Thursday, September 8, 2016


It is a metal spindle nearly three feet long.  It extends from an antique metal base, no longer able to support the weight of its contents.  Strung along the spindle is the story of several years worth of La Farge’s history from over a century ago.
            R. P. Dalton was elected village president of La Farge at the April 1909 elections.  Later that year, on November 20 and 22, he had two prescriptions filled at Ed Coyle’s drug store in La Farge.  Dr. Joseph Esch, who had his office over the village post office on South State Street, had written both of the prescriptions for Dalton on slips provided by Ed Coyle’s drug store.  One of the prescriptions was for sodium succanate (sic), which is an eye drop ointment.  Perhaps La Farge’s village president didn’t like what he was seeing around town.
            The metal spindle contains thousands of prescriptions dispensed by that La Farge drug store from the years of 1908-09.  The length of time that the prescriptions cover is from July 1908 through December 1909.  I carefully peeled off a couple hundred of the RX’s from the last three months of 1909 to try to get an idea what they were all about.  They can help to tell some fascinating stories, especially when you tie in other information on La Farge’s history from that time.
            Dr. J.E. Bingham came to La Farge in 1909 and set up his practice upstairs in the Donaldson Brothers hardware store building on Main Street (the present site of Bergum’s Food Mart).  Dr. Bingham came from Whitewater and used his own personalized slips for prescriptions instead of those provided by Coyle’s Drug Store.  Bingham was known as La Farge’s “town doctor” because he made house calls with a horse and buggy and going too far from town caused delays in service.  On December 4, 1909, Dr. Bingham wrote an RX for “Baby Wallis” (probably misspelled Wallace) and the directions read “one every hour till bowels move well”.
            We have Patsy Johnson to thank for saving this unique historical collection of prescriptions.  She bought the spindle containing the RX’s at an auction held in Bean Park four or five years ago.  She neither knew where the spindle came from nor exactly what to do with it once she had it in her possession.  When the new VMH Clinic opened in La Farge last summer, Patsy admired the displays of medical history in the waiting room.  Thinking her spindle of prescriptions would fit into the display, she showed it to Dr. Deline.  He passed it on to this history guy to look at.
            Dr. H. N. Cohen had a medical practice in La Farge during 1908-09.  His professional ad posted in the La Farge Enterprise from that era read – Dr. H.N. Cohen, Diseases of Women.  In my research, I found that Dr. Cohen kept rather irregular business hours while practicing in La Farge.  He had a practice in La Farge for a short time then moved to Wonewoc in 1910.  Dr. Cohen moved around a lot as later in 1919, he was practicing in Wilton, but then moved his practice to Tomah that same year.  On December 1, 1909, Dr. Cohen prescribed a laxative for Mrs. George Wilson with directions “Take after meals”.
            An interesting aspect of the sample of studied prescriptions on the spindle is that children’s names are rarely used.  Usually the RX will be for “James Riddel boy” (that’s probably a misspelling of Riddle) or “Bert Cowee (boy)”.  There were other prescriptions for the “Blakeley Boy”, the “Gudgeon Girl”, “Mrs. Brown’s boy”, the “Emerson Heisel Girl”, “Chas Brown’s boy”, the “Hughy Major baby”, “Joe Waddle girl” (probably Waddell), “Ald. Oldenberg’s (boy)”, the “Grant Coleman girl”, “Ernie Heisel Boy” and “Aug. Trappe boy”.  This last RX listed was probably for young Henry Trappe, who would have been three years old at the time.  Henry went on to live to be one hundred years old, so the prescription must have made him well back then.
            Brothers Ed and John Coyle had purchased the drug store business in La Farge from Cyrus Yeomans in March of 1904.  Yeomans had opened La Farge’s first drug store in 1897 and for the next decade the village had at least two and usually three or more doctors practicing, which meant for a healthy pharmacy business.  The business operations of the Coyle Drug Store had undergone a major change in January of 1909 when John Coyle sold his share of the La Farge business to his brother and moved to Mondovi to open up a drug store there.
