Paper on Baraboo Fifty Years Ago and More

Early Recollections by Eliza S. Chapman of this City

Several Pioneer Characters Described, May 11, 1908  

Baraboo 1888.jpg

In the fall of 1849 Mr. Munson went East, accompanied by his wife, who was my sister, and Mrs. Col. Sumner, who stopped in Ohio to visit their old home, while Mr. Munson went to New York after goods for his store.  On their return to Wisconsin they brought me with them.  

October 28 we boarded the staunch old steamer, St. Louis, bound for Adams, (now Baraboo,) Wisconsin via Detroit and Milwaukee.  We had thought of coming by rail from Detroit to Milwaukee, but when we reached the former city it was raining hard, so we decided to “abide in the ship.”  Next morning the sky was clear and we had fair sailing the rest of our voyage.  As we were passing through the straits of Mackinaw we saw a group of Indians on shore beckoning to us.  The captain said they had moccasins and other trinkets of their own manufacture which they wished to “swap” to those on ship board.  As the squaws of that region were noted for their nice work on buckskin and birch bark, with beads and porcupine quills, some of the passengers were anxious to see them, but the captain shook his head.  He said once on board they would be troublesome passengers.  

On one of the Manitou islands we saw a large fort.  It looked to be in a good state of preservation, but we saw no signs of life about it, and when or by whom occupied no one seemed to know.  

We reached Milwaukee Sabbath morning about 2 o’clock and went to the American House, a two story framed structure, which stood about where the Plankington now is.  Here we met Mrs. Darwin Hill and her three charming daughters, Cornie, Nell, and Mate.  

They had been East on a visit and had come by boat from Buffalo to Detroit and from there to Milwaukee by rail and were then waiting for Mr. Hill to come with a carriage to take them to their home in another part of the city.  Mrs. Hill informed us that her sister, Mrs. L.F. Perkins, and family, also the family of J.F. Flanders were about coming to Baraboo to make their home.  Mr. Perkins was then living, but in less than two years he passed away.  The brave struggle his widow put up to keep her little brood together has been so well told as to need no repetition.  A few years later Mrs. Hill’s family came also and were for some years among our most esteemed citizens.  

The next day, but one after we reached Milwaukee, Judge Camp, with his bride that he had just been East after, came, but not knowing that we were in the city went to the Walker House, the only other first class hotel in the city at that time. 

Mail Once a Week.  

The Camps took passage in the stage which brought mail once a week, but we, having considerable luggage were most fortunate in securing passage with James Christie, a canny Scott, who enlivened our journey with many an anecdote of western life.  In those early days farmers hauled their grain to Milwaukee, and on their return trip would pick up whatever they might chance to find.  Merchants availed themselves of this means for the transportation of their goods.  Merchandise of all kinds was shipped direct from Philadelphia, Boston and New York to Milwaukee, there being no wholesale houses in Chicago for some years; and when merchants began to get their goods in Chicago it was questioned by some of the ladies whether they were quite up-to-date.  

We left Milwaukee about 9 o’clock Wednesday morning and reached Baraboo just as the afternoon church was out.  Think of going to church at 10:30, Sabbath school at 12, and church again at 2:30.  As Mr. Christie was acquainted with the road we had no accidents and met with no adventures. Taverns were scattered along the roads every few miles, where we could be comfortably housed and fed, while we neither saw an intoxicated person nor heard a profane word, and there was no quarreling. The landlords where we stopped were all farmers and took in travelers, as one of them put it, to get a little ready change, help the other fellow and have someone to visit with.  All were wide awake, full of expectation and glad to see you.  It was, Where are you from? Where are you going?  And, What are you going to do when you get there?  There is something vital and vibrant in a new country that goes to the soul and nerves and makes one feel that life is worth living.  We found the mornings and evenings a little chilly, but through the day the sun shone bright and warm and after we left the Milwaukee woods the roads were fairly good most of the way.  We came by the way of Sauk and crossed the river on a ferry.  When we reached the Baraboo bluffs with only hickory poles along the sides of the wagon box for springs, we thought riding rather vigorous exercise, so walked most of the way.  I’ll not attempt to describe that road as imagination might run away with facts.  

