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

Sheboygan Press April 29, 1927

Channing Mather Gives Interesting Reminiscences

Tells Of Historical Incidents He Learned From The Oldest Settlers


Referring to incidents connected with pioneer days in Sheboygan county, which happened many years before I was born, I ask my friends in advance to bear in mind that my personal knowledge of those early days was obtained solely from listening to conversations between such well known pioneers as William TROWBRIDGE, more familiarly known as "Father TROWBRIDGE, "Deacon TROWBRIDGE," and by children of my age as "Grandpa," Sam ASHBY, Harmon PIERCE, and many others too numerous to mention in this article. Whenever these old pioneers visited with my father, as a mere lad I listened attentively to every word which they spoke, and which related to the happenings during the 30's and 40's.

I recall that "Grandpa" TROWBRIDGE told how A. G. DYE came through the woods to be married, and how he had to wade the river on his way over carrying his bride-to-be on his shoulder, and then, after the marriage ceremony, how he recrossed the stream with his wife clinging to his back.

I was personally acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. DYE during their old age, and two sturdier old pioneers could not be found. One of Mr. DYE's greatest ambitions was to pay the highest amount of taxes in the town of Lima.

"Grandpa" TROWBRIDGE first lived in a log cabin, the doors of which he never locked. They were left unlocked in order that any Indian going to or coming from Sheboygan could open the door, go in and lay down on the floor at any hour of the night and go to sleep. It was a common thing for him to get up in the morning and find the floor covered by sleeping Indians, lying so closely together that there was hardly space for him to walk. Indians, far and near, loved this old man and his family. It was said that Mr. and Mrs. DYE subsisted eighteen months on wild game, potatoes and salt.

First School House

The TROWBRIDGE school house, built on one corner of the MATHER farm, two miles west of Sheboygan Falls, was one of the first, if not the very first school house built in Sheboygan county. It was a very small building when I first attended there, but later an extension was built on the north side. Many years ago this school house was destroyed by fire and another was rebuilt constructed of brick. I believe the date could be ascertained by means of county records, showing the date of the deed from Warren SMITH, of one acre located in the northeast corner of the 80 acres of land, to the school district.

William ASHBY, one of the first settlers in the town of Sheboygan, was better known in those early days as Sam ASHBY, because he always had a little money to loan and went by the name of Uncle Sam. When a relative from the East came to visit him and enquired for William ASHBY, no one could be found who knew such a person. I remember having heard him tell of an experience at an Indian pow-wow which he attended. One young Indian buck, feeling smart, would dance in front of Mr. ASHBY and then knock off his hat. After having repeated this performance two or three times Mr. ASHBY warned the Indian not to do it again. When the Indian again knocked off the hat, Mr. ASHBY said: "I drew off and knocked him flat." Then he picked up his hat and started for home, at first walking slowly, but as soon as he was out of sight of the Indians, Mr. ASHBY said that no white man ever ran through Wisconsin woods faster then I did on that occasion. The following day the Indian who had knocked off the hat accompanied by a few of his tribesmen, came to the ASHBY home and addressing Mr. ASHBY he said: "Brave white man. Me bad Injun."

Knew The Follettes

I remember having heard Mr. ASHBY and my father talk about the FOLLETTES. I still remember the little house across the river from Mr. ASHBY. I knew Bill FOLLETTE, as Mr. ASHBY called him, but he was a young man and worked for A. P. LYMAN. I recall that Vet. LYMAN and Bill once came to our farm with a fine team of horses. They were accompanied by a Mr. DAILY who drove a yoke of oxen hitched to a big truck. They were after two oak trees which they wished to use in ship building.

A. P. LYMAN build a number of sailing vessels to carry wheat to Buffalo.

They cut down two large oaks, one of which was loaded on one of the trucks and hauled away by the boys driving the team of horses. Old Mr. DAILY was left behind to load the other tree alone. I wondered how he was going to perform this task. I watched him as he hitched a chain to one of the spokes of the truck and snaked it up to the tree. Then he took the oxen around to the other side and tipped the truck up against the log. Then he chained the log to the truck, after which operation the oxen were taken back to the opposite side and then hitched to the log and started ahead. This brought the truck to an upright position with the log in the proper place.

It has always been my impression that Bill FOLLETT was born in that little house, and that it was the first house built in Sheboygan county. It was a little one-story log house. (A picture of this house appears in another section of this historical number of the Press.)

