Tuesday, December 24, 2013

La Farge's Chistmas Past - 1923

Recently I received a message from a lady in Antigo asking about some history of La Farge that was related to her family.  She was seeking the name of a veterinarian who lived near La Farge between the years 1921 and 1924.  I didn’t have any information in my research, but wrote back to her that I would do some digging to see what I could find.  I went though the copies of the La Farge Enterprise from those years, but still didn’t find anything on a vet from the La Farge area.  However, I did find several other bits of interest about La Farge's history, which is often the case in these searches.  I came across some interesting observations on Christmas in La Farge in 1923, so let’s go back ninety years and see what was happening in that Yuletide season.
            All of the following excerpts are from the December 27, 1923 issue of the Enterprise and are contained in the “News About Town” page of the paper.  I am presuming they are the writings of a man named J. E. Rockhill, who was the editor and publisher of the newspaper at that time.  Each of the excerpts relates to particular things happening in La Farge during that Christmas season from long ago.  The first tells of the Christmas program given by the grade school children.   

The operetta given by the children of the grades of the La Farge schools at the opera hall last Thursday evening was a very nicely carried out and altogether successful event, well attended and likewise well enjoyed by the audience.  The children had been very well trained in their parts and rendered them in a commendable manner, that reflected credit both on them and their instructors.

            The “opera hall” was in the upstairs of the building that currently houses Phil & Deb’s Town Tap.  The entire upper floor was used as an opera house and it was the main entertainment venue of the village for several decades.  Those were the days before there was any gymnasium at the school, so most of the schools events held before the public – school plays, basketball games, declaratory contests, graduation exercises, and grade school Christmas operettas – were held at the opera house.  Here is another Yuletide event held there in 1923.

A fine time is reported at the Christmas night dance held in the opera hall here Tuesday night.  The attendance was larger than usual, and the enjoyment of the occasion from all accounts was in proportion.

            Community dances were popular events held at La Farge’s opera house.  This dance held on Christmas night may have been sponsored by the La Farge Cornet Band, which often played at these events and used them to raise funds for the musical group.  Although the language is rather stilted, it appears that a nice crowd attended and had a good time at the dance, but I’m not sure if the editor was actually there.  That’s not to say that the man didn’t have the Christmas spirit, as evidenced by the following observation.
The Christmas shopping has all been done and the results distributed, and there are quite a few weeks ahead of us now that we won’t have to give any thought to the perplexing problem of what to get.

            Apparently, finding that perfect Christmas present for that special someone could be a little hectic and trying for some folks long before Black Friday’s, round the clock store hours and Amazon.com.  This 1923 reflection seems to hint at a little “thank goodness that’s over” thinking that some still feel to this day.  The next bit of reporting really evokes some great memories of Christmas past in old La Farge.

The Christmas tree treat given by Pit Andrews to the children, held on the street in front of his market on Monday afternoon, was one of the nice features of the Christmas time and one that should be appreciated not only by the crowd of children who gathered in answer to his invitation to come and partake of the sacks of candy and nuts that had been provided for them, but by their elders as well, as it was a treat to see their enjoyment.  It was also a treat to listen to the excellent music furnished by the band for the occasion, and the tree itself, decked out with red and green streamers and tufts of cotton snow and lighted by colored electric lights, was an ornament to the street for several days and nights before and after the event.

            Andrew’s Market was located in the building that currently houses the Indigo Thrift Shop in La Farge.  Now owned by Nick Burnard, the store previously housed his mother’s store, Muriel’s Variety Store, which had followed Jennie’s Variety Store in the same place.  Pitt Andrew operated a meat market and then a grocery store in his building before that for over thirty years.  In 1923, Andrew put a decorated Christmas tree on the sidewalk in front of his store and on Christmas Eve day had the local band play carols and gave out bags of candy to the children in town.  Andrew’s Christmas tree might have been the village’s official Christmas tree for that year though as the editor seems to hold it in high regard.

