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listing of the county's cemetery and partial burials
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where politicians are known to have been buried 
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The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871
the worst forest fire in North American history
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Off the extreme northeastern corner of Wisconsin lies a little island about a mile square. It is situated in the middle of the mouth of Green Bay, storm-lashed by all the heaving seas of Lake Michigan. On the north and west its castellated limestone ramparts rise in perpendicular grandeur from the lake to the height of a hundred feet and more. On the south and east, however, its shores slope gently down until their sands blend with the lapping waves of the inland sea.


From shore to shore the interior is now covered with a majestic mantle of forest green, shrouding a solitude which for fifty years has been unbroken by human habitation. Only upon the northern cliff sits a watchful lighthouse keeper, turning his gleaming light throughout the night upon the dark waters to warn away the windswept mariner from the dangerous coast he is guarding.


Seventy years ago this isolated little island, now ruled over only by the "murmuring pines and hemlocks," was the home of an energetic community of about a hundred people. Their snug homes lined the eastern shore and their sailboats ventured far out to sea for fish and fun. Up on the hillside a number of early Wisconsin pioneers are laid away to rest, and in a log schoolhouse whose very site is forgotten many worthy citizens of this state and Michigan have learned their ABC's.


Rock Island, the subject of our sketch, was well known to the early French explorers under the names of Potawatomi Island and Louse Island. It is without doubt the first place in Wisconsin visited by white men. When Jean Nicolet in 1634 passed through the Straits of Mackinac, the customary Indian route was along the shore of the northern peninsula of Michigan until the present Point Detour was reached.


There the natives crossed the mouth of Green Bay touching on the shores of Rock Island and followed the west shore of the Door County peninsula to the Winnebago capital at Red Banks. Later, travelers from the interior ordinarily followed the west shore of the peninsula until they came to Rock Island, then the "Grand Traverse" was made across Lake Michigan to the southern peninsula. By either route Rock Island was the threshold of Wisconsin


The first permanent American settlers on Rock Island were John A. Boone, Neil McMillan, James McNeil, George Lovejoy, David E. Corbin, Jack Arnold, and Louis Lebue. Most of these were fishermen and trappers who came from the Island of St. Helena in the Straits of Mackinac in 1835 or 1836. As they were the first settlers in the northeastern part of the state outside of the settlement at Green Bay, a brief mention of their personalities will be desirable.


John A. Boone was a quiet, apt-spoken man who, without thrusting himself forward, was always looked upon as the leader of the community that grew up on the island. He had evidently spent his entire life on the frontier, as he spoke the Chippewa dialect like a native and fully understood the Indian character.


These accomplishments later served him well when he was the means of averting a very threatening Indian war. He was a married man when he settled on the island, and lived there until his death in 1866, when he was fifty-two years old. A little white-painted cedar cross still marks his grave on the island.


Neil McMillan was Boone's partner, but moved to Little Harbor, where he for a time had a fishing station.


George Lovejoy had been a sergeant in the United States army, having seen five years service at the frontier post of Fort Howard, during which he had taken part in expeditions of various kinds to the Indians. He was a hunter of fame in many parts of Northeastern Wisconsin and an eccentric bachelor of remarkable capacity for almost anything he undertook.


He could beat an Indian on a trail, and he astonished the sailors by building on Lake Michigan one of the best schooners with which he traded along the shore. His commercial qualities were crude, however, and barren of success. He was an expert with the violin and a master ventliloquist. Sometimes he would go out on the ice when an Indian was fishing and make the trout talk back to its captor in the most approved Chippewa dialect. To the poor Indian's terrorized amazement.


This, with his reckless bravery and easy skill in every undertaking, made the Indians look upon Lovejoy as a veritable demon, and they were always most anxious to propitiate his favor by gifts of all kinds. In one direction, however, Lovejoy was anything but brave.


That was in his attitude toward the fair sex. When suddenly confronted by a woman he was struck dumb with embarrassment and often fled precipitately. This failing of his was the cause of many broad jokes played on him by the mischievous young folks of the little community.


To James McNeil belongs the honor of being the first taxpayer in Door County. He owned the entire south shore of Rock Island. He was an old bachelor of a very penurious disposition, with a failing for whiskey. He was very close-mouthed about his own affairs except when the jug arrived from Chicago.


