Far out amid the white crested waves of Lake Michigan lies Washington Island. Its nearest point is about twenty
five miles from the mainland of Northern Michigan, while the tip end of the Door County peninsula comes up within
ten miles on the south. North, east and south lie a number of islands, constituting "the islands of Green
Bay" and known as a dangerous zone of navigation ever since the first sailing vessel that plowed the waters
of the great lakes - the Griffin of the famous explorer La Salle - was wrecked there in the year 1679.
Washington Island is about six miles square and has a shoreline of twenty six miles. On the north and west sides
the shores are high and precipitous, particularly at the northwestern extremity, where Bowyer's Bluff towers its
limestone ledge imposingly to the height of almost 200 feet from the water's edge. These cliffs are seamed with
caves and fissures, and carved into fantastic figures by the storms of bygone ages, but now the clinging cedars
are weaving a drapery of green for their rugged sides. The south and east sides, on the contrary, are mostly low
and sandy with a shallow water front. On the north side is Washington Harbor, a bay which extends into the island
about a mile and a half, surrounded by sloping timbered hills. On the south, too, is a big indentation, known as
Detroit Harbor, which is made a landlocked anchorage by the long Detroit Island, which lies across its mouth. The
water here is, however, too shallow except for vessels of light draft.
Around the shores of this beautiful harbor the clearings come down to the water's edge and the shore is dotted
with substantial summer hotels, cottages and farm buildings. But the traveler on the big passenger boats sees none
of these. He passes the island on the west, north or east and sees only frowning shores crowned with the primeval
woods - apparently the guardians of Nature's undisturbed solitude.
Residents of the interior parts of the state, knowing Washington Island only from the little spot it occupies on
the map, have even a smaller conception of what it contains. To them Washington Island is only a storm beaten rock
in the sea, far removed from every human activity. They do not dream that this little island is throbbing with
the multitudinous interests of one of the most progressive communities in Wisconsin. It has a population of almost
a thousand people, mostly engaged in farming by the most up to date methods. As a potato growing center it ranks
high, exporting about 40,000 bushels annually, besides a quantity of grains and fruits. Its farmhouses are of such
superior construction as to compare favorably with those of most townships in the state. It has three churches
and four schools and one of the best co-operative telephone systems in America. This is connected by a cable on
the sea bottom with the mainland so that practically every farmer on Washington Island can talk with Chicago or
Minneapolis from his own home. Although the roads are fair, the islanders are voting substantial appropriations
for macadamizing them and the island will therefore shortly have one of the best paved road systems in the state.
All in all, Washington Island is a place of great natural beauty, fertility, indtistry and progress.
Washington Island, as has been told in another chapter, was a favorite place of abode for the Indians Nowhere else
in the state are to be found so many village sites, cemeteries, mounds and cornfields as here. There is here such
a wealth of Indian remains that as one archaeologist says, "there is little left to desire." The entire
shoreline around Detroit Harbor shows remains of village sites. So also do the shores of Little Lake and Jackson
Harbor. Even at this late date a very well defined Indian cornfield can be seen in the grove of timber adjoining
the Washington Harbor School on the north. Judging by the amount of Indian remains Washington Island was the most
favored region in the western country.
The first permanent settlement of white people in Door County, as has been told, was on Rock Island. About 1850
many moved away from there, particularly those who had children, as those were growing up "without knowing
the difference between a cow and a horse." Such supposed necessities of civilization and a hundred others
were not to be found on little Rock Island They therefore moved over to Washington Island, where there was abundant
room for other activities besides fishing.
Before this immigration to Washington Island began there were two or three attempts at settlement which must be
In the spring of 1834 two young fishermen came to Detroit Island, felled some cedar trees, and built themselves
a substantial home. This was about fifteen or twenty rods south of the northwest point of Detroit Island and was
the first white man's habitation within the present limits of Door and Kewaunee counties. For a year they lived
pleasantly in their new home, busy with their hunting and fishing.