Ivan Swancutt and family are spending the holiday season at his boyhood home on Hopewell Ridge, he having arrived at the Neefe home here last Thursday evening from Madison and his father coming over after them Saturday.  Mr. and Mrs. Swancutt were to drive to Ithaca to get Juanita, his sister, who is principal of the high school there, intending to return to Richland Center to call on another sister, Mrs. J. Green.

            I have some idea who these people are, but the excerpt was chosen because it is typical of many in the newspaper about folks coming home to La Farge for Christmas.  I presume the Swancutt’s came to La Farge from Madison on the train.  I might also presume that Ivan married a Neefe girl from La Farge since they were staying there.  Ivan’s father coming over after them on Saturday to go back to their home between Viola and Richland Center for Christmas also might indicate their coming to La Farge on the railroad for the visit – perhaps not having an automobile to drive.  I also found it interesting that Ithaca High School had a woman principal in 1923, progressive stuff for that little burg.  From the next excerpt, we can assume that Christmas Day was a glorious one for that family.
Christmas day fulfilled the promise of the proceeding weeks in the weather line, being clear and as nice as could well be desired, the air just nippy enough that one could realize what season of the year it was, and just enough of the light snow of a few days previous to lend the appearance of Christmas, the hill sides being white among the bare timber.  Christmas of 1923 was one beautiful day, fine for those who wished to go visiting and enjoyable for all no difference where they were, with roads good for traveling, and the ground bare or practically so, weather bright and sunshiny and just right for all outdoor enterprises and exhilaratingly pleasant for those who did not venture forth from the environs of the Christmas gladdened home.

            That concludes our little Christmas tour through that old issue of La Farge’s town newspaper in 1923.  I hope our Christmas Day here in the Kickapoo Valley is “as nice as could well be desired, the air just nippy enough” in 2013. 
May you all make it home for the holidays!

