Alma Historical Society

Alma Historical Society Recapturing the Small River Town Atmosphere of Early Alma, Wisconsin The Alma Historical Society works to preserve the history of Alma, Wisconsin and to promote awareness of our heritage through educational programs, displays and exhibits.

Mission: Recapturing the Small River Town Atmosphere of Early Alma, Wisconsin

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PRESETTLEMENT TIMES, Indians and Fur TradersEXCERPT From "Alma On The Mississippi"Chapter 1, Pages 2-3“The presence of e...

PRESETTLEMENT TIMES, Indians and Fur Traders

EXCERPT From "Alma On The Mississippi"
Chapter 1, Pages 2-3

“The presence of earthen mounds and the appearance of ceramics at a number of prehistoric habitation sites indicate that a major occupation of our area by an ancient people occurred during Middle to Late Woodland times (100 BC-1634 AD). Around 1000 AD the mound builder’s culture began to fade, although mounds are known to have been built after this period. The inhabitants of our region after 1000 AD are thought to have been descendants of the mound builders, and possibly of Siouan stock. In historic times, Indians of both the Siouan and Algonquian language families were found here. From the Algonquian group were the Anishinabe, which in their tongue means “the People” or “the Human Beings”. These people were also known as the Ojibway of the Chippewa. Their population numbered about 25,000 around 1000 AD and they occupied much of northern Wisconsin down to the Chippewa River valley. From the Siouan family were the Dakota, which means “the People” or “the Allies”, and the Winnebago. The Dakota were also called by Europeans the Sioux, a French Canadian abbreviation of Nadowessioux. This word came from the Ojibway term Nadowessi which means “little snake” or “enemies” which was what the Ojibway called the Dakota. After the 17th century, the Dakota primarily occupied lands east of the Mississippi, north into the Chippewa Valley, and south to the area that the Winnebagoes occupied around the Trempealeau and Black Rivers.

“Winnebago traditions speak of the southern shore of Wisconsin’s Green Bay as their original habitat, and it was here that Nicolett found them in 1634. Over the next 100 years they moved their villages west along the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers to the Mississippi. Their name is of Algonquian origin and is translated variously as “the fine-voiced ones’ or “big fish people”.

“Although the Ojibway, the Dakota, and the Winnebagoes each maintained their own separate cultural traditions, they all shared a similar lifestyle. Their existence was based primarily on hunting, fishing, and gathering. Where possible they also did a small amount of gardening, clearing land by the slash and burn method, and raising corn, beans, squash, and some tobacco. They gathered wild fruits such as blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, chokecherries, gooseberries, and plums, as well as wild rice, edible roots and nuts. They also hunted for mammals such as deer and elk, and waterfowl. Land travel was by foot and they left behind them discernible trails along the bluffs and river. Their other prominent form of transportation was the birch bark canoe with which they navigated the many streams of our region. After contact with Europeans, horses were acquired and used to a certain extent in this region also.

“In 1689 French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, sent two of his men, Antoine du Auguel and Michel Accault on an expedition up the Mississippi River from his location on the Illinois River. Father Louis Hennepin, a missionary, accompanied them serving as historian. Most likely these three men were the first white men to see the future site of Alma, although it is thought that another explorer, Daniel Greysolon, Sier Du Luth, may have been in this area shortly before that time. The next group of whites to follow were the fur traders. Since this region was under the rule of France at that time, most of the fur traders were either French or of French-Canadian descent. These fur traders identified closely with the Indian people since by necessity they shared a similar lifestyle, and they often married native women. Such was the case of Augustine Rocque who operated a trading post at the mouth of the Chippewa (present day Reads Landing) and his son Augustine Jr who established a post at Beef Slough. Augustine Jr was the great grandfather of area residents Albert and John Ebersold.