Not far from there was a large Indian village, temporarily deserted by its migratory owners. In the summer of 1835,
when the Indians returned and found some white men settled in one of their old cornfields and cemeteries, war broke
out at once.
The Indians were armed with smooth bore rifles and bows and arrows, and when it got dark they opened a fusillade
of shot against the cabin. This caused no damage as the logs were thick. The one window in the cabin was protected
by a heavy plank shutter. After some time one of the men in the cabin got up to peer through the cracks in this
plank shield. This was discovered and he was killed by a volley of bullets.
During the night the other man kept up a vigilant fight and as he was a good shot he picked off a number of the
redskins. When light came the Indians saw a government vessel sailing close by. They hastily withdrew to Washington
Island with their dead and wounded. The lone survivor, overcome by fatigue and fighting, managed to hail the boat
and was taken on board.
This boat was on its way to the Government Bluff near Sturgeon Bay to get stone to improve the Chicago River front
near Fort Dearborn. When they finally arrived there the story of the rescue of the beleaguered fisherman was told
in the presence, among others, of F. H. and T. T. Miner. The latter, about ten years later, became a resident of
Door County and to these men we are indebted for the story.
A few years later' wo other fishermen came to Washington Harbor to make their homes. We know the names of these
men because they were among the first men to enter lands within Door County John J. Robertson entered lot 5, section
25, town 34, range 29, 22 acres; January 7, 1839; and John Ball entered lots 2, 3 and 4 in the same section May
23, 1840. Both of these entries were on the south and east shore of Washington Island. They antedate the Rock Island
entries, the next in time, by four or five years.
I have been unable to learn any more about these men. Very likely they, too, were driven off by the Indians, or,
still more probable, suffered an untimely death at the hands of the redskins martyrs to the cause of that army
of pioneers which was soon to follow.
In 1848 this first vanguard of the approaching civilization arrived. These were Jonathan Roe, Henry Gardner, Amos
Saunders, Henry D. Miner and Napoleon Stem. The same year the first marriage in the county was solemnized by Henry
D. Miner, who, in the capacity of an exhorter, undertook to unite Elizabeth Roe and Henry Gardner in matrimonial
bonds. The next year or two they were joined by James Cornell, Jonathan Herrick, Josiah Temple, Joseph Smith, John
Munger and Richard Mapson - all good Yankees from Illinois, who had spent some time on Rock Island and St. Martin's
Island. There was also Dr. William Ellis, who at this very early date aspired to minister to the physical needs
of the little community. He evidently was quite a hustler, as it is told of him that he once skated from Washington
Island to Green Bay - ninety miles - in one day. In spite of his hustling he found the locality too healthy for
a physician, and after some years he moved west. In fact, according to reliable testimony, obstetrics was the only
department of therapeutics for which there was any demand. In this field there was quite a lively business, as
might be illustrated by the growth of James Cornell's family. He had ten children - Joseph, Thomas, Elizabeth (Root),
Jane (Anderson), Mary Ann (Boice), Margareth (Cady), Euretta (Wellman), James, John and William who all grew up
and had good sized families. With their grandchildren and great grandchildren they now number more than two hundred.
Of other fishermen who came in during the early '50s can be mentioned Volney S. Garrett, Pat and Dennis McDonald,
John Beam, Robert McBride, Wm. J. Nolan, John Kenwood, Richard Whaling, Sam Graham, Joel Westbrook, Chauncey Haskell,
David Hains, and William and Jacob Stall.
To many readers the enumeration of these names may mean little, but they recall long chapters of forgotten events
to the old time survivors of these days. Many of these that have been mentioned have passed completely out of sight
while the descendants of others have risen to positions of eminence in the county and state. It is the historian's
duty, however, to impartially make record of all the pathfinders of those early days and not by discriminating
selection flatter the vanity of the present day survivors.
