Spaulding name Black River Falls legend

Jacob Spaulding came to the Black River Falls area before 1840 when he and his colleagues established a sawmill. Later Spaulding, considered the founder of Black River Falls, bought out his partners and developed other interests in the community.

     A few early settlers have become legends among present day area inhabitants because of contributions they made to what is here today.
     Jacob Spaulding, founder of Black River Falls who died 100 years ago, in 1876, was one of those. Local historians refer to him so often that "newcomers" not familiar with Black River Falls history are inclined to think he died just a few years ago.
     A physical giant of a man, his extraordinary strength carried him through many hardships of pioneer trials in the Black River wilderness.
     When Spaulding came to Jackson County in 1839, the only means of transporting large cargoes was via the Black River. Overland Indian trails were so narrow travelers were forced to walk single file.

Keel boat expert

     The keelboat (about 60 feet in length) was used to carry supplies to the Falls and Spaulding was an expert keel boatman.
     Historian Calvin R. Johnson in his writings in 1869 stated: "Spaulding met hardships and dangers as though they were but pastimes, and by the aid of his strong arm and unconquerable will, navigated again and again as occasion demanded, his keep boat, loaded with supplies, up the waters of the Mississippi and Black Rivers."

Remained alone

     When supplies ran low at the Falls during the winter of 1840, Spaulding remained alone at the wilderness mill while other members of the expedition returned to Prairie du Chien. Spaulding subsisted on whatever wild game he could find with his rifle.
     This venture alone in the wilderness and his continuous residence at the Falls earned him the title of "Founder of Black River Falls."
     Historian Johnson continues, "The banks of the Mississippi and Black Rivers were frequently lined with warlike and unfriendly red men who looked upon the pale face as their enemy.

Personal heroism

     "There are incidents of personal heroism in the early pioneer life of Spaulding that would reflect glory upon the name of chieftains whose names are emblazoned on the pages of history; but he never regarded them as of any importance.
     "It was as natural for him to be brave as to breathe. His great self-reliance and courage soon gained for him the esteem of the Indians.
     "Forgetting that he belonged to the hated pale race, they respected him for those personal qualities which characterized his eventful life."

Long friendship

     The friendship formed between Spaulding and his Indian neighbors continued until his death. He made trips to Washington, D.C., (at his own expense) in efforts to find a satisfactory permanent home for his Indian friends.
     In 1874 the U.S. government ordered removal of the Winnebagoes from their hunting grounds in northwest Wisconsin to a reservation in Nebraska. Spaulding visited the Nebraska land and from very careful examination of it became satisfied moving the Indians there was but another name for extermination.
     Knowing his great influence with the Indians, the U.S. government offered him a large compensation to use that influence to induce them to go to Nebraska.
     Spaulding replied: "I am poor, and need money badly; but you never saw money enough to induce me to be false to my Indian friends."
     Spaulding was born in 1810 in Massachusetts, son of Jeremiah and Wealthy Bennett Spaulding. His ancestry in America goes back to Edward Spalding, who immigrated in 1619.
     Spaulding moved with his parents to New York in 1830; learned the trade of millwright; and in early life was engaged in bridge building.
     He married Nancy Stickney March 15, 1833, in New York. His son Dudley Jeremiah was born July 13, 1834, at Sarasota, N.Y.
     In 1836, Spaulding and his family accompanied his father's family west to Warsaw, Ill.
     Hearing an expedition to the falls of the Black River was being organized by the Wood brothers in 1839, Jacob and his brother, Jeremiah Jr., hired out as millwrights.
     The expedition arrived in August, 1839, and established a permanent settlement now known as Black River Falls.
     As millwright, Spaulding erected a sawmill near the mouth of Town Creek.
     Spaulding was the most conspicuous and influential member of the Wood Brothers expedition and soon purchased his employers' interest at the Falls, making him sole owner of the waterpower and much of the adjacent property.
     In addition to vast lumbering activities, he was instrumental in advancing growth of the small nucleus of a community.
     His large hotel on Water Street was soon dubbed by the townspeople "Shanghai House" on the principle that a man who was better dressed than his neighbors as a "Shanghai."
     The hotel was the most prominent house on the river, having a frontage of 60 feet, two stories high, finished inside and out with dressed lumber and regarded as a masterpiece of design and finish.

First school

     Spaulding established the first school in Jackson County in 1847, in his old boarding house. Religious services were conducted in the Shanghai House in 1848 by a Methodist minister, and are considered the community's first religious element.
     His business enterprises included surveying, real estate, justice of peace, lumber and gristmill and general store.
     Spaulding's ad in the first issue of the Jackson County Banner in August, 1856 stated; "hard times can not stop the 'Old Pioneer.' Ready made clothing, boots and shoes, dry goods, gloves and mittens - will sell cheap for cash or will trade for cattle, horses, sheep, pork, venison, corn, wheat, flour, butter, etc. - Also sell best cut lumber at low rates - have put up at my mill a corn cracker.

--Jean G. Anderson

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

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