The following article was selected by the editors from Volume 11
of the Wisconsin Magazine of History (1927) pp. 169-189.
Copyright © 2000 by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
Like so many of Wisconsin's early shakers and movers, Rufus King (1814-1876) was born in New York.
A graduate of West Point and a successful engineer and journalist, he came to Wisconsin in 1845 to assume the editorship of the Milwaukee Sentinel. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was commissioned a brigadier general in the U.S. Army and served with distinction in the Iron Brigade from 1861 to 1863. When King wrote this lively and well-informed account of his journey from Milwaukee to St. Paul, Wisconsin had been a state for less than ten years.
Milwaukee to St. Paul in 1855
by General Rufus King 1
Prairie du Chien, August 12, 1855
I have just accomplished my second trip to the Mississippi, and this time by a route as new to me as it is unknown to ninety-nine hundredths of the good people of Milwaukee. I think I shall render them an acceptable service by describing, somewhat minutely, our journey, since we followed very closely the track marked out for the iron highway that is soon to connect the city of Milwaukee with the "Father of Waters." We left home on Wednesday morning last, with pleasant company and smiling skies. I had passed over the railroad to Madison two or three weeks previous, and was glad to note the progress which the farmers had made in the meanwhile, in harvesting their abundant crops. At Eagle, at Whitewater, at Milton, and along the road we heard the same gratifying story of a prolific yield and of well secured crops, and we saw, with our own eyes, frequent and multiplying proofs that the tale was not, exaggerated. We saw, too, many and unmistakable tokens- in the character of the improvements, the increasing herds of cattle, the large flocks of sheep, the quantity of new land brought under the plow, and other indications-that the agricultural interest of our state is in a most prosperous condition. Three successive years of good crops and high prices have made the farmers forehanded, and they have wisely appropriated a goodly share of their gains toward increasing their means and facilities for farming on the largest scale and to the best advantage.
Madison looked as lovely as ever as we approached it from the southeast, and the bustle and crowd about the railway station showed the amount of business done at this the present terminus of the M. and M. Railroad. After a good dinner at the Capital House, which has greatly improved under the new management and begins to deserve its name, we started westward again. The country beyond Madison is beautifully diversified, quite thickly settled and under good cultivation. For the first eight or ten miles the surface is undulatory, and there is a frequent . succession of deep cuts and heavy embankments along the line of the railroad. But the soil is easily worked, and the location has been so well made that the grading is not expensive. The materials for the road-bed are excellent, the ,finest of gravel abounding along the line. Good stone is to be found in all the hills, and the masonry of the culverts, bridges, etc. is of the best description. Some ten miles west of Madison the road strikes the Black Earth valley and follows it down to its junction with the larger and wider valley of the Wisconsin. I had heard much of the beauty and fertility of this region, but the half had not been told me. The valley of the Black Earth averages about a mile in width; the stream is a clear and rapid one, and is fed at frequent intervals by copious springs bubbling up through white and glistening sands, or gushing, pure and cold, from the hillside. The soil is mainly a black, sandy loam-quick, strong, and rich,-and the crops of corn, oats, and wheat are superior to anything I have seen east of Madison. On either side of the valley are ranges of picturesque bluffs, bold in outline, with graceful and grassy slopes, and outcroppings of rock that look like ruined castles and time-worn towers. Between these bluffs, beautiful little dells-or coulees, as they are termed-clad with verdure and cool with the protecting shade of frequent thickets make up from the main valley and run out upon the tableland beyond. What with these bosky dells, the graceful hillsides, the fair and fertile intervales, the smiling crops, and the silver stream that speeds its way with murmuring music to the broad Wisconsin, I have seen nothing so charming in our peerless state as the valley of the Black Earth.
