Recollections of Horace Rublee

The following paper was read by the late Horace Rublee, well known as a former editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel, before a literary society of Plymouth:

On occasions like the present one, reminiscences are the order of the day. I, therefore, propose to do a little raking among the embers of the past. I can justly claim to be one of the early settlers of Sheboygan county. My father came here in the autumn of 1839, his family following in June, 1840. The second ten years of my life were mostly spent here, coming from Milwaukee on a schooner, as no steamer landed at Sheboygan in those days. I vividly remember the transfer from the little craft which anchored off the mouth of the river, in the starlit quiet of a lovely June night, just before daybreak, to a large scow, which was then rowed into the river, the warm breath of the land wind scented with odors of the forest and wild flowers, the brilliancy of the fire flies, the sense of strangeness and romance imparted by the silence of the night and the consciousness of the vast and almost unbroken wilderness into which we were entering, the short walk up a soft, sandy roadway to a square frame building which then served as a lodging house to the seldom coming stranger.

A few hours later, we returned to the scow, and, with our goods and chattels, were rowed up the river to what was known as the 'Follett place,' the head of river navigation, and about half a mile below a sawmill, in the management of which my father was then interested, and where there was a fairly comfortable, indeed a large house for that period, which we occupied. At that time I believe there were but eleven families in the county. Only one, that of Joshua Brown, was to be found at Sheboygan. A mile and a half up the river lived John Johnson, an Englishman, with a large family of sons and daughters, who cultivated the adjacent flats, which had long been cleared and used as corn fields by the Indians. Between the mill referred to, now gone, and the Falls, was an unbroken forest, with the exception of an acre or two on a knoll now occupied by a cemetery, where Charles D. Cole had made a clearing and planted corn between the stumps.

At the Falls were Charles D. Cole and Albert Rounsville, with their families, and David Giddings, then unmarried, occupied the only house on the right bank of the river. There was a sawmill on the left bank. A mile or more up the river Deacon Trowbridge, with his stalwart boys, had begun the farm now occupied by his son. Five miles to the south John and Benjamin Gibbs had settled and begun clearing farms, and about the same distance to the west. Dye, Firmin, Hoffman and Upham had reared their log habitations and made a small opening in the primhive forest. A road had been cut through the woods to Port Washington the previous winter, by which, once a week, the scanty mail was brought on foot or on horseback. Westward to Fond du Lac and north to Manitowoc, the wilderness was traversed only by Indian trails. On the lake shore south of Sheboygan a few fishermen from Ohio and Michigan lived in summer, returning to their homes for the winter. Among them was the Wilson family, who have given their name to the town of Wilson.

During the season of 1840, Colonel B. H. Moores and family came to Sheboygan, and kept the hotel there. A lighthouse keeper named Woolverton came also that year with his family. He was a florid faced, middle aged man from Maryland. It denotes the general condition of the colony to recall the fact that Woolverton, with his government salary of $365 a year, was probably the most affluent person in the county, and regarded as a sort of capitalist who could afford to dress and live in a more sumptuous manner than the others. With the exception of the lighthouse keeper the settlers were all people who earned their daily bread by daily toil. The style of living was plain. Most of the flour used was unbolted wheat and com ground in a little run of stones set in one corner of the sawmill. Salt pork and salt whitefish were the staple articles of animal food. There was hardly a horse owned in the county except the ponies belonging to the Indians who remained here in considerable numbers. There were few cattle except oxen, and hardly any domestic fowls. The second year my father obtained a pair of fowls. I remember the intense interest with which I watched the growth of the first brood of chickens. They were the most remarkable chickens ever seen; each one had a name, and I can still recall their names and personal appearance of each.

Nearly all the settlers were from the New England states and New York. There was neither clergyman, doctor or lawyer among them. Almost all were under middle age, active, hardy young people. No gray haired men were seen. Deacon Trowbridge was the patriarch. He was about fifty and was regarded as an old man. You all remember him in his serene and beautiful old age, for he lived to be a veritable patriarch. Then he was not only a farmer, but the blacksmith of the county, and he occasionally assumed the office of a clergyman and preached on Sundays.

