History, Winnebago County, Wisconsin


Winnebago county leads in population all others with one exception in the state and thereby becomes a most important factor in the civic, educational, religious, moral and business activity of the commonwealth. Its historic rivers and lakes, the most important in the state for water power and navigation, has ever made it the central figure in early and later events. In the earliest days its position on the great route leading from the fur trading marts of Canada to the Mississippi river has brought the region into all the history of the West. This system of rivers and lakes made it the earliest home of the Winnebago Tribe, the first of the savages to locate in the state, and the occasion of the visit of Nicolet. the first white man to visit the region and hold a great council with this tribe.

The river and lakes, with its game and soil, was the factor that held the Fox tribes within its borders so many years, and their presence and independence brought about a half century of bloody war, said to have so weakened the resources and finances of France in Canada as to have lost that rich territory to England. The westward march of the white man led these tribes to seek the chase farther west, and the Menominee moved along their trail and claimed a large share of its rich lands on the eve of settler days. With them came the trading post and the government mission of Neenah, which became the nucleus of the oldest and most beautiful city in the county.

The great black forest of pine stretching through the north region of the county along Rat river, a slow moving, glittering ribbon in a wealth of wild rice covered with a myriad of ducks, and way north along the Wolf river, where towered untold mil- lions of feet of dear cork pine, the most splendid forest in the world, never ending until trailing into spruce it died away in the perpetual arctic circle. The little mill with it's lazy up-and-down saw at the mission in Neenah commenced to cut away at this vast range of towering timber way back in 1835. Then a mill over at Omro and at Algoma took up the task, and at the same period sixty years ago a little mill at Oshkosh was slashing into that towering forest. Year after year the trees were cut and run down the river, first in logs, then in rafts, then in fleets, then millions on millions of feet came down the streams with each spring flood. Mills were built, then more mills and improved mills; then sash and door factories, then furniture factories, and Oshkosh grew each year, always in the lead, the second city in the state. The romance of the forest of wood still goes on men got rich, people got prosperity, great cities grew up. It made senators, congressmen, governors. The front of the great forest receded northward. The great county and cities remain, and thus was hewn from a saw log the wealth of 60,000 people. The rich soil and vigorous climate which in older days had charmed the savage now became the inspiration of the settler. The lands once bought from the Indian tribes for 1 cent an acre, sold by the government for $1.25 an acre, now everywhere thrifty with growing crops or milch cows and improved with happy homes, is worth $125 an acre. The pioneer was a wheat raiser; but the invention of John Stevens, of Neenah, of the roller mill brought into economic use the hard wheat that could not be raised in our climate, changing the method of farming and the great industry now is the dairy and creamery.

A half century past a single red frame paper mill at Neenah had been leased for one year at the first cost of the mill. Then was begun in this county the great paper-making industry that, spreading from here over all the state, has become one of its most important industries.

In enterprise, wealth, energy and literature, splendid men and women, the county both country and city has no equal in the history of any time or place.

In gathering the immense amount of material required in the preparation of this important work, the authors have been embarrassed to arrange, sort out and select such as had historic value and could be regarded as correct, and may have left out subjects or inserted some matter others would have used or discarded; but they have endeavored to cover every representative subject and relate the story of all the various interests impartially. As there has been no history published of the county for thirty years, and no history ever published of the important cities of Oshkosh, Menasha and Neenah, it will be seen that this story covers the period of all its success and prosperity and required us to seek original sources for its details.


