Old Settlers Club 1916

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

Paper by A. W. Kellogg Read April 3d, 1889.

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

I was born in the little hamlet of West Goshen in the somewhat noted Litchfield County, Connecticut, which lies on the rough backbone of the state between the broad Connecticut river valley on the east and the narrower Housatonic on the west. Among my early recollections is one of going through the orchard and across the lot back of my father's house without once touching the ground; not on wings to be sure but by stepping and jumping from stone to stone the whole distance. And as I was less than seven years old the stones must have been very thick, the fences already having been built of them. And I recall the remark of an old salt of a sea captain who said after living in the place for awhile, "That he had sailed around the world but had never been so long out of sight of land before!"

But yet I have ever kept a warm place in my heart for the good old "land of steady habits," which I once put into these simple rhymes:

"Backward, turn backward, oh time in thy flight, "Make me a child again just for tonight."

In the last days of October 1836, my Father, Leverett S. Kellogg, with his family left the dear old state and starting westward, traveling by the fastest conveyances then to be had with one small exception, was just four weeks making the journey. Teams took us and our goods from Goshen to Albany, N. Y., then we took the old strap railroad to its end at Schenectady, then the canal packet to Buffalo, where we shipped our goods by the last schooner for the season bound round the lakes, and ourselves got on board the old steamer Columbus for Detroit. There father bought a team of horses and a lumber wagon and kept up with the stage during the daytime and only got behind by not traveling nights. Of the incidents of that long journey I recall two or three distinctly, viz: the long climb of the locks at Lockport, N. Y., and the packet captain's cry of "Low bridge" as we swept under some bridge that nearly touched the deck of the packet; the first venison steak ever tasted, at Ipsilanti, Mich., which, as it was cooked that morning, was as dry and tasteless as a chip; of the hard climb of the long sand hills as we struck Lake Michigan a little this side of Niles; and of one night's lodging with thirty or more other travelers in a log tavern of two rooms, each about 12x14, where father, mother and the three children occupied the only bed in the house, the landlord's, cut off by a sheet in the corner and given to mother as the only woman and nearly sick, while the rest were lodged in bunks one above another three or four high all around the walls, like the berths in a Canal packet. Father had thought some of stopping in Chicago, but the ground was so low and the mud so deep that we stopped only for a night. And I can see now, the chicken tracks in the mud on the kitchen floor of that old "Lake House," as I have since seen on a wet day the men tracks in the mud on the thronged sidewalks of Chicago, something less than an inch deep.

We reached Southport (now Kenosha) about sundown November 26th, and, as the weather had turned suddenly cold that afternoon, were nearly frozen when two miles this side we drove up to the log cabin of my father's brother who had come west the year before. After a day or two Father came on to Milwaukee, but mother and the three children stayed for a month in that one room log house with a ladder-reached attic, in which there was already a family of husband, wife and five children, and the impression remaining in memory is not that of being so greatly crowded, but rather of having had a nice visit.

Besides cracking hickory and butternuts, one of onr amusements was to go down through the trap door in the floor into the cellar, and, lifting the flat turnips by the roots, to judge by their weight which were solid and which pithy, to bring up the sound ones and scrape them with a table knife in lieu of apples, and I can almost taste now the cool, juicy flavor of those soft, white mouthfuls.

Father having found his schooner sent furniture which went by to Chicago and had to be brought back, moved it into some rooms over a store on the riverbank on West Water street opposite what is now the Second Ward bank the only vacant place he could find came for us and the family arrived at Milwaukee the first of January 1837. Of that first winter I recall this incident.

One day I came bursting into the sitting-room, heard mother's "hush" and then saw on the bed in the corner a face almost as white as the pillow on which it lay surrounded by an aureole of silver hair, and it seemed to me that a saint had come out from one of the pictures of the old masters with the Halo about his head and gone to sleep there.

