Chapter 23 - Town of Richwood.


    Topographically, the southern portion of this town is comparatively level and the soil is somewhat sandy, that portion of the town including what is known as Sand Prairie. North of that the surface is somewhat diversified, in some places being quite rough. As a whole, however, Richwood is among the very best towns in Richland county. Knapp's creek enters it by way of section 6 and traverses the entire length of the town on its way to the Wisconsin river, furnishing numerous water privileges, several of which have been improved. Byrd's creek traverses the eastern portion of the town. The valley or bottom lands adjacent to these streams are especially fertile, highly improved and very valuable, but some other parts are not so rich for agricultural purposes. The streams above mentioned afford the drainage of the surrounding country, and with their numerous spring tributaries, furnish an abundant supply of water for farming and household purposes, as well as power for driving a vast amount of machinery.

    With the advent of the first white settlers, the woods abounded in game of all kinds known in the country. Deer and wild turkeys exceedingly plentiful, afforded the principal meat supply of the early settlers. Every man and boy and some of the female population were expert hunters, and many are the tales told of hair-breadth escapes from, and single-handed contest with Bruin, the arch enemy of the young domestic animals about the settlers' cabins. Wolves, panthers and wildcats also made night hideous and nocturnal travel precarious with their prowling, stealthy and deceptive methods of attack.

    The first settlement of the town of Richwood antedates its organization by nearly a dozen years. The township organization was effected on Apr. 2, 1850, after the territory came under the control of Richland county, and the early settlers voted at the home of Peter Kinder, on section 26.

    John Coumbe and family are entitled to the honor of being the first settlers, they having permanently located in the town in 1840. Mr. Coumbe first came to the county in 1838 and erected a log cabin on section 35, town 9, range 2 west, but as the Indians were rather numerous, and as Mr. Coumbe did not admire them as his only neighbors he retired to the south side of the Wisconsin river, and again the territory which now comprises Richland county was uninhabited by any white person. It might be added here that Mr. Coumbe also has the honor of being the first permanent settler in the county. In 1840 he again crossed the river and took up his abode in the cabin he had erected two years previously, and there he gave his attention to agricultural pursuits until the time of his death. He was a good neighbor and an honored citizen. Other families arrived soon afterward and became near neighbors of Mr. Coumbe, but it must be remembered that "near neighbors" in those days might be separated by several miles.

    By the close of the year 1845 the following named persons were residing in the town, in addition to Mr. Coumbe: Edward Coumbe, John McKinney, Peter Kinder, Adam Byrd, Vincent B. Morgan, George C. White. Edward Coumbe came to the county shortly after his brother, John, and settled on Sand Prairie. He remained there until 1848, when he traded his property to Thomas Elliott and returned to Grant county. He was elected a delegate from Richland county to the firsts state convention, called to draft a constitution for the state of Wisconsin, which assembled at Madison on Oct. 5, 1846. John McKinney came in 1841 and selected land on section 27, bringing his family in the fall of the same year. Mr. McKinney was a valuable citizen and neighbor; for instead of hunting, fishing and trapping, he at once commenced improving his land and raising food upon which to subsist. He obtained a small set of buhrs, with which, by means of a horse power, he ground not only his own corn, but also that of his neighbors. He was a native of Virginia, and came of an industrious and honest race, but he was not a successful financier. He resided in the county about eight years, then moved to the south side of the river for the purpose of educating his children. He afterward returned to the county, but his death occurred at Muscoda, in February, 1882.

    Peter Kinder deserves particular mention among the pioneers of Richland county, for no man was more beloved and respected than he. His home was ever a welcome retreat for the weary stranger, and many a settler had occasion to thank him for kindly service in time of need. Strong and resolute himself, he seemed to impart those characteristics to persons with whom he came in contact, not only giving them encouragement by words of cheer, but without money or charge assisted them in cutting roads, building cabins, securing food and attending to their every want. It may be truly said of him that he was entirely free from selfish motives in these acts of kindness. He came at a time when some more selfish persons took advantage of the situation to assist themselves when an opportunity offered, and might have made money through the misfortune of others; but any such action was entirely foreign to his nature, and his life was one of unbounded liberality and kindness, extending not only to his neighbors and friends, but to all to whom he might render assistance in times of poverty, danger or affliction. He was a native of Kentucky, born near Louisville, Feb. 7, 1799. His father was a farmer, but he commenced active life as an engineer on boats on the lower Mississippi river. He later removed to Jo Daviess county, Ill., where he was engaged in mining until 1845, in the spring of which year, with his family, consisting of wife and two children, he came to Richland county and purchases a claim on section 26, town of Richwood, and was there engaged in farming until the time of his death, which occurred Feb. 7, 1873.