Friday, December 13, 2013


The strands of history about this little Kickapoo River town reach out to other places.  The history of a place like La Farge is really a compilation of many stories about people and families – people and families who came to this place, lived in this place and moved from this place.  Those family stories may be entrenched in the lore of the Kickapoo Valley or they may stretch out to places far away.
            There is a condo unit on Curtis Lane in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  Inside the condo, a thirteen-year old boy slouches in a lounge chair in the downstairs den.  He is killing time until he has to go off to hockey practice, trading Tweets with his friends on his phone and casually watching TV.
            In a corner of the room, off to the boy’s left, is a cabinet.  It is a corner cabinet constructed a half century ago.  It is a cabinet of that time; its purpose to show off prized dishes, photographs or other keepsakes of the family.  Some would call it a fancy knick-knack shelf, but its purpose was nobler, so perhaps corner china cabinet could be used when identifying it.
            The cabinet stands forty-two inches high and is nineteen inches wide.  It has four triangular shelves including its base piece.  The front of the cabinet is mainly a wooden door with a frame around it.  The door is affixed to the frame with brass hinges and a clasp to secure it for opening and closing.  The door itself is a large pane of glass supported by another wooden frame.  The other two sides of the cabinet, hidden from view when it is placed in a corner, are pieces of tin tacked onto the front frame.  The two tin back pieces are wrapped around a wooden support piece that forms the ninety-degree angle that allows the cabinet to fit into a corner.  Each of the shelves is also anchored to the support piece.  One end piece on the cabinet is also made of tin.  The other end piece, either the bottom of the cabinet if it is hung from the ceiling in a corner or the top of the cabinet if it is placed on the floor, is made of the same pinewood as the front.  All of the wood is stained a dark brown.  The interior wooden shelves and tin backing has been painted a pale yellow-green to show off the contents displayed in the cabinet.
            The cabinet was made over fifty years ago in the workshop of a house on Maple Street in La Farge.  The corner cabinet was one of several made by the retired farmer for family and friends. The man who constructed the cabinets in the spare time of his old age was named Emery.  The boy who sits next to the corner cabinet in Eden Prairie is also named Emery.  He is the great-great grandson of the Emery who made the cabinet.  The cabinet is a strand that connects the two, as is the name.  (Another great-grandson of the cabinetmaker also carries the name.)
            The man who made the cabinet was the first son born in Wisconsin to a family who moved from Ohio.  He grew up on a farm on Morning Star Ridge and as a young man, he and his brother, carrying axes on their shoulders, walked down to the Kickapoo Valley to do winter work at the lumber mill there.  As they trimmed the fallen trees, they earned fifty cents a day.  When they brought a horse from their farm along to help skid the trimmed logs to the river, their pay increased to a dollar and a half a day.  It was hard work, not in this century, nor the last, but in the century before that.  The man who made the corner cabinet spent most of his life working with wood in one form or another.  His skills with wood became a strand that still reaches us today – whether in the barns that he helped build or the corner cabinets he made.
            The boy named Emery jumps up when he hears the sound of a car horn and an SUV stopping on the street out in front of the condo.  He picks up his duffle bag and dashes out the door into the garage to catch his ride to practice.  As the door slams, the vibrations reach to another corner of the downstairs den, where the branches of a Christmas cactus shudder.  The plant is flowering for the season and is another strand that is connecting families, places and time.
            The Christmas cactus is a cutting from a plant, over a century old, that is in a house on Highland Street in La Farge.  That host plant is also blooming with flowers to mark the season.  A mother passed a cutting from the cactus on to her daughter.  It is a strand connecting two members of a family and two places far apart.  The Christmas cactus in La Farge now has main branches larger than a man’s thumb and covered with bark like on a tree. The cactus has served for the host of many other cuttings for family and friends and reaches back to another time in the past.  It is a strand of history reaching back to a house on the hill overlooking the Kickapoo River at a place called Seelyburg.
At one time or another most of the men who lived in the house on the hill worked for the vast operations producing lumber at the mill located there on the river.  One of the sons, Jesse, married and his wife Millie brought the Christmas cactus to their new household.  Jesse lived for a century and most of the one hundred years of his life was spent near the Kickapoo and La Farge.  His family formed a fife and drum corps to help celebrate those who had fought in the Civil War.  Jesse was born in 1865, the year that the war ended.  The family fife and drum corps played for GAR Reunions and 4th of July Celebrations in Seelyburg, La Farge and in many other places around the area.  Jesse’s drum that he played in the fife and drum corps at those celebrations remains as a strand to that time.
  The cactus had been in Jesse’s family for generations, perhaps brought to the Kickapoo Valley from a former home in the East.  It always seems to have been in the Kickapoo Valley as part of the family.  Jesse and Millie’s granddaughter now has the Christmas cactus (with its red flowers starting to bloom) in the house on Highland Street, passed on to her by her Aunt Esther. Now a great granddaughter of Jesse’s has another part of it in Eden Prairie.  So the cactus in its various forms connects the members of the family, moving back in time to the time of first settlement of the Kickapoo Valley from other places and forward to the thriving suburb of the Twin Cities.
History is the telling and sharing of the stories of people and places.  The corner cabinet and the Christmas cactus have stories to tell – strands to the past that continue to connect us to a former time and another place.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

More Civil War Stories

(This is a continuation of my previous post, which was about a bus tour - "Bringing The Civil War Home To Wisconsin" - which I was a part of.  During the tour as the bus was traveling from one place to another, I gave some personal Civil War stories from my family that are included in this post.)