Mother told me he was the presiding elder, the Rev. John Clark, and that he had said after sitting a few minutes, "Sister Kellogg, I have slept or tried to sleep beside a log in the woods for three nights on my way from my last appointment at Green Bay, and your feather-bed looks so tempting I must ask for the privilege of a nap on it even before dinner if you please," and the tired old man slept the restful sleep of the conscience free till long after my dinner was over and I was off to school. His district then covered the whole eastern half of the state, but soon after the old hero went to Texas, where in the scattered cabins and huge camp meetings he wrought a grand work for the Master, until worn out he at the last came back to his old friends in Chicago where feeble, but triumphant and greatly beloved, he waited a few months and then pitched his final camp on the heavenly hills. That winter my brother and I crossed the river on the ice every day to attend Eli Bates' school in the old Courthouse, which stood on the site of the present one, and was the northernmost limit of habitation. The river at that point was nearly or quite twice as wide as now, there being a bayou on the east side with a deep channel and separated from the main river by a marshy point or bar stretching down from Division street covered with rushes and wild rice. The east bank was steep and high, except for a depression near where Oneida street now is, which made it practicable for us to climb. At the foot of this flowed a fine spring whence we used to get our drinking 'water across the ice in winter and by use of a canoe in summer. It was a general resort for good water and long afterward furnished the water for the public pump in Market Square. In this valley-like situation, close by the bluff bank, was the one ball-alley bowling alley these politer days of the town. And between it and Wisconsin street, where the Ferry landed us in summer, was a very high bluff a good deal higher than the top of the Kirby House which was so steep as to be almost impossible for even boys to climb. Mr. Bates, the school teacher, was also keeper of the Lighthouse, a round brick tower which stood on the bluff at the foot of Wisconsin street, which bluff was then as high there as at any other point on the lake shore. Mr. Bates was a tall, large-framed man with great dignity of manner, but with one cork leg which gave to his walk a peculiar swinging hitch, and I can see now Gal. Miller Judge Miller's oldest son with the true American boy's want of reverence, following close behind him into school one day and imitating the motion to perfection greatly to the amusement of the crowd. Mr. Bates was a type of the old-fashioned pedagogue, dignified, severe, respected, who understood thoroughly the branches he was expected to teach, chiefly the old Yankee's three R's. Reading Riting and Rithmetic but he lacked the enthusiasm in his work which would inspire in his scholars the eager desire to push into the realms beyond.

He loved his pipe and a quiet game of cards and his lighthouse home was therefore a frequent resort for some of the older boys and young men, which some parents, mine among them, were disposed to warn against. He afterward lost his lighthouse home, probably with the change of administration, in 1840, gave up his school and went to Chicago as a clerk in Chas. Mears' Lumber Yard and Office. After two or three years of faithful work at some $30 or $40 a month, a neighbor offered him an advance of $10 a month, and when he told Mr. Mears about it that gentleman replied "I am sorry to have you go but I can't afford to pay any more, but I'll tell you what I'll do I'll give you an interest in the business if you'll stay." And that interest resulted for Mr. Bates in a large fortune, $30,000 of which was bequeathed to erect the beautiful bronze statute of Abraham Lincoln by St. Gaudens which was set up in Lincoln park a year or so ago.

That next summer we used to make frequent parties of small boys to the tamarack swamp, which stretched from Wells street to Chestnut, just under the bluff, to gather gum and wintergreen. And we had to be careful to keep on the bogs or roots of trees to prevent from getting into the water and mire. And I remember that just east of the swamp our cow got mired one afternoon and nearly died before she was found, the next day, and by the help of neighbors, with planks, was lifted out of the mire and sand. That reminds me that father kept two cows, each having a different toned bell, and we boys used to have a good deal of travel and trouble to find them, sometimes among the brush of Chestnut street or Third street hills, and once when they had strayed beyond the second gulley on what is now Grand avenue at Thirteenth street, they were out over night and not found till the next day, as we could not believe they had gone so far away.

That summer a fever smote my darling three year old sister, the pride and joy of our home and the sunshine of the neighborhood, and after two weeks of suffering (it seemed almost as much from the medicine as from the disease) her freed spirit took wing and soared away, leaving only the smile-crowned clay in the desolate home. As there was yet no regular cemetery we laid her to rest under the great oaks on the hillside beyond what was afterward Cicero Comstock's home on Galena street for so long.

