ground not long ago occupied by the bark wigwam; the automobile has almost eliminated the beast of burden; ponderous steam engines pull heavy loads over the same roads our oxen dragged the timber; electric lights have forced our crude tallow candle method of lighting into oblivion. The evolution of living conditions has been almost complete within the space of one short life time. At an equal rate of progress what does the future hold out?

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