            When looking at that spindle of proscriptions that Ed Coyle filled back in 1909, one can get a pretty good idea of how busy the doctors were in La Farge during that era.  Since Dr. Esch wrote most of the RX’s on the spindle, you can get a closer look at his practice in particular. 
            Joseph Esch was the “country doctor” in La Farge.  “Doc” Esch, as he was affectionately known, had purchased the first car to be driven in the community in 1904.
With the new automobile, Dr. Esch could expand his practice into the rural areas around La Farge. The good doctor liked his new auto so much that he bought another and then another. He was soon selling autos out of the Hotel Ward garage, a lucrative addition to his medical business. In 1909, he purchased a White steam-driven automobile. The White Steamer greatly enhanced the doctor’s country practice as the vehicle could climb the area’s steep hill roads without faltering. When Dr. Esch went into the country to make house calls, he would have someone drive the White Steamer for him, so he could rest or sleep between calls.
Dr. Esch had a busy, thriving medical practice in 1908-09.  On November 20, 1909, he wrote prescriptions for seventeen different patients.  Amazingly, that day was a Saturday so Dr. Esch was keeping office hours on the weekend during that season of illness.  From my research, I also found where Dr. Esch wrote two prescriptions on Sunday, November 21, both for Mrs. Em Rittenhouse.  I’m assuming there was some type of emergency, but I don’t know if Ed Coyle filled the two RX’s on the day it was written. 
The next busiest day for Dr. Esch was on November 29, a Monday, when eleven prescriptions were written.  Oscar Marshall and his wife both had prescriptions written that day by Doc Esch.  The directions for Oscar’s RX read, “Put 15 drops in water, take every four hours”, while Mrs. Oscar Marshall had a prescription that covered nearly two pages of slips and contained nine different ingredients!
Some of the directions for taking the prescribed medicines show how times have changed since 1909.  In one RX for the “Bert Rittenhouse boy”, the directions read, “Take one or two drops on sugar every 15 minutes for up to 3 hours”.  Remember the old saying about being tough and taking your medicine?  Well, obviously, that boy of 1909 would take the doses more easily if they were sweetened up for him.
There was also a prescription for a Mrs. Hicks that read, ”Heaping teaspoonful dissolved in water ½ hour before meals and one hour after”.  The drug on this RX slip can actually be deciphered (which generally doesn’t happen on most of the slips) and the prescription is for something called sodoxylin.  With a little research in a pharmaceutical book from that era I found that sodoxylin was used for acidemia (upset stomach, etc.).  According to Abbott Laboratories (yes, the big drug company was going back then), which manufactured the drug, “it neutralizes acidity; checks fermentation; promotes elimination”.  You can fill in the blanks from there to imagine the end results for Mrs. Hicks.

There you have it; a bit of La Farge’s history from over a century past told through a spindle of prescription slips. 


If you look closely, you can imagine the old road as it wound around the boggy bottom of Jordan Flat.  (For you youngsters reading along; that’s pronounced Jerdin Flat and not Jordan as in Michael Jordan.)  There still a few clues left to direct you along the way of the old road.  There next to the highway, you can see the crumbling remains of an old bridge support that crossed the rill leading down to Bear Creek.  Further along, the old road bends around a sandstone outcropping where some of the original rock base of the road is visible.  There is a cut in a little hillock as the road rises up the hill and to the east, another one where the old road curved over toward the Baptist Church and then descended back to the present highway.
            For the most part, the land has taken away any visual clues of where the old road went to avoid the morass of Jordan Flat.  (It was said that the best time to cross that stretch of road leading from the east into La Farge was in the winter.  During that season, the swamp would freeze up so that sleighs and drays could negotiate the flat without becoming mired down in the muck.  Any other season would be tough slogging through the boggy bottomland next to Bear Creek.  Ruts were worn so deep in the road’s muck that the axles of wagons and eventually cars would hang up and become stuck.  Whoever lived on the Jordan farm had a steady job of using their team of horses to pull people across the flat during the wet stretches.)  The transition to farming fields and pastures has erased most of the features of the former use as a road.  The old road that avoided the swampy lowland one hundred and twenty years ago has nearly disappeared.
