Early Days in Greenfield


Paper Read Before the Sauk County Historical Society

February 17, 1908

The town of Greenfield formed a part of Brooklin, (now Baraboo) until 1853, when it was set apart and a preliminary meeting was held April 5, at the home of John Munroe, where the first executive board was elected.  Leonard Thompson, chairman; Hiram Balley and Isaac V. Mack, side members; clerk, A.F. Kellogg; treasurer, Amos Johnson; town school superintendent, C.W. Kellogg; assessor, Nathan Denison.  The first ten years the names, Thompson, Bailey, Mack, Kellogg, Johnson, Denison, Hoege, Clark, Barstow, Simonds, Palmer and Tucker, appear most frequently as members of the executive board.  That they governed wisely and well was proven by the spirit of peace and thrift that hovered over the town at all times.

To Nathen Denison belongs the honor of naming the town.  Those who are familiar with the beautiful prairie, lovely valleys, and the rocky, well-wooded bluffs, hemming in as they do the beautiful Baraboo river as it takes its winding course through the center of the town and flows off through the Lower Narrows on its way to the Wisconsin, will agree that the town is appropriately named, though, I believe, Mr. Denison named it in honor of his old home in Vermont. 

The First Settler

Edwin Johnson, the first white settler, built a log cabin and started a shoeshop in 1841, where J.E. Savage now resides, about one mile east of Baraboo.  It must have been a very primitive affair and poorly patronized, as the next settler was Richard Clark, who built a bachelor cabin the next spring, where C.L. Pearson now has a home.  His family consisted of nearly a hundred hogs, and an old horse named Neil.  His son, Thomas, came the following spring and located on the farm now owned by H.C. Langdon.  In 1843 he purchased a pair of eighteen-inch burr mill-stones and erected a gristmill as it was then called, near where the old red school house was afterward built.  Farther up the Prothero (now Jeffries) creek, Mason Prothero built and operated a saw mill, and still farther up he built a mill for turning hard wood.  He afterwards sold the saw mill to A.Lezeart.  In 1843 Loran Cowles settled on section 33.  He was the first probate judge in Sauk county and one of his sons, Dr.Chas. Cowles, was the first physician in the Baraboo valley. He daughter, Mrs. Schaffer, was the first person to die, and left a baby, Mary, who was the first white child born in Greenfield.  In 1845 Moses Nulph and Aaron Nelson located, followed by Job. Barstow and Wm. Eikey in 1846.  The year 1847 brought several families, namely, Simeon Crandle, Sr., Thomas Risley, John Sanborn, Andrew Garrison, John McGee, Abran Hoege, Thomas Jones, Mr. Denison and Geo. W. Tucker, who was the second settler east of what is now known as Tucker’s bridge.

An Unscrupulous Woman

In 1848 Andrew Garrison died on the plains enroute to California and O.V. Troop, a relative, came from New Brunswick to assist Mrs. Garrison in her many business enterprises.  Mrs. Garrison was a brilliant, unscrupulous woman, with a strong personality, very successful in hoodwinking all classes, from the professor to the laboring man. She spent large sums of other people’s money sinking deep shafts to prospect for copper, lead and gold, and very nearly succeeded in getting a stock company formed with a heavy capital, to work the mines that she was in hopes of finding.  She started a pottery on her farm and caused considerable excitement, claiming to have had the clay analyzed and that a fine grade of china could be made from it.  The clay, however, proved not to be of any value and thus another one of her bubbles burst.  O.V. Troop at her instigation built a dam across the Baraboo river on her land and erected a sawmill, which did some business for a time, but was washed out by a spring freshet, and owing to the opposition of the farmers up the river on account of the damage done by the backwater, the dam was never rebuilt.

While all this was going on Mrs. Garrison originated and platted the village of Garrisonville. The stakes that were used to mark the boundaries of the lots, and the cellars of some of the houses that were built, were still in existence within the memory of the writer.  She also established and conducted a ferry across the Baraboo river.  As she lived some distance from the river it was necessary for her to provide some means of notifying her when people wished to cross.  She solved the problem by hanging a cow’s horn converted into a whistle, on a near-by tree. When she succeeded in getting her town platted, she took the platt to Milwaukee, where she succeeded in selling one-fifth of the town site for five thousand dollars, by representing that the town lay at the head of navigation of the Baraboo river and that there was a fine water power at that place, all of which was true.  She also persuaded Dr. Delamentes of Cleveland, Ohio, that it would be a paying proposition to build a medical college in Garrisonville, but when he came and looked into the matter he found he had been badly humbugged, and he returned home a sadder though wiser man.

The best laid plans of men and mice will sometimes “gang astray” so it was with Mrs. Garrison’s.  The river was never used for navigation and Baraboo developed so rapidly that Garrisonville was soon deserted, though there had been a hotel and several houses erected and Mrs. Garrison conducted a general store at her home for some time. Mrs. Garrison, after living a long and eventful life, died a number of years ago in Chicago, suffering for the common necessities of life. 

The First School

The first school was established in 1850 and was taught by Miss Van Valkingberg at the home of Job.Barstow.  The following year Dist. No. 1 was organized covering a much larger territory than it does at present, as settlers were few and scattered.  The first school house was made of logs but was soon replaced by a frame building, which served for school purposes until about 20 years ago, when it was moved to a near-by farm and serves the purpose of a granary, and a larger building stands on the old place and is still known as the “Eikey school-house.”

The old pioneers thus early laid the foundation for the high educational standard that has always been maintained in Greenfield. There has been numbers of teachers, town and county superintendents, assemblymen and a state senator who received all or nearly all their early education in the schools of our town.


The Indians were an ever present source of worry and annoyance with the good house-wives in those early days.  They were generally good natured, but at times having imbibed to freely of the white-man’s firewater, they were inclined to be rather ugly.  We have heard our grandmother tell an experience, that, to say the least, was rather unpleasant.  Some Indians and their squaws stopped at the house and wanted something to eat. She told them that she had no bread baked, showing them the dough in the pans as proof of her statement.  The Indians were drunk and ugly and told her to make some bread, and sat down in the kitchen to see that she did it.  She with three small children was alone and of course could do nothing but obey orders. While waiting for the bread the Indians went to sleep, and the squaws immediately arose to the occasion, secured the guns and knives from the Indians, hid them under their blankets; telling grandmother that, “fool Indian not hurt white woman now,” hurried away as fast as possible not waiting for their portion of the bread.  When the Indians awoke they took the bread and decamped much to grandmother’s relief.  Greenfield was a favorite camping ground for the Indians on their migratory trips across the country from Baraboo to Dekorra, the trail crossing the Baraboo on the rapids at the point where Garrisonville was located.  They hunted, fished, and cultivated fields of corn, tobacco, melons, beans, and pumpkins.  Traces of some of their cornfields could still be found a few years ago.  The Indians have left behind them as mementoes of a rapidly vanishing race caches or places where they stored food, mounds of several forms, the most important being the man mound, the only one of its kind in existence.