Twenty-two miles from Madison this valley opens into that of the Wisconsin. At this junction a new town has been laid out, and though born so recently as last June, already gives token of rapid and vigorous growth. The proprietors have christened it Mazo-Manie, "The Iron that Walks," after a somewhat noted Indian chief; and as it is the offspring of an iron way, the name is not inappropriate. The site of the town is an admirable one: a fine dry prairie, rising as it recedes from the river and backed by a swelling hill known as "School Section Bluff," three hundred feet above the plain. Just above the town the embankment of the railway dams up the waters of Black Earth Creek, and a race conducts them through the plat, furnishing an excellent and very uniform water power. A ridge south of the tracks affords very desirable sites for warehouses, and all over the prairie are pleasant spots for dwellings. Already some twenty buildings, including two hotels, a large store, and a church, have been put up and by November there will be a good-sized village here. The country adjacent is fertile, well settled, and under good cultivation. Sauk is distant only eight miles to the north, and this will be the station for business from that county and a good part of Dane. In short, Mazo-Manie bids fair to become one of the most important stations on the route. From "School Section Bluff" there is one of the finest and most extensive views to be found in the state. Eastward the eye follows up the beautiful valley of the Black Earth. Northward, the clustering tenements of Little Sauk and the wide expanse of Sauk Prairie backed by green and wooded hills delight the vision. Southward the view is bounded by the range of bluffs that shut in the river; but on the west the magnificent valley of the Wisconsin, rich in beauty and glittering, as we saw it, in the light of the setting sun, fills the enraptured gaze and presents a picture which fancy may realize but language cannot describe. From this lofty lookout the railroad may be seen for nearly forty miles and, of a bright clear day, the approaching trains can be descried when still twenty-five or thirty miles distant.
We stayed over night at Mazo-Manie, and were hospitably entertained by the proprietor of the town in the new hotel just erected and kept by Mr. George Butler. Early on Thursday morning we resumed our journey, following down the valley of the Wisconsin for fifty miles, crossing the river twice, and keeping close, as on the preceding day, to the track of the railway, as well to observe the route as to note the progress made in the grading. I was entirely unprepared to find so much done towards getting the road ready for the superstructure. The contractors have a heavy force at work all along from Madison to Prairie du Chien. Nearly every section has been underlet to responsible men, who are actively engaged on their respective contracts. Mile after mile of the track is graded and ready for the iron. Indeed, for much of the way the grading is mere child's play. Think of a road ninety-five miles long (the distance from Madison to the Mississippi), on which for the first twenty-two miles the heaviest grade is but twenty-three feet to the mile, and for the rest of the way the maximum is ten feet, and the average one foot and a half; where the curves are few and gentle, and there are straight lines fife, ten, fifteen, and in one case of thirty-two miles in length; where the cost of grading, for mile after mile, will not exceed $800 per mile, and one section of a mile has been got ready for the superstructure at an expense of only $130; where gravel, stone, and timber for the railway, wood and water for the locomotives, and teeming fields for the freight-cars meet you on every section; and where a country of unsurpassed beauty and salubrity, well watered and wooded, and boasting a generous soil, invites and will sustain a dense population! This description of the valley of the Wisconsin and of the western division of the Milwaukee-Mississippi Railroad may well challenge the belief of those who have never seen the region.
The valley seems to have been made for a railway, and well made at that. It averages some three miles in width; is as level as a barn floor; has a soil of black sand, with occasional gravel pits; descends toward the Mississippi at the rate of a foot and a half per mile; affords a good foundation, as well as the best materials for a road bed; follows a very straight course; and in its whole length from the point where it receives the waters from the Black Earth, till it pours its full flood into the Mississippi, does not offer a single serious obstacle to the construction of a railroad. Our state extends for three hundred miles along the Mississippi, and in all that distance, among the numerous streams which flow into that parent river, there is no one valley which furnishes so easy and natural an outlet and pathway for a railroad as the valley of the Wisconsin. I doubt whether there is a better, or cheaper, or more picturesque route to be found in the Union. But my superlatives must sound like exaggerations to those who have not seen this valley, while to us, who are fresh from a close inspection of its beauties and capabilities, they seem tame enough. Let us hurry forward on our journey.
