No tongue can tell, no pen portray the hardships and cruel vicissitudes of fortune endured in those early days by this little band of Argonauts, who, thirty-five and forty years ago, bidding adieu to the home roof-tree, in the older homes of civilization and comfort, turned their backs upon it all, many of them forever, and wandered away into the broad domain of the mighty west, there to hew themselves out, literally, homes in the vast primeval solitudes.
The weather-beaten form, the furrowed brow, the prematurely hoary locks, are sad, yet eloquent evidences, that theirs was no holiday life, while weathering the storms and turmoil of pioneer life. Penury, hardship and often absolute want were their lot, while trying to conquer dame nature and establish homes for themselves and their families in this boundless wilderness.
Let us hasten then to put down the words, as they fall from their lips, of the grandly heroic deeds done in those early days that their actions may find the niche in history which they deserve. Let their words and deeds form a monument that shall long outlast the stone or bronze which must ere long mark the place of their rest. Let their epitaph be: 'They have builded better than they knew.'
But before we take up the history of historic times it is the duty of the historian to record the facts as they have existed 'down through the dim and misty vista of time, before man was'. Therefore, it becomes quite necessary for us to ascertain something of the history of the earth beneath, as it was formed in the vast, prehistoric era, before man had lived and moved upon its surface; history not written upon the puny records of man, but grandly engraved by the hand of creation upon the rocks and granite of the everlasting hills; let us, therefore, begin at the
Richland county, in common with nearly all the State of Wisconsin, presents many remarkable and interesting topographical features, and according to the now accepted theory, developed by patient research, of the highest authority, was once, in those far distant primeval days, buried far beneath the bosom of a broad and waving ocean. The boldly marked inequalities that mark its surface are due, in a large measure, to three different agents, acting at different times and under different conditions; these are:
1st. During that long cycle of time that existed between the emergence of the land from its bed in the vasty deep, and what is known as the drift period, the numerous streams and rivers were ploughing their beds deeper and deeper into the primeval rocks, and rendering the former level surface more and more irregular. The softer rocks, being more readily eroded than the harder ones increased their unevenness, there being a constant tendency of the streams to follow the softer strata wherever the slope of the land favored, and as these run in a northerly and southerly direction generally throughout the county, the main streams have that general course. The little streams gathered into the larger ones are not unlike the branches of the forest tree as they gather into the parent stem. The erosion of this nature produced in the unevenness of the surface a symmetry and a certain system easily recognizable. As this action upon the rocks occupied the period preceding the glaciers, we, for convenience, call it the pre-glacial.
2nd. The modifications of the surface constituting the first class of topographical features were produced by running water; those of the second class, which follows next in order of time, were formed by ice, in the form of glaciers, and by the various agencies, brought into action by their melting. The work of the ice was two-fold; first, in the partial leveling of the surfaces by planing off the hills and strewing the finely pulverized rock upon the surface of the valleys; second, in the creation of a new, uneven surface by the promiscuous heaping up the clay, sand, boulders and gravel, thus giving the land a new aspect. Among the features produced by this movement of gigantic mountains of ice, are parallel ridges, sometimes many miles in length, having the same general direction as the ice movement; hills of a rounded, flowing contour, like many found along the shores of the Wisconsin river; half embosomed rocky ledges cropping out of the hillside, like giant battlements on titanic castles; all of which combine to form a peculiar and distinctive contour of surface easily recognizable. All these apparent freaks of nature being due to the action of the ice are therefore denominated, glacial features.
3rd. Subsequent upon the subsidence of the glacial period the streams resumed their wearing action, but under different conditions, and carved out a new surface contour, the features of which may be termed post glacial or drift.
There are no evidences of any violent disruptions of the earth's crust in the county, but the region has owed all its peculiarity of aspect entirely to the above agencies.
The county of Richland is situated in the southwestern portion of the State of Wisconsin, but one range of counties separating it from the line between this and the State of Illinois, and is in the second tier of counties east of the Mississippi river. It is bounded on the north by Vernon and a small portion of Sauk, the latter also forming the eastern boundary; to the south lie Iowa and Grant counties, from which it is separated by the Wisconsin river; on the west it has Crawford and Vernon counties for a boundary. The general shape of the county is almost a square, except upon the southern border, where the line follows the sinuosities of the river, and is therefore of an irregular shape. Containing, as it does, some sixteen townships, it covers, in area, 620 square miles, or nearly 400,000 acres. The general character of the land is steep, bluffy hills and fertile valleys, and streams course down each dale. When the white man first settled within its boundaries, the face of the earth was covered with a dense primeval forest, and much of the county is, to this day, heavily timbered.
