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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History
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This article was contributed by Kay Reitberger

Sheboygan Telegram - January 22, 1923

Pioneer Women

Women Pioneers Brave Danger, Hardship To Help Husbands Subdue Wilderness: Forced To Bury Her Own Baby


Mrs. Laura A. SMITH, who arrived here in 1847, the year before Wisconsin achieved statehood, and who before her death in California a decade ago had resided for many years in Sheboygan county, has left behind many glimpses of the life led by the pioneer woman which reveal the hardships confronting the wife of the early settler.

"The pioneer's wife suffered much in this life," she writes. "She had left home, friends, her school, church and what to her was society, to come to a wild forest, wherein lurked yet wolves and bears. The cleared space where the one-room cabin of logs stood was bounded on all sides by the primeval forest. In sickness there was no doctor, and neighbors were not near. She had none of the conveniences of life, and none of its pleasures. It is related that one lady, a member of a distinguished literary family, in the absence of her husband, when her baby died in her arms, was forced to dig its little grave, and bury the lad out of her sight with her own hands.

Longs For Old Home

Mrs. SMITH was only twenty when she arrived at this port from Buffalo, N.Y., on the steamer "Niagara." A feeling of intense homesickness, as one can well imagine, seized her when the little steamer entered the harbor that night in 1847 and the moonlight resting on the little hamlet revealed "cheap little houses upon the bluff," furthermore, there was "the gray old lake, the old pines on the shore and the dim forests upon the banks of the river," to intensify the ache in her breast over what she had left behind.

As one pages through the meagre record, one finds the names of many other heroines, to whom great credit is due for the work accomplished by the Sheboygan pioneers.

Mrs. William ASHBY, whose husband arrived in 1836, lived for fifty years on the same farm. She was Harriet WALKER, born in the east, who married ASHBY at the Falls in 1843. She was the mother of three children for whom she provided a home, as well as helped her husband in his toil to subdue the wilderness.

Mrs. Wentworth BARBER was ASHBY's sister Elizabeth. BARBER was earning $18 a month from the brother when they were married in 1847.

Pretender Their Guest

Mrs. Dan BROWN, whose husband was known as "Deacon" BROWN was with him manager of the "Temperance House." Here she came in contact with much of the rough and ready life of the pioneer community. Mrs. BROWN was well acquainted with Eleazer WILLIAMS, whose claim that he was he "lost dauphin" of France, lends romance to the early history of this section.

Mrs. Charles D. COLE, whose husband was a partner of William FARNSWORTH in the Indian trade, arrived here with Mr. COLE in 1836. For two weeks the family lived in a rude tent improvised over their stock of goods which they offered for sale thus, because the "Sheboygan House" was not finished to receive them. The COLES subsequently made a little clearing in the wilderness and raised corn among the stumps. At the time there was only one other open space between the lake and the Falls, and that was the bare knoll now occupied by Wildwood cemetery.

Mrs. A. G. DYE, who arrived with her husband in 1836, and for a time lived in a small frame house standing near the mouth of the river, removed later to a log cabin in the primeval forest alongside an Indian trail. Indians often slept on the floor of the cabin, and many a morning Mrs. DYE found them so thick she could not get to the fireplace without stepping on them.

Mrs. William FARNSWORTH, wife of the city's founder, was for years the only white woman here. The James FARNSWORTH family was in 1839 the only one living within the present city limits, the bursting of the speculation bubble in 1837 causing many to leave for other parts.

Entertain Famous General

Mrs. Jonathan FOLLETT, who came in 1835, is said to have been the first permanent white woman resident. While her husband ran the FARNSWORTH mill, she cooked for the men working there. The log cabin in which they lived was later replaced by a frame building which was used as a tavern by travelers between Sheboygan and Green Bay. One of the famous guests was Gen. MARCY, who later served in the Civil war and was the father-in-law of Gen. McCLELLAN.

Mrs. John GLASS kept a little shop, a mild form of saloon, at the "Mouth," for the sailors on the lumber schooners sailing for Milwaukee and Chicago. Her stock included crackers, snuff, plug, peppermint candy, pins and codfish, with a filled decanter of whiskey in sight for the refreshment of her patrons. She was 45, a buxom matron, with dark hair and eyes usually wearing a muslin cap. She was resolute and self-possessed. Her husband was small and hen-pecked, the historian says. She was of a romantic disposition, however, her library included such fiction as "Thaddeus of Warsaw," "Scottish Chiefs" "Children of the Abbey" and "Romance of the Forest."

Party Braves Torrent

Mrs. Thaddeus HARMON, whose name was Betsy, with her husband and several other families, left New York in a party twenty-three strong in 1843. When they reached Milwaukee they found the river swollen and no ferry. The Indians jeered at the apparently helpless party; but the men commandeered canoes to paddle their families over, after which they forced the oxen to swim across pulling the wagons with ropes, and thus won the admiration of the Indians for their resourcefulness.

Mrs. John JOHNSON, an English woman, with her husband, five sons and two daughters, for a time during the 40's lived on the clearing that is now Wildwood.

Mrs. A. P. LYMAN endeared herself to all the pioneer community. She was a friend of the afflicted and the poor. She comforted many on their deathbed. Mrs. LYMAN was a twin sister of Mrs. L. I. HIGBY. The LYMANS arrived from New York in 1846.

Mrs. Alvah RUBLEE arrived with the RUBLEE family from Vermont in 1836.

Mrs. Silas B. STEDMAN, remembered by her pioneer friends for the dainty lace hood that she always wore, came from Massachusetts in 1836. Her husband was six feet tall, a sturdy pioneer who settled in the midst of the wilderness. He lived to be over 80.


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