Immigrants flooded state upon invitation

Life on the immigrant ship was anything but healthy. Families were crowded aboard and many were forced to live on deck in the open air. Disease and sickness were frequent. Many died on the way to America. Some early vessels took three to four weeks to cross the ocean.

     Immigrants did not come to the state as invaders, but rather upon invitation. In a period of a few years, more than half the population were sons and daughters of foreign-born parents.
     From the 1850s to past the turn of the century, hundreds of thousands of immigrants were packed into Atlantic sailing vessels, many under inhumane conditions, and a great number eventually made their way to this region.
     They came for religious, political, military, economic reasons, some through indentured servitude, some for adventure and some for intense personal reasons. Still others were lured by glowing letters sent to the "old country" by those who had come before.

Later they were recruited

     In later years there were vast recruitment efforts by colonizing companies, industrialists and railroads.
     They included young single men, men with wives and families and even some older couples, perhaps coming to join a son or daughter. Clergy and nuns were sent from Europe to serve these people as missionaries.
     They came from nearly all countries of Europe. Counties in this are in 1900 contained foreign-born British, Germans, Irish, French, Danes, Finns, Norwegians, Swedes, Poles, Czechs, Italians and others from the Slavic nations.

Life's ways often dictated

     In Scandinavian countries, church rules were very stringent and binding. There were periodic catechism exams for young adults and the clergy dictated much of everyday life.
     Many found they could no longer practice their religion in their own countries and sought this freedom in America.
     Land barons were dominating the scene in countries such as Poland and the Balkans and governments were in a state of constant change. Land of peasants was often seized and the previous owners pressed into serfdom.
     In other countries, such as Germany, there was compulsory military conscription, and in Ireland, the potato famine of the late 1840s drove many persons out of the country.

Land was subdivided

     Land was subdivided so it was no longer capable of providing a livelihood for families and the coming of machinery in agriculture eliminated the need for farm hands.
     Many migrated to the cities, but could not find jobs there either. America seemed their only hope.
     Men such as J. G. Thorp of Eau Claire went to Norway in the 1870s and recruited Norwegians to come to the Eau Claire area to work in lumber camps and mills. Many came and worked until they could save enough money to go into farming.
     Later railway companies had enormous amounts of land granted to them by the government and they actively sought settlers from Europe to populate the area along the tracts to create more business. In the 1870's and 1880's Wisconsin Central Railway sent agents to Europe to distribute literature that influenced immigration. Land railways owned could be purchased cheaply.

Letters lured more to come

     Probably the single greatest reason for the coming of immigrants was letters sent home.
     One German settler who came to this country as early as 1850 to seek asylum from civil unrest wrote to friends:
     "Germans can mingle and intermarry with non-Germans and adopt their ways, but they can still remain German. They can plant the vine on the hills and drink it with happy song and dance."
     Swedish author Vilheml Moberg in his book, "The immigrants," wrote:
     "The first ships have already crossed the ocean, bearing immigrants away from the land.
     "There is a stir in peasant communities which have been the home of unchangeableness itself for thousands of years. To the earth folk, seeing their plots diminish while their offspring increase, tidings have come of a vast land on another continent where fertile soil was to be had almost for the taking by all who wished to come and till it.
     "Into old gray cottages in tranquil hamlets were food is scarce for folk living according to inherited customs and traditions, a new restlessness is creeping over the threshold. Rumors are spread, news is shared, information is carried from neighbor to neighbor, through vales and valleys, through parishes and counties.

Like wind-scattered seeds

     "These germs of unrest are like seeds scattered by the wind; one takes root somewhere deep in a man's soul and begins its growth unknown to others; the sowing has been done in secret, thus the sprouting surprises neighbors and friends.
     "At first the movement is slow and groping. The only evidence of this new land is supplied by pictures and rumors. None, in the hoe communities have seen or explored it. And the unknown ocean is forbidding. All that is unknown is uncertain - the home community is familiar and safe. Argument is rife, for and against; some hesitate; some dare; the daring stand against the hesitating, men against women, youth against age. The cautious and the suspicious always have their objections: For sure we know nothing...
     "Only the bold and enterprising have sufficient courage: they are the instruments which stir up the tranquil hamlets and shake the old order of unchangeableness.
     "These separate from the multitude and fill a few small ships - a trickle here and there starts the running stream which in due time swells to a mighty river."

Encourage foreign-born here

Frederick Olsen, who made his way to this country from Norway via Canada, filed this claim for homestead land Dec. 22, 1868. To validate his claim Olsen had to live on the land for five years and meet other requirements. Olsen, as did many early settlers, required aid of a neighbor to raise the small amount of cash needed to file the claim as prescribed by the Homestead Act of May 20, 1862.