Washington Island with the adjacent islands were organized into a municipality, or town, June 20, 1850. This was
a year or two before Door County was organized. The first town meeting was held at the house of H. D. Miner on
Rock Island. Capt. Amos Saunders was elected the first chairman, H. D. Miner clerk and John A. Boone justice of
the peace. These were the first public officials within what is now Door County.
Capt. Amos Saunders, the first chairman of the county, came to Wisconsin in 1839. For many years he owned a vessel,
of which he also was captain, which sailed between Chicago and Buffalo. In 1848 he settled at Washington Harbor,
where he built a pier and supplied the Buffalo boats with cordwood for fuel. He was also the first wholesale fish
buyer. For a time he owned all the land around Washington Harbor - about six hundred acres - and did a large and
profitable business. In the early '50s he sold all his Washington Island interests to a man by the name of James
M. Craw and moved West.
James M. Craw, the new leader of Washington Island, was one of the most remarkable men who have settled in Door
County. He was a business man of many interests who with his son Marsden came from Cleveland, Ohio, in 1851. He
is reported to have been "upwards of ninety years old" when he came but this great age did not prevent
him from undertaking several large enterprises with great energy and enthusiasm. He bought at least a thousand
acres of land, mostly shore property, for which he paid several thousand dollars. Most of these entries are dated
between May 1 and November 1, 1852. He equipped several fishing crews to fish for him, started lumbering, and built
a mill. He built a commodious dwelling house the same year, which is still standing and is now the oldest house
in the county. It is known as "the white house," and stands on the west side of Washington Harbor. Near
the house he also erected a barn which must have been a big one as it is reported to have cost more than three
thousand dollars. From the very meager glimpses we have of this energetic old gentleman it is evident that he was
a most interesting personality. But because he was of a different type from those around him it seems that misunderstanding
caused him many enemies.
There was an oldish man living a little distance from Craw. His name was Joel Westbrook. His wife, Lucinda, is
remembered as "one of the most respected women that ever lived on the island;" but there is an equal
unanimity of opinion that crafty old Joe was a worthless mischief. He used to stay around the Craw house a great
deal, but as he spent his time there in fomenting trouble and playing mischievous and silly jokes, Mr. Craw finally
forbade him the house. This enraged Westbrook greatly and he vowed vengeance.
During the summer of 1852 Westbrook cut five or six tons of hay on state lands on the island. He then went outside
and bought some oxen, intending to haul logs the coming winter. During his absence the Craws, who had lands in
that vicinity, hauled away the hay and put it into their barn. Westbrook on his return demanded payment but a quarrel
only resulted. It is told that shortly after dark one evening in March, 1853, he returned to the barn, emptied
a bottle of kerosene on the hay and set fire to it. Just at that moment he was startled by the bark of an approaching
dog and hurriedly ran off, leaving his mittens which he had laid down while lighting the fire. The barn blazed
up a roaring furnace of flames but not before the mittens were discovered. As Westbrook had made threats, a party
of men at once started in pursuit. Soon a scarf was picked up which had dropped from his pocket during his flight,
and before he reached his cabin Westbrook himself was overhauled. He was brought back to the place of his crime
amid great excitement. Cries of "throw him into the fire!" sounded on all sides. Finally the more temperate
men present succeeded in quieting the crowd and Westbrook was taken away under strong guard. He was committed to
the Brown County Jail, where he lay for eight months until his trial came off. He was defended by two very able
lawyers and the jury disagreed. A strong public feeling was in the meantime worked up in his behalf, urging that
he had great provocation and had been punished enough. He was then discharged. The loss of Craw & Son was placed
at between three thousand six hundred and four thousand dollars. Shortly after this J. M. Craw returned to Ohio,
presumably disgusted with the western sense of justice.