Pioneers Had Great Courage

The way in which those pioneers made their way over Indian trails in covered wagons drawn sometimes by one and sometimes by two yoke of oxen, making about eight miles a day, camping over night wherever they happened to be and starting out again early next morning, certainly required great courage and strength of character.

As an instance of how Sheboygan county was first settled, take for example the journey made by Newton GOODELL and his wife and family, who started from Oswego, Illinois, in a covered wagon drawn by two yoke of oxen, and were on the road for four days covering the distance from Port Washington to Sheboygan Falls. Mr. GOODELL had charge of the toll-gate one mile west of the Falls when I first became acquainted with him. I came to know him more intimately after he moved to Sheboygan, where he continued to reside, respected by all who knew him, until he died.

Some of the earliest settlers in Sheboygan county came by way of the Great Lakes, making the trips in small vessels from Buffalo. The trip from Buffalo to Milwaukee or Chicago required from three weeks to a month and at times longer.

Were I to be asked to describe how these first pioneers managed to live, knowing them all as well as I did, I would be at a loss for a satisfactory answer. The same is true of early settlers in other sections of the county.

Norman HARMON went to Milwaukee to meet his father and family with an ox team, returning through the woods following Indian trails to the town of Lyndon, where they settled on a farm north of Waldo, living to the ripe old age of four score years and ten.

If space would permit, I could name dozens and dozens of pioneers who settled in the town of Lyndon and the surrounding towns, whose acquaintances and friendships I prized very highly.

Big Cooperage Business

I recall that one evening Harmon PIERCE was at our house and said to mother: "Well, I guess I will have to gnaw oak timber for a living another winter!" Mother did not understand what he meant, but he explained that he would have to split whiskey barrel staves out of oak trees and sell them to coopers at the Falls or Sheboygan, or to ship them to Milwaukee or Chicago.

It didn't make any difference whether they were used for making flour barrels, or molasses barrels or what not, the staves were always called whiskey staves. Cooperage was a leading industry in Sheboygan county during the 50's and 60's.

One spring Mr. PIERCE wanted some seed corn and to obtain it he walked all the way to Milwaukee and returned afoot lugging a half bushel of corn on his back. He foresaw in those early days what the ultimate result would be if the ruthless destruction of the great forests continued. He was always saying: "Boys, be careful and save those young trees. You will live to see the time when they will be worth a lot of money." How true his words were has been proven, everybody now knows. Ten or more acres of trees could have been preserved for every farm in Sheboygan county, which would add greatly to their present values.

When we look back and note the short-sightedness of our race, we can almost say that we were and are destructionists and that we over-reached by being over-anxious to make what we then thought were great improvements. Can we accept past history as a guide for the future? The greatest blessing Wisconsin has at the present time is her wonderful supply of pure water. Beautiful lakes everywhere, and large swamps which serve as reservoirs to supply moisture for evaporation to fall again on her millions of acres of farm land in the form of rain or snow. We read of huge reclamation projects by draining swamps, and I often wonder whether in the long run this is wisdom. I often have wanted to ask the question: "Will it pay?"

Something About "Bees"

Back in the 60's "bees" were in the vogue among farmers of the Middle West.

A "bee" is a social gathering of neighbors to do any sort of work which has to be done within the shortest time possible. There were various kinds, such as a "logging bee," when the early settlers gathered at a certain place to roll logs into big piles so that they could be readily burned up. Then there were "chopping bees," "barn raisings" and "husking bees." One man had a "dam bee" and everyone for miles around turned out to help construct a dam which a June freshet had washed out. This "bee" was to be held on the man's birthday anniversary, and one of our neighbors declared he would rather the man had never been born than to go and work on his "dam bee." This proves that some words are ambiguous.

This story has to do with a husking bee. These were the most common because every fall after the corn was ready to husk, we had several such "bees" in our neighborhood. Usually they were held in the evening, followed by a dance and refreshments, or possibly a sleigh ride, which sometimes lasted till the morning.

One rule of husking bees, as I remember, was that if a boy found a red ear of corn he was privileged to kiss any girl he wished. Well, when the girl saw the fellow coming toward her she would run, but, I observed, just fast enough to allow the fellow to reach her. Invariably the ground was covered with snow by Thanksgiving day and the husking bees were held in barns.

