Wisconsin and Minnesota Research Trip : Day 2

I woke up refreshed after a solid night’s sleep and set up my plan for the day: probate office, register of deeds, town library, and a walk about town.

St Croix County Probate Office

After learning about Sam and Joe’s guardian, Silas Staples, I was hoping there would be some early probate and/or guardianship records. It turned out to be a VERY quick visit since, unfortunately, the office didn’t have any records from 1859.

St Croix County Register of Deeds

I’m not sure what I was expecting as I walked into the Clerk and Records office, but I ended up getting more than I bargained for! A while back ago I found a deed for 80 acres of land Samuel Sturtevant, Sr. purchased just south east of Hudson in 1856. I figured I would find a record of the sale of this land and maybe another lot in the town of Hudson, pretty-straight-forward land record research I though. However, what I actually found took me on a six hour research frenzy trying to figure out the buying and selling of multiple properties in and around Hudson.

I made two significant finds at the deed office.

One: The Sturtevants arrived in Hudson about two years earlier than I thought! Sometime in 1853. Joe would have been only 2 years old. One land sale states Jemima Sturtevant, “recently of Broome County, New York.” (1) Wow, New York! I know Joe’s mom, Jemima, was born in Sullivan County, New York, but the last I found a trace of the family was in a 1851 Boston city directory so I always assumed they traveled from Boston to Hudson. Now I have another new direction to go for research. I wonder if the Sturtevants spent some time with Jemima’s family prior to moving west?

Two: The other documents of interest had to do with the purchase and sale of the 160 acres of property father Samuel bought for his sons Samuel Jr. and Joseph. In November 1854, Samuel purchased the land near is now on the east side of state highway 35 along Glover Road about half way between Hudson and River Falls. (2) There were additional land purchases near the area called Glover’s Corner (near the train stop of Glover Station) so it makes me think Samuel, Sr. was positioning the family near an area that had potential growth in the future.

hudson-glover corner

Using old plat maps I was able to locate the approximate location of the property the family owned in the 1850s.

After Samuel Sr. died in 1859, Samuel and Joe’s legal guardian, Silas Staples, worked on the boys’ behalf to sell the land shortly after their father’s death, but it took several more years. Nearly ten years after the father’s initial $400 purchase Silas sold the 160 acres for $1200 (about $22,000 in today’s dollars) (3) It is not known if the money was held in some kind of trust for the boys or if the money was eventually transfered to their mother, Jemima for the family’s living expenses.

Hudson Library 

After collecting as many land records as possible I made my way over to the library, but I really needed to grab a late lunch. It was nearly four o’clock and I was starving! I found a nifty German restaurant on Second Street, the Winzer Stube. Some proper German food and a nice cold pilsner sounded like a perfect treat. The beer menu met with my approval and the Rinder Rouladen “Mutters Rezept” was a must! “Mom’s Recipe” for the beef rolls with spätzle and cabbage was almost as good as my own mom’s recipe.

Lunch at the Winzer Stube. Yum!

Feeling more relaxed and pleasantly full I headed over to the library to see what thier Local History Room had to offer. Luckily one of the genealogical society volunteers was still there to help me get started. She pointed me in the right directions and suggest quite a few books. Since it was so late in the day I didn’t spend much time really reading anything. I figured I would just read through everything later that night. I went into a copying frenzy of all the books and newspapers that had any kind of relevance. I took photos of anything that was too big to copy, such as some great early maps of Hudson!

There were some wonderful old maps around St. Croix County and combined with my morning property research I was able to zero in on the properties Samuel and Jemima purchased in town. It’s not known if they lived on either of the lots and they did not own the properties very long. It appears they sold the lots just prior to moving to Sauk Rapids, Minnesota in 1856. No structures of this era survive along these streets today.

hudson-downtown

The approximate location of the four properties Samuel and Jemima purchased near the heart of Hudson in the 1850s.

The library also had a great collection of newspaper issues that focued entirely on the town’s early history. These papers reprinted various letters, portions of books, old articles, and memoirs. A wonderful find to get a sense of what life was like on this little river town in the mid 1800s. The library didn’t have many photographs, but I was told to check in at the office of local paper, the Hudson Star-Observer, they supposedly have a good photo archive. I’ll have to visit the paper later, no time to get there today.

One major event that I found out about was the large fire that occured in May 19, 1866. The fire destroyed many homes in the center of town and nearly all of Hudson’s small commercial district. As with most young frontier towns, buildings were constructed cheaply and quickly using timber. Not always a safe combination with the live-flame lighting and heating sources used during the era. Few early structures still survive to this day. The only building in the business district that survived was the brick harness and leather shop on Walnut Street between First and Second Streets.

