"History of Rock County, Wisconsin"

©1879 Western Hist. Co.


pp. 607-611

Courtesy of Carol

The first white man who is known to have settled in any part of the country adjacent
to the present city of Beloit, was one MACK, a native of Exeter, N.H. This adventurer must have made his home in the "Far West" as early as 1820, as he was found living at Rockton, in Illinois, at the mouth of the Pecatonica (a western tributary of Rock River), in the spring of 1837, with a squaw wife and quite a family, and stated that he had been living with the Indians for more than sixteen years. This man figures as the hero of the only really romantic incident which illuminates these "tales of the grandfathers" of Beloit. According to the story current among the surviving "early settlers," MACK had spent most of his early manhood among the Indians, trading with numerous tribes in the West, and had finally settled down among the Winnebagoes, and had come to be regarded as a kind of adviser or confidential prime minister to the chief. Contrary to the custom of white men in his position, however, he had never taken to himself a dusky bride, and for this reason was regarded with suspicion by some of his associates as a treacherous, or, at best, a lukewarm friend. In the progress of time, according to the current tradition, other pale-faces came among the redmen for the purposes of trade and barter, and the malcontents alleged that MACK used the influence his position gave him to benefit these traders to the prejudice of his red brothers. This added to the previous distrust, which had been sedulously cultivated, and gave his enemies so decided an advantage that his death was decided on. A daughter of one of the Winnebago chiefs, who had become enamored of the white trader, learned of the design upon his life and warned him of the intentions of his enemies, and he sought safety in flight to Chicago, which place he reached though he was pursued by the Indians for a whole day. Explanations, carried on by messengers from his city of refuge, ensued, and receiving assurances that they were satisfactory, and that no further attempt would be made upon his life, MACK returned to the tribe and re-assumed his former position. This, as events proved, was but a treacherous device of his enemies to get him again in their power, for, shortly after his return, the attempt upon his life was renewed. Again the Indian maiden proved his savior by concealing him in an empty barrel or hogshead when his lodge was surrounded by his persistent, bloodthirsty foes. Moved by these repeated instances of devotion, and, perhaps, as the most efficient means of quieting the suspicions of his enemies, and thereby of securing his personal safety, MACK married his preserver, and was adopted into the tribe; and it was with this squaw wife and her children that he was living when R. P. CRANE and O. P. BICKNELL, of the New England Emigrating Company, passed through Rockton, on their way to Beloit, in the spring of 1837.
This may have been a fiction of MACK's own invention, founded upon the
historical romance of Capt. John Smith and Pocahontas, or it may have been an actual occurrence; but whichever it were, it is implicitly believed by the reputable and trustworthy citizens of Beloit, upon whose authority the incident finds a place in this work.
The first white person located at what is now Beloit, was one THIEBAULT
(sometimes spelled THIEBEAU, and pronounced Tebo), a French-Canadian trader, who must have made his home here about 1823 or 1824, as according to his statement, made in 1836, he had gradually worked his way down from Green Bay to this locality some twelve years before, and had remained here trading with the Indians ever since. As the result of this trading, THIEBAULT, in 1835, claimed to be the owner of a vast tract of land extending for "three looks" in every direction from his cabin. Upon inquiry, the prospective settlers ascertained that "a look" was the unit of land measurement with the Indians, and embraced all the land between the point where one stood and the farthest point within range of his vision. The Canadian's vague and indefinite phrase, "three looks," was found, therefore, to mean that the boundaries of his possession were to be determined by fixing upon some point or object as far distant as he could see, going to that point and fixing upon another, and repeating the process when the second point was reached. This was a primitive mode of measurement certainly, and one open to the objection that it must vary with the range of sight of different individuals, but admirable in its simplicity and adaptability to the requirements of a rude people whose landed possessions were boundless in extent, and therefore who regard it as only nominally valuable, and to whom "corners," "section lines" and all the vocabulary of the surveyor were but useless jargon.
As this trader, THIEBAULT, is universally recognized as the first white man who
actually settled in Beloit, though he disappears from its history almost immediately after the arrival of his successors, his story and tragic fate may as well be inserted here as at any other point in this history.