The particular bee with which this story deals was to be a grand affair and to take place on Thanksgiving day. The invitations were sent out several days in advance. The husking was to begin at 1 p.m. Sides were to be chosen and the winning side was to be rewarded with an extra peck of apples.

The lunches on these occasions were principally pumpkin pie; but they were good. Pumpkins at that time were worth about $1 a car-load, if there happened to be a buyer for any, and milk sold from three-quarters of a cent to two cents a quart, depending upon the prevailing price of cheese.

After having waited anxiously for the day to arrive, during which time everything was forgotten except the extra peck of apples, it finally came and my brother and I were ready to start for the husking bee. I recall that mother said: "Boys, you are not going over to that old pumpkin pie husking bee, are you, and leave this good Thanksgiving dinner?" We didn't hardly have time to look at the big roasted turkey, steaming hot, mashed potatoes and gravy, besides a New England plum pudding and brown bread, coffee and cream, home made bread and dairy butter, and hot mince pie galore. We were anxious to be right there when the sides were chosen.

Had To Finish The Job

All that afternoon we worked like fighting a forest fire. I do not remember whether we had any supper; but we had to finish husking about 20 acres of corn. About midnight we had a lunch, after which all the young folk sat around waiting for the extra peck of apples. We were too bashful to say anything about it; but finally a long-legged Yankee, who was sitting in the middle of the room with his legs crossed, said: "How about the apples?" I still remember just how he looked. He was tall, lanky and raw-bones, and toed out at an angle of about 45 degrees when he walked. "Oh, yes," the woman replied, "I almost forgot that," and turning to her daughter she said: "Emmy, where is the key to the cellar door, the apples are in the cellar." "I don't know," said the daughter, "I haven't seen it." "That is too bad," said the mother, and turning to her other daughter, she said: "Helen, do you know where the key to the cellar door is? We can't get the apples." Helen didn't know, because she hadn't seen it anywhere. The mother then asked the boys and the old man, None of them knew anything about the key to the cellar door. They looked here and there and everywhere, high and low, finally giving up the search. "Too bad, too bad; but we can't find the key," she said.

Just then the long-legged English Yankee stood up, and his toes went out until they reached an angle of more than 45 degrees as he drawled: "Well, I saw a nice big axe in the woodshed, and I can open that cellar door." But before he could have gotten back with the axe, someone had found the key.

After nearly a hundred boys and girls had labored from noon till midnight, they intended to cheat us out of the peck of apples. The apples that were finally brought up from the cellar didn't reach half way around. I was one who failed to get an apple and I missed one of the best Thanksgiving dinners of my life in the bargain.

A Sad Fourth Of July

One July 4th, about 70 years ago, as a bare-foot boy I learned in some way that fire crackers could be bought for ten cents a package. While I did not expect any fireworks - I was old enough to realize that money was hard to get - still I did want just one bunch of fire crackers on that Fourth of July. I wanted to hear the noise. I wanted to see the flash, and I wanted to smell the smoke of powder. I could not overcome the desire to celebrate the day, and kept teasing father for a bunch of fire crackers all the forenoon. Finally he said he would send to town for one if somebody happened to be going that way.

All this occurred in the good old days of long ago when all the pioneers of Wisconsin found great pleasure in helping each other in every possible manner.

We lived a few miles from the village and father told me to look up the road and watch for anyone going to town, and if somebody came along he would send for a package of fire crackers. After waiting a long time, I saw a man coming down the road. I told father and he went out and giving the man a dime requested him to bring back the fire crackers I longed for. The man had a single horse and open buggy and I watched as he slowly drove out of sight. This was about the only horse and buggy that passed over the road by our place, most of the farmers having ox-teams. Oxen were so slow that I felt happy over the fact that the man had a horse, because I knew he would not be away so long. No sooner was the man and horse out of sight before I began watching for his return. I believe I never was so restless as upon that occasion nor so anxious for the time to pass. I sat upon the terrace in front of the house watching, watching and waiting, waiting. We always had a large Newfoundland dog, and I remember how he came and sat beside me, as we were inseparable from morning till night. I placed my arm over his neck and leaned my head against his. He seemed to understand that I was waiting anxiously for something.

Crackers Is Crackers?