Great timber masses of trees cover the hillsides and the ridges, and fully supply all the needs of the community for fuel, rails and building lumber. The principal varieties are: white oak, (Quercus Alba), black oak, (Quercus Tinctora), red oak, (Quercus Rubra), burr oak, (Qiercus Macrocarpa), elm, (Ulmus Amercana), white maple, (Acer Dasyearpum), sugar maple, (Acer Saccharinum), white ash, (Fraxinus Americana), basswood, (Tilia Americana), pine, (Pinus Sylvesteris), white and black walnut, and cherry. These timbers support one of the principal industries of this section of country, saw-milling.
The broken face of the country, while its climatorial effects are very pleasant, modifying the rigidity of a prairie winter, does not present the advantages of Illinois or Iowa, for large capitalists who desire to open up immense grain or stock farms. The peculiar topography of this county marks out its future destiny, to be divided up into small tracts, occupied by industrious, thirfty farmers, raising a combortable living, and each having a surplus, sometimes large and sometimes small, to spare for investment in manufactures or any other scheme called for by the resources or progress of the country. The principal attention of the rural population is engaged in the raising of stock, and notably that of sheep, although the dairy interests are by no means small. It is claimed that the county of Richland has the elements of greater superiority, in the rearing of this class of stock, over any other part of the State; besides the abundance of water power affords unusual facilities for investment in woolen manufacturies.
The geology of this section of the State is marked throughout the county by the outcrop of Trenton limestone, near or at the top of the bluffs or hills; this strata varies in thickness from a few feet to twenty, and invariably overlies a substratum of Potsdam sandstone, which is of a friable nature, and varies from a light cream or buff color, through all the gradation of shades to a reddish brown. This rock is largely quarried, and is extensively used for building purposes. The Trenton limestone is well known for its caves and the fantastic shape it often puts on where exposed to the elements. One of these curious freaks of nature is quite noted throughout this county. We refer to the natural bridge, at the town of Rockbridge, of which the following description has been written by one of the early pioneers of the county:
"Richland county boasts a natural bridge, which, though of less pretensions than the Natural Bridge of Virginia, is still a curiosity worthy of an examination. It is located in the town of Rockbridge, the name being suggested by it. The visitor, in traveling north through the town of Rockbridge, is struck with the utter abandonment of style or purpose in the distribution of the rocks and ledges, until he arrives at this bridge, consisting of a mass of rocks about a half mile in length, from thirty to ninety feet in height, and varying in width (we should judge) from three to five rods at the top, but shelving so that it is much less at the bottom. Here a purpose might be assigned, and that, the damming up, or changing from its channel the meandering west branch of the Pine river, though it heeds not the obstacle, but pursues its serpentine windings to the ledge and along its side, and seeks, successfully, for escape through an aperture beneath the massive structure, which its action and old Father Time have evidently enlarged beyond its primitive size. The arch is irregular, about ten feet high, exclusive of a narrow seam which extends far up toward the top, and some eighteen or twenty feet wide at the bottom; and has formerly been utilized by building a flume to run a grist mill.'
While upon this subject, it were perhaps as well to give a description of some caves in the town of Sylvan, located on section 34, which have not as yet thoroughly explored. One of these caves has long been known as the Bear Den, their lair, which has been supposed to be the extent of the cavern, having been often seen. The entrance to the cave, about 200 feet above the level of the creek (west branch of Mill creek), and from a sink hole of about ten feet in depth, is through an opening in the solid rock; the passage of twenty feet is high and wide enough for a man, followed by a wider one for forty feet further, after which, by change of direction, the Bear Den is reached; after this a passage of ten rods brings the explorer to a small hole, just a close fit for a man's body, through which they can climb, then making their way through a difficult passage of twenty rods, which will bring them to a round room, about thirty feet in diameter, from the center of which a small stream of water is constantly dripping. Two passages lead off from this room; the one from the left is through rock, ten rods, where a pool of pure, clear water, about two feet deep, is found; passing this, the end of that cavern is reached in about four rods; the passage leading from the right of the central room also discovers a pool of good water, larger than the other. After passing the water, at the distance of ten rods, a small opening is found, but what remains beyond has not been explored.