    Adam Byrd was also one of the first settlers in the town. He was an Ohio man, and located on section 28, near the creek which bears his name, where he erected the first saw-mill in the town of Richwood. He remained there about twelve years and then removed to Oregon. Vincent B. Morgan and George C. White also came at a very early day. Morgan was a native of Georgia, and was a good-natured, whole-souled fellow. He took a claim on section 34, but never did much farming, preferring to hunt and fish. He died there in 1853.

    George C. White was Pennsylvania German and had the usual good qualities of that class of people, industry and good management. He located on section 34, where he lived until the Civil War broke out, when he and his only son, Edward C., enlisted in Company D of the Eleventh Wisconsin regiment, and both filled soldiers' graves. Mr. White was corporal of his company and was killed on July 7, 1862, at the battle of the Cache river. His son died Oct. 3, 1862, at Helena, Ark. George C. White was one of the first to fill the office of sheriff for Richland county. He was a man of a good deal of intelligence and ability and was well liked by all the early settlers.

    D. M. Shore settled in Richland county on Aug. 30, 1846; and one year later came to the town of Richwood and settled on section 26. There he lived, following farming until his death, which occurred in 1883. He was born in Kentucky in 1816, moved with his parents to Illinois, where he was married to Nancy J. Parker, and from thence came to this county as stated. E. Ash came here in 1848 or 1849 and located on the northwest quarter of section 27 of which he improved only about twenty acres. He resided there about seven years and then removed to Iowa. George Rea came at about the same time and lived with O. Carson until 1851, when he purchased the northeast quarter of section 20. That was his home for about thirty years, when he removed to Kansas, and later to Springfield, Mo.

    L. M. Thorp, an early settler of Richwood, first visited Richland county during the month of May, 1849, and spent a little time looking over the country. On June 2, following, he entered 160 acres on section 24, of the town of Richwood, so that he was among the pioneers in making selection of a location. He then returned to Indiana, and in 1851 brought his family and settled on the land he had entered, making the trip with teams. In 1854 he removed to section 6, where he accumulated a large area of land and became a well-to-do farmer. After securing his provisions for the winter he found himself with but five dollars in money, and nothing coming in, as is always the case in a new country the first year, so he taught school and spent what time he could upon the farm, thus making a start in life. Mr. Thorp was a member of the first Republican convention held in the county, and was prominently identified with that party until 1878; but being a man who thought for himself, he was among those who could not be held by party ties, and governed by high and honorable motives, during the remaining years of his life he acted independently of party. He held from time to time positions of trust, and in 1856 was elected county sheriff, being again elected to the same office in 1862. He was a candidate on the Greenback ticket, in 1878, for member of the assembly, made a good canvass and polled a strong vote, but was defeated with the rest of the ticket. Mr. Thorp was born in Connecticut, Dec. 24, 1816, received a good education in his native state and taught school thirty-nine terms. In 1840 he went to Indiana, and from thence came to Richland county, as stated above.

    Henry Conner was also among the first settlers of Richwood. He came about 1850, locating on section 33, and he remained a resident of the town until the time of his death, about twenty years ago. Myron Whitcomb came to the county in 1844 and selected land on sections 26 and 35, locating thereon in January, 1845.

