Winona County History
History of Winona County, Minnesota
Submitted by John Bauer
Winona County was officially established with its present boundaries on February
23, 1854, three years after Minnesota Territory was opened to settlement. Prior to that time this area was at first
part of Wabasha County and later Fillmore County under the Minnesota territorial government. After Minnesota achieved
statehood in 1858 the county government was established with the election of supervisors in that year and the county
board was formed in 1860.
The territorial government, organized in 1849, created nine counties for the Minnesota territory. Only three of
them were completely organized as counties, the rest served for the distribution of judicial and administrative
officials as needed.
Wabasha County which contained the area which was to be the future Winona County was bounded by the Mississippi
River on the east, the Missouri River on the west the Iowa state line to the south, and on the North the latitude
drawn from the mouth of the St. Croix River over to the mouth of the Yellow Medicine River This huge administrative
area included all of southern Minnesota and the southeastern portion of what would be South Dakota.
In 1853 Fillmore County was created which included most of present Winona County. The creation of this new district
was unsatisfactory to Winonans because the western area of the county was sparsely settled, most of the population
in 1853 was in Wabasha's prairie and the area adjacent to it including Minnesota City and Minneowah. There were
a few early settlers in the hinterland of Wabasha's prairie but they were widely dispersed. A few settlers had
established a trading post as far west as St. Charles. Even though the first county meeting was held in Winona
all the members of the county board were stockholders in the Chatfield Land Company which was involved in a scheme
to acquire the county seat for a townsite they controlled on the western border of Fillmore County. T. B. Twitford
from Lansing Iowa discovered and laid out the site for Chatfield. In order to advance his town he formed a stock
company to make Chatfield the county seat for Fillmore County. The stock of the company was divided among twelve
stock holders, among them were Robert Pike, Jr. of Minnesota City and Willard B. Bunnell of Minneowah.
Source: Winona County Historical Society.
First Settlements at Winona
Source: History of Winona, Olmsted & Dodge Counties, H. H. Hill & Co.
Publishers (1884) Chapter XXIV; transcribed by Peg Thompson
To catch the drift from the colony above, Johnson offered the choice of an acre
of his claim on Wabasha prairie to each of the disaffected ones who would stop
there, build a house and make it their residence for one year. At that time the
claim had not been surveyed or divided into lots and streets. This offer was
accepted by several and a number of locations selected.
Rev. E. Ely made choice of an acre south of Johnson’s shanty, about where the
Ely block now stands, on the corner of Center and Second streets. Jacob S.
Denman selected an acre adjoining that of Mr. Ely’s on the east; Dr. Childs an
acre on the south of Mr. Ely’s; E. B. Thomas on the south of Mr. Denman’s and
east from that of Dr. Childs’; John Evans selected an acre west of Johnson’s
shanty; John Burns, a member of the association and one of the party who camped
on the bank of the river from the Dr. Franklin on the 9th of May, accepted the
offer of an acre from Ed. Hamilton on his claim on the same conditions as the
others. The acre chosen by him was in what is now the front yard of the
residence of Hon. H. W. Lamberton on the corner of Huff and Harriett Streets.
Mr. Burns planted a small garden and set out a few small apple trees, which he
had brought up the river. Some of these trees afterward grew to be of
considerable size. These were the first fruit trees, or trees of any kind,
planted on Wabasha prairie by the early settlers. These fruit trees were planted
in a trench near together, as in a nursery. When Mr. Huff took possession of the
Hamilton claim he built a fence around the few trees that had escaped the
ravages of the cattle, and after two or three years transplanted them in his
W. H. Stevens gave the use of his shanty on the Stevens claim to Mr. Denman
until he could procure lumber and build a residence for his family. Mr. Denman
found occupation for his team and plow by breaking the land selected for himself
and others. They all made small gardens by way of occupancy and improvements.
Mr. Denman enclosed his acre and that selected by Mr. Thomas with a temporary
fence and planted the field with corn. This was his first attempt at farming in
Minnesota. It was not a profitable enterprise. The fence that enclosed this corn
field was the first fence built on the prairie by the settlers. It was put up by
George W. Clark and his brother Wayne Clark. Mr. Denman paid them for it by
breaking four acres of land on Clark’s claim across the slough.
Neither Mr. Thomas, Dr. Childs or Mr. Burns ever made any other improvements on
the lots selected. They abandoned them and made locations elsewhere. Mr. Thomas
and Mr. Burns held claims in the colony, but left the territory in the fall. Dr.
Childs remained on the prairie for several years after.
Mr. Denman built a house on his acre of prairie as soon as he could procure
lumber. Mr. Ely built one in the fall. During the summer his family lived in
Johnson’s shanty after they came up from La Crosse, where they staid for a short
time. He paid Johnson four dollars per month rent for the use of the “Hotel.”
The house built by Mr. Denman stood on Lafayette street, between Second and
Third streets. This was the first house built by the settlers on Wabasha
prairie, not expressly designed as a “claim shanty.” It was a balloon frame
building of considerable pretensions for that date of improvements, about 16x32,
one story high, the sides boarded “up and down” with rough boards and the cracks
battened. The roof was of boards, and because of its peculiar construction the
building was given the name of “car-house,” from its fancied resemblance to a
railroad car. The doors and windows were furnished with frames and casings – the
first improvements of the kind. The floor was of dressed lumber, a luxury
heretofore unknown. This building was divided into rooms by board partitions,
and parts of it ceiled with dressed lumber.