The day after the fire, May 1866. Looking southwest from approximately Walnut and Second Street. Courtesy of the Hudson-Star Observer.

The day after the fire, 1866. Looking southwest from approximately Walnut and Second Street. Courtesy of the Hudson-Star Observer.

Last building standing in the central business district after the fire. The structure has been nicely restored.. Photograph taken May 2012.

It has been difficult for me to track the Sturtevants in Hudson since there are only a handful of sources I have found from the 1860s. I know the family moved from Sauk Rapids, Minnesota back to Hudson around 1858/1859 since Jemima is listed in the May 7, 1859 Hudson Chronicle business directory as having a millinery and dressmaking shop above the Post Office. The Local History Room volunteer told me that the Post Office was most likely located on the southeast corner of 1st and Buckeye at this time. Joe’s brother Samuel enlisted into Company G of the 4th Wisconsin Cavalry in December 1863 while living in Hudson and he came back on a medical furlough for several months beginning in September 1864. (4)  I am not entirely sure the family was still living in Hudson at the time of the fire, but one final, well-timed detail makes me believe they were ousted by the disaster. The 1867 St. Paul, Minnesota city directory lists Jemima and Joe for the first time living and working in the heart of the city so they must have moved across the river sometime the previous year. (5)

Walk-about Hudson

After a couple of intense hours at the library gathering everything I could locate, I decided to stratch my legs and took a pleasant walk around town as the sun was getting low in the sky. I wanted to get a view of town from the water so I walked about half-way across the former levee road to get a few shots. This road was for many years the area’s main connection across the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Today only bicycles and foot traffic are allowed.

Looking west to Hudson from the middle of the St. Croix River/Lake.

Looking west to Hudson from the middle of the St. Croix River.

Standing on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border   in the middle of the St. Croix River.

Standing on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border in the middle of the St. Croix River.

I also wanted to see the area where Samuel’s grocery store was located. Newspaper advertisements place his store “nearly opposite the American House, 1st street.”(6) The Local History Room volunteer at the library told me the American House was located where the old train depot now stands on the southeast corner of 1st and Commercial Streets. I haven’t found any details yet to indicate exactly which “opposite” direction the grocery store stood. Maybe on another trip I will have more time to uncover some more clues on the actual location.

Samuel's grocery store.

Ad for Samuel’s grocery store in the “Hudson North Star” newspaper in 1856.

DSCN2400

The old train depot on at the southeast corner of 1st and Commercial Streets. This is the general neighborhood where Samuel had his store.

After my whirlwind day of record-gathering I packed it in, got dinner and made plans to take a road trip over to Minnesota for the next day.

———————–

(1) St. Croix County, Wisconisn, Deeds, B:140, Lorenzon and Sarah E. Hender to Jemima Sturtevant, warranty deed, 21 Dec 1853; Register of Deeds, Hudson.

(2) St. Croix County, Wisconisn, Deeds, H:300, Byron Brown to Samuel A Sturtevant Junior and Joseph B. Sturtevant, warranty deed, 20 Nov 1854; Register of Deeds, Hudson.

(3) St. Croix County, Wisconisn, Deeds, P:390, Silas Staples for Samuel and Joseph Sturtevant to James Chinnock, warranty deed, 23 May 1863; Register of Deeds, Hudson.

(4) Compiled service record, Samuel A. Sturtevant, Pvt., Co. G, 4th Wisconsin Cavalary; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s–1917, Record Group 94; Na- tional Archives, Washington, D.C. ; Additional evidence in the matter of the Original Invalid Pension claim, W. P Knowles, 31 Mar 1800, in Samuel A. Sturtevant claim (Pvt., Co. G, 4th Wis. Cav, Civil War), pension Inv. no. 270,484, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861–1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

(5) St. Paul Directory for 1867, vol 3. (St. Paul, MN: Bailey & Wolfe Publishers, 1867) 83, 211.

(6) “Hudson Market,” Hudson North Star, 2 April 1856, p3 c6.

Wisconsin and Minnesota Research Trip : Day 1

I have wanted to take a research trip up north for quite awhile, and when I found out about a work-related conference going on in St. Paul I jumped on the chance to arrive a few days earlier to do some Sturtevant family research.

Joe’s father moved the family from New England to Hudson, Wisconsin in the mid-1850s. The family also spent about two years in the up-and-coming Mississippi River town of Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. After Joe’s father, Samuel, died in the summer of 1859, his mom, Jemima remained in Hudson for several more years to raise her four children before moving to St. Paul around 1866.

