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No part ofthis publication may be reproduced, s tored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means-e lec- tronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise- wi thout wri tten pe rmission.

Copyright © 2014 by Meadow Brook Fa rm Publishing LLC

First Edition

2 014

Meadow Brook Farm Publishing LLC, Waukesh a, Wiscon s in

Publisher: Leon P. Jansse n

Edito r: Gene Medford

Designer: Je n a Sher Printer: Worzalla



Leon Janssen and G ene Medford


The second half of the 19 th Century and th e first half of the 20th Century (1850- 1950) saw largely European immigrant families create in Northeastern Wisconsin a community of small dairy farms.

The earliest of these settlers followed the traders and trap- pers and were soon engaged in Wisco n sin's huge logging industry. They ultimately transitioned from logging to dairy farm in g and were instrumental in building Wisconsin's huge, present day cheese industry. Machine Shed Memories is the story of just one of these small farming communities- Couillardville-and the many people who gave it life and spirit.

built on historical recor ds ,

most of this book recounts life in this special community as seen through the eyes of those who were given the gift of growing tip in this special place on earth. In 1851, Jacob Couillard traveled seven miles up the Oconto River west of Oconto, Wisconsin, and created a settlement to be named aft er h im. H e soon opened a store to serve the new residents of the area. A cheese factory was built, a school and a Presbyterian Church were added. Couillardville flourished thro u gh the first hal f of the 20th Century . By the late 1950s , the threshing machine and threshing crews were being re- placed by the combine and the small family dairy herds began

While parts of th is story are

to disappear. The cheese factory and store had closed and the church had been converted to a community hall. In the fall of 2002, some of the descendants of these early

families of Couillardville gathered in the new machine shed at Meadow Brook Farm in Couillardville. They brought a dis h to pass and exchange d stories oftheir growing-up years in this special farm community. That evening also served as the beginning of a project to capture the memories of these

families. Each year

neighbors were interviewed and would share pictures of their growing-up years in Couillardville. They talked about their families, their schoolmates, their neighbors, and what

made Couillardville

they would recall in some way how it was the "people" that made it a special place to live. These memories were then shared at the annual Machine Shed Reunion. While this book captures over ten years of interviews and annual cel- ebrations, it is underst ood that this is n ot a complete book of all the people who have lived in and been an important part of this community. While significant effort has been given to ensuring that we h ave the facts and names right, we apologize for any errors that may have crept into this work. Perhaps future stories will include the memoiies of other individuals and fam ilies who contributed to making Couillardville so special.

following that first gathe ring a few of the

special for them . It seem ed, invariably,

le~: Machine Shed Reuni on #11 attendees-201 3.

above: Neighborhood men remi nisce.

opposite: Fa milies share lunch and memories.


This record of the memories of Couillardville is the product

ofa real community effort spread over ten years. These individ-

uals generously agreed to be interviewed and share memories

of their growing-up years in Couillardville:

Dan Carey

Jim Jacquart

Grace Allen Carey (Lutz)

Syke Jacquart

Nancy Carey (Campbell)

Dean Janssen

Ron Carey

Gail Janssen

Etta Couillard

Bill Johnston

Ken and Doug Couillard Lee Johnston

Elizabeth Courchaine (Looney) Lavon Johnston (Frazier)

Ed Delano

Lorraine Prahl Konkel

Dick Detaege

Maryann Konkel (Jenquin)

Janice Detaeje (Janssen)

Tom Kussow

Joe Detaeje Jr.

David Matravers

Donna Donlevy (Esser)

John Matravers

Dorothy Donlevy (Kopacz)

Lyle Nichols

Bill Funk

Lucy Thome (Schmidt)

Jack Herald

Ruth Thome

John and Charlotte Ihde

Fr. Paul Vanden Hogen

Helen Jacquart (Roznowski)

Gerald Weigelt

The two books of Helen Laduron Janssen (Jelinske) provided in-

valuable insight into the people and times covered in this book

above: Phil and Lucy Schmidt inspect t he appetizer buffet

opposite: Jim Campbell and Dan Roznowski serving steak and brat sandwiches

:; -



top: Jim Jacquart and Ron Carey

bottom: Lor ra ine Konkel and Grace Carey, mat ri arc hs of tw o sig nificant Couillardville families

Special acknowledgement and thanks go to the following in- dividuals who pored through pages of interview notes and

photographs to help weave a story around topics of significant

importance for the families of Couillardville:


Lucy Ann Thome (Schmidt)


Dou g Couillard


Helen Jacquart (Roznowski)


Nancy Carey (Campbell)


Ken Couillard

Cheese Factory

Lavo n Johnston (Fraz ier)

Special editorial support was provided by Janice Detaeje Janssen.


This record of the Families of Couilla rdville is dedi cated to

was born in

Couillardville in 1910, in the home of her grandparents, Thomas

Edwin "Ed" and Mary Ann Matravers Couillard.

Helen Arlen e La duron Ja n ssen (Jelinske) who

Helen's love for Couillardville was born in the farmhouse of Meadow Brook Farm. That love was nurtured in her several years as Ed and Mary Ann's only grandchild. She and her husband, Ernest Janssen, and two sons, Gail and Dean, returned to Meadow Brook Farm during the Great Depression years where Ernest found work with Grandpa Ed.

above: Helen Jelinske, to whom this project is dedicated

opposit e: (standing) Pat Rockteschel, Lucy Schmidt, Donna Esser, Helen Roznowski (seated) Leah Dumke, Janice Janssen

Following the Depression and Ernest's ultimate return to work at Northwest Engineering in Green Bay, both Grandpa and Grandma Couillard passed away. Not long after, Helen and Ernestand their now three boys again returned to Meadow Brook Farm, but this time as its owners. Helen was a dedicated community leader serving as a school board member, 4-H leader, and Community Club member. The early death of Ernest at age 49, ultimately led to the sale of Meadow Brook Farm to their good neighbors, the Norbert Careys. To keep her roots alive in Couillardville Helen purchased a sm all piece ofriver frontage between Joe Detaeje Sr.'s pasture and Hugh Couillard'spine grove.There she built

a cottage as a retire ment refuge where

family an d document life growing u p in Couillardville. The

she could gather with

result was two autobiographies-life's Winding Pathways and Once Upon a Lifetime-which were touching expressions of her love for her own forebears as well as other families of Couillardville. Her books have served for many in Couillard- ville as reminders of their own early years in this remark- able community. Helen ended her last book with the following:

I often wo nder how the next chapters w il l unfold in yea rs to come. Who will tell it all for posterity? Perhaps Leon, who seems to have a specia l feeling of history. He looks through eyes that are much li ke m ine. He has learned that sometimes the small things in li fe are the greatest when we ta ke t ime to look closely. Only time w ill te ll it all. The next generation must accept its assignment as we did. It is the ir heritage.

We think Helen would have been pleased with the prescience of her prediction.
































10 4-H




















1 66
















2 14



opposite: (s t anding) Rut h Thome . Char lotte Ihde, Judy Salac inski (seated) Betty Glynn and Etta Couillard

2 25

















5 0













2 64






























A philosopher once said that a civilization reflects the land that nurtures it. If so, that may explain why na tive Wiscon- sinites are such a tough, hardy lot. Like the land they occupy, th ey h ave been formed by wind and water, ice and snow, and-yes-fire.

That is especially true for the terrain in the northeastern por-

tion of the state along

thou sa nd -square-mile expanse of fores ts, fields, streams, and lakes called Oconto County.

To better understand the land from which we've sprung, let's look a little more deeply into the geology of our region. -~ Perhaps we'll discover some surprising facts that may help explain who we are toda y and how we go t that way. Wisconsin is located between what geologists call the Central Lowlands of North America and the Canadian Shield (also known as the Sup erior Upland ). Exp erts have discover ed rocks in Wisconsin that date back more than 3 billion years- among the oldest ye t found on the North American continent. Geologic evidence suggests that some 600 million years ago, a huge sea covered most ofWisconsin and Upper Mich- igan. As it advanced and retreated cyclically over the following 250 million year s, the central portion of the Canadian Shield slowly eroded, depositing its debris into the surrounding sea, which then redistributed it on adjacent shores. Over time, the sand was compacted and cemented into a sandstone base tha t was overlaid by deposits that lithified into Ordo- vician Prairie du Chien dolomite, St. Peter sandstone, and Platteville-Galena dolomi te. These ar e the primary bedrock underlying Oconto County.

the western shores of Green Bay. The

Toward the end of the Paleozoic Era


540-250 m illion

yea rs ago), north central Wisconsin was uplifted to form the


rock layers sloped away in all directions and were slowly eroded when the covering sea retreated for the last time. Thus, the major waterways of Wisconsin today all begin in this elevated upland area and flow either to Lake Superior to the north, Lake Michigan to the east, or the Mississippi

River system to the west and south. The Oconto River is a good example of this drainage pattern.

Do me. As a consequence, all previous deposited

Canadian Shield

The present surface of Wisconsin slowly evolved over the following 300 million years of the Paleozoic Era as the ero- sive process continued. The topmost layer of Silurian (one of the six geologic periods of the Paleozoic) dolomite and underly- ing Maquoketa (named for the river valley in northeast Iowa) shale largely disappeared and is now found only in eastern Wisconsin in a belt paralleling the Lake Michigan shoreline and passing through Oconto County. However, the greatest impact on Wisconsin and Oconto County's current landscape occurred in the past 30,000 years during the last major advance of the Pleistocene (c. 2.5 million-n ,700 year s ago) Ic e Sh eets.


The Pleistocene marked the beginning of the Ice Age and was characterized by freque nt periods of alternating cooling and warming. During the most recen t cooling, ice began to accu mulate near H udson Bay an d con tinu ed to grow in depth as additional snow was compressed into new ice. The enormous weigh t of the ice mass finally caused it to begin

By abou t

flowing outward at a ra te of inches to miles per year.

2 million years ago, huge intercontinental ice sheets stretched

Geologica l and Natur al H isto r y Survey
100 km
MfJ~~;~1 Oth er till
Outwash, uopitted
Outwash , pitted
lmJ Lake basins
Drumlin trends
Th waites, 1956
modified . 1985

above.· Ti l ls tr ace th e app ro ximate e xt ent of g l acia t i on on today's W i sconsin l andscape. opposi t e Ordovic ian and Cambrian deposits- dolomit e, sandstone, li mestone , and shale - are t he primary bedrock in sout hern Ocon t o C ount y. (This and map opposite reprinted wit h permission from the Wisconsin Geologi ca l and Natural Hist ory Survey)

from northeast North America, across Canada, and into the

northern United States. Geologic evidence shows they reached down into the Midwest as far south as Illinois and Indiana. Geologic records also document at least four separate ad- vances and retreats of the ice sheet, plus a series of minor advances during the "Wisconsin Glaciation," beginning

about 25 , 000 years ago. The farthest advance happened about 15,000 years ago- a blink of the eye on the geologic time


features as the kettles, moraines, drumlins, and collapsed till topography that are so familiar to us today. Indeed, the Great Lakes themselves are a product of glacial scour and sub-

sequent pooling of melt water at the rim ofthe retreating ice. The Wisconsin Glaciation affected far more territory than

just the

Upper Midwest. Evidence of the wide glaciation dur-

ing this period can be easily found in the grooves left behind on islands in Lake Erie and even in New York City's Central

Park. Niagara Falls is also the

the course of the Ohio River. And during its retreat, it left

the terminal moraines that now form Cape Cod, Block Island, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and Long Island.

was largely re sponsible for laying down such

result of this glaciation , as is





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The last glacial re-advance reached along the Lake Michigan shoreline as far south as Two Rivers before retreating for the final time just ro,ooo years ago. When the great melt came, a thick cover of glacial and gla- cio-fluvial deposits ("drift") was left behind, burying more than three-qua rte rs of the bedrock surface. Except for the southwest portion of the state (the "Driftless Area"), the rest of the state's topography was either eroded by glacier runoff or formed by the materials left behind. The surface of east- ern Oconto County is primarily glacial lake sediments; the central portion is largely Valderan (glacial till named for the village of Valders in Manitowoc County) deposits. Wisconsin and, indeed, the entire Earth have been in the interglacial period called the Holocene for the past n,ooo years. The only remaining remnants of the last Ice Age are the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, plus several smaller glaciers, such as those in northwestern Canada, Baf- fin Island, the high mountains of Europe and Asia, and so forth. And if you are concerned about the threat of global warming and rising seas, you may be comforted to learn that the typical interglacial period lasts for only about 12,000



Geological and Natural History Survey

APRIL 1981


Geological and Natural Histo ry Survey
60 M1
100 Km
Bluesfcm, Compo,.ite s
O~u~A~:~~hite Cole, Slu~lcm , - - -,---=]
While , Bloc!.: end Red Ock~
Sugar Maple, Bcs~wood,Elm
Willo w, , Sofl Maple , Ash
$(\.d9e5 1 Blue Joi n! , Cordgro,.,
Jock pine, Prairie Gro~se~
White Pinc, Red Pine
M o pt~. Hcmlodc, Yellow
Slack Spnx:e, Tomorcck, Cedar ~~!E:&J
Bahom Fir, White Spruce

Wisco nsin vegetatio n is d ivided into nort hern and sout hern provi nc es by an S·curve runn ing nort hwest fro m Mi lwaukee to Hudson . North of t his line is a broa dl eaf forest cont aining co nif ers- pines, hemlock, spruce, and fir - and such hardwoods as maple and birch. Southwest are oak forests an d pra iries . (Reprinte d with permissi on from the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey)

years, though

50,000 years. Whichever prediction proves correct, it's cer- tain none of us will be around to con gratulate the winner.

some scientists are arguing fo r 28,000 up to


Beyond the topography of the land itself, perhaps the most distinguishing feature ofthis region after the ice melted was the appearance of enormous evergreen and hardwood forests stretching in a unbroken arc across the northern reaches of

the s tate from Lake Michiga n to the

Mississippi and beyond.

