Current Issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History | Wisconsin Historical Society

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Current Issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History

Autumn 2015 Issue, Volume 99, Number 1

Table of Contents

A Generation of Oxen

By Dirk Hildebrandt
A Generation of Oxen

A Generation of Oxen

A team of oxen work at Old World Wisconsin with Dirk Hildebrandt, historic farming and transportation coordinator.

Ever since their domestication some 9,000 years ago, cattle have provided power for humans and have always been found on any frontier. They provided meat and milk and played an integral part in the development of farming. Steers, trained for work, were the first domesticated animals stronger than their masters, and their strength, once tamed and harnessed, became useful to humans as they transformed their environment into something more habitable.

Ox power revolutionized transport and agriculture and allowed people to grow more food, transport goods for trade, and travel over long distances. Oxen were especially adapted to the environment of an expanding frontier, and their very presence helped define the frontier experience and westward expansion of the United States.

Nous Vous Remercions: The French Gratitude Train” 

By John Nondorf
EnlargeNous Vous Remercion

Nous Vous Remercion

Wisconsin’s boxcar rests on a trailer at the State Capitol after the parade from the Chicago & North Western depot on February 13, 1949.

In the calm after the storm of World War II, much of France lay in ruin and food production was minimal. The United States quickly and efficiently began supplying aid to the French, but syndicated columnist Drew Pearson had something flashier in mind. Pearson invited Americans to bring food produced in their fields and their homes and pack a train car as it made its way across the country. The response was enthusiastic, as Americans—even those living near the poverty line—contributed. Ultimately 275 boxcars of food were donated.

Two years later, the French flipped the script and sent a train to the United States—with one boxcar per state—filled with personal items and gifts as a gesture of gratitude. The boxcars of this train, known in the United States as the Gratitude Train, were duly distributed to the states on flatbed trucks (as they were a different gauge from American rails). The Wisconsin car was paraded as it made its way to the capitol, where it was opened with much pomp and circumstance. After Wisconsin Historical Society Museum staff inventoried the collection and furnished display cases, the collection was exhibited in the State Capitol rotunda, and then moved to the Milwaukee Public Library and Museum. By October, the train had visited 29 Wisconsin communities. When the train’s tour came to an end, the items were dispersed to museums, schools, and libraries, many still on display today.

Father Louis Nicolas and the Natural History of Wisconsin

By Michael Edmonds

Few people know that a seventeenth-century priest stationed on Lake Superior created the first book on Wisconsin’s plants and wildlife. It’s not only the first book about North America’s flora and fauna; it also shows how strangely our ancestors thought about nature.

Father Louis Nicolas was born in 1634 in the south of France and began training as a missionary at age twenty with the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), setting off in August 1667 for Mission Saint Esprit, on Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay. But Nicolas was more interested in worldly matters than spiritual ones. He spent much of his time traveling around the western Great Lakes, sometimes for days at a time, to study wildlife and urge hunters to kill beaver for the French

Between 1678 and 1689, roughly, Nicolas described 335 North American plants and animals in a large notebook filling 196 pages, with a second notebook containing seventy-nine large-format pages with 180 pen-and-ink drawings. As an artist, Nicolas was certainly no Rembrandt or Audubon. But his sketches have a naïve energy that still pleases the eye. Many of his animals, such as the quizzical owls and smiling dolphin, wear vaguely human expressions. Despite his limited artistic ability, Nicolas included enough detail to define each species’ characteristic features, and most are easily identifiable. Taken as a whole, the sketches include not only the earliest illustrations of Wisconsin wildlife and plants but also some of the most charming.

Reconnecting Photography to the Draper Manuscripts

By Simone Munson
EnlargeReconnecting Photography

Reconnecting Photography

Tintype portrait of Lyman Draper.

This September we celebrate the two-hundredth birthday of Lyman C. Draper, the Wisconsin Historical Society’s first corresponding secretary and collector. Throughout his life, Draper’s deep interest in the history of western expansion, the American Revolution, and the settlement of trans-Appalachian America guided his efforts to collect the stories of the people who settled this region and took part in the events that became the foundation for our county

However, the photographs in the Draper collection were separated from the written materials as, for roughly the first hundred years of the Society, visual materials were the purview of museum staff. Only recently have archives staff begun the work to reconnect Draper’s collection. Side by side, the documents and photographs bring a human element to the events of the past. The reconnection of the images with the manuscripts brings richness and a sense of completion to the biographies that Draper worked so hard to preserve.

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