I quickly realized that four days of research just wasn’t going to cut it with my ambitious schedule and quite a bit of driving…I’m just going to have to come back again.

I made some really exciting finds, several of which I wasn’t even looking for, and I will do my best to share my discoveries and interpretations. So here we go…

DAY 1

After a long night not sleeping at my hotel, I pondered over my plan of attack for the day at a greasy spoon taking in a LOT of coffee and some eggs and ham. Since the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Area Research Center didn’t open until 10 o’clock I had some time to kill. It was a chilly, drizzly morning and despite the weather I decided to stop by the Old Willow River Cemetery in Hudson to pay homage to several members of the Sturtevant family, including the patriarch, before embarking on my journey. I felt like the right way to start, and I’m glad I made the visit. After experiencing several curiously serendipitous moments through my days of research, I like to think papa Samuel was looking over my shoulder.

Old Willow River Cemetery

Driving north through the small river-front town of Hudson I tried to keep an eye on the old buildings along 2nd Street, the town’s main drag. I recently found out a devastating fire took out Hudson’s business district in 1866, so as I drove along I wondered how many structures survived the blaze.

Looking north on Second Street in Hudson.

I turned east onto Vine Street and headed through the older residential area which was a surprisingly hilly landscape. Not extremely hilly, but the current banks of the St. Croix River are more prominent than the old bird’s-eye-view maps suggest. The tree-covered bluffs along the river’s east side hides much of the terrain. There are two Willow River Cemeteries, the old and new, I was definitely looking for the old one. Turning south onto 9th Street I kept my eyes peeled for what I figured would be an illusive entrance on Google Maps. Sure enough, the entrance was not obvious at the top of the hill so missed it and had to double back.

A narrow and rough, meandering dirt road guided me through the small tree-filled cemetery. I wasn’t sure how easily I would find the family plot, but knowing that Sam, Jr.’s headstone was tall I thought I would have a better chance, and I was right. About ten yards off of the north side of the path, I saw the Sturtevant tombstone.

The Sturtevant family plot.

The drizzle eased up a bit but the wind was still making its presence known. I gingerly walked over to the grave site trying to stay warm. There they were. The final resting spot of half of the family I have been researching for over a decade. Facing the main headstones, Samuel Sr. lies to the left, with Samuel Jr. and Blanche sharing a stone in the center, and Florence to the right. Florence’s tombstone faces the other way and unfortunately has deteriorated with weather, moss, and lichen. (See a website for the Old Willow River Cemetery to see older photographs with better detail.) Samuel Jr.’s stone has a second military marker, and a mistakenly placed “Veteran Spanish War” marker on his grave. Samuel served in the Civil War as a private in the 4th Wisconsin Cavalry, Company G, and died long before the Spanish-American War even began.

For better detail go to the people’s individual blog pages to see photos taken several years ago before the damage on the stones occured.

Samuel the younger’s military headstone with the iron star honoring Sam in the wrong war.

Visiting the family graves, or graves of anyone I’m researching, is always a sobering experience. These people are of no relation to me, but I feel like I know them. Through my research they become very real as I learn the little details about them as individuals. I am thankful to have found a way into their “lives” and I am honored to tell their stories.

After snapping several photographs of the tombstones and the overall family plot, I shared my appreciation and respect, out loud, to those four people long gone.

University of Wisconsin-River Falls Area Research Center

About twelve miles southeast of Hudson lies River Falls. This small town houses a very nice four-county collection (which includes St. Croix) and is one of several regional university repositories for the Wisconsin Historical Society.

A large street construction project going on along the the school’s main thoroughfare made parking a challenge. There were few options nearby so I opted for a tiny parking lot a few blocks away. I was a bit daunted at the idea of meter parking and grabbed a handful of quarters out of my bag. Shocked as I stared at the meter, it didn’t take quarters! It only took pennies, nickels, and dimes…WHAT?!?! Completely floored, I inserted two dimes in the meter for two hours of parking. Why even bother with parking meters if the fee is so cheap? Maybe the parking tickets are brutally expensive. I wasn’t planning on finding out so I fed the meter at lunch.

I never knew penny parking meters existed!

As I expected, doing research on the Sturtevants was a hit and miss affair. Digging around in the early years of a town’s development creates certain challenges. Some of the earliest consistent records you can find are land records, but many early documents can be quite random. Unless someone is famous or infamous you need to be creative in finding material. I looked through quite a few records at the Research Center, but unfortunately I didn’t find much on the family. The main culprit facing Hudson was the loss of records during the devastating fire of 1866. I only found a few items, mainly stories about early Hudson, references to newspaper articles, college term papers about Hudson-related topics such as steamboat travel, and some curious details about the schools in St. Croix County in the late 1850s.

