History of Jacksonport, Door County, Wisconsin
From: History of Door County, Wisconsin
The County Beautiful
By: Hjalmar R. Holand, M. A.
The S. J. Clark Publishing Company
Chicago 1917


If an account could be compiled of that now forgotten period when Jacksonport was occupied by the redden, its history would probably be more interesting than that of any part of the county. There is no doubt that here in the northeastern part of the town and at the mouth of Hein's Creek, emptying out of Kangaroo Lake, were two or three of the largest and most permanent Indian villages in the county.

A great abundance of Indian remains have here been found, including tools and cooking utensils of a great variety. Flint chippings a foot deep covering a large area of ground show that here for generations the arrowmaker plied his trade.

We have preserved to us a few brief glimpses of these Indians that inhabited the shores of Lake Michigan at the mouth of Hibbard's Creek and Hein's Creek 250 years ago. At that time Door County was visited at different times by a number of Jesuit missionaries. These missionaries learned of the recent events among the Indians and transmitted these narratives to the church archives in Quebec and Paris, where they have since been kept.

One of these narratives tells of a great siege that took place around a fortified village located either on Hein's Creek or Hibbard's Creek. The Ottawas had been driven from their old home in lower Ontario by the mighty Iroquois of New York. They emigrated westward, finally settling on Washington Island. Fearing another attack by the Iroquois they sent a scouting party eastward to Lake Erie to apprise them of the approach of the enemy. After some time these scouts saw a large force of Iroquois who were bent on further destruction of the Ottawas and were now seeking their place of refuge. Hastening back to their tribe they acquainted their people of the approach of the enemy.

As Washington Island did not lend itself to a strong defense because of the lack of running water the Ottawas moved southward along Lake Michigan. After a time they found a stream of water with open corn fields in the vicinity. Here on both sides of the stream the men built a heavily palisaded village while the women planted a large field of corn. In both of these undertakings they were successful and before the Iroquois had discovered their whereabouts they had found time to finish their stockade, harvest their corn and bring in a large amount of game. Topographical conditions limit the location of this Indian fort to Hein's Creek or Hibbard's Creek.

Finally one day the Iroquois discovered their stronghold and with savage yells made a furious onslaught on the stockade. This was built; however, of huge green logs thirty feet high, standing close together and firmly buttressed on the inside. In vain they tried to scale it, to hew it down, to burn it. All these attempts only brought to death the foolhardy attackers.

Seeing all such attacks were in vain the Iroquois now settled down to besiege the village and compel the Ottawas to yield by starvation. In the meantime, however, the Iroquois found great difficulty to feed themselves. The Ottawa hunters had cleaned the vicinity of game and fishing was not always successful. Meanwhile the Ottawas lived in abundance and, like the ancient Roman general, threw loaves of bread over the stockade upon the heads of the besiegers to show how futile their hopes were.

The Iroquois after a time realized that their plans of starving the Ottawas into surrendering were doomed to disappointment. They also became aware of the dismal fact that they themselves were in danger of starvation. Finally they were obliged to make humiliating terms of friendship whereby they were to buy food supplies from the Ottawas at exorbitant prices and thereupon depart.

The Ottawas, rankling with revengeful feelings for the injuries they had suffered from the Iroquois in the past, now trickily planned to teach them a severe lesson. On the day before the departure of the besiegers the Ottawas baked a great quantity of corn bread into which they mixed a deadly poison. They then announced to the Iroquois that in token of their friendship they desired to present each Iroquois warrior with a loaf of bread. This announcement was greeted with great joy by the famishing Iroquois.

The mother of a certain Huron warrior among the Ottawas was a slave to one of the chiefs in the camp of the Iroquois. Fearful of her safety this Huron told his mother in great secrecy not to taste of the bread as it contained death. She was led to reveal this secret to her master the chief. When the bread was tossed down to them this chief gave part of his loaf to a dog which soon died in great agony. Gloomily the hungry Iroquois departed followed by the jeers of the Ottawas.

This is only one of the many events that have taken place in this vicinity. Others are recorded in the chapter on Indian Traditions. What we have preserved to us is, however, only a small fragment of the stirring events that have taken place around Hibbard's Creek, Clark's Lake and Kangaroo Lake. Here the Indians have schemed and struggled, built and destroyed, fought and played. Here great Indian chiefs have made stirring speeches inviting their people to war and conquest. Here great feasts have taken place with human flesh as the chief appetizer, followed by drinking bouts and licentious orgies of dancing.

