ORGANIZATION OF TOWN - TOPOGRAPHY - FIRST SETTLEMENT IN 1848 - ACCESSIONS IN 1850 - FOUNDING OF RICHLAND CENTER - PLATTING AND ADDITIONS - SPIRIT OF EARLY SETTLERS - PRESENT POPULATION - SANITARY CONDITIONS - MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT - CITY LIBRARY - CITY CHURCHES - PUBLIC CEMETERIES - BUSINESS INTERESTS - SECRET AND BENEVOLENT SOCIETIES.
The topographical features of the town are very striking, if to be so comprehends a great variety of natural scenery. Like the greater part of the county, the general physical features are high bluffs and wide valleys, the central part of the town being a beautiful long flat vale, lying on both sides of the Pine river. The broad and fertile fields therein, rich and productive, are the principal sources of agricultural wealth. The extreme fertility of this and the contiguous valleys early induced settlers to locate within its limits. The first settlers of the town were of the class of the heroic pioneers who were identified with the settlement of all of this portion of Wisconsin. They were seeking homes on productive soil, and hence the lands of the town of Richland were very generally occupied by actual settlers at an early day in the history of the present limits of the county.
In the summer of 1848 a Mr. Bacon located a farm on the northeast quarter of section 20. There he erected his primitive cabin, "built of logs from the giants of the forest, who had waved their leafy arms in the face of the storms of centuries, and that had stood in serried ranks around the site of his humble abode." This cabin stood on the west side of the Pine river, about a half mile southwest of the present court house. Mr. Bacon and his wife were from Massachusetts or New Hampshire, and were seemingly out of their element in the new country, among the hills and forests of Richland county. During their stay, some four years, their cabin was the stopping place of those hardy pioneers and immigrants passing up and down the river, then the only highway to the settlements on the Wisconsin river. They were the only settlers between the Rockbridge mills and Ash Creek, and they seemed always glad to entertain their visitors and guests. They were people of considerable culture, and their good cheer, together with the violin, which Mr. bacon handled with some skill, made their cabin a pleasant resting place for the weary traveler upon the way from the mill to the river. The Pine river men of that day bear them in remembrance with much pleasure, when taking a retrospect of their lives. Mr. Bacon and his wife, however, being unaccustomed to frontier life, became restless, and finally sold out their claim to Robert Akan, returned to their native state and Richland county knew them no more.
Elisha Bovee was the second settler in the town, and a Mr. Mederis was apparently the next, the latter having located on section 8, near the spring on the west side of Pine river, about 1849. His cabin stood about a mile and a half north of what is now the business portion of the city of Richland Center. He had a wife and several children, and there he resided with them for about two years, when he, too, became dissatisfied and moved on westward.
In 1850, a large accession was made to the settlements, and among the number that came to the town were Cornelius McCarthy, who made a settlement in the town of Richland on the northwest quarter of the northeast quarter of section 28, who afterwards removed to the town of Henrietta, and James Blundell, Richard McMahan, Abel P. Hyde, and Luman Thompson also located claims in the town. In May, 1851, John Waddell and family came and settled upon the northeast quarter of section 5. The latter gentleman had come into the county the previous year, 1850, in October, but had stopped temporarily at Richland City, where he bought a lot, erected a small house and spent the first winter. In the spring of 1851 he moved to the site mentioned in the town of Richland, at that time an unbroken wilderness, built a log shanty, which he covered with bark, split puncheons for the floor, and furnished with home-made furniture. The bedstead was made with poles and bed-cord manufactured out of bark. The first season he cleared a small tract of land and chopped in garden seeds, thus preparing for the winter. The first three or four years he had no team, and the breaking was all done with a hoe, the most of it by his wife and children, while he was away at work, earning money with which to pay for his land. His industry was rewarded, and he obtained a good farm and a comfortable, well-furnished home, spending the remainder of his life in ease and comfort. About 1890 he removed to Richland Center, and died there in 1900. Mr. Waddell was a native of West Virginia, born in Pocahontas county, Feb. 20, 1811. When he was two years old his parents moved to Ohio and settled in Gallia county, which was at that time a new country. He grew to manhood there and remained in that county until 1848. In the latter year he sold his property in Ohio, came to Wisconsin and claimed government land on Sauk prairie, Sauk county, where he lived one year, then went to the Baraboo woods and made a claim and erected a house. One year later he traded that property for a small tract of land on Sauk prairie, and built a house, which with most of its contents, was burned a few weeks later. He then rented a house, in which he lived until the fall of that year, 1850, when, as before stated, he came to Richland county.
