Chapter 2 - Early Jurisdiction.


    It was not until many years after the close of the American Revolution that the Anglo-Saxon race undertook the project of colonization in the region now known as Wisconsin, of which Richland county was a component, and, as regards resources and future prospects, a very important division. It should not be inferred, however, that the territory contained within the limits of the county remained unvisited by white men and unknown to them until after the epoch mentioned above. While this portion of North America was under the dominion of the French government an extensive trade with the Indians was carried on, and in pursuit of the returns that came from the traffic with the red men the wily and skillful French traders traveled extensively over this portion of their mother-country's possessions. They continued their relations with the natives, notwithstanding that the result of the French and Indian war transferred the right of dominion to the English government, and even for years following the American Revolution they followed their vocation, undisturbed and without competition, save the rivalry existing among themselves. So it is fair to presume that during their many excursions, in quest of trade, the limits of Richland county were frequently invaded, and as their much traveled route, connecting Green Bay with the Mississippi river, was through this region, it can easily be inferred that the natives who then inhabited this section were the beneficiaries or victims, as the case might be, of commercial intercourse with the early French traders.

    Louis Joliet and James Marquette, the former having been appointed by the French government to "discover" the Mississippi, made the first recorded trip of white men through this section in 1673. They began their voyage at the straits of Mackinaw, on May 17 of that year, and, passing into Lake Michigan, coasted along its northern shore, and paddled their canoes up Green Bay and Fox river to the portage. They then crossed to the Wisconsin, down which they floated, until, on June 17, they entered the Mississippi. During the year 1680, Father Hennepin, from the upper Mississippi, whither he had gone from the Illinois, made his way across what is now Wisconsin, by the Wisconsin and Fox rivers, to Green Bay. He was accompanied by Daniel Greysolon Duluth, who, on his way down the Mississippi, had met Hennepin in September, 1678. Other explorations followed, but generally in the tracks of previous ones, and except at "the bay," there was not, so long as the French had dominion over the northwest, a single post occupied for any length of time by regular soldiers. At the ending of the French and Indian war, in 1763, there was not a single vestige of civilization within what are now the bounds of Wisconsin, in the way of posts or settlements. The vagrant furtrader represented all that there was of civilization west of Lake Michigan. These commercial adventurers were not pioneers in the true sense of the word, and it is doubtful if they could properly be called advance agents of civilization. Their mission in these parts was neither to civilize the denizens of the forest nor to carve out homes in the western wilderness. "The white man's burden" rested lightly upon their shoulders and gave them little or no concern, the only motive that fetched them hither being a desire to possess, at as little cost as possible, the wares which the Indians had for sale. This object being attained, they wended their way homeward and the localities which had known them knew them no more. So it remained for the forerunners of Anglo-Saxon civilization, as they led the "march of empire" in a westerly direction, to open this section of country for actual settlement and win from hostile nature - and at times a more hostile foe in human form - homes for themselves and posterity.

    The Indians who inhabited the northern region east of the Mississippi at the beginning of historic times were, in language, of two great families, which are given the French names Algonquin and Iroquois. These are not the Indian names. In fact, from the word Indian itself, which is a misnomer - arising from the slowness of the early voyagers to admit that they had found unknown continents - down to the names of the tribes, there is a confusion of nomenclature and often a deplorable misfit in the titles now fixed in history by long usage. The Algonquin family may more properly be termed the Lenape, and the Iroquois the Mengwe, which the English frontiersmen closely approached in the word, Mingo. The Lenape themselves, while using that name, also employed the more generic title of Wapanackki. The Iroquois, on their part, had the ancient name of Onque Honwe, and this in their tongue, as Lenape in that of the other family, signified men with a sense of importance - "the people," to use a convenient English expression. The Lenape became a very widespread people, and different divisions of them were known in later years by various names, among which were the Sauks or Sacs, and their friends and allies, the Ottagamies or Foxes, which two tribes inhabited the vast wooded solitudes of Richland county when first visited by white men.

    Before proceeding with an account of the organization and settlement of Richland county, a brief review of the question of title to lands will be necessary, the word title as here used having special reference to racial dominion and civil jurisdiction. As is well known, the French were the first civilized people who laid claim to the territory now embraced within the state of Wisconsin, and France exercised nominal lordship over the region until the treaty of Paris, in 1763, which ended the French and Indian war. Prior to this date the French actually occupied isolated places in the vast extent of territory claimed by them, but no such occupancy existed in Wisconsin. And in no place was there the semblance of courts or magistrates for the trial of civil or criminal issues, and hence the chief function of civil government was lacking. And even for some years after the country passed under the control of the officials of the British government, affairs were managed by army officers, commandants of posts on the frontier.