Mr. Denman occupied this house as his residence until fall, when he moved on his
claim. About the first of July he opened a store in the front room of this
building. He brought up from Galena a small stock of goods suitable for the
market, and here started the first store on Wabasha prairie for the sale of
goods to the settlers. Jacob S. Denman was the first merchant to establish
himself in business in what is now the city of Winona.
It was in the “car house” that the first white child was born within the limits
of this city. While living here the family of Mrs. Denman was increased by the
addition of a daughter on the 18th of July, 1852. Mrs. Goddard, after
consultation with Mrs. Ely, gave to this first native settler the name of
“Prairie Louise Denman,” the name by which she was afterward known. She has been
dead many years. The oldest native settler, born in the city of Winona, who is
now living, is Mason Ely, the second son of Rev. Edward Ely, born in 1853.
The primary object of all of the early settlers was to secure land for farming
purposes on which to locate a future home. About the first thing done was to
“make a claim.” Mr. Denman began prospecting as soon as he landed, and on the
9th of May discovered and formally made a claim on the upper prairie. He and his
mother there held 320 acres. The high water flooded the bottom lands, and their
claims covered all of the land not overflowed, lying east from the Rolling Stone
creek, to about where the highway now crosses the railroads and extended south
far enough to include the table next to the bluffs. It was on this table that he
blazed the trees and inscribed his name as proprietor of the claim. It was on
this table that he built a very comfortable log house, made other improvements,
and moved his family there in September. The land selected by Mr. Denman had
been previously claimed by Haddock and Murphy for the Western Farm and Village
Association. Mr. Denman was duly notified that h was trespassing on grounds
claimed for the colony, but he persisted in holding it and making improvements
without regard to the protestations of the members of the association.
This was the first collision of a settler with that organization. The first
person to encroach on the territory claimed was an ex-member. To get Denman off,
the colonists tried “moral, legal and physical suasion, but he tenaciously
adhered.” He lived in this log cabin under the bluffs for about three years,
until he built a more modern house and large barns near the center of his farm.
This claim, or, more properly, the claims of Denman and his mother, are now
known as the Denman farm. It is at present owned and occupied by Mr. George
Mr. Denman sacrificed this large farm, which he had secured by honest industry
and years of hard labor, in his mistaken zealous efforts to aid the “Grange
movement” for cheaper freights, cheaper supplies and cheaper agricultural
implements. He removed to Texas, but his good luck at farming failed him there.
It is said that Mr. Denman is now a poor man, and in his old age again a
pioneer, looking for “a home in the west” in one of the territories. None of his
family are now living in this county.
Dr. George F. Childs, with his wife and niece, lived for a short time in
Johnson’s shanty. While there his niece was taken with the measles and died
after a few days’ sickness. The remains were taken to La Crosse for burial.
About the middle of May Dr. Childs bought the east half of the claim made by
Jabez McDermott. He paid McDermott eighty dollars for a quit-claim deed and
possession of eighty acres. This was the first claim sale on Wabasha prairie.
Whether this deed was ever made a matter of record is now very uncertain, as at
that time there was on county organization in Wabasha county of which Winona
county was a part. All matters of record were filed in Washington county, with
which Wabasha was connected for all judicial purposes. Possession of land was
then more important than title-deeds. The land still belonged to government and
no surveys had been made.
The machine shops and surrounding buildings of the Chicago & Northwestern
Railroad Company, the Winona wagon works and the Winona plow works are on what
was once the McDermott claim. This locality was a favorite camping place of
Wabasha’s band. When Dr. Childs took possession there were about half-a-dozen of
their large bark cabins, or tepees, yet standing, but in a somewhat dilapidated
condition, the settlers having taken material from them for use in other
localities. In the vicinity of the machine shops was an old Indian burying
place. The graves were scattered over that locality; very many were exposed and
destroyed in the excavations made. Relics of the past – stone hatchets, flint
arrowheads, and pipes of red pipestone – were found. Sometimes fragments of
bones or a tolerably well preserved skeleton would be unearthed and used to help
form a railroad embankment in some other locality.
Indian graves have been found in several places on Wabasha prairie and in the
mouths of the valleys. Quite a number were exposed by the caving of the river
bank on the lower part of the prairie. Two modern Indian graves were on
Johnson’s claim when the whites first took possession of the prairie. They were
left undisturbed for several years. The covering of sticks which were placed
over them by the natives marked their location until the ground was plowed by
Johnson in the spring of 1855. These graves were on lot 2, block 17. When it was
improved and buildings were erected, the bones buried there were thrown out in
excavating a cellar and taken possession of by Dr. Franklin Staples. These bones
were the remains of young persons and were very much decayed. It has been stated
that some of Wabasha’s children were buried in these graves, but there is no
evidence confirming this statement. Wabasha’ special home was in the mouth of
The Indian village located on the McDermott claim, a part of which was purchased
by Dr. Childs, was said to be the grand gathering place of the Mdaywakantowan
division of Sioux. It was in this vicinity that Wabasha’s bands met for their
amusements, sports and games as well as more serious and important affairs. From
this village the Indian trails diverged as from a common center, some leading to
the valleys, others up and down the bank of the river. The wild grass, common on
every other part of the prairie, had almost entirely disappeared around this
village or summer resort, and had been replaced by a fine turf of blue-grass
found in no other place except along the bank of the river on the lower part of
the prairie, where Mrs. Keyes now lives.