William J. Bowen, who was for many years one of the prominent and representative men of Richland county, was born in Vermillion county, Ill., July8, 1825, and came with his parents to Wisconsin 1836. In the latter part of 1854 he came to Richland county and purchased the property, since known as Bowen's Mills, and of which he remained the owner throughout all of his active life. The milling industry was started at that point in the fall of 1851 by James Cass, who built a saw-mill on the site. Mr. Bowen was an enterprising, successful business man, and became the owner of 500 acres of land in one body, besides a large amount of other property. Prior to his coming to Richland county, Mr. Bowen had a somewhat eventful career. In April, 1850, he started for California overland, and there remained until September, 1852, engaged in mining. Thence he went to Australia, where he landed in December, and remained about thirteen months, then to Peru, South America, landing in the month of April, and there he remained until the following August, unsuccessfully exploring for gold. He then came to New York by the way of Panama, and thence in the fall of 1854 to Richland county.
Ira Andrews came in 1850 or 1851 and located on section 9, residing thereon for several years. In 1860 he went to Pike's Peak and remained a few years, when he returned to Richland county. He later removed to Berlin, Green Lake county, Wis., where he resided until his death, about 1892. Robert Akan settled in the town of Richland in 1848, in section 17, where he built a log cabin and stayed through the winter with his family, and in the spring of 1849 he went to California, first sending his family back to Grant county, Wis., from which place they had come. In 1851 he returned to Richland county, was elected to the legislature in 1855, and was a member of the assembly during the session when the noted gubernatorial contest was waged between Bashford and Barstow, Mr. Akan being one of the partisans of Barstow. He improved his farm and also followed the trade of stone mason until early in the seventies, when he sold his property in Richland and removed to Webster county, Ia., where he died about 1901. William Campbell came in October, 1851, from Lafayette, Ind., and purchased from Samuel Gray the north half of section 18, in the town of Richland, paying therefore $1,000. He erected a house near a large spring on the northeast quarter, cleared a valuable farm and remained there until his death, in 1863 or 1864.
The first election in the town of Richland was held on Apr. 22, 1853, at which time the following persons were elected to the several offices: Asa G. Sheldon, chairman, David Bovee and Ira Andrews, supervisors; John McManus, town clerk; Cornelius McCarthy, town treasurer; Hascal Haseltine, town superintendent of schools. It is impossible to give the names of those who voted at this first election.
The town of Richland does not differ materially from the other town s of the county in regard to early industries. The pioneer mills, churches and schools ha their existence, and with the exception of the latter, have mostly passed away, with the increasing prominence of Richland Center as a marketing and trading point, coupled with the superior advantage of the city in a religious and educations way. The principal grain crops are wheat and corn, for the production of which the soil is admirable adapted. Corn is the staple product, and this is largely fed to cattle and hogs, these being the source of a large income. Horses and sheep are also raised with profit, on the rich grazing fields afforded on the productive farms, and which are not used at the time for the cultivation of crops.
There are several school districts in the town of Richland, exclusive of the Richland Center public schools, and with a carefully graded course of study, these give the persisting students the advantages of a good common school education, and fit their graduates for the ordinary business of life.
The initial steps toward the founding of the village of Richland Center are thus given in the "History of Richland County," published in 1884, and will bear repetition here: "During the month of July, 1849, Ira S. Haseltine and his father, Orrin Haseltine, arrived at Sextonville, and on horseback continued their journey to Rockbridge. The country was then unsettled and entirely roadless; but by the use of a small pocket compass they found their destination. Here they found a saw-mill which had been erected on the northwest quarter of section 10. This quarter section was the only land that had been entered within the limits now comprising the town of Rockbridge. The Haseltines purchased the saw-mill, and then leaving their horses at the mill, by means of a slab raft they floated down Pine river in search of water powers. They soon arrived at the point just west of the present site of Richland Center. They were well pleased with the water privilege at this place, and also the prairie near by, and decided that this would be an excellent place for the site of a future city. In October, 1849, Orrin Haseltine brought his family from Black Earth, and Ira S. brought his family from Waukesha; both families settling at Rockbridge. They were accompanied by Luman Thompson and Henry Smith, with their families, the 'men folks' intending to work at the mill. In the spring of 1850 Ira S. Haseltine, leaving his father at the mill, took his wife and babe and visited friends in the eastern part of the state. Sometime during the same year Ira, in company with two brothers, went to view the water power they had discovered in the present town of Richland. They viewed the place from the hillside west of the present mills, and after Ira had portrayed the beauties of the small prairie, the value of the water power, and the other natural advantages, and the probability that at no far distant day a flourishing village could here be built, which from the fact that it was near the geographical center of the county, would become the county seat, he requested his brothers to purchase the land from the government. But his brothers replied, 'Ira, you are so fanatical; this country is so rough that it cannot be settled, and there can never be a town at this point.' 'Well,' answered Ira, 'If you are afraid, I will take it up and play it alone.' Accordingly I. S. Haseltine soon afterward purchased of the government a quarter section of land at this point."
R. C. Field was the surveyor to "lay out" the village, the sale of lots began and the erection of buildings was commenced. In 1853, Schoolcraft's addition to the village was laid out, embracing all of section 16, and Ira s. Haseltine made an addition in 1856. Orrin Haseltine made an addition later, embracing all that portion of the village lying south of the court house square. Though a considerable settlement was made on the village site, during the few years following this action on the part of the proprietors and founders, the village was not formally incorporated until 1866. In the laying out of the village it is easy to imagine that the course of the streets was marked by blazed trees, for the virgin forest was as yet undisturbed by the ax of civilization.
It is not possible to produce a complete and accurate list of names of the first dwellers in the village; neither is the writer able to state which was the first house built on the site of Richland Center after the village was laid out.
S. H. Austin was the first merchant to establish himself in business in Richland Center, and Ira S. Haseltine built the first tavern. It was a frame building, and was first known as the American House. Its first landlord and proprietor was Mr. Haseltine, and he continued in that capacity until he was succeeded, a couple of years later, by A. S. Neff.
With an honorable record of more than fifty years of existence, Richland Center well sustains her long established reputation for solidity and the merited compliment of being a good town. The men who established the little hamlet in the woods, in the early fifties, founded that reputation, and their descendants and successors have well maintained it.
The religious and educational affairs of the village also received early attention and liberal support. Merchants were aggressive and public spirited, their stocks often rivaling in value those exhibited by present day dealers. But if the reader will stop and reflect, he will observe that all the business of the earlier days, as well as at present, was closely related to agricultural supremacy. Richland was then as now the center of one of the richest agricultural districts in the state, a distinction which the locality has retained with creditable success. All business was directed towards handling the products of the farms and in supplying the farmers' needs.
The early settlers and business men of the town of Richland were generally people with agricultural tendencies and traditions. They were sons of farmers, and parental traditions and customs are strong within the human breast. These men purchased land, cultivated and improved it, erected dwelling houses and lived out their allotted days in the peach and harmony of the quiet community their industry had established.
Richland Center has a population of 2,321 according to the census of 1900. It contains a number of handsome and expensive residences and public buildings, which the average homes evince the air of thrift and prosperity in their surroundings, in keeping with the industry and frugality of the occupants. The city contains fewer poor and squalid residences, indicative of poverty and misery, than most cities of its size.
The sanitary conditions are excellent and the drainage system as good as can be had. The board of health and sanitary officers are vigilant in the discharge of their official duties, and the streets and alleys are kept in the most perfect sanitary condition. A well organized and trained volunteer fire department is equipped with the latest and best apparatus for the purpose designed. The efficiency of the department has been demonstrated on many occasions. A police force, the guardians of the public peace and property, although few in number are noted for their efficiency in the line of official duties, and the city marshal, A. J. Chandler, has received high commendation for successful detective work. He and his deputies are courteous and obliging men, to whose vigilance and alertness is due the small percentage of unlawful acts, occurring in the city.
The municipal government of Richland Center for the present year (1906) is as follows: mayor, J. M. Keys; clerk, Reuben Sutton; treasurer, E. A. Hyatt; assessor, T. M. Hart; marshal, A. J. Chandler; aldermen, D. G. James, J M Doudna, James Higgins, D J Morris, F. P. Lawrence and J. F. Meyer; justices, W. H. Miller and S. G. Curtis; police justice, J H. McNees; constable, C. S. Barto.
The nucleus of the present city library originated in 1898, when the cultured ladies and gentlemen of Richland Center took hold of the matter in earnest and organized the Richland Center Free Library Association. They were materially encouraged in the project by a donation of a fund of $1,000 by J. W. Lybrand, which, supplemented by other contributions from public spirited citizens, enabled the library board to procure a good assortment of books at the very beginning. The books were first kept in the building now occupied by L. H. Bancroft as a law office, and later in the building where is now located the office of Grant L. Miner, the latter place being used until July 5, 1905, when the library was removed to its present elegant home. The first librarian after the association was organized was Mrs. G. H. Hardenberg, who was followed in that capacity by Mrs. O. F. Black, and finally Miss Vera Eastland, was given charge and has continued to serve as librarian since. In 1903, negotiations were opened with Andrew Carnegie, looking toward a donation by him to Richland Center for library purposes. The effort was successful, the steel magnate agreeing to give $10,000 upon condition that the citizens of Richland Center would furnish an annuity of $1,000 to support the enterprise. The board of aldermen of Richland Center invoked the power, which is given them by statue, and levied an annual tax of $1,000 dollars upon the property valuation of the city, and thus guaranteed the satisfaction of Mr. Carnegie's proposal. The Carnegie library building is located on the corner of Park and Seminary streets, and is a popular resort, much appreciated by the studious citizens of all ages. Richland Center may well be proud of her public library where over 2,000 choice volumes await the call of its patrons.
Richland Center is represented in journalism by three weekly newspapers, which are mentioned in another chapter. Nothing like an extended notice of the various religious organizations which have existed in the city of Richland Center can be attempted in this volume. The little leaven planted so many years ago has grown to mammoth proportions, and no town of like size in the state of Wisconsin possesses greater evidence of spiritual growth, or more devout and conscientious leaders in the great cause of Christian life. Several churches have been organized from time to time, in which the zeal of their promoters exceeded the demand for their services, hence they had but an ephemeral existence. But of the persisting organizations which have grown to prominence and influence, there are several, and their present day status is the best evidence of their high standing and liberal support.
For some years after the settlement of the village, adverse circumstances prevented the erection of any church edifice. But as early as March 27, 1857, some stir was made in the matter toward the building of a union meeting-house, where all could worship. Committees were appointed, but, for various reasons, the project was abandoned. In May, 1857, the Presbyterians, who had organized a society that month in the village, determined to take the matter in hand and put up a place of worship for themselves. But means were scarce, and some time was necessarily spent before the matter assumed a shape justifying the letting of the contract. The day at last dawned when the committee, of which it is said Caleb Waggoner was chairman, could see its way clear to the end. William and a. L. Wilson took the contract of building the structure, which was finished during the same year, 1857. Services were held during the fall, under the ministrations of Rev. J. H. Mathers, the first pastor of this little flock. At the opening of the church there were but nine members of the society, but the attendance from the first was very fair and favorable. The church edifice was a neat frame structure, and remained in use, answering very well the purpose for which it was erected, until 1894, when the present fine brick structure was built. Rev. John J. Wilson, a native of Ohio, and a graduate of the McCormick Theological school at Chicago, is the present pastor.
The history of early Methodism in Richland Center dates from the first years of the village's existence, and although the Presbyterian society was the first to erect a church edifice, it was not the first to be organized. As early as 1855 the Methodists had organized a class and had held regular meetings, thus being the pioneer church of the town. The first pastors were not regularly stationed ones, but were of that itinerant class called circuit preachers, and a Mr. Wheeler is believed to have been the first to exhort this little band of Christian men and women, who had determined to raise a church in the wilderness. In 1859 the first regular pastor assumed charge, the church being then made a station of the Methodist church. A church edifice was commenced in 1872, and was completed early in 1873, being dedicated in March of that year. The present church building was erected in 1898, and is an imposing structure. Many familiar names have been associated with this congregation, and many distinguished divines have been connected with the organization. Rev. F. H. Harvey is the present pastor.
The first Baptist church of Richland Center was organized in 1866, and for a few years worshiped in the court house under the ministrations of Rev. W. C. Wright, who was the first pastor, and to whom the society owed its inception. This little band of Christians determined to erect a building in which to worship, and during the same year set about the task, digging the excavation for the foundation walls. There were not many moneyed men in the congregation and contributions came in slowly. The work on the church was suspended from time to time for want of funds, and it was not until the summer of 1870 that it was completed.
There are in Richland Center devout and pious Catholics, who are communicants of the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The first mass in the vicinity is said to have been celebrated at the house of Patrick Meehan, in Richland Center, in 1858, by Father Mandeger, from Linden. Services were not held regularly, and sometimes three months passed without meetings, and this state of affairs continued until the year 1866, when services were held more regularly in private houses. The mission during this period was supplied and services were conducted by Father Francis Straker, from Mazomanie, Father Murphy, from Crawford county, and Fathers Conrow, Walsh and Bernard. In 1866 L. D. Gage donated ground for a church and cemetery, and soon thereafter Father Bean, the pastor at Keysville, erected a small church. In 1872 Father Francis Heller, the resident pastor at that time, had the building enlarged, and it was used until the erection of the present fine structure. Father Heller was succeeded by Rev. A. Mendel on Aug. 10, 1874, and the latter by Father Heiss in November of the same year. On Jan. 16, 1878, Rev. Henry Koenig entered upon the pastorate and remained in charge until Sept. 9, 1886, at which time Richland Center obtained the first resident pastor I the person of Father J. C. McAteer, who remained until the coming of Father Maguire, in 1898. Father McAteer proceeded to build a new church building and a residence, the corner stone of the former structure being laid on Sept. 20, 1891, and it was dedicated on Sept. 8, 1892. The building is of brick and cost $10,000. There are eighty families in the congregation, and as stated above Rev. Father Maguire is the present pastor, under whose superintendency the church has flourished and is in an excellent condition. The Rev. John C. McAteer, who was the pastor in charge at the time of the erection of the new church building and residence, was born in Loretto, Cambria county, Pa., Mar. 27, 1858, and was educated in the common schools and at St. Vincent's college, near Latrobe, Pa., where he attended five years, after which he came to Milwaukee and attended St. Francis seminary four years. He received orders, Mar. 29, 1884, was made a sub-deacon, Mar. 21, 1885, and was ordained at La Crosse on June 29, of the same year. He was first appointed assistant at La Crosse, then at St. Phillips, in Crawford county, and on Sept. 9, 1885, was assigned to Richland Center. He is now located in La Crosse.
The United Brethren in Christ have an organization in Richland Center, the church being located on the east side of Church street. Rev. C. D. Shoemaker is the pastor in charge and conducts services every Sunday at 11:30 a. m. and 7:30 p. m.
The Disciples, or Christian church, in charge of Rev. Willard McCarthy, is located on the corner of Park and Seminary streets, where regular services are conducted. There is a Free Methodist church building, located on South Park street, in Richland Center, and quite a number of professors of the tenets of that creed are in the city and neighborhood. The distinctive faith of German Lutheranism has been prominent in the religious culture of the citizens of Richland Center, a number of its leading families being from the Fatherland. Their commodious place of worship stands in the eastern part of the city, and there services are held every three weeks on Sunday morning.
The public burial place of Richland Center is located on bock 29, in the addition to the city known as Schoolcraft's, just within the corporation limits. It lies on the slope of a gentle acclivity, facing the west, and is most beautifully laid out, dotted with evergreen and deciduous trees, and beds of lovely plants and flowers. It is far enough away from the busy bustle of the city life to give it the quiet and seclusion which one always associates with a burial place for the dead, hence the selection of the site, which has been beautified as the years passed, until it is now an ideal spot. It contains the mortal remains of several of Richland county's most distinguished citizens, whose final resting places are rendered conspicuous by the erection of worthy monuments. The private citizen and the soldier are equally honored by the reverence and sacrifice of surviving friends, to the end that this sacred spot is rendered beautiful in keeping with the sadly reverential purpose which made its existence a necessity. Not the least interesting feature that greets the eye of the visitor to this "city of the dead" is the soldiers' monument, which was erected in 1900, largely through the efforts of William Wade, a member of Company C, Second New York artillery, but for thirty-seven years past a resident of Richland Center. From a fund raised by Mr. Wade the monument was erected and a lot purchased, in which to bury indigent soldiers. The monument proper is of Indiana gray stone, surmounted by a twenty-pour-pounder cannon, and the corners of the lot are marked by sixteen shells, silent mementos of the days of strife.
Just north of the grounds owned by the Richland Center cemetery association is the Catholic cemetery, beautifully laid out and well kept, where, in consecrated ground lie the bodies of those who have died in full accord with that church. The cemetery is under the control of the priest of the parish.