Among my earlier recollections is one of seeing father sweep out the shavings from his carpenter shop Saturday nights and putting boards on nail kegs across the room, preparing it for the Methodist services for Sunday. That shop stood on posts set in the water on the southeast corner of East Water and Huron streets, and was reached by a plank from the sidewalk. From that point down to the ferry for Walker's Point ran a narrow roadway, and I have skated over the whole marsh from that point south to the river and east to the lake, though the marsh was generally too thickly covered with rushes and rice for skating. But sometimes a storm would drive the water in from the lake and cover it, which afterwards freezing, would make glare ice for the boys. That shop was afterwards converted into a school house for week days and a Methodist meeting house for Sundays, their first regular meeting place.

In the fall of 1837 the great panic swept like a prairie fire over the whole country and was specially severe in the new settlements of the west, bankrupting nearly the whole community. All the money in circulation was of the wildcat or red-dog variety and became entirely worthless.

My father had contracts for several stores and other buildings nearly completed, on which he had paid out all his own means and gone into debt besides for labor and materials and, in the general ruin, he was left largely involved. Too conscientious to take the benefit of the bankrupt law which Congress hastened to pass to relieve the general distress, he struggled on in debt for years, often praying that God would let him live long enough to see the last debt paid; which prayer was granted, he having taken up the last note (for a debt which by the neglect of his lawyer he felt that he had had to pay twice) the summer before he died in 1854.

One man for whom he built a store and house on East Water street, though able, refused to pay, and when suit was brought pleaded the "baby act," proving that he was under age and so escaped payment.

The winter of 1837 and 8 was known as the hard winter all through this section, when many families considered themselves fortunate in getting enough potatoes and salt to maintain life, and this was the chief food for the community.

Our family was more fortunate in having a merchant friend, Mr. Vinton, who had two dry goods boxes, the one filled with buck-wheat and the other with shelled corn, to which he allowed us two brothers access. And taking a hand sled and a tin pail, we would bring home a large pail of buckwheat, grind it in a coffee mill, sift in a hand sieve and make pancakes, varied with corn treated in the same way, and made into "johnny cake." And father having secured a firkin of butter in the fall, we were regarded the specially favored family as living like fighting cocks. It was that same winter that father, one bitter cold day, put a dry goods box on a hand sled and went after some potatoes on the ice, away up the Menomonee river, somewhere. Perhaps he got more than he expected, at any rate, overtaken by a driving snow storm on the way home, his sled stuck fast and he was obliged to leave it and come home for help. Not daring to leave it till morning for fear of them freezing, tired as he was, he took a lantern and the two boys and went back and, after a great effort, succeeded in getting the box of potatoes home about midnight before a bitter cold morning. The same winter a farmer from near Southport brought in some freshly made butter, in which luxury Byron Kilbourn indulged himself at the cost of 75 cents a pound, an unheard of price in those days. 'Twas either this or the next winter that we brothers went to school in Kilbourntown, just north of Chestnut street, on Third, taught by a man named West. The older boys annoyed him greatly by going skating and coming in late after recess. He had forbidden it and threatened punishment. Bill Smith, a youth of 18 or 19, and much larger than the master, persisted in disobedience and having come in late one afternoon the master waited till nearly time for school to close and then called Bill up and told him to take off his coat. He reluctantly obeyed, but when the master took a rawhide from his desk Bill caught up a big iron fire shovel by the stove and defied him. The teacher took a long hickory club from his desk which was so much handier a weapon that Bill offered to put down the shovel if he would put away the club. But as the teacher struck him with the rawhide, Bill clinched him, and they had a fearful tussle, rolling over and over on the floor amid blows and kicks and bites, during which the teacher had two of his front teeth knocked out. But at the last the teacher came out on top and then reaching for his rawhide, stood up and as Bill lay on his back on the floor (turning up his feet and turning round as the master walked round him) gave him a most severe lashing. One of his blows was so hard as to cut Bill's cotton shirt-sleeve nearly the whole way round his arm as clean as though cut with scissors. But Bill was subdued, promised to keep the rules and from that time there was no more trouble from that kind of disobedience. In the spring Mr. West gave up the school and we went back to the East Side for education. Mr. West now lives at Appleton, where he owns a nice property on the south side of the river. Bill went to the pineries and I lost sight of him.