    Immediately after the peace of 1763 with the French, the Province of Canada was extended, by act of Parliament, southerly to the Alleghany and Ohio rivers. This, of course, included all of the present state of Wisconsin, notwithstanding the claims of the colony of Virginia that it had the title to all the land northwest of the Ohio river, and also those of New York and Connecticut, who asserted authority over territory stretching away to an unbounded extent westward, but not so far to the south as Virginia. This conflict of authority was at its heights during the Revolutionary war, and in 1778, soon after the conquest of the British forts on the Mississippi and the Wabash, by Gen. George Rogers Clark, Virginia erected the county of Illinois, with the county seat at Kaskaskia. It practically embraced all the territory in the present states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. But the British held possession of all the lake region, and in the same year (1778), Lord Dorchester, Governor-General of Canada, divided Upper Canada into four districts for civil purposes, one of which included Detroit and the lake territory.

    Great Britain had promised the Indian tribes that the whites should not settle north of the Ohio river, and the government of this almost unlimited region was, during English control, exclusively military, with Detroit as the central post. This was the condition during the Revolutionary war, and even after the treaty of peace, in 1783, the same state of affairs continued until after the second, or Jay treaty, in 1795. Early in 1792 the Upper Canadian parliament authorized Governor Simcoe to lay off nineteen counties to embrace that province, and it is presumed that the county of Essex, on the east bank of the Detroit river, included Michigan and Wisconsin. While this supposition is not conclusive, it is certain that some form of British civil authority existed at their forts and settlements until Detroit and all its dependencies were given up, in August, 1796.

    The treaty of 1783, which terminated the War of the Revolution, included Wisconsin within the boundaries of the United States, and the seventh article of that treaty stated that the king of Great Britain would, "with all convenient speed, withdraw all his forces, garrisons and fleets from the United States, and from every post, place and harbor within the same." Military posts were garrisoned, however, by British troops, and continued under the dominion of Great Britain for many years after that date. Preparatory to taking possession of it, and in order to avoid collision with the Indian tribes, who owned the soil, treaties were made with them from time to time (of which more is said on a subsequent page), in which they ceded to the United States their title to their lands. But the territory thus secured by treaties with Great Britain, and with the Indian tribes - and concerning which we had thus established an amicable understanding - was many years sequestered from our possession. The British government urged as an excuse the failure of Americans to fulfill that part of the treaty protecting the claims of British subjects against citizens of the United States; but, from the "aid and comfort" rendered the Indians in the campaigns of Harmar, St. Clair and Wayne, the apparent prime cause was to defeat the efforts of the United States to extend their power over the country and tribes north of the Ohio, and continue to the British the advantage of the fur trade, which, from their relations with these tribes, they possessed. The ultimate result of this international difficulty were the campaigns of 1790-91-94, ostensibly against the Indians, but substantially against them and their British allies, which bear so intimate a relation to the formal surrender of the country to American control that they perform an essential part of history.

    Virginia, however, still adhering to her claim of sovereignty over the northwestern country, on March 1, 1784, ceded the territory to the United States, and immediately Congress entered seriously upon the consideration of the problem of providing a government for the vast domain. Its deliberations resulted in the famous "Compact of 1787." It might not be out of place here to call attention to the fact that this compact, in two provisions which were inspired by Thomas Jefferson, guaranteed to all the right of religious freedom and prohibited slavery in the territory. Hence the citizens of Richland county, in common with the citizens of Wisconsin and those of the sister states that were carved from Virginia's grant, can feel a pardonable pride that never, under any American jurisdiction of this domain, has a witch been burned at the stake or a slave been sold on the auction block.