When we reached Kenosha on the second day of our tour, our motor coach drove to the renovated lakeside area of the city.  After lunch, we went to the Civil War Museum located on 1st Avenue next to Kenosha Harbor.  This is a new and magnificent facility that focuses on the Civil War and how it related to the six Midwest states of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.  We were given guided tours through the museum’s main floor display that is called “The Fiery Trial”.   The exhibits and displays, some of which are interactive with audio and video technology, take you on a journey starting in a Midwest village when the war began.  The displays then continue through the steps taken to becoming a soldier in the various state units and going off to war.  Camp life at the war front, battles and skirmishes, hospital care and convalescence and other wartime experiences are graphically depicted in life size dioramas, which concludes with the soldiers return to their Midwest homes after the war ended.
            The display also includes several interactive displays that draw people into the experience.  One of these displays was a full size railroad car that was partially filled with soldiers going off to the war.  When you sat next to one of the lifelike robots, it would turn to you and tell you the real story of a soldier heading off to war.  Moving on to another seat, you could hear another story told.  At another part of the display, a steamboat heading home from the war had the same kind of display.  As you walked around the boat and neared an individual standing there, the robot would relay another tale of actual Civil War experiences.
            The upstairs of the museum houses a rotating display, which at this time tells about the role of Midwestern troops in the Battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg.  The museum is also a research center and includes a library with over 2,200 books on the Civil War.  Numerous collections of Civil War era letters are archived at the research center and 85 rolls of microfilm of Civil War documents and papers are available for research and study.  Near the first floor main entrance a Veterans Memorial Gallery honors all veterans in American conflicts.  The displays in this gallery depict artifacts, drawings and photographs from each war and conflict where Midwesterners served. 
The museum also has a theater area where we were treated to a wonderful portrayal of a remarkable Wisconsin woman involved in the Civil War.  Cordelia Harvey was the wife of Louis P. Harvey, who was elected Governor of Wisconsin in November of 1861.  They both became very involved in helping the troops from their state going off to war.  In the spring of 1862, they raised supplies for those Wisconsin troops and headed south to the front to help deliver the relief supplies.  While visiting at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee after the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, Governor Harvey was drowned in an accident during a nighttime transfer of steamboats.
After a period of mourning, Mrs. Harvey championed her husband’s cause by working as a medical inspector at the front, raising funds and delivering medical and hospital supplies and visiting the wounded.  Her relentless efforts to help the soldiers in so many ways led to them calling her “The Wisconsin Angel”.  Eventually she went to Washington D.C. and met with President Lincoln on two occasions to petition for military hospitals in Wisconsin for care away from the front for wounded soldiers.  The President relented to her pleas and Cordelia Harvey would eventually open three Veteran’s Hospitals in Wisconsin and established a Soldiers Orphans’ Home in Madison.  Mary Kabakik, a Kenosha actress who was the first person historical interpreter (more information at cordeliaharvey.com) of Mrs. Harvey, presented an emotional and inspiring portrayal for our group.  After her wonderful performance, Mary talked to us about her research into the Cordelia Harvey role that she delivered so flawlessly and of her emotional commitment to the role.  For me, Mary Kabakik’s performance and discussion were the highlight of our Civil War trip.
As the bus headed north to Milwaukee, I shared with the tour group another story of a Civil War soldier from Wisconsin, this time someone from my own family.