When Mr. Craw returned to Cleveland, Ohio, his principal business interests on Washington Island were bought up
by the brothers W. H. and Delbert Ranney. They also came from Cleveland, Ohio. As the steamboats plying between
Buffalo and Chicago stopped here once or twice a week there was a lively exchange of commodities. At Ranney's could
be obtained anything from a paper of pins to a fully equipped fishing smack involving a deal of a thousand dollars
or more. There was little or no use for notes and receipts. When the fishermen needed anything they went to Ranney's
and got it, and when they had a little money to spare they commonly deposited with him as a banking house. Both
parties had the utmost confidence in each other. Later when the farmers began to carve out their little clearings
out of the forest the Ranneys just as readily extended to them the same easy credit. These later accounts were
sometimes unprofitable because of the slow pay, but reckoned by the esteem the Ranneys gained for their kindness
and generosity toward the struggling farmers they were the best investments the Rannevs have made.
About the time of the Civil war came Godfrey Kalmbach, Thomas and Timothy Coffey, Joe Lobdell, Chas. Johnson. Christian
Jacobson, Jacob Young, Levi Vorous, D. H. Rice and C. G. Lathrop. Joe Lobdell had been a member of the famous Mormon
colony under King John Strang on Beaver Island. Most of the men mentioned above later became well known men in
the county. D. H. Rice for several years represented the Town of Washington on the county board in the early '60s.
Lathrop was also chairman of this town about 1870.
Over at West Harbor at "Bullock's Point" where later Freyburg's mill was located, there was in the earliest
'50s quite a little settlement of negro fishermen. Of these are remembered two brothers by the name of Bullock,
two brothers by the name of Woodruff, and others. Am. C. Betts, Gullickson and other old timers had merry recollections
when they recalled how "old Woodruff, who was a black as coal," used to boast that he was the "first
white man on Menominee River."
The chief man among these negroes was an old darkey by the name of Bennett. He did not personally fish but hired
others to do it for him. He was an expert boat builder when not too much occupied with religious musings. He loved
best to deliver monologues on spiritualistic manifestations, the gift of prophecy, the foundations of the New Jerusalem
and similar sublimities. Frequently he would be roused to great religious fervor by the wickedness which he thought
abounded around him and go out and hold. revival meetings. He is worthy of particular mention in this respect as
being the first man known to have conducted public religious services in Door County. In this endeavor he was not
very successful. He was more popular as a person who possessed the glamour of historical importance. It is reported
that he had stood at Commodore Perry's side (as his cabin boy) during the battle at Put-in-Bay, September 10, 1813,
and accompanied the commodore when he passed from the Lawrence to the Niagara. The famous picture of the Battle
of Lake Erie shows a young darkey in the boat with Commodore Perry. This was Bennett of Washington Island. He died
there in 1854.
When Bennett, the colored prophet, died his work was taken up by a white evangelist, a Baptist minister by the
name of Wm. B. Hamblin. He seems to have been a most effective revivalist, obtaining numerous conversions, especially
among the more hardened sinners. These revivals were wound up by a wholesale immersion down at Washington Harbor.
Among the spectators of the solemn ceremony was also a young scapegrace by the name of Mortimer Wellman. Seeing
so many of his old cronies from the card table and whiskey jug among the proselytes, he thought to have a little
fun with them. In the midst of the ceremony he was seen to suddenly topple backward with outstretched arms and
with a scream of distress fall into the water. Instantly the baptismal ceremony was in confusion and uproar. Forgetting
their white robes of baptism, the shepherd and his entire flock rushed to the rescue. Some began frantically to
push out an old yawl boat that lay on the beach, while others seized whatever was loose and threw it to the gasping
man in the water. Finally two or three of the more daring proselytes at the risk of their own lives jumped in to
save him. At this moment, however, he let out a ringing ha-ha, turned a sommersault in the water and swam off like
an eel. It took some time before the newly converted were able to restrain the profanity which long habits prompted
them to utter.
This Mortimer Wellman was one of a quartette of boys, all of about seventeen years of age, who had run away from
their homes in Illinois and come to Washington Island in 1852. The other three were Volney Garrett, Geo. Roberts
and Sam Runyon. Garrett became a well known resident of Door County but Roberts and Runyon did not live long. One
day in March, 1855, they had come from St. Martin's Island to Craw's store to get the mail and a keg of Craw's
wig-wam whiskey from Ohio. A heavy snow storm was blowing and they never returned to St. Martin's Island. A few
days later they were found frozen stiff on the ice with the keg of whiskey between them.