     Wisconsin, almost immediately after statehood in 1848, moved to encourage foreign-born to come to the state. Self-interest, as well as a spirit of good will to all humanity, moved inhabitants of the United States to encourage immigration.
     Silas Deane, a government official from Wisconsin, was sent to Europe to set up agencies to solicit immigrants to the United States.
     Great encouragement to the immigrant was new land afforded by enactment of the homestead law of 1862 which extended to every citizen the right to enter 160 acres of unappropriated public land at $1.25 an acre and the right to become the owner after five years of actual occupation and cultivation.

Message sent from Wisconsin

     Still later, in 1879, Chapter 176 of the state law set up a state board of immigration to attract, enhance and encourage immigration to this state from other states, Canada and Europe.
     In 1884 the message from Wisconsin read:
     "Come. In Wisconsin all men are free and equal before the law. Every man is entitled to his opinion and the privilege of expressing it. If harm is done to his person, his property or his character, he has a sure remedy in the law, which jealously watches over all the inhabitants of the state.
     "It knows no difference between stranger and native-born citizen, knows neither wealth nor poverty; right and justice are the only thing it considers. No imprisonment for debts. No such thing as foreign in Wisconsin."
     First immigrants to this area were French-Canadians; a number of them came with men like Jean Brunet when he headed an expedition to start a saw mill at the Falls, where Chippewa Falls is located. Many French who had settled in Canada followed. Chippewa at one time was one of he largest French communities in the area.
     Many of these men had taken Indian wives.
     Germans came as early as 1847 from the German states when a large-scale move was made to America. Main cause of the movement was religious and political revolution rather than economic. Some congregations of old German Lutherans who were discriminated against at home were among the earliest arrivals.
     Revolutionary tendencies of the age and rigorous suppression caused widespread discontent among liberals, especially in the states bordering the Rhine, and freedom of the American system appealed strongly to such men.

Describes life near Cadott

     Mrs. Bertha Weinberger of Chippewa County recalled the following about her family when in 1937 she wrote:
     "My parents came from Hamburg, Germany, on a sailing vessel which was three weeks in the water.
     "I was just four weeks old at the time we landed in 1857 in Quebec. From there we went by train to Horicorn where my two uncles lived and we rented a farm for four years.
     "In the fall of 1861, four families - John Baccus, Frank Boettcher, Calu Duenous and my folks, the Carl Schultzs, started out by ox team and wagon, with the family cow following. Our destination was my uncle's homestead one and three-fourths miles north of Cadott. it took us three weeks to make the trip. The roads were fairly good as far as Eau Claire but from there we had to blaze a trail.

One-room log cabin home

Many immigrants to this area were quite elaborate in building shelters. Notching on this cabin built in 1858 was the work of craftsmen. It was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lars Anderson, Norwegian immigrants. The carpenter was Gabriel Jensen who was among the first persons to settle in the Big Elk Creek area.

     "Our home was a one-room log house in the woods. There were 10 in our family and our nearest neighbors were three or four miles away. During the winter and spring we cleared land. Wood was so plentiful there was no sale for it, so it was piled up and burned to make room to plant crops. Something was planted in every cleared space.
     "My father made a loom so my mother cold weave cloth to make clothing for the family. It was quite a job to cure the flax and shackle it and get it ready to weave. We did our baking outside in a dome-shaped oven.
     "Chippewa Indians lived all around us and were very friendly. They made moccasins for us and in return mother made bread for them.
     "Everything was done by hand, sowing, reaping and threshing with a flail. We made our own sugar from maple trees.
     "My father would start out early in the morning for Chippewa with a load of grain to be found for flour and feed, but it would be night when he would return."

Settled in Eagle-Point area

     Germans also settled in the Brush Prairie and Town of Eagle Point area in Chippewa County in the 1860s. Among early families were the Ruffs and Lebies. They moved in by oxen and wagon from near Dousman to claim homestead land.
     Nearly all the immigrants had only enough cash to reach this country, and finding money even to buy homestead land was not easy. Many of them were financed by those who had arrived a few years earlier. It was not uncommon for neighbors to lend newcomers the few dollars they needed to pay initial registration fees.
     Many of the immigrants went ahead on their won and when they managed to homestead and gather a few dollars, sent for their wives, children, brothers and sisters.
     One Clark County Town of Worden pioneer, Nicholas Baldeschwiler, came to join a brother, then sent for his family. En route the mother, her son and two daughters ran out of money and the mother had to sell some of her possessions to buy meals.
     The family reached Abbotsford and because they couldn't speak English failed to make the connection with the line to Thorp and ended up in Medford. There a German-speaking depot agent put them up for the night and helped them make correct arrangements the next day.
     In the meantime, her husband had taken the wagon to Thorp, only to return worrying about what had happened to his family. He had no way of finding out out until he returned to meet the train the next day.