            Around that same time so many years ago, another road branched off this old road and meandered up a little valley before ascending on a steep climb up to Maple Ridge located to the north.  I remember as a youngster walking along this old road as it rose toward the ridge top.  I was looking for mushrooms and spent most of my time looking down instead of up toward where the old road was leading me.  The climb became steeper and steeper and I remember turning to look down the valley, back to where I had been.  This was nearly sixty years ago, so the old road was still quite evident, since it was still being used as a farm road at the time.  But it hadn’t been used as a regular road for wagons and buggies for probably fifty years.  The steep ascent up to the ridge on nearby French Hill Road had apparently won out as a preferable road from valley to ridge fifty years before my walk.  So this old road was abandoned as a thoroughfare of sorts, but was still evident on my mushroom walk back in the 1950s.  Most of that area has transitioned back to forest today.  Down in the valley, where the springs bubble up, you can still see where the old road leading to the ridge cut through the end of a little hill.
            They were called “Lucey’s Trees”.  The pine trees were planted by the state DNR back in the early 1970s as part of Governor Patrick Lucey’s approval process for the federal dam and lake project at La Farge.  If you remember, after the Corps of Engineer’s La Farge project was well underway, Lucey ordered a “comprehensive study” of the project shortly after being elected Wisconsin’s governor in 1970.  The “study” was actually a way for the new governor to stop the project, but after a series of contentious meetings and hearings, Lucey reluctantly approved the continuation of the project.  Along with the approval, the governor attached some caveats aimed at ensuring that the water quality of the lake was of the best quality possible.
            One aspect of that improvement of the proposed lake’s water quality was to control runoff from adjacent farmlands by planting pine trees along the proposed shores of the lake.  The planting of the nearly quarter of a million of pine trees along the shores of proposed Lake La Farge was largely accomplished by the time the project was stopped in 1975.  “Lucey’s Trees” flourished on land formerly used for pastures and farm fields.  By the mid-1980s “Lucey’s Trees” had reached a height that they might be used for a Christmas tree by area residents who were so inclined to take a little hike out on the “government land” with a handsaw under their coat. 
            By the time the Kickapoo Valley Reserve was created in the mid-1990s those pine trees had grown to considerable height and the plantation-like stands of pines dominated nearly every hillside that led down to the Kickapoo River.  The new management board of the Reserve created a plan to thin “Lucey’s Trees” to further the growth of the remaining pine trees.  The forest management plan implemented selected cuttings that thinned the pine plantations of “Lucey’s Trees” on a near yearly schedule every since.  The plan was also designed to foster the pine plantations back to a pine-oak mix type of forest that was more common before the DNR project. 
The DNR was using the pine plantings to create a lakeshore similar to the lakes of northern Wisconsin.  When you look at those pine trees scattered throughout the hills of the Reserve today, you can imagine where the waters of the lake might have been.    You can almost see the waters of the lake lapping along the shoreline below the pine trees.

            What is virtually impossible to see though, are those former fields and pastures that once were on the farms along the river.  The transition back to this pine wilderness of sorts takes us right past the time of most of the 20th century when that land was where people actually lived.  “Lucey’s Trees” are the signposts of the transition from the present back to a time before settlement in the Kickapoo Valley.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


(This piece was written about our winter travels,
this one continues to look at our travels to San Diego, California.)

            I find it interesting that when you travel to another place faraway from where you call home, some interesting connections with your home may pop up along the way.  San Diego, California seems far removed from having any ties to Wisconsin or especially the Kickapoo Valley, but looks can be deceiving.  If you start digging into a place’s history, remarkable connections can be unearthed.