At that time there were twelve or fourteen families on St. Martin's Island, who obtained their mail and many necessities
by way of Washington Island. They were separated from the Washington Island colony by a twelve mile strait over
which it was exceedingly dangerous to pass in wintertime. The same winter that Roberts and Runyon perished a number
of young fellows from St. Martin's had narrow escapes from drowning in passing over the ice. The older people therefore
hired Henry D. Miner to bring them the mail, for which he was to receive 25 cents per letter or paper. One hardy
old grandmother on St. Martin's expressed great disgust at their apparent cowardice, whereupon they defended themselves
by claiming that Miner could walk on the water. At this she soundly berated them and drove them from the house.
The following spring the ice thawed suddenly and left several inches of water on the ice. One day the men looked
out and saw Miner come splashing through the water. A hurry call was sent for the old granny who was sitting outside
in the warm spring sun sunning herself. They pointed out to her Miner walking on the water. She looked and rubbed
her eyes. Finally she declared with the greatest conviction that if anyone had told her that such a miracle could
happen she would never have believed it but she could not disbelieve her own eyes. There was Miner, sure enough,
walking at ease on the water!
The conspirators met Mr. Miner and adjured him not to make explanations. If he did they would surely tar and feather
him and ride him on a rail!
There was in Washington Island a hearty appreciation of a joke, no matter how crude. They were not squeamish about
a laugh, or the cause of it, no matter if it savored a little of vulgarity. Yet in spite of this rollicking sense
of humor, which is the best proof of the superabundant physical health of the community, there was an undercurrent
of sadness in the life of the island. That big rolling sea that surrounded them and fed them was also a grim taker
of tolls. Scarcely a family on the island but mourned one or more of its members that had perished in its tricky
depths. Sudden storms are common around the island, and often the greatest care was in vain, and a widow with her
little ones were left to stare disconsolately out yonder where papa had gone and never returned.
More often, however, these frequent tragedies were caused by the general love for strong drink. There was a boat
builder by the name of Bill Stahl. His boats were clippers to sail but they soon got a very bad reputation for
killing fishermen. A Stahl boat and a bottle of whiskey was a combination which was soon looked upon as a sure
end. Among the many who came to their end by means of a Stahl boat and a bottle of whiskey are remembered Peter
Bridegroom, Robert Kennedy, James Love, Frank Wolf, Ed Weaver and a fellow by the name of Casper. Many others had
THE COMING OF THE FARMERS
During the first thirty years after Robertson and Ball had erected their fishing shacks at Washington Harbor
no farming to speak of was attempted. Some of the fishermen had a patch of potatoes back in the woods where they
by using abundant fish offal for fertilizing produced amazing crops. William Nolen, for instance, one year in the
latter '50s, produced almost a thousand bushels of potatoes on his field in section 30, long afterwards known as
Nolen's field. There was also a man by the name of Smith, "with a harelip," who grew cabbages for the
fishermen. This was on the farm now said to be owned by Carl Koyen.
But this was all until the Danes came. Back in the woods the axe of an occasional wood chopper or lumberman was
heard, but these were transient visitors of no account. The fishermen lined the shore and reigned supreme.
These hardy pioneers of the deep for many years constituted a sort of a fisherman aristocracy who looked with pity
upon the poor devils who later came in as wood choppers and farmers. They esteemed the land as of little or no
value except to supply the few "taters" they needed to mix with their finny diet. Their thoughts and
plans were of the sea, and its vagaries were a constant subject of conversation with them.
The reader may think that life on the island in those days was of necessity a lonesome and beggarly existence.