How Baraboo Looked  

Baraboo then, with its little knolls and funnily twisted scrub oaks, was much prettier than it is now. The buildings along Fourth street between Ash and east streets, are not to be compared to the flowers that blossomed in Judge Camp’s garden.  Back of that garden was a strawberry patch, whose luscious fruit Mrs. Camp would manipulate into a short cake, layer upon layer crowned with cream from their own pasture; this was enough to make old Epicurus himself smack his lips. Mr. And Mrs. Chas. Ryan can bear testimony to this statement.  Those days you must raise your own berries, or gather wild ones, unless you had a generous neighbor.  We had no milk wagons for many years, so many of our citizens kept their own cows, consequently knew nothing of tainted milk.   

As there were no restrictions on animals of any kind, cattle and horses were want to graze along our streets, nor was a big, fat porker an unfamiliar figure.  Farmers used oxen almost exclusively in the cultivation of the new soil, consequently often came to town with them and to see oxen hitched along our streets was as common as to see horses now; and many a jolly ride have I had after old Buck and Bright and Duke and Darby.  


Rafting on our river was carried on for a few years, as the south side was at first covered with a dense forest. The north side was not so heavily timbered and was known as Oak Openings.  Last winter in company with the family of Mr. H.G. Mertze, I passed a strip of timber that 50 years ago was so dense you could only see into it a short distance, and most of the trees were of large growth.  Now it looked more like Oak Openings and the trees were all of moderate size.  I inquired what it meant, when I was told that all the large trees had died out.  And, just then, we passed one of the old monarchs prone on its side with its roots pointing skyward.  It had pulled itself up literally by the roots.  

Council House  

Just above the Maxwell dam was the skeleton of the old Indian council house. It was circular in form and constructed of poles driven into the ground and bent over and fastened together in the center at the top.  Near the top was a small patch of the original cover, which looked like bark. Just this side of the council house had been an Indian cornfield. They planted their corn in little hillocks about as large around, I think, as a half bushel and perhaps a foot high.  I remember seeing quite a number of these little hillocks.  

The old log schoolhouse at 317 Seventh avenue, just west of Birch street, was partly demolished when I first saw it.  The lot was purchased by the milliner, Jackson, who put up a snug, little cottage, which still stands, and is owned by the Stanley company.


The first winter I was here I attended the public school in the upper room of the first court house, taught by a Mr. Mason, who had for his assistant Miss Adelia Sumner.  The chimney was the dividing line between the primary and higher grade. All public exercises were held in this building, but before the winter was over the Methodists had put up their little chapel and gone by themselves, school, church and all.  The following summer the first frame school house was put up near the southeast corner of the present school grounds.  The first principal of this school was Mr. Ray Crandall, assisted by Miss Jane Huyck, who afterward became his wife.  In this building when finished were two schoolrooms below, and one above, rather small when compared with our present structure, but many of its students have made honorable names for themselves in this world.  


Well I remember the postoffice that first winter. It was in the front room of 309 Ash street, first door north of F.C. Peck’s residence.  Mr. B.L. Purdy was postmaster, but his wife usually attended the office.  In connection with the office they kept school books and stationary, besides confectionaries of different kinds.  Mrs. Purdy was a jolly, generous soul and we school girls used often to run in and were always rewarded by some little treat.  After Mr. Purdy put up his new building across the alley we lost our interest in the office.  

Nearly all the buildings of that early day have either been torn down, burned, or moved from their original foundations.  But there is one building that seems to bid defiance to all the elements.  It stands at the foot of Ash street, just across from the Thompson house.  The Hile brothers, George and Sam, did business there, and it was whispered that some very dark deeds and crooked deals were enacted within its walls. It always was and is still a forbidding looking place, and even at this late day I always feel a creepy sensation in passing it.  But the majority of our citizens, then, as now, were far above the average in morals and intelligence.  

