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History of Early Grant County, Wisconsin

by Helen Yager Mumm

Without a doubt, the first settlers in the area now known as Grant County, Wisconsin were the Indians.  The rivers which border the county, the Mississippi and the Wisconsin, plus other smaller tributaries were used by the red men in their wanderings.  Early fur traders and explorers traveled through and around this area, this region having been under the claim of many flags: Spanish, French and English.


From 1763 until the American Revolution this area belonged to England.  In 1787 it was part of the Northwest Territory and was claimed by several states, but the British held possession through their allied Indian tribes and traders.


During the early 1800’s it was at times part of Indiana Territory, Michigan Territory and Illinois Territory.  When Illinois became a state in 1818, this area was then in Michigan Territory and was part of Crawford County with headquarters in Prairie du Chien.  Sometime in the 1830’s it became part of Iowa county, Michigan Territory.


It was the lure of lead ore, not farming that originally attracted many to become residents of this county.  Numerous miners crept into this rich lead region even though, during the late 1820’s and the 1830’s, the area was not officially open for settlement.  Troubles during the Black Hawk War kept many, except the most adventurous, out of this region.


In 1836 Wisconsin officially became a territory and the county of Grant was created.  During this time, many of the early settlers originated from Kentucky, Virginia, the Carolinas and Missouri.  In 1848 Wisconsin became the 30th state admitted to the Union and Nelson Dewey, a resident of  Cassville, became the first governor.


The exodus to the gold mines of California drew many away in the 1850’s.  Some of the adventurous returned to Wisconsin, others did not.  Grant County was hit by cholera and many perished during this time.  By the mid to late 1850’s the early settlers had found that lead was no longer a profitable venture and they turned to the rich soil for farming.  Immigrants from European countries began to swell the population of the county.


Many Grant County men gave their lives in the Civil War years of 1861-1865.  Most for the North, a few for the South.  It must be remembered that at least some of Grant County was settled by southern gentlemen, not too many years earlier.  Bitterness remained between some families for many years.


By 1860 Grant County held a widely diversified population.  This county has become a “melting pot” of many different nationalities, including German, English, Irish, French, Swedish, Norwegian, Bohemian and many others.  Some chose to stop here permanently, with descendants still living here, others used the county as a “stopping off place” for further adventure into Minnesota, the Dakotas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.  Lured by something better, or the hope of something better, many settlers moved on, in search of their dreams.

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