George Melvin had first come to Wisconsin in 1854.  He and his wife Mary Ann and four small children settled in Bad Ax County along the West Fork of the Kickapoo River, where they carved a homestead out of the wilderness.  George was a patriotic man as evidenced by the names of his children; Zachary Taylor – named after the famous American general and 12th president of the United States, John Perley – named after a famous preacher of the time, Winfield Scott – famous American general in charge of Union forces when the Civil War began, George Washington – named for the father of our country, and born on May 9, 1861 (less than a month after the bombardment of Ft Sumter to start the Civil War) – Abraham Lincoln Melvin.
Probably due to his patriotic fervor to save the Union, George enlisted for military service on November 18, 1861 at the age of 36.  He left his wife and six children – Zachary was the oldest at 13, and enlisted in the army in the village of Ontario.  Eventually he became a member of Company D, 18th Infantry Regiment of the Wisconsin Volunteers.  After being haphazardly organized and trained at Camp Trowbridge in Milwaukee, the 18th Regiment saw its first action in Tennessee at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862.  As part of the 18th, Melvin and his fellow soldiers continued fighting at the Battle of Corinth in Mississippi and crossed the state of Tennessee in pursuit of the Rebel army.  On December 3, 1863, Confederate forces captured George Melvin near Memphis.  Today, official government records list this date as his death, but it wasn’t. Eventually he ended up in Andersonville Prison in Georgia in March of 1864.
In letters written home to his wife, George told of how he was assigned to the hospital unit at the infamous Confederate prison.  His main job was to dig graves for those who died at the prison.  Since the prison was little more than a death camp, George’s job was never ending.  According to family stories, George wrote that he was fed well and in good health, but he feared that one of the graves that he dug might soon be his own.  However, he managed and George somehow survived at Andersonville. 
When General Sherman’s Union forces drew near the prison in the spring of 1865, the Confederacy moved many of the surviving prisoners at Andersonville to other sites, including Camp Salisbury in North Carolina.  At that camp, between five and eleven thousand Union prisoners died of disease or starvation and were buried in a series of trenches there.  No records were kept of the mass burials.  Although there is no official record of where George Melvin was buried, it was believed by his family that he died on the march away from Andersonville or that he may be in one of those mass graves at Camp Salisbury in North Carolina.  He never came back to the Kickapoo Valley.
At the Salem Cemetery in rural Vernon County, near where many of George Melvin’s children and grandchildren lived, and next to the gravestone for his wife Mary (who passed in 1899), there is a simple tombstone and a Civil War veteran’s memorial medallion which holds an American flag for a fallen Union soldier, lying forever far away from his home.
The third day of the excursion was spent at Wade House, a Wisconsin Historical Society site located hallway between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan at the small hamlet of Greenbush.  Each fall, Wade House hosts a Civil War reenactment and our tour spent the day there for the occasion.  It was the largest gathering of Civil War re- enactors in the state and provided an interesting look back as the two sides met at the Battle of Chickamauga, a battle fought in northern Georgia in September of 1863.
When we first arrived, our tour group was transported to a command center near the battlefield where we heard from General Grant and President Lincoln.  They talked about their views of the war in September of 1863.  Portrayers Frank Beaman (Grant) and Fritz Klein (Lincoln) provided wonderful first-person information on the state of the war for our group.  Later that morning, many in the tour group visited the two army camps located near the battleground and heard nurses tell of medical practices in the battlefield hospital set up nearby.  A skirmish broke out as the Confederate artillery opened fire on a hill position commanded by Union forces.  A cannon from a Wisconsin artillery unit was perilously close to capture, but was saved by a rousing cavalry battle that repelled the Rebel advance.