This, however, is far from true. On the contrary, it was if anything too extravagant and hilarious. The waters
of Washington Island have always been the best fishing grounds in the Great Lakes and amazing catches of fish were
frequent. While few records have been kept, some authentic cases may be cited as illustrations. In the spring of
1860 Joseph Cornell caught a seventy pound trout off Rock Island. In 1862 William Cornell, a fourteen year old
boy, caught seven trout, the smallest weighing forty, the largest forty eight, pounds. In the spring of 1882 two
trout were caught on Fisherman's Shoal weighing fifty eight and sixty five pounds. They were not infrequently just
as numerous as they were large. In 1869 Godfrey Nelson caught two hundred and twenty trout in two days. In the
winter of 1875 Charley Sloop caught one hundred and twenty in one day and one hundred and forty in the next. Sometimes
it required perseverance but the results were usually satisfactory, as was the case with Silas Wright. who fished
for eleven days without a bite and then caught three boat loads on the twelfth. These are all authentic catches.
With such generous returns for the labor expended there was the usual extravagance that goes with easy money. To
make up for the restrictions in life and diet imposed upon them by their surroundings the fishermen were lavish
in their expenditures whenever an opportunity presented itself. A dollar was a very small coin in those days. Canned
goods, fancy toys, laces and costly furnishings were imported in reckless quantities. Ranney, their easy going
merchant and fish buyer, was also their banker and handed out liberal quantities of cash without any formality
of notes and securities.
Nor was there any lack of merrymaking. As most of the fishermen kept a number of girls to help them in overhauling
and "taking up" the nets - hanging them on reels to dry - a "shin dig" or dance was arranged
at a moment's notice. On special holidays, like the Fourth of July, there was particularly much boisterous celebration.
A schooner or tug would be hired to take a large crowd to Escanaba for grand doings. Another crowd would secure
a rival boat, whereupon there would be a great race with immense shouting and laughter. On such occasions drunkenness
was, of course, common, and fights would start and end in two seconds.
The year 1868 marks the change from a fishing to a farming community on the island This was brought about by the
Danes. In the fall of 1867 a young Dane by the name of Mellemberg, who had been spending a busy season as assistant
to a fisherman at Washington Harbor, decided to go to Chicago for the winter to "have a good time." In
the Windy City he stopped at the boarding house of one II. P. Anderson. This was the center for a small colony
of countrymen of his who had just arrived in the land of promise and were eking out a precarious existence by doing
odd jobs. They were lamenting the difficulties of getting a start in a strange land whose language they did not
understand. But Mellemberg assured them fluently:
"If you will keep it a dark secret," he said, "I will tell you how you can start right in with a
good income and soon be on Easy Street." This sounded very good. "What was it?"
"Well, it is the easiest snap in the world," he said, "but you must not tell others about it."
No; they assured him they would be as silent as the grave about it, provided they could only get a chance.
"Well, all you have to do is to get an axe and come with me to Washington Island and cut wood whenever you
please; you will get $2.50 per cord for it."
"But what will the owner of the land say?"
"There is no owner. It is everybody's land. It belongs to the Government."
"How will we get our wood out?" they said; "we have no horses."
"You need no horses," he replied. "The storekeeper will haul it out for you and charge you half
what you get."
"But we know nothing about work in the woods," they objected. "We can use a broadaxe but not a woodsman's
"Broadaxe or woodchoppers', they are all axes with a handle, aren't they?" he argued. They. couldn't
quite agree to this but finally agreed to seize this easy snap as he described it.
Next spring when navigation opened a large company of Danes set out for Washington Island as follows: Hans P. Anderson
(from Lolland); Lars P. Ottosen, Hans Olson Saabye, and Jens Markussen (from Zealand); John and Christian Larson
(from Schleswig-Holstein), and Peder Nelson (from Fyen). There was also quite a number of other Danes who came
with them and tried the woodchopping one winter and then went to Lincoln County, Kan., where they started a Danish
None of these Danes had any money except enough for transportation. In fact, some of them ran short even then.