Table of Contents

I. Natural Phenomenon 13
II. Primitive People 20
III. Winnebago Tribe 35
IV. Winnebago Chiefs 57
V. The Coming of Nicolet 69
VI. The Fox Tribes and the Battleground of the French and Outagamie 73
VII. The Menominee Tribe and Chief Oshkosh 120
VIII. Col. Robert Dickson, Icebound 137
IX. John Lawe's Thrilling Plunge Through the Fox River Rapids Astride a Chest Containing $9,000 in Silver 140
X. When Winnebago County Was Alive With Wild Animals 144
XI. The Beauty of the Virgin Scenery as Described by Travelers 148
XII. The Trading Post 161
XIII. Treaties Made With the Aboriginal Tribes With the Winnebago; With the Menominee 173
XIV. Building a County Its Civic Administration, Courts, Schools, Buildings and Institutions 186
XV. Recollections of William W. Wright, Father of Oshkosh and Mary Elizabeth Wright, Mother of Oshkosh 200
XVI. National and Legislative Representation 227
XVII. Organization of Towns 230
XVIII. Steam and Sail Boat on the Lake and Rivers in Earlier Days 232
XIX. Origin and Meaning of Place Names 235
XX. Population, Wealth and Products of the County 241
XXI. Literature, Art, Music and the Stage 262
XXII. Township History 272
XXIII. Making the Menominee Treaty Under Which the Mission of Winnebago Rapids Was Founded 356
XXIV. Founding the Mission of Winnebago Rapids 363
XXV. Sale of Winnebago Rapids to Harrison Reed Named Neenah 374
XXVI. Coming of Governor Doty A Character Sketch 380
XXVII. Col. Harvey Jones Buys the Village of Neenah 385
XXVIII. Town of Neenah Organized 390
XXIX. Pioneering Beginnings of Mercantile, Civic, School and Church Activity 394
XXX. The Lock, the Canal, the Dam 398
XXXI. When Neenah Was the Flour City 408
XXXII. Invention of the Roller Flour Mill 415
XXXIII. Why Neenah Is Called the Paper City 428
XXXIV. Various Manufacturing, Mercantile and Public Enterprises The Lawyer and Doctor 440
XXXV. Banks, Bankers and Bank Buildings 452
XXXVI. Newspapers in Neenah 454
XXXVII. Growth of the Civic Organization and Public Improvements 457
XXXVIII. The Public Schools 468
XXXIX. Gas, Electric Light, Water Works, Population, Library, City Hall, Fire Company, Parks and Cook Armory 472
XL. Churches in Neenah 477
XLI. History of Oshkosh, by Charles Barber, LL. B. 501
XLII. Manufacturing in Oshkosh, by Edward Balch Barr 518
XLIII. Banks and Banking, by J. Howard Jenkins 535
XLIV. Early Judicial History and Organization of the County, by Charles H. Forward 538
XLV. Bench and Bar, by Judge George W. Burnell 543
XLVI. The Schools of Oshkosh, by Lewis Atherton. A. M. 549
XLVII. The Church, Manse and Pastor in Oshkosh 554
XLVIII. Oshkosh in the Wars, by Gen. Charles R. Boardman 574
XLIX. Steamboating. Past and Present, by Capt. Thomas Roche 588
L. Yachting Records. by Commodore Robert Brand 610
LI. Gov. Coles Bashford and the Celebrated Election, by P. V. Lawson 536
LII. City of Menasha 644
LIII. The Pioneer Hamlet The Mills of the Past and Flush Days Along the River 658
LIV. The Extensive Manufacturing Industry of Menasha 677
LV. Mills of the Past 699
LVI. Civic Organization of Menasha 720
LVII. Coming of the Railroad 742
LVIII. Church Organizations in Monasha 747
LIX. City Schools, Menasha 773
LX. The Old Lighthouse 778
LXI. Banks, Bankers and Banking 78O
LXII. The U.S. Land Office and the Jenny Linders 785
LXIII. The Press, Old and New 790
LXIV. The Lawyer and Doctor 793
LXV. The Old Cannon 794
LXVI. The Mails, Postmaster and Postoffice 796
LXVII. The Coming of the German to Menasha 798
LXVIII. Menasha and Neenah in the Wars 802
LXIX. The Medical Fraternity, by William A. Gordon, M. D. 847a
LXX. Biography 848


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The county of Winnebago is in eastern Wisconsin, in the middle Fox river valley, about forty miles west of Lake Michigan, thirty-five miles south of Green Bay and eighty miles north of Milwaukee. It is within fifteen miles of the center of population of the state. Lake Winnebago lies along nearly the whole of its eastern boundary, except three miles of its northeast line in town Menasha. where it joins Calumet county on the east. The counties of Waupaca and Outagamie join it north, Wausbara and Green Lake counties west. Fond du Lae county south.