Prescott Brigham
by Grace Premo 

Read before the Sauk County Historical Society, April 9, 1923   

For much of this history of the life of Prescott Brigham, I am indebted to his grand-daughter, Mrs. Lydia Hawkins, of Postville, Iowa.  Mrs. Hawkins was for many years a resident of Sumpter, “Cowles Pocket”, having received its name from her father’s family.  One brother of Mrs. Hawkins also resides in Postville; one sister in Pasadena, California; and one in western Nebraska.  These are all who are left of Prescott Brigham’s descendants.  

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Mr. Brigham was born in Worchester, Massachusetts, in 1780, and grew to manhood in that place.  He owned forty acres of land there, but spent much of his time driving a five horse team which carried merchandise between Worcester and Boston, making two trips weekly.  

In 1807, he was united in marriage to Miss Hannah Ryder of Worcester.  Five years later a son, Ebenezer Prescott, was born to them, and in another five years a daughter, Martha, who later married T.B. Cowles of Sumpter, Wisconsin.

In 1838 the Brigham family emigrated to Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, where his brother Ebenezer Brigham, resided, and in June, 1840 they came to Sauk-Prairie.  Here Prescott Brigham purchased the farm and built the house now owned by William Jennewein, situated on the East Baraboo road, near and above Kern’s Corners.   

He was a very enterprising, genial and popular man and Mrs. Brigham was a true pioneer woman, ever ready to lend a kindly, helping hand where assistance was needed.  Physicians were scarce and roads impassable much of the time and many a sick family called them blessed.  

Following the old life in Massachusetts, he drove a stage coach from Baraboo to Madison, and that was Sauk County’s first stage line.  

Politically Mr. Brigham ranked among the foremost of his day; keen of mind, obliging, a natural leader among men.  At the first election in the Town of Sumpter, (then Kingston), held at the home of John Hoover, King’s Corners, Prescott Brigham was elected Town Clerk, March 11, 1844, in Sauk Prairie Precinct.  At the home of Samuel Shaw, he was elected Probate Judge.  The Judges of Election were Lyman Crossman, Prescott Brigham, and Daniel Baxter.  The Counties of Sauk and Dane were at that time united for judicial purposes.  At another election held September 23, 1844 Prescott Brigham, John Russell and Levi Moore were elected County Commissioners.  Mr. Brigham was re-elected to that office.  

In 1846, dissatisfaction arose over the location of the County Seat, then at Prairie du Sac, the deed not being satisfactory.  A meeting was held to discuss the matter.  Prairie du Sac finally offered to draw up a new deed.  Some man who was opposed to having it located there moved that the matter be laid on the table for the present and one unparliamentary brother moved that the matter be laid under the table, permanently.  The motion was carried and an investigating committee was appointed to decide upon a location which should have the future of Sauk County in view.  This committee reported favorably upon Baraboo.  There being no money in the treasury, Prescott Brigham, who was one of the twelve commissioners appointed, on the day of the land sale, purchased as a private individual, the quarter section of land where the City of Baraboo now is located.  Subsequently he deeded it to Sauk County.  It was sold for $4,000.00 and a wooden jail and courthouse erected with the proceeds. 

One of the first men incarcerated in the jail tore up the floor and crawled out.  The courthouse burned July 4, 1857.  

Mr. Brigham asked the privilege of naming the county seat Adams in consideration of his friend, John Quincy Adams, of Massachusetts, and it remained Adams until the Post Office was established in 1847, when another Wisconsin Post Office called Adams necessitated the change of name and Baraboo was decided upon.  

The first order for money drawn on Sauk County was paid to Charles Hart for $___, for helping to locate the County Seat.  

In 1850 a Post Office called the Bluff Post Office was established at Kern’s Corners and Prescott Brigham was appointed the first Postmaster.   

Mr. Brigham was elected first Register of Deeds in Sauk County and served for three years.   

Several people, among them Mrs. Lydia Hawkins, of Postville, Iowa, and Mrs. Marilla Johnson of Baraboo, remember hearing Mr. Brigham make a Patriotic Speech at Prairie du Sac, July 4th.  

After several years, Mrs. Brigham’s health having failed, they sold their farm on the East Baraboo Road and went to live with their son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. T.B. Cowles, on the farm by the Sumpter Church, now owned by Garth Premo.  Here Mrs. Brigham died, October 20, 1846.   

In 1850 Anna Achles, 12, worked for Tom B. Cowles.  In 1855, Mr. Cowles sold that farm, intending to move to Minnesota, but at that time came the dread Indian Massacre at New Ulm and Mrs. Cowles, who always had a terrible fear of Indians, refused to go so they purchased the farm in Cowles Pocket, now owned by Alfred Wagner.  The place still retains the name of Cowles Pocket. 

Mr. Brigham was a fine musician and when in Massachusetts led the choir in the Presbyterian Church in his home town.  In his declining years he delighted in getting his grandchildren together and teaching them the songs and anthems he used to sing, drilling each in his part.  He was intensely interest in the Civil War.  He owned a pony which he frequently drove to Prairie du Sac after his mail.  On May 28, 1862, he went for the mail as usual, reaching home at eight o’clock P.M.  On arriving home he warmed himself by the fire while Mr. Cowles read him the war news.  Partaking of a hearty supper, a portion of which was a rabbit which he had shot before going to town, he then retired to his room.  The hired man entered the room shortly after to inform him he had cared for the pony and found him in his favorite splint bottomed chair before the fireplace, dead.  The rocker, a generation older than Mr. Brigham, is still in the possession of his grandson.  

Prescott Brigham sleeps in a beautiful spot in the Pioneer Cemetery at Kern’s Corners; a location selected by himself.  Beside him lie his wife, and his son Ebenezer Prescott Brigham, over whose grave the Stars and Stripes wave each Decoration Day.  A beautiful cherry tree shades the spot and the lot is surrounded by an iron fence placed there by Mr. Brigham.  

I requested a picture of him for the Historical Society and Mrs. Hawkins kindly had a copy made of the photograph in her possession, the only one in existence.  In writing of the picture Mrs. Hawkins said:  “Since my earliest recollection he wore shirts made of unbleached muslin, collar sewed on and one corner always turned down as in the picture.  Mother did not know he was to have the photo taken or she would have arranged the collar, but we like it as it is.  It seems more natural that way.”  

A sturdy, strong, pioneer life was his; brave he must have been to assist so materially in carving a home from the dense forest, populated only by wild animals, rattlesnakes and the savage Red Man.  He must have been just in his dealings with the crafty Indian; else he had not lived long in that lone wilderness.  It was his glory that he had labored hard and long to lay a foundation upon which other men might build more easily because Prescott Brigham had been their predecessor.  His ardent desire was to be a benefit to his community.  A few broken arrows and wigwam sticks were all that our first settlers, the Sauk Indians, left as souvenirs of their many years of occupancy—that was their monument to posterity.  Prescott Brigham’s name ranks high among those who fought, bled, and died that this county might blossom as the rose.  

            “They shunned not labor when ‘twas due,

              They wrought with right good will;

              And for the homes they won for them,

              Their children bless them still.”  

“I Thank You”.                         Mrs. Stephen (Grace) Premo