Thou gh the "big woods" were fa rther west and n orth from Oconto County, it was this res ource, combin ed with the habi- t at it provided for fur-bearing an imals, that created ea rly eco-

nom ic interest in the region and helped so much to eventua lly power its permanent settlem ent and development. The primary vegetation covering today's Oconto County consists of maple, hemlock, and yellow birch. Black spruce, tamarack, and cedar are also found in large expanses in the central, east central, and southeastern areas. The northern one-third of the county lies within the Nicolet National Forest and about 17% (240,000+ acres) of the total land area is

gove rnmen t owned. Another 37% is

range fro m 660 feet at Green Bay to 1,320 feet in the far northwest near Townsend where Oconto, Langlade, and Forest counties meet. Slightly more than one-h al f of Oconto Cou nty lies wi th- in what geologists call the "Northeastern Wisconsin Drift Plain" land resource area. The topography is level to rolling with grayish -brown loam soils rated excellent to good for ag- ricultural pur poses. The remainder of the county is within the "Northern Michigan and Wisconsin Sandy Drift" land

resource area. Its topography varies from level to gently sloping land that is largely comprised of sandy to hummocky soils. As residents know all too well, sandy soi ls are generally con - sidered only fair to unsuitable for agriculture. Local old-timers call the vast wetland area of northern

Oconto Cou nty the "Brazean Swamp," a term not

known in the rest of the county. The Oconto River, which was first m en tioned by name on

a 1695 map published in Italy, provides Oconto County's pri-

almos t 57 miles from the confl u -

ence of its north and south branches near Suring until emp- tying into Green Bay at Oconto. Its drainage basin covers

over 2AOO square miles, including most of Oconto County

and portions of Shawano, Marinette, Menominee, Langlade,

in farmland. Elevations


mary drainage. It stretches

and Forest counties. Over the millenn ia, it h as

important food and transportation resource for Indians and white settlers alike. T he river is also prized for a variety of

provided an

The Oconto River near Couillardville.

recr eational activities, ranging from fly-fishing on the South Branch to whitewater canoeing on the North Branch. In to tal, Ocon to Cou nty offers 53 lakes with public acce ss (of ab out 125 in total) and well over 300 miles of trou t stream. Now, let's look at how the aboriginal and pre -modem inhab- itants learned to use this remarkable land to create productive and satisfyin g lives for themselves and the ir descendants.


There is some evidence that what is now Wisconsin was

probably being occupied by aboriginal people as far back as 15,000 years ago, even while the receding glaciers still locked away the northern part of the region under thousands offeet of ice. As the ice slowly disappeared, these tribes continued their push northward, forming societies and creating new

cultures along the way.

The Old Copper Culture Cemetery near Oconto is the site

of many burials

from abo ut 7,000 years ago. At the time

Jean Nicolet. an early French explorer of the Upper Midwest, was searching for a route to China.

of its discovery in 1952, it was the oldest evidence of human habitation in all of northeast North America east of the Mississippi River. Over the millennia, the native cultures expanded and diver- sified. When Nicolet arrived in 1634, just 15 years after the Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth Rock, he found a people living in lodges scattered from around Green Bay south to Lake Winnebago. Called "Ho-Chunks," they were the only pocket of original stock remaining in Wisconsin from the great Siouan migra- t ion from the so utheast. In the area west of Green Bay was the only tribe of Algonquian stock known to be resident in Wisconsin at that time, the "Menominees." Today, they con- tinue to live on the same land they occupied some 375 years ago. The inflow of Algonquian peoples had settled for the most

part in the rich territory around Green Bay an d along the Fox River down to Lake Winnebago. Here, they created a western center of Indian population and culture between the two great est water systems in North America-th e Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Jean Nicolet was exploring the area in search of a passage that would ultimately open a route to China. When he found the huge bodies ofwater in the Great Lakes, he was convinced he had reached an ocean, possibly the Pacific. Crossing Green Bay by canoe, he landed at Red Banks where he expected to find Chinese people. When he encountered Indians, instead, he thought his m ission a failure, though he had actually dis- covered the principal route from the St. Lawrence River to the Mississippi.


The main Indian settlemen t near the mou th of the Oconto

"Oak' -a-toe," already a large village before white

men arrived. The Indian name meant "fishy waters." The lake and river were plentiful with fish and provided ideal transportation routes for Indian canoes. At that time, the "roads" leadin g westward toward today's Couillardville, Stiles, and Oconto Falls were only sandy footpaths on bo th sides of the Ocon to River. The In dians followed these trails to pick berries, harvest maple sap for sugar, and to hunt wild animals for food and fur.

River was

A memorial window honoring Father Allouez at St. Joseph Cathedral in LaCrosse.

The DePere Historical Society's collection includes this plaque commemorating Father Allouez's missionary activiti es among the local Nat ive Americans.

Besides the Indian village where the city of Oconto now stands, there was another village near Ma1inette. These Indians were called Menominees, a word which means "rice eaters."

Wild rice was abundant in this area in the marshes along the lake. Far to the west at Shawano was ano ther Indian settlement

of Menominees. There already was travel and communication between these tiibes that were friendly to each other. If the Indians from Shawano wished to go to Oak' -a-toe, they went by canoe

Lake, portaged to the neares t poi nt on

the North Branch of the Oconto River, and then paddled

eastwards. Re turn ing by foot, they

followed paths along the

through Shawano

winding river before cutting across to Shawano Lake and the

Wolf River whe re their villages were located. Later, when

Indians had ponies, they would ride some and use others to

carry loads offur s to the

The arrival of Nicolet signaled profound changes were in store for the native peoples and the land itself, though they would only become app arent over time. Next came the French fur h·aders and explorers who voyaged down from their base in Qu ebe c. They were soon joined by missionaries and, later, settlers.


French traders in Oak' -a-toe .

Recalling these events in her privately published history of the region, Once Upon A Lifetime, Helen Janssen Jelins ke, a native and occasional resident of Couillardville, wrote:

The first French missionary, Father Claude Allouez, traveled by canoe from Quebec to Oconto and landed there on Dec. 2, 1669 . It was the Eve of St. Francis and he offered up a thanksg iving mass. Th is first mission was chri stened " St. Francis Xavie r:' When relations between the French fur

traders and the doned in 1 687 .

During the t ime that the French were exploring and set- t ling areas near Green Bay and Oconto, the English were settling along the Eastern seaboard of America . They kept their settlements close to the shore due to the hostile Indians they encountered.

Indians soured, t heir missions were aban-


When Nicholas Perrot arrived on the scene around 1670, the pace of change greatly accelerated. He had come to "New France" with the Jesuits abou t ro years earlier and soon be- gan friendly interactions with several Indian tribes to learn their languages. He formed a fur trading company and ex- panded his travels throughout mos t of Wisconsin and the present-day Upper Midwest. Thanks to his contacts with the

Indians, he was told about the lead mines in the southwest

corner of the state and became the first white man to vi sit them. He also performed many other valuable services on behalf of the French crown. His diplomatic skills were key in helping settle the First Iroquois War between the Algon· quian h·ibes and the Siouan tribes farther west. This coup

led to h im being appointed Commandant-in-Chief ofBais Des Puants (Green Bay) and the surrounding territories in 1685. Shortly thereafter, a fresh war broke out between the Fox

tribe on one side and the Sioux and Chippewa tribes on the other. His diligent peace-making efforts bore some success, though this conflict would continue intermittently until about 1740, when the French finally subdued the Fox. Mean· while, Perrot set out to explore the Upper Mississippi, building

Fort Saint Antoine on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Pepin in 1686, and taking possession of the region for Louis XIV in 1689.

Perrot suffered a devastating financial loss when his store of furs in the Jesuit mission at Bais Des Puants was

destroyed by fire, but continued serving the French govern· ment and his Indian partners, all of whom held him in high esteem. He died at Becancour, Quebec, across the St. Lawrence River from Trois-Rivieres, in 1717. The French regime held sway in the Indian territories that

then comprised Wisconsin and surrounding areas for some

130 years. This entire region was annexed by France as a part of her western colonies and as a foil to the English who were trying to expand into the region to cash in on the lucrative fur trade. The fortunes of the Indians, of course, depended

upon the ups and downs of the fur trade- and relations be· tween France and England. During this period, both the French and the English

were struggling to lay claim to the interior of what is now the United States, though neither had a grasp of the vastness

of the territory. Most of their subsequent battles were in the east and pitted the English colonists against the French coming down from Quebec. The Indians in the Oconto area felt a measure of loyalty to the French because they knew them best and were accustomed to trading with them. That's why a number of the local Indians traveled east to join the French in their fight against the English. With the conclusion of the French and Indian War in

1763, the region passed to Br itish rule and the French were finally forced to retreat into Canada. In that same year, by royal proclamation, this huge territory was designated by the British as an "Indian Reserve" and set aside for use by the n ative peoples. The first Englishm en who came into the area

reportedly treated the Indians honestly and fairly in their busi· ness dealings and soon gained th eir trust and friendship.

Nicholas Perrot arrived in"New France"

around 1660 and was extremely successful in establishi ng trading relationships with the nat ive tribes, especially in furs.

During the French and Indian War, the native Americans allied with the French,

w hom they knew best through t heir long trading re lat ionship.

A major focal point of the French and Indian War was Fort Duquesne, the French stronghold in what is now Pittsburgh. A 1755 English exped·

ition led by General Braddock, that included a young George Washington, was repulsed, as was a later attack by James Grant . General Forbes captured the site in 1758.

Charles de Langlade has been called "The Father of Wisconsin." A village and a county are named in his honor. He died i n Green Bay in 1800.


The start of the American Revolution had little im pact in

these extrem ely

hero, Charles de Langlade, recruited a group of young In- dian braves from the villages along the Suamico, Pensaukee ,

and Oconto rivers and led them east to engage the British . Even after Great Britain ceded the "Terr itory No rthwest of the River Ohio" (aka, "Northwes t Terri tory") to the n ew United State government as a part of th e Treaty of Paris in

1783, Wisconsin and its n ative

under the sway of British fur h·aders. In fact, the British fur

trade soon reached its highest volume ever.

remote lands, though a famous local war

population largely continued

affairs was about to ch ange as the first

few adventuresome American fur traders began to arrive to

challenge British dom inance.

The Indians were not amused by th is new invasion. They

But tha t s tate of

bitterl y resented the

west Territories and soon launched a long series of wars

resisting the new settlers and their expansion into the re- gion . Their displeasure only increased when the Wa r of

area fough t against

the U.S., finally broke the monopoly of the British over the


erated, driven by sales of huge tracts of Indian lands to the

white newcomers. The first surveying of the area came in 1840 , and the river was officially nam ed "Oconto" (from the Indian place name , naturally) and the bay "Gree n" (from the greenish tint of the water) . He len Jelin ske wrote in Once Upo n A LI.fetime,

1812, in which recruits from the Oconto

successio n of the U. S. to the North -

trade. American settlemen t of the region quickly accel-

Two years after t hat initial survey, a man named George Lurwick ente red a claim to areas on both sides of the Ocon- to River from about 2 miles west to a half mile east of the present Catholic cemete ry. He thus became the first wh ite man to purc hase land from t he U.S . governme nt in what became the city of Oconto. He was also the fi rst lum ber- man, beginning Oc ont o's cha nge from an Indian vi llage and French fur t rading post to a lumber town.

The local Indians' dissatisfaction with the settler problem was compounded by the arriva l of four Indian tribes from New York State. Forced to migrate westward, they bought land in the Fox River Valley from the Menominee and Ho- Chunk tribes and took up resid ence in the Green Bay area, on the Lower Fox River, and near Lake Winnebago. This time, even the white settlers joined the indigenous Indians in expressing their displeasure.


These and other grievances led to the briefbut bloody Black Hawk War of 1832. Black Hawk, a Sauk leader, brought a group of Sauks, Meskwakis, and Kickapoos across the Mis- sissippi and into Illinois in April of that year with hopes

of resettling on land that had been ceded to the U.S. in

a disputed 1804 treaty. The Americans mobilized a fron-

tier army of ill-trained, part-time militiamen that opened fire on an Indian delegation that had come to talk. Black Hawk responded by soundly thrashing the militia, then led his band to what he hoped would be a secure location in southern Wisconsin. Over the next two months, as U.S . forces pursued the band, other Indian tribes with resentments against the Americans launched h it and run raids on forts and settlemen ts . Some Ho-Chunks and Potawatomis took part in these actions, though most members of these tribes tried to avoid conflict. Indeed, the Dakota and Menominee tribes, already at odds with the Saul<S and Meskwakis, sided with the Americans.