“It was with the traders that native people in this region had their most consistent dealings. Unfortunately this relationship thoroughly disrupted their cultural traditions. Up until this time the Indians were completely self-sufficient. But through contact with traders they entered into a new economic system, exchanging the skins of beaver, muskrat, otter, raccoon, mink, and deer for various supplies and goods including firearms. The Ojibway, being located further to the east, engaged in this trade before the Dakota and thereby obtained firearms at an earlier date. The westward migration of white settlers seeking to homestead land forced native people from their lands. Thus the Iroquois were pushed into territory formerly controlled by the Ojibway who in turn used their newly-acquired guns to drive the Dakota across the Mississippi River and further into what is now the state of South Dakota. However, a branch of the Dakota nation remained on the western bank of the Mississippi. They were the Santee Dakota, a loose federation of the Mdewakantonwan, Wahpekute, Sisseton and Wahpeton bands. Of these, the 1837 treatyestablished several villages which extended along the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers from the present day Twin Cities metropolitan area south to Winona.

“In 1837 the Dakotas signed a treaty with the US Government relinquishing all claims on land east of the Mississippi River, including our area. Two years later this new federally-owned territory attracted pioneers such as Thomas Holmes who settled at what is today Fountain City. From this time on very few violent confrontations between whites and Indians were recorded here. Long after the settlement of Twelve Mile Bluff the Mdewakantonwans continued to hunt, trap, and gather wild foods on nearby river islands. However, it was with the Winnebagoes that local settlers had the most contact. They were often camped on the islands and townspeople were invited there to attend their dances. Occasionally they would camp on the present site of 333 South Main (now the Cottage at Blue Door Inn) when they came to Alma to trade their furs at the mercantile stores operated by the Tritsch family or Charles Schaettle.”


Trempealeau to Wabasha to Reads Landing to Beef Slough

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of "Alma On The Mississippi", the Memorial Edition is available to purchase at $18 plus shipping. Please Message us if you are interested in a purchase.

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UPDATE:  Opened Today, July 4th, After A Postponement Due To COVID-19Alma, Wisconsin ... Step Into Living Wisconsin Hist...

UPDATE: Opened Today, July 4th, After A Postponement Due To COVID-19
Alma, Wisconsin ... Step Into Living Wisconsin History

#AlmaAreaMuseum #AlmaHistory #WisconsinHistory #AlmaWisconsin — in ALMA Wisconsin: Historic River Town.

THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURGJuly 1-3, 1863, Gettysburg, PennsylvaniaEXCERPTS from Rufus R. Dawes’ Memoir: “Service With The ...

July 1-3, 1863, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

EXCERPTS from Rufus R. Dawes’ Memoir:
“Service With The 6th Wisconsin Volunteers”

Rufus Dawes had seen hard fighting. His regiment, the 6th Wisconsin Infantry, was in action at Brawner’s Farm and Second Manassas, South Mountain and Antietam. On the first day of July 1863 they found themselves once again heading into a fight. This time it was just outside of the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in the "Railroad Cut". Several Buffalo County boys from Alma and the surrounding towns would fight this day.

NOTE: Company H of the 6th Wisconsin was made up primarily of volunteers from Buffalo County, Wisconsin and they were known as the "Buffalo Rifles". In 2021 the Alma Historical Society will present an exhibit about the Buffalo Rifles at their Museum.

By the time the day was over, the Union army would suffer many casualties as they were pushed back by the advancing Confederates of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. But before that happened, Dawes would lead his men in what would become a famous counterattack against Confederates positioned in a railroad cut.

Twenty-seven years after the battle, Dawes published his reminiscences of the war titled "Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers". In it he described the attack on the railroad cut at Gettysburg. Over the years many others have written about the action and attack that made the cut famous, but there’s nothing quite like hearing about it from one who was there. Following is an excerpt from Dawes’s book describing what he saw and did that day.

