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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Wyocena: It Came To Him in a Dream

The origins of many Wisconsin place names are recorded in our online Dictionary of Wisconsin History. The note there on the Columbia County town of Wyocena -- that the name came to the town's founder, Elbert Dickason, in a dream -- led us to investigate.

Dickason (1799-1848) was born in Virginia and migrated west gradually, arriving in Illinois in time to be commissioned a major during the Black Hawk War of 1832. Apparently he liked whatever he saw of Wisconsin during the war, because a few years later, when most of southeastern Wisconsin came up for sale, Major Dickason took out a mortgage on 1,300 acres where the village of Columbus now stands.

But Wisconsin was not kind to Major Dickason. Moving to Columbus in 1839 with herds of oxen, cattle, and workers, he erected a sawmill and set about farming. His first wheat crop was burned by inhospitable Ho-Chunk neighbors, a drought devastated his livestock, and when provisions ran out, his workers sought greener pastures elsewhere. Winters were so harsh that deer starved to death in the deep snow, unable to browse on trees or underbrush. Finally, in the spring of 1843, after investing nearly $10,000 (so it was said), Major Dickason called it quits. The mortgage holder took back the land and took over the saw mill, leaving Dickason a mere $200. With this modest sum in hand he relocated with his family a few miles northeast at a place then known as Duck Creek.

Here he purchased land for $1.25 per acre, surveyed the vicinity, laid out house lots, and built a cabin large enough to also function as a tavern and hotel. In 1844 and 1845 a few more settlers straggled in, and early in 1846 the infant settlement had a chance of being named county seat of the new Columbia County. The residents, however, felt that no town with the humble name of "Duck Creek" stood much chance of being proclaimed the seat of government. They discussed the issue frequently that summer, congregating at Dickason's hotel. One morning he came downstairs and announced to the assembled citizens that the problem had been solved.

According to an early settler, whose father had been present, Major Dickason "dreamed that he was walking through the streets of a thickly populated city. He asked a stranger its name. The stranger spelled out the name for him: W-i-o-c-e-n-a." The residents embraced this poetic, mystically conferred name, and it carried the day. A few years later, when a post office was opened in the town, the spelling was changed to Wyocena, and so it has remained.

For more on the origins of Columbia County names, see these newspaper pieces in our collection of Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles.

You'll find many more odd stories inside the dozens of volumes we recently put online in our Wisconsin County Histories collection. Browse, search and serendipitously stumble upon some of your town's forgotten history there.

:: Posted in Curiosities on October 1, 2009

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