Managed to save a few dollars

     Some worked hard for others, managed to save a few dollars after arriving here without money.
     Leopold Frisle in 1871 decided to leave Austria and move to this country with his wife and four children. They managed to make their way to the Durand area where he did various jobs, saving money and keeping an eye on farmland.
     Six years later, Frisle walked some 50 miles to Barron County and staked a claim on 80 acres in the Prairie Farm area in a quiet, wooded valley. There he built a 16- by 26-foot log cabin and a building for cattle.
     He returned for his family at Durand and they made the five-day journey to Barron County by wagon and oxen, to begin to carve a farm from the wilderness.

Came as railroad workers

Abandoned log cabins, which once were home for pioneers and immigrants, are still scattered around the countryside of this area, particularly in the north. Many of them were built on cutover land which turned out to be very poor soil.

     Probably the circumstance that "assisted immigration" from Ireland came just about the time of rapid development of railway building in the United States, explaining why so large a proportion of the Irish became railway laborers rather than frontier farmers.
     Not all of them went into railroading, however. Some settled in Chippewa Falls and Trempealeau County, coming from earlier settlements in the east. Many worked in sawmills in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls while men like J. H. Pierson from Dublin and M. J. Warner took up farming in the Town of Hale, Trempealeau County.
     Around 1872 a group of Irish settled in the Town of Oak Grove in Barron County. They brought names like McGeoug, Mullesn, Honlons, Donalleys, McGaldes and others.

Served in Civil War

     Many of the Irish served in the Civil War and several were from the Melville clan of the Town of Lafayette, Chippewa County.
     The Irish regiment distinguished itself at Williamsburg and Cornith. "Faugh a balloh" was their battle cry. They came back after the war, saved money and settled into farming.
     Norwegians came at different times. Some came in the early 1850s and worked the mills. Others came and settled in Canada and then made their way to the area.
     Norwegians, in their hamlets of the old world, discussed at public meetings and in private home gatherings their plans of migration. In many cases, leaders of the new movement were sent ahead to do the prospecting and report what they had found.

Came from Fron Parish

     In 1854 and 1855 a number of Norwegians to immigrate left the parish of Fron in Gudbrndsdalen, Norway. One, Torger Olson, crossed the Atlantic in a two-masted sailing vessel called the "Wilhelm Tell" which landed in Quebec after a voyage of about six weeks. He then crossed the states and landed in La Crosse.
     Late in the summer of 1855 Olson and others, under leadership of Hans Torgerson, started from La Crosse with ox team and wagon up the Mississippi and Chippewa and reached the town of Peru in Dunn County after a journey of about two weeks, bringing their household goods and cows with them.
     The first year as "beset with difficulties that would have disheartened less resolute people," Prof. O. E. Hagen of Menomonie wrote in 1910.
     He said, "They were unacquainted with the English language and found themselves in an inhospitable wilderness, almost cut off from the outside world. The nearest depot for provisions and implements was at Read's Landing a the mouth of the Chippewa River, and the only means of transportation were keel boats, flat-bottomed craft propelled by poles, and occasionally at high water small river steamers bringing in supplies to the sawmills alone."

Ran out of provisions

     Shortly, provisions gave out and Hans Torgerson headed downstream to a mill to find supplies. However, the raft went out of control in the high water and he lost his rifle and cap, but managed to escape, landing on an island in the river.
     Meanwhile, the folks at home, having been left to subsist on air and fish in the water finished their last meal. Torger Olson was dispatched to seek help and started out for Eau Claire. He found John West, a German living near what became Portersville, and tried to explain the situation.
     West dumped potatoes into Olson's wagon and he arrived back in the Town of Peru about the same time Torgerson made it back up the river with provisions.

More Norwegians arrived

     The next few years found more Norwegians making their way into the same area.
     Immigrants knew the value of owning property, for on May 20, 1872, Ole Hanson, who later changed to the name of Syverud, ran and jogged 40 miles along a logging tote road from Dallas to Menomonie to the land office just before closing time to file a homestead claim.
     The property was 160 acres in the Town of Maple Grove north of Dallas in Barron County.
     Ole Syberud was born Jan. 17, 1849, in Bruflat, Norway, and came to America in 1869, several years after his father and two younger brothers had left Norway.
     He crossed the Atlantic on a steamship and settled in southern Wisconsin where he worked hoeing corn. He later located his family in Minnesota, working there until he accumulated a few oxen and a wagon. He then drove to the Sand Creek area looking for land and was told to head for the Dallas area.
     Syverud found that others had an eye on the land and so on May 20, 1872, he set out on foot, running most of the way to file the claim.
     He was named in Norway as Ole Hanson and was told to file the claim under the name of Ole Hanson.
     Syverud, like so many foreign immigrants, had a large family. He had 14 children, two of them dying in infancy. The original homestead is still in the family.