The winter of ’49 and ’50 there was some trouble between the whites and Indians a few miles up north, and a dashing young colonel was sent from Fort Howard, Green Bay, to investigate it.  It proved to be a drunken brawl with a little bloodshed on both sides, but no serious trouble ensued.  Mr. And Mrs. Munson and I were invited to spend the evening with this colonel at Col. Summer’s as he was accompanied by an old friend of Col. Summer.  He was in full dress uniform, lacking his sword, and was so belaced and bestriped that he could hardly bend.  For some years the Indians came annually to dispose of their products.  They would encamp on the public square and for a week or more make night hideous into the small hours with their pow wows and dancing.  Their only music was a little rude kind of a drum that they held in one hand and beat with the other.  There was neither metre, measure nor melody in their racket.  Their chief, Dekorah, was a fine specimen of manhood, tall, broad shouldered and straight as an arrow, and of frank and open countenance, but the majority of the Winnebagoes were an inferior class of beings.  

I taught school two summers up on the Lemonweir, a short distance from one of their villages. I never called on them but once, and then went with quite a party of whites. One of the young braves called at my school house some two or three times.  He would come in and stay some15 or 20 minutes, then leave without speaking a word on entering or leaving.  I always gave him my only chair, but never could muster courage to speak to him, for I always was and am still mortally afraid of a wild Indian.  Had I been a little braver I might perhaps have done a little missionary work.  

Prominent Figures  

The Hon. Josiah Strong says that the first settlers establish the standard of society in a community for all time.  Many of the noble sons and daughters who forged ahead, many of them in their early prime, and laid the foundation of our goodly little city, are wholly unknown to the present citizens, but their influence is here all the same.  

One of the prominent figures of that time was Col. Maxwell, who was in the mercantile business with his son, James A. Maxwell.  Their store occupied the corner, where the First National bank now stands.  His portly form clad in immaculate broadcloth, silk hat and shining footgear would be an ornament to any city of the present day.  Col. Sumner, who built the first hotel on the hill, was another who cast a refining influence over all who came under his hospitable roof.  Good old, sainted Deacon Clark came out from Connecticut and put up the large building at the southeast corner of Fourth and East streets, designing it for a boarding school and established his two daughters as teachers.  But a young divine from Sauk carried off the oldest, and Dr. Alexander of this city captured the other, which naturally brought the school to a close.  There was a certain clique known as the Court House boys, composed mostly of the county officers and a couple of young lawyers, who had their office in the court house and who were held responsible for all good natured pranks about town.  And woe betide the eastern dandy who came out here thinking to extinguish the wild and wooly west.  And even one grave and dignified professor from our capital city was inducted into all the mysteries of the Thousand and One.  There was another set whose chief recreation was music and among this class was Henry Cowles, who recently passed his 80th milestone.  

Mrs. Remington, in giving an account of the little party at Mrs. Munson’s, omitted the name of one, who, were he alive, would be very much surprised to see himself with his liquid eyes and silken whiskers left out.  I was there too, but only a girl of 13 did not count, but I had eyes and ears too, at that time for all that transpired and very proud I was at the attention that my schoolma’am attracted.  I have often wondered if Mrs. Remington ever noticed how some of us girls tried to ape her.  She came to school one warm morning with low neck and short sleeves.  I went home at noon and cut off my sleeves.   

In those early days the trained nurse was an unknown quantity.  Neighbors cared for the sick whether the disease was catching or not.  They only halted at small pox.  We all knew how to tend the sick, and going in to take care of a sick neighbor was often looked upon as a sort of pastime.  

As I sit in reverie, and those old familiar forms come trooping by they waken sweet and tender memories, and in fancy I take them by the hand and talk of the good old time, and did time and space permit would like to call each one by name.  From New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and old Virginia and some from over seas they came.  

My aim in writing this paper has been to collect such facts as I could that have been omitted by other chronicles; and, if my contribution will be of any benefit to those who are trying to wrest our early history from oblivion, I shall be satisfied.


Read before Twentieth Century Club
Apr. 2nd, 1908.
Read before Historical Society, May 11th, 1908.
Baraboo New, November 19, 1908.