            Alonzo Horton is known historically as “The Father of San Diego”.  In downtown San Diego, the Horton Plaza mall is named after the real estate developer who began the process of turning the little mission town into a booming city.  Horton had come to San Diego shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War to make his fortune in real estate development.  He bought the area near San Diego Bay where the harbor was located.  Over a twenty-year period Horton sold over 200 city blocks of land in what became known as New Town.  With its location near the busy harbor, New Town businesses thrived and Horton became a very rich man.  He once said, during the height of the San Diego real estate boom, “I’m getting tired of handling so much money”. 
            Horton’s connection to Wisconsin is that before coming to California, he had made a fortune in real estate development in the Badger State.  Horton had moved west from Connecticut, where he was born, to purchase a large tract of land in eastern Wisconsin.  Horton’s land purchase coincided with Wisconsin becoming a state in 1848 and within a few years, he had developed a thriving town southwest of Green Bay.  The town, Hortonville, bore his name.  In 1851, Horton sold the last of his land interests in Wisconsin and headed to California during the great Gold Rush of that time.  He became a successful businessman in San Francisco before heading south to San Diego in 1867.
            Oscar Millard was known as the “Father of Ontario”, the small village located in the northern part of the Kickapoo Valley.  Millard came from the eastern United States after Wisconsin became a state and purchased lands for lumbering.  He ran a general store along the Kickapoo River and named the settlement that grew up around his store, Ontario, after his birthplace in the state of New York.  Eventually, Millard sold off his store and land interests (after compiling great profits at both ventures) and moved to the American West.  For a time he was located in San Diego, where he operated a general store at the same time when Horton was developing New Town near the city’s harbor.  While he was in San Diego, Millard had a grandson move to the city to work as a telegraph operator for the railroad.
            William and Henry Minor operated a lumberyard business in La Farge in the 1890s.  The Minor brothers also had a lumber mill located in the Town of Clinton, north of Bloomingdale and at the bottom of Perkins Hill.  As was the case with these lumbering operations, a little village grew up around the mill that was called Minortown.  The lumberyard was started in order to sell that lumber from the Minortown mill in the booming village of La Farge.  By 1899, the Minor brothers had sold their La Farge operation and headed north to start lumbering there.  They bought 4,000 acres in Forest County from the railroad and started a lumber camp at a place called Carter.  Soon after the mill at Minortown was disassembled and moved to Carter and many of the men who worked for the Minor brother’s lumbering in Vernon County went north to work there.  The lumber mill at Carter was very successful for the Minor brothers.
            Eventually, the Minor brothers moved to the state of Oregon, where they built another large lumbering operation.  They built a huge store that filled an entire block in Eugene, Oregon.  The Minor brother’s store became the retail center of Eugene.  When they decided to retire from the retail operation, the Minor brothers donated the huge store to the University of Oregon.  The proceeds from the sale of the store were used to create a perpetual chair professorship at the University of Oregon in the School of Forestry.
            In returning to the story of the connection to San Diego, Alonzo Horton found that there was not sufficient lumber available in southern California for the rapid expansion of his New Town development.  In order to get more lumber on hand to build the stores and houses in San Diego, Horton arranged for lumber to be brought down from Oregon.  An efficient highway or railroad system had not been developed at the time of Horton’s need for more lumber.  So, the lumber was assembled into rafts and floating booms in Oregon, then pulled down the Pacific coast by tugboats to San Diego.  The idea of the floating rafts and lumber booms is eerily similar to the early days of lumbering in the Kickapoo Valley.
            We know that the lumbermen of the Kickapoo Valley took the “The Fatal Oak” lumbering folksong north with them.  That song, taken from a poem written to memorialize the loss of three lads from La Farge killed in a lumber rafting accident, was sung in Carter and other lumber camps Up North and across the country.  Perhaps the Minor brothers, who originally worked in that early lumbering time in the Kickapoo Valley, when the rough sawn lumber was bundled into rafts and assembled into booms and floated down the river to Midwestern markets, took that knowledge to Oregon with them.  There it could have been used to enable their Oregon lumber to get to San Diego.  Perhaps, Oscar Millard, one of the early proponents of the Kickapoo River lumber rafts, built his store in San Diego using lumber delivered with that same transportation method.

