Milwaukee Reverberations

9 Horace Chase’s Narrative

From James S. Buck's Pioneer History of Milwaukee (1876-1886)

The early Milwaukee historian James S. Buck was himself one of the city’s early white settlers, arriving in 1837. His account of his fellow early white settler Horace Chase’s narrative includes great examples of how early white settlers imagined & exploited the Indigenous land.

The following account of the first journey made by Horace Chase, Deacon Samuel Brown and William Burdick, to Milwaukee, is inserted here as an illustration of the hardships endured by the early pioneers, in order to reach this new found El Dorado:

We started, says Mr. Chase, from Chicago on the 4th day of December, 1834, in the morning; Mr. Brown and Burdick having a one horse wagon, in which our tent and baggage was placed, and in which they rode, while I was mounted upon an Indian pony or mustang. We made the first day twenty-four miles, and camped in the edge of a beautiful grove of timber. The night was clear and fine. We were prevented from sleeping much, however, by the wolves, who kept up an incessant howling throughout the night. This camp was about equi-distant between Chicago and Waukegan (then called Little Fort), and had the appearance of having been at some time a favorite resort of the Indians, the ground being strewn with the debris of their dismantled lodges. With the dawn, however, we were up and away, reaching Hickory Grove, west of Kenosha, then called Southport, at dark; distance traveled, thirty-four miles. No sooner had we made camp, than it commenced to snow and blow from the southeast, making the night a very unpleasant one. We pushed on in the morning, and at night reached Vieux’s trading house, at Skunk Grove, west of Racine, December 6th, where we remained until Monday, the 8th, when we again set forward, and reached Milwaukee that night. This last day’s journey was a very severe one, on account of the snow and wet. The country was well watered, as we found to our cost, having crossed twenty-four streams (big and little), getting mired in most of them, when we would carry our baggage ashore and pull the wagon out by hand, the horse having all he could do to extricate himself. Our route was the old Indian trail, which came out at the present cattle yards, where Paul Vieux had a trading house, built by his father in 1816; from there the trail led along the bluffs to the point, where we found Walker, in the log store built the previous summer.

We found at Milwaukee, besides Solomon Juneau, his brother Peter, White and Evans, Dr. Amasa Bigelow, and Albert Fowler. Solomon Juneau’s claim was the present Seventh Ward; Peter Juneau’s, the present Third Ward. Albert Howler’s claim was upon the west side, the frame of his claim cabin[1] standing a little north of Spring street, in West Water, in the present Fourth Ward. John Baptiste LeTontee had claimed what is now Milwaukee proper. This was bid off at the land sale in October, 1838, by Isaac P. Walker, who sold it to Capt. James Sanderson, for one thousand dollars. He sold an undivided one-half interest to Alanson Sweet. The way this came to be called Milwaukee proper, was on this wise: Sanderson and Sweet were sure the town would be there, or ought to be, and therefore, when the plat was recorded, insisted on recording it as Milwaukee proper, meaning that here was where Milwaukee ought properly to be.

Bird's eye view of hills, trees and river. Two deer graze on the nearest hill. There are two canoes in the river. A wood frame house and numerous tipis form a settlement.
Solomon Juneau’s East Wisconsin residence, built circa 1820. This site is now the corner of N. Water Street and E. Wisconsin Avenue. (From the Milwaukee Public Library.)

Juneau sold, while at the treaty held in Chicago, October, 1833, one-half of his claim, which comprised what is now the Seventh Ward, to Morgan L. Martin for five hundred dollars, in which purchase Michael Dousman was an equal partner. This, though a verbal agreement, was faithfully kept by Mr. Juneau, notwithstanding, the land had increased in value a thousand fold before a title was perfected; and had he wished he could have sold for a much larger amount any time, as no writings were ever made between himself and Mr. Martin.