After what seemed like an interminable time I saw Nellie - that was the name of the horse - coming over the hill nearly a mile away. I jumped up and ran into the house to tell father the man was coming. I could feel my heart throbbing with excitement and anticipation of what I was going to do with those fire crackers. We walked out to the road and the man handed father ten cents worth of - soda crackers.

Well, words cannot express my feelings. I was sick. I was literally crushed in spirits. All my fond hopes and anticipations crumbled to dust. My heart, so buoyant and free a few minutes before he said "soda crackers" sunk like a stone. When I think of it even to this day my heart aches and my eyes are dimmed with tears that come in memory of that never to be forgotten sad day.

I took my good old faithful dog and went into the woods where we spent a lonely afternoon together, just my dog and I.

This was only an incident in the life of the early pioneers. We had the forests, which were alive with beautiful song birds and wild game, in which we could roam and smooth away our troubles and disappointments. Great towering pines with their mournful sigh, the monotone of the sound broken by the pleasant ripple of the brook as it wound its way over the pebbly rapids, and the quick snap of pickerel as it rushed through the shallows from pool to pool. The chatter of the little spiteful red squirrel in the next tree and the bark of a fox, and even the caw-caw-caw of the crow was a soothing influence over the troubled mind. Tell me, where can be found anything more comforting for the weary heart except in God's great natural forests, abounding with life in all its freedom and beauty, and where nature rules supreme in the one great Divine Law.

Long before the birth of the author who wrote the beautiful lines the great West was living and following the sentiments expressed in the following words:

"So many Gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and (???)
When just the art of being kind
Is all this sad world needs."

First Girl Playmate

Seventy-one years ago, when we were both just six years of age, Isadore (I called her Izzy) WEEDEN was my first girl playmate. My first recollection of Izzy, as we rolled a ball to each other on the kitchen floor of my uncle Warren SMITH's home, was that she wore a short dress of light colored calico, black shoes, and white stockings, with white pantelettes reaching below her knees. These were made large at the bottom and were trimmed with a pretty white ruffle around the lower edge. Sometimes the ball would roll inside the ruffle, when she would jump up, shake herself and say: "Watcha go in there for? No bread and butter there."

It was about this time that I lost one finger on my left hand, and only for the intervention of my sister, Lizzie, who prevented Dr. J. J. BROWN from amputating another which had been partly severed, I would have been minus two fingers. The accident happened while I was assisting in the cutting of straw in one of those old fashioned cutters commonly used 70 years ago. The doctor sewed up the wound and in the course of time I recovered the use of that digit.

I never saw my little girl playmate after that, as we became separated after my parents moved on a farm. But now, after seventy-one years of separation, through a curious set of circumstances, resulting from articles published in the Sheboygan Press, we have renewed our former childhood acquaintance.

Recently I received a letter from a reader of the Press, a former schoolmate of mine seventy years ago, in which she gave the names of the few surviving pupils of early days. Included in the list was the name of my little playmate "Izzy," the first little girl friend I ever had. Well, it was long after that when I received a long letter from this erstwhile little friend. She had just suffered a broken hip and wrote a letter while confined in the Plymouth hospital. Since we parted 71 years ago, she has traveled extensively, living at different times in cities in Wisconsin, a few years in Vermont, a few years in Minnesota, several years in Tacoma and Everett, Washington, and only recently returned to her native home in Hingham, where she has built a comfortable little bungalow in which to pass the remainder of her years.

I am indebted for this re-union with my first little girl playmate to Mrs. Julia GORDONIER PELTON, of Waupaca, formerly a resident of Sheboygan Falls, who so kindly forwarded one of my letters of inquiry to Mrs. Rose HARMON McINTYRE, of Plymouth, who in turn gave me the address of Mrs. Isadore WEEDEN HOBERT, she whom in childhood days, I used to call "Izzy."

It might interest a number of people in and near Sheboygan Falls to know that Mrs. PETON (sic) came to Sheboygan by way of the Great Lakes from Buffalo, in 1856, the same summer that I did, and possibly on the same boat. She had been one of loyal and life-long friends.

Mrs. McINTYRE, whose maiden name was Rose HARMON, attended the school in the town of Lyndon at which my sister Sarah taught in 1858. My sister boarded with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Norman HARMON. Several years later we were schoolmates at the Sheboygan high school when S. D. GAYLORD was principal.


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