Later that afternoon, the battle began in earnest with a twenty-minute artillery duel between the Union and Rebel artillery pieces.  A dozen cannon blasted away at each other as cavalry units on both sides tried to flank the lines.  Suddenly a large army of Confederate infantry emerged from the woods and attacked the fortified hill position.  The cannon from the Wisconsin artillery unit was captured and all members of the ordinance crew were killed.  Soon the Rebs amassed and the infantry let loose a deadly fuselage of fire against the Union troops.  Charge after charge by the Rebels was repulsed, but eventually the Confederacy carried the day and drove the Boys in Blue from the field.  The Southern army had won the battle and stopped the Union campaign from moving into Georgia.
On the bus ride back to Madison that afternoon, I told the group another Civil War story taken from my family.
Phillip Steinmetz was 20 years old and lived in Union County, Pennsylvania when the Civil War began.  He was a student at Lewisburg Academy at the time, preparing to become a Lutheran minister as his grandfather and great-grandfather had before him.  He attended one more year of college, and then enlisted in Company E of the 142nd Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers on August 20, 1862.
            On December 13th of that year, Phillip’s regiment was involved in the ill-fated attack on Marye’s Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia.  During the afternoon portion of the attack, Phillip was shot in the arm as he handed a rifle to a comrade (who was killed at the same time in the fusillade of gunfire).  The mini-ball shattered the bones in Phillip’s forearm and when taken to the hospital tent, army surgeons prepared to amputate his arm.  But Phillip begged them to save his arm and they did not do the surgery, possibly because of the many more serious wounds that the doctors had to deal with during the battle.  Eventually after Phillip stayed several months in the hospital, the arm healed, but he only had partial control of his hand (his fingers remained curled for the rest of his life).  He was discharged from the 142nd on March 9, 1863 and returned to his home in Union County.
            Before the war was over, Philip moved with his family to Seneca County, Ohio where he and his brothers worked in the shipyards and war warehouses.  After the war, Phillip became a farmer and married Dorothea Krause, a Seneca County girl, and they immediately began raising a family.  In 1875, Phillip, and two of Dorothea’s brothers set out to the West to look for new farms and homes.  Dorothea and their five children would come later when land was found.  The men first looked at farmland in southern Indiana, but found it much too Southern (as in CSA Southern) for their tastes.  They moved on toward Wisconsin, where they heard that cheap and good land was abundant.  As they were driving the wagons west, Phillip’s arm that was wounded in the war began to swell due to the constant vibrations and stress of driving the team.  Stopping in the Chicago area, a doctor there prescribed that the arm should be amputated at the elbow.  Phillip again refused so the doctor cut open the arm to reduce the swelling and drained some of the liquid.  After resuming the trip towards Wisconsin, the wounded arm continued to fester.  Phillip saw a doctor in Waukesha County, who opened up his arm and removed several large bone splinters that had worked themselves loose from the original war wound.  After several weeks of rehabilitation, Phillip and the Krause’s drove their wagons across Wisconsin to Bad Ax County where they staked out claims on over three hundred acres located on Morning Star Ridge on the eastern side of the county.  That fall, Dorothea and the children arrived by train at Union Center, the nearest railroad depot to the farms, where Phillip and her brothers met them.  The family was soon settled into their new home on Morning Star Ridge.  In Wisconsin, six more boys were added to the Steinmetz family and the ten brothers and sister Mary all grew up in the La Farge area of Vernon County.
            Phillip became a charter member of the Grand Army of The Republic (GAR) Post #154 in nearby Star (Seelyburg) when it was founded.  Phillip attended the GAR veteran’s reunions, which were held annually in La Farge, with pride for the rest of his life.  He passed away in 1908.  On his grave in the Bear Creek Cemetery located outside of La Farge, an American flag held in a GAR veteran’s bronze medallion marks the spot where a veteran of the Civil War rests. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Civil War Stories