The items found that had family significance I found in the newspapers. One was a burial notice of Samuel Sturtevant, Jr. “Samuel Sturtevant, formerly of this city, lately of St. Paul, was buried here on Tuesday. He died of consumption, after a struggle fore life lasting since his early boyhood. This makes four of the Sturtevant family, Mr. Sturtevant and three children, who have died of consumption and been buried here.” (1) I knew Samuel, Jr. and his sisters died of consumption, but since I haven’t been able to find a death record for Samuel Sr., I was never quite sure of my suspicions. While a newspaper obituary is not absolute proof, it’s the only proof I have right now about Samuel Sr.’s cause of death. I’ll take what I can get!

The other key item was a probate notice regarding Samuel Sturtevant Sr.’s death and guardianship matters for Samuel Jr. and Joseph Sturtevant. This was the first of several serendipitous moments mentioned earlier. My initial goal was to locate some kind of death or burial announcement for Joe’s father Samuel. As luck would have it, the weeks surrounding his death in July 1859 were not available on microfilm…possibly lost and never to be available. Examining the label on another microfilm roll case I noticed a confusing note about one issue of the Husdson North Star that had been filmed out of order. It was one oddball newspaper from mid-August 1859 stuck in the middle of some of the June issues. I had little hope but decided to check it out since it was one of the only newspapers available even remotely close to Samuel’s death. Since closing time was getting nearer, I was quickly skimming the paper for any kind of “Sturtevant” sighting. When you research a name long enough, it tends to find a way of jumping off a page when you aren’t looking directly at it. Just as I inched the microfilm reader to take me to the next page of the newspaper, I caught “Probate” “Sturtevant” and “Minor” out of the corner of my eye at the far right-hand side of the page. What was this?!?

“In Probate–St. Croix County Court. In the matter of the Guardianship of Samuel Sturtevant and Joseph Sturtevant, Minors. Notice is hereby given that by virtue and in pursuance of an order of license made in said matter, on the 4th day of August 1859, by the County Court of said county, the undersigned Guardian of said minors will, on the 26th day of August, A.D. 1859, at 10 o’clock in the forenoon, at the City Hotel in the City of Hudson, and county aforesaid, offer for sale at Public Vendue [public auction], the following described lands, to wit: The south half of the north-west quarter and the north half of the south-west quarter of section 14, township 28, range 19, in the county aforesaid. The terms of sale will be made known at the time and place of sale. Silas Staples, Guardian. Hudson, Aug. 10, 1859. 3t” (2)

The name Silas Staples sounded familiar. If I remember correctly he is the same man who signed a letter allowing the underaged Samuel to enlist in the Wisconsin Cavalry in 1863 at the age of sixteen. I was also quite curious about the real estate. A section of land is 160 acres…that’s a large chunk of land held in the name of two boys age eleven and eight…hmmmmm. I added another item to the list of property records to check out at the county deed office the next day.

As the long research day finally ended I left the little town of River Falls and drove back to my hotel, a different and ultimately MUCH more comfortable hotel, in Hudson. I grabbed an early dinner, made some notes for the following day and then crashed for the night.

(1) Hudson Star-Times, 17 September 1880, p 4, c 1.
(2) Hudson North Star, 17 August 1859, p 2, c 7.

Road Trippin’ to South Dakota – Searching for William Peck at Old Fort Sully (Part 2)

So my trip to Pierre and the South Dakota State Archives wasn’t as thrilling as I hoped on the research end of things. The Archives was fabulous, but records they had for Fort Sully weren’t terribly exciting or in depth.  I think part of the problem is that the first Fort Sully only stood for three years so there is little information about it.

The most exciting find at the Archives was a hand-drawn illustration of the fort by Private William S. Peck himself! Yes, “my” William! I will be ordering a scan in the next week or so and I hope to post it here. It is a beautiful drawing of the fort a bit at a bird’s-eye view looking from the Missouri River.

The illustration is partially in color, with the use of some reds and blues. There is an large eagle accompanied by flags, guns, cannons, and a bugle which includes a banner touting Company D of the 30th Wisconsin, and “Bello vel Pace [Paci]” translated to “War or Peace.” The scene includes details of the fort structures along with out buildings and teepees and people situated along the banks of the Missouri.

Since Old Fort Sully no longer stands, I was encouraged to find some additional drawings and reconstructed plans of the fort. One in particular was quite helpful. The drawing shows the location of the barracks, hospital, guard house, doctor’s quarters, commissary, officer’s quarters, the well, interior walkways, and the flag pole. It also indicates sites outside the fort walls including a dance hall, indian homes, the interpreter’s house, and stores. I will redraw the plans when I post the illustration of the fort by William Peck.