Polish settle in state

     The first Polish settlement in the State of Wisconsin was as early as 1857. A group of Poles led by Michael von Koziczkowski, who brought his wife and nine children, bought land at $1 an acre and $10 for forty acres in an area near Stevens Point known as Polonia.
     It was noted these Poles came directly to the area after arriving in New York. The only other Polish settlement in the United States is reported at St. Marys, Texas. The group at Polonia worked in the woods in winter and wives and children helped clear land and raised crops in the summer.
     Many foreigners came to this country to work on various construction projects.

Itailians worked on railroads

     Itailians were one such group and it was because of the Wisconsin Railroad that a colony of them settled in Cumberland. In 1883, the first persons of Italian stock came to Cumberland when officials of the railroad bought a number of them to this country to work on laying ties an rails on the new line.
     When the project was completed in the Cumberland area, these men decided to stay and go into farming.
     Among earlier settlers were Sabatino and Frank Donatelle. They lived in shacks beside the right of way while they built the railroad. After settling, these men persuaded others in Italy to join them and they became section hands or worked in sawmills then expanding into that part of the state.
     Frank Fonatelle and Sam Palmer became unofficial spokesmen for the Italians because many did not speak English. During those years these men bought small parcels of land south of the community and farmed, clearing land whenever they had the chance while working on the railroad. Some worked nearly around the clock in efforts to establish a homestead.

Colonies develop in this area

     Because many immigrants wanted to preserve some of their traditional ways of life and because they all spoke the same language, colonies developed and a number of towns in the area today have large numbers of descendants of German, Irish, Norwegian, Polish or other nationalities. Often even some of the conditions they sought to escape developed again.
     Among colonies comprised of foreign nationalities were the Polish and Russians who settled in the Lublin area in Taylor County. Those settlers in cutover lands were attracted by a Chicago-based land company. The agent was of Polish descent and thus named the community Lublin after the city in Poland.

Problems with names

     One problem with organizing colonies which the Danes sought was proliferation of the same name. Relatives joined relatives, creating a situation described by former state Senator William C. Hansen, who moved from Neenah to Withee in 1894.
     "Our name Hansen was very common and when we located in Withee where were five H. C. Hansens in the area. Most of the Danes spoke of my father as 'Neenah' Hansen, another was 'Chicago' Hansen, and still another 'Minneapolis' Hansen."
     Morton Christina Pedersen came to the Luck are in Polk County in 1869, after travels from Neenah through Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
     Pederson started a letter-writing campaign to Denmark about the land here, but issued a warning to be wary of land speculators who had started to take advantage of immigrants.
     Many Danes responded. They names this village West Denmark.
     By 1870, Wisconsin had more Danish-born residents than any other state.

Danish come to Withee area

     Danish settled in the Withee area around 1893 following the Rev. A. S. Nielsen, who had been pastor of a large congregation in Chicago. He preached the "Second Coming" and moved from Chicago to escape its coming tribulations.
     The Spauldings, early lumbering family, agreed to give the Danes a gift of land, but the Spauldings went broke about the time the Danes arrived. These holdings were purchases by John S. Owen, who was not obligated to carry out the Spaulding promise. Eventually Owen gave substantial amounts of land and the Danes settled in the community to farm and build a church.
     A German colony was formed about six miles southeast of Hudson as early as 1851 when tow brothers, Haley and Nicholas Schwalen, arrived from Husfeldt. In June of the following year a colony of some 25 persons arrived from Germany, staked claims and eventually made homes.

Irish come to St. Croix County

     Also on June 4, 1855, a train of four covered wagons, each pulled by eight oxen, arrived on the east fork of the Minnickinnic River in St. Croix County at a place later called "The Thicket." Lawrence Hawkins, the leader, and 18 others had made their way from County Galway in Ireland in 1852, making stops in Connecticut and Madison en route. Chickens, pigs, household items and machinery were loaded in the wagons. The cows and young stock followed.
     The area was not without a Swiss settlement. A number of men and women from Switzerland settled along the bluffs in the Alma region because they said it reminded them of home. Among early arrivals was Joseph L. Rohrer who settled in Rose Valley, Buffalo County, in 1856.
     For the most part, the foreign-born were quick to adopt English speech and entered with zest into privileges and duties of citizenship. As zealous as the elders were to perpetuate customs and language of the old country, younger persons generally could not be held to these and the assimilation was rapid.
     The various groups got along surprisingly well despite differing languages and traditions.
     Notable exceptions were Irish Catholics and German Catholics who didn't mix any better than Swedish Lutherans and Norwegian Lutherans.
     However, when civilizations came in contact with each other, strong points emerge and from the immigrants, the area received many of its customs, crafts and skills which led to rapid development.
     So much that was gleaned from immigrants has melted into the fiber of the area that is now, in 100 years time, hard to distinguish which was brought by the immigrant and which developed here.

- Arnie and Joy Hoffman

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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