Under its stimulus he would become very confidential and would prate with tipsy garrulity of his "yellow boys," which, he confided, would support him in comfort when he should retire. By "yellow boys" he referred to his store of gold coin, which, unfortunately, became his undoing instead of his support. One morning the poor old man was found beside his chicken coop wounded and unconscious. When he came to, he shouted, "Boone! Boone!" in agonized appeal.


Boone, who was justice of the peace, was quickly summoned, but by the time he appeared McNeil had passed away, taking the secret of his murder with him. No positive clue to the murderer was ever obtained, but it was believed that a strange craft that had been seen in the vicinity contained the criminals. For some time there was much hunting in the potato patch and among the crags for the old man's treasure but nothing was found.


Both David E. Corbin and Jack Arnold were old soldiers who had been sergeants in the War of 1812. Corbin was the first lighthouse keeper in Wisconsin, being in charge of the Rock Island Lighthouse (the first in Wisconsin) from its construction in 1836 until his death in 1852.


Arnold stayed with Corbin in the lighthouse because they were such inseparable cronies. They rarely ever conversed but were apparently able to read each other's thoughts. When finally Arnold sickened and died in 1848 Corbin watched by his bedside with ceaseless vigilance, caring for him with the greatest tenderness.


Of all these men Louis Lebue is the only one from this section whose name is mentioned in the territorial census of 1836.  In 1843 he had the misfortune to lose his wife, who was buried on the island. This unsettled him, and he departed for Chicago, the rising metropolis of the West. On Calumet River, near Chicago, he made the acquaintance of some men by the names of Miner and Luther. Henry D. Miner was the son of a clergy-man who, as early as 1828, had settled at Kaukauna as a missionary among the Indians.


The following year he died of fever at this place. His boy, Henry, who was then eight years old, returned to his relatives in New York.  In 1842, however, he returned to the West accompanied bv his brother, T. T. Miner, and Job Seth, and Brazil Luther. In the spring of 1844 Lebue met these men and told them of the easy living that could be made on Rock Island by fishing. He showed them how to repair and knit twine, and initiated them into the mysteries of the piscatorial art.


As a result he sold them his outfit, whereupon in June, 1844, they moved up to Rock Island to become the forerunners of a steady advance of settlers to this distant region. Job Luther had a vessel and at intervals he freighted fish down the lake and fishermen up, until after three or four years there were upwards of fifty men, many of them having families, living on Rock Island. Nearly all of these people came from Lemont, near Chicago, and were known as the Illinois Colony. Among them was an old man by the name of Kennison, who lived to be the last survivor of the Boston Tea party.  There were also Chauncey Haskell, and Robert, Sam, and Oliver Perry Graham, who came from Ohio.


The last mentioned, born in Ohio in 1816, was an unusually fine looking man of commanding presence. Being the most capable appearing of all the whites, the Indians thought he must be their chief. He was consequently adopted into both the Chippewa and the Menoninee tribes of Indians and made a chief in both. He stayed most of the time on St. Martin's Island and from there removed in the latter '40s to Sturgeon Bay, where he became the first settler.


Outside of Rock Island about five miles southeast of it was a little skerry or island known as "Little Gull." It was made up of small stones and was only about a hundred feet long by fifty wide. In the summer of 1846 Robert Graham built a small house on it in order to be nearer his nets which were set out in the lake several miles outside of Rock Island. In this small house Mrs. Graham stayed all summer cooking for her husband.


On stormy days the big waves rolled up and came thundering down upon the little shoal as if they would sweep the shoal and its inhabitants away. However, they stayed there all that summer and fall. The next season, however, the waves had gotten the better of the little island. It was now too small to squat on. It continued to wear away and soon was known as "the outside shoal."


After some years the water over the shoal was of sufficient depth to hide the appearance and a large steamer suffered a heavy loss by grounding on the bar. Now the once inhabited island is covered by many fathoms of water and its existence is almost forgotten.