The time Company D of the 30th Wisconsin stayed at the fort was limited. Post returns show they were only there a couple of months along with the 6th and 7th Iowa. Three officers were present in the month of June 1864 with Captain David C. Fulton as commanding officer, there was 1 medial officer and 65 enlisted men with only 54 were on duty, since 10 were sick and one that was arrested. Hmmmm, arrested for WHAT? The records don’t reveal the crime, darn it!

A small monument is the only evidence that a fort ever existed at this location. There is a little children’s museum here, but all I saw inside were play exhibits of wildlife. It really isn’t surprising no mention was made of a contentious past.

Fort Sully monument located where the flag pole stood at the center of the fort.

Detail of the monument.

Vertical marker at the right located the southeast corner of Fort Sully. The stone marker can be seen near the center near the children't museum.

Overall I’m glad I made the trip to Pierre, however it would have probably been much more satisfying if it was the first stop on a much longer road trip. I hope to get up to Fort Totten in North Dakota soon. Now THAT will be a much more inspiring trip considering a majority of the fort still stands!

Road Trippin’ to South Dakota – Searching for William Peck at Old Fort Sully (Part 1)

If you have read my background about Joe, you will know that I believe he co-opted Civil War and Indian fighting stories from the military experiences of his brother Samuel and step-father William Peck. This week I was on the hunt for some of William Peck’s activities during the Civil War, specifically his connection to the building of Fort Sully in Dakota Territory in 1863. Several of Joe’s Indian fighting claim surround the military regiments associated with this fort, so I hope that my adventure will uncover some leads and clearer connections.

You can read more about William on his bio page, but here’s a quick military intro. William enlisted in Company D of the 30th Wisconsin Infantry in August 1862. The following spring brought orders that took his company to St. Louis, Missouri where companies D, F, I, and K guarded supplies and support General Alfred Sully on his Northwest Indian Campaign. In August 1863 William and his company were transferred up-river and assisted with the building of Fort Sully located near Farm Island along the Missouri River just a few miles east of modern-day Pierre, South Dakota.

So off to Pierre I went!

During my eight-ish hour drive through northeast Colorado, central Nebraska, up to the center of South Dakota, and finally to Pierre, it was really easy to get a sense of what the landscape was like nearly 150 years ago. Easy, because I don’t think the landscape has changed very much apart from the roads, fences, and the occasional cell phone tower.

Somewhere in the middle of South Dakota. The majority of my drive looked just like this.

Nearing Fort Pierre, South Dakota. There are inklings of things green in the gullies that probably run with water in spring.

Between the periodic small towns, the rolling hills were filled with prairie grass, endless corn or hay, acres of sunflowers, or a distant line of cottonwood trees identifying a small creek. It wasn’t until I neared the Missouri River and Pierre did I see a vast amount of vibrant green trees again.

The goal of this research trip was to learn what I could from the South Dakota Archives about the first Fort Sully and the men who lived there or passed through. Yes, there was more than one. The first fort was built quickly in the summer of 1863 during the campaigns led by Generals Sully and Sibley against the Sioux in Dakota Territory. This was the fort William Peck helped to build, but it only stood for three years.

The location of the fort was not optimal. It was in a low-lying marshy area next to a small inlet off of the Missouri River (now known as Hipple lake). During those three years the soldiers suffered from disease and damp conditions. The first year was particularly harsh due to the lack of food, especially vegetables and fruit, and many of the men suffered from scurvy, including William.

Even today the area is quite marshy. View is looking south across Hipple Lake with Farm Island in the distance. Trees from the heavily-wooded island were cut down for the construction of the fort.

By 1866 the structure was in such disrepair that the commanding officer wrote that it was “hardly made habitable during cold weather…a few of the men’s quarters [were] high enough to permit me to stand erect in them…and the whole place is over run with rats, fleas, bed bugs and other vermin.” (1) So the old fort was disassembled and new Fort Sully (or Fort Sully II) was built about 25 miles north of Pierre.

** Part 2 Coming Soon! **

(1) Commanding Officer of Fort Sully, Dakota Territory, to Lieut. H G. Litchfield of the Head Quarters of the Department of the Platte in Omaha, Nebraska Territory, letter, 25 June 1866, discussion of quality of work and life at Fort Sully; Building Fort Sully I, Harold H. Schuler Papers, 1989-1993, Boxes 5973-5974, South Dakota Archives; original letter held by the National Archives.