New Diggings is an Old Diggings - Natchez and the "New Diggings"

Margaret S. Carter

Natchez and the "New Diggings"
Pages - 1-5

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 The village of New Diggings in Lafayette County, southwestern Wisconsin, is located not far from the spot where the first white settlement in the lead section was made, one hundred twenty-four years ago, in the spring of the year 1824. 1 Thus, paradoxically, New Diggings is an old "diggings," the oldest in the state, and while the rest of Wisconsin was still a vast wilderness, with only two other settlements and an occasional trading ppost or mission to mark the approach of the whiteman, this little mining community, called Natchez, was the scene of feverish activity.

In 1822 the settlement at Galena, then called LaPointe or January's Point, consisted of about thirty people, engaged in prospecting, mining and smelting, or trading with the Indians.  They lived in a few rude log cabins at the foot of the hill called "The Point" on the Fever River.  This river, now know also as the Galeha, had derived its name from early French explorers who, it is said, were reminded of their own "Riviere de la Fiere" or Bean River by the quantity of wild bean flowers along its banks.  It empties into the Mississippi about three miles below the present

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Galena, but has its source in Lafayette County, Wisconsin, winding its way for the most part in and out of Benton and New Diggings towns.  It came to be known also as the River of the Mines, and is so spoken of by some early explorers.

The population at The Point by 1824 had increased to about one hundred people, and in the spring of that year a party of six from this group set out up the Fever in search of "new diggins."  They found indications of ancient mining at a spot not far from the present village of New Diggings, and immediately set to work.  In short order they had uncovered valuable mineral deposits, whereupon they extablished a small settlement, about one and one-half miles down the valley from the present village site, which they called Natchez.   Why this name was chosen is not known, but perhaps the fertile river valley with its hills on either side reminded someone in the group of the well-known Natchez-Under-the-Hill on the Mississippi.  At any rate it was christened Natchez and is refered to as Natchez-Under-the-Hill in the History of Lafayette County. 2

In a sketch describing a trip through western Wisconsin in 1836, Strange M. Palmer wrote:

Here  (at a rooming house kept by Col. Abner Nichols in Mineral Point) was to be found, at all hours, music, dancing, singing, drinking and gambling of ever description to an extent only equalled probably, by the famed "Natchez-Under-the-Hill."  3

I have been told that the reference here is to the Wisconsin Natchez but have been unable to find any verification for this statement.  We know however, that the Wisconsin Natchez became a fair-sized village in short order, and "was the abode of excellent families and enterprising people"  (4)  Some known to have lived there were the Honorable Lewis Kinney, Israel Cowan, George Ferguson, Judge Ebenezer Orne,  

(PAGE 3 )  Fig. 1*  

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James Morrison, and a man named McAffee.   Of the original party of six who discovered the mines, only three names are recorded.  They are Duke L. Smith, James Morrison (later of Porter's Grove and Madison) and George Ferguson.  However Edward D. Beouchard, in a statement made for the Wisconsin Historical Society Collections, said, "I, in company with eight others, went prospecting, and discovered the New Diggings and did well there."  5

News of the new diggings and of the strike made by John Bonner at Hardscrabble (Hazel Green) in the fall of 1824 soon reached the outside world, and the  

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years from 1825 to 1828 saw an unprecedented rush to the territory now comprising the three counties,  Grant, Lafayette and Iowa, which came be known as the lead section of the state.  Many of the miners came from Missouri, where they had been engaged in mining lead, but where transportation and procuring food had proved major problems.  Others came from the southern and eastern states, lured by the stories of fortunes to be made quickly and easily, or led by the spirit of adventure and eager to try their fortunes in a new land.  

(1)  Wisconsin Historical News, Vol. 5, No. 1.
(2)  History of Lafayette County, Western Historical Co., Chicago, 1881, page 563  Butterfield, C.M., ed.
(3)  Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. VI
(4)  Lafayette County History, Page 563
(5)  Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. VII, page 291

Early Settlers  Pages 6 - 10

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