The Milwaukee trader & speculator Solomon Juneau sold the seventh ward for $500 in 1833. This is circa $15,000 in 2018 dollars. Soon after the treaty was signed, the land was already worth circa $15,000,000 in 2018 dollars.

The following letter from Mr. Martin to the author will better explain this transaction. This letter is not only of interest in explaining how strictly honest Mr. Juneau was in all his dealings, but it also confirms the statements of others as to the appearance of Milwaukee in 1833. Mr. Martin was one of the early men in Milwaukee, and although he has never resided here permanently, yet has always taken a deep interest in its prosperity, and, as his letter states, spent his money freely to give it a start in its infancy. What a contrast between him and W. W. Gilmer, who, although owning a large amount of property in the city, the rise of which made him a millionaire, has never spent a dollar in improvements. The following is the letter:

GREEN BAY, Wis., Sept. 1, 1876.

J. S. Buck, Esq.:

Dear Sir: I first visited Milwaukee and spent there the 4th of July, 1833. There were no claims or improvements of any description, save the trading establishment of Solomon Juneau, and a small log cabin occupied by his brother Peter. The land was still owned by the Government; had not been surveyed, nor was there any law of Congress under which claims for pre-emptions could be made.

The Indian village was located upon the Menomonee, a short distance from its confluence with the Milwaukee River. The only cultivation was by the Indians, except that Peter Juneau had a small enclosure for the purpose of a garden, connected with his dwelling.[2]

My visit was one of exploration, and my observations were limited to the examination of the outlet of the stream, to ascertain whether a harbor could be constructed at this point. Having ascertained the character of the entrance from the lake, the contemplated information was obtained, and I returned to my home at Green Bay. Previous to my tour of observation, Michael Dousman had agreed to share with me any purchase I should make, with a view of laying out a town at the point where Milwaukee now stands.

At my visit in July, I did not find Solomon Juneau, nor did I meet him until October of the same year, when he and all others interested in Indian trade, were attending a treaty held in Chicago. The gathering at the latter place commenced September 5th, and continued five or six weeks. While there, all the purchase ever made by me of Solomon Juneau, was agreed on verbally, and no memorandum in writing ever existed between us. He sold me one-half interest in his claim, cabin and improvements, for $500; I sharing with him in the expense of obtaining, by subsequent legislation of Congress, a pre-emption of the lands, on which they were built. On the 10th of June, 1834, an act was passed extending the pre-emption law of 1830, under which a pre-emption was secured to the lands occupied by Solomon Juneau, and in ’35 the proper entries were made at the land office. The one-half was afterwards sold to me, and I shared equally with Mr. Dousman; but this was but a small part of what is now the city of Milwaukee. I purchased Peter Juneau’s claim, which was entirely distinct from Solomon’s; also several floating rights, which were located on adjoining lands. My purchase included all the lands on the east side of the Milwaukee River, south of Division street, and one or two sub-divisions of sections on the west side.

After my first purchase of Solomon Juneau, in ’33, he was beset on all hands to dispose of his remaining interest, and would have done so long before the lands were secured and platted into lots, but for his verbal agreement with me, in which it was expressly stipulated, that if he sold, I was to have the preference on giving as much as he was offered by others. He was a strictly honest man, whose word was as good as his bond, and I never hesitated to place implicit reliance upon his verbal agreement with me.

We acted in concert in laying out and building up the town; erected the Court- house, Milwaukee House; opened and graded streets, and, in fact, expended together nearly $100,000 in improving the property, and contributing to the public convenience.

I have a little sketch of the river and surroundings in 1833, made of course, without survey, which ought to accompany a history of the present magnificent city.[3]

Very respectfully yours,

Such is the history of what may properly be called the laying of the corner stone for Milwaukee. This sale being the entering wedge, so to speak, that opened up the whole country, and in place of the founders of Milwaukee being limited to Juneau, Walker and Kilbourn, Morgan I.. Martin and Michael Dousman should be added thereto–in place of a triumvirate there should be a quintette.

