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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History

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This article was contributed by Kay Reitberger

Sheboygan Press February 21, 1910

Pioneer Days In Sheboygan Falls

By Lieut. Col. J. A. Watrous

Sheboygan Falls, Wis., Feb, 20 - Seventy years ago Sheboygan Falls, then consisting of a small cluster of cheap dwellings, and the first gristmill run by water in that portion of Wisconsin lying north of a line from Lake Michigan at Sheboygan to Prairie du Chien, on the Mississippi, was a much more ambitious community than it is today, with its 2,000 population and much thrift, and it is still an ambitious community.

The gristmill was supplying flour to its own citizens, and to most of the people in what are now Fond du Lac, Manitowoc, Calumet, Ozaukee, Washington and Kewaunee counties. It was not much of an undertaking those days, aside from transportation to the few pioneers. The mill site and most of the residences and business places that were in existence sixty-six years ago are readily recognized, including the THORP house and Charles D. COLE's store.

Hardy, energetic, and ambitious pioneers were at Sheboygan Falls from the start. Sixty-six years ago there was a goodly number of them, including the COLES, TROWBRIDGES, BROWNS, STEADMANS, PRENTICES, GIBBSES, KELLERS, COBBS, and RUBLEES.

It he was not the foremost among the pioneers, Charles D. COLE was far to the front. He was a merchant, a banker in a small way, postmaster, and leader in all lines of usefulness. Mr. COLE was receiver of the land office. His district was nearly half of the territory. Large sums of silver had to be transported by pony from the Falls to Green Bay, through the forests; and on footpaths.

At that time there were Indian camps at various points along the line, and not all of the Indians were friendly to whites; quite the contrary.

Bears, wolves, lynx, and wild cats were numerous and ugly. Often Mr. COLE, with bags of silver strapped in front and in rear of the saddle, would make the long, lonesome, dangerous trip, alone. On other occasions he deputised a neighbor to accompany him. They never went into camp, not daring to sleep a minute on the trip of two days and a night, lest, thieving, murderous, Indians make way with them and their government dollar.

It was Mr. COLE, who, nearly sixty years ago, secured a charter and organized at the Falls the first Good Templar lodge started in Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and the territories beyond the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. From the effort of this village grew thousands of lodges in western state and territories. In his declining years Mr. COLE laid a special stress upon four lines in which he had played a part: His pioneership in Sheboygan Falls and the county, his ability to have always been hospitable in home and honest in business, his leadership in the establishment of an order whose aim was to lives of sobriety, and his willingness to give two of his three boys to help Abraham Lincoln in the civil war.

To an old friend he said, "If I am credited with nothing else I shall be satisfied." I venture that the day will never come when Charles D. COLE and his services will not be spoken of by the people of Sheboygan Falls. One of Mr. COLE's soldier boys, Nathan, still a resident of Sheboygan, who was a member of the Fourth Wisconsin, was dangerously sick in a hospital in Virginia. The father immediately went to Washington where he was informed by the military commander that he could not go to his son because of important military movements in contemplation.

"I will see Secretary STANTON," said the distressed old gentleman, and he started for the war department. There was a long line ahead of him - major generals, brigadier generals, colonels, senators, representatives, and others, all anxious to have a word with the war secretary. At that time, Mr. COLE was old, gray, and bent. Mr. STANTON left his desk to glance down the line to see how many more were coming to see him. His quick eye caught sight of the bent, old, white haired, pale faced old man, and he sent a messenger to Mr. COLE with directions to conduct him to the secretary's desk ahead of forty military men and congressmen.

As Mr. COLE came into his presence the secretary arose, extending his hand and said: "My good man, what can I do for you?"

Mr. COLE told him of his sick soldier boy and his anxiety to go to him, The great secretary, one of the busiest men in Washington, wrote a pass for Mr. COLE to go south and another paper which gave the father the right to take the sick soldier home on an indefinite furlough.

It was never safe after that for anyone to criticise (sic) Secretary STANTON in the presence of Charley COLE. Upon his recovery Nathan was made a lieutenant in the Twentieth Wisconsin and was wounded at the battle of Prairie Grove. Later he was a major. James, the other son, was a lieutenant in the Fourth Wisconsin,

Deacon William TROWBRIDGE was the pioneer preacher, a devoted Christian. One Sunday in April, 1861, Deacon TROWBRIDGE was preaching a sermon on Sabbath breaking. Suddenly, near the church, there were shouts and the beating of a bass drum. He did not send a messenger to stop the noise, but went himself. He saw young Nathan COLE beating the drum and demanded to know why he was thus breaking the Sabbath. Nathan replied: "Why, deacon, haven't you heard that war is declared and President LINCOLN has called for soldiers?"

The old deacon's eyes flashed as he said: "So war is declared, and Mr. LINCOLN has called for troops, has he?"

"Yes, sir," replied the young drummer.

"Nathan, give me that drum," and the preacher who a few minutes before had been pleading for the keeping of the Sabbath day holy was beating a big drum up and down the street to call together recruits for the first company that left the county.

If Sheboygan is not the first county in Wisconsin where cheesemaking began, it is certainly among the first, and the initial factory was near here. Many millions of dollars worth of cheese have been shipped from the county, and the butter and cheese interests have been a large part in making Sheboygan county one of the richest in the state.

A leader in this interest was the late Hiram SMITH, who served in the legislature and for years contributed largely to building up the dairy interests of the state. One of Mr. SMITH's brothers was Joseph A. SMITH, who nearly sixty years ago established here the Freeman, A leader among abolitionists, he made the Freeman a power in the war on slavery and had much to do with giving Wisconsin the honor of being first to move, practically in the organization of a party whose principles, advocates and elections had a mighty part in forcing the war of the rebellion.

And if that party had never done anything else it deserves to be remembered for centuries to come. We could not have become a great nation without that clash of arms and its far reaching results. For many years after that Mr. SMITH was editor of the Fond du Lac Commonwealth, and still later he was Gov. HOARD's assistant editor on the Dairyman.

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