Mr. George W. Clarks says “That on McDermott’s claim there was a large flat
stone, the center of a large circle of smooth, level ground, with well defined
boundaries, plainly to be seen in 1851. This stone was taken away by some of the
Dr. Childs lived during the summer of 1852 in the little cabin with a bark roof
which McDermott occupied as his claim shanty. He built a comfortable cottage
near by it, in which he lived for several years. The logs and poles of the Sioux
tepees were used in the construction of sheds and as posts for his fences. The
bark covering of the huts was carefully gathered and used a firewood for his
It was the custom of Dr. Childs to date all of his correspondence and business
papers from his residence on this claim, to which he gave the name of “Ozelle
cottage.” This name was derived from the one given by the old French voyageurs
to Wabasha prairie. Ozelle was but the French pronunciation of Aix Aile
anglicized by Dr. Childs in writing.
When Dr. Childs left New York he supposed that he would find the Indians
occupying this part of the territory, and brought along an assortment of goods
for the purpose of bartering with them, but found that the Sioux had forsaken
their homes in this locality. He after a time traded his Indian goods with the
Winnebagoes for dressed deerskins and got rid of his goods without loss.
Dr. Childs was a botanic physician, but never practiced his profession in this
vicinity or only to a very limited extent. He engaged in mercantile business for
a year or two after he sold his land. He moved to Minneiska, Wabasha county,
where he lived for awhile. Dr. G. F. Childs is now a resident of the State of
Maryland, where he has charge of a benevolent institution, a home for aged
Among he passengers who landed at Johnson’s landing from the steamer Caleb Cope
on May 12, 1852, were Abner S. Goddard, wife and three children from La Crosse.
They arrived at about four o’clock on a dark and rainy morning, and went
directly from the landing to the shanty on the Stevens claim, in accordance with
a previous arrangement made with Silas Stevens. On reaching the shanty they were
surprised to find the table, benches and other furniture of the cabin which they
supposed to be occupied, irregularly piled outside. When the inmates were
aroused they discovered that the furniture had been removed to afford sleeping
quarters for the occupants. William H. Stevens, and a young man living with him
held one corner, while the family of Mr. Denman, seven in number were in
possession of the remainder of the little 10x12 shanty, not occupied by the
cook-stove. To accommodate the newcomers, the future occupants of the cabin, Mr.
Denman provided for his family by making a shelter for them with the lumber he
had laid up loosely to dry for use in the house he was then building. While
living in this manner the loose boards were blown from over their heads during a
severe thunderstorm one night when they were all in bed. They were compelled to
seek shelter in Johnson’s shanty, but again occupied their lumber piles in the
morning and continued to do so until their house was finished.
During the previous winter Mr. Goddard had been living in La Crosse. He there
taught the village school – the first school ever taught in La Crosse, the first
school ever taught on the Mississippi river between Prairie du Chien and St.
Paul, if the Indian mission schools at Red Wing and Kaposia are excepted. His
schoolroom was in the court house, which was built during the fall and fore part
of the same winter. To add to their income and to accommodate some personal
friends, Mrs. Goddard opened a boarding house “Aunt Catharine’s” table was then,
as it is now, always full, without soliciting patronage. Silas Stevens became a
boarder and made it his home with them while in La Crosse. After the attempt of
Mr. Gere to jump the Stevens claim Mr. Stevens offered to furnish Mr. Goddard a
shanty of sufficient capacity to keep a boarding house on Wabasha prairie if he
would go up and live on his claim and also promised him an acre of the claim on
which to build a house if he would continue to reside there. Others, then living
in La Crosse, who had made claims, urged him to accept Mr. Stevens’ proposition.
As Mr. Goddard had been up to the prairie with a party of claim hunters early in
the spring, and had been solicited by the settlers in that locality to come up,
he was the more readily induced to change his residence.
Immigrants were landed from every boat, and the little shanty was crowded with
hungry guests as soon as their arrival was known. Meals were provided for all
that came, but they were required to look out for their own lodging places. The
beds of their guests were sometimes the soft sands of the prairie, the bed
clothing their ordinary wearing apparel with the addition of a blanket.
Three or four days after the arrival of Mr. Goddard, another shanty was put up
by Mr. Stevens to meet the increasing business and the demand for better
accommodations. This shanty was a one story building about 16x32. To increase
its capacity an awning of canvas was stretched from one side, which served as a
shelter for the cooking department. The two rooms were subdivided by canvas
partitions. It was customary, however, for guests who lodged there to blow out
the candle and go to the bed in the dark. This was a rule of the house.