American forces finally caught up with Black Hawk in July and defeated him in the Battle of Wisconsin Heights near present-day Sauk City. He retreated with his decimated band towards the Mississippi River until surrounded and attacked

at The Battle of Bad Axe near Victory, Wisconsin. Most of

his followers were killed or captured, but Black Hawk and other Indian leaders fled. They later surrendered to the U.S . government and were imprisoned for a year. The defeat of Black Hawk was a decisive victory for the young United States and allowed much of Illinois and Wis-

consin to be opened for further settlement. In 1834, govern- ment lands in the vicinity of Green Bay were surveyed and

a land office established there . Settlers soon poured in from New England and Canada, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and es- pecially New York State. By 1856, Indian title to Wisconsin lands had been reduced to only a few reservations.


Before 1800, there were not more than 200 whites in Wisconsin. The largest group was about 50 or so families at Green Bay, which was occupied in 1769, by fur trader Augustin de Langlade and his son, Charles, whom we have already met. The new white people coming to the Green Bay and Oconto areas after 1834, were mostly English, plus a few Germans and Belgians. It is thought that the first white child to be born along the Oconto River was in 1851- Effie Couillard, the daughter of Jacob and Susan Couillard. The following year, a young German named George Beyer arrived in Ocon- to with his parents. He would go on to become orie of the

Black Hawk, the Sauk chief who led the eponymous 1832 upr ising against the U.S. government .

A panoramic v iew of Green Ba y and Fort Howa rd in 1 867 .

l .'IF' ·.JV- oJ 0 THE l/:P P Jf,.T( c T E R ~-I T
l/:P P Jf,.T(
T E R ~-I T 0 R I E S-
of tl1e
.rt. ;
~· ;.;

The area from which Wisconsin was later carved originally extended from far to the west of lake Superior and south to the southern end of Lake Mich igan.

leading lumbermen ofthe day. The Oconto County Historical Society now preserves his home, a completely restored and

refurnished example of an 1890s northern mansion. The region's population increased so rapidly that demands for a territorial government led to the organization of the "Territory of Wiskonsan" in April, 1836. It included what is now Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and parts of the Dakotas. However, the growing need for internal uniformity and boundary adjustments soon led to calls for statehood. This was no small matter since the question ofWisconsin's bound- aries had long engendered bitter quarrels with surrounding states. For instance, in order to provide Illinois with an

outlet to the Great Lakes, its boundary with the Wisconsin Territory was moved northwards well beyond Chicago. The

biggest loss came when the northern portion of Wisconsin, including the timber and the rich copper and iron deposits on the Keweenaw Peninsula, was given to Michigan as re- payment for the territory it had lost to Ohio in the so-called Toledo War, which ceded Toledo and a 468-square-mile strip of Michigan westward to the Indiana border to Oh io.

Clearly, the sooner Wisconsin achieved the protection of statehood the better. After rejecting the first constitution,

the second was accepted in 1848, making Wisconsin the 30th state in the Union.

OCONTO COUNTY APPEARS Oconto County was established in r85r, at which time it en- compassed the entire northeast corner ofWisconsin, extend- ing up to the Menominee and Brule rivers. The mega-coun- ties of Oconto, Marathon, and Chippewa originally covered a huge swath of territory from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi from which all or the greater parts ofat least a dozen Wisconsin counties were later carved. Today's Oconto County covers a respectable 1.149 square miles, though still a far cry from its original 5,000+ square miles. About 998 square miles (87%) is land and 151 square miles (13%) water. The estimated 2on population was about 37.500, 97% ofwhom were white, r.5% Hispanic/Latino, r.3% American Indian, and Blacks and Asians about O.J% each. (Wisconsin's current Indian population ofsome 70,000 Brotherton, Chippewa, Ho-Chunk. Menominee, Munsee, Oneida, Potawatomi, and Stockbridge-Munsee Band ofMohicans ranks r6th among all the states.) Against this background, it's now time to focus our attention more closely on Couillardville and the families and individu- als who created this close-knit community from the wilderness.



I '
I '

Oconto County's 1851 boundaries extende d north to the Meno minee and Brule rivers.



Viewed from the perspective of the comforts we enjoy today, it is hard to imagine the pluck and courage it took for our ancestors to make new homes- and lives- for themselves in the wilderness.

Yet tens of thousands of men and women, both native born and immigrants, took up the challenge and joined the west- ward advance to daim their places in a new land. A great many of them came to what is now Wisconsin, lured by the promise of cheap land, rich natural resources, and unlimited oppor- hmities. Best of all, success on the American frontier was based upon hard work and commitment, not the circum- stances of one's birth. In this chapter, we will examine the stories of two settlers

who contributed so much to making Couillardville the warm, caring community it has been since its founding well over a century-and-a-half ago. The first, naturally, is Jacob Couillard, the man who pioneered the settlement of the area and lent his name to the new town. Representing all the settlers who followed is John Matravers who arrived just a few years later and lived out his life on the original tract of land he first settled in 1855. Though our story is largely based on their histories, it's important to always keep in mind that their wives and chil- dren worked just as hard, under the same difficult conditions, to wrest a living from the Wisconsin soil. To all of them, and to the many new neighbors who were to join them in this en- terprise, we extend our sincere thanks and heartfelt admiration.

ARRIVAL OF THE COUILLARDS Jacob Whiting Couillard was born in Georgetown, Maine, in 1826, the son ofThomas Howard Couillard, Sr. and his wife, Mary Whiting Couillard. Though of distant French extraction, his immediate forebears were English. John Couillard was the first of the family to settle in the New World, arriving in Maine in 1728, in a most unusual way. He was a British solider who had been imprisoned by English pirates on a ship headed toward the coast of Maine. Late one dark night, John quietly slipped overboard and swam the three miles or so to a nearby island where he hid among the driftwood.

The pirate captain sent a search party to the island the next day, but they failed to discover his hiding place. Believing him drowned, they weighed anchor and sailed away. John set off to swim to the mainland, but eventually suc- cumbed to exhaustion. Fortunately, a strong tide carried him

onto the shore where he was soon discovered by a woman gathering firewood. She called her husband and they car- ried him to their home where he stayed for two years follow- ing his recovery. He then traveled by foot some 200 m iles north to Nova Scotia where he met and married his wife. They later returned to Maine and settled in Bangor- the first Couillard family in America.

Jacob Whiting Couillard (1826-1895)

Despite the family's French ancestry, Jacob's great grand- father, Thomas Howard, had fought with Gen. James Wolfe who led the British forces in several No1ih American cam-

paigns during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) against France and Spain.

Wh y We Don't Speak French

General Wolfe, himself, was killed during the siege of Qu ebec, New France, on September 13, 1759. He was just 32 years old. But his victory over the French forces of Mar- quis de Montcalm allowed the British to capture Quebec. He was posthumously dubbed "The Hero of Quebec" and, later, "The Conqueror of Canada", since his victory at Quebec led directly to the fall of Montreal and the end of

French control in Canada.

That conflict was a true global war that affected Europe, North and Central America, th e Wes t African coast, India, and the Philippines. Great Britain emerged from it as the world's leading colonial and naval power. Along the way,

it acquired a great many new territories, including Canada,

Dominica, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tobago, and the eas tern half of French Louisiana between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains. Spain, another of the losing combatants, ceded Florida to Great Britain. Jacob Couillard had harbored dreams of success from an early age that he was finally able to act upon when reaching adulthood. That's when he decided to seek a more pros per-

ous life in the Northwest Territory. But before setting out,

he first wedded Sus an V. O' Leary, also a native

July r5, r8 49. Shortly thereafter, the young couple, along

with several other family members, including Jacob's parents and brother, em barked on the arduous journey from Maine to the western frontier. The party arrived in Milwaukee by 1850, when the city census listed Jacob and Susan; Thomas

Thomas H oward Couillard ,

Jr. and family; and an aunt, Alvina Couillard Woodsman and family. The extended clan lived and worked in Milwa ukee for a time, the men supporting their families by making and sell-

Mainer, on

Howard Couillard, Sr. and famil y;

The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West (National Ga ll ery of Canada, Ottawa)

ing roofing shingles. However, this was not the life Jacob

had envisioned for himself and Susan, so they soon set off by wagon for Oconto County, Wisconsin, where they had learned that cheap land was available in quantity for those with a little money and a lot of ambition. Though less than r50 miles north of Milwaukee, this was a difficult trek that required several weeks via ox-drawn wagon. In retrospect, one wonders why Jacob and Susan didn't take a lake schooner, sin ce that would have been much faster and more comfortable. Perhaps it was because they needed to conserve their limited funds for whatever opportunities lay ahead. Oconto was already a thriving Indian trading center and beginning to play an important role in the growing timbering industry. A number of saw mills were in operation to con- vert the logs that were floated down the Oconto River into lumb er that was dispatched by ship to Milwaukee, Chicago, and even the growing cities back East. In order to build their nest egg, Jacob and Susan first launched a mercantile business. It was perfectly m atched to the needs of the community and quickly prospered as more and more immigrants arrived in Oconto. The tempta- tion to fully exploit this growing enterprise must have been strong. But th ey realized that the fortune they sought would more likely be found in logging the vast forests of Oconto County, rather than in selling the everyday necessities to the residents of Oconto.


Jacob's plan was to combine these two ventures by acquiring a

large tract of virgin forest for homesteading and

while also operating a general store to serve future neighbors. But the property he could afford was cutover land about seven miles west of Oconto where the present-day County Road J

bridge spans the Oconto River. He acquired clear title to the 77-acre tract on July 2 , r85} With the approach of summer, Jacob brought his wife and

h is mercantile goods to the site by

boat. For practical and secu-

rity reasons, they spent their first night in the wilderness aboard


the first light and began searching out a site for their new home

among the trees and stumps covering the region. The spot they selected was just a few yards north of the river. Thus, Jacob and Susan Couillard became the first per-


had become a reality. Their first home was a primitive affair, meant to keep them dry and somewhat protected from the unknown dan-

manent white settlers of Oconto Township.


boat, anchored in the Ji ddle of the river. They landed with

These modern examples of "cu tover" land suggest t he challenge fac ing early settlers.

gers lurking in the surrounding forest. Family lore has it that curious Indians passing by on the nearby trail fre- quently came up to the cabin and stared at them through the openings not yet filled in with windowpanes. Whether true or not, what is certain is that they n eeded sh elter immedi- ately, because Susan was in the final stages of pregnancy. On July 25, r85r, their daughter Alphia Sophia Ann Couillard- Effie-arrive d, the firs t white child to be born along the Oconto River. The first order of business was clearing some of the land

of the stumps left by the At the same time, Jacob

permanent building to house both his store and his family. It was credited with being the firs t permanent framed struc- ture erected in Oconto Township. Later, Jacob would cons truct a more subst antial home on what would later become known as Flynn's Hill, just a

loggers to m ake room for planting. also began cons truction of a more

The "wilderness" view from Jacob Couillard's original home site. The Oconto River flows just beyond the tree line.

couple of h und red yards to the northwes t. Since the forest

largely ha d been cleare d, th e site offered good views of t he

surrounding land, including the river itself and the Indian paths that connected the trading post in Oconto with the aborigi nal lands farther wes t. Long lines of Indian ponies bearing loads of fur, berries, and many other useful goods for trade with the whi te inhabitants of Oconto must have

been a common sight during these years.


Meanwhile Jacob and Susan's family was also growing. Effie was soon joined by two brothers an d a sister-Jacob

Jackson (Janu ary r855), Su san Amina (c. r85 7), and Thomas Edwin (commonly kn own as Edwin throughou t his life) (Apri l 20, r859 ). Sa d ly, Mrs . Coui llard became ill following the birth of Edwin with what was likely tuberculosis and slowly "faded away," dying on November r6 , r86 r. (Though no t other- wise noted in family records, another child named Susan May Couillard, age one month 20 days, died on March r5, r853, and is buried with Jacob and Susan in Evergreen Cemetery in Oconto.) After Susan's death, Jacob lived alone with his young fam ily for several yea rs before maki n g the difficult decision to rewed. He married Laura A. Johnson in 1863, and they had three children-Emerson (r863), Etta (1869), and Mark (r872). Following the latter's birth, Laura began showing evidence of mental illness. After several years of declining

health, she was adjudged insane on November 21, 1877, and

com mitted to No rth ern Hospital for the Insane i n Weyau- wega, Wisconsin, where she died in early 1922. She also is buried in Oconto's Evergreen Cemetery. Du ring the coming years, Jacob's holdings grew to encom- pass a farm of 185 acres as well as other large tracts of agri-

cultural and woodlands in the

setbacks, such as a huge fire at his store, he continued to pros per in his various business ventures. As a continuou s reside nt and bus in essman in Oconto Township fo r n early half a century, he was naturally interested in the political and economic affairs of the region. For many years, he held the important post of Oconto Township chairm an. As mor e settlers followed Jacob up th e Oco n to River, Couillardville soon turned into a thriving and diverse com- munity. The original farmhouse, where Jacob and Susan raised their family, was vacated in 1877, when Jacob and his family moved into the "Big House" that he had built just across the road from where the church would later be constructed. The original farmhouse and surrounding lan d were later sold to Alois Schlosser, an immigrant from Germany. After Jacob's death, the "Big House" was sold to Edwin Matravers, the brother of Mary Ann Matravers who was married to Jacob's son, Edwin. The property is still owned by their descendants. By the way, Edwin, like h i s father before hi m, proved also to be a public-spirited citizen, taking a keen interest in town and county government. He was elected Town Clerk in 1892, adding tha t title to justice of the Peace. Educated in the local public schools and trained in agriculture on the family's farm, Edwin was accus tomed to hard work. He was already helping his father farm in season and, at just age 13, was driving teams for logging in the winter. Though his fu- ture father-in-law, John Matravers, wasn't overly impressed with the young ma n, Edwin nonetheless won Mary Ann as his bride.

Jacob Couillard's remarkable life journey came to a con- clusion on Ja nuary 24, 189 5, when he died at th e age of 69 . The fu n eral was held two days later from the h ome of his daughter, Mrs. Joseph Leigh, in Stiles. In term ent was at the Evergreen Cemetery in Oconto beside his first wife, Susan, and their infant daughter. Th e tra il Jacob had first blazed into the dark Wisconsin forests nearly four-and-a-halfdecades earlier had provided the way forward for many other frontier families-among them Matravers, McDonalds, Classons, Leighs, Caldwells, and Glynns-seeking a better place to call home. They, too, found what th ey were searching for in a town called Cou illardville.

township. Despite occasion al


Typical of the new settlers soon to follow the Couillards up the Oconto River were John and Mathilda Matravers, who

had arrived in Oconto in 1854, also lured by the promise of cheap land and new opportunities. Like the Couillards before them, they had traveled north from Milwaukee where John had worked for several months doing menial chores around his employer's business, while Mathilda looked after their boss's sick wife in the flat above.

Helen Jelinske, the great-granddaughter of both Jacob Couillard and John Matravers, recounted this pivotal moment in her privately-published local history titled Stories of Life's

Winding Pathways.

Grateful as John and Mathilda were for room, board, and a

little cash, they kept in mind their dream to own land and

be independent. As the ail ing wife's health improved,

helped Mathilda discover where land was available and

how to obtain it Th is is how they chose Oconto County, Wisconsin, which had established its boundaries only four years before, in 1851.


Just as in northeastern Wisconsin, the Matravers name is still quite common in England. Some years ago, a grandson of John and Mathilda set out to research the history of the family there. What he discovered was that the family's his-

torical records had been destroyed in a fire a century or more before. But he did manage to unearth an interesting

bit of family lore suggesting that the first Matravers had come to England from Normandy with William the Conqueror around 1066. That was the year of the Battle of Hastings, the decisive Norman victory over the English that led to William

being cmwned the first Norman ruler as King William I.

John and Mathilda Matravers late in life.

John was born April II, 1828, in Somerset, the ceremonial

county along the south coast of the Bristol Cha nnel.


He was the fifth child of Phillip and Eliza (nee Sweetland) Matravers, joining Sara, Eliza, Mary Ann, Elizabeth, and, later,

Philip and George. John received his basic education in the local school system.

Mathilda was born in Chord Common, England, on De- cember 20, 1833, the daughter of Richard and Mary Ann (nee Lumbert) Clark. It is not known how John and Mathilda first

met, but they were married on April 12, 1854, at St. Heliers, Isle of Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands that lie just offthe coast of France between Brittany and Normandy.


Without money, education, or prospects in the old country, the young couple was determined to make a new start in

a country where they could become landowners, rather than working for others for a lifetime. Their dream was made

possible through the generosity of Mathilda's cousin, Louise, who gave the newly-weds passage to America as a wedding gift. So they soon set out on a trans-Atlantic voyage on the sailing ship, Anglo-Saxon, leaving behind parents, siblings, and many other relatives whom they would never see again.

The six-week crossing was difficult and Mathilda some- how managed to lose her wedding ring overboard. But the ship eventually made landfall in Quebec. It is likely that a fellow

passenger had told them about the employment opportunities available on the American frontier, so they decided to travel onwards to Milwaukee, where they h ad the good fortune

to meet the shopkeeper mentioned by Helen Jelinske. Though the date of their arrival in Oconto isn't documented,

John soon found employment in the local lumber mills for several months. They moved upriver to Leightown, near

A current v iew of t he fa rmstead that John and Mathilda created and

where they raised their seven surviving children.

Stiles, for a time where John was employed by a George John and his compatriots saw considerable action during

A. Smith. This venture not only helped build up the fam- ily funds, but introduced them to the potential of the land along the way. So, around 1857, John and Mathilda purchased a 53-acre tract of timber and cutover land near the new commu- nity of Couillardville an d set out to create the independent

life they h ad long sou ght. Th eir new h omes tead had already been partially cleared of stumps by the previous owners , the Hattons, and certain crops were in the ground. A small log cabin and even a cow were included in the purchase, so John and Mathilda were able to take immediate possession of the site and set about housekeeping. John soon began clearing additional land of stumps to expand the agricultural acreage, as well as help rebuild the family coffers by selling some of the remaining timber. These t asks wer e greatly assisted by the experience and expertise he had gained in the Oconto sawmills.

the waning days of t he war, most notably at the Battle of Hatcher's Run in February, 1865. This was one of a series of

Union offensi ves designed

during the siege of Petersburg.

to cut off Confederate supplies

Battle of Hatcher's Run

Union cavalry attempted to set up a blocking position on several key roads leading into Petersburg from the west,

while ground forces engaged the Confederate defenders on the main battle line. A Confederate counterattack forced the Union forces back to Hatcher's Run, a small stream behind their lines. A new offensive the next day recovered most of

the Union

the Union to extend its siegeworks several thousand yards to the west, forc ing the defenders to further thin th eir al- ready depleted ranks to cover the longer line.

gro und lost earlier. More importantly, it allowed


Despite having a wife and th ree children then at home, John In early April, Gen. Lee finally yielded to the overwhelming

felt the call of duty to help defend his adopted country during

the Civil War. So, on January 6 , 1865, he enlisted in Chicago positions at Richmond and Petersburg. His plan was to as a member of the 39th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, withdraw his army westward towa rd Roanoke in hopes of

rst Division, rst Brigade, 24th Army Corps. He and his new rendezvousing with the forces of General Joe Johnston that

comrades were mustered

t er at Springfield, Ill inois, th en sent to a camp outside Wash - from Gen . William Sherman 's army. The hope was to set up

in gton, D.C., to await further orders. As major operations res umed with th e return of favorabl e weather, John and his


to join in th e siege of the Confederate forces entrenched on Confederate columns and eventually ent rap ped them near the Richmond-Petersburg line. the tiny crossroads settlement of Appomattox Court House. On April 9, Gen. Lee accepted the inevitable and surrendered his forces personally to Gen. Grant. The war was over and

John Matravers was honorably discharged in September 1865.

pressure of Gen . Grant's Union forces and abandoned his

into active service shortly thereaf- were retreating northward from North Carol ina under attack

a strong defens ive position somewhere in the Blue Ridge Moun - tains and su e for more favorable ter ms .

were marched to th e vicin i ty of Richmond, Virg inia, However, Gra nt's army closely h arassed the retreating

Battle of Hatcher's Run commemorative marker.


Over the coming years, John and Mathilda became stalwarts

of community life in Couillardville, increasing

ings to some 350 acres , 200 of which were under cultiva tion, plus a second farm of some roo acres. Their properties in- cluded much of the land originally owned by Jacob Couillard, who was forced to sell it at a sheriffs auction afte r he fell upon difficult financial times. It was from this parcel that they leased, for one dollar, the lot in the center of Couillard- ville up on which the Presbyterian Church was built. When it was organized, John was elected an elder and served in that role until his death. (The full story is related in Chapter 6

devoted to the church and

their hol d-

Commu nity Hall.)

As the years passed by, John a n d Mathi lda's family in-

creased in size. as did their farmh ou se. They eventually had 12 children, th ough five died in infancy or early childhood (Ph illip, George, Mary Ann, Walter, and Letha). All of the

surviving ch ildren- Matilda (married Samuel Cou illard), Mary Ann (married Thomas Edwin Cou illard), Edwin (m ar- ried Lucy LaCourt), Amb er (married Edmund Classon), Grant (married Viola Hen derson), Yarwo od (m arried Lillian Volk), an d Martha Etta (ma rried John Po rterfield)-spent their lives

in the a rea. Their descendents conti nue to live here to the present day.

Mathilda died in 1905, the year after she and john celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniver sar y. I n her obituary, she was praised as "a model Ch ristian woman, having joined the Meth-

odist Church about forty years ago and ever since had been

working hard to adva n ce

Joh n died on January 14 19 10. According to the notice pub- lished at the time in the Oconto Reporter:

the cause of Ch ris t. "

. II.

,,,,J . //,,. )

,,( (/,,


·/ //


""" ' '"r'

. //,,;,.,,,,,

He was a man of remarkable constitution

faith in God, he has lived a fai t hfu l and consistent Christian


been ve ry lonely and has

part and be with Christ" which he knew to be far better

During the last few hours he d id not regain consciousness at all, and when the end came, it was like the burning out of a

cand le or go ing to s leep of a tired ch ild. li ves they

. Strong in his

Since the death of his w ife in J u ly, 1906 {sic/ , he has


expressed t he desire to "de·

The hottest ticket in town in 1904, was an invitation to John and Mathilda Matravers's Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration.

So concludes the history of ju st two of the ea rliest settlers of Couill a rdvi lle. T he community they created and the

led have con tin u ed to serve as permanent inspira-

tions for everyone associated with this un ique place, whether

their own descendants, their

of u s w h o only kn ow th e m through their reputations. Now, let's take a closer look at some of the aspects of Cou il- lardville that helped make it "home" for everyone who grew

Both John and Mathilda were buried from the Couillard- vi lle Presbyterian Church, Rev. Sh e pard officia t ing. They are interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Ocon to.

As in dividuals and as a couple, the

Ma travers manifested

neighbors a nd friends,

or those

several qualities that served them and the ir community well. up here. First, as we've seen, th ey were prolific, cont ributing a total of 12 children to the community and, at the time of her death, twenty-nine grandchildren. Second, they were adventurous, leaving beh ind everything fam iliar to t hem an d setting off for the New World on their

wedding day. Third, they were committed to each other, their family, their religion, their community, and their country. Fourth, they were successful at business. growing the single dollar th ey had upon arrivin g in Oconto in to a large. success- ful far m. Fifth, they were generous, donati ng the land for the new church, and su pporting nu merous civic causes over the years.

And , finally, they were respected through out the entire community.





Development Corporation, 1999), Arndt solved both problems with an agreement he worked out with the Menominee Indians that gave him access to their woodlan ds and the right to build a sawmill near the mouth ofthe Pensaukee River. The

cost him ju st $ 15 in cash annually, plus the promise

to provide the tribe with lumber and grind their grain in an attached gristmill.

a relatively low -volume

operation, tu rning out hardly 2,000 board feet of lumber

daily, a nd run by jus t two wo rk ers . I t wo u ld be anothe r two

resented. Among them was Joseph Arndt, who established decades or so before the big sawmills began to operate in

the firs t s awmill and lumber camp in Oconto County some- " Oconto, Stiles, Ocont o Falls, and Pensaukee. Some would

time after 1827. A boat-builder from Pennsylvania who had migrated to Green Bay around 1824, he was determined to con tinue h is profession, but needed the proper type and size of timber that could be sawn in to appropriate lengths for his boats. He also needed a sawmill. According to Della Rucker's comprehensive history of log- ging in Oconto County (From the McCauslin to jab Switch- A History of Logging in Oconto County, Ocon to County Economic

fuele d by the scrap timber

and sawdu st they generated, these mills still needed to be

There were several early entrepreneurs who recognized the

potential fortunes these thick pine and hardwoo d forests rep-

half of Wisconsin were an irresistible lure for lumbermen and settlers alike. The potential wealth represented by the seemingly endless stretches of virgin timber blanketing the region, as well as the very ground from which it sprang, soon were to propel the rapid growth of existing villages and lead to new settlements throughout the north woods.

evergreen and hard wood forests covering the north ern


Arndt's purpose-built sawmill


still be powered by water wheels, but others wo u ld use steam engines that could spin the saw blades faster and

produce more lumber . Though

located on or n ear m ajor s treams because of the huge

qu an-

tities of water they con sumed; rivers also provided a con venient

and inexpensive way to transport logs from the forests to the blades.


heavy-duty sleigh stacked high


it h logs for t ra nspor t t o the river.


span of oxen stands ready to

help pull if needed. (This p hoto, taken February 15, 1890 , includes teamster James C. Bundy, materna l gre at - gra ndfa t h er of Sarah, Lyle,

and Jennifer Nichols. He logged in the Abrams and Pensaukee areas.)