Hans O. Saabye, for instance, had the misfortune to lose his trunks in Green Bay because they were short $6 in
paying their board bill while staying there.
The first of these men to enter land were H. P. Anderson, who on May 19, 1868, entered the southeast ¼,
section 36, township 34, range 29, and H. O. Saabye, who on May 28, 1868, entered the west ½, northwest
¼, section 6, township 33, range 30.
Anderson and his friends did not find wood chopping the easy road to wealth that Mellemberg had foretold. On the
contrary they found it a pretty rough road to poverty. But once in the woods they determined to stick it out. They
therefore secured homestead rights to various quarter sections in the central part of the island and proceeded
patiently to turn them into farming land.
"But it was a hard task; and no end to work. Logs three feet through were chopped off with an axe and rolled
together to be burned up. Just think of burning up hundreds of thousands of feet of white pine, basswood, clear
oak, butternut, cedar, hemlock, hardwoods of all kinds, because it was the only way to get the land cleared quickly
enough, as they all wanted to farm.
"The first winter we were here floor was $12 per barrel and then it came down to $10. A gallon of syrup was
$1.50; butter 30 cents a pound, everything else in proportion. So when they started to cut wood and could only
make 50 cents per day, they were not getting rich very fast. Our first storekeeper happened to be a very good man
and this helped the first settlers a good deal. His name was Ranney." According to the U. S. Census of 1870
there were on Washington Island, June 1, 1870, only 189 acres of cleared land. On this was produced the previous
season 30 bushels of wheat, 1,151 bushels of potatoes, 53 tons of hay and 1,628 pounds of butter. There were only
10 horses, 16 cows, 4 oxen and 14 swine on the island.
Little by little, however, their labor was rewarded and they attained circumstances of ease and prosperity there
probably just as early as their countrymen who left for the virgin prairies of Kansas, where they suffered much
hardship at the hands of the Indians.
In fact, farming on Washington Island did not prove as impossible an undertaking as was first supposed. Their little
clearings yielded abundant crops which were easily shipped out on the many vessels that visited the island. The
only real drawback about life on the island, and this still remains, is the difficulty of communication with the
outside world in winter time. In the pioneer days mail was brought from Green Bay once a week in summer time. In
winter time it was brought twice a month when the going was possible but sometimes a couple of months would pass
by before ice conditions would make travel possible. L. P. Ottosen recalls how they once went for seven weeks without
any word from the outside world. Finally a man was found to make the trip - not so much because of the mail, but
because the whole island had run out of chewing tobacco. All possible substitutes such as poplar bark, juniper
twigs, cabbage leaves and what not had been tried without relief and further abstinence was intolerable. For days
they waited in eager suspense for the return of their messenger. At last a large party of young fellows walked
out on the ice to meet him, or rather the quid, half way. When he appeared in the distance they broke into a run
and soon were eagerly pulling at the strappings of his sled. The plug was found and immediately passed around,
each one snapping off a generous allowance with intense relish. There was a moment of silent chewing, whereupon
they all turned homeward, staining the ice an arduous brown and feeling that all was well with the world.
Henry D. Miner was the man who for years risked his life to bring the mail and necessary supplies to the island
from Green Bay. He was an eccentric man of deep religious convictions, with a most burdensome outfit of rules,
precepts, habits and other ironclad regulations of life and daily conduct. Among his oddities it is told that whatever
he took in or harvested, such as honey, fish, vegetables, etc., was always divided into three portions - one for
himself, one for his wife and one for his son, Jesse. If any of them received company it was obligatory upon the
one who was honored with the visit to feed the company and the family out of his or her particular portion. His
wife sometimes rebelled at the strait and narrow way that was laid out for her. Upon such occasions Mr. Miner with
the best intentions in the world would tie his helpmeet to a chair and then proceed to administer a dose of physic
and a lecture on proper conduct, meaning by this double application to purge both the flesh and the spirit of his
consort from the evil that beset her.
