Old Settlers Club 1916

Early Milwaukee
Papers from the Archives of the Old Settlers' Club of Milwaukee County
Published by the Club

Read by Peter Van Vechten, Jr., in 1894.

Source: Early Milwaukee, Papers from the Archives of the Old Settlers' Club of Milwaukee County, Published by the Club, 1916.

There were no old men in Milwaukee in 1845 that is, men over 50 years old. John Dunbar, the father-in-law of Jason Downer, was the oldest man I recollect. A gray-headed man was a rarity. But all those young men then are gray-headed now.

There were many queer signs on stores, and advertisements in the papers to attract attention. H. N. Connant was in the clothing, gents' furnishing goods and hat business on East Water street. He had for his sign three hats instead of three balls and announced that there was "great excitement" at his place. Uncle Ben Throop had his store a few doors north, on the ground now occupied by A. C. Feldt. He had a stuffed deer skin, with head and horns, set up and it looked like a live deer. His advertisement read: "No excitement; all perfectly cool. No flattery at Uncle Ben's."

Edward Emery, the confectioner on Wisconsin street, sold his candy two sticks for a cent apiece, and every week he entertained us with a fresh supply of machine poetry.

B. F. Fay, No. 139 East Water street, sold dry goods, groceries, etc.; notified the people that he had 100 barrels of whiskey, the latest brands, a staple article for the West; S. L. Rood had 10,000 goose quills, from which pens could be made that would kill more men politically than the same number of swords. John Ogden would give you a fresh cut of beef steak at the Bed Market on East Water street, north of Wisconsin street. R. W. Pierce made friction matches in the West ward. They were also called Loco Foco matches, and it also was the name given to the Democratic party. At one of the meetings in Tammany hall, New York, the lights were put out suddenly, and a man whose name was Job Haskell had a box of Loco Foco matches in his pocket. He immediately struck a light with his friction matches. That act gave the name of Loco Foco party to one branch of Tammany. Job Haskell lived in Milwaukee in 1845 and went to Port Washington in 1848 and died there. The fire department was frequently called upon to stop the friction and put out the fire in Pierce's match factory.

Fred Wardner announced that he had experienced a "heavy earthquake," caused by the fall in prices of his goods. Royal Houghton's advertisement was ''West ward, ho, forever," for his dry goods and groceries. R. D. Jennings' "West Ward Store" had made new arrangements by which he could undersell everybody. Henry Sayers said: "The cry is still: 'They come to the People's Store" Joe and Lindsey Ward were perfectly willing to exchange their goods for wheat. "War, war, war, with Mexico!" had not affected the prices at A. G. Dayan's store in Heide's block, so that he could supply all that came to him for relief. The great fire in New York had not destroyed the stock of E. C. Kellogg; his groceries were safe in his store on East Water street; below Huron, Ludington & Co. held the corner store, and their customer, John T. Perkins, had his planing mill on the canal; John Lapointe and Alexander Bangley their sash, blind and door factory; Locke & Richmond, pail and tub factory. Nearly all the merchants sold sash, doors, pails and tubs. They paid for them in goods by orders drawn on them by the manufacturers, given to their workmen. All stores had running accounts with each other, and the manufacturers and the carpenter and mason contractors drew orders on the stores to pay their men. At the end of the year the accounts were settled, and the balance paid by a due bill. George W. Mygatt was an architect and contractor. At the end of the year he always managed to be in debt when the accounts were settled, due bills given for the balance and receipts passed. He would give a sigh of relief as he said: "Thank God, that bill is paid."

Among the new firms that came that Fall was Sexton & Crane. They opened the first exclusive wholesale dry goods store in Milwaukee, November 17th, 1845, in the United States Hotel block, first door north of the hotel entrance, No. 132 East Water street (now 332). Their store was 20 by 50. They occupied only the first floor and basement or cellar. Lorin Sexton of the firm did not come to Milwaukee, but sent out Mr. Crane and Milton E. Lyman to open up and commence business. Six or eight months of western life was enough for Mr. Crane. I never saw so homesick a man as he was, all winter. He went east in the Spring of 1846, sold out his interest to John Wing, Jr., and never came here again. Wing came out with his family, and the firm changed to Sexton & Wing. They stayed there until 1848, when they moved to No. 139 East Water street, in the store vacated by B. F. Fay when he went to Prairie du Chien or Bridgeport, Wis.

M. E. Lyman took a prominent part in Odd Fellowship and in all public matters of interest to Milwaukee. Thirty years ago he moved to Bailey's Harbor, Wis., where he was still living in 1893. Christian Preusser had his jewelry store on East Water street, south of the post office, in a frame building, on the ground where George Burrough's trunk store now stands, and he is the only one in business in 1845 that has not changed his line of business and is in the game business today.