The business interests of Richland Center are varied and extensive. The mercantile houses compare favorably in extent, variety and quality of goods with any town of equal size in the state. The volume of business is very large, when all things are taken into consideration. The mercantile houses are generally backed with resources commensurate to their demands, and the element of losses from bad accounts if reduced to the minimum, by reason of the stable character of the buyers. Perhaps no town in the state, of equal size, has a smaller percentage of losses from bad debts. This is due, in part, to the fact that buyers are permanent residents, usually owning their own homes, though the element of honesty and business integrity among them is a dominant feature.
The social spirit of Richland Center is revealed in a long list of secret and benevolent societies. Richland Lodge, No. 55, F. & a. M., was organized under a dispensation, and the first lodge met at the house of D. B. Priest on Mar. 27, 1856, the charter members being as follows: D. B. Priest, James H. Miner, L. D. Gage, Phineas Janney, John Hazle, Wm. Short, William Akan, David Barrett and Robert Akan. James H. Miner is the only surviving charter member. The lodge was granted a charter on June 12, 1856, and on July 1, following, the first officers were installed. The lodge holds regular communications on the first and third Wednesday evenings of each month. Richland Center Chapter, No. 75, meets on the second and fourth Wednesday evenings of every month.
Richland Lodge, No. 118, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, was instituted at the village of Richland Center, Jan. 17, 1861, with eleven charger members. The lodge is in a fine, flourishing condition, having a hall, which is fitted up with the paraphernalia of the order and a fine library. The regular meeting night is on Tuesday evening of each week. Richland Encampment, No. 40, was instituted on Jan. 8, 1871, and meets in the same hall as does the subordinate lodge, on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month. The Sweet Home lodge of Rebeccas holds its meetings the first and third Saturday evenings of each month.
The Grand Army of the Republic has an organization-W. H. Bennett Post-and it was organized on May 26, 1882. The post is said to have the third largest membership in the state, and it is in good condition. It meets in the club rooms of the public library building on the second Saturday of each month at 7:30 p. m. Auxiliary to this is the Women's Relief corps.
There are also lodges of the Mystic Workers of the World, Knights of Pythias, Modern Woodmen of America, Beavers, Beaver Queens, Royal Neighbors, Brotherhood of American Yeomen, Loyal Temperance Legion, Federation of Women's Clubs, and the w. C. O. F. It would be interesting to have the history of these various organizations, particularly the more important ones, but lack of space forbids the attempt.
Among the prominent pioneers was the family of Caleb Waggoner-the sixth family of the new settlement-arrived in Richland Center on July 2, 1854. It consisted of Mr. Waggoner, his wife, Nancy Jenkins Waggoner, and give children-William Jenkins, James Henry, Edwin Benoni, Joseph Mathers and Elvira Amanda. The last died a month later, and Joseph M., an invalid from infancy, in 1892.
Mr. Waggoner was a son of William and Sarah Jackson Waggoner, pioneers in Jefferson county, Ohio. He was reared on a farm with seven brothers and four sisters. The youngest of the sisters, aged seventy-eight years, and the only survivor, is still living near the pioneer homestead, the title to which has continued in the name of William Waggoner, son and grandson. Caleb was privileged to attend but one term of a winter country school, yet accomplished more than the average of men of his environments, lived an exemplary and honorable life as son, husband, father, friend, neighbor and citizen, and passed away in 1883, aged seventy years, esteemed by those who knew him and mourned by his family and friends. He was unostentatious in habit, and never obtruded his presence or opinions upon others; yet, when circumstances invited their avowal, he declared himself with courage and effectiveness. He was always and uncompromisingly for the things which contribute most to the moral, educational and material welfare of communities. The Rev. J. H. Mathers, for many years pastor of the Presbyterian church at Richland Center, of which Mr. Waggoner was a ruling elder from the day of its organization until his demise, a period of nearly thirty years, paid him this just tribute: "He was always a specially valuable friend, and by all odds the foremost citizen in integrity and stability of character. I expect to meet him again in 'the better country.'"
Mr. Waggoner had been a merchant or storekeeper in Ohio, but was dissuaded from resuming that business in Richland Center, and hence turned his attention to the purchase and sale of lands, in which he did well until the now almost forgotten panic of 1857, which caught him with a few thousand acres of unimproved and unproductive lands. Handicapped thereafter by the losses incident to the protracted hard times, by failing health, and by his constant personal care of the invalid son, he never retrieved his financial prestige, yet left more than an ample competence for his wife, who survived him nearly nine years.
The genealogy of the Waggoner family shows that Caleb Waggoner's great-grandfather was a German prince, Von Wagner, who married an English lady and went to England, dropped the Von and took a second g and an o into his surname and served as a captain in the English army. Descendants settled in Canada, whence sprung the later generation. The ancestry of the Jenkins family is traceable to Scotland and Wales. Sir Leoline Jenkins was a distinguished statesman in Scotland in the early part of the seventeenth century, and descendants in Scotland, England and Wales were prominent in official life, literature and war. Some of them were granted coats-of-arms. One of those who came to the Untied States founded the first large iron-mill in Pennsylvania. Mrs. Waggoner was one of nine children of Solomon and Sarah Jackson Jenkins (the latter a second cousin of Andrew Jackson), pioneers also in Jefferson county, Ohio, who accumulated a handsome property by tilling the soil and taking care of the proceeds.
James Henry Waggoner, one of the sons of Caleb Waggoner, who in boyhood learned the significance of pioneer life as it was in Richland county in the later fifties, has been a resident of Eau Claire, Wis., several years and is retired from the more strenuous of the activities of the first quarter of the twentieth century, after thirty-odd years of more than the average of business success and public recognition as a country publisher and editor. He was valedictorian of the Richland Center public schools in the winter of 1860-1, and read law as it was then studied in the office of a Madison practitioner till November of 1861, when he enlisted as a private of Company F of the Second Regiment of Wisconsin volunteer cavalry. He was soon promoted to third sergeant of the company, a year later to sergeant-major of the regiment, and about a year later to second lieutenant of Co. E of the regiment-each promotion being made without his solicitation. As a lieutenant, until his discharge in 1865, he was on detached service, on request of the several command officers, successively as Aide-de-Camp to General Washburn, Acting Assistant Adjutant General to acting Brigadier-General Stephens, ordnance officer to General Ord, and Acting Assistant Quarter Master in the recruiting service at Madison, by request and command of Colonel Lovell, superintendent of the service in Wisconsin. In his two years of service in the field he participated with his company or other command in a few of the minor skirmishes or engagements allotted to the cavalry.
On returning from the war Mr. Waggoner was jointly interested with his brother William J. in mercantile business and in the publication of the Richland County Observer, at Richland Center. The partnership was dissolved a year or so later, the latter continuing in the business as merchant and J. H. as publisher and editor, in which he continued in Richland Center, with two interruptions, until 1880. A couple of years later he went to Eau Claire to edit and publish the daily Free Press. He has since owned and published five other papers, three of them, in different northwestern Wisconsin towns, at the same time.
Mr. Waggoner has probably rendered his share of public service in public office. He has been town clerk, village clerk, secretary of the Masonic lodge, and secretary of the Richland County Agricultural Society, at Richland Center, each for periods of two or three or more years; postmaster of the Wisconsin assembly one term, journal clerk of the state senate one term, and chief clerk of the senate three terms, and until he declined re-election; and later chief clerk of the state land office four years. His wife, Susan Woodward, was the youngest daughter of James Woodward, an Englishman and a pioneer miner at Highland, Wis. They have four daughters-Mrs. D. J. Van Hovenberg and the Misses Josephine and Sue Waggoner, at Eau Claire, and Mrs. a. J. Macdonald, at Superior.
Edwin Benoni Waggoner, another of the sons of Caleb Waggoner who took part in the pioneer life of Richland Center in the later fifties, was one of the brightest of the pupils of the public schools and a universal favorite with young and old. A boy, he enlisted in Company B of the Twenty-fifth Wisconsin volunteer infantry, in 1862. He was promoted to corporal, to sergeant, and to second lieutenant, for soldierly qualities, and for fitness; but as the promotion to lietentant was made when he was in a Confederate prison at Andersonville, November, 1864, and was not exchanged till the close of the war in 1865, he could not be mustered as such. Mr. Waggoner, with others of his regiment, was captured at the battle of Decatur, Ga., and in prison experienced deprivations and sufferings which only those who have experienced them can understand or appreciate. His health was thereby permanently impaired, and his subsequent activities have been necessarily restricted to minor fields. After a few years in Richland, on his release from Andersonville, he became a resident of Oregon, Ill., where he has been employed in the office of the leading newspaper. He is married and has seven children.
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