The railway stations along the Wisconsin valley have been selected with special reference to the business of the country adjacent. They are all, too, beautifully located. The road, in its course, passes through Dane, Sauk, Iowa, Richland, Grant, and Crawford counties, and will receive from each and all of them a heavy amount of trade and travel. Eight or ten miles below Mazo-Manie, at Helena, it first crosses the Wisconsin; near Hurst's Ferry, twelve or fifteen miles farther down, it recrosses to the south side; and lastly, near Boyd's Ferry, twenty or twenty-five miles from Prairie du Chien, it seeks the northern shore, requiring altogether about 2400 feet of truss bridging. The contractors who are to put up these bridges are already on the ground, and busied in getting their timber from the pineries. Some distance below Hurst's Ferry, on the south shore and in the midst of a smiling prairie, is the Avoca Vale station, so called from a beautiful glen, or coulee, near by. A fine spring gushing from the hillside, two hundred feet above the plain, supplies this station with water of crystal purity. Muscoda, in Grant County, a town charmingly situated on the river side and waking up into new life with the approach of the railroad, is the next point of interest. Here will center a large business from Grant and Richland counties. Fifteen miles farther down is Boscobel, near the residence of Mr. Bailey, in whose comfortable farmhouse we found snug quarters and a kind welcome Thursday night. This station derives its pretty name from the handsomely wooded glen and hillsides adjacent. Two miles above Hurst's Ferry is Lone Rock station, so called from a single pillar of stone rearing itself from the plain and standing solitary in the midst of waving cornfields.
At Boyd's Ferry we crossed the Wisconsin for the third and last time, and just beyond the crossing came to a fine trout stream, where one of our party caught a nice mess of speckled trout. A half-hour's ride through the dreaded "Kickapoo bottoms" brought us to the Kickapoo itself, a deep, narrow, and rather sluggish stream, which heads one hundred and fifty miles to the north and is the avenue by which many thousands of pine logs annually find their way down the Wisconsin and into the Mississippi. The pineries on this river are very extensive and the quality of the timber superior, while its bottoms are very rich, and as they are cleared up must become valuable. Three miles beyond the crossing of the Kickapoo we came to the dwelling of Mr. Stucke, a German emigrant, who has resided here sixteen years, reared up a family, and has never known an hour of sickness. He ascribes this blessing of uninterrupted good health to a famous spring which has its source in a hill four hundred feet high, and wells up, cold and sparkling, almost under his door-step. I have rarely seen so beautiful a spring, and never drank more delicious water. Beside this diamond fountain we dined in the open air, under the grateful shade of a young grove and with a rich landscape spread out before us. Soon after leaving Stucke's we commenced ascending from the river bottoms to the uplands of Crawford County. The road for three miles winds slowly up through a pretty valley carpeted with thick grass, where large herds of sleek-looking cattle were lazily browsing, and bounded by hillsides green with verdure and tufted with foliage. Emerging from this valley, after a toilsome ascent, we came upon the rolling and somewhat broken country which extends back from the bluffs of the Mississippi. But here, as in the valley below, we found a strong and rich soil, and passed field after field of golden grain, of waving corn, and of luxuriant potatoes. In Crawford, as in Grant and other western counties, the season has been most propitious and the labors of the husbandman have been crowned with abundant harvests.
After a few miles' ride through this rolling country we commenced our descent to the valley of the Mississippi, through one of the coulees which break the chain of bluffs. When halfway down we caught a glimpse of the mighty Mississippi flowing majestically towards its far-distant ocean home; and shortly after, we came out upon the beautiful plain on which stands the old French town of Prairie du Chien, occupying the loveliest site on this noble river and just beginning to feel the quickening impulses of an approaching railway communication with the new and thriving towns on Lake Michigan and the remotest cities of the Atlantic seaboard. But what I have to say of Prairie du Chien must be reserved till my next letter. R. K.
