History of Southern 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


The southern part of Door County, like Caesar's Gaul, may be divided into three parts. In the west, occupying all of Gardner, Union and three fourths of Brussels, live the Belgians. This settlement continues southward through Kewaunee and Brown counties almost to the City of Green Bay and is the largest Belgian settlement in America. In the middle lies a German settlement occupying the east quarter of the town of Brussels, and the greater part of Forestville and Nasewaupee. In the east, occupying the east quarter of Forestville, the greater part of Clay Banks, the northern part of Nasewaupee and the greater part of the Town of Sturgeon south of the bay, is a Norwegian settlement. There are eight congregations (four parishes) of Belgians, numbering about twenty three hundred people; seven congregations (six parishes) of Germans, numbering about three thousand people; and five congregations (three parishes) of Norwegians, numbering about eleven hundred people. More than three fourths of the people are church members. Of other nationalities there are not many representatives now, although the first settlers in all but the Belgian settlement were Yankees.

The greater part of this section is very choice farming land and is now as well tilled and built up as any part of Wisconsin. Clay Banks is a very choice tract of gently rolling clay soil, free from stone but with a narrow fringe of sand along the lake shore. Forestville is a splendid tract of land whose quality is only impaired by occasional small swamps. The conditions are similar in Brussels, although this town has a ridge of limestone running through the west central part of it. Union has considerable sand in the southern part. Gardner is very choice in the western and southern part. In the eastern part is a very large swamp embracing several thousand acres. In the northern part it is stony. Nasewaupee has many swamps and considerable stony land, interspersed with many excellent farms. Sturgeon Bay is very rough in surface and has a vast amount of swamp in the eastern part.

The first settler in this part of the county was Increase Claflin, who was also the first settler in the county. He settled at the mouth of Little Sturgeon May 1, 1835, and the story of his coming is told in Chapter X. He entered his land in 1838. The first land entry in Door County was made in what is now the Town of Union by Richard S. Satterlee. He was army surgeon at Fort Howard and never lived in Door County. His entry is dated February 24, 1836, and covers lots 1, 3, 4 and the southeast quarter of section 21 - 327 acres - also lots 1, 2 and the northeast quarter of section 28 - 257 acres. These tracts adjoin each other and lie on the shore of Green Bay. The doctor paid $730.50 for his lands, which presumably were bought for timber exploitation.

Shortly after Claflin came several other trappers and Indian traders bought land and settled around Sawyer Harbor in the northern extremity of asewaupee. These were Peter Rowley, Peter Sherwood and Frank Sawyer. They would have settled at Little Sturgeon, which at that time and for a generation later was the headquarters for the Indians. On the east side of Little Sturgeon near its mouth was a village of more than five hundred Menominees and Chippewas and here was a good place for bartering. However, Robert Stephenson, Claflin's son in law, was the boss here and kept all others out. He was fearless, resolute, savage and indescribably profane - a man of ready wit and readier hit whom both white men and red learned to look upon him with utmost respect. Although he had entered only a small tract of land he laid claim to all the land around the bay and lorded it over every one regardless of Government patents or other claims. Stephenson wanted the Indian trade for himself and he also wanted free pasture in the marshes that surround Little Sturgeon for his many horses. These marshes that give Little Sturgeon such a dreamy appearance was one of the chief attractions that Claflin sought when he settled here in 1835. He brought with him many horses for breeding purposes, for here was pasture made to order and plenty of hay for winter fodder. The horses were brought from Green Bay on the ice and the surplus stock taken to market in the same manner, there being no means of communication by land. In 1837 Robert Stephenson also engaged in horsebreeding at the same place, seldom having less than twenty or thirty on his property. In 1838 four of his horses and several cows were poisoned by a Frenchman with whom he had a little unpleasantness. A crippled Indian living near by had two dogs which drew him on a sled. The dogs visited the place where the Frenchman was fishing and ate some of the fish. The Frenchman revenged himself for this by poisoning the brutes. The Indian complained bitterly to Mr. Stephenson, who administered justice by giving the Frenchman a sound thrashing. Instead of calling the matter quits, the Frenchman brooded on revenge. Finally he secured a quantity of arsenic which he liberally sprinkled upon a stack of hay with the result as told above, whereupon he discreetly fled to other parts.

Robert Stephenson had a large number of children, Fred Schuyler, who knew him well, insisting he had "one every month." One of the first school districts in the county was organized for the benefit of his children. In 1863 he had no less than ten attending school at once. It must not be inferred, however, that he crowded them in educational matters. Most of the time they were out scattered around on the ice, their feet wrapped in rags, pulling in trout faster than their father could haul it to Sturgeon Bay

Among these children was Albert, commonly called "Butch" Stephenson. He became a well known quack doctor. He had great faith in the curative powers of tea made from the bark of the red willow. When he peeled the bark up the limb it was an excellent means to induce vomiting When the bark was peeled down the limb it was equally sure as a physic.

The first farmers in the southern part of the county were Nils Torstenson and Philip Jacobs, who took land and started farming in 1852 in what is now a part of Sawyer. A little later the Keoghs and the Perrys came up the Wolf River in a boat and landed near the present Village of Forestville where they took land. They were followed in 1855 and 1856 by a number of others who are mentioned in Chapter XLVIII. To the west of them there were no settlers until the Green Bay shore was reached fifteen miles away through the deep forest. The only one on the Green Bay shore or in the towns of Union and Brussels before the Belgians came was Tallak Haines. He entered a tract of land in section 2 in Union in February, 1856, and lived there for many years, later settling in the town of Nasewaupee.

As the further history of these communities is better handled by their division into nationalities than by towns they will be thus described in the following pages.

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