This shanty stood about where the “Davenport House,” now stands, not far from
the corner of Third and Kansas Streets. The original shanty on the Stevens claim
was torn down and the material used in the construction of this second one.
“Goddard’s” was the favorite stopping place – the most popular and commodious
“hotel” on Wabasha prairie. This shanty was the “home” of many of the early
settlers of this county who came that season. It was here they gathered for
social enjoyment, to get the latest news, to discuss the matters of claims and
current events. It was the place of gathering for all public meetings, and the
headquarters of the Wabasha Protection Club, of which Mr. Goddard was elected
secretary. A select school was opened here by Miss Angelia Gere, a young
daughter o H. C. Gere. This was the first school attempted on the prairie. It
was kept in operation but a short time. Here the first stated religious meetings
were held, with regular preaching on the Sabbath day. This history would be
incomplete without some special notice of Mr. Goddard an dhis family so
intimately were the early settlers connected with this “settlers’ home.”
The summer of 1852 was known in the west as the sickly season. The extreme high
water of the early spring was followed by another extreme of low water, with
remarkably dry and hot weather. This occasioned a general epidemic of severe
forms of malarial diseases, which were unusually fatal. These diseases prevailed
extensively along the river. Wabasha prairie and the colony at Minnesota City
were seriously affected by it. The settlement of this county was retarded
through the loss of many of the settlers by death, and the removal of very many
others to escape the threatened dangers of sickness in a locality where there
was so limited accommodations, even for the healthy.
The settlers considered themselves fortunate, indeed, if in their attack of
sickness they could get in at Goddard’s. The accommodation was prized, for there
they felt sure of kind attention and watchful nursing. There were no regular
medical practitioners in the county who followed their profession – none nearer
than La Crosse, and domestic management was an important consideration with the
The following extract from a letter to “Aunt Catherine” (Mrs. Goddard), written
a score of years afterward, will illustrate somewhat the general sentiments of
the early settlers in connection with the occurrences of that year: “I cannot
forget the many deeds of kindness and motherly care my brothers and myself
received at your hands when you house was a hospital and you the ministering
angel. With nine sick persons, including your husband; with but two rooms in
which to lodge and make comfortable your sick household how admirably and
patiently all was managed.
In the latter part of this season Mr. Goodard and his two youngest children were
prostrated with the prevailing diseases and died. Mr. Goddard’s death occurred
September 11. The loss of a citizen of such promising usefulness in the new
settlement was a calamity seriously felt. He was a man of the strictest
integrity and of correct moral principals.
In his native state, Pennsylvania, Mr. Goddard was honored with the office of
justice of the peace and held that position for many years. He there acquired
the title of “Squire Goddard” by which name he was generally known. He was
appointed postmaster and received his commission during his last sickness, but
never qualified or attempted to serve in that capacity.
Mrs. Goddard now known as Ms. Catharine Smith, is yet a resident of Wabasha
prairie. She is the oldest female resident of the city of Winona. Indirectly
through her some of the best citizens of Winona became residents of this county.
She is a sister of the Lairds’. Although the mother of many children, she has
but one living, a son, Orrin F. Smith.
Aunt Catharine is a woman, whose social nature, kind heart and real worth have
secured to her hosts of sincere friends. Her Easter parties, birthday gatherings
and social reunions of old settlers are annual enjoyments to herself as well as
to her numerous relatives and friends. Mrs. Goddard was connected with many
incidents of pioneer life which might be mentioned some of which will be
Prominent among the settlers who located on Wabasha prairie this season was Dr.
John L. Balcombe. About April 1 he came up the river on the Nominee and stopped
at La Crosse. Being a gentleman of much more than usual general intelligence,
with fine social qualifications, and also an invalid, he readily formed
acquaintances and found friends among the best citizens of that place. Wabasha
prairie was then attracting considerable attention from the residents of La
Crosse, and not long after his arrival he was induced to join a party who
proposed to explore the late Sioux purchase for farming lands. Their prospecting
excursions only extended to the valleys along the river, where some claims were
selected. It being too early in the season to attempt any very extended trip
without a more suitable outfit than could be procured, they returned to La
In the fore part of May Dr. Balcombe again visited Wabasha prairie. He brought
with him a horse or pony and camp supplies. He here secured the services of Ed
Hamilton whose robust strength and experience as a cook made him a valuable
acquisition in the exploring excursion he proposed to make. After transporting
their outfit across the slough they started for the back country, Hamilton
leading the way on the trail with a heavy pack of supplies, the doctor following
on horseback with the balance of their outfit, which included a sack of corn and
a bundle of hay.
Following the trail to Minnesota City they went up the south valley and out on
Sweet’s prairie on a trail marked by the settlers of the colony. They spent
three or four days in exploring the country along the branches of the White
Water and Root River as far as the western part of this country. In the vicinity
of what is now the town of Saratoga they saw a large herd of elk, the last that
have been seen in this vicinity.
They returned through the Rolling Stone and arrived at Johnson’s landing on the
evening of May 12, and went directly to the shanty of Mr. Goddard, where the
doctor was provided or as a guest with such accommodations as the place
afforded, although Mrs. Goddard had hardly taken possession of the premises. The
next day he returned to La Crosse.