Nearly all of these people lived along the sandy east shore of Rock Island where they constituted the first community in the county. And a very contented community it was. The fish were plentiful and very large, often only ten to fifteen being required to fill a half barrel. In the woods was an abundance of game and in the little garden patches of the settlers potatoes and other vegetables grew luxuriantly. Apples and berries in abundance grew wild in the woods, and there was no lack of firewood with which to keep warm in wintertime.


It was a free and easy life to lead, somewhat indolent and uncouth, without taxes or sociological troubles of any kind. Their chief handicap was their distance from any postoffice through which to learn the news of the outside world. The most accessible one was Chicago, 300 miles away. Mail intended for the settlement was usually directed as follows: "H. D. Miner, Rock Island, care of Williams, Chicago, Illinois."


On his occasional visits to the metropolis, Job Luther would get the little bundle of Rock Island letters and newspapers, often many months old. On such visits he would also lay in ample stores of tea and tobacco, boots and biscuits, soap, sugar and soda, coffee and calico, and all the other staples which T. T. Miner carried for sale in his little store on the island. Besides these things he was also entrusted with a multitude of private requisitions, such as a mouth organ or a fowling piece for a young hopeful, or a bonnet or a brocade for one of the fairer sex.


Such fineries were needed to do honor to the occasional weddings, funerals and other events of importance. Weddings were of rare occurrence and while of transcendent interest were usually not attended with any ceremonial, being in the absence of church and organized state only common law marriages."


Now and then a contracting couple was found who felt the need of the blessing of the church upon their union. This, however, was difficult of attainment. On one such occasion H. D. Miner was drafted into service to tie the knot. The cause of his selection was that a certain faint glow of sacerdotal dignity was attributed to him by reason of the fact that his father had died as a missionary to the Indians.


Miner complied, and with all the unction he was capable of, joined together Henry Gardner and Elizabeth Roe, the first marriage ceremony to be performed in Door County. One of Miner's companions, who had been disgracefully beaten at poker, at which Miner was a novice, felt that this was usurping too much authority; he accordingly went about fomenting trouble and a lawsuit was threatened, which afforded good for gossip for a long time.


Another wedding is recalled by the old pioneers with much relish. It was a big affair in which two Norwegian couples were joined in wedlock, and fishermen from many shores had gathered to celebrate the double feast of love and liquor. As usual, there was no clergyman to officiate, but a humble visiting evangelist was drafted into service. He was in charge of a small "gospel ship" by the name of Glad Tidings, which periodically visited the islands.


He had no license to perform a marriage ceremony, but as he was anxious to please his prospective converts he consented to officiate. It was a new undertaking for him, and being nervous and not knowing the contracting parties, he made the unfortunate blunder of marrying the two men to each other and then the two women.


The two Norwegian bridegrooms on their part had but little knowledge of the English language and only a very dim notion of the procedure at an American wedding. They, however, had a vivid impression that it was their part to answer "yes" when spoken to. When, therefore, Peter Hanson was asked if he would take John Swenson for his wife and vice versa, an energetic "yes" was the response to the uproarious acclaim of the assembled guests.


It was not until the young exhorter was similarly joining together the two brides, who, by the way, were sisters to begin with, that the officiating witnesses rallied their wits and interposed, whereupon a fresh start was made.


Dependent on the lake as these people were and exposed to all its squalls, hairbreadth escapes on the water were quite frequent. While thrilling adventures were common, the fishermen were so used to Neptune's whims that comparatively few fatalities occurred.


Now and then, however, one would be caught unawares and go down to his watery grave. A notable instance of this was the drowning of the Curtis family.


Newman Curtis joined the Illinois Colony in the later '40s. In the summer of 1853, he went with his family, consisting of his wife, daughter, and newborn baby, to St. Martin's Island to fish. After a successful season he prepared to return in the fall to his permanent home on Washington Island. He was accompanied by his nephew, W. W. Shipman, and Volney I. Garrett, two young boys.


As Mr. Curtis had a quantity of household goods and freight he rented an old heavy-built schooner, which in early days had outridden many a storm but was now considered too unwieldy to be safe. But as it was but eight miles between the two islands the little party started off without fear.


All went well until the vessel was drawing quite near to Washington Island where its occupants could see their little white cottage among the trees on shore. By this time the fair wind that had favored them had gained in force until a storm was blowing and the old schooner began to creak and roll heavily. In doing this she took in a great deal of water as the top seams were quite open.