These things are now forgotten. The forest covers the site of their villages and cornfields and only now and then the sand, sliding under the foot of the pedestrian, reveals a fragment of an Indian skeleton to remind us of the ancient habitation of our dark skinned brethren.

The history of the present Jaeksonport is mild and peaceful compared to that of its former occupants. It is a history which deals with cordwood, corn and clover. The first white men came here for the sake of the cordwood and they stayed for the sake of the clover and corn. From being a lightly esteemed slashing in the wilderness Jaeksonport has become a highly important and fruitful agricultural domain.

Exactly fifty years ago, in 1867, three men in Madison were busy planning the future of Jaeksonport. It was a nameless lakeside forest then but it formed a very definite picture in their minds and they had high hopes that it would become their Eldorado. These three men were Col. C. L. Harris, John Reynolds and Andrew Jackson. Harris and Reynolds had about seven thousand dollars each and were now casting about to see how they might increase these seven thousand to seventy times seven. Andrew Jackson was in charge of the Government Land Office in Menasha and learned of the great abundance of cedar and cordwood near the later village of Jacksonport and of the facilities for water transportation. He suggested that as land and labor were cheap and water transportation was convenient there ought to be a mint of money in the cedar and cordwood business.

At that time there was only one settler in the present Town of Jacksonport. This was Perry G. Hibbard, a fisherman who had settled there in 1861, who happened to possess the very tract of land needed for a pier. However, he was persuaded to sell for a good consideration.

The next step was to give a name to their embryo city. One suggested Harrisport, another Reynoldsport and a third Jacksonport. Finally the last name was adopted in honor of Mr. Jackson, who was really the father of the plan.

These details settled, a large crew of men were hired in February, 1867, to get down to the real business of the enterprise that of cutting cordwood. Some accompanied Thomas Reynolds, a brother of John, who was engaged in the capacity of a teamster and drove a team of horses from Madison to Door County, while others followed on the cars. At Green Bay they all assembled on Thomas Reynolds' sleigh, thirty seven strong, to invade the wilderness of Jacksonport. It was well that they were strong, for the greater part of the road from Green Bay was just then being cut out and stumps stuck up everywhere. Every few minutes the low bunkers of the sleigh would fetch up against a solid stump which threatened to smash the sleigh and precipitate everybody into the snowdrifts.

After innumerable stops for lifting the heavily loaded sleigh over the stumps with much joking and cursing and after many excursions into logging roads which misled them to the right and left, the expedition finally arrived at "Jacksonport Here they found a shelter in Hibbard's log barn while some temporary shanties were constructed.

The work of cutting cordwood was now begun under the direction of Frank Rowell, a woodsman from Maine. Mr. Rowell is reported to have understood the theory of the timber industry perfectly and kept his books beautifully, but in practical work he was a failure. The men in his charge knew nothing either about the theory or practice of an axe. Every little while one would cut himself, thus making necessary a vacation with extra care and nursing at the company's expense. When they became a little more familiar with the motions of an axe they discovered that some trees would split much easier than others. They got to be experts in searching out the easy splitting trees and made innumerable digressions into the woods in order to find an easy tree, so as to make their cord of wood with as little exertion as possible. This made necessary so much extra cutting of roads that the profit in the wood was lost in the expense of getting it hauled out. Similarly in cutting cedar it was very often cut a little short. When this was received in the market the short pieces were docked so heavily that here, too, the profit was lost. This was the cause of much ill will between the company, the foreman and the indifferent crew.

An incident shortly afterward happened which, laughable in itself, made the cup of misery in the camp overflow. Thomas Hunt, later of Liberty Grove, who kept the boarding house for the company, one morning discovered that a skunk had invaded the storeroom. He was at first inclined to step softly and permit the skunk to take his departure in peace. However some of the thirty seven boarders recommended that the skunk be evicted at once before the food was spoiled. Mr. Hunt therefore first sent his dog in, but this proving ineffectual he seized a shotgun, marched into the skunk's retreat and perforated him with small shot. The skunk slowly expired but not before he had divested himself in his dying agonies of every drop nature had furnished him with for his defense. It happened that the industrious teamster, Thomas Reynolds, had just stocked up the storehouse with a full supply of eatables. There was a ton of butter, several barrels of pork and beef, a large quantity of flour and the usual miscellaneous assortment of groceries. The whole lot was spoiled and had to be thrown away. New supplies were brought in but the house was so full of the extract of polecat that the new provisions smelled and tasted as bad as the others. The whole camp was surcharged with the odor, and for years afterward the house was unfit for habitation. The seventy nine separate and distinct stinks for which the dirty City of Singapore is noted are as nothing to the smell of one Jacksonport skunk fully roused to business.