Other arrivals during the same year were a family named Russell and two young men. Worthy McKillip and Starke. Another, William Ashby, better known as 'Sam', had previously spent some time in the county. He and McKillip are still with you, holding places of honor among the pioneers. The little colony received from year to year some accessions but the growth was slow until about 1844 or 1845, when a plank road was constructed to Fond du Lac. Then steamers began to land at Sheboygan and settlers to arrive in greater numbers. The German immigration soon followed and land began to be taken and clearings made in all directions.

The pre-plank road period was the true pioneer period in our history. In those days Sheboygan was of little consequence. The Falls was the business and intellectual center. Here was the only post office. Here the elections were held. Here Charles D. Cole, who was the postmaster and general adviser and business man of the little community, lived. In the winter at the Falls a debating society held weekly meetings and the debates were sometimes preceded by an original essay or poem. Nearly everybody took the New York Tribune, then edited by Horace Greeley, in the heydey of his power. A smattering of phrenology had been acquired by some of the citizens and several had read 'Combe on the Constitution of Man,' a book then much in vogue. Greeley and Combe produced no little mental fermentation and the social movement known as 'Fourierism, which led to the Brook farm experiment, broke out with a good deal of virulence right here in those primitive days.

In the earlier period my father was living on the Johnson place, Johnson having gone into the wilderness to make a farm in the Gibbs neighborhood, and our relations were with the duller and more conservative region of Sheboygan. Little intellectual stimulus was found there, but the neighborhood of the fishermen and the frequent presence of sailors from the little schooners that carried lumber to Milwaukee and Chicago, led during the second year to the opening at Sheboygan, then always spoken of as The Mouth,' of an establishment which was a combination of a very small retail shop and a rather mild type of Saloon. It was kept by Mrs. Glass. She was a buxom, apple-cheeked woman of perhaps forty-five, and wore a white muslin cap with a ruffled border. Her hair and eyes were dark, she was a voluble talker and a kind hearted but resolute and self-possessed female. Mrs. Glass' stock consisted of a box of crackers, a bladder of snuff, some plug tobacco, a jar of striped peppermint candy, pins and codfish. She also had somewhere on the premises a barrel of whiskey and a decanter filled from it, which was exposed to the view of the thirsty wayfarer. Occasionally she had a keg of what was known as 'strong beer' on tap. Though a business woman, Mrs. Glass had a decidedly sentimental side to her character, and possessed a small but very select library of romances including The Scottish Chiefs,'Thaddeus of Warsaw,' The Romance of the Forest,' The Children of the Abbey' and a blood curdling story entitled 'The Three Spaniards.' These are books not much read at present but Mrs. Glass loaned them to me with warm commendations, and I read them with great delight. Mrs. Glass had a husband, John, a small quiet person, whom she sometimes required to advance and allow her to smell his breath, when he was suspected of surreptitiously visiting the whiskey barrel. John preferred to keep well in the background.

The third winter, that of 1842-43, I profited a little by indirect communication with the intellectual center here at the Falls. It was determined to have a school for three months at 'the mouth,' and a young man from the Falls, but a newcomer, was employed as teacher. This young man was Samuel Rounsville, then early in the twenties, an active, bright eyed, hopeful man. For the most part the school consisted of another boy and myself. Of course, the teacher's duties were not very laborious. He read and smoked a good part of the time* He went to the Falls on debating nights and Sundays and besides teaching: me some arithmetic he loaned me Scott's 'Lady of the Lake/ 'Nicholas Nickleby.' 'Oliver Twist' and several of Bulwer's novels, which helped to pass the school hours, and wonderfully shortened the long winter evenings. Among my school teachers I remember none with more kindly feelings than Samuel Rounsville. A year or two later, after a visit east, he brought back a diamond edition of Byron, the first copy of that author's works without doubt ever brought into the county, and that also he loaned me. Books were scarce here in those days. I had long had my curiosity excited respecting Shakespeare by references to him and quotations prefixed to chapters in novels, before I ever saw a copy of his works. The first one brought into the county was, I think, by W. W. Kellogg, a lawyer who settled at Sheboygan about 1845. Benjamin Trowbridge was the only man who had a copy of Milton in the pre-plank road era. I could supply further information of this sort if it were desirable but have already exceeded the limits I had intended to observe.

