THE EARLY HISTORY AND SETTLEMENT OF ANTIGO

(Written by Anna E. Morrissey, nee Deleglise, in 1921)

The early history of Antigo is not enveloped in mystery. She did not just happen or “jes grow” as Topsy did, and as did so many of our cities along our Rivers and Great Lakes, the result of the necessities of trade or commerce without either forethought or plan. The site of Antigo lying in Township 31, of Range 11 east in Oconto County was planned before its settlement and there are still living in our midst too many of its very earliest pioneers ready to give the facts connected with its planning, settlement and development, as well as records and original data relating thereto in the office of the Deleglise estate, as well as County records, to need myths and fairy tales to supply any deficiency. George Eckart, who was one of the first two young men to take up homesteads in this vicinity is still living on his claim now inside the limits of the City of Antigo, likewise is Alex Mc Millen and the Weix’s, Mrs. Peter O’Connor, who was Anna Sherriff, was the first teacher, and other members of the Sherriff family; Frank Byrne with his wife and family who settled on their land in the first year, 1878, and still resides on the old place some two miles out on the Neva Road. Also many others and some of the members of Mr. Deleglise’s family, all have distinct remembrances of that time not much more than 35 years ago when they first came here as the first settlers. In the early 1870’s, this whole northern part of our state was one vast wilderness of magnificent forest stretching up to the state – line and up to Lake Superior, traversed by the Indians. In Wisconsin it was comprised principally of the counties of Lincoln and Oconto, which adjoined and they stretched north, now Merrill, and Oconto on the Bay. Shawano and Marathon counties adjoined these on the South with their county seats at Shawano and Wausau respectively. These towns were in the midst of sparsely settled districts and were so to say, the outposts of civilization on the boarders of the vast tract of wilderness where the Wisconsin and Fox Rivers had their sources in the Eau Claire and Wolf Rivers. The Wolf River, which drains the Eastern part of our county, was the means used by the Fox River Lumber Barons to transport the pine timber from that section of the county by “driving” the logs down the river to, principally, Oshkosh, while the Eau Claire River, which drains the Western part of the county, was the means of transportation used by the Wisconsin River Lumberman when depleting the adjacent forests of its wealth of beautiful white pine, by driving the logs down to Wausau or to some further destination on the Wisconsin, even to the Mississippi; while even in Iowa mills were manufacturing the product of these “pioneers”. After the Rebellion, the Government felt a necessity for a means of communication and transportation between Green Bay and Lake Superior, and at great expense constructed a Military road through that stretch of primitive country. The road ran from Green Bay to the Wolf River following up the course of that river through Keshena Indian Reservation up through what is now the Eastern part of Langlade County, on up through Crandon across the State-line and up to, it seems, Ontanagon on the Lake.