Carolyn and I recently participated in a bus tour around southern Wisconsin that focused on how the Civil War impacted the state.  Sponsored by the Friends of the Wisconsin Historical Society and arranged by past-president Chuck Hatfield of La Farge, the tour was titled Bringing The Civil War Home To Wisconsin!  The three-day excursion began in Madison then traveled to Beloit, Milton, Kenosha, and Milwaukee before ending at the Wade House grounds in Greenbush near Sheboygan.  Although the tour never came close to the Kickapoo Valley, the area’s history was well represented on the trip.
            At the first stop in our state’s capital, we were given a tour of Forest Hills Cemetery.  This facility has an entire section of graves of men who died at nearby Camp Randall while training to go off to war.  Many of the men from Vernon County who served for the Union trained at this large military camp in Madison.  In another section of the cemetery is the “Confederate Rest” where over two hundred men who served the Confederacy are buried.  They were some of the prisoners captured at the battle for Island #10 on the Mississippi River (an early Union victory for control of that river) and brought north to Camp Randall for a short while.  This final resting place for the CSA prisoners is the only Confederate cemetery maintained in the northern states and the Stars & Bars flies over the graves located there on one day each year.
            Later the tour group moved to the State Historical Society Museum on the UW campus.  We were shown Civil War artifacts that are stored in the museum’s archives.  Among the items that we were shown was the Civil War drum of Samuel Arms.  Sam Arms was a 12-year-old slave in Georgia who was unofficially adopted by a Wisconsin infantry company and became their drummer boy throughout the rest of the war.  After the war was concluded, he eventually settled in the Valley area of eastern Vernon County and raised a large family there.  His family has donated the drum to the State Historical Society for display at the museum, which is located on the UW Campus.
            Later, after lunch at the University Club, the tour group was enthralled to hear from General Ulysses S. Grant.  Frank Beaman of Mineral Point, a member of the tour, has been doing first person portrayals of the Civil War general for some time.  His spot-on presentation to us was as President Grant in his later years when he was writing his memoirs near the end of his life.  The first-person account of the famous American leader as he told of his amazing journey in life was very illuminating for us all.
            As our motor coach traveled south on I-94 that afternoon, I gave the first of my in-transit stories about men from Vernon County (then called Bad Ax County) and their role in the war.  I told how in 1861, after the fall of Ft. Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, then Wisconsin Governor Alexander Randall made a call for Wisconsin men to enlist in the Union cause.  In Bad Ax County, that call was answered with a rally on April 24, 1861 in Viroqua.  Funds were immediately collected to organize a fife and drum corps to help rally the recruits and intensify patriotic desires to serve.  Company I was formed by June with Bad Ax County men and that unit arrived in Madison at Camp Randall in July and were mustered into service.  That company would eventually be made a part of the 6th Regiment, which was part of the famous Iron Brigade – one of the legendary units that fought in the war for the Union army.
            Later, in December of 1861, Vernon County men formed Company C of the 18th Regiment, known locally as the “Bad Ax Tigers”.  One of the leaders of that unit was Jeremiah Rusk, who had once been the county sheriff.  Rusk demonstrated remarkable leadership skills with the unit and eventually became a general in the army.  He participated in the siege and capture of Vicksburg and was with General Sherman on his “March to the Sea”.  A fellow officer said of General Rusk, “He rode farther into hell than I would care to go, and he was the only man I have ever seen who would take such risks.”  Later Rusk would continue his leadership skills developed in the war by serving Wisconsin as a U.S. Congressman and as Governor from 1882-89.  He was the Secretary of Agriculture in the cabinet of President Benjamin Harrison from 1889-93.
            Returning to the tour, we had supper that night at The Butterfly Club in rural Beloit.  After the meal, Kevin and Patsy Alderson of La Farge talked to the group about their Civil War book, Letters Home To Sarah.  They told the story of Guy Taylor, a Dane County bonus enlistee, who wrote amazing letters home to his wife, Sarah, telling about his observations of the war.  After the war was concluded, the Taylor’s would move to a Town of Clinton farm in Vernon County and then into the village of Cashton.  Kevin and Patsy’s story of how they happened to find the collection of Civil War letters, an amazing story in itself, was also shared with our group.
            The following morning, the tour made a stop at the Milton House Museum in Milton, Wisconsin.  The old roadside inn, built in an interesting hexagonal configuration, has been restored beautifully and includes an original 1850’s - era cabin that served as a summer kitchen for the inn.  That cabin also secretly was an access to a tunnel that led into the basement of the inn, where runaway slaves attempting to become free were hidden.  The Milton House is Wisconsin’s only officially recognized Underground Railroad site.  Our guided tour of the handsomely restored crossroads inn was very interesting. 
On the way out of the museum, I noticed a wall that listed the names of the many contributors to the museum.  In one square were the names of Walter and Joan Steinmetz – long time residents of the city of Milton.  Walter, the son of Bill and Almeda Steinmetz, grew up in the La Farge area and had passed away only two days prior to our visit to the Milton House.
            As we drove east towards Kenosha later that morning, I shared another Civil War story from Vernon County.  I told the story of Isaac Richard (Dick) Lawton, who had left his farm, located along the Kickapoo south of La Farge and had enlisted for service to the Union on February 5, 1865.  Dick Lawton soon became very ill in the army and rheumatic seizures had rendered his legs useless.  According to the Lawton family history, U.S. Army doctors contacted Melissa Lawton, Dick’s wife, for her consent to amputate both of her husband’s legs.  Instead, she told the doctors to send her husband home – “We’ll care for him here”, was her reply.  When her husband arrived home in late May of 1865, Melissa could do little for her invalid husband except provide him the comfort of home and family. 
Later, some Winnebago Indians, who returned to the Kickapoo Valley and their former homes each year, came to the Lawton farm to set up their camp for the summer.  They went to the house to visit their old friends and noticed Dick’s sorrowful condition.  The Winnebago immediately set out to help Melissa with his care. “At once full of sympathy, they made valuable suggestions as to treatment, and offered some of their remedies gathered from Mother Nature and proven through many years of experience.  Before long Dick took a turn for the better.  The patient and loving ministrations of his wife, seconded by the virtues of the Indian remedies, paid off tremendously and in a surprisingly short time Dick was back on his feet.”  The story is told in the family history of how the help from his Winnebago friends probably saved Dick Lawton’s life.