All these things made life at the camp so unpleasant that the thirty seven experts from Madison faded away, leaving only a few men to carry on the work. The overhead expenses, however, remained the same and the company was losing much money. New men were sent in but with indifferent success. Andrew Jackson, the originator of the business, saw that things were going wrong and discreetly withdrew from the partnership. Reynolds and Harris, however, were still hopeful and pushed the business with all means at their disposal. A large pier was built and more houses and a store building were put up. Bad luck, however, continued to follow them and after three or four years the company was bankrupt. Their original capital of $14,000 was gone and besides that they owed many thousand dollars to Green Bay merchants. Of all the original investors' and workmen in this enterprise only Thomas Reynolds remained. He obtained about seven hundred acres of land on part of which he settled down and became a farmer. He became the first permanent settler in Jacksonport and later represented the county in the State Legislature.

Charles Reynolds, a brother of John and Thomas, was a merchant in Green Bay. The firm in which he was a partner was a heavy creditor of Harris & Reynolds. After the Jaeksonport property was sold by the U. S. District Court it finally passed into the hands of Charles Reynolds, who believed he could make it pay. He moved to Jacksonport about 1876 and opened a store and eventually became a very successful merchant.

About 1870 there was quite an influx of Canadian and Yankee settlers into Jaeksonport. Among the Canadians were Joseph Smith, Emanuel Hogan, Joe Robinson, John Bagnall, Robert Logan, Harry Wilson, Daniel McLean, Walter Lee and J. S. and Alexander Halstead. Among the Yankees were Byron, Royal and Lincoln Erskine from Maine and P. W. Kirtland and John C. Messenger from Connecticut.

The arrival of these and other settlers provided much business for Charles Reynolds. He bought their forest products, doing a business of $25,000 annually in this line. He also supplied them with everything needed on the farm. In this he developed a unique gift for increasing trade. Whenever a farmer came in to buy a bar of soap or a few pounds of salt pork he was quickly induced to buy the entire box of soap and the whole barrel of pork. This eliminated much work, weighing and wrapping, and increased the profits of each sale enormously.

Once Emanuel Hogan, an Irish Canadian who had been induced to make such a wholesale investment in pork, came back to complain of his hard luck. He told of how he had put the barrel into his cellar. The rats, however, were so numerous, - he said, that they had gnawed a hole in the bottom of the barrel and eaten up every bit of the pork. When he after a while turned the barrel over he found nothing but the brine left. "Well," objected Reynolds, "how is it that the brine did not run away through the hole in the bottom?" "Yes," replied the Irishman unruffled, "isn't that a mystery ?"

Another time when he had sold an old woman a lot of matches she came back with them and complained that they would not ignite. Mr. Reynolds tried several on the seat of his trousers and found them all good. But the old Irish woman objected indignantly: "Do you think I can run down here and scratch a match on your pants every time I want to get a Bight?"

Among these Canadians was Joseph Smith who later became known as "the cedar king" of Door County. For many years he did a business of $180,000 per year. In 1879 he shipped seventy cargoes of cedar stuff and cordwood. In the '80s he and Warren Bailey had a very large camp on Drummond Island in Lake Huron. Ten thousand dollars' worth of supplies were shipped up to the camp, including 200 barrels of flour grown in Jacksonport and ground in Sturgeon Bay. In spite of his big operations Mr. Smith did not get rich, however. The vagaries of commission men, mismanagement and other troubles left him only enough out of his big operations to buy a farm one half mile south of Jacksonport. The big house in which Peter Hocks now lives was built by him.

The population of the Town of Jacksonport is now made up principally of Germans. The first of these was John They, who came from Canada in the '70s. Most of the land was not settled upon until 1880 and later. In 1880 came August Ernst, August, John and Fred Anschutz Matt Jonas, John Zelhofer, Chris. Wagener, Ernst Wiegand and others. Most of the Germans in Jacksonport are from Thuringen, the birthplace of Luther, and therefore naturally are Lutherans. A big Lutheran congregation is maintained in the town.

Return to [ Wisconsin History ] [ History at Rays Place ] [ Rays Place ]

Wisconsin Counties at this web site - Dodge - Door - Outagamie - Racine -

Also see the local histories for [ CT ] [ IA ] [ IL ] [ IN ] [ KS ] [ ME ] [ MO ] [ MI ] [ NE ] [ NJ ] [ NY ] [ PA ] [ OH ] [ PA ] [ WI ]

All pages copyright 2003-2013. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy