The Builders of Baraboo
By Elbridge D. Jackson, Minneapolis, Minn.
From Friday’s Daily.
With the down east people the current of settlement in Wisconsin was from the southern part of the state northward. The Rock river valley was a favorite landing place on arrival from the up-lake passage at Milwaukee. There is no wonder in this when we recall what Mr. Greely of the N.Y. Tribune said of this part of the northwest, that it was one great garden. But later arrivals soon discovered that the sooners had already appropriated these lands, and they must look elsewhere if at all. Fortunately necessity was most kind in this that the new discoveries even surprised what they reluctantly had to leave behind. This was so with the site of Baraboo and the adjacent country. After George Brown had discovered this and returned to Whitewater in the middle forties, many people of his acquaintance and friendship caught the inspiration of this brave young pioneer and straightway betook themselves with their belongings to the Baraboo valley.
A lengthy list might here be made of these people who afterwards became conspicuous in the subsequent annals of that community, but space admits the enumeration of just a few. One was B. L. Purdy, a cabinet maker form Whitewater. He was obliged to go barefoot much of the time from sheer necessity. He was fortunate like most men in having a wife willing to do even more than her part. Their first occupation at Baraboo was in running a boarding house for Delando Pratt who had many workmen in his employ. The building was made of rough lumber and filled with saw-dust between the studding to take place of lath and plaster. But Purdy was more than a cabinet maker or boarding house keeper; he had a turn for public affairs and became one of the first post masters of Baraboo. There was very little mail matter in those primitive days and for some time no post office was needed. But there was something doing all the time just as always had been to the present time. The first post office was near the present site of the Y.M.C.A. building and from that day to this has been ever on the move according to the whim or business judgment of each succeeding official having charge over its destiny. Purdy had a real Yankee turn for many things and was successful in a way in each. He could take charge of the interior furnishing of fine houses and do it better than the owner or his wife. This was so with the house of banker Thomas which is still standing and nowise out of keeping with its neighborhood. Purdy selected and put down the first carpets, installed the furniture and even had the fires going in the many open grates giving a welcome to the owner and his family as they came into possession of their own. Mrs. Purdy was the better man of the two as was sometimes remarked; she had energy and intelligence unusual. Both were in middle life at this time, and where she was things had to move. Her appearance on the street was pleasing, well proportioned, of medium size, a face of unusual brightness and almost handsome. Her hair was sandy with complexion to match and cheeks always bearing the peach bloom. No one who had ever beheld her could possibly forget. Many will recall Lon Purdy, the son; he learned the druggist’s calling with Dr. B. F. Mills. Lon was a wag in his way and had a good deal of his mother’s qualities. It was said that rather than split kindling to build morning fires at the drug store, he would saturate the ashes with oil. I think this practice like almost all things dangerous, finally resulted in an accident which seriously singed the young man’s phiziognomy to his chagrin if not disgrace. Mr. Purdy, pioneer like, finally moved on an went to Nebraska where he lived to past ninety, the only one surviving except possibly his son, of his family. He was a very useful man at Baraboo and should have remained to receive the respect and esteem of the community in his declining years.
In the Purdy era of Baraboo, came Dr. Seth P. Angle. He and his wife first appeared in a one horse buggy in lower town, which was then the whole town. No one knows how they crossed the Baraboo, as it was before the time of bridges. But those who best knew Seth are certain that they did not come out of the clouds. Stopping at almost the first little frame house where the Jackson tavern afterwards stood so many years, the Dr. hastily put up a shanty and moved in; this was on the corner afterwards occupied by the Geo. Hiles store. Here the Dr. remained two years and then built a fine frame house as the standard was in those days, on the hill just north of the present winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. show. He was a smart and active man considerably older than his wife. No one knows where they came from to Baraboo or where he went to at the end of five or six years residence. Like many ill-fated marriages where one is much the elder, a parting came and she joined the sisters of charity, that still haven of so many waifs on the sea of life. One incident that is not forgotten is his experience with his family cow; it was attacked with a sort of mad itch to the degree that the suffering animal would even bite off chunks of her flesh. The body was afterwards found in the troubled waters of the river, but whether its owner pushed her in or she madly rushed in, for relief no one ever knew.
Eber Crandall was another of the early ones in 1848; he had three brothers, all farmers except himself, and one a doctor. These were also York state folks. Eber was quite a gentleman, at least in his own opinion, which is always to precede other’s opinion on such matters. He prided himself on little work and that he could, as he said, make his living by his wits; but whether he did or not, is subject to serious doubt. Of one thing there is no doubt, that his wife was a fine singer and very pretty; she was a second wife and Eber used to tell how he discovered her in N.Y. while stopping at a hotel, and there was such disparity in age that while she was a babe he held her on his lap. He of course had the advantage of his future spouse in points of everything except perhaps age.
And now we come to people of notoriety if not to be called excellent, for in those days there were the good, bad and indifferent just the same as has ever been and always will be to the end of time. I refer to Abe Wood who with George Hiles and Dan Kelsey were wont to make things lively in the young town in those days. Abe Wood was a man of Indian blood in his veins, if not a half breed. He had married a squaw, but left her. A daughter clung to him and for her he would have cleaned out the whole community. He did the ballroom on one occasion when in liquor which frequently was the case because the young fellow’s did not engage his daughter to dance with them, and Able would not stand for any such thing at all. He could and did use bad language as most of those last mentioned were wont to do often. Finally some of the men coaxed Abe out of the ball room and the dance went on. He would often come to town and stop at the tavern for meals and always pay, which was before the day when landlords could distrain and arrest for nonpayment. This shows that there was a sort of rough hewn sense of honor even among those almost uncivilized folks. It is said that Abe Wood carried Lucy Perkius (an early post mistress I think) across the Baraboo on his shoulder to prevent someone getting her claim on the other side. He it was who was choking the father of George Brown for having encouraged, as Abe thought, the jumping of another’s claim by Nathan Denison then passed into gray hair, forcibly jerked him off by the nape of the neck. Abe straightened himself up and fiercely said that but for gray hairs he would not save him, but on being assured that gray hairs need not stand in the way, Abe saw his way clear to draw off. Too much liquor was the bane of those days, and Abe Wood lost his life by falling out of the back end of a wagon and breaking his neck.
George Hiles must not be forgotten as an important factor in the affairs of those times in lower town. He sold liquor and worked into a sort of general store; at first where Burrington’s store afterwards was, and later, on the corner just north of the Jackson tavern site. Hiles had a brother Sam who was considerable of a sport and quite active in the community. He was quite a fellow in society and especially at the dances which were almost the only amusement for the young people. Their sister Delia was a remarkable young woman and combined many qualities. Personally she was a Greek model in fine proportions and figure; neither too slim nor too stout, she had an open countenance, with almost a blonde complexion and light colored hair, and if not beautiful, was dangerously near that and knew it, too. She was always gay and lively and made things jolly all about her, which is not mean trait after all to be proud of. George used to have a bowling alley, even in those days, of the present type too, and it was well patronized. At times he would go on a spree and would not hesitate to mount the dining table set for a meal at the tavern and send the dishes kiting through the windows, stamping and cursing like a mad man. In the morning he would settle for all damage. Afterwards he moved to the pineries and later to Milwaukee where he died a few years since a millionaire. It is said that he once attended an old settlers meeting at Baraboo long years after his removal and while a very rich man, and seemed to take a real interest in the proceedings. He was sensible of obligations to family dependents and contributed to the support of all while he lived.
But Dan Kelsey, the blacksmith, was also notable in many ways. He was a large man of naturally generous impulses. For very many years he had his shop just east of the Basset flour mills. A sad incident was when the little Seeley boy whose parents lived in a shanty on the edge of the pond, was passing the door way of Kelsey’s shop, while he was heating the butt end of a gun barrel to draw the britch pin. Kelsey did not know it was loaded, and it exploded and killed the little fellow by a full charge in the face, so near as to burn the skin and show powder grains all over. No one felt worse than the rough old blacksmith for this sad accident. Dan was as rough of speech as in habits and appearance. He especially delighted in stealing form melon patches in the country around Baraboo, and on one or two occasions was treated to a charge of shot where it would least injure as he and comrades were beating a retreat.
But at the Fourth of July celebrations in the court house square Dan was in his glory. He it was that waked the early morn by firing the big anvils from a long hot rod of iron held in his hands and throwing the upper anvil several feet high. This he would keep up most of the day and seemed to take as his proud job. When the children several miles from town heard these morning guns, they knew it was Dan Kelsey calling to them in that coarse but patriotic way to come and take part in the gay doings at Baraboo and eat the good things to be spread on the long tables under green boughs for many, many rods in the public square.
In this group of pioneers there was not one but that had good traits, just the same as with people at the present day. It would seem that the only just guage (sic) of character is how they average up. By any other we must all fall. Even old Abe Wood would not omit to pay an honest debt, and that would count him up even at the present time. And yet, those who believe in human progress must realize that these present days are above those of the forties alluded to in the foregoing. It is more than likely that form generation to generation the anthem of life is sung by sweeter voices and performed on ever finer cords. To be an optimist is only the seeing of things as they are, a panoramic view as it were over wide spaces. In so doing we must of course realize that we stand on the shoulders of all the past, and that the lives of those that have been are of use in shaping the destiny of those that shall be.
And as we have the making of our own heaven here it may be that we shall have a hand in the heaven of the hereafter. This being so I think I could tell what kind of a heaven each of these people would choose, and worth the living in too if your taste is after their liking. Of course, with the latter ones mentioned it would be no hymn book heaven, but a sublimated one of all that they strived after in their best moments, for each and all had at such times worthy aspirations.