Pen-and-ink on paper. Title supplied by cataloger. Shows riverside property west of the Milwaukee River. Inscribed by several early Milwaukee settlers, including Henry W. Cleveland, Cyrus Leland, Onslow Peters, Samuel H. Graves, Solomon Juneau, and Morgan L. Martin. Includes inscriptions and signatures by the justice of the peace and a notary public for Milwaukee County.
Map of Milwaukee made for M.L. Martin and Solomon Juneau, with their signatures, 1837. (From the Wisconsin Historical Society.)

En Resume: As our business here was to secure claims, we of course lost no time in making them. Mine was made upon the s. w. ¼ of sec. 4, town 6, range 22, upon which I built a log cabin. This cabin stood where the present Minerva Furnace does. Dea. Samuel Brown’s was where the Sixth ward school house stands. This claim was, however, subsequently floated, and the deacon made a new one in the present Ninth ward, where he lived and died. Burdick’s claim was upon the east side, where the present German market stands.

Having secured our claims, we all started on our return to Chicago, on the 14th, reaching there on the 17th; after which I spent the time, until the middle of February, in exploring the country south and west of Chicago, but finding nothing that suited me any better, I returned to Chicago, closed up my business, and, in company with Joseph Porthier (alias Purky), left that place for Milwaukee, February 27th, 1835, reaching there March 8th, when, wishing to secure the lands at the mouth of the river, I made a new claim upon the s. w. ¼ of sec. 4, my log house standing where the foundery of Geo. L. Graves now does, just east of the tannery of the Wisconsin Leather Company, after which I returned to Chicago for means, with which to erect a warehouse. Left there again on the 21st, reached Milwaukee on the 23d, and commenced a final and permanent settlement.

Joseph Porthier’s claim was a part of the n. e. ¼ of sec. 5, town 6, range 22, his house being built with the logs from my first one, which was taken down and put up again on his claim.[4]


As a further illustration of the way things were done in those days, I will state the following:

J. and L. Childs entered in 1835, a ¼ section, just north of Lueddeman’s, upon the present White Fish Bay Road. In 1836 they were offered $35 per acre, which they refused. In 1840 they were compelled to sell for $2.50 per acre, and take their pay in flour and pork, which was consumed in less than one year. This land is worth, to-day, $600 per acre, and take the entire tract.

But the greatest mistake made in those days, if it ever was made, was by Aaron Parmalee. Mr. Parmalee informed me that Mr. Juneau offered him forty acres of his claim, all in the present Seventh ward, in the spring of 1836, for $600, which offer he declined, although he had the money all in half-dollars. I have never heard of a more foolish offer being made, or made to a bigger fool, than this was. Parmalee is living in California now. This statement would seem incredible from the reading of Mr. Martin’s letter, but that Mr. Parmalee so stated to me, is certainly true.

It will be readily seen by these two sketches of Fowler and Chase, that nothing was done in ’34 beyond selecting claims and arranging for future operations, as soon as the Indians were removed, which, by the terms of the treaty made at Chicago, in 1833, would be in 1836. This removal was not fully accomplished until ’38, only the Potawattomies and a part of the Menomonees being removed in ’36.[5] Therefore, except north of the Milwaukee River, where, by the land sale at Green Bay, in October, ’35, the whites acquired their first ownership in the soil, no occupation, except by floats[6] could be truthfully claimed before that year.

This short chapter, therefore, comprises all the history of 1833 and 1834. The improvements consisted of Col. Walker’s log house at the Point; White and Evan’s store at the foot of Huron street; Albert Fowler’s office at the southwest corner of East Water and Wisconsin streets, and his claim cabin north of Spring street.

James S. Buck, “Horace Chase’s Narrative.” Pioneer History of Milwaukee, volume 1 (Milwaukee News Co., 1876-1886): pp. 14-20. Original Source: New York Public Library.