When THIEBAULT was found here, "monarch of all he surveyed," like another
Alexander Selkirk, he had two squaw wives, one of whom was "apparently forty years old, the other eighteen, the latter a fine-looking half-breed, complexion light and fair, who was the mother of a babe." He had a son by a former squaw-wife (then dead), a lad of fourteen, very intelligent, who spoke good English, and it was said he could speak French fluently and three different Indian languages. Shortly after the settlement began to fill up, THIEBAULT moved away, having been employed by the Government as interpreter among the tribes in the northern part of the Territory. He finally settled on Lake Koshkonong, at a place called THIEBAULT's Point, where he was, it is believed, murdered in the winter of 1837-38, by his son and one of his wives. This crime is attributed to some to the anxiety to follow the Indians west of the Mississippi, while he wished to remain where he was, devoting himself to the peaceful pursuits of agriculture. Others maintain - and the weight of the evidence appears to be on their side - that his death was due to the instinct of self-preservation. From these statements, it appears that THIEBAULT indulged in "periodical drunks," on which occasions he was monstrously brutal to his family - wives and children. (Mr. Charles M. MESSER, one of the earliest settlers, who had lived for many years among the Pottawatomies, and who was about the only white man to whom THIEBAULT's wife and son could speak in their own language, has frequently known of their being compelled to fly from their hut at the dead of night, to escape his drunken fury.) Whatever the motive which prompted the crime, THIEBAULT was probably murdered, and his body disposed of by cutting a hole in the ice and throwing it into the lake; and though the deed was never fixed upon the son and the squaw-wife, suspicion was so strong against them that the citizens warned them to leave, and they went to the Indians beyond the river, where it was reported the son was for many years employed as a Government interpreter.
Though MACK and THIEBAULT were undoubtedly the first white men who
located at or near Beloit, it is manifestly improper to call them "settlers" in the proper sense of that term. They were merely roving traders, with no more thought of building up a community and developing the agricultural and industrial resources of the land they claimed to own than the savages with whom they lived. With their adoption by the Indians, they in their turn adopted the habits, manner of living and purposeless existence of their newly-made brothers. They were white men who had become Indians - nothing more. To them, as to their savage associates, the boundless virgin prairie with its wealth of rich grasses and myriads of beautiful wild flowers, of countless hues and refreshing fragrance, was but a desirable "hunting ground;" the frequently recurring clumps of timber, dotting the prairies here and there and lining the banks of the water-courses were but admirable shelters for the game which formed the staple of their food, or convenient depots from which to obtain canoes, or the "forks" used in constructing their huts and rude contrivances for drying fish; the clear and swiftly flowing streams were valuable only as an inexhaustible supply of drinking-water for themselves, their ponies and the game upon which they chiefly lived, and for the fish speared within their depths.
The patient industry which wrests a rich return of golden grain from the generous
earth, the enterprise and mechanical skill which make the rushing waters but the slave to serve man's needs, the brain to plan and the energy to successfully conduct the many enterprises which make a country prosperous and powerful, belong to a class of men widely different from the MACKs and THIEBAULTs, and it with the advent of a man of this type that the "settlement" of Beloit really began.
In 1835, this type of man appeared in the person of Caleb BLODGETT, a native
of Vermont, whose adventures and vicissitudes in New York, Ohio and Illinois, before reaching this point, would fill a most entertaining volume. By the accounts of all his contemporaries who yet survive, BLODGETT was a man specially endowed by nature with the gifts and qualities to fit him pre-eminently for a "pioneer." Possessing but the rudiments of an education obtained in boyhood in his New England home, he had a keen, vigorous intelligence, a shrewd insight into character, a quick possession of the possible ultimate results of "a trade," or of any proposed line of action, combined with industry that was literally indefatigable and a resistless energy that carried everything and everybody before him or with him.
The following brief and rapid summary of his career prior to his arrival in Beloit, will
be found interesting in this connection, and may be accepted as authentic:
He was a native of Vermont. In early manhood, he left for the West. On getting into the
extreme western part of New York State, he found employment for a time; finally took up land for himself, it being then new. He then returned to Vermont, married his wife, got Selvy KIDDER, his wife's brother, and others interested to come with him, and they together laid the foundation for a village. After a few years, he sold out and located in Kelloggsville, Ohio. There, after several years' of hard effort, he succeeded in becoming the owner of a large hotel, etc., became an extensive mail contractor, owning a large number of stages and mail routes, which brought a great amount of travel to his house. To this he added merchandising and finally distilling. After expending a large amount of capital in his distillery, it took fire and burned down. This last made him bankrupt. Nothing daunted, he resolved to try a new country again. Accordingly, he started for Chicago, arriving there at a time when speculation had been overdone - very little encouragement left for him. He, therefore, went into the interior some twenty-five or thirty miles, selected Government land for a farm, at a place known as MEACHAM's Grove, built him a log house, got his family on, and, with the help of his sons, broke up a large number of acres ready for a crop.