    William M. Kincannon was one of the early pioneers of Richland county. He was born in Washington county, Va., in the year 1800, and when he was eleven years old his parents moved to Tennessee, where he learned the tanner's trade. He afterward moved to Alabama, where he was engaged in the tanning business four years, and then moved to Frankfort, Ill., where he was engaged at his trade for eleven years. He removed from there to Alton, where he engaged in coal mining several years, and then removed to Lafayette county, Wis., in 1841, and there followed mining for lead until 1847. He then removed to the town of Richwood, where he intended to erect a tanyard, but finding the bark of inferior quality, he abandoned the project and engaged in farming till the time of his death, which occurred Nov. 27, 1857.

    Rev. William H. Hoskins was the first minister of the gospel to settle in Richland county. He represented the United Brethren denomination. In 1853 he came and settled on Sand Prairie and preached at Crow Hollow, Sand Prairie, Spring Green, Lone Rock and Pea Ridge (now Sandusky), a circuit of sixty miles in length. He traveled on horseback, making each appointment every two weeks. In 1854 he purchased forty acres of land on section 17, erected a saw-mill and thus laid the foundation of Excelsior. Later he became superannuated as a preacher and engaged in farming. Mr. Hoskins was born in Onondaga county, N. Y., Sept. 11, 1817. In 1838 he was married to Mary Winton, and came to Wisconsin and settled in Dane county, coming to Richland county in 1853.

    After this time the settlement of the town was more rapid, and many of the old settlers are treated at length in other connections.

    The first election in this region was held at the house of Matthew Alexander in 1847, to choose delegates to the constitutional convention. There were thirty-eight votes cast, there being scarcely any restriction upon the right of suffrage. On April 2, 1850, was held the first election for town officers in Richwood, it having just been organized as a separate town and election precinct. The meeting was held at the house of Peter Kinder and resulted in the choice of the following officers: Adam Byrd, William M. Kincannon and Samuel Fleck, supervisors; Johnston Young, clerk; Myron Whitcomb, treasurer; George C. White, superintendent of town schools; W.R. Kincannon, assessor; V. B. Morgan, overseer of the poor. Johnston Young, Alvin B. Slaughter and Mark A. Byrd were elected justices of the peace, but only Young qualified, he giving bond of $500, having for sureties G. C. White and V. B. Morgan. At the same election Alonzo Cave and John Coumbe were chosen constables. Although no record exists of the number of votes cast at that election, at the ballot taken on June 4, of the same year, there were twenty-six voters.

    The first birth that occurred in the town was that of Melinda Morgan, whose nativity in April 1843, entitles her to the laurels of being the first child born in the county as well as the town. The first marriage was a social event of considerable importance, and was doubtless largely attended by the pioneer families in that section. The contracting parties were Daniel Byrd of the male persuasion, and Harriet Parker representing the gentler sex. The first schoolhouse erected in the township was located on the northeast corner of section 35, one mile north of Port Andrews.

    The United Brethren were the leaders in religious efforts in the town of Richwood, the first meetings being held in the settlers' cabins. After continuing the services in the houses of the members for several years, schoolhouses were used, and later, houses for worship were erected. At the present time the town has several places of public worship, embodying in faith all the principal denominations of the country.

    The first burying ground in the town was located on the southwest quarter of section 35, the land being donated by John Coumbe, and James Carson was the first person buried there. Nearly all the early churches provided a place for the interment of their dead, and various cemeteries in the town contain the remains of early pioneers.

    In an early day every house was open to strangers and travelers, but the first tavern in the town was opened at Port Andrews by a Mr. Isham, who afterward sold to Joseph Elliott.

    The village of Port Andrews was named in honor of Capt. Thomas Andrews, who settled on the southeast corner of section 35 in 1841. In 1850 he laid out four blocks of village lots, and in a few years Port Andrews had grown into a flourishing, wide-awake village; but the railroad was built on the south side of the river, steamboats ceased to ply the stream, and the place gradually ran down until it became almost a thing of the past.

    Excelsior is located in a beautiful agricultural district and is surrounded by the most fertile and highly prolific lands. The usual number of secret societies are represented in the village each order being prosperous and numbering among its members many of the best people in the village and surrounding country. It is a busy trading point, sustained by a large scope of good farming country, and its support of the stores would do credit to a much larger place. Considerable manufacturing is also done, and an excellent public school in the village affords ample opportunities to the children in the acquirement of a good practical education.

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