            Historic connections – San Diego and the Kickapoo Valley – may tie people and places together forever.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


(This is the last in a series of articles
 that tell the stories about our three-week holiday
 to San Diego, Hawaii and Australia.)

            We stayed in Honolulu for two days on the way back from Australia.  By stopping in Hawaii both coming and going from Australia, we broke up that killer of a plane ride that we had endured on previous visits Down Under.  The last time we returned from there in 2010, we traveled for 34 straight hours from leaving Sydney to arriving in La Farge, most of it flying or waiting in airports.  It is brutal travel!  (Interestingly, because of crossing the International Date Line again, it was still the same date when we returned to the Kickapoo Valley as when we began the day.)  Besides making the air travel easier, stopping in Hawaii is a beautiful place to visit.
            While in Hawaii, we stayed at the Hilton Resort, which is the largest hotel complex on Waikiki Beach.  It has four huge high-rise buildings full of rooms, an expansive beach along Waikiki, several pools on the grounds and restaurants, and bars and shops everywhere that you turn.  It is also one of the most expensive hotels in the Hawaiian capital city.  Everything is expensive everywhere in the 50th state, but our hotel seemed to take it to another level.  (Another guest at our hotel told me that he had a breakfast at one of the hotel’s restaurants of Spam (Hawaiians are crazy for that Midwest delicacy (?) from Hormel), eggs, hash browns and coffee.  The guy was from Las Vegas, so he was used to things costing plenty, but was a tad taken back by the $57 bill for his breakfast.)
            On our first day on Oahu, we took a tour of the east shoreline.  Our first stop was going to be at a beach just outside the city where there was always lots of surfing action.  But the beach had been inundated with poisonous jellyfish the day before, so it was closed.  We stopped at an overlook above the beach to admire the view and saw some humpback whales in the distance.
            Our tour van drove up to Diamondhead, the dormant volcano that looms above Honolulu.  We went down into the crater of the old volcano where hundreds of people were taking nature hikes on the many trails around the crater.  As we descended from the volcano crater, we made another stop at an overlook of Hanauma Bay where we saw more whales cavorting in the Pacific.
            We continued our drive around O’ahu’s East Shore to the Holona Blowhole & Cove.  The blowhole is a creation of the lava rock on the shoreline.  When the waves crash into the rock, the lava blowhole located far above the surf, shoots a water spray like a geyser up to thirty feet into the air.  Since the surf was very high the day we were at Holano, the blowhole was spectacular!
            Next to the blowhole is Holona Cove, a favorite swimming beach on O’ahu.  It is also where the love scene in the 1953 movie “From Here To Eternity” was shot (Remember those waves crashing around Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr as they made out in the sand?  I watched that movie at the Mars Theater in La Farge.), and there were lots of young couples on what is known locally as “Eternity Beach” emulating the movie stars.  From the view above Holona Cove we could again see lots of humpbacks breaching near the shore.
            After a brief stop at Sandy Beach (which had recently posted signs warning about the jellyfish) and at Makapu’u to view the lighthouse sitting out on the rocky point, we ascended Pali Mountain.  We stopped at the top to walk over to the overlook, which has a fantastic view of Honolulu.  There is an old railroad tunnel next to the overlook and on the way up the mountain we had driven through a couple of tunnels that the highway passed through.  When constructed, the tunnels had allowed the road and railroad to cut through the mountain, shortening the trip to Honolulu for people and trade goods from the other side of O’ahu.
            An oddity of Pali Mountain is the wildlife or should I say wild tamelife?  The place is famous for its feral cats and chickens, which roam around everywhere.  The two species have adapted to the mountain and each other in perfect harmony, even lying down next to each other as we walked along the paths of Pali.