St. Paul, Minnesota, August 15
My last letter ended with our arrival at the old French town of Prairie du Chien, where our party tarried three days. This is one of the most interesting points in the valley of the Mississippi, and around it cluster many attractive traditions and thrilling memories. It has known five different sets of masters: Indian, French, Spanish, British, and American. When the French pioneers first explored this region they found at Prairie du Chien a large Indian village numbering some fifteen hundred souls. Here the French traded for many years, and built a fort of which no vestige now remains; for a long way back in the century, a Spanish expedition coming up the river to attack it, the French burned and abandoned the fort and post, which was temporarily occupied by the Spanish. To the French succeeded, by right of conquest, the British; and these again gave place in 1796 to the Americans, who probably will not be disturbed in their possession for some centuries to come. The town or site rejoiced in a variety of names. It is indebted to its French sponsors for the one by which it is now universally known, and was named after an old Indian chief Le Chien (the Dog), whom the French found lord paramount there when they first landed. By the Indians it was variously styled "Mendota," "the meeting of the waters," and "Nee-you-ja-ra," "the place where the water comes out," each alluding to the union of two rivers at this point.
Prairie du Chien occupies the loveliest site on the banks of the upper Mississippi. Just at the junction of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers a smooth and gently undulating prairie carpeted with thick verdure stretches northwardly along the foot of the high bluffs which bound the great valley on the east. It is eight miles in length and averages nearly a mile in breadth, diminishing, however, as it extends up the stream. The Wisconsin washes the southern side of this beautiful prairie, the Mississippi flows majestically along its western front, while it is shut in on the northeast by a range of battlemented bluffs five hundred feet in height, with their smooth green slopes broken at intervals by protruding ledges of rock and their rounded tops plumed with thrifty groves of timber. The soil is quick and warm, producing early vegetables and abundant crops; and the roads in all seasons of the year are excellent. The surface is dotted over with farmhouses, mostly occupied by descendants of the old French settlers; while in the two villages, the Upper and Lower Towns, as they are called, and a mile or two apart, are to be found most of the business men and recent settlers. Between these villages are the barracks built in 1829 by General Taylor, who commanded at Fort Crawford for a series of years and is still borne in affectionate and respectful remembrance by the inhabitants. Previous to 1828 the fort stood upon a mound on what is called the Island, but the flood of that year, higher than any known before or since, overflowed nearly the whole of the island and compelled a removal to the higher ground on the main prairie. The site thus abandoned by the United States is now occupied by the spacious and hospitable mansion of Colonel H. L. Dousman, himself one of the older settlers in the valley of the upper Mississippi, and as highly respected as he is widely known.
Prairie du Chien was for many years a very important trading post and afterwards a prominent military station; and when the Indians and the troops both moved away, the town, so long entirely dependent upon these two sources of prosperity, fell into decay. Emigrants passed it by as no longer offering inducements to the enterprising settler; business became stagnant; and the future looked dark enough till the approaching footsteps of the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad, heard and hailed from afar, kindled anew the hopes and revived the energies of the dwellers in the old French town. And now that the early completion of this road is well assured; now that gangs of laborers, busy in grading the track, are scattered all along the valley of the Wisconsin and are trooping down toward the banks of the Mississippi; now that active negotiations are in progress for the lands and lots required for the station houses, machine shops, and warehouses of the company; now that the fact is realized that a very large proportion of the vast and annually increasing traffic and travel, which give such wonderful life and animation to the upper Mississippi, must inevitably seek and follow this new thoroughfare between the East and the West; now, in short, that the destiny of Prairie du Chien as a great point of transshipment and exchange is fully appreciated, it is pleasant to see what young and vigorous life has been suddenly infused into the veins of the ancient and timeworn town. No longer despairing, no longer doubtful, no longer brooding over departed wealth and position, it looks forward hopefully and confidently to the future and is preparing to contest, with the spirit of a young athlete, the palm of superiority with any town on the west bank of the upper Mississippi. The lapse of two years will show a greater improvement and larger access of population at Prairie du Chien than at any other point on the great river.