  1. This frame was never enclosed (Mr. Fowler having been floated by Mr. Kilbourn), and was, in the summer of 1838, sold to Hiram Farmin, who removed it to Wells, west of Second, and finished it for a dwelling; Mr. Kilbourn having arranged the matter with Mr. Fowler. by a deed of one undivided eighth part of fractional lots five and six, in section twenty-nine, Solomon Juneau joining in the deed. This is the sale spoken of further on as the first one made on the West Side.
  2. This log house was some two hundred feet south of Wisconsin street in East Water, the garden extending south from the house to Michigan. The plow to break the ground for this garden was brought from Ouillimette's at Gross Point, and was done by Albert Fowler, with Ouillimette's team--one yoke of oxen and one span of horses; being probably the first potato garden in the place.
  3. The annexed sketch is an exact copy of the one made by Mr. Martin. The site of the Indian village is the same as the one seen by Kilbourn, in '34, mention of which is made by Wheeler in his Chronicles.
  4. This claim of Joseph Porthier, twenty-eight acres, more or less, was offered me in 1837 and '8, for $400, but the state of my bank account was such at that time, as to make its purchase an impossibility. I went east in '38 to get means to buy it, but on my return it had been sold to the late Abram D. Smith, for $800. The old log house stood in what is now Maple street, at its intersection with Kinnickinnic avenue. I state these little things as explanatory of the way the foundations of the fortunes of some of Milwaukee's solid men were laid. The heirs of James H Rogers, Dea. Samuel Brown, and perhaps one or two others, who have passed away, still hold a part of the original purchase, but the most of these first estates have passed into other hands. I wanted this place of Porthier's then very much, as I could see a large fortune in it. Real "estate" is the basis of all the wealth in the country, and those who could and did secure a homestead in those early times, are to-day, all right, pecuniarily, that is, if they kept it. J.S.B.
  5. By the treaties made with the Menomonees at Washington, February 8th, 1831, (I quote now from Lapham's Chronology of Wisconsin, ) the government obtained all the land north and east of the Milwaukee River, and at the one held at Chicago, September 26th, 1833, with the Pottawatomies, all south of it; the Indians to remain upon the latter until 1836, or for three years longer. Consequently, the coming south of the river, in order to get a full township for Milwaukee, during the survey made by Wm. A. Burt, in ’35, caused much dissatisfaction, the Indians claiming the land as theirs; that the whites were interlopers, and should not occupy it before the expiration of the time specified in the treaty, carrying their hostility so far, in fact, while the men were mostly attending the land sale held at Green Bay, October, ’35, as to plot the massacre of all the whites in the settlement, which they certainly would have done, had they not been prevented by Mrs. Juneau J, who remained in the streets all night watching over them. Such was the power of this noble woman over these wild Bedouins of the wilderness, and such was the skill with which she managed this difficult matter, that many of the whites were unaware of the danger which had environed them, and the fate from which they had been rescued, until the following day. For the account of this contemplated massacre, I am indebted to Mr. U. B. Smith, who was in Milwaukee at the time. This land was, as before stated, liable to be, and was, floated with scrip, by Kilbourn and others. Kilbourn, however, knowing the uncertainty attending these titles, proceeded at once to Washington, and obtained his patent by a present of one hundred dollars (it has been said) to the Chief Clerk. Walker, unfortunately, was not so successful, the float upon his not being removed until ’45. The first survey of lots was made this year by Wm. S. Trowbridge, who, with Mr. King's party, was wind-bound here, November 9th. He surveyed blocks 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the present Third and Seventh wards, being the first local survey made in the place. This information I had from Mr. Trowbridge himself. To these 26 blocks were added in 1835, making 30 in all, by B. H. Edgerton, who subsequently surveyed the whole of the east side, all within the present Seventh and Third wards.
  6. Mr. Kilbourn was not alone in these floats. Micajah T. Williams, John McCarty and Archibald Clybourn were supposed to have an interest in them They were purchased of a half-breed, named Clark, in Chicago.