Marinette County WIGenWeb - Centennial History - Agriculture

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Marinette County Agriculture Has a Long History

Agriculture was practiced in what was to become Marinette County long before the first white man, Jean Nicolet, came up the river in 1618. Tradition has it that the Menominee Indians brought wild rice plants with them when they settled here, and the name "Menominee" means "wild rice eaters."

Indian gardens gave an abundant yield of vegetables; beans, squash, pumpkin, melons, and of course maize were grown. Three varieties of corn -- popcorn, squaw corn (several different color kernels on each ear), and a long-ear white kernel, were prepared in many different ways, and dried for consumption during the long winters. In the marshes grew arrowhead plant, and excellent substitute for potatoes. The Indians cultivated butternut, hazelnut, and beechnut trees, and used these nuts and acorns for food. They harvested cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, huckleberries, shad (June) berries, grapes, plums, and crab apples. In the spring, they tapped the maple trees, and usually obtained enough sugar to last through the year.

Agriculture, as we think of it today, began in the county with John Kittson, the fourth white man to locate on the Menominee River. He arrived on August 23, 1830, as the representative of the American Fur Company. Kittson was the son of a British Army officer who had immigrated to Canada and settled near Montreal. He was able to assist the Menominee with the communications to the United States government, and was affectionately known by them as "The Writer." He is described as extremely intelligent, with the temperament and strength to adapt well to pioneer life.

Kittson soon began operating a farm on the Menominee River, just above the trading post of Stanislaus Chappu, the first known white settler in this area. Here Kittson taught the Menominee improved ways of farming, and ran a very hospitable house and table. He established an Indian cemetery on part of his farm, and his friend, Chappu is buried there.

Kittson's second, and larger, farm was located at the Ox-bow of the Menominee River, at the Wausaukee flats area, opposite the mouth of the Wausaukee River. He also operated a trading post here to serve the Indian settlement. He built a large, two-story log house, and a huge two-story log barn which contained accommodations for horses at one end and cows at the other, with a threshing floor in the center; a haymow on the second floor covered the entire area. About a quarter of a mile downriver from his farm house, Kittson built a pelt storage house, octagonal in shape, also two-story log-hewed, over a large basement, the walls of which were lined with logs. The roof was covered with blue clay from the river. The hot summer sun dried the clay, and it became impregnable to water and the heat of the sun. The pelts were stored in the basement and first floor; the second floor was filled with ice in the late winter and early spring, to preserve the pelts in good condition until they could be taken down to the American Fur Company office at Green Bay, after the ice melted on the Menominee River.

As agent for the American Fur Company, Kittson established several satellite trading posts, the largest of which were at White Rapids and on the Pike River.

In the 1860s, with the decline of the fur trade, Kittson returned to live at the smaller farm at Chappee Rapids, where he died early in 1872. His death is attributed to exhaustion and exposure while fighting the Peshtigo Fire of October 8, 1871. In 1881, his wife, Margaret, and son, Robert, sold the Ox-Bow farm to Albert Beach. This farm is now owned by Peter Webber.

A Brief History of Marinette County, published in 1881, states that "agriculture in the county has not yet assumed importance, although when improved, the land is good. The lumber business is far too productive, and gives employment to all who desire work, and any earnest tilling of the land is some years off; some place it at ten, some at twenty."

Nevertheless, there were many good sized farms in the county at that time. As early as 1850, there were 47 farmers between the Menominee and Peshtigo Rivers. Here, 579 acres of cultivated land were producing oats, potatoes, hay, and maple syrup. In rural Peshtigo, Richard Chapman, Samuel Curtin, George Laisure, Edwin Plumb, James Powers, and W.T. Seymour each farmed 80 acres. James Shauer's farm was 57 acres, and Phillip Glass, who was also  Constable and Overseer ov Highways, farmed 55 acres. John Place (Chappu's son-in-law) worked as a sawyer, but also farmed 46 acres. Abraham Place owned 800 acres, of which he homesteaded 420. Levi Hale was a well-known farmer and stockman, and Edward Perkins farmed and raised horses. A. Newton purchased 147 acres in 1856; he was later Justice of the Peace. Nelson Olson, his neighbor, farmed 40 acres in the Peshtigo area, and 120 on Mud Creek. Richard Raleigh's farm was 100 acres, and Harry Troutwine's 160 acres. Of the 355 acres which Thomas Payne purchased in 1881, 50 were in farmland. Phillip Fetterly, a Canadian who had settled in the Peshtigo area in 1861, farmed 240 acres, and was the first to send apples to the markets of the east and south bearing the label "Peshtigo Township, Marinette County, Wisconsin."

In Porterfield, John Ramsey farmed 80 acres, and in Pound, David Henry's farm was the same size. Robert Hurd had a sizable acreage under cultivation in Silver Cliff. In what was to become the Town of Grover, Edgar Annis established a 200 acre farm in 1860. Here also, O.F. Peck owned 320 and 160 acre farms. Levi Leslie's farm was 240 acres, Harvey England's 160 acres, and William McFarland and Swen Olson each farmed 120 acres.

The Skidmore-Riley Land Company brought hundreds of prospective farmers into the county with the sale of cutover lands. This land varied in its ability to produce crops, and the lighter soils played out after two or three years of potato growing. As early as 1888, the Marinette County Board of Supervisors resolved that "the sum of one thousand dollars be appropriated to the Marinette County Agricultural Society." Thus the county began studies of optimum use of the land, and crop rotation and reforestation gradually restored much of the productive capacity.

By the end of 1977, Marinette County had become one of the prominent agricultural counties of Wisconsin. Dairies, small fruits, vegetables, potatoes, and other agricultural products were worth more than any manufactured products from the county, even at the height of the lumbering industry.

Latest figures available show Marinette County with 1,020 farms, with an average size farm of 194.1 acres.

(Marinette County Centennial 1879-1979, p. 7)

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