The grown up men and women of the period referred to have nearly all passed away. But their works remain. By them and those who came a little later, the wilderness has been transformed into one of the richest, the most productive districts in the whole country, studded with comfortable homes where dwelled a happy and prosperous people. Only those who saw the beginnings and who know the hard and straitened lives of the first settlers, can fully appreciate the strenuous toil, the wear and tear of human muscle, the self-denial, the stubborn endurance, the persistent energy required to clear away the tangled forest, to break up the soil filled with stumps and interlacing roots, to build roads and fences, while maintaining themselves and their families, and to bring the great work on to its present stage of advancement. If he who causes two blades of grass to spring where but one grew before is a public benefactor, what shall we say of those to whose strenuous toil is due the broad meadows and pastures and productive fields that have supplanted the wilderness? The pioneers of Sheboygan county accomplished a great work. Their names may not be inscribed on monuments, or preserved in history; but the work thtey accomplished will remain a permanent benefit to succeeding generations.

The poet of Faust makes his hero begin with an insatiable craving for all knowledge and all delight, to end, after sounding every depth of learning and philosophy and after exhausting all the phases of earthly pleasure, by finding his final and supremest satisfaction in reclaiming the waste places of the earth and fitting them to become the habitation of his fellowmen and the seats of civilization and culture: Such was the work performed by the pioneers of this county, and their successors will do well to cherish and honor their memory and to strive, like them, to plant the great hereafter in this now.'


Lieutenant Colonel J. A. Watrous, now of Milwaukee, spent part of his boyhood in Sheboygan county - at the Falls - and early in the year 1910 contributed the following pertinent and interesting remembrances of the early days of this section of the country and of the pioneers who helped lay the foundation stone of Sheboygan county:

Seventy years ago Sheboygan Falls, then consisting of a small cluster of cheap dwellings, and the first grist mill run by water in that portion of Wisconsin, lying north of a line from Lake Michigan at Sheboygan to Prairie du Chien, on the Mississippi, was a very much more ambitious community than it is today, with its 1,500 population and much thrift, and it is still an ambitious community. The grist mill was supplying flour to its own citizens, and to most of the people in what are now Fond du Lac, Manitowoc, Calumet, Ozaukee, Washington and Kewaunee counties. It was not much of an undertaking in those long ago days, aside from transportation to the few pioneers. The mill site and most of the residences and business places that were in existence sixty-six years ago are readily recognized, including the Thorp house and Charles D. Cole store.

Hardy, energetic and ambitious pioneers were at Sheboygan Falls from the start; sixty-six years ago there was a goodly number of them, including the Coles, Giddings, Trowbridges, Browns, Stedmans, Prentices, Gibbs, Kellers, Cobbs and Rublees. If he was not foremost among the pioneers, Charles D. Cole was far to the front. He was a merchant, a banker in a small way, postmaster and leader in all lines of usefulness. Mr. Cole was receiver of the land office. His district was nearly half of the territory. Large sums of silver had to be transported by pony from the Falls to Green Bay, through the forests and on footpaths. At that time there were Indian camps at various points along the line, and not all of the Indians were friendly to the whites; quite the contrary. Bears, wolves, lynx and wildcats were numerous and ugly. Often Mr. Cole, with bags of silver strapped in front and in the rear of the saddle, would make the long, lonesome, dangerous trip, alone. On other occasions he deputized a neighbor to accompany him. They never went into camp, not daring to sleep a minute on the trip of two days and a night, lest thieving, murderous Indians make way with them and with their government dollars.


Information gathered and adapted from History of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Past and Present
Carl Zillier, Editor
Pubished by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912, Chicago, IL

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