We spent three days right pleasantly at Prairie du Chien, forming many agreeable acquaintances and finding everywhere a kind welcome and cordial hospitality; and on the morning of the fourteenth took passage on the War Eagle, Captain Harris, for St. Paul. This is one of a daily line of steam packets plying between Galena and St. Paul and making all the innumerable landings which the immense and increasing business on the Mississippi requires. Last year the experiment of a daily line was first tried, and very soon abandoned for want of a sustaining patronage. This year the experiment was renewed with the most gratifying success, the boats being crowded every trip, and the proprietors of the line having already realized a handsome profit; and this, too, in a season, thus far, of comparatively low water. We found the War Eagle a large, commodious, and well-arranged boat, with neat staterooms, a well furnished table, excellent attendance, and an air of order, quiet, and regularity about her which quite upset our previous notions of Mississippi steamboating. Captain Harris, who treads her "quarter deck," is one of the veterans of the river navigation, and discharges his duty in a manner that at once inspires his passengers with the conviction that he is just the man for the place. To the officers of the War Eagle and to Captain Orrin Smith of Galena, one of the principal proprietors of the line and a universal favorite all along the river, our party were under great obligations for numerous courtesies and attentions.
The trip up the Mississippi to St. Paul, a distance of three hundred miles, occupied thirty-six hours; and save the few short hours almost grudgingly given to repose, every minute of it was to myself, as to the rest of our party, unalloyed enjoyment. It was a new experience and almost a new life for us all. The weather was charming. A bright sunshine lit up the landscape, while a fresh breeze gave vigor to the frame. The shores on either hand were of the most picturesque beauty, and the river itself, two thousand miles and more away from its ocean home, flowed swiftly by, its broad bosom studded with frequent isles, all robed in the richest verdure. Bounding its wide valley run two long ranges of bluffs varying from four to seven hundred feet in height; the bright green, velvety grass climbing up their sides and crowning their tops, and heavy masses of deep-tinted foliage filling the intermediate recesses. At times jutting points and pinnacles of rock, fantastic in shape and hoary with age, recall the ivy-crowned ruins along the tradition-freighted rivers of Europe. At times the bold cliffs recede from the bank, leaving ample space between for a wide and smiling prairie, luxuriant with vegetation and fringed with thickets. Now the broad river, divided by emerald islands into several streams, offers a swift and narrow channel to the ascending steamer. And now it spreads out on either side into a spacious basin a mile or more across. It is, indeed, a panorama of unequalled yet ever-varying beauty, and the world may be safely challenged to show its like. The "Father of Waters" has no peer among all the mighty rivers which furrow the surface of the globe.
I have neither time nor space to describe at length, or even cursorily, the multitude of thriving little towns which have sprung up along the banks of the upper Mississippi within the past four or five years, and which form so many nuclei for the business of the adjacent country. No one who has not seen with his own eyes will believe, upon the relation of another, the marvelous fact of their sudden birth and rapid development. They meet you at every few miles of your upward journey, now nestling under some beetlebrowed bluff, now glistening through the vistas of a pleasant grove, and now smiling in the open sunshine on some broad and beautiful prairie. They all wear a thrifty, wide awake look; the houses are neatly built, the villages tastefully planned; the stores are well-filled and apparently well patronized, and in almost all of them the neat spires of church and schoolhouse complete and crown the picture.
In these, their new homes, you read the character of the population. None but a sober, active, intelligent, self-relying, and enterprising people could within five brief years have wrought such magical changes along the banks of the mighty Mississippi. And it is this country and these people who are to be made tributary to Milwaukee within another year by means of the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad! Who can overestimate the advantage to our city of such a connection, or set at too high a figure the receipts of a road which is to tap this great artery of the trade and commerce of the Northwest?
Long as my letter already is, I cannot forego a few brief references to some of the more important towns on the river, especially on the Wisconsin side. Immediately opposite Prairie du Chien is McGregor's Landing in Iowa. A ferry connects the two, and is soon to be supplied with a first-class steam ferry-boat. At this point, as we learned from the officers of the War Eagle, more goods are landed than at any point between Dubuque and St. Paul; a very fertile, well settled, and well cultivated back country here finding an outlet to the Mississippi and a market. Some miles above on the same side is Lansing, a busy little town with a fine farming country back of it. The first landing we make on the Wisconsin side is at Victory, the shipping port of Bad Axe County, which is just peeping from its shell and already chirps merrily. Ninety miles above Prairie du Chien is La Crosse, a remarkably fine five-year-old town, spreading out over a wide prairie, backed by handsome bluffs, with a rich country beyond, and located at the junction of the La Crosse River and one of the mouths of the Black River, with the Mississippi. I saw no town on the river where business seemed more active, or the progress of improvement more marked than at La Crosse. It is here that the La Crosse and Milwaukee Railroad is to debouch upon the valley of the Mississippi. Thirty miles above La Crosse is Winona in Minnesota, better known perhaps as Wabashaw Prairie; occupying a site of unrivalled beauty, a high, dry, and rich prairie washed by the Mississippi and enclosed by an amphitheatre of hills. Here we met some old Milwaukee acquaintances; Captain Upmann and his son Henry, who are doing "a land office business" in the United States land office at that place, and Messrs. H. J. and N. F. Hilbert, who are diligently following their profession as civil engineers, surveyors, and locators of land warrants.
At Reads Landing opposite the mouth of the Chippewa, a great lumber stream, we entered Lake Pepin, a beautiful expanse of the river, some four miles across and thirty long; and three miles up the lake, on the Wisconsin side, landed at North Pepin in Dunn County, a new town platted only in May last, where but three families passed the last winter and three hundred and fifty inhabitants are now gathered. Mr. Bostwick O'Connor, formerly of Ozaukee, resides here and is one of the proprietors. The site is an eligible one, and North Pepin will soon boast of a bank, as a number of capitalists are about to start the Bank of Oakwood at that point, with a capital of fifty thousand dollars, for the accommodation of the lumbering interest. All this region of country offers substantial attractions, in soil, climate, and abundance of wood and water, to the emigrant seeking a new home in the West. Red Wing and Hastings, on the Minnesota side of the river above Lake Pepin, are both lively towns, while Prescott, in Pierce County, at the mouth of the St. Croix and in the northwestern corner of Wisconsin, yields to few of its older rivals (being itself a three-year-old) in beauty of site, rapidity of growth, or promise of prosperity.
The shades of evening were falling fast as we left Prescott, and the dim twilight and devious channel rendered the navigation thence up to St. Paul, in the present low stage of water, somewhat slow and difficult. But our experienced captain and skillful pilots guided the War Eagle safely into the haven of St. Paul, the latest wonder of the Northwest, and before midnight we were comfortably lodged at the Winslow House. And here, for the present, I pause. R. K.
Madison, August 19, 1855
Arriving late at night at St. Paul and having but one day to give to that city and its vicinity, we made an early start on the morning of the sixteenth instant for St. Anthony's Falls. These are distant about nine miles from St. Paul, the road connecting them affording a fine drive and traversing a handsome and fertile region of country. A keen northwester gave a frosty touch to the early morning air, and by the time we reached the St. Charles House at St. Anthony, we were chilled through and in great need both of a warm fire and a good breakfast. But we found neither at the St. Charles, the churlish landlord declining to "fire up" for our benefit, and the breakfast offering nothing that could tempt the palate of even starving travelers. We hurried away from this inhospitable house as soon as possible, and in the bright sunshine, fresh breeze, and attractive landscape speedily found amends for the deficiencies of the St. Charles.
St. Anthony is an exceedingly pretty town, lying well up on high, rolling land and possessing in the magnificent water power at the falls an inexhaustible source of wealth. The falls themselves have no striking charm, save that with which a large body of swiftly flowing water is always in-vested; but to the eye of the practical man, who sees in this power the means and elements of manufacturing enterprises and industrial prosperity, they are teeming with beauty. It needs but the magic word of capital to turn this power to good account and make St. Anthony the Lowell of the Northwest. Opposite St. Anthony and connected with it by means of a neat wire suspension bridge is Minneapolis, an ambitious young rival, occupying a charming site and surrounded by a lovely country. From this point to Fort Snelling, three or four miles distant, the road passes over a beautiful, undulating prairie, so far elevated above the surrounding region that at almost every point of the drive the landscape spreads out, on either hand, far and wide and radiant with promise. Fort Snelling crowns a frowning and rocky promontory at the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, its stout stone walls being built flush with the face of the precipice and crenellated for musketry. It is a very commanding point and impregnable against all ordinary assaults. Two or three companies of United States troops are now in garrison there. Between Minneapolis and the Fort we passed a few moments at the Falls of the Minnehaha, the famous Laughing Waters of the Indians, a perfect gem of a cascade and worthy of its poetic name; and on our way back to St. Paul we explored the dark recesses of the Spring Cave and quaffed the icy waters which sparkle along its sandy floor. We reached the Winslow House in ample season and with sharp appetites for dinner, and this time at least were not disappointed, the table, like the other appointments of this hotel, being excellent.