"Suddenly my horse reared and plunged. It did not occur to me that she had been shot. I drew a tight rein and spurred her when she fell heavily on her haunches. I scrambled from the ground, where I had been thrown sprawling, in front of the regiment, and the men gave a hearty cheer. The gallant old mare also struggled to her feet and hobbled toward the rear on three legs. She had been struck in the breast by a Minnie ball, which penetrated seventeen inches. For years she carried the bullet, which could be felt under the skin behind the left shoulder blade—but woe to the man who felt it, as her temper had been spoiled. For the rest of the battle I was on foot. The regiment halted at the fence along the Cashtown Turnpike, and I gave the order to fire. In the field, beyond the turnpike, a long line of yelling Confederates could be seen running forward and firing, and our troops of [Brig. Gen. Lysander] Cutler’s brigade were running back in disorder. The fire of our carefully aimed muskets, resting on the fence rails, striking their flank, soon checked the rebels in their headlong pursuit. The rebel line swayed and bent, and suddenly stopped firing and the men ran into the railroad cut, parallel to the Cashtown Turnpike. I ordered my men to climb over the turnpike fences and advance. I was not aware of the existence of the railroad cut, and at first mistook the maneuver of the enemy for retreat, but was undeceived by the heavy fire which they began at once to pour upon us from their cover in the cut. Captain John Ticknor, always a dashing leader, fell dead while climbing the second fence, and many were struck on the fences, but the line pushed on. When over the fences and in the field, and subjected to an infernal fire, I first saw the ninety-fifth New York regiment coming gallantly into line upon our left. I did not then know or care where they came from, but was rejoiced to see them.

"Farther to the left was the fourteenth Brooklyn regiment, but I was then ignorant of the fact. Major Edward Pye appeared to be in command of the ninety-fifth New York. Running to the major, I said, 'We must charge.' The gallant major replied, 'Charge it is.' 'Forward, charge!' was the order I gave, and Major Pye gave the same command. We were receiving a fearfully destructive fire from the hidden enemy. Men who had been shot were leaving the ranks in crowds. With the colors at the advance point, the regiment firmly and hurriedly moved forward, while the whole field behind streamed with men who had been shot, and who were struggling to the rear or sinking in death upon the ground. The only commands I gave, as we advanced, were, 'Align on the colors! Close up on the colors! Close up on the colors!' The regiment was being so broken up that this order alone could hold the body together. Meanwhile the colors fell upon the ground several times but were raised again by the heroes of the color guard.

"Four hundred and twenty men started in the regiment from the turnpike fence, of whom about two hundred and forty reached the railroad cut. Years afterward I found the distance passed over to be one hundred and seventy-five paces. Every officer proved brave, true, and heroic in encouraging the men to breast the deadly storm, but the real impetus was the eager and determined valor of our men who carried muskets in the ranks. I noticed the motions of our 'Tall Sycamore,' Captain J. H. Marston, who commanded Company 'E.' His long arms were stretched out as if to gather his men together and push them forward. At a crisis he rose to his full height, and he was the tallest man in the regiment, excepting Levi Steadman of 'Company I,” who was killed on this charge. How the rebels happened to miss Captain Marston I cannot comprehend. Second lieutenant O. B. Chapman, commanding Company 'C,' fell dead while on the charge. The commission of Lieutenant Thomas Kerr as captain of Company 'D,' bears the proud date of July first, 1863—in recognition of his conduct. The rebel color was seen waving defiantly above the edge of the railroad cut. A heroic ambition to capture it took possession of several of our men. Corporal [Lewis W.] Eggleston, of Company 'H,' sprang forward to seize it, and was shot and mortally wounded. Private [David] Anderson, of his company, furious at the killing of his brave young comrade, recked little for the rebel color, but he swung aloft his musket and with a terrific blow split the skull of the rebel who had shot young Eggleston. This soldier was well known in the regiment as 'Rocky Mountain Anderson.' Lieutenant William N. Remington was shot and severely wounded in the shoulder, while rushing for the color. Into this deadly melee came Corporal Francis A. Waller, who seized and held the rebel battle flag. His name will forever remain upon the historic record, as he received from Congress a medal for this deed.

