Bio: Wilson, William Capt. (b. 1807)

Surnames: Wilson, Lambert, Blair, McElhaney, Hale, Hurley, Estes, La Pointe, McLean, Epley, Mead, Stout, Knapp, Black, Tainter

----Source: Historical and Biographical Album of the Chippewa Valley, Wisconsin (1891-1892) Pages 391- 393, Contributed by Sandra Wright

Wilson, William Capt. (born 9 Feb 1807)

Capt. William Wilson, Menomonie, was born February 9, 1807, in Lycoming County, PA. His parents, Martin H. and Mary (Lambert) Wilson, were natives of England. The former was a clerk in early life and later a farmer, honored and respected; he died in Pennsylvania. The mother came west and died at Fort Madison, Iowa. Martin H. Wilson and wife were the parents of seven children, namely, William, Rebecca, Robert, James, Sarah, John and Elizabeth. Mrs. Mary Wilson’s second husband was James McElhaney.

Capt. Wilson was a farmer in early life. He married Miss Maria Blair, who died at Fort Madison. She was an excellent woman and highly esteemed for her many good qualities of head and heart. She was the mother of Thomas B. and Eliza T. Wilson. February 22, 1841, in Fort Madison, Capt. Wilson married again, taking as his wife Angeline Hale, who was born January 14, 1822, in Piqua, Ohio. She was the daughter of Thomas and Jane (Hurley) Hale, the former of whom died in Menomonie, April 25, 1864, aged seventy-four years, and the latter died June 21, 1865, at Mount Pleasant, Iowa. They had four children: Isaiah, Angeline, Thomas and Amanda (Mrs. Estes). Mrs. Wilson died in Menomonie, December 23, 1885. Her children were as follows: Martin H.; Josephine, died in infancy; Jennie, wife of Col. G. W. La Pointe; Mrs. Mary McLean; Elizabeth Epley, died aged three years; Mrs. Nellie Mead; William, Jr.; Mrs. Angeline W Stout, and Sarah H. Wilson. Capt. Wilson engaged in farming and lumbering, and piloting on the west branch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. He came west in 1832 and engaged in various enterprises and later on was a contractor in the Illinois Central canal. Afterward he established a stage line between Burlington and Keokuk, Iowa, residing at Fort Madison, where he took an active interest in local affairs in those early days, and was justice of the peace for some time. Hearing a rumor of vast pineries up the Mississippi river and its tributaries, and having some experience in the lumber business, he resolved to investigate for himself. So in 1846 he explored the pine lands about Menomonie, and comprehending the vast resources and wealth they embraced, if properly handled, he returned to Fort Madison full of enthusiasm for the forests of Wisconsin. His means were limited, but he saw with an unerring vision the business possibilities of the new northwest, and related them to Mr. John H. Knapp, of Fort Madison, Iowa, who joined him in the business venture and furnished the necessary means to commence lumbering operation on the Red Cedar River in Wisconsin. They purchased a one-half interest in a small saw-mill located at the mouth of what is now known as Wilson creek, a few rods distant from the location of the Knapp, Stout & Co. Company’s shingle-mill at Menomonie. The mill was owned by one David Black, a half-brother of the late Jeramiah M. Black, who for nearly a half century was one of the foremost lawyers and diplomats of the United States. Mr. Black dying a few months after selling the half interest, they purchased the other half.

It was at this saw-mill, a little more then forty-five years ago, that the firm of Knapp & Co. was formed. Commencing operations in that little mill, operating a single saw placed in a wooden gate, with no selling or purchasing market for lumber, food or supplies nearer then Prairie du Chien, without means of communication with the business world save the Indian trail or keelboat, Mr. Wilson bravely and energetically met every disadvantage and obstacle, each year adding little by little to the plant and the resources of the firm. Receiving financial and industrial aid by others adding of their means and labors to the business, it grew and expanded so that for many years past the Knapp, Stout & Co. Company has been recognized as the leading lumber manufacturing company of this country.

