Outagamie County, Wisconsin
History and Genealogy
The State of Wisconsin
Wisconsin became a state in 1848. The population of Wisconsin by the year 1850 was 305,000. Included in that total were 103,000 American citizens, who had been born in New England and the central Atlantic states. There were several reason for this influx of Yankees. The population in the East was increasing rapidly, and there was a lack of good land available for many of them to farm. Another third of the 1850 population, 106,000 people, were European born. German immigration to Wisconsin began during the 1830’s and was still going strong by the 1880’s. In the year 1850, 38,000 inhabitants immigrated to the new state from German speaking countries in Europe. A few years later, in 1854, another 215,000 German immigrants arrived. By 1860, there were 124,000 German born people in the state. Other large ethnic groups that came were the Irish and the Norwegians. By 1860, the population of Wisconsin had risen to 775, 881 individuals.
What did all these new settlers mean to the state of Wisconsin? They meant everything, but perhaps most importantly they meant that there would be a large rural population of hundreds of thousands of land owner interested in clearing that land and growing crops on it. The primary crop grown in Wisconsin during the pioneer era was wheat. It also meant that these citizens or soon to be citizens of the United States of America were highly motivated to build roads and businesses whereby they could bring their crops to market. Finally it meant the construction of good schools for their children to attend throughout the state.
In order to farm in much of Wisconsin, it was first necessary to cut down and remove the timber covering the land. This necessary pioneer chore was the beginning of the next great industry (after the fur trade and lead mining) to arise in the state. This, of course, was the lumber industry. Lumbering began during the 1830’s in the Fox River Valley. To a lesser extent it began along the Wisconsin River in central Wisconsin after the signing of the Treaty of the Cedars in 1836. Lumber was transported to market by floating it down the rivers and streams in larger rafts. During the 1840’s and 1850’s millions of board feet were sent down the Wisconsin, the Black, and the Chippewa rivers to the Mississippi river in these huge floating rafts. By as early as 1853, it is estimated that 200,000,000 board feet of lumber was cut in the state of Wisconsin. In 1858, Appleton had five large sawmills in operation. It is estimated that the amount of lumber processed in those mills that year was somewhere around 2, 000,000 board feet. The lumber was rafted down the Wolf River and its many tributaries to Lake Winnebago and the Appleton mills on the lower Fox River.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Governor of Wisconsin, Alexander Randall, organized the First Wisconsin Regiment around five volunteer companies from the city of Milwaukee. A company was made up of 78 men, not including the officers. The troops trained in Madison at Camp Randall, which is now part of the University of Wisconsin Campus. To say that weapons were in short supply is to make an understatement; when the First Wisconsin shipped out for Washinton D.C., they did so without any firearms. By June of 1861, the First Wisconsin Regiment, newly armed with federal weapons from Washington, participated in the battle of Harper’s Ferry. Soldiers from Wisconsin fought bravely on almost every front throughout the course of the war. Accurate records were not kept of the total number of Wisconsin soldiers who served, but a probable estimate would be around 82,000 men, or one in ten of the total population of the state. One in seven of those men, 12,216, gave their lives during the war.
The great era of railroading began in Wisconsin in the years preceding the Civil War. A railroad connecting Milwaukee to the river towns of Prairie du Chien and La Crosse had been built in 1858. The railroad reached Appleton, Wisconsin from Neenah in 1861. With the coming of the railroad, the lumber industry found a much faster and more efficient means to bring lumber to the saw mills were it could be processed and sold. The railroad also served as a means to bring more settlers in search of cheap land into the Central and Northern regions of the state.
Source: Robert C. Nesbit, Wisconsin: A History, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1973.
Outagamie County Genealogy and History Project