On the other side of the creek, from the caves above described, on the bluff, another, equally curious, has been visited. The two, or either of them, will well repay an exploration. The distance from the Centre is about fourteen miles, and it does seem curious that the citizens of that place are not more fully acquainted with these natural curiosities.
The county abounds in fine springs and pure streams of water, among the latter of which some swell to the dignity of rivers, while others rejoice in the nomenclature of creeks. Pine river, which is probably the most important, rises just over the line in Vernon county, traverses the entire length of Richland county in a general southerly direction, sometimes inclining to the eastward, watering the towns of Henrietta, Rockbridge, Richland, Buena Vista, and a small corner of Ithaca. The principal affluents are Indian, Melancthon, Soules, Hawkins, Fancy, Willow and Ash creeks, and the West branch.
The little Baraboo river rises in the town of Westford, flowing in a easterly direction, passes into Sauk county, crossing the county line in section 12.
The west branch of the Baraboo river just enters the county, in section 1 of the town of Westford.
Besides these rivers, several creeks of some considerable dimensions are found within the limits of the county, of which the most notable are: Knapp's creek, in the western part of Akan and Richwood; Eagle or Mill creek, which rises in the southern part of the town of Forest and flows southerly through the towns of Sylvan, Eagle and Dayton; Willow creek and tributaries, which water the eastern part of the county, and Bear creek, whose waters have the bosom of Ithaca and Buena Vista towns, and finally empties into the Wisconsin.
Richland county is said to be within the mineral range. In the southern part some lead ore has been found, but always in small quantities, never in large enough bodies to induce the mining of it to be extensively entered into. Iron ore is, however, present in many places, and considerably good sized leads of it have been found at several points, the most important being at or near the town of Cazenovia. There has never been sufficient development, except at the latter place, to ascertain whether it exists in very extensive veins or not. Occasional specimens of copper ore have been also found, principally in the form of float or surface pieces.
The soil, throughout nearly the whole of the county, is found to be, in the valleys, a deep black, rich, alluvial loam; in some places, however, more particularly about the river bottoms, it is quite sandy. The soil upon the upland ridges seems quite often to be a species of clay, and is claimed to be the very best land for the luxuriant growth of winter wheat. The land upon some of the hill sides is too steep for cultivation, and the narrower ridges are deemed unsuitable for that purpose, but they are very valuable for grazing purposes and for the timber. About one-fifth of the territory is under cultivation; one-half to two-thirds of the remainder may be easily tilled; while very little will be lost to the economical, thrifty and intelligent class of farmers who make it their home.
The soil and climate are well adapted to the cultivation of wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn, potatoes, tobacco, hops, all kinds of vegetables, clover, timothy and other grasses, and plenty of all these are raised for home consumption, besides having a large surplus for export. Apples and grapes can be raised with more than moderate success, and all the small fruit thrive abundantly, while wild plums, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are indigenous. An article published in the Richland county Observer, written by W M Fogo, thus speaks of the capabilities of the county:
'While the county is well adapted to almost everything known to agricultural economy, its best hold is stock raising. No section of the State is better adapted to it; the hills and valleys and crystal brooks affording convenient range, protection and water. Until recent years the farmers have paid but little attention to this industry, but latterly they are engaging in it extensively, and there are numerous fine herds and flocks, which are rapidly increasing in number and quality as the years roll on.'
The industries of the county are: farming, in all its various forms; butter and cheese-making; lumbering, principally in fine hard woods; milling, manufacturing of various kinds, and nearly all of the varied mechanic arts and employments. There are some twenty grist, thirty saw, and two woolen mills within the county. Many good water powers exist all over the county, quite a number of which remain to be improved. The villages of the county are: Richland Centre, Lone Rock, Sextonville, Richland City, Orion, Eagle Corners, Port Andrew, Excelsior, Boaz, Viola, West Lima, Spring Valley, Woodstock, Rockbridge, Stalwart, Cazenovia, Loyd and Ithaca.
Of these Richland Centre is by far the largest, and is a thriving village and the county seat and commercial center, and is the terminus of the Richland Center branch of the Prairie du Chien division of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad.
There are some thirty-three postoffices in the county, but Richland Centre and Lone Rock are the only money order ones within its limits.
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