The pump was kept going but in spite of this the vessel settled fast and soon was so water-logged as to be quite unmanageable. When just outside of Indian Point, on which the seas were rolling terrifically, those on board realized that in all probability the schooner would sink before she would be dashed on the rocks, not a hopeful alternative.


Curtis and Garrett, therefore, prepared to lower the yawl while Shipman went down to fetch the baby who was still sleeping in an upper bunk oblivious to its peril.


At this juncture a heavy sea dashed over the vessel from stem to stern, tearing away the frail grip of the Curtis girl on the cabin to which she was clinging, and washing her overboard. This wave was followed by another which tore loose the yawl, throwing it into the sea endwise and pinning Curtis underneath it.


When he finally came to the surface he was so overcome by his exertions and bruised by the blows he had received that he was unable to swim the few feet that separated him from the yawl, which floated away flled with water. Upon seeing sudden death thus overtake her daughter and husband, Mrs. Curtis for a moment forgot her own peril and stretched out her arms to them screaming in anguish. Instantly she too was washed overboard.


By this time Shipman, drenched with water, had emerged from the cabin with the baby in his arms. He made for the remaining hatch, reaching it simultaneously with Garrett, who also seized it.


"Who takes the hatch takes the baby," shouted Shipman, thrusting the baby toward his companion. Garrett, not caring for this handicap, told him to "Go to hell with the hatch!" The next moment they were all thrown into the water. Clinging to the hatch, Shipman and his charge made land safely, where they were soon joined by Garrett, clinging to the submerged yawl.


The next morning the battered bodies of the Curtises were found on the beach and were buried on Rock Island.


It would give the writer much satisfaction if he could record, in the fashion of novelists, that this child, rescued from the very jaws of death, grew up to become a great man in his country. Unfortunately, the stern realities of life often disregard the law of compensation, and this was not to be. The child was entrusted to the affectionate care of an aunt in Joliet, Ill. where he developed into a most promising and winsome boy.


When he was nine years of age a neighboring washerwoman, who admired the little fellow, presented him with a small sailboat. The boy was delighted with this toy, and deciding it was too big to sail in a washtub, took it to the canal. There, while leaning over watching the sailboat with childish rapture, he fell in and was drowned.

Besides the Illinois Colony and other white settlers, there were about fifty wigwams of Chippewa Indians on Rock Island, living under the leadership of their renowned chief, Silver Band. The two communities got along very well together except on one occasion when open war was threatened. It happened in this way. Among the whites was a widow by the name of Oliver. She had three boys, one of whom, Andrew, was a half-grown fellow.

Widow Oliver was much broken down over the loss of her husband, but was nevertheless in great demand for nursing the sick, at which she was very capable. Her boy one day took her place in the kitchen where he was peeling cold boiled potatoes. Some of the Indian urchins noticed this through the partly opened window, and soon there was a group collected, their noses pressed flat against the glass, making grimaces at the white youth and calling him "squawman."

This was too much for the willing Andrew, who suddenly threw a cold potato at the leader of the band of onlookers. He, howerer, dodged the missile which, with splinters of glass, struck an innocent little bystander full in the eye, the seven-year-old son of Chief Silver Band. The screaming sufferer, bleeding profusely, was hurried to his father's tepee, and soon the Indians were seen rushing excitedly back and forth.

The white settlers, on hearing what had happened, felt that a crisis was imminent, and sent Henry Miner to parley with the chief. He was met at the door and gruffly told to go away. Others attempted to interview the Indians, but without gaining a hearing. The whites were fast becoming terror-stricken for they knew that at any moment a signal could be sent to neighboring Indians on Washington Island, and they would have no chance against the overwhelming numbers that might be brought against them.

Some of the more reckless favored taking time by the forelock and making a sudden onslaught upon Silver Band and his people. "If not," they declared, "we will surely be massacred in our beds." Others, more timid, recommended rather that Andrew Oliver be killed and brought before the enraged chief as a fitting sacrifice. In the midst of this hubbub John Boone arrived. He could talk Chippewa fluently and was highly esteemed by Silver Band.