About the last of May another exploring party was organized in La Crosse by Dr.
Balcombe, Rev. J. C. Sherwin, Rev. William H. Card, and other prominent
citizens. Provided with horses and necessary supplies for camping out, they took
passage to Wabasha prairie. The services of Ed Hamilton were again secured. As
the grass had by this time become sufficient for the support of their horses,
the trip was only limited by their inclinations or the extent of their camp
This party went out through Gilmore valley. Keeping on the divide between the
Root river and the White Water and Zombro rivers, they explored the country as
far west as the head waters of the White Water, spending the Sabbath in the
vicinity of the present village of St. Charles. Religious exercises were
observed and Elder Sherwin delivered a sermon to his companions. This was the
first religious meeting held in the country back from the river.
While on the excursion Dr. Balcombe made discovery of many choice locations. His
habits of close observation with a retentive memory, gave him a decided
advantage over other explorers, which were afterward of pecuniary value. He
could long afterward point out the choicest locations to the early settlers
seeking farming lands. While on this trip he first discovered and located the
present site of High Forest. It was not until a year or two afterward that he
found sale for his rights of discovery.
This exploring excursion satisfied Dr. Balcombe that the resources of this part
of the Sioux purchase, when developed, would amply support a large commercial
town on the river and that the outlet must be in this vicinity. He decided to
locate on Wabasha prairie, and accepted Johnson’s offer of an acre of ground on
the same terms offered others. The acre selected was west of and adjoining that
chosen by John Evans. He built a shanty on Main street, between Front and Second
streets, near the alley. It was 12x16, one story , of little better style than
common claim shanties. It had a gable roof instead of the ordinary shed roof.
This was at first of boards, but was afterward covered with shingles.
Dr. Balcombe also bought an undivided one-third of the Hamilton claim No. 5.
Mark Howard, a gentleman residing in Hartford, Conn., purchased another third.
Edwin Hamilton retaining one third. Walter Brown of La Crosse, was appointed
agent for Mr. Howard. This property is now known as Huf’s addition to the
original town plot of Winona. The claim was valued at $200. The shares were
$66.66 each. Mr. Hamilton then supposed he had made a good sale.
About June 1, Dr. Balcombe brought his wife from Illinois where she was on a
visit with her son. Stopping at La Crosse for awhile, she came to Wabasha
prairie on June 13. They boarded at Goddard’s until they commenced housekeeping
in their own shanty in July. About July 1, he built a shanty on the Hamilton
claim, which he leased to O. S. Holbrook, of which mention was made in earlier
Early in July Dr. Balcombe went down the river and brought up some household
furniture and supplies. He also brought back with him a span of horses and a
colt, double and single harnesses, a lumber wagon and a buggy. This was the
first buggy ever brought into the county and the only one for nearly a year
After spending the summer and fall in Minnesota, Dr. Balcombe sold his interest
in the Hamilton claim, with his horses and wagons, to Edwin Hamilton for $661,
and with his wife went down the river on the last boat in the fall. He spent the
winter with his only child, a son, St. A. D. Balcombe, then a druggist doing
business in Elin, Illinois. He returned the following spring. Further attention
will be given him in the occurrences of that year.
Source: History of Winona, Olmsted & Dodge Counties; H. H. Hill & Co.
Publishers (1884) transcribed by Jan Stypula
Quite a number of persons came up from La Crosse on the ice about the first of
January, 1852, to see the country and select claims on Wabasha prairie. As
everybody stopped at Bunnell's, he, too, became infected with the prevailing
epidemic of claim-making from his guests. Although he had no confidence in the
success of Capt. Smith's undertaking to build up a commercial port on "that
sand-bar in the Mississippi," Bunnell had the shrewdness to surmise that there
might be a chance for speculation in the attempt, provided he could sell out
before it should be again flooded with water. He at once concluded to take a
chance in the venture, and decided that he, too, would have a claim on Wabasha
At that time Capt. Smith's claim on the lower landing, claim No. 1, was
considered the most valuable and the most desirable as a town site. No. 4 was
estimated as the next in value. Nos. 2, 3, 5 and 6 were valued in the order
Having determined on making a claim Bunnell went up to the prairie and looked
the ground over. He found that the most desirable locations had already been
taken. Notwithstanding this he fixed upon one of the unoccupied claims, and
selected claim No. 4 for his purpose. This claim he considered really the most
valuable. To get possession Bunnell stated to Johnson that he had been looking
for a claim, and had found one that suited him just above the Stevens claim that
was not occupied, and he intended to take possession of it. Johnson replied by
telling him that he could not have it; that he had already made a claim there
and should hold it. Bunnell inquired how many claims he expected to hold; that
he was already holding two at the lower end of the prairie. This Johnson denied,
and explained to him that the one he was living on was CapL Smith's and that the
other belonged to Nash.
Bunnell then tried to convince Johnson that it would be to the advantage of all
who had claims there to give him an interest on the prairie, for the Sioux were
then talking of driving the whites away until the treaty was ratified; that with
his influence over them he would be able to prevent trouble. Johnson replied
that he would not give up that claim to any man, that he was not afraid of
trouble with the Indians, that he should hold both claims as long as he staid
there. Finding that Johnson could not be influenced by argument, he left with
the threat that he would have it, even if he had to help the Indians drive them
all off from the prairie.