The farmers about Milwaukee had more oxen than horses. It was something new to an eastern man to see an emigrant with his family and farming implements in a wagon, drawn by oxen, coming to the west to make himself a home. Another novelty was the prairie schooners, loaded with pig lead from Mineral Point, Shullsburg, and vicinity, drawn by four or six yoke of oxen. The bull whackers with their long handled whip stock made the air ring cracking their whips like pistol shots. They became very expert and delighted to show their skill in picking a fly off the left ox's ear without hitting the ox. The lead at that time was all shipped from here to Buffalo, and the ox teams hauled loads of goods back for country merchants.

There were nineteen lawyers practicing law in 1845. Of that lot, only two are living A. R. R. Butler and Wilson W. Graham. Ashael Finch and William Pitt Lynde were the leading law firm. Jonathan E. Arnold was the leading criminal lawyer; A. D. Smith, Isaac P. Walker and Don A. J. Upman were prominent. James Holliday came about this time. Soon after his arrival he was engaged in a case in which Ashael Finch was opposing counsel. Mr. Finch had a bad habit of calling the opposing counsel a liar. Someone told Holliday that it would probably occur with him. True to the prediction, when they were engaged in an animated discussion, Finch called Holliday a liar. Holliday coolly and deliberately walked up to Finch and knocked him out in the first round. Judge Frasier called time, brought both before the bar, and fined them fifty dollars. Holliday immediately paid his fire and resumed his argument as if nothing had happened. Mr. Finch never repeated it, either in or out of court.

The last notable event of 1845 was on the 30th of December, the robbery of R. K. Swift, banker and broker, who had his office over where Houghton Brothers' bank is now located. During a temporary absence, $580 was taken. The man who took it was conscience stricken and about one week after went to Bishop Henni and gave up the money, which was returned to Swift. It was pretty well known who the man was, but Swift received his money and the man ease of mind when he found he was not to be prosecuted. It was surmised that the hounds of the law were on a warm scent and that rather facilitated the movement of the fellow's conscience.

In 1846 it was certain that the Dutch had taken Holland, and the Germans, Germany, and there was danger of their encroachment upon the American liberties in Milwaukee. There were two military companies in Milwaukee the Washington Guards, Capt. David George, and the Milwaukee Rifles, Capt. Henry Miller, George Brosius, first lieutenant. The rank and file were all Germans. The people were not as well acquainted with the foreign element then as they are now, and in the minds of some those foreigners had not been here long enough to forget the fatherland and become Americanized, and in case of any trouble, could they be depended upon? It was a matter of considerable discussion, and it was thought advisable to have a Yankee company. All Americans here were called Yankees in those days.

A call to organize a military company was circulated and fifty or more names were obtained. We met in the old Military hall on Oneida street. Gen. Rufus King was elected captain; Hon. James B. Kneeland, first lieutenant; J. N". Bonsteel, second lieutenant; H. C. Abay, orderly; Wm. P. Lynde, quartermaster, and Hiram Auch-moody was drill sergeant. Auchmoody had been a marine soldier, but he had been on land long enough to get off his sea legs. Our uniform was made by Giesburg & Brocus. We met for drill in the Military hall. The Mexican war broke out in 1847. Most of the members of a warlike spirit went to Mexico and the company soon dwindled down to its officers and one private, and disbanded.

The Winters were long. Shut up from November until May, except the old stage wagon and tri-weekly mail from Chicago, we had to spend the time in dancing parties and mischief. To get a sell on someone and particularly on some eastern man who happened to be here, or some new comer, was a pleasure not to be omitted.

Winchell, the delineator of character, was here, giving an entertainment. He was as sharp as most people that are on the road. It was a difficult matter to catch him. Uncle Ben Throop had an Indian whistle which had been the means by which considerable amusement had been furnished for a dull Winter. It was made of part of a reed fish pole and painted with Indian hieroglyphics in gorgeous style. Double-headed Brown borrowed it, took it down to the United States hotel where Winchell stopped, put it in the office in a conspicuous place over Clerk Churchill's desk. When Winchell came in, it caught his eye, and he said to Churchill: "What's that ?" Churchill said: "An Indian whistle." Winchell said: "Let's see it. I used to be quite an expert on those things when I was a boy." He filled himself with wind enough to blow the cylinder head out of a steam engine and blew a cloud of powdered charcoal in his face, eyes and mouth. The music that was made by the people watching him was not such as Winchell expected to come out of the whistle that he paid too dear for. It cost him several bottles of cider and he said he would buy a basket for them if they would only keep it still. Winchell immediately wanted to negotiate for it, but Churchill could not sell it without Uncle Ben's consent. It was finally given to him, and I made another for Uncle Ben.