We made the most of the afternoon to look round St. Paul. It is decidedly a handsome, smart-looking, "progressive" town, built upon a series of terraces which rise, as they recede from the river, till they reach the level of some two or three hundred feet above the Mississippi. The business portion of the town occupies the lower levels along the river front, while the dwelling houses, the churches, and other public buildings are scattered over the higher ground. The streets seem narrow for a new town, and some of them are inconveniently steep. The general style of the buildings is good; the stores display large and attractive stocks, and the show of business was fair for the season. Still St. Paul wore to me the air of a town which has grown too fast for the region round about it, and is now standing still, waiting for the country to "catch up." No doubt, however, in another year or two it will resume its onward and prosperous march and speedily become a large and wealthy city. We heard wonders told of the soil of Minnesota, and listened to the tale with credulous ears. The country is surpassingly beautiful; the climate healthful and invigorating; the soil quick and productive; the rivers teem with fish, and the forests and prairies with game; the population, though variously compounded, is of the best class, and as they muster now fifty thousand strong, we shall no doubt have Minnesota claiming rank and position as a sovereign state within the next year. Hail and welcome to our fair young sister!
At four o'clock p.m. we were again on board the good steamer War Eagle, homeward-bound. A stiff breeze and a swift current helped to speed us on our downward course, and when the morning of Friday broke we were entering Lake Pepin. This beautiful sheet of water is one of the most charming features of the upper Mississippi, and seen from its southern extremity recalls the attractive picture presented by Haverstraw Bay on the Hudson. Our stops were brief and our progress rapid, and by nightfall the welcome lights of Prairie du Chien glittered in the distance. It was nine o'clock when we once more trod its hospitable shore, the War Eagle, crowded with passengers, continuing on her course to Dunleith and Galena. Besides the points noticed in my last letter, we made acquaintance on the downward trip with Fountain City in Buffalo County, and Monteville in Trempealeau, both pretty and promising towns on the Wisconsin shore. It was wonderful to see the number of passengers landing or embarking at the different stopping-places. At La Crosse I had the curiosity to count them, and found that thirty-one persons went ashore and forty-six came aboard. When it is remembered that there is a daily line of packets plying on this river, and transient boats besides, the reader can judge from this specimen how large the traffic already is; and if he be a very cute Yankee, may possibly guess within one hundred per cent of what it is to be.
Returning from Prairie du Chien, we took the Ridge Road through Grant, Iowa, and Dane counties, as well for the variety of the route as to see and judge of the country tributary to the M. and M. Railroad. He knows little of Wisconsin and is but a poor judge of its vast capabilities for sustaining a dense population and furnishing business for railroads, who has not visited its southwestern quarter. This beautiful Ridge Road affords the most desirable point of view from which to observe that fertile and smiling section of our glorious state. It follows the height of land which divides the waters flowing into the Wisconsin from those which lose themselves in the mighty Mississippi. On either side, smiling prairies with alternate patches of luxuriant verdure, of golden grain, and of thick and thrifty timber stretch away to the north and south, dotted with neat f arm-houses and traversed by capital roads. From this high table-land frequent valleys embosomed in green groves and refreshed by running streams and springs of delicious water wind down into the main valley of the Wisconsin, affording natural and easy avenues for the teeming products of the rich uplands to the line of the railroad. The crops, especially of corn, oats and spring wheat, were most abundant and mainly well-secured. Along portions of the route there is yet a very large amount of land unimproved, being owned by nonresidents, or speculators; but in all the journey from Prairie du Chien to Madison we hardly saw one acre of waste or worthless land. In the vicinity of Wingville, of the Blue Mounds, and at other points on the line we saw the miners at work prospecting or raising mineral. With the introduction of the steam-pump, lead mining in western Wisconsin has received a new impulse and from this copious source the M. and M. Railroad will derive a large and lucrative business.