Not long afterward Bunnell drove up to the prairie again and brought with him on
his train two fine-looking young Sioux braves in their holiday attire. He saw
Johnson and told him the Sioux were getting to be more dissatisfied with the
settlers for coming on their lands without their permission; that there would
soon be a disturbance unless something was done to keep them quiet; that he
should not try to control them unless he could have that claim; if the settlers
got into trouble they would have to go to some one else for help.
Although no serious difficulty was anticipated, the alarm was given as soon as
Bunnell came on the prairie with the Sioux and the "boys" who were on the island
chopping came home in a hurry.
After explaining matters to the others, Bunnell told Johnson he had come up on
purpose to have a talk with him about that claim, and asked him what he was
going to do about it. "Nothing," was Johnson's reply, and remarked that he did
not believe such good-natured looking fellows as Bunnell had on his sleigh would
do any harm if they were well treated.
Bunnell had taken a dram or two and was excitable. He lost his temper, talked
loud and made a great many violent gestures. The Sioux sat quietly in their
places on the train and indulged themselves with their pipes and some of
Bunnell's tobacco. They were impassive and apparently indifferent spectators of
Johnson, believing that this was a ruse of Bunnell's to try and frighten them,
told him that he "did not scare easy and could not be bluffed with a little
noise." Bunnell was annoyed that his dramatic display was a failure, and as he
got on his sleigh answered: "You will have to take care of yourself if the
Indians get after you; I shall not interfere again." Johnson laughed and gave
some derisive reply, telling him "not to bother himself about the affairs of
others until he was asked."
The next trip Bunnell made to Wabasha prairie he brought with him two men,
Harrington and Myers, and built a small log shanty or pen on Johnson's claim at
the upper landing. The logs used in the construction of this claim shanty were
once a part of Indian farmer Reed's old store cabin, the ruins of which
furnished material sufficient for the body of the crib. It was covered with
broad strips of elm bark brought from the Indian tepees in the mouth of Burns'
In this little pen, not more than six feet square and not high enough for a man
to stand up in, Bunnell left Myers to hold the fort and guard the claim, which
he had now taken possession of in a formal manner. Bunnell furnished Myers with
supplies and brought up some lumber and put up the framework of a board shanty,
but did not complete it for want of material to cover it. Myers remained in
quiet possession of the claim for about a week, when, considering everything
safe, as he had not been disturbed or observed any hostile movements, the
settlers on the prairie being absent on the island, he ventured down to
Bunnell's for a little recreation and relief from his lonely and uncomfortable
Although no demonstrations had been made, Johnson had watched these proceedings
and closely observed all of the movements of Myers. It was a gratification to
see the man with his gun leave the prairie. He at once took advantage of the
absence of the occupant of the cabin and demolished the improvements. He leveled
the structure with the ground, and then deliberately cut the old logs and the
lumber into firewood.
Bunnell was enraged when he found that Johnson had destroyed his shanty, and
threatened to whip him the next time he saw him. Myers did not return to Wabasha
prairie. He was dismissed by Bunnell for neglect of duty and left the country.
Bunnell sent messages to Johnson warning him to leave the prairie, or the next
time he came up he would whip him like a dog. Johnson sent back answers that he
was prepared to defend himself and his claims; that if Bunnell came on the
prairie again it would be at his peril.
Neither of these men were cowards, and serious trouble was anticipated. They
were small men—hardly of medium size, Johnson a little larger and heavier of the
two and of coarser make-up. Bunnell was firmer built and active in his
movements, a dangerous antagonist for a much larger man in any kind of a fight.
Satisfied that "talk" would not win the claim and irritated by Johnson's
successful opposition, Bunnell, in company with Harrington, drove up to the
prairie one evening for the purpose of assaulting Johnson if a favorable
opportunity offered. Both had stimulated to a fighting degree and were primed
for the purpose.
Going first to the Stevens shanty, Bunnell there found Clark and Nash, who had
called on a social visit He inquired for
Hamilton and learned that he was at Johnson's. Gilmore and Wallace were on the
other side of the river at Farrell's. After a short visit they left without
betraying the object of their evening visit on so dark a night.
They went directly down to Johnson's shanty. Bunnell knocked at the door. On
being told to "come in" he entered, saying, as he rushed toward Johnson, who
with Hamilton was sitting by the fire, "Get out of this if you want to live."
Johnson sprang for his revolver, which was in his berth, but the attack was too
sudden; he had no opportunity to use it before he was knocked down and disarmed.
Hamilton bolted from the shanty at the first clash of the combat and ran for
help. He arrived almost breathless at the other shanty, a mile away, and gave
the alarm by excitedly exclaiming, "Bunnell is killing Johnson; come down quick
as you can." Clark and Nash at once started back with Hamilton on a run for the
scene of conflict. When about half way they were met by Johnson, who, although
apparently injured, returned with them. They found that the shanty had been
demolished, but the assailants had disappeared.