Aside from these individual peculiarities Mr. Miner was a man of sterling qualities who had braved the dangers
of the ice in the service of his fellowmen more than any other man in the county. Two or three others in the early
days attempted to carry the mail and lost their lives in their first or second attempt, but H. D. Miner for thirteen
years successfully carried the mail between Green Bay and Washington Island. This is a distance of 100 long miles
and was usually covered in three days as follows: The first day from Washington Harbor to Ephraim: the second day
from Ephraim to Robert Stephenson's at Little Sturgeon Bay; the third day from Stephenson's to Green Bay. The fourth
day was spent in making the necessary purchases and then followed the home run with a loaded pack sled. Time after
time and year after year this dauntless mail carrier used to push through his perilous journey of 200 miles on
the ice. The cracks in the ice were many and tricky but he knew how to avoid them. The snow drifts were deep and
laborious but he conquered them. The winds were bitter and the cold intense but he survived them. Many a time,
however, his plight was so desperate amid the lonesomeness of the ice and the bitter cold that his far distant
island home seemed to fade utterly away, impossible of attainment. Mr Miner was not inclined, however, to boast
of his experiences on the ice and we have but meager glimpses of his hardships. He was once asked to give an account
of his hardest trip and this account is given below. It is but a bald and terse report, however, of his experience,
and it is only between lines that we catch a glimpse of the dreary loneliness of the ice, the paralyzing fatigue.
the bitter cold and the intrepid spirit that conquered in this heroic adventure.
"In the winter of 1856 Wm. Nolan came to me with $20 to pay for a trip to Green Bay for the mail. The following
Monday morning I started at 4 o'clock with the temperature at 23 below zero (it was a very cold winter). I took
a lunch of plenty of fat pork and molasses as I had found fats and sweets indispensable in a long journey on the
ice. I reached Ole Larson's house near Ephraim at 4 in the afternoon. The next day I reached Bob Stephenson's at
Little Sturgeon and on the third day I made Green Bay. The next day, Thursday, it blew a gale and snowed heavily.
During the day I picked up at various stores quite a large sleighload of calicoes, muslins, fishhooks, tobacco
and other things. I also got the accumulated mail for three months for the island, including some very old papers.
I also bought a few new ones so as to try to catch up a little with the times. Friday morning it was cold and clear
with the wind from the north cutting like a razor. It was 30 degrees below zero and my friends in Green Bay urged
me to stop as they did not think it was possible to endure the extremely cold weather. But as I was anxious to
reach Ephraim by Saturday night - the only place in the county where they had religious service - I started out
at 6 A, M. By 10 o'clock I wanted a lunch but the cold was so great I did not dare to sit down to eat it but nibbled
a little as I walked on. I had planned to reach Sherwood's at Sawyer Harbor but by noon I saw that I would be fortunate
if I could reach Stephenson's. At 4 o'clock I took another lunch which braced me up. I had been ten hours on the
ice, pulling a heavily loaded sled against the wind and my knees were aching and trembling. I saw that it would
be impossible for me to reach Stephenson's that dray but I had heard of a Belgian family which had moved in the
fall before. I therefore turned in toward the shore to hunt them up. The snow was deep here and soon I stumbled
and fell. I was so completely exhausted and sleepy that I was not able to get up. However, I crawled up and lay
across the sled and began to kick and claw in the snow until I was able to get up. I now dragged along for a long
time until it got dark, when T again fell down. The wind still blew but it seemed now like something soft and gentle
cooing me to sleep and I wanted to shut my eyes and rest forever. Far away, however, I saw a light flash up and
I staggered to my feet and made for the light. When I reached the place I found the inmates engaged in a fierce
quarrel and they would not let me in. Two young men, however, took my sled and accompanied me through the woods
to another Belgian family. It was a very small hut, just erected, but they received me very kindly and in a few
minutes, after a grand supper of bear meat, I lay on the floor sound asleep. Three days later I was back in Washington
Harbor with my sleighload of calicoes."
[Continued in history of Washington Island Part 2.]