At the Blue Mounds we found Colonel Ebenezer Brigham, a veteran pioneer, who has lived there for twenty-eight years and is now the oldest resident of Dane County. An eastern company has recently purchased an interest in the Colonel's promising lead diggings, and with the help of the requisite machinery they expect to raise immense amounts of mineral. Soon after sundown we reached Madison and found comfortable quarters at the Capital House, soon forgetting in its good cheer the slight fatigues of our long but delightful drive over the Ridge Road.
A few words touching the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad, and its relations to the business of our city and state, must close this already long letter. This pioneer road of Wisconsin, which has been in prosperous operation as far as the capital of our state for the year past, will shortly be completed and opened to the Mississippi. The Western Division, from Madison to Prairie du Chien-a distance of ninety-six miles-is all under contract to responsible and energetic parties; the grading will be finished this year; all the iron required has already been purchased, and enough will be received here this fall to extend the road to Mazo-Manie, twenty-two miles west of Madison, before the advent of winter. As I mentioned in my first letter the route is of the most favorable description. The heaviest grade in these ninety-five miles is but twenty-three feet to the mile, and for seventy-three miles it averages only one and a half feet. The line, too, is very straight, thus admitting of the highest rates of speed and the heaviest freights. It is proposed to run the distance in three hours, and to make the through trip from Milwaukee to Prairie du Chien in seven hours. At Prairie du Chien the road will connect with a daily line of first-class passenger boats, running to St. Paul and starting on the arrival of the cars, and persons leaving here at seven in the morning will reach Prairie du Chien at two p.m. and St. Paul the next evening. Those taking the evening cars from here will connect with the morning boats from Galena and Dunleith, and arrive at St. Paul the day following. By this route passengers from the east will arrive at St. Paul twelve to twenty-four hours sooner than they can by any other, while those coming this way will reach Milwaukee and Chicago by the time that the Mississippi boats would land them at Dunleith or Chicago. In winter the advantages would be still more marked in favor of the M. and M. Railroad. In fact, competition is almost out of the question for the through travel, while its local business alone will ensure a handsome revenue and ample dividends. Built, as it has been, with strict regard to economy and yet in the most solid and substantial manner, and managed as it is, with eminent skill and success by faithful and competent officers, we look to see it stand at the head of western railroads, and second to none in the estimation of eastern capitalists.
The completion of this road, now distant not more than fourteen or sixteen months, will be a memorable event for our city and state. It has already trebled and quadrupled the value of the farming lands along its eastern and finished division, and increased by the same amount the taxable property of the state. Its extension to the Mississippi will accomplish the like result along the western half of the line and give to the farmers of Dane, Sauk, Iowa, Richland, Grant, and Crawford counties a noble avenue to the metropolis and principal market of the state. It will confer upon our city still more striking benefits, bringing hither not only the travel and traffic from all the counties within our own state through which it runs, but extending its feelers up the Mississippi and gathering in from Iowa, Minnesota, and northwestern Wisconsin rich harvests of business and golden returns of trade. It assures, in a word, the future of Milwaukee, and places our fair city beyond the reach of competing rivals. Let our merchants and business men, then, thank God and take courage, for the whole Northwest invites and will reward their ventures. Let our capitalists and property owners no longer hesitate to improve their numerous city lots by putting up suitable buildings for the occupancy of that legion of industrious artisans who are yet to make Milwaukee their home, and larger and better hotels for the accommodation of that springtide of travel which will soon set hitherward. And let our city authorities see to it that the work on the Straight Cut is pushed with vigor and energy, to the end that our harbor facilities, by another year, may be equal to the increasing demands of our prosperous and far-reaching commerce. R. K.
1 This article consisted originally of three editorial letters printed in the Milwaukee Sentinel of August 17, 21, and 23, 1855. They were signed "R. K.," the initials of Rufus King, who was editor of the Sentinel at that time.