How Logs Met Their Fate The cutting edge at most of these early sawmills was a so-

called "muley saw" that consisted of a flat bar with teeth

that was pulled back and forth through the log via a com-

plicated arrangement of gears and belts. It was relatively

slow and prone to frequent jams and breakdowns, so

production was

these problems and output increased exponentially, as did

the felling of the forest giants.

low. The arrival of the circular saw solved


John Volk of Oconto Falls was one ofthose far-sighted entrepre-

neurs who were willing to make the substan tial investments

in land, mills, and crews to fell the forests and turn them into

money. He recognized that the wide, fast-flowing Oconto River

was the key to unlocking this fabulous treasure. It was both

an ideal h·ansit corridor to efficiently move the timber from

the woods to his mill, and a reliable source of wa terpower to

turn the blades. This river highway also would connect his

sawmill to the lake and such growing, lumber-hungry com-

munities as Milwau kee and Chicago. Thus, the logging industiy in Wisconsin and Oconto County

was born.

Surprisingly, logging was primarily a wintertime industry,

while lumbe1ing was a warm weather business. There were

several reasons for this apparent anomaly. First, it was actually

easier to transport fallen logs from the forests in wintertime when creeks, swamps, and rivers were frozen over, making

A typical Oconto County logging camp This Holt camp near Lakewood iswhere Martin Jacquart (on far right) spent many winters during his long career in the logging industry.

it much easier for draft animals to pull the huge, heavy duty

sleighs. Indeed, the rough trails cut into the timber stands

usually were sprayed with water and allowed to freeze to make

it easier to slide the loads along. Second, more workers were

available in wintertime when the settler-farmers were unable

to work their own ag1icultural lands. The logging camps pro-

help them

support their families during the cold months.

A disadvantage ofwinter was that the Oconto and Pensaukee

rivers usually froze in the cold weather, cutting off the principal

vided a much-welcomed sou rce of emp loyment to

transportation route to the sawmills downstream. So the

logging crews would drag the fallen timber out of the forests

and gather it on the banks of the hard-frozen streams. With

the coming of the spring thaw, the logs would be tipped into

the river and floated off in "drives" to keep their date with the

saw blade. On the Oconto River, in particular, there was one

huge drive in the spring that started at the northernmost log-

ging camp whenever open water appeared. Since there were

permanent dams all down the river, they had to be opened

in turn to allow the constantly growing drive to pass. This

process continued throughout the warm season.

This was very dangerous work for the "drivers," the men who

kept the drive going downriver by scurrying from log to log to

clear potential jams with their pike poles. Once the main drive

went tl1rough , a second group called the "sackers" came along

to free logs that had been caught up in the bushes or stranded

on riverbanks and direct them back into th e s tream. As the

drive arrived in the Falls and Ocon to, each mill would pull in

their logs, identified by unique marks stamped into their butt

ends, and allow the rema inder to continue downstream.

Eyewitnesses to these drives reported that even before the

first log came into vi ew, they knew a drive was on the way

because of the unmistakable rumble created by thousands of logs crashing together as they floated along.


Th e principal lure for th ese

tensive stands of first-growth pine trees throughout Oconto

County. Pines were prized because they were relatively easy

to fell and saw; they also were tall and straight, yielding the long, dear boards much demanded by lumber dealers.

Estimates are that just one of these giant pines could yield

enough finished lumber to construct an entire house. Hard-

woods, on the other hand, were mo re difficult to fell and trim, tough er to saw, gnarly , and apt to si nk to the bottom of

the river because of their greater density. After the pine forests were all felled, the lumbermen turned

their attention to the hardwoods . This was a considerably

early lumbermen was the ex-

Another load of logs begins the long journey to the sawmills along the Oconto River.

mo re costly underta king since rail lines had to be constructed

to move the logs out of the woods and

But to continue making money, it had to be done. 1hese tem- porary rail lines were run into areas where trees were being felled, then torn up and moved on to other areas as needed. 1he logging industry in Oconto County hit its stride in the decades after the Civil War, bringing prosperity to the community at large and great wealth to a few. 1he pineries seemed inexhaustible and local sawmills were producing hundreds of thousands of board feet oflumber each day. In the woods, the loggers didn't even bother to drag out damaged or diseased trunks, but simply left them to rot on the forest floor, along with the stumps and slashings from the high- grade timber. Little did they realize these practices were laying the foundation for a catastrophe.

on to the sawmills .


1hroughout the Upper Midwest, the summer and early autumn of 1871 were hot and dry. 1he forests had shed their leaves and needles early; even the peat bogs had d1ied out. All this bone-dry tinder was accumulating across a 2>400 square mile region sparking innumerable smaller fires that had been flaring throughout the summer. Accounts from residents and visitors recalled the almost constant pall of stinging smoke that dimmed the daylight and made it very difficult to catch a breath of fresh air 1he situation was particularly grave in northeastern Wis- consin where large-scale logging and settling had been going on for a couple of decades . As the old-growth pine forests fell before the axe and saw, the latent fuel load grew, along with the piles of slash. Some fires were deliberately set to dis pose of this waste material; others were spontaneous, perhaps the

result of d1y lightning strikes. Another significant combus-

tion source was the construction cr ews that were clearing the right of way for a railway from Fort Howard to Menominee and burning their cuttings in roaring bonfires as they went. Reports from that era say the smoke was so thick at times that boats sailing in Green Bay and Lake Michigan sounded their fog horns continuously or even dropped anchor to wait for the smoke to thin. Nonetheless, people were growing ac-

customed to the

their eyes, were sure the coming winter rains and snows wo uld dampen the danger. Everyone didn't ignore this increasingly ominous situation.

Many people around Couillardville were so concerned about the danger that a number of them got together and back- burned a large area near the Oconto River bridge. 1he idea was to create a defensive firebreak that would slow down the flames should they come and provide a possible refuge if needed.

As Septem ber advanced, so did the number and size of wildfires burning throughout the region. Airborne cinders ignited the mounds of sawdust near the lumber mills in Peshtigo. At Li ttl e Suamico, the owner of the local lumber mill put his entire crew to work digging defensive ditches and filling barrels with water to combat the expected flames. 1he entire area was illuminated at night by the glowing fires, blanketed during the day by the thick, acrid smoke. Even areas remote from the primary danger zone were soon caught up in the developing disaster. Air-borne cinders from the Oconto area fires were carried by westerly winds over Green Bay to ignite new blazes in Brown, Kewaunee, and Door counties. Even in areas as far south as Two Rivers and Manitowoc, residents soon found themselves battling small- er fires started by the drifting embers. October brought neither rain nor cooler temperatures, so the fire front continued to spread and intensify. Meanwhile, down in Texas, a huge windstorm was brewing that was driven rapidly toward the northeast by atmospheric condi- tions-directly on a path to the Upper Midwest.

situation and, despi te the evidence before

The common practice of burning brush to help clear farmland may have contributed to the inferno.

Wisconsin wasn't the only area plagued by wildfires dur-

ing this period. The same high temperatures and drought conditions had also led to widespread forest and pra irie fires all the way west to the Dakotas. Minnesota's western prairie lands were ravaged by wildfires that were heading straight toward its own forests. By October 6, winds from the ap- proaching Texas-born storm had pushed these flames into fores ts as far south as the Iowa border and eastward to the Minnesota River. Back in Wisconsin, the fire front , now driven by strong southwesterly winds, advanced from south to north from just outside the city of Green Bay and proceeding on a

toward Oconto Falls and all the way to the shores of

li n e

Green Bay. Though this area had been partially settled and logged , there wa s p lenty of fuel still remaining to feed the monster flames.


Most expe1ts put the origin of the primary blaze that was soon to become the Great Pesh tigo Fire a t Mill Center, a small

community just west of H oward. (Cu rrent area know it as th e location of the p opular

Club.) As the fire moved north an d eas t, the first rea l dam-

age was noted at Suamico which lost a lumber mill and a few homes. Li ttle Suamico go t hit next , follow e d by Pensauke e. The telegraph wires paralleling the railroad tracks were con- sumed in their turn, which ultimately delayed getting news about the coming disaster out to the rest of the world.

The flames then skipped west, sparing Oconto but hitting Couillardville dead center. Fortunately for the residents of

Couillardville, the defensive lines created a few weeks earlier held the fire at bay, safel y sheltering scores of residents and even some of their stock in the refuge by the river .

residents of the Kropp's Su pper

Willt~n1v&~®® ~H1SGC-~ Slti S(l'UJa-71 t.~t!7U• .:g.1t:rflre /f.yf•!1c~ ::.lt-f"f8" ""
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t.~t!7U• .:g.1t:rflre /f.yf•!1c~ ::.lt-f"f8" ""

A panoramic view of Peshtigo one month before the firestorm swept t hrough. The Peshtigo Rive r was one of the few places of refuge from the flames.

An article in the November II, 1971, issue of the Oconto County Reporter recounted the fire stories of several Couil- lardville residents, including Edgar Delano, one of the men who created the backfire and helped their neighbors survive

the great fire. The story

desperati~nof the time.

painted by the article sugges ts the

On Sunday, October 8, there was a brisk wind in the afternoon, but toward evening it seemed to die down to an unnatura l stillness. Then, all of a sudden, the wind rose with a terrifying gust, picking up the scattered brush fires and filling the air with flames. The huge pine stands burned with a kind of despera- tion, and their flaming tops literally tumbled through the air. As quickly as he could, Mr. Delano hitched up his team of oxen and, with his family and the fe w things they had t ime to load onto the wagon, set out for the river as fast as the beasts could travel. With the flames literally licking at their heels, they made it to the riverbank where they camped out for three days before the fire had run its course and they

were able to re turn home.

Others weren't so fortunate. One of the accounts passed down over the decades tells how an unnamed family, in try- ing to outrace the flames, had to leave their grandmother behind in a tub full of water and covered with wet blankets. Legend has it that the grandmother survived while the re- mainder of the family perished on the road to Couillardville. After the flames had moved on to the north, a Red Cross

headquarters was set up in the hilltop farm home of the Weaver fam ily (later the home of Lloyd and Pearl Glynn and, more recently, Don and Betty Glynn) from which workers distributed clothing, furniture, and everyday goods to the burned out settlers. Edgar Delano, by the way, rebuilt his farm in time, including a large frame home to replace the log cabin lost in the fire. His grandson, Edward, later took over the farm from his father. His son, also named Ed, and

his wife, June, bought the farm next door and lived there for the rest of their long lives, when the property was sold to one of the children of a neighboring family. Ed's adopted son, Mervyn, and his wife, Judy, lived on the original homestead. Somewhere west of Peshtigo, the howling \vinds had caused all the individual fires to merge into one all-consuming mass of flames and destruction. This firestorm crashed into Peshtigo on the evening of Sunday, October 8, after rushing through the neighboring forests and incinerating Sugar Bush, Hannony, and other small settlements. Of Peshtigo's 2,000 known residents (many itinerant workers and refugees were also there), 1,800 were claimed by the fire in a matter of hours, hun-

dreds more in the settlements to the west and south, and

several score in the communities on the eastern shores of Green Bay. The intensity of these fires was unprecedented. Afterwards, often the only evidence found ofhuman victims was molten metal buttons and buckles. As it happened, October 8 also was the day the Great Chi- cago Fire began. Over the next two days, it destroyed a good portion of the central city-a swathe some four m iles long

and about 3/4-mile wide . More than 73 miles of roads, 120 miles of sidewalks, 2,000 lampposts, and 17,500 buildings fell to the flames. Though only 125 bodies were recovered when the ashes cooled, final estimates put the toll at 200- 300 victims. While Chicago was the immediate recipient of aid from

around the region (Milwaukee dispatched lake schooners filled with kegs of beer) , across the nation, and literally around the world, relief for the Peshtigo Fire victims was long in com- ing. That was mostly because the telegraph wires in the affected region were burned out, making it impossible to spread word of the tragedy for several days. Relief for Pes htigo was initiated by a survivor who walked to Marinette on Monday morning with news of the disaster. Capt. Thomas Hawley, skipper of the Union, carried the news to Green Bay, arrivin g later the same day. Telegraph messages were then wired to Madison, but the governor was in Chicago

assessing the catas trophe th ere. His wife, h owever, took it

upon herself to reroute a railway car filled with relief items from Chicago to Green Bay, ins tead. Thereafter, aid from all

comers of the country began to flow to the victims. Ironically, on Monday afternoon, Oct. 9, it began to rain in Peshtigo.

Many of the survivors from throughout the region of great devastation retreated to Green Bay for the winter, returning to their homesteads the following spring to salvage what they could and commence rebuilding their farms and their lives. Though it is difficult to get an exact accounting of the number of dead in the Peshtigo Fire, there were l,152 docu- mented deaths. However, there is strong evidence that the toll might have reached upwards of 2,500. If so, that ties it with the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane as one of the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history. That huge storm claimed some 2,500 lives in South Florida, as well as 1,200 in Guadelou pe, and 300 in Puerto Rico. (In comparison, the death toll in 2005's Hurricane Katrina was 1,83}) Whichever number you believe, the Peshtigo Fire was certain ly one ofthe ten most catastroph ic natural disasters in U.S. history. Jim Jacquart visualized how Couillardville came together to backfire the area.

So they started at the river by the Detaeje farm, at the McGee farm, picking up the slash and burning into the wind. Then

working r ight on t o the Couillard far m, the Carey farm, and

Jacquart farm, and the Crawford farm. I wonder how many of us would be here today had those pioneer farmers not had the

foresight, the ingenuity, and the initiative to do that.