Not only was Mr. Wilson the projector of this great business enterprise, but it was his business foresight, energy and executive ability, more then any other one thing that for the first quarter of a century of its existence, mapped out, determined, and carried forward to a successful consummation its varied industrial undertakings. This meed of praise need not, and does not detract from his associates, for each in his special sphere of activity displayed genius and business qualities of the highest order. He was not long in settling in his own mind the fact that pine timber lands would necessarily increase in value as the years passes, and hence, when in actual business, he ever advocated the policy of large purchases and holdings in pine timber lands. His business tact and comprehension early in the history of his firm enabled him to see the advantages, if not necessity of utilizing the reservoirs and lakes of the Red Cedar River. How to do this and secure for the company the control of the reservoirs, dams and water of the Red Cedar River and its tributaries, was a question that received from him much investigation and thought, and to-day the exercise of “Prior possession” (under the law) of the river and its tributaries, the ownership or control of every reservoir and dam located thereon is the outcome of his wisdom and forethought, and the practical judgment, good sense and hearty co-operation of Capt. Andrew Tainter. His efforts and time were not limited to his own business affairs, but every enterprise intended for the development and material growth of the northwest received his encouragement of river navigation. He saw more clearly perhaps than any other man the grand opportunity for making Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls the centers for the manufacture of all the pine forests of the Chippewa Valley into lumber making those cities to Wisconsin what Minneapolis is to Minnesota, and for the accomplishment of such purpose he, without pay or reward, expended his own time and energy in the securement of the Dells improvement, only to see petty rivalries, jealousies and unfaithfulness fritter away all the grand opportunities. So that, while Menomonie may claim him as its citizen, yet in a broader and larger measure he belongs to and is essentially a part of the history of the whole northwest.

More then forty-five years have passed since William Wilson returned to Fort Madison from his exploration of the Chippewa Valley, and enlisted Mr. Knapp in his contemplated business undertaking in the pineries of the northwest. Forty-two years ago they commenced business together here and their association on business was, doubtless, longer than that of any other two men who have lived in the Chippewa Valley –almost half a century. More than thirty-seven years ago the co-partnership known as “Knapp, Stout & Co., “ was formed, and continued in business until 1878, and was then changed to a corporation embracing all the members of the old firm. Probably no other business institution of such magnitude in the northwest has continued so long in business without serious reverses or death among the members. More remarkable than all else is the fact that with such large and diversified enterprises, with so many departments and branch business locations, no differences or contentions ever a rose to weaken their effectiveness and success. That men with such business push and firmness, and such decision of character, chould amicably adjust any and all antagonism of opinions and judgment (if there ever were any), is one of the highest and best tributes that could be paid to them. It is not necessary to make any discrimination between them in this regard. It is enough to say that they recognized and acted upon the important fact that unity of endeavor and co-operation were essential to success.

Capt. Wilson and his associates developed the forests by the strength of their muscular arms; they created wealth for themselves and the state. They have also created towns and railroads and immense stores for human comfort, furnishing employment to thousands of willing hands and sending gladness to as many hearts. Thus in the evening of his life, with life’s shadows gathering about him, Capt. Wilson can cast a retrospective glance and be satisfied with his life work. Politically Capt. Wilson was an abolitionist in early life, and later a Whig. He supported Lincoln, but when Samuel Tilden was nominated he thought best to support him. He sought no political preferment, but yielded to the wishes of his friends, and served them in the capacity of state senator.

It is not unmerited praise to say of him that he is a man of strong convictions, great tenacity of purpose, unswerving integrity and indomitable perseverance, these qualities combined with superior sagacity and executive ability made him during his years of active business life a leader of men.

His sympathy was ever enlisted and his helping hand extended in behalf of the poor, the unfortunate and oppressed.

To some he may appear as a man with eccentricities or crotchets, but to those who knew him best, who by contract, business and social relations are brought nearer to him and see more of his real life, these are but the outward manifestations of a noble enthusiasm, a high sense and appreciation of justice, truth and a spirit of helpfulness.

He makes friends and watches their conduct and welfare with tenderest care, not for the purpose of subordinating them to his private advantage, but because he finds an appropriate place for them in his heart, and there they dwell in no peril for being displaced by other new found tenants.



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