But MEACHAM's Grove proved a "pent-up Utica," which contracted the powers
of his restless and untiring energies, and, in 1836, in looking for a more expanded field of effort, he came here. His keen sagacity at once appreciated the immense possibilities of such a location. The broad prairie presented fruitful fields already cleared, the "burr-oak openings" would supply the timber for fuel, fences, and an inferior kind of timber, which might be made to do duty in the construction of temporary houses for the settlers, till more fitting material could be obtained elsewhere, while Turtle Creek and Rock River would furnish the motive power for both grist and saw mills. His sanguine temperament was fired by the boundless opportunities such a place opened before him, and he at once determined to secure possession of this northwest Eden, convinced that he would have little difficulty in attracting other settlers to a spot promising so many advantages to those seeking to improve their fortunes in new homes in the "Far West."
He found the old Canadian, THIEBAULT, in his cabin, and learned that he
claimed, as has been stated, the ownership of all the land for "three looks" in every direction. This claim he purchased. BLODGETT brought with him his sons, Nelson and Daniel, also a "breaking team," and provision upon which to subsist. He set to work with characteristic energy and industry to fortify his rights to the claim he had bought. John HACKETT, who married BLODGETT's daughter in Ohio, and who had been intimately associated with him there - which intimacy became even greater after their arrival at this point - represents that the quantity of land "claimed," or taken up by BLODGETT and his family, was about four sections. He constructed a shanty and immediately set to work to get him a house, and, with the assistance of Indians and squaws, built a double log cabin on the bank of the river. This unpretentious and primitive dwelling was divided into two rooms, one of them a comparatively large one, for his own family, and the other, much smaller, served the various purpose of dining-room, office and sleeping-room for land-hunters, hired hands, etc., etc. This house was finished and occupied in December, 1836. All this improving was done on land which belonged to the Government. The lands on the west side of the river had been offered by the Government at auction, and those adjoining the river had been bought, nearly or quite, all the way up to Janesville, and this will account for the fact that BLODGETT's activity was confined to the east bank, though even there he was but a "squatter." But though a squatter, he proceeded as if his "claims" were all impregnably defended by patents from the land office at Washington. He had prior to, or about the time of the completion of his log cabin, sold to Charles F. H. GOODHUE, a native of Massachusetts, though he had long resided in Sherbrooke, Canada, immediately prior to his coming to Beloit, one-fourth of his interest for $2,000, and GOODHUE, in turn had sold one-half of his interest to Charles JOHNSON, a Vermont capitalist, and John DOOLITTLE. Prior to this sale to GOODHUE, BLODGETT had begun to build a saw-mill, and after the sale the enterprise was carried on by the two jointly, the race being dug and water let into it in the spring of 1837. This was the nucleus of the new settlement, and evidences of material progress were visible on every hand. Farm cultivation had begun; BLODGETT, at least, had one comfortable, if not luxurious house; and a mill to saw lumber for others' was going forward satisfactorily.
A sudden impetus was given to the Turtle settlement by the purchase of one-third of
BLODGETT's claim by the New England Emigrating Company, through its agent, Dr. Horace WHITE. This company was organized in New Hampshire in 1836, the attendants at the first meeting being Capt. G. W. BICKNELL, Dr. Horace WHITE, Horace HOBART, Dr. George W. BICKNELL, Edwin BICKNELL, A. L. FIELD, O. P. BICKNELL and R. P. CRANE. Dr. WHITE was appointed agent of the Company to travel through Illinois and the then Territory of Wisconsin, embracing the present State of Iowa, and select some desirable location for the Company to take up Government land. The membership was subsequently increased to sixteen male members, some of whom were unmarried. In the discharge of the duties devolving upon him as agent, Dr. WHITE went to Quincy, Ill., thence up the Des Moines Valley, and had also, at the solicitation of George GOODHUE (son of Charles F. H. GOODHUE, above mentioned), who had a store at Rockford, visited "The Turtle," as BLODGETT's settlement was then called. On the 4th of March, 1837, Dr. WHITE was joined at Rockford by R. P. CRANE and O. P. BICKNELL, of the New England Company, and, on the 9th, they (CRANE and BICKNELL) were ferried over Turtle Creek and "found Caleb BLODGETT, with a force of men, repairing the race at the bulkhead." The frame of the saw-mill was up, the flume built, and, to try the race, BLODGETT had let in the water, the result of which trial is described thus by a writer: "The banks being light and frosty, as soon as the frost dissolved, the earth washed away * * flooding the low ground between the race and BLODGETT's log house, which stood on Rock River bank, back of where A. P. WATERMAN's store now stands." About April 1, Dr. WHITE and George GOODHUE came to "The Turtle," and a bargain was struck with Caleb BLODGETT, whereby the New England Emigrating Company acquired "the right to occupy and own one individual third of all farm improvements (some one hundred acres of prairie and bottom-lands had been broken up the summer before, and were now ready for crops), also a tract of one mile square north of the State line was to be reserved from farm purposes as a village plat. Each member of the several companies was to have an interest in the village in the same proportion as he might own in farm lands, by paying that proportion of Government price in this plat whenever it should be brought into market (which was some two years later), viz., $1.25 per acre."