The fast-moving fires had torched much of the timberland in southern and central Oconto County. But great swathes also survived. When the ashes cooled, the loggers were back in the woods salvaging as many of the charred pines and other species as possible. Surprisingly, though the crowns and bark may have been burned away, the heartwood was often still usable. Camps needed to be rebuilt and equipment replaced,

but the industry was soon thriving again. As logging of the pineries reached its peak in the final decades of the 19th century, the stands nearest the water- ways that were easiest to reach disappeared, forcing logging crews to penetrate ever more deeply into the forests. This greatly complicated the problem of transporting logs to the mills since the rivers were more and more distant, roads

nonexistent. The solution was provided by the extension of Chicago & Northwestern railway lines north tluough Pensaukee and Ocon to as far as Mari nette, and west from Oconto toward

Stiles and, eventually, Clintonville. Later, they built another line through Gillett and Suring to Lakewood. The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad also helped open up these re-

mote woodlands with a lin e from Green Bay n orth through

Stiles to Coleman. It thus became a relatively simple matter for the logging companies to lay tempora ry spurs from these mainlines into the woods, load flat cars with logs near the logging sites, then dispatch them to the mills. The loggers no longer needed the rivers. But that was okay because the industry was about to shift away from tl1e disap- pearing pines in favo r of hardwood logging. And hardwoods,

of course, wouldn't float anyway. "Logging was huge in this area," stated Jim jacquart. "There

wasn't a family that wasn't touched by it in one way or another."

of yea rs,

and all of his brothe rs did. It was good winter work. The farmers would be busy wiili the fa m ilies planting their crops all spring and summer, doing their harvesting in the fall. But then by early November, it was time to get up to the woods. Jim recall a conversation he once had with Kailiryn Herald when she said that come November, her father, Jim Herald, would put the harness on the horses , put his clo thes in a

Ji m's fa th er worked in the woods for

a nu m be r

sack, walk the horses right down River Road into Oconto, go to the depot and load t hem on a boxcar, and away th ey

would go

fro m m id- November un til m id-March. She said he would probably come home only for Christmas. "That was kind of typical," added Jim. "I can remember my dad saying he really looked forward to Christmas and getting home for a little while." In evi tably, the time came when large scale logging in Oconto and adjoining counties reached an end. The pineries

to Laona . An d he would be in the logging camps

were gone and the choice hardwoods had been turned into

floorin g, fu rn iture,

was an enormous expanse of cutover land still littered with slashings and cluttered with m ill ions of tree stumps. The question faci ng the lumber companies, which owned tens of thousands of acres of this spoiled real estate, principally north of the Oconto River. was what to do wi th it now that the timber was gone?

and other useful produc ts. What was left

THE WASTELAND IS REBORN Again , the answer was relatively simple: sell it at very attrac- tive pri ces (typically $ 1 per acre and $2 down) to both existing farm ers and the flood of new immigrants flocking to north- eastern Wi sconsin. After all, Oconto County fa rmers alrea dy had considerable experience in hitching up their teams of oxen and wrenching the stumps directly from tl1e soil, or using

horse-powered stump pullers to wi nch the

also must be admitted that more than a few left the stumps in place and cultivated around the m u ntil they were rotted and could be more eas ily extracted.) It may h ave been slow

and backbreaking work, especially for the draft animals, but it was essential in order to create arable fields. Similarly, the newcomers also were willing to invest a little money and a lot of physical effort into creating new farms and lives for them- selves and their families . The land around Couilla rdville and fa rther sou th was al- rea dy being farmed su ccessfully since before th e logging era began. And since hardwoods dominated the forests, little h ad been logged, though tl1e fires had cleared m uch of the

acreage. For the both because the

the yield, and because primitive transportation networks made it extremely difficult to transport farm produce to market. Over

time, these limitations were overcome and cash crops-es- pecially wheat-ca me to dom inate the fields. By the early years of the twentieth century, the declining Wisconsin wheat h·ade tha t had begun after the Civil War had become an urgent issue for local farmers. The huge

stumps free . (It

most part, these were su bsistence farm s large fam il ies li ving the re depended upon

grain operations in the Dakotas, Kansas, and Nebraska were

and unanticipated fo rces can create

major changes in a com-

completely dominating the market with their huge yields

munity, even an entire co un try, in a relatively short time . Yet

and low production costs. This situation was exacerbated by

the bedrock values of Cou illardville and its people con tinue

the appearance ofa widespread wheat fungus and infestation

to be fir m even into the fourth, fifth, and

sixth generations.

of chinch bugs which decimated the harvest and left farmers

And that's an achi evement well wo rth

celeb rating.

scrambling for

The solution was already at hand. Most farms kept a few cows to supply fresh milk, cream, and butter. Though tend- ing cows had been considered women's work, an effort by

agricultural officials to convince the farmers that dairying was a good business opportunity soon bore results. After all, dairying required that the land be used in rotation for differ- ent purposes-hay, oats, corn, pasture-making it unlikely the disease problems associated with a monoculture farming system would ever reappear. As a consequence of all these factors, local agriculture largely shifted from cash crops to dairy farming . "America's Dairyland" was emerging from the ashes of the logging era

iconic facilities needed to sup-

port them began to appear on farms across the state. The farms of Oconto County reflected this shift. Where wheat once grew, crops of hay and com were planted to pro- vide feed for the dairy herds. The southern portion of the county from around Couillardville south converted almost exclusively to the dairy business, though most continued to raise kitchen gardens, and a few still planted certain cash crops, such as beans, cucumbers, and cabbage. Lyle Nichols, a native of the Couillardville area and a life- long resident, recalled the glory days of dairying in the area.

as herds of Holsteins , and the

another means of survival.

I know one time as I was driving up County Road J, I started counting all the family dairy farms that were there at least into the early 1960s. Between what's now Howard and State Highway 22 and County J, I counted sixty-something differ- ent, individual dairy farms that were operational. There may have been a few more that I wasn't acquainted with. Right now (2008). there is one: the Matravers farm at Couillardville.

Nichols noted that the move away from small-scale farm- ing in recent years has greatly changed the nature of the area. Many of the farms are still being worked, but often by farm- ers who own just the acreage but not the farmhouses . Those are strictly residences for people who have moved into the area. So there has been a tremendous shift in the type of farming around Couillardville, the people who now live here, the traditional way oflife. But if the history of the logging era in Oconto County proved anything, it's that nothing stays the same. That new



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In its 57-mile course from Suring to Green Bay, the Oconto


ing its banks. For many, it was key to their work, whether logging and lumbering, fishing, transportation, or watering their farm animals and crops. Besides being an important transportation route for the logging industry, it also was a

great source offood and fun for Couillardville-area residents.

has always been a vital a sset to the communities lin-

As Jim Jacqua rt explain ed ,

It was wonderf ul. We swam there in the summer. And in t he

wintertime, the Herald boys would clear the snow off a large patch of ice, sometimes with the aid of a team of horses and


a co uple of years where they cut a hole through the ice and

dipped water out

ice to skate on. Some years the river would freeze over real smooth and we could skate up to the Litt le River bridge and back. The river was a central part of life.

to flood the area so they wou ld have nice

sn owplow, and t hey would

play hockey there. I re member

Dean Janssen's memories were similar, noting, "The river

to me was always about swimming. When we threshed and were dirty, or just hot and dusty from working on the farm, the ii ver was always there to clean up in. Oh, we enjoyed the swimming, but the big thing to me was that we also got clean."

Janice Detaeje Janssen, Dean's sister-in-law, added,

The boys thought it was great diving into t he deep part of t he river. They had a tire swing and too k t urns pushing each

ot her back and forth across the water. I remember one time

when I wasn't very old being on that swing and somebody gave me such a push that I went, kerplunk, int o deep water

above my head. Ever after, I've been afraid of water.

Dean said that for most of his growing-up years in the 1930s and 1940s, the Oconto River was usually very clean, making it a great fishing spot for Couillardville youngsters.

I remember Gai l (his brother) and I used to go and spear

Northern pike in the creek behind the barn every spring. And

The Oconto River near Couillardville at low water.

The peaceful Oconto River is a great stream for fishing. swimming, trapping. and boating.

we used to spear Northern pike in the creek east of the

bri dge, ne ar where Janice

t ime, Gai l came home with the biggest Northern I ever saw

over his shoulder. A big Northern was 23- or 24 -inches long , but this one was 4 2 inches.

Janssen 's cottage is now. One


Winter fun on th e Oconto River was as varied as the kids in

the neighborhood. "lee skating on the Little River was also great," said Mary-

ann Konkel Jenquin. "We'd go on the river behind the Funks and ice skate there, even have bonfires. Their whole family would be there and Irene (Funk) would make hot chocolate and bring it to all the kids out there skating." Another popular wintertime activity was sledding and ski-

ing down the Jansse n 's

frozen river. "We had some trees at the back of our property along the sou th bank of the river, but we kept a couple of spots open," Gail Janssen explained . "We would ta ke off from the top of

hill and coasting all the way acros s


David Matravers and Helen Jacquart skating on the river.

Gai l Jan ssen Ion

fied friend, and Helen Jacquart get ready

Janssen farm. Leon and another lad watch the fun.

ground} holds the t oboggan as Janice Det aeje II). an unidenti -

a ride down t he riverbank at the


The Alvord house before its destruct ion by fire in the early 1 890s. The old foun dat io n was a good p lace to store r iver ice in later years.

the hill and, despite some dips and irregular spots, go all the way across the river. The big challenge was to go down the hill on our skis and stand up all the way."

Gail's wife, Janice, also had fond memories of winter fu n

on th e river. " My father used to

near the b ridge for skating and we would build bonfires there. Sometimes, the 4-H club actually had wiener roasts and marshmallow roasts in the evening." In the days before the area was electrified and refrigerators became common, the river also offered very practical benefits for the local families, such as ice that could be harvested dur - ing the coldest mon ths and stored away to keep food chilled in the summers. As Gail Janssen explained,

plow the snow off the ice rig ht

Whe n I was very yo u ng , the men would saw the blocks of ice

out of t he river, lift th e m up onto the s le igh, and s t ore

up in the foundation at t he o ld

(The Alvord mansion. perhaps the la rgest home eve r e recte d in Couillardvil le , burned to the ground in the ea rly 189 0s , re-

portedly a ft er Mrs. Alvord 's mother fe lll as le ep wh ile smoking her pipe!) We use d to pu t the blocks of ice in sawdus t up there

so t hat we cou ld go up and get ice

we needed it. That was when Grandma and Gran dpa Couil lard were s t ill al ive, before the days of refri gera to rs.

for ou r coole rs wheneve r


Alvo rd hom es it e on Ca rey 's Hi ll.


When Dean and Gail were growing up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, th e tradition al springtim e "log drive" on the Oconto River had long been a m emory. But there were still some treasures to be h ad from its dee p waters for those willing to put in the effo rt. Janice 's father (Joe Detaeje Sr., Gail's

father-in-law) once harvested the deadheads out of the river. These were the logs that sank in the river during the log drives and stayed there for years. They reportedly made very good lumber. Unknown fishermen would also appear on the river at times, especially in the winter when the stream was solidly frozen. "They used to fish for what we called suckers," Gail recalled. "They had an old Model T Ford with chains on it to make noise, and would drive the fish down into nets that they had lowered through holes in the ice. The water was higher back then; it's no longer deep enough for those activities." Jim Jacquart's memories squared with those accounts.

Ice fishing for suckers with a net was definitely against the law in those days. But during the Depression, almost every year, some grou p of guys would come in an old car, cut a hole just above the bridge, and put a net under the ice. Then they would go back and forth with their car, driving the fish into the net. They would put the suckers into a burlap bag, tie it under the ice, and repeat the drive another quarter or half a mi le upstream. In the course of a day, they might have four or five of those drives. When the day was done, they'd come back down the stream picking up the bags of suckers t ied under the ice. They would probably sell them at Swaer's Fish out at Pensaukee or some other place.

Jim vividly remem bered one occasion when George Flynn and Elmer Johnston, the cheesemaker at the Couillardville Cheese Factory, hatched up a plan to make a little money by smoking some of those suckers for themselves.

George remarked that smoked suckers are very good and that he knew how to smoke them. Now, I don't want to say that they took them, but somehow a bag of those suckers ended up at the Flynn farm where they proceeded to clean and smoke them. It was supposed to be hush-hush, but every- body in the community knew about it. A couple of days later, people started to ask how the suckers were doing and they would say they weren't quite done. Well , as it turned out, the whole batch of smoked suckers spoiled on them. And that , I guess, is when we learned in Couillardville that cr ime doesn't pay!

The more enterprising of the local lads would sometimes run trap lines up and down the river as a way to make some money. Joe Detaeje Jr. started trapping as a young man and ran a line all the way to Stiles , some five miles u pstream from Couillar dville. "A good friend of mine from Stiles,

Ken Couillard and the pickerel he speared ("out of sight of the game warden')

in one of the small, local str eams

feeding into the Oconto River.