    All these pretensions of sovereignty and conflictions of authority were aside from the claims of the real inhabitants of the country. The Iroquois Indians, or Six Nations, laid claim to the entire extent of territory bordering on the Ohio river and northward, basing their contention upon the assumption that they had conquered it and held it by right of conquest. In 1722, a treaty had been made at Albany, New York, between the Iroquois and English, by which the lands west of the Alleghany mountains were acknowledged to belong to the Iroquois by reason of their conquests from the Eries, Conoys, Tongarias, etc., but this claim was extinguished by the terms of the treaty of Fort Stanwix, concluded October 22, 1784. The Indian war in the west, which followed the Revolution, was brought to an end by the victorious arms of Gen. Anthony Wayne, upon the banks of the Maumee river, in what is now the state of Ohio, in the year 1794. The treaty of Greenville was entered into the next year with twelve western tribes of Indians, none of which resided in Wisconsin. Nevertheless, one of the provisions of the treaty was that, in consideration of the peace then established and the cessations and the relinquishments of lands made by the Indian tribes there represented, and to manifest the liberality of the United States, claims to all Indian lands northward of the Ohio, eastward of the Mississippi, and westward and southward of the great lakes and the waters uniting them, were relinquished by the general government to the Indians having a right thereto. This included all the lands within the present boundaries of Wisconsin, and a further stipulation in the treaty was that when the Indians should sell lands it should be to the United States alone, whose protection the Indians acknowledged, and that of no other power whatever.

    Under the ordinance of 1787, Arthur St. Clair was appointed governor of the Northwest Territory. At different periods counties were erected to include various portions of that region of country, but the western portion of the present state of Wisconsin, including what is now Richland county, was for a number of years attached to no county whatever. After July 4, 1800, all that portion of the territory of the United States northwest of the Ohio river, lying to the westward of a line beginning upon that stream opposite the mouth of the Kentucky river and running thence to what is now Fort Recovery, in Mercer county, Ohio; thence north until it intersected the territorial line between the United States and Canada, was, for the purposes of temporary government, constituted a separate territory, called Indiana. Within its boundaries were included not only nearly all of what is now the state of Indiana, but the whole of the present state of Illinois, more than half of what is now Michigan, a considerable portion of the present state of Minnesota, and the whole of Wisconsin.

    On November 3, 1804, a treaty was held at St. Louis between the Sacs and Foxes and the United States. These tribes then ceded to the general government a large tract of land on both sides of the Mississippi, extending on the east from the mouth of the Illinois to the head of that river, thence to the Wisconsin. This grant embraces, in what is now Wisconsin, the whole of the present counties of Grant and LaFayette, and a large portion of those of Iowa and Green. These tribes also claimed territory on the upper side of the Wisconsin, including what is now Richland county, but they only granted away a tract two miles square above that stream, near its mouth, with the right of the United States to build a fort adjacent thereto. In consideration of the cession of these lands, the general government agreed to protect the two tribes in the quiet enjoyment of the residue of their possessions against its own citizens and all others who should intrude on them, carrying out the stipulations to that effect embodied in the Greenville treaty, of 1795. Thus began the settlement of the Indian title to the eminent domain of Wisconsin by the United States, which was carried forward until the whole territory (except certain reservations to a few tribes) had been fairly purchased of the original proprietors.

    A number of treaties, in addition to the one mentioned above, were held at different times between the United States and the Sac and Fox Indians and the Winnebagoes, affecting in the aggregate the territory which is now included within the limits of Richland county. A treaty of peace and friendship was made at St. Louis, June 3, 1816, with the chiefs and warriors of that part of the Winnebagoes residing on the Wisconsin river. In this treaty the tribe state that they have separated themselves from the rest of their nation; that they, for themselves and those they represent, confirm to the United States all and every cession of land heretofore made by their nation, and every contract and agreement, as far as their interest extended.

    On February 3, 1809, an act of Congress, entitled an act for dividing the Indiana territory into two separate governments, was approved by the president and became a law. It provided that from and after March 1st, of that year, all that part of the Indiana territory lying west of the Wabash river and a direct line drawn from that stream and "Post Vincennes" due north to the territorial line between the United States and Canada, should, for the purpose of temporary government, constitute a separate territory and be called Illinois, with the seat of government at Kaskaskia, on the Mississippi river, until it should be otherwise ordered. By this law, all of what is now Wisconsin was transferred from Indiana territory to that of Illinois, except that portion lying east of the meridian line drawn through Vincennes.

