Published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press
As ancient glaciers melted and retreated to the north, they left a gift in their wake – stones.
Wisconsin’s early settlers, especially in the northern reaches, encountered those impediments to cultivation when they first broke the land. Those pioneers found many uses for the stones – building fences, barn walls, silos and even entire houses from the colorful rocks.
Wisconsin writer Charles D. Stewart said in 1909, “My fence was 8 to 10 feet in thickness and shoulder-high. And similar windrows of rock ran over the moraine in all directions, like a range upon a range. It is of course valuable land that warrants a wall like that. The barley field might easily have defied a siege-gun on all four sides, for it had had so many ‘bowlders’ on it that they had been built up into more of a rampart than a windrow. On a nearby field from which the timber had been removed, but which notwithstanding was far from ‘cleared,’ it looked as if it had hailed ‘bowlders.’ You could have forded your way across it without putting a foot to ground.”
Even after newly arrived settlers cleared the land for their first plantings, there was no shortage of fieldstones in Wisconsin’s glaciated areas. The cycle of freezing and thawing brought a new batch of stones to the surface each spring. Indeed, as some Wisconsin farmers still say, “If nothing else grows this year, we can depend on a new crop of stones.”
In January 1854 recent immigrants to Koshkonong in Jefferson County wrote a glowing account to their siblings still in Norway.
“… It is almost unbelievable how fortunate it has gone for us the whole time in the new world. There is no one of our ages here who have climbed upward as fast as we. Cattle is now high-priced so the first thing each of us did was to sell cattle for 80 dollars each. We own 4 milk cows, 2 that are 2 years old, 2 that are 1 year old and 1 calf, 5 driving oxen, 10 hogs or swine, 20 chickens, 2 geese and 5 sows. This fall we butchered 4 pretty big hogs.
“This fall we cut so much wood that we can sell a hundred dollars’ worth. We had a desirable and fruitful year. It is not often that we have this much wood and it also has a high price. There are several here who have cut a thousand bushels of wood … The price per bushel is a dollar, and that is expensive.
“I believe that I would advise you to come here to America and that you would find it better here when you shall acquire 100 dollars when you earn only 20 dollars in Norway.”
Other correspondents were more cautious in their recommendations.
Norwegian immigrant Anders Jensen Stortroen, who settled in Martell Township in the northwestern corner of the state, advised his parents and siblings in September 1957 that “The milk here is just as good as in Norway, and all kinds of foods are as good, there need be no doubt of it. By no means will we advise anyone to come over here, but you must advise yourselves concerning this, since there are many hard paths and many tribulations to endure that one cannot understand before he sets out.”
Visit www.wisconsinacademy.org to buy a copy of the book or for more information.