Old Settlers Club 1916

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

In the 'Thirties

Paper read by C. H. White at Old Settlers' Picnic, Aug. 18, 1898.

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

You may be unable to reconcile my age which is twenty-seven with these reminiscences of the early days, still I was quite a chunk of a boy when I came to Wisconsin in 1836 during John I. Rockwell and S. V. R. Ableman's terms of office as United States Marshal, for I was deputy under each of these officers during the exciting trial of Sherman M. Booth. I had charge of the jury, and I think Booth and myself are the only parties living who figured in that trial.

My father, Peter White, Sr., emigrated from Rome, New York, in May 1835 to Green Bay, Wisconsin. He established a store and returned in the fall to spend the winter in Rome. The following May he set sail again with his oldest son your humble servant.

That year the ice proved very severe on boats bound for the upper lakes. We lay in sight of Buffalo two weeks, not able to move, on account of being locked in fields of ice, extending as far as the eye could see.

The middle of June on Sunday morning, we anchored at the point where now lies the City of Green Bay being the first boat of the season, every inhabitant that was in sight of the Bay or in hearing of church bells was on the dock to receive us.

The Indians outnumbered the whites by hundreds. My first visit to Milwaukee was in the summer of 1838. I drove a team and took Andrew J. Vieau and family from Green Bay to Milwaukee. Vieau was a brother-in-law of Solomon Juneau who lived in a log house situated about where the Marine Bank now stands. All I can recall of Vieau's family is that he had a lumber wagon full of children!

One year later I visited Milwaukee and took refuge in the Cottage Inn kept by R. P. Harrison and George Vail, it was located on East Water street. On this occasion I took a load of fresh whitefish for speculation. Left the Bay with a whole ton of fresh shining fish, a brand new sleigh, a span of good horses and plenty of courage.

The snow gradually melted from day to day until I reached Summit. There I ran into a rain storm, I was obliged to hire a wagon of a brother of H. N. Wells, who at that time was one of Milwaukee's noted lawyers. After a drag of 30 miles from Summit to Milwaukee through the rain and mud, I made a desperate effort to sell my fish; frozen and thawed fish do not present a very inviting or appetizing appearance.

After driving from house to house for three hours, and making but one sale, I became thoroughly convinced it was only "fisher-man's luck," and in desperation I drove down to the river, cut a hole in the ice and dumped the load, then started on my return trip. Paid Mr. Wells 10 dollars for the use of his wagon, left my new sleigh and double harness in his care, rented a dilapidated saddle and started for Green Bay with the firm resolve that if Milwaukee folks wanted fish they would, as far as I was concerned, be obliged to come to Green Bay for them. When I reached homo I found it necessary to employ a veterinary surgeon to cure the damage the old saddle was accountable for. The surgeon charged me $15. The horse died within two weeks. The sleigh and harness have never been heard from to this day.

Ton of fish $ 60.00
Sleigh $30.00,
Harness, $25.00 55.00
Use of wagon 10.00
Surgeon 15.00
Dead horse 125.00
Expenses on road 30.00
All for the fun of lugging dead fish to this, then, benighted town.

My next visit to Milwaukee was when the Hotel, called Milwaukee House, stood on the summit of the city. I was sent by an uncle, who was a farmer, a hotel keeper and preacher. He lived on the edge of Calumet Prairie, 12 miles north of Fond du Lac. He was an extensive breeder of hogs and sent me with one of his sons to purchase a drove. He had a breed that was called Caseknife or Razorback. They would devour their weight in grain daily and not increase in weight. They would jump a six rail fence or lie down and squeeze between the rail, a space of about three inches.

For some reason we started home without purchasing the drove. Some man who was a guest of the Milwaukee House at that time, advised us to try the Indian trail leading to Fond du Lac, he said we would save fifty miles that way. We started, sixteen miles out of the city we passed the last house, we rode until night overtook us and concluded to camp; we were without food for our horses or ourselves; we gathered brush for the horses and sat by a fire until daylight. During the night we were sure we saw and heard at least a thousand wolves. It was in October, the leaves had filled the trail so it was difficult to trace it, when the morning came, the trail was utterly obliterated. To make the story short, the night of the 3rd day, we found ourselves back at the sixteen mile house out of Milwaukee, nearly famished; during the time we were lost, if it had been possible to have gotten our clutches on one of those wolves, we felt equal to devouring it.

We concluded that the "furtherest way round was the nearest way home," and went via Watertown.

I took the contract for carrying the mail between Milwaukee and Green Bay that was carried otherwise than on a man's back in a mud wagon. I was allowed six days for making the trip. At that time postage on one letter was 25 cents. The trip is made in as many hours now.