    Upon the admission of Illinois into the Union, in 1818, all "the territory of the United States, northwest of the River Ohio," lying west of Michigan territory and north of the states of Indiana and Illinois, was attached to and made a part of Michigan territory; by which act the whole of the present state of Wisconsin came under the jurisdiction of the latter. The territory within what are now the limits of Richland county thus became a part of the territory of Michigan. It was incumbent, therefore, upon the governor of Michigan, Lewis Cass, to at once form new counties out of the area thus added to his territory and to provide for their organization. This he proceeded to do by issuing proclamations in one of which the county of Crawford was formed, as follows:

    "And I do, by virtue of the ordinance aforesaid, lay out that part of the tract of country to which the Indian title has been extinguished, included within the following boundaries, namely: Bounded on the north by the county of Michillimackinac, on the east by the county of Brown, on the south by the state of Illinois, and on the west by the western boundaries of the territory of Michigan, into a separate county, to be called the county of Crawford.

    "And I do establish the seat of justice of the said county of Crawford at the village of Prairie du Chien."

    In order to understand what extent of country was, by this proclamation, formed "into a separate county, to be called the county of Crawford," it is necessary to know that the southern limits of the county of Michillimackinac, as established by the governor at the same date, ran across from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi, east and west, near the northern limits of the present county of Barron. It will be seen that the territory now comprised in Richland county was a part of this tract, and it remained a part of Crawford county until 1842, when Richland county was created, with its limits exactly the same as they are to-day.

    The prospective admission of the state of Michigan into the Union, to include all that part of the territory lying east of Lake Michigan, caused the territorial council to adopt a memorial, asking Congress for the formation of a new territory, to include all of Michigan territory not to be admitted as a state. In compliance with this request the territory of Wisconsin was created by act of Congress of April 20, 1836, to take effect from and after July 3, following, and then began the territorial government, with a legislative body, governor, etc.

    The Winnebago nation, by the chiefs and delegates, held a treaty with the government at Washington, November 1, 1837. That nation ceded all their lands east of the Mississippi, and obliged themselves to remove within eight months after the ratification of the treaty to certain lands west of the Mississippi which were conveyed to them by the treaty of September 21, 1832.

    A special session of the territorial legislature, to take action concerning the admission of Wisconsin into the Union, began October 18, 1847, and a law was passed for the holding of a second convention to frame a constitution. At a previous session a constitutional convention had been ordered, but the product of its deliberations had not met with the approval of the people of the territory and had been defeated at an election. The result of the labors of the second constitutional convention was the formation of a constitution, which, being submitted to the people on the second Monday of March, 1848, was duly ratified, and on May 29, of the same year, by act of Congress, Wisconsin became a state.

    The public domain of the new state was classified as "congress lands," so-called because they are sold to purchasers by the immediate officers of the general government, conformably to such laws as are or may be, from time to time, enacted by Congress. They are all regularly surveyed into townships of six miles square each, under authority and at the expense of the national government. The townships are again subdivided into sections of one mile square, each containing six hundred and forty acres, by lines running parallel with the township and range lines. In addition to these divisions, the sections are again subdivided into four equal parts, called the northeast quarter section, southeast quarter section, etc. And again these quarter sections are also divided by a north and south line into two equal parts, called the east half quarter section and west half quarter section, containing eighty acres each. It was not until about the time that Wisconsin was formed into a separate territory that surveys were ordered in this section of the state. For this tract a base line was run, corresponding with the northern boundary line of the state of Illinois, on or near the parallel of forty-two degrees and thirty minutes north latitude. The ranges were numbered east and west from the fourth meridian, which runs through the center of Richland county, and the townships were numbered north from the base. It might be added that the land within the limits of Richland county was sold by the Federal government at the statutory price of $1.25 per acre.

    Early provisions were made for the support of free schools, and congress reserved one thirty-sixth part of all lands lying northwest of the Ohio river for their maintenance. Passing through the varied experiences of speculation, as the early years of statehood passed, the question of school lands was finally systematized and the lands became the nucleus of the present magnificent school fund of the state.

    We will now return and take up events incidental to the formation, organization and development of Richland county. During the fall of 1841, and through the early winter following, the question of a new county was canvassed, and although there were but seven residents of the district in question, they met in "mass meeting" at Eagle Mills, drew up a petition, and signing it, sent it to the legislature, praying that body that such power might be given them to set off from the county of Crawford and to organize themselves into a new and separate county. This prayer was granted by the third territorial legislature, in an act passed February 18, 1842, and signed by James Duane Doty, then territorial governor. The act provided as follows:

    "Section 1. That all of the district of (country) lying within the following described limits, viz.: Commencing at the Wisconsin river, where the line between the ranges of 2 and 3 east of the fourth principal meridian crosses said river, thence along said line to the northern boundary of town 12; thence west along said line, until it intersects with the western line of range 2 west of the fourth principal meridian, thence south along said line to the main channel of the Wisconsin river; thence up the middle of the main channel of said river to the place of beginning, shall be and the same is hereby constituted a separate county by the name of Richland.

