OF MOWER COUNTY

Part 2 of 13

  Many names mentioned in this article!


Hon. B. F. Langworthy of Brownsdale,
One of the Earliest Settlers of the County,
Will Give a Series of Interesting Articles

In 1842 about the time of the opening of the Illinois and Michigan canal, I was visiting relatives in Peru, Illinois, and then heard Daniel Webster make one of his eloquent addresses to about 20,000 people. In the fall of 1841, William Henry Harrison was nominated for the presidency and the Democrats thought they had a soft soap. They imagined they could beat him by slander and abuse, saying that he lived in a log cabin and hunted coons and drank hard cider. In a very short time, the Whigs took the matter in hand and when there was to be a large public gathering, the processions were headed with log cabins on wheels and usually a barrel of hard cider with head knocked out and cups hanging all around so that all who wished might go and get a drink of it. Not infrequently, a live coon would be carried in the procession.

That fall, with a large company, I got aboard a steamboat at Hennepin and went to Peoria to a state convention where there were gathered about 50,000 people. Abraham Lincoln was the principal speaker at the convention. There were many steamboats on the Illinois River at that time and many of the delegations came up from the lower part of the state. On almost every boat, there were live coons by the dozen and when the election came off, you could not find a Democrat who would mention Log Cabin, Hard Cider or Coon. They were completely knocked out by their own petard. At the election I was a boy of about twenty. One of the election clerks was sick and I was asked to take his place. I could not vote but was handy with the pen.

In 1840, I left school and entered the office of Dr. William O. Chamberlain, one of the best physicians in Princeton, to take a course of medical studies. I was with him two years, and then the doctor recommended me to go to Chicago for a curse of lectures at the medical college. I had not the necessary means to pay my way through the college so I told my parents that I must do something to earn money to pay my expenses while in Chicago. There was a merchant in Princeton, R. E. Thompson, who was engaged to the mercantile line and did a large business. He was in need of a clerk and I accepted a clerkship in his store for nearly two years.

By that time I had concluded that I did not wish to continue my medical studies and become a doctor, as I did not like the medical practice of that day. Anyone who can recollect back sixty years knows that calomel was the principal drug used by almost every physician in his practice. I once asked Dr. Chamberlain: “Suppose that I am called to see a sick patient and an unable to determine the cause of the trouble, what should I do?” The doctor replied jovially: “Give him a dose of calomel and it will hit the case nine times out of ten”. The more I thought of the matter, the less faith I had in the practice, and before my two years of clerking expired, I concluded that I would not go on with medical studies. [Note: Calomel is also known as Mercurous Chloride, (mercury and Chlorine) and was used as a purgative and as an insecticide. -- kk]

In 1843 I went to clerk for a relative who was a merchant in Stark County, Ohio, doing a large busines s on the canal. He put me on the road as collector and traveling salesman. I was with him two years until he sold out in 1845. I was then again out of a job with some money to invest and I decided to go to Wisconsin, as that territory was beginning to attract attention. As there were no railroads west of Buffalo, I went to Cleveland and took passage aboard one of the lake steamers running from Buffalo west to Chicago and other lake ports. There was on board a large number of emigrants bound for the different ports on Lake Michigan. Everything aboard the boat was nice and pleasant until we passed Fort Mackinaw. When just east of Sheboygan, the steamer took fire and for a short time the situation was most serious.

The passengers, more particularly the ladies, were frantic with fright. We all expected that the steamer would entirely burn and all who had life preservers put them on with the expectation that they would have to take to the water. In the midst of the excitement and danger, a very attractive young lady of 17 years came rushing through the crowd crying: “Oh where is my bonnet.” As she came near me, I tried to explain to her that if we were obliged to take to the water, a life preserver would be of far more service to her than her bonnet. I took off my life preserver which I had secured before we left Cleveland and gave it to her and we heard no more about that bonnet. Very shortly afterward, word came from the captain that the danger was over, the fire had been extinguished.

That afternoon the boat landed in Milwaukee. This was in the summer of 1845. After a few days spent there in making inquiries, I concluded to go to Watertown, Jefferson County, on the Rock River. I formed a partnership in a general variety store with a young business man named Whitaker, and we had a successful business until we sold out the balance of our stock in September 1846. Just about this time, there came a man from my old home at Princeton, Illinois to Watertown bringing a drove of over 250 fat hogs expecting to sell them. He could get no satisfactory offer for them at Watertown and being short of money came and proposed to me to go in with him and drive the drove to Stevens Point on the Wisconsin River, then a small village.

We made an agreement and started with the hogs in October, intending to trade them for lumber. We reached Stevens point just before winter set in and proceeded at once to build temporary sheds and commenced to kill and dress the hogs. The weather set in very cold in the latter part of November and our dressed hogs were frozen stiff and hard. We piled them in our sheds like cordwood. Soon the river froze over so that teams could cross and there was plenty of snow. Most of the travel during the winter was upon the river. The lumbermen and mill owners came from all points from Grand Rapids to Big Bull Falls and laid in their winter supplies of pork and it was but a short time before we had disposed of our entire stock of port. We sold for $7 per hundred and took our pay in lumber at the mills when we called for it in the spring. We had no difficulty in getting the lumber as promised and we did not have a bad debt in the whole transaction.

We paid $5 per thousand for the lumber at the mills. We had men there to receive it and put it into rafts as it came from the saws and before long we had our lumber all rafted, ready for the trip down the Wisconsin River, into the Mississippi and down to St. Louis. Before the next winter set in, nearly all our rafts reached St. Louis in safety. A few of them were caught in the ice and did not reach St. Louis until the following spring. There was a ready sale for the lumber there and all was sold at good prices. I settled with my partner very satisfactorily and returned to Watertown where I found my old partner Whitaker on the point of going up to Oshkosh on the Fox River, where it enters on the west side of Lake Winnebago. Oshkosh was then a village of about 300 inhabitants. We put up the second store building in the place and commenced again in the mercantile business, keeping a general assortment.

The county of Winnebago was newly organized and there were not many white settlers in the country. We had a fair trade for what settlers there were. We had good Indian trade as the Menomonee reservation came within ten miles of us and for a year or two we got their trade which was mostly in furs, consisting chiefly of beaver, mink, and muskrat. The number of the latter was enormous the first year, as we bought that year over 20,000 skins, paying five cents for them and selling for ten. Furs in those days were as good as gold. At the time of their yearly payments from the government, the Indians paid us largely in money.

Wisconsin was yet a territory when I went to Oshkosh, but after ten years of such existence, Morgan L. Martin of Green Bay, the territorial representative in Congress, gave notice in the House of Representatives, January 8, 1846, of a motion for leave to introduce a bill to enable the people of Wisconsin to form a constitution and state government and for the admission of such state into the Union. He followed this, on January 13th, by the introduction of a bill to that effect. The measure was approved by President Polk, August 10, 1846.

B. F. Langworthy
(To be continued)

[Mower County Transcript, Wed., Feb. 19, 1902, page 4, col. 4 -- 2nd article in the series]




Submitted to Mower Genealogy by Mark Ashley, 3/2011
Webization by K. Kittleson