"My notice that we were upon the enemy, was a general cry from our men of: 'Throw down your muskets! Down with your muskets!' Running forward through our line of men, I found myself face to face with hundreds of rebels, whom I looked down upon in the railroad cut, which was, where I stood, four feet deep. Adjutant Brooks, equal to the emergency, quickly placed about twenty men across the cut in position to fire through it. I have always congratulated myself upon getting the first word. I shouted: 'Where is the colonel of this regiment?' An officer in gray, with stars on his collar, who stood among the men in the cut, said: 'Who are you?' I said: 'I command this regiment. Surrender, or I will fire.' The officer replied not a word, but promptly handed me his sword, and his men, who still held them, threw down their muskets. The coolness, self-possession, and discipline which held back our men from pouring in a general volley saved a hundred lives of the enemy, and as my mind goes back to the fearful excitement of the moment, I marvel at it. The fighting around the rebel colors had not ceased when this surrender took place. I took the sword. It would have been the handsome thing to say, 'Keep your sword, sir,' but I was new to such occasions, and when six other officers came up and handed me their swords, I took them also. I held this awkward bundle in my arms until relieved by Adjutant Brooks. I directed the officer in command, Major John A. Blair, of the second Mississippi regiment, to have his men fall in without arms. He gave the command, and his men, (seven officers and two hundred and twenty-five enlisted men) obeyed. To Major John F. Hauser (of Company 'H,' Fountain City WI) I assigned the duty of marching this body to the provost-guard. Lieutenant William Goltermann of Company 'F,' volunteered to command a line of volunteer skirmishers, which I called for as soon as Major Hauser moved his prisoners away. This line of men took possession of the ridge toward the enemy and guarded against a surprise by a return of the enemy to attack. One gun of [Capt. James A.] Hall’s second Maine battery stood upon the field before the railroad cut and between the hostile lines. After the surrender, Captain Rollin P. Converse took men enough for the purpose and pulled this gun to the turnpike, where Captain Hall took it again in charge.

FLAG Of The 2nd Mississippi, captured in the Railroad Cut by the 6th Wisconsin

"Corporal Frank Asbury Waller brought me the captured battle flag. It was the flag of the second Mississippi Volunteers, one of the oldest and most distinguished regiments in the Confederate army. It belonged to the brigade commanded by Joseph R. Davis, the nephew of Jefferson Davis. It is a rule in battle not to allow sound men to leave the ranks. Sergeant William Evans of Company 'H,' a brave and true man, had been severely wounded in the thighs. He was obliged to use two muskets as crutches. To him I entrusted the battle-flag, and I took it from the staff and wrapped it around his body.

"Adjutant E. P. Brooks buckled on one of the captured swords, and he still retains it, but the other six were given to a wounded man and delivered to our chief surgeon, A. W. Preston. The enemy, when they took the town, captured the hospital and the swords. No discredit to the doctor is implied, as his hands were full of work with wounded men.

"After this capture of prisoners in the railroad cut there was a lull in the battle. Our comrades of the 'Iron Brigade,' who had charged so brilliantly into the McPherson woods, had been completely victorious. They had routed [Brig. Gen. James J.] Archer’s brigade, capturing its commander and many of its men, and then they had changed front to move to the relief of Cutler’s brigade, but our charge upon the railroad cut, and its success, obviated that necessity. By this charge Joseph R. Davis’ brigade was scattered or captured. We had fairly defeated, upon an open field, a superior force of the veterans of the army of General Lee. It was a short, sharp, and desperate fight, but the honors were easily with the boys in blue.

"While the regiment is being reorganized, let us follow Sergeant William Evans. Weak and faint from loss of blood, he painfully hobbled to Gettysburg, and became exhausted in the street. Brave and faithful friends came to his relief. Two young women assisted this wounded soldier into their home, and placed him upon a bed. The Union troops soon began to retreat in confusion through the town, and the cheers of the victorious enemy could be plainly heard. Evans begged of his friends to hide the rebel flag. They cut a hole in the bed-tick beneath him, thrust in the flag, and sewed up the rent. The flag was thus safely concealed until the enemy retreated from Gettysburg, and on the morning of July 4th Evans brought his precious trophy to Culp’s Hill and gave it to me there.

"After Gettysburg, Dawes fought on for more than a year before receiving his discharge in August 1864 following Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor. He went on to live a full life that included six children, one of whom became vice president of the United States."

PAINTING: "Railroad Cut", Gettysburg, PA, July 1, 1863
The 6th Wisconsin Vol. Inf. Regiment charges the 2nd Mississippi Vol. Inf. Regiment in an attempt to capture Southern forces sheltered in an abandoned railroad cut. Painting by Dale Gallon, 2003.


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Alma, WI

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Does anyone know what German language newspaper(s) served the area in summer, 1900? I have a poor copy of a clipping of my great-grandparents' wedding notice and would love to have a citation! And it's printed in old German fraktur!
This is my 4th great grandfather. Christian Patt who immigrated from Switzerland in June of 1820.
Do you have any pictures of the alma ski hill back in the 70s?