Johnson was taken up to Clark's shanty, where he was provided for and carefully
attended. He was found to have been badly bruised about the head, chest and
arms. His face and hands were badly swollen and covered with blood, but no bones
were broken. It afterward proved that no serious injuries had been received.
Johnson had been terribly beaten by Bunnell and was compelled to lay up for
When the battle-ground was visited in the morning the full extent of damages to
the "pioneer claim shanty" was revealed. The first evidence of actual settlement
on Wabasha prairie had been destroyed. The pile of brick and stone which formed
the fireplace, with some broken dishes, marked the locality where the little
cabin once stood. It had been turned over and with its contents thrown on the
ice of the river.
Johnson's supplies and other traps were secured and carried up on the bank,
where they were sheltered with the lumber from the shanty. The stable and cattle
had not been disturbed. Johnson and Nash lived with Clark until their shanty was
reconstructed. Johnson's revolver and double-barreled gun were carried off by
Bunnell as trophies of his victory.
Soon after this affray, Peter Gorr and Augustus Pentler came over from the
island to visit the settlers on the prairie. Mr. Gorr had his rifle with him,
which he was induced to leave with Johnson after hearing the incidents of his
quarrel. Johnson then sent word to Bunnell that he would shoot him on sight if
he ever made his appearance on the prairie again.
Bunnell had no design to interfere with the occupancy of the claim at the lower
landing. His attack on Johnson and destruction of the shanty was for retaliation
and to intimidate him. He became satisfied that he would not be able to hold the
claim at the upper landing without some serious fighting, and, having no desire
to kill Johnson or be killed himself in the attempt, he decided to abandon bis
claim speculation on Wabasha prairie and turn his attention to what he thought
was something better nearer home. The scheme of building up a town along the
bluffs above the present village of Homer was started about this time, in which
Bunnell was for awhile interested. Bunnell returned to Johnson the revolver and
gun he had taken from him, peace was negotiated, and the "little difference"
that had existed between the parties "dropped" without further action. Bunnell,
however, became more emphatic in maintaining and more free in expressing his
opinions of " that sand bar up there," and more zealously advocated his theory
that the ''main land" was the only place for a permanent settlement.
This was the first attempt at "claim jumping" ever made in the settlement of
this county. It was afterward a common occurrence.
M. Wheeler Sargeant, an early settler, once gave a very appropriate definition
of a claim in an address before-the Winona Lyceum in 1858. He said: "A claim is
a fighting interest in land, ostensibly based upon priority of possession and
sustained by force." Many of the old settlers will readily recognize the
pertinency of this description. The law of might, as well as the law of right,
was often the means by which possession of claims were retained.
Soon after this first claim quarrel, a claim association or club was was formed
for the mutual protection of settlers in holding possession of their claims. The
first meeting was called to meet at Bunnell's about March 1. The prime movers in
the matter were some residents of La Crosse who had recently selected claims on
the west side of the Mississippi. They came up prepared to complete the business
and the organization was created at this meeting. It was called the Wabashaw
Protection Club. The important matters of constitution and by-laws were duly
discussed and gravely adopted, and officers elected with customary formality.
The settlers from Wabasha prairie attended the meeting, but were in the minority
and failed to secure any of the offices. The officials were residents of La
Crosse. Mr. George W. Clark was a member of the club and was present at that
meeting. He says from the best of his recollection the president was George G.
Barber, the secretary, William B. Gere.
The Wabasha Protection Club was the first regular organization of any kind among
the settlers ever formed in the county.
It was not entirely a fable coined by Bunnell when he represented to Johnson
that the Sioux were dissatisfied with the manner in which the settlers were
taking possession of their lands before the treaty was ratified. Whether Bunnell
was aware of the fact or not is not now positively known; but it is very
probable that he knew the Indians designed to demand a bonus from the settlers
for the privilege of remaining undisturbed. It was supposed that the treaty
would be ratified during that winter, but it was not fully confirmed by
government until the next year.
During the winter some officious personages had given the Indians begging
letters addressed to the settlers recommending that contributions be given to
the Sioux of Wabasha's band to keep them quiet and peaceable until the
ratification of the treaty. That the Indians were needy, and to prevent
dissatisfaction the settlers were advised to contribute to their wants, and
suggested that a barrel of flour, or its equivalent in money, be given for every
cabin built on their lands.
Some of Wabasha's band came over from the other side of the river where they
were camped and presented their written document. To avoid any difficulties or
annoyance from them, Johnson agreed to give them the flour, but told them they
must wait until the Nominee came up in the spring. To this they consented and
went off apparently satisfied with the arrangement. Johnson supposed this was
one of Bunnell's tricks to alarm them and that was the finale of it; but in the
spring the Indians returned and demanded the flour. This "shanty tax" assessed
by the Sioux was paid by a few of the earliest settlers.
The Sioux and Winnebago Indians visited the settlers on Wabasha prairie
frequently during the winter and were at all times friendly. There was not a
single instance where it was known that they disturbed a settler or his
property, not even in the absence of the owner.
Johnson rebuilt the shanty on Capt. Smith's claim, but put it on the bank a
little way back from the river and a few rods below where it first stood. This
was an improvement on the first structure. It was about 8 X 12. The fireplace so
much valued by Johnson in his first cabin was omitted in its reconstruction.