The early settlement of Beloit by white men is thus divided into three eras: First, the
semi-savage occupation of MACK and THIEBAULT; second, BLODGETT's acquisition of THIEBAULT's somewhat nebulous claim; third, the New England Emigrating Company's purchase of one-third of BLODGETT's interest, and with the latter era the place entered upon that tide of rapid development, success and prosperity which has characterized it ever since. Prior to the New England Company's purchase, the settlement consisted only of Caleb BLODGETT and his family, John HACKETT and wife, Maj. Charles JOHNSON, the GOODHUEs, John DOOLITTLE, Z. JONES and brother, James CARTER, a millwright, and Mr. DELAMATER. March 9, 1837, R. P. CRANE and O. P. BICKNELL, members of the New England Company, arrived. Shortly after, Dr. WHITE, the Company's Agent, effected the purchase from BLODGETT, and the Doctor returned to the East, leaving CRANE and BICKNELL to look after the interests of the Company. With the advancing year, other members of the Company came on. Deacon Henry MEARS, with his wife and two of her brothers, came late in the spring. July brought Dr. George W. BICKNELL and his brother Edwin, and shortly afterward, A. L. FIELD arrived with a four-ox team, bringing much-needed supplies of meat and flour. Ira HERSEY, from Maine, accompanied him.
The first comers of the New England Company boarded at Caleb BLODGETT's
log cabin for a short time after their arrival, but they soon bought old THIEBAULT's log hut, and, no longer having any interest in the place, the Frenchman moved away, as previously narrated, and was speedily followed by the few Indians who had remained here.
From the time to which this history has been brought down, the summer of 1837,
the settlement filled up rapidly. The New England Company sent out a number of new settlers, among them, Deacon Horace HOBART, Asahel B. HOWE, Capt. Thomas CROSBY and wife, with an infant in arms, his mother and brother, Israel C. CHENEY, Mrs. R. P. CRANE and infant, Mr. James CASS and wife. Other settlers beside those connected with the New England Company also came in among them - Benjamin CHENEY, Walter WARNER, David NOGGLE and others - so that with the opening of the year 1838 there were some sixty or seventy families located here.
In their haste to secure a business as a village and industrial center of the little
community, the settlers at what is now Beloit acted in direct and apparently irremediable contravention of the law governing the occupation of public lands. The act of Congress approved May 29, 1830, amended by the act approved June 22, 1838, was specially designed to prevent speculation in village lots, and prohibited in express terms the pre-emption of public lands for any other than farming purposes. The people of Beloit, after deliberation, decided to pursue a way out of their difficulty and secure a legal title to their land, by selecting some settler in whom the entire community had confidence, and quit-claiming to him every foot of ground embraced in the village, and allowing him to pre-empt it in his own name, and, after he had obtained title, receive from him a re-conveyance of their titles.
This plan was carried out to the letter. The various lots in the village were
quit-claimed to R. P. CRANE, and at the land office in Milwaukee, CRANE made the affidavit required by the pre-emption law, and entered under his claim of pre-emption, on the 26th day of November, 1838, Lots 6 and 7 in Section 35, Town 1, Range 12 east, containing seventy-eight and fifty-seven one-hundredths acres, according to Government survey. He then, before receiving a patent from the General Government, deeded to the original owners, in accordance with a private survey made under the direction of Dr. WHITE, for the New England Company and other land owners.
When the village was laid out, Rock River was navigable, and a piece of land was
set apart for a public building. After CRANE pre-empted the above-mentioned lots and re-conveyed to the original owners, title to this piece of land had not been re-conveyed to the city, and it lay presumptively in CRANE. In 1845, when the first bridge was built across the river, it became necessary to lay out a street as an approach. It was found desirable to run this street through a lot belonging to Benjamin BROWN, and, in exchange for the land thus to be taken from Mr. BROWN, the village authorities proposed to give him a portion of the "public landing." This proposition Mr. BROWN accepted, and the deed necessary to carry out the exchange were... [sorry, don't have the next page yet]

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