Lumbermen were quick to take advantage of the opening into the timber’s, as a means of conveying supplies to their men in the “Pioneers” and trading posts sprang up along the road, the principal one being perhaps Shawano. The conditions along the Eau Claire were similar, only here they road a wagon trail, was built and kept up by lumbermen, principally the Wausau men and the Washburn logging interests. Along this route lived the following named Indian traders; some ten miles out from Wausau-a Mr. Knowels with his family at what is now Knowelton, the last white family on the route; Holbrook, known as “Bill Dad’, and then “Curly Joe’, a curly headed Frenchman; John Hogarty at what is now known as Hogarty P.O.; and then finally W. L. Ackley, who as far back as ’65 had established his trading post at the forks of the Eau Claire where its East and West branches unite about four miles West of what is now Antigo. At the present time Antigo people call it Heineman’s Mill. A fine mill was built there perhaps 15 years ago, but has recently been destroyed by fire. These traders were all married to dusky natives who proved admirable women and their doors were ever open to the weary traveler into and from these, then wilds. There, on the brow of the hill, overlooking the River, where now resides James Aird, one of Ackleys prominent farmers, stood trader Ackley’s house and barn in the midst of a small clearing. Here he and his kind hospitable wife built in comfort with their tree children, when in the early 70’s Antigo’s founder, Frances A. Deleglise was prospecting and planning the colonizing and settlement of the beautiful country lying to the East of the river with a soil of unbounded possibilities and agriculture and a store house of wealth in its timbers. He had, accompanied by one assistant and sometimes alone, traversed the whole section of country along the Military road, and the Eau Claire River, being a surveyor, civil engineer and cruiser of Appleton, Wisconsin, who did much prospecting from the lumbermen interested along these routes, as well as in his own interests. He was a man of the people, of benevolent and kindly disposition always looking for the greatest good in the greatest number, a thinking man of character and integrity, possessing a great love of nature. The point on the bank of Spring Brook where Superior Street intersects Fifth Avenue of our city, suggested itself to his mind as the central point of the town he would plant as the center of trade for the surrounding agricultural districts, a veritable poor man’s agricultural paradise. His enthusiastic plans were laughed and scoffed at by his friends, and business associates and dubbed by them “Deleglise’s Dream”. But he knew his country and had faith in it and continued on with his “dreams” and plans, contracting and buying State and Government lands for himself and for others who had faith in him and entrusted him with funds for such investment. He had contracted or bought up much or most of the land which is in and adjoins our present city when in 1876 he persuaded his son-in-law, John Deresch, and George Eckart, a distant relative of Mrs. Deleglise, to take up two fine homesteads of 160 acres each lying West of and adjoining this site and facing on what is now West Fifth Avenue, within the city limits. These two young men set right to work to make for themselves homes. With the assistance of Mr. Deleglise and his assistant Mr. Soloman Favinger, a passable wagon road was cleared from the “Tote” road at Ackley’s to their claims and by winter they had made sufficient headway with their camp to enable Mr. Deresch to bring up his young wife a girl of barely 20 years; she was the eldest child of Mr. Deleglise and with them he made his headquarters until the arrival of his family a year and a half later. When Mr. Deresch returned with his wife, it was still some four weeks time before the camp could be made sufficiently comfortable for her. She remained at Ackley’s during this time where Mrs. Ackley, a neat housekeeper initiated her into the housewifely arts of pioneer life and of the wigwam. Mr. Deleglise spent as much of the years of 1876 and ’77 up here as he possibly could, platting, planning, opening up roads, locating homesteads and lands for prospective settlers and by the fall of '’77 H.E. Baker and a Mr. Slevens, both of Appleton, were settled with their little families on the lands now known as the “Baxter” place. Alex McMillen, a single man had settled on his land, now on McMillen Avenue, Frank Byrne with his family and Domonic Golden with his mother and sister were also settled on lands near Bakers. Mr. Deleglise had great respect and admiration for the industry and thrift of the German farmers and his hobby was to bring up here a German colony. In the fall of ’77 he started out from Appleton with a party of thirty colonists, mostly Germans, with two horse teams, provisions etc. Mr. Deleglise with some of them came by railroad to Wausau, bringing with him his little daughter, Anna Virginia, to be company for Mrs. Deresch through the winter. It was rather late in the fall, already November; the weather was unpleasant and the roads very bad. The first day out from Wausau, they took dinner at Knowles, spent the night at “Curley Joe’s”, camping out one night when it snowed, covering the sleepers with its white blanket; then one night was passed at Hogarty’s; another camping out near one of Washburn’s camps; and finally reaching Deresch’s after a five days journey from Wausau over those trails. Mike Weix Sr., and his two sons, Lawrence and Joseph, Robert Sherriff and son Joseph, the McGahan boys and Thos. Hafner of the party had already homesteaded and came serenely on, but of all the belligerent fowlers of a leader, that bunch of sturdy Germans could win the prize for profanity and abusive censure, luckily confined for the most part to their own language with which Mr. Deleglise was not familiar! The journey and the prospect of living in such a wilderness was too much for those Germans. They went back the next day, all but the Weix’s. Weix and Sherriff had their teams and they set right to work with their sons clearing sites to build log dwellings on the lands of their choice. Mr. Weix had bargained for and contracted the forty which is now Weix’s Addition of our city, while Mr. Sherriff located on the place straight East of Fifth Avenue, at the foot of the first hill on the left of the road, recently purchased by Mr. Von de Schoeppe.

 

 

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