When we first came to Milwaukee the hightoned hotel of the town was the American House, which covered nearly the whole tri-angular block where the Second Ward bank stands (not to be con-founded with the other American once owned by J. L. Bean and afterwards kept so long by the Kanes, and which stood on part of the Plankinton House site. This old American had for its rival Vail's Cottage Inn next to Juneau's house on East Water street, about the middle of the Mitchell Bank block. Both were eclipsed later by the Milwaukee house, which stood on the hill, which was much higher than now, and somewhat back from the street where the Library block stands next the postoffice.

But to come back to the old American. The panic knocked the life out of it, perhaps because it was too far from business and it stood empty for a long time, except as some few of its rooms were rented to families for housekeeping. I remember a family of Grahams from auld Scotia once occupied the north end which had been the kitchen, and as we then lived opposite on Third street, I had to pass it several times a day on the way to school or town. And it impresses me now that I never passed it morning, noon or night without hearing old man Graham's fiddle. He played well, but never anything but sacred music psalm tunes, the boys called them and though the young bloods tried to get him to play for their dances, which were much more common then, than now, he resolutely refused.

Among the several boys and girls in the lean old fellow's family I most distinctly recall a big strapping young man named Joe, from this simple incident. One Saturday afternoon for school kept a half day Saturday then a lot of us boys were having a grand game of pom-pom-pullaway on skates on the marsh which began at Spring street and the river, reached back to Third and Fourth streets, and stretched away down past the Menomonee to the high ground on Walker's Point. I was chasing Joe and pressing him hard when he turned for the river, but to reach it he had to cross a sort of higher ridge in the marsh on which was an upper layer of ice from beneath which the water had sunk away, and as he struck that he broke through and fell flat on his face and I tumbled on top of him, protected by his huge frame from the shallow water below in which he was about half submerged. He had to leave the game and go home for some dry clothes, while I got off with the wetting of only one arm to the elbow.

With one more suggestion I will close. I am often asked "how it is possible that coming here at so early a day your father did not get hold of some real estate the rise of which would have made you a fortune." There are many answers and among them these: When Juneau moved his home from the Mitchell bank corner where we boys often had great sport watching and teasing two tame bears that he kept in his front yard to the corner now occupied by Mayor Black's residence, he was anxious to have our family for neighbors as mother and Mrs. Juneau had become good friends; and he offered to sell father either one or two lots I am not sure which on the opposite corner for $50 and let him take his own time for payment. But mother, after going up to look at the place, concluded that it was so far up in the woods, out of the way, that she wouldn't take the lots for a gift and be compelled to live on them. Another answer is, that hampered by the debts resulting from the panic, he was like the man in Chicago a few years ago, who was telling a friend that he was once offered the lot where the Sherman house stands in exchange for a pair of boots.

"Why in thunder didn't you take it ?" asked the friend. "I didn't have the boots," was the answer.

A third answer is that when he died in 1854, father did have the title to eighty acres of land in what is now the northwestern part of the city, on which he had made a small payment and on which he had carefully estimated there stood white oak piles enough to pay for the land at the agreed price, but his premature death prevented completion of the contract. That eighty acres is worth $2,000 to $3,000 an acre now.

But the fourth answer is that he chose to spend quite a sum for those times of his hard-earned savings to send his two boys away to Rock River seminary at Mt. Morris, Illinois, for two years. And I have often thanked him in my heart for that choice of investment, for the stimulus and help of those school years in enabling me to get a broader outlook on life, a deeper and wider sympathy with my brothers of the human race, both of the past and present generations; a higher appreciation of the possibilities of manhood, a fuller knowledge of the thoughts of God as revealed in His wondrous universe, in short, to get a larger, richer, higher life, have brought me more real treasure than could possibly have come from the same investment even in Milwaukee real estate.

I have often been thrilled with the reply of an old Vermont farmer to the question of a traveler from the west.

"What on earth can you raise here among the hills and rocks, where even the sheep's noses have to be sharpened to keep them from starving among the stones?"

Straightening himself up and looking the stranger-questioner full in the face, he thundered out: "We build schoolhouses and raise men."

And I concur with President Andrew D. White in the belief that one of the great dangers to our American nation, if not indeed to our modern civilization, is what he calls the mercantilism of the age. That is the narrowing and soul-destroying disposition to measure everything by its mere financial value, instead of asking what will it add to manhood, or what will it bring to the real and eternal treasure of grand character?