Milwaukee Reverberations

14 From the Maysville (N. Y.) Sentinel

Reprinted in Iowa News (Du Buque, Upper Mississippi Lead Mines, Wisconsin Territory, July 29, 1837)

This newspaper article—in the form of a letter from an early settler to potential future settlers—is a great example of early white settler desires to exploit the city, together with their anxieties about relations with the First Peoples who remained in the region.

Milwaukee, W. T. March, 31, 1837.

Dear Sir:—I expect that ere long you intend to come out and view the far-famed wonders of Wisconsin, either in reference to finding a new home or for the purpose of speculation; therefore a little more information respecting this country may not be uninteresting to you before you start. Now, I promise, I will “nothing extenuate, or set down aught in malice.” I am aware that many give exaggerated accounts of this country, either for or against it, while others make their descriptions salmagundi.

One leaves his “friends and his home” with high hopes, and expects his destination is the land of roast pigs and honey rivers; but if he finds no pigs of any kind, and the rivers merely cold water, he readily concludes the country is not what it is cracked up to be, and puts for home. Another, more moderate in his calculations and expectations, is pleased with the country—dives into some speculation—makes himself rich, and consequently gives the most glowing descriptions of the untold resources of the country. In fact, two persons may view the same place, travel over the same ground in a new country, and one will be disgusted, disappointed, the other interested and pleased. Witness the following: On my way to this Territory I took opportunities to converse with those who had visited Wisconsin, to get a description of the country. From one I got, in substance, as follows: “Too far north; too cold; a great want of timber; wheat winter kills; land not in market; club law; too many Indians about; country too level;” and to cap the climax, says he, “I have been all over, and now I am going home, and mean to live contented.” Then from another, I got “delightful country; beautiful scenery; healthy climate; abundance of pure cold water; grand mill privileges; fertile soil; alluvial bottoms; all kinds of timber; as warms as New York State; rosy, undulating praire; mineral country,” and to round the period, says he, “I am going after my family, and mean to spend my days in the delightful Wisconsin.” But to my own description.

Wisconsin Territory includes the region lying south of Lake Superior… Missouri river, north of Illinois, and west of Lake Michigan. A glance at the map will show you the favored position of this Territory, which contains an area sufficient for five States. You will see it is drained by two of the most noble rivers in the world, and washed on the east and north by two of the greatest fresh water seas of the western continent. Wisconsin, aside from her commercial position, is now the land of wonders, enterprise and speculation. Before the moving tide of the emigrating mania began to drain the east, and make it celebrated for being good to move from Wisconsin was only known as a far west Indian country, and where now is the haunt of the white man, the savage then danced around the council fires. But you say, “I wish to hear about the country in reference to its soil, climate and productions.” Well, you shall. In short, Wisconsin is the land of variety. Here are the “regular built” woodlands of N. York. Here are the “oak openings,” (scattering oaks with no underbrush,) and here are the “bewitching, often rhapsodied, rosy, undulating prairies,” and here the land of wild wonders. The face of the country is level, undulating and seldom hilly. The soil is alluvial mould, clayey, sandy, or a black rich loam. All kinds of wild vegetation grow in great luxuriance. As to eliminate, I can say, that from near a year’s residence in this Territory, I am satisfied it is as warm, more even and agreeable than in the State of New York.

Map of the Territory of Wisconsin / by David H. Burr, draughtsman to the House of Reps. U.S.
Map of the Territory of Wisconsin, 1836 / by David H. Burr, draughtsman to the House of Reps. U.S. (From the American Geographical Society Library Digital Map Collection at UWM Libraries.)

I am aware that some imagine this country must be too far north, and some even think Green Bay to be pretty near the north pole, consequently the climate cold; and land unproductive. But so far from this, the climate there is mild and agreeable and the land upon the Bay, on Fox and Wisconsin rivers is considered as good for farming purposes as the more southern parts of the Territory. This country is as yet too much in its infancy as to agriculture, to permit me to give you accurate details of what it is capable of producing in the greatest abundance; but this much I can say, that as far as the farmer has chosen agricultural experiments, in preference to those of speculation, he has not been disappointed, but has received his “ten-fold reward.”

The thinking-about-emigrating farmer of the east, enquires, “is the country well watered?” To this question I can say from a practical application of this article in various parts of the Territory, I pronounce it the best quality of Adam’s ale. Imagine now and then a little dell, at the bottom a silver stream a few yards wide, with a white sandy bottom—-follow the little brook to its source, often in a circle, where the most pure cold water boils up and deposits at the bottom of the stream a pure white sand. In fine, the country is well watered with good water, and to my own testimony I might add that of all who have travelled to Wisconsin. But asks another, “is the country healthy?” I do not hesitate to answer, yes. The fever and ague, so common in new countries, is not a native of Wisconsin, though a small quantity of that article has now and then been imported. It is said by those who know the most about the philosophy of health, that all natural causes conspire to make this a healthy country.

Another asks, “are not the Indians going to war with the whites? Will they not, by and by, massacre all the settlers?” Now I guess they wouldn’t if they could, and if they could they wouldn’t. They are already beginning to retire westward to a country more in unison with their nature than Wisconsin is becoming. The savage wonders at the enterprize of the white man—marvels at his improvements—views with a desponding heart his former hunting grounds and cornfields, now occupied by the Che-mo-ka-man— casts a last lingering look at the graves of his fathers, and departs to his new promised land, west of the Mississippi.

Rumors of Indian wars in Wisconsin often go the round of eastern papers, spreading terror among those who have friends here, and preventing those who else would come. But as yet these rumors have been raised by the belief of some idle story, or from ignorance of the situation and character of the Indians. It is to be regretted that the whites often treat the Indians as but little better than the brute, which often gives him just cause for revenge. It should be remembered that the savage is grateful or revengeful, and he who wantonly injures him may expect that he will be revenged. At present no serious difficulty, to my knowledge, exists between the whites and the Indians in Wisconsin. Not long since an Indian chief assured me of his intention to remain friendly with the whites. He showed me a paper in which he pledged himself to act as the friend and brother of the white man, tendered to him the right hand of friendship; offered the pipe of peace; promised to restrain his young men from going to war with the American; and requested that in return the whites should treat them as friends and brothers. What should we ask more of these untutored sons of the forest! But I must hasten to a close.

The farmer who wishes to settle in Wisconsin can find timbered land, opening, prairie, or all blended. The land east of the Mississippi is mostly or all surveyed, yet but a small share is brought into market. The time when it shall be brought into market will depend upon the humor and policy of our new President. People here settle on the public lands with the full assurance that they will obtain their claims, when brought into market, at government price. The people of Wisconsin, and of the whole west, have petitioned and supplicated Congress at its last session, for the passage of a pre-emption law. But “our petitions have been slighted, the supplications of our members have been disregarded,” and the land bill has been, in effect, spurned from the lower house. But Congress had not time to pass the bill! One week must be spent to see if it was not contempt for a member to refuse to go to the committee room and be shot! They must harp day after day because an honorable member asked the speaker if it would be proper to present a certain petition from certain persons, and so one to the end of the session. Other important bills which the whole nation have called upon Congress, no by acclamation, to pass, have gone by the board, or more particularly, on the board! Well it is, and “must be so,” but “Plato thou hast not reasoned well.” But I digress.

“WISCONSIN, From the Maysville (N. Y.) Sentinel., Milwaukee, W. T. March, 31, 1837.” Iowa news, volume 1, number 9 (Dubuque, Upper Mississippi Lead Mines, Wisconsin Territory), 29 July 1837 (column 4). Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.