Though usually cairn, the Oconto River occasionally burst its banks, with consequences for nearby farms.

cairn , the Oconto River occasionally burst its banks, with consequences for nearby farms. 50 PART

1916 '

Spring floods have long been a fact of life along the Oconto. In 1916, Martin and Eleanor Jacquart (I). and two friends, v iew t h e r is ing wate r as it app roaches the stor e. At left is the old bridge.

Wally Conners, and I caught over r,ooo muskrats one year

and sold them for an average of$4 per pelt," he said. "We had to skin them, stretch them, and dry them, but that was really

good money back then."

Joe also branched out into fox trapping, which was even

more lucrative.

I trapped 21 fox one year and sold them for $100 apiece.

So I got $2,100 for my fox pelts and another $1,000 off my

muskrats and thought I was in heaven . I can legally trap yet because I'm grandfathered in; I've got 400 or 500 traps in

my barn right now. But as Igot older, the bones don't work as

good and Ican't wade the swamps. So Idon't trap anymore .

The fur trade also has changed, of course. A great deal of so-

cial and economic pressure is being applied, both to produc-

ers and consumers, by such groups as PETA Joe explained

the profit has all but disappeared from the business for the

wild trapper since manufacturers are largely located outside the country these days and only pennies remain after paying

the shipping costs. For the naturally inquisitive, there was also a lot of history

to be learned on the river. As Lorraine Konkel noted:

Where the Little Rive r meets the Oconto Ri ver, there is a litt le

patch of pine t rees and an open fie ld . Th is is where t he loca l

Indians used to have the ir pow-wows. They wo uld come from

all over the area by foot or by canoe and meet there . Reuben

LaFave (a long-ti me

later the State Senator for Florence, Forest, Langlade, Marinette

and Oconto counties for many years) told us all about that.

We'd find coins and lots of Indian rel ics up there-copper utensils, clay pipes , and thi ngs li ke that .

activist on conse rva t ion and Indian issues;

How Stiles AhhOs! Became Wis.corisin's·Dresden

In an article on the Oconto River, Kathleen Whitiri.g_

LeBreck not~d that this area near the confluence of the

Oconto and Little rivers almost became a pottery center.

It seems that early explorers had found excellent clay de- posits nearby, which drew Hubertus Plain from Germa-

ny with inter.itions of setting up a pottery works. Though the.clay proved unsuitable for that use, a brick works was

later set up on the south bank of the Oconto. Instead,

a disappointed Hubertus operated an inn and general

store on the property he had purchased about two miles east of Stiles.

The Konkel farm occupied land t hat formerly had been inhabited by Native Americans. John inadvertent ly uncov ered this buria l site w hi le plowing

Lorraine's husband, John, found even more intriguing

artifacts. While out plowing one day, he turned up some

bones and a human skull. "He got me and we went back out and uncovered the remains by hand with a toothbrush,"

she said. "There were two skeletons, but they were spread

apatt. So one must have died earlier than the other. We called

Reuben Lafave out and he told us they were Menominee

Indian remains."


The thriving pulp and paper mills upstream in Stiles and

Oconto Falls had a severe impact on the character of the Oconto River. The first pulp mill in the county went into op-

eration in Oconto Falls around 1885, replacing a former saw-

mill. It was an ideal location, since the original pulping pro-

cess required easy access to the timber to be pulped, as well as the enormous amounts of water that were needed to keep the

mixture in suspension for papermaking.

The arrival of the paper industry was good news for Ocon- to Falls and, farther downsh·eam, Stiles, both of which had

grown up around their sawmills. A dam across the river above

the falls was erected around 1850, and provided both an im-

poundment to hold the logs floated downstream and a source

of power to

created at Stiles for the same purpose.

run the sawmills. A sim ilar impoundment was

Stiles Powers Up

. and Down

Anson Eldred, who had been one ofthe earlier developers of

the logging industry in Oconto Falls, established the Town

of Stiles in 1853, naming it for his son, Howard Stiles

Eldred. Thanks to a dam built across the Oconto River in

1850, the little village soon developed a thriving sawmill in-

dustry. It powered the mills until the last pulp mill bmned

in 1924, not to be replaced. At about that time, a hydro-

electric generator was installed to electrify the village, but

the later failure of the dam again left Stiles without power.

The Rural Electric Cooperative saved the situation when it

rebuilt the dam with a much larger hydroelectric genera-

tor that could also supply power to many rural customers

in the area.

As the forest disappeared and the logging industry began

its inevitable decline, the Oconto River filled a similar role for

the pulp and paper mills. In addition to providing a reliable

source of fresh water, it also was a cheap, convenient way to dispose of the used water. This wasn't a serious problem at

first, since grinding the wood into pulp was a relatively clean

process. But it became a huge, continuing issue when a more

efficient pulping method using chemicals to break down the

fibers was introduced. When this sulphur-based solution was

drained from the pulp and returned to the river, it created a

terrible stench that offended everyone nearby. More ominously,

it played havoc with the wildlife that lived in or depended on

the Oconto River.

This situation continued until the beginning of the Great

Depression when the kraft paper mill in Oconto Falls closed

down. Around 1938, it was reopened by a new group of owners

and resumed production-and pollution. Then, in 1941, it

was purchased by Scott Paper Company, which operated it for


The new dam on the Oconto River at Stiles, completed in 1947.

nearly six decades before selling it to Kimberly-Clark Corp. It continues in business today as Oconto Falls Tissue. "I have memori es of the Scott paper mill polluting the river," stated Ron Carey, who grew up just a few hundred yards from the stream. "It would peel the paint right off the

north side of our house (on County Road J, just south of the river) and off my grandma and grandpa's house in Stiles. The smell was just terrible." Joe Detae je Jr. remembered similar sad times for the river and the community. "We used to go to the swimming hole on the south side of the river where we had a diving boar d. But as I got older, the river was polluted and it looked and smelled terrible. It spoiled the paint on the sides ofthe houses."

Gail Janssen agreed that when the Ocontq Falls paper mill

start pouring pollution into the river, the water quality was so bad that one couldn't see their hand held just a few inches under water. "A fog would come off the r iver at night and it was very acidic," he shuddered. "It turned the white paint

black on Janice 's folks home (Joe and Vi Detaeje, Sr., who

lived only a hundred yards or so from the water), and actu-

ally stripped the paint right off the house." Lee Johnston added:

I re member it was terribly polluted from the paper mi ll in Oconto Falls. The pollution would run down the river, get

into the pond behind the St iles dam, and fe rm ent worse and wo rs e. T hen it would come downstream . The river was g reen with long, stringy slime . Ther e would be slime hanging on the rocks and logs probably 10 feet long. As the water got

warmer in the summe rti me, the more slime there would be. The odor was very bad; it would burn your eyes.

Joe Detaeje Jr. said that they couldn't eat the fish from the river because they were polluted, too. "They finally closed the paper mill at Oconto Falls because they couldn't dump that stuff in the river anymore and it was costing too much to control it," he explained.

Though there had been considerable complaining about the

state of the river throughout the 1950s and 1960s, very little h ad been done to correct the problem. When paint started

peeling from the area homes, the clear

thing was seriously amiss was there for anyone to see. As groups of area citizens-farmers and townsmen, alike-be- gan to organize in protest, the pressure on federal and state officials finally forced them to act.

eviden ce that some-

RESTORING THE LEGACY This turn of events soon resulted in Scott Paper Company's

plant at Oconto Falls being identified as the culprit. When the Wisconsin Department of Natur al Resources and Federal environmental agencies levied a million dollar fine against Scott to aid in the river cleanup, things soon began to change. The company developed and implemented a plan to restore the river. "What they did was fix the Stiles pond, which was like a big septic tank," Joe commented. "They left the dam open to drain the pond. When they plugged it again, the river was on its way to becoming one of the best fisheries in the United States." Under the direction of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the impoundment behind the Stiles dam was drained and the polluted water flushed downstream into Green Bay. The contaminated mud at the bottom of the pond was then allowed to dry out, after which it was loaded onto trucks and taken away for burial at a special landfill site. What little pollutants remained were encased in the rock- hard mud. "When the pond was reflooded," Lee said, "everything stayed in the bottom. It didn't float up and continue on down the river.

Now, it is as good as any river around, with lots of fish, a lot of wildlife, and a lot ofrecreation--canoes, tubes, whatever." However, n ot everything recovered, according to Lee. Now

that the water is clean, the re aren't as

used to be along the Oconto River. He said that might be be- cause the algae, weeds, and slime were all food for them, or perhaps just a natural cycle. Only time will tell. With the water quality revived, a special grant allowed the Oconto River to be restocked with both native and non-native species, such as walleyes, blue gills, smallmouth bass, several types of trout, and so on. Also revived was the river's reputa- tion for great fishing all the way from Green Bay to the distant reaches of the upper and lower branches.

m any ducks as there

A late summer view of the restored Oconto River from nearthe Couillardville bridge.

An article in the December 25, 1994 , issue of the Wis- consin State journal attested to the river's revival. Reporter

Paul A. Smith and fishing guide Daniel Ellaner had dropped their lines into the river "a few miles below the Oconto's first dam ," which would have placed them in the neighborhood of Couillardville. Smith 's account raved, "There were bald eagles overhead, a bright clear iiver underfoot, dense stands of birch and pine all around and, in only 40 minutes of fishing , four steelheads

on the line. "

pristine as it gets." Their assessment was a far cry from the bad old days ofnot so many years before. The Oconto River was definitely back.

Hi s fis hing partner added, "Yep, this is about as


The crucial importance

general store to making Couillardville a "community" is un- questionable. But there's a strong argument to be made that another vital contributor to this process was the construc- tion of the first bridge across the Oconto River.

of the church, the schoo l, and the

Before that link was made, residents on opposite sides of

the river saw each other only at a distance, unless they met in town or paddled across to the other shore. In the winter, visiting was much easier if you were willing to risk thin ice.

From the earliest days, as more and more settlers anived in Jacob Couillard 's new village, the need for a bridge to con- nect both hal ves of the communi ty was evident. But there were more urgent ways for these pioneers to spend their

hard- earned cash-paying off the land, erecting homes

outbuildings, acquiring equipment, purchasing seeds and stock, and so on. Weighed against those necessities, a bridge seemed a low priority. But it eventually became obvious to all that a bridge was

essential to the continued progress of Couillardville. So a concerted lobbying effort was launched to get everyone be- hind the idea-citizens, county government officials, and lawmakers alike.

Though it isn't known exactly when the first "modern" bridge was erected across the river at Couillardville, a r9ro photograph pictures a three-span, steel huss b1idge resting


The triple-span b ridge at Couillardville united both halves of the community for many years .

on twin pairs of concrete pylons in midstream, and rock

and concrete buttresses at either end. On the upriver side, a large "raft" of timber, apparently caught against the pylons, extends in to the distance. It was this bridge that was fated to suffer an ignoble end


heavy snowplow onto the span one winter morn ing. As his crawler-type tractor and plow headed onto the fi nal span near the south shore, pushing snow from the roadway onto the frozen stream below, the bridge began to creak and shudder before giving way and collapsing. Fortunately for Ed, the ice was strong enough to prevent the wreckage-and himself-from disappearing into the river and he quickly

several decades la ter when Ed Sherman bravely steered

clambered to safety. Unfortunately, the old bridge was so seriously damaged that it had to be replaced. That created a number of urgent prob- lems for the community, amon g them how to get the children

who lived on the other side of the missing span to


who lived on the other side of the missing span to school. In ea rl y

In ea rl y 19 38 , Ed Sherma n's he avy snow plow cr ushed t he sout hern span, greatly disrupting life in Couillardvi lle unt il a replacement br idge co uld be constructed.

lle unt il a replacement br idge co uld be constructed. The Oconto River at flood
lle unt il a replacement br idge co uld be constructed. The Oconto River at flood
lle unt il a replacement br idge co uld be constructed. The Oconto River at flood


Oconto River at flood stage w hile t he b ridg e w as out

Oconto River at flood stage w hile t he b ridg e w as out The


t ransported to Couillardville Schoo l via Stiles or

new bridge under construct ion. School child ren on t he south bank had to be

Oconto dur ing this period. In the

distance are the cheese fact ory, the c hurch, and the Matravers far m.

Janice Detaeje Janssen, one of the stranded children, re-

membered the events clearly.

During this time while they were doing the surveying work and making plans for the rebuilding , the children that were

on the south side of the river had to get to the Couillardvi lle School somehow or other. So my dad, Joe Detaeje , ended up getting a contract to take them to school. When it was pos- sible, he would escort them across the ice , eithe r walking or pull ing them on a sled. When the ice broke up, he would drive them around through Oconto or Stiles. When the ice went

out, he took some of the children across in a boat.

The resourceful Detaejes also found anothe r way to benefit

from the general misfortune. Janice's grandmother was the one who housed all the bridge builders from Chicago. She provided them apartments and bedrooms upstairs in her huge farmhouse. "My grandma fed them and they always loved her good cooking," Janice remem- bered. "They even had her fry turtle eggs that they found in the sand along the edge of the road. I never heard of anybody eating h.1rtle eggs, but they did." Her brother, Joe Jr. , had similar memories ofthose days, recalling his grandmother going down to the river with a dare-

devil on a cane pole, "swishing it a few times in the water, and catchjng five or six Northern pike to feed the threshing crew

and eve1yone else. Fishing stayed pretty good until it got real

polluted by the kerosene and the sulfide

paper mill. " The replacement bridge was a two-span, steel, through- huss shucture 66.3 feet in length with a 20-foot wide roadway.

