A Brief History of

Buffalo County


Five years after Wisconsin became a state in 1848, Buffalo was established as a county. By an act of the Wisconsin legislature, the boundaries of Buffalo County were established on July 8, 1853. This included land east and south of the Buffalo/Beef River and twelve townships of present day Trempealeau County. After some wrangling Alma became the county seat; the main reason for settling on Alma was its central location.

There were some changes made in Buffalo's boundaries between 1853 and 1857, but since then it has remained about the same as it is today. Buffalo County has 17 townships. Thomas Holmes is considered the first settler to Buffalo County as he stayed a few years before moving on. He was considered more of an adventurer than a pioneer, he arrived in 1839. He traded with the Indians, supplied wood to the river boat people, and kept a tavern at what became known as Holmes Landing. In 1846 he became restless and moved on to Dakotah country.

Henry Goehrke's wife is considered the first white woman who stayed; Anton Baertsch was considered the first white male born in the county. The first farmer in the county came in the year 1850, and farmed in Cross Township. The first county jail was in the city of Buffalo.

The first things settlers looked for were water, wood, and wild hay for their animals. They tended to settle in an area similar to that from which they came. The Swiss and Germans settled along the steep river bluffs; English-Americans preferred the bottoms; Norwegians settled farther up the valleys.

Passed by Congress in May, 1862, the Homestead Act allowed any person over 21, who was head of a family, and who was or intended to become a citizen, to obtain title to 160 acres if he or she lived on it for 5 years and improved it. Or, the settler could purchase the land for $1.25 per acre instead of fulfilling the residency requirements. By 1891 nearly all the good farming land was settled.

The first priority was to get a roof over their head, then start some means of making a living; they were not all farmers, in fact the very first ones were not farmers; many were entrepenuers. Lumbering became big business; logs were floated down the Chippewa River to the Mississippi. Schools and churches were also priorities, but they came after the home and business. The first recorded school was in 1854-1855 at Fountain City.

The first school district was organized in 1855 in Buffalo. In 1856 there were 102 boys and 88 girls registered in three districts. The people wanted their children to have a good education. In 1902 the city of Alma established a Training School, called County Normal. A Wisconsin highschool graduate could attend tuition free for two years, and could then teach at the rural schools. About 1400 teachers graduated before the school closed in 1967.

It was a number of years before people were able financially to build churches. In the mean time they met in cabins or schools and eagerly waited the infrequent visit of a clergyman. Immaculate Conception in Fountain City was the first church built in the county in 1858, followed by two Lutheran churches, one in Fountain City and one in Buffalo City.

Following the days of the oxen and prior to the tractors, horses were the source of power on the farms. A group of Mondovi men purchased the Norman-french Percheron stallion, Horace Greeley; a beautiful dapple gray, who became the foundation for the draft horse of the area. The percherons were beautiful and powerful animals, and did the job until the tractors came into being as the source of farm power.

The first railroad service came in 1885 from La Crosse to Trevino. The main line of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe follows the Mississippi River the entire length of Buffalo County; Two main tracks, one in each direction. Traveling by rail along the Mississippi River through Buffalo County one gets some very scenic views, particularly in the autumn season.

A portion of Buffalo County is not well suited to farming. Much of the land, to this day, has not been cleared for farming, because the hills are too steep, and are best left in their wooded condition; but there are beautiful farms in the low lands, valleys, and prairie lands, with the wooded hills in the background, making the countryside very picturesque.


 Extracted from the Book: "Buffalo Co., A Pictorial History", by Mary Ann Pattison.


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WI State Coordinator: Tina Vickery Buffalo County Coordinator: Todd A. Christenson WIGenWeb Project Logo Created by Debbie Barrett Copyright © 1999 Todd A. Christenson