    "Section 2. The said county of Richland is hereby attached, temporarily, to the county of Iowa for all county and judicial purposes, and the county commissioners of the county of Iowa are hereby required to cause the assessors in said county of Iowa to assess and include in their assessment roll all of the real and personal property of the inhabitants of said county of Richland, which may by law be assessed in the county of Crawford, and make return thereof as required by law, which property shall be subject to be taxed at the same rate which property in the county of Iowa is taxed, and collected in the manner provided by law.

    "Section 3. That Abner Nichols, James Murphy and John Ray be and they are hereby appointed commissioners to locate the county seat of said county, in which location they will have due regard to the present as well as the probable future population of said county; said location to be made at or near the center of said county, or on the Wisconsin river, as may seem most advantageous, and should the location be made on public land, the said county commissioners of Iowa county are hereby authorized to take such steps as may be necessary to secure to the county of Richland the right of pre-emption, as provided by an act of Congress, approved May 26, 1824, entitled "An act granting to the counties or parishes of each state and territory of the United States in which the public lands are situated, the right of pre-emption to quarter sections of lands for seats of justice within the same,' and they are hereby authorized to borrow the sum of $200, at a rate of interest not exceeding ten per cent, per annum, for a period not exceeding five years, for the purchase of one hundred and sixty acres of land under the provisions of said pre-emption law above referred to; and may mortgage said land for the payment of said money so borrowed.

    "Section 4. That should the said commissioners be unable to find a suitable tract of public land on which to locate said county seat, they are hereby authorized to make the location on individual property: Provided, the proprietor or proprietors shall convey in fee simple, free of expenses, to the county commissioners of Iowa county in trust for said county of Richland, every fourth lot in any town in which may be laid out as the said seat of justice for the said county of Richland; Provided further, that the whole number of lots so ceded to said county shall not exceed thirty acres.

    "Section 5. This act shall take effect from and after its passage."

    Richland remained under the jurisdiction of Iowa county until February 7, 1850, when it was reorganized and took its place among the separate and distinct political divisions of the state of Wisconsin.

    Of the Indian tribes inhabiting the Wisconsin river valley when the first definite knowledge of the country was acquired, the Sac and Fox were the most prominent. Later other tribes made their appearance, particularly in that part which is now Richland county, and it was with the Winnebagoes and Pottawattamies that the pioneers of this immediate section had to deal. The Sacs and Foxes were, as is told by the Jesuits, an industrious people, singularly so for Indians, and they cultivated large tracts of corn lands. History still records the fact that they had quite an extensive village on the northern bank of the Wisconsin river, within the limits of this county, not very far from the present site of Port Andrew, perhaps just west, near what is known as the Coumbe farm, as the large number of graves of the red hunter and warrior found upon that place would lead one to believe. The northern part of the county was claimed and held by a portion of the Winnebagoes, or men of the sea, as the name is translated, showing that they had migrated from the shores of the great salt water in previous years. These tribes, with a small sprinkling of Pottawattamies, formed the bulk of the aboriginal inhabitants before the advent of the white man. They had possession at the time of the final treaties, and it was with them that negotiations were made providing for the Indian exodus. They were slow to join with the tide of westward emigration, however, and for many years afterward, wandering bands would annually visit their old hunting grounds in Richland county, and their intercourse with the settlers came to be regarded more as an occasion of pleasant remembrances than of dread or danger. Some pleasant friendships were formed between the pioneer families and the former owners of the land which the paleface was tilling.

    Another interesting historical fact in connection with the Indians is, that Black Hawk crossed Richland county in his retreat from the infuriated settlers of Grant and Joe Daviess counties, just before he made his last stand at Bad Ax. The trail along which he passed was plainly visible to many of the early settlers, and was followed by many of them. It crossed the Wisconsin river near the mouth of Honey creek, then passed northward through the towns of Buena Vista, Ithaca, Rockbridge and Bloom, following one of the creek valleys.

    Close to the neighborhood of Port Andrew, in the southern portion of the county, tradition still points out the place of a battle, between two bands of rival Indian claimants, for the right of hunting in the rich region of the Wisconsin bottoms.

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