Taking the weeping Widow Oliver by the hand he made his way to Silver Band. In well-chosen words he reminded the chief of their earlier associations. He called up one picture after another of the chief's greatness in war, cunning in battle, and mighty prowess in hunting the bear and the buffalo.

He told of how wisely Silver Band had conducted the affairs of his people as chief, keeping them out of trouble of all kinds, showing magnanimity to his foes, and gaining the esteem and confidence of the white people. He concluded:  

"And now I am glad that so magnanimous a chief as Silver Band rules his people. Children play, children quarrel, children get hurt. It is easy to be magnanimous when another's child is hurt, but not so easy when your own child, the pride of your eye, suffers.


Another chief, less noble than Silver Band, would let rage master him, and thus bring everlasting trouble upon himself, his people, and his neighbors. Not so with my brother, the great chief Silver Band, the lord of the Chippewa. He suffers, but he forgives.”


''And now I bring you this woman to be your handmaiden. She is weak of body and crushed with grief that her son should unwittingly have brought this evil upon his little playmate, your son. But her hands are skilled in the mixing of potent medicinal herbs, and she can nurse your child to life."


Soothed, complimented, and exalted by this skillful discourse, the chief sat silent. Finally he rose, extended his hand to Boone, and led Widow Oliver to the couch of his suffering boy. There she remained nursing him unremittingly until he was able to go about again, blind, however, in one eye.


In 1854, Rev. William B. Hamblin, a Baptist evangelist, visited Rock and Washington islands. He was an ardent idealist and often took his tests from the sublime scenery and majestic elements around him, preaching rousing sermons. Quite a revival resulted with wholesale baptisms, especially among such as were considered seasoned sinners.


A church was organized with most of its membership among the people of Rock Island. John Boone was chosen deacon. This was the first church organized within the county, and it is still in existence on Washington Island.


While a private school had been maintained for many years in a desultory way, it was not until 1863 that Rock Island secured a public school. During the following winter the school was taught by Miss Roselia Rice, who later became the wife of Joseph Harris, one of Door County's prominent citizens.


By this time, however, the fortunes of Rock Island were on the decline. In the '50s and early '60s when other parts of Door County began to be occupied, the exodus from Rock Island began. The island's lack of good harbors, and the inconveniences attendant upon its isolation more than outweighed the greater profits derived from its fishing.


One by one the old-timers slipped away to seek their fortunes in other parts. Some of the buildings were removed while others mouldered away. It is now long since the island's last loyal denizen bade good-by to his romantic habitation. Where once stood the village of the Illinois Colony wild roses now grow and the rabbits and chipmunks frisk undisturbed over the knoll that marks the site of the old schoolhouse.


Up on the hillside lie the bones of John Boone, Silver Band, Newman Curtis, and all the other worthy men who played a man's part in their day; the moss of the forest has garbed their graves, and their aspirations and their deeds are alike forgotten.


1 The name Potawatomi Island has applied to the entire group inecluding the present Washington Island. The term "Louse" is a corruption of the original French name: the French abbreviated the word Potawatomi (often spelled by them Poutouatami) to Les Poux, by which they intended the Indian tribe, not the insect.
2 See the reference in Kemper's "Journal" in 1834 to choosing a site for this lighthouse. Wis. Hist. Colls. XIV, 442
3 Id., XIII, 253
4 Rev. Jesse Miner was born in 1781. He became a missionary to the Stockbridge Indians in New York in 1825; in July, l827, he visited Wisconsin on behalf of his neophytes, and removed with them and began a mission at Kaukauna in June, 1828. The following March 22, 1829, he died and is buried in the cemetery at Kaukauna. See his letters and the account of his death in id., XV-, 39-43, 45-48
The letter, cited in ibid., 46, says Henry was three at the time of his father's death. If, however, he returned west in 1842, he must in all probability hare been eight in 1829.
6 For a sketch of David Kennison's remarkable career, see the next chapter. See also Quaife, Chicago and the Old Northwest: 255-57.
7 When last heard from Andrew Oliver was at the head of a manufacturing establishment in  Allegan, Mich. The Indian boy, Kezias, is now the chief of the same band of Chippewa with headquarters on the Peninsula of Northern Michigan, between Big ana Little Bay de Noquet, where he is also their priest and teacher.