Johnson induced Augustus Pentler with his wife to occupy this shanty. He boarded
with them and made it his home until he built a shanty on his claim at the upper
landing. Mr. Pentler lived in this place three or four months and then made a
claim on the river below Bunnell's along the bluffs, where he lived for several
years. He is now living in the western part of the state.
Mrs. Pentler was the first white woman among the early settlers to make Wabasha
prairie her place of residence—the first white woman that settled in what is now
the city of Winona. About March 1, Silas Stevens and his son, William H.
Stevens, came up from La Crosse on the ice. They brought with them a pair of
horses, wagon and sleigh. This was the first span of horses brought into the
county by a settler. There had been no demand or use for horse-teams. In banking
wood and hauling logs ox-teams were the most useful and economical. Bunnell kept
a saddle-horse, which in winter he drove harnessed to a kind of sleigh called a
train, a kind of conveyance peculiarly adapted to travel over unbroken trails
drifted with snow.
On the arrival of Silas Stevens Mr. Clark delivered up to him his claim and gave
possession of the shanty and other property entrusted to his care. About this
time, or not long afterward, Mr. Nash put up a small log cabin on claim No. 2.
Clark and Gilmore occupied this with Nash as their headquarters until they built
shanties on their own claims. This shanty stood about two blocks back from the
river on what is now High Forest street. It was about 10 X 12, built of small
logs and covered with bark. The bark for the roof and the lumber used in its
construction was taken from the old Indian huts or tepees, which were standing
on the prairie about a mile above the upper landing.
Winona Wagon Company
Portrait and biographical record of Winona County, Minnesota; Chapman Bros. Chicago 1895 Page 370 - Transcribed by Christine Walters
THE WINONA WAGON COMPANY was incorporated in October, 1879, as the Winona Rushford Wagon Company by A. J. Stevens, John Albertson and O. B. Gould. The last-named became President. The capital stock was originally $45,000, and the first year about five hundred Rushford wagons were sold. From that time the business has steadily increased until now the annual sale amounts to ten thousand wagons. Business is done in a three-story brick shop, 50x400 feet, with a two-story, in which is stored the raw material which comes in from the yards. There is also a blacksmith shop, 65x190 feet, a seasoning shed, 25x500 feet, full of smaller timber, and a larger building, containing about ten thousand sets of hubs. All the timber for the more important parts of the wagon is seasoned for three years, either in protected sheds in the yards, or in buildings enclosed from the weather, and for three months before using is kept in the seasoning rooms in a bath of hot air at a temperature of one hundred degrees, day and night, until every particle of greenness or moisture is thoroughly extracted. Man}' important parts, such as hubs, etc., are then dipped in boiling oil, which prevents checking and imparts an especial toughness to the fibre.
At the extreme end of the factory, where the finished property is kept, are side-tracks from all the railroads entering the city, so that it is no trouble to load goods. A new contrivance has lately been introduced into the factory—a powerful hydraulic tire-shrinking machine, used in shrinking tires on wheels. The tires are first heated to two hundred and sixty-five degrees in a steam heater, too hot to handle hy hand, but not hot enough to burn wood. The tire is then laid on the wheel, which is placed horizontally on the machine, the tire slips down into place, and with a touch the operator causes plungers to move up against it all around it. The pressure forces it to contract, and it is set against the wheel so forcibly as to place the proper "dish" in the wheel, and is then held in place still more tightly when it cools and contracts. This is a most excellent piece of machinery, and with it one man can do the work which would otherwise require ten men. The bands are put on the hubs by a machine working on the same principle.
A spoke-driving machine, which is operated by a boy, drives spokes for forty wagons in a day— the work of four men. This consists of a hammer at the end of a handle three and a-half feet long, so swung on an axle moved by friction wheels that its strikes a powerful blow, and yet is as easily controlled as is a small hammer in the hands of a skilled blacksmith. Three blows will drive the most obstinate spoke to its shoulder in the hub, and much more solidly than is possible by hand. New machines of most improved patterns are being added in each depar'ment, and many of the special machines are made in one part of the plant by skilled machinists, who are thoroughly conversant with every need of each machine.
The Rushford wagon is known from Maine to California, from Manitoba to Texas, and its fine lines of construction, combined with the best material, the finest workmanship, and honest effort in each department, has given it a name second to none among wagons. The great demand can be partially appreciated when it is known that over one hundred styles of wagonsarc made in this factory alone,styles differing in details of dimensions rather than in finish and general appearance. Every department of this large plant is under the trained eye of its Superintendent, Mr. Hennessy, whose generalship in handling men and meeting emergencies is unquestioned. This has proven one of the very few manufacturing plants started in Winona that have had a steady improvement and advancement, there having never been one day of disaster. It has been one of the really important institutions, and has ever afforded sure employment, summer and winter, to hundreds of employes, many of whom are almost fixtures, not a few having been in its employ for ten or more years. It has been the policy of its management to so conduct business that each employe could feel that so long as be attended to duty he could depend upon his position, and situations are not held through favoritism, but through merit.