            On our last day in Hawaii, we visited the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.  There were 25 people from our hotel who boarded the ENOA tour bus for the trip out to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument located at Pearl Harbor.  The park is operated by the National Park Service and is first rate in every respect. 
Before starting our tour of the USS Arizona, we walked around the park looking at other exhibits and displays.  A World War II era submarine, the USS Bowfin is also anchored at the park, but we did not have time to tour the boat.  Last September, we had toured the submarine USS Cobia at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc.   That submarine is the same class of WW II subs as the USS Bowfin.  The shipyards at Manitowoc built 28 submarines of that class during WW II, four of which were sunk during the war.  The USS Bowfin was built at the shipyards in Portsmouth, Maine.  There is also a submarine museum located in the park at Pearl Harbor.
We walked along the Pearl Harbor East Loch to look at the various displays.  There was the Waterfront Submarine Memorial, USS Arizona Anchor, Remembrance Circle and Contemplation Circle, all of which presented displays that told the gripping accounts of that fateful day of December 7, 1941.  Usually there is an actual living veteran of WW II on the grounds giving a narrative of the war.  On our visit, a veteran who was at Pearl Harbor on the day of the Japanese attack was selling a book written about his memories of that day as he talked with visitors to the park.
We joined people from other tour groups and at our scheduled time, were escorted into a small theater next to the docks. The USS Arizona Tour begins with a 23-minute video about the Japanese attack on the bases at Hawaii on December 7, 1941.  It is an excellent presentation of the events as they unfolded that day and includes film footage of the attack on Pearl Harbor that I had never seen before.  Retired veterans serve as ushers and guides in the theater and an aura of reverence is soon felt.  When the moving and emotional film concluded, many people (myself included) were wiping tears from their eyes.
Then we were ushered onto a boat that was waiting dockside next to the theater building.  The US Navy operates this shuttle over to the memorial and reverence is maintained on the short ride over to the fallen USS Arizona.  The memorial itself is a 184-foot long structure that rests on the water’s surface immediately over the sunken battleship.  It was designed by architect Alfred Preiss and was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1962.  At the far end of the memorial, away from the loading docks, there is a wall that contains the names of all of the 1,177 crewman of the USS Arizona who died on the day of the Japanese attack.  Nine hundred of those sailors remain entombed in the sunken hull below the coral waters.  At the end of the list of names, there is another growing column of names that really surprised me.  It is a listing of forty-some names that were survivors of the attack on the USS Arizona and have returned to rest with their fallen comrades.  I talked to one of the National Park Service guides working there at the memorial about this list and she said that the cremated remains of those former sailors has actually been lowered into the sunken structure of the battleship, where they remain for eternity.  I found this very special and was emotionally touched by the revelation.  As you watch the spots of oil leaking to the surface from the sunken ship below, one is reminded of those fallen sailors.
Another special moment occurred on the USS Arizona Memorial when we bumped into two other Kickapoogians while we were out there on the waters of Pearl Harbor.  When I was admiring the memorial’s wall of names, I noticed this guy wearing bright neon green tennis shoes and shorts.  I thought the guy was a dead ringer for Frank Kopecky and sure enough – it was!  Frank and his wife Margot were also in our tour group and we visited with them as we all took the shuttle ride back over to the park.  They had been staying in Honolulu for a month, visiting Frank’s son who works in the city.  They just happened to be out on a Pearl Harbor Tour on the same day and at the same time that we were.  It is a small world.
            Later that day, we were aboard our Delta Airbus 330 and headed back to the snowy Midwest.  Our seven and a half hour flight covered the 4,000 miles to Minneapolis seamlessly and we were soon driving home to La Farge.  Our amazing three-week holiday to the Pacific was over (although the jet lag would continue on for several more days).  San Diego, Maui, Sydney and Honolulu had been our destinations and now were grand memories of pleasant times.