It served the community faithfully until the current County j bridge was erected in 1997. This modern, concrete and steel span is 93-I feet long, with a 32-foot wide roadway supported by a mid-channel pier. No more worries about canying heavy vehicles , even Ed's snowplow. The Couillardville bridge took on the role of a community center where the young people regularly gathered to swim, fish, ice skate, or just hang out. "All the closest neighbors would get together there-jack Johnston, Dave Matravers, Dean and Gail Ja nssen, Boo Weigelt, Paulie Wanner, and Irvin Weglarz," recalled Joe Detaeje. "That's what we did to have a good time." So, as we've seen, the Oconto River offered a full range

for sports,

of activities fo r the mo st varied interests. Whether

recreation, business, or just plain fun, it was usually the first

choice for adults and youngsters alike. The river was-and

remains- the core of Couillardville.

liquo r from the Falls

The Oco nto River as it sweeps t hrough t he center of Coui llardville . The Det aeje fa rm is on t he south bank.

The replacement bridge under construction in 1938.

The present Coui lla rdville bridge was constructed in 1997.



For the firs t four decades after its founding, Couillardville was without a community church. Instead, early settlers often held worship services in their own homes for family

and neighbors. Some occasionally made the long journey to established churches in nearby population centers- Oconto, Stiles, Oconto Falls, or Abrams, especially on special holi-

days such as Easter and Christmas.

Most people recognized that a church would be a great as- set to their growing community by giving them easier access to a house of worship and providing another special linkage among people of faith. But it took a community-wide effort among like -m inded neighbors to establish a formal center of worship in Couillardville. Three families, in particular, might be credited with found- ing and maintaining what would become known as the Couillardville Presbyterian Church. First were the Couillards, though not Jacob, the man who founded the community and gave it its name. Rather, it was Thomas Howard Jr., Jacob's brother, and his wife, Adeline, who played the larger role in creating the church. Second were the McDonalds. Charles Webber McDonald had migrated from Maine to Milwaukee with his family while still a boy. They followed Jacob Couillard to Wisconsin in 1851, settling near the new village on the banks of the Oconto River. Charles was to spend the remainder of his life here, marrying Ellen Glynn in 1869, and raising a family of four children.

John and Mathilda Matravers donated a prime piece of land in the center of Coui ll ardville for the church .

Also deserving special mention were the Matravers, John and Mathilda, who were among the early Couillardville set- tlers and would later donate the property on which the church was erected.

In retrospect, it is surp1ising that it took so long for a church

to be established in Couillardville. After all, the community was

founded in the early 1850s, yet it wasn't until a warm summer day in 1895, that the new church was dedicated. So what had spurred the community to correct this oversight after so many years? Doug Couillard, the great grandnephew of Thomas Howard, diligently researched this entire chapter in Couillardville's history and unearthed some interesting facts about this mo- mentous event.


One factor, certainly, was the arrival, around 1890, of Rev. S. E. Very, a Presbyte rian missionary preacher. Other ministers from Oconto and Abrams had preceded him, holding occa-

sional services in the Couillardville school. But Rev. Very saw

a broader opportunity and set out to generate community-

wide sentiment for building a local church. His progress was steady but really began to bear fruit in

189 5. That was when Charles McDonald was named "Chair- man and Treasurer of the Building Committee." In this role, he actively recruited both funds and labor to finance and con- struct a church. To help get the project started, on March 6, 1895, John and Mathilda Matravers leased a half-acre parcel of prime land they owned for the church site. It was on the southeast corner where Brookside Road, Stiles Road, and River Road intersected. For a fee of just $1, the "Couillardville Presbyterian Church Society," a corporation, now had a guar- antee that the proposed church would be in the heart of the community, literally as well as figuratively. The history of this tract of land was particularly interesting.

It was once a part of Jacob Couillard's original holdings and

was owned by him for many years. When he fell on hard fi- nancial times in his later years, the land was sold at a sheriff's auction. Shortly thereafter, in 1890, John Matravers, appar- ently a very able businessman, purchased a 178-acre tract that included the future church lot.

According to Lovetta McDonald Classon, who recalled these events many years later, her father's solicitations must have

bee n

April l (1895), and on June 13, two months after this church building was begun, the church was finished and dedicated with no debt." Couillardville had long been a thriving Jogging and farm- ing community. Since its residents had immigrated from far and wide, there was no dominant religious or ethnic identity,

though Protestants seem to have been in the majority. Nonetheless, Charles was very successful in securing the

enthusiastic support of most everyone in helping build the new

church, no matter that it was designated

Why "Presbyterian?" Perhaps because of the Protestant heritage and Presbyterian demeanor of the original settlers. Presbyterianism's conservative, ascetic approach to Protes-

tan t Christianity, adhering to the Calvinist theological t radi- tion, reflected both their religious convictions and the stern- ness of life on the frontier. That same ethos of cooperation and mutua l support made Couilla rdville a commun ity that lived the same principles of charity, husbandry, and concern for others that the church espoused.

very persuas ive because "this work was started about

as "Presbyterian ."

Clearly, this

was not just a "Presbyterian " effort. At a time

when many local farmers spent the winter in the logging

camps, they would just have returned h ome to face the usual demands of plowing, tilling, and planting their new crops. Yet, the community also was able to plant and grow a house of worship at that critical time of the yea r and did so with remarkable speed. So, Couillardville Presbyterian Church, from its very in-

ception, was truly a community church in every respect. As Lovetta Class on remarked, "The residents of the commu- nity had faith in God together, regardless of denomination. Many ofthe families ofother denominations gave assistance in money and labor." The Matravers, for example, were dedicated Methodists for all their lives. Perhaps because abstinence had always been a fundamental Methodist tenet, they added a stipulation to the lease that no alcoholic beverages could ever be served within the church. (Interes tingly, while most Wisconsin settle- ments of any size usually included a local tavern, Couillard- ville never boasted one, perhaps reflecting this same spirit of temperance.) They also stipulated that the property would revert to the Matravers or their heirs if it were not used for a church in the futur e. However, th ey did a!Jow a little wiggle room, specifying "all buildings, structures, and other prop- erty should be removed within 60 days if requested to do so in writing by joh n and Mathilda Mat ravers ."

That stipulation would prove to be particularly important about half a century later. Specifics on the buildi ng of the chmcl1 are largely a mys tery, but there are grounds to make several assumptions about the origins and the process. One might suppose that the arrival of Rev. Very spu rred considerable sentiment for the enter- prise in the community at large and in Charles McDonald in particular. His 1902 obituary, for example, indicated that

"the deceased accepted Christ about twelve years ago, " which would have coincided with Rev. Very's arrival in Couillardville. Fewer than five years elapsed before Mr. McDonald had been

selected as

ganizer. It was he who arranged the donation of land from the Matravers family, assembled the funds, and solicited the materials and talent to erect the church. Perhaps most remarkable of all, the unified efforts of every- one involved resulted in a building that was ready for worship services in less than three months from the groundbreaking. In this diverse com munity of many faiths and ethnic back- grounds, McDonald's role was instrumental in getting every-

one to pull tog ether in a common purpose. This com m unity ethos lived on in the Community Club long after the church had yielded to progress. Charles McDonald clearly lived his later life in accord with the princ iples of his Christian faith. His obituary recoun ted his immersion in his church.

the project's chief motivator, fund-raiser, and or-

His piet y was above repro ach. During the

re lation to the church of his cho ice, one could hard ly be more constant and fa ithful in self-sacri f icing efforts to pro- mote the course of his Master and the brightest interest of

his church. As an elder,

always depend upon as a strong and sympathetic he lper in

directing the spiritual interests of the chu rch. As a

t he Sabbath School, he was espec ially suc-

intendent of


ten years of his

he was one whom the pastor cou ld

cessful. This was owing to his deep devotion and untiring energy, which he put to th is wo r k. (He) was a devote d and

affect ionate husband and father, a kind neighbor, and an honored citizen.

Who wouldn' t be gratified by such an obituary?


The structure that they built was very typical of early American country churches-a white, wood-framed building, covered with clapboards, and topped with a soa1ing belfry and steeple. It was set upon a strong foundation of stones and mortar on the crest of a gentle slope of sandy soil. The floor was about

Couillardvi le Presbyte rian Church afte r t he addit ions of the shed t o shelter the driving t eams (left) and the Lad ies A id Hall (rear).

two feet above grade and constructed of thick pine boards. The walls rose to a height of about ten feet and were capped by

an embossed metal ceiling. A pair of fine,

flanked the double front doors, while three identical windows on each side of the sanctuary, each with an elegantly curved top forming a pointed arch, allowed in plenty oflight. The minister's stage area at the front was centered in the room and raised one step. It extended into a narrow space with an open front and a ceiling somewhat lower than the sanctuary. Sabbath (Sunday) School was held here . "I remem- ber being in church and having Sunday School," Lucy Ann Thome Schmidt recalled. "We sat up there in the alcove behind the altar and had classes." About ten feet from the rear of the room, on the right s ide, stood a large metal stove fired by wood. It was the sole source of heat for the building, aided by the ingenious place- ment of the stove in back and the chimney in front. This al- lowed for a long, overhead flue pipe that radiated additional heat over the expanse. The bell, pews, and pulpit furniture had been donated by other churches in the area, acco rding to Lovetta Classon. The organ was purchased with funds solicited from "interested residents" and gave its debut performance at the church dedication ceremony. In later years, two rows of globes with incandescent bulbs were hung overhead. As Helen Janssen Jelinske once remarked, "The pure- toned bell sounded out across the countryside for many miles, announcing to all that this was a Christian community." The Couillardville Presbyterian Church was dedicated on June 13, 1895. Unfortunately, Jacob Couillard didn't live to witness this momentous day, having passed away six months earlier at the age of 69. Since the church was only in the plan- ning stages, his funeral service was held at his daughter's

dear-glass windows

home in Stiles and he was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Oconto. (Before the church was built, most funeral services were held in the Couillardville schoolhouse across the road. If it happened to be a weekday service, classes were suspended for the day. The children didn't mind the inconvenience.) The dedication of the new church was a grand event. Throu gh contributions of land, money, materials, and much labor, a beautiful, classic sanctuary had been built for the community. At three o' clock on Thursday afternoon ,

June 13, 1895, t he ne ighbors gathered to celebrate the ir achievement and, doubtless, dedicate their efforts to God as a Christian community united in faith. A guest minister from Oshkosh delivered the sermon, while other speakers provided insights into various aspects oft he effort. Rev. Very read Scripture and Charles McDonald delivered a report from his building committee. Re v. Z. F. Blakely concluded the afternoon event with an "Act and Prayer of Dedication." After everyone had hurried home to have supper, milk the cows, and put them out to pasture, a second service was

held at T45 p.m. It featured "fraternal and congratulatory

by Sunday School Missionaries." Altogether, it


was a day of great inspiration and satisfaction. The Couillardville Presbyterian Church thrived and pros- pered, serving the community from the first day those double front doors swung open. They were prepared from the start with a regular pastor, a governing body of "Ruling Elders"- notably John Matravers, Charles McDonald, John Caldwell, and Archie McAllister, and a highly functional Sabbath School

A major celebration at Couillardville Presbyterian Church. perhaps the dedication serv ice.

for the children. (Many years later, Janice Detaeje Janssen still proudly displayed a certificate from the 1930s, praising her perfect attendance record.) However, Rev. Blakely was not a resident minister, but regularly rode out from Oconto to conduct services. Some- times, one ofthe circuit-rider preachers who frequently came through would be invited to preach. On other occasions, missionaries traveling the backcountry on horseback would drop in to conduct revival meetings that might span several days. Local farm families would host them dming these visits, then they would ride on to the next community. This arrange- ment continued for some period of time and through the

tenures of several pastors. "Oh, yes, I can remember going to the Presbyterian Church with Mother and Dad when Reverend Smart would come out from Oconto," said Lucy Ann Schmidt, daughter of Theo- dore and Alice Thome. "The Glynns and the Matravers were always there and probably the two mainstays who kept the

people coming." Helen Jelinske had warm, personal memories of attend- ing the old Couillardville church with her grandmother, Mary Ann Couillard, the daughter of John and Mathilda Matravers, and daughter-in-law of Jacob Couillard.

Some of my fondest memories are about that old church . can c lose my eyes and remember the evening services. Th e kerosene lamps that hung from brackets on the wall would cast long shadows across the room . Or I can hear the crackle of a log as it fe ll into place in the large wo od heater. Then, I can hear the so ft , sweet voice of my grandmother singing those old hymns. I would stand beside her holding her hand. Her faith was so deep and sure that she taught

me never to doubt that grea t truth in

no fear or anxiety. In my heart, in those days, I just knew that the world was a safe and lovely place.

the Bible. There was

SPECIAL CELEBRATIONS, SPECIAL MEMORIES Christmas and Easter were the major highlights on the church calendar and involved long, careful preparation. At Christmas, the men ofthe church would select a fine, tall ba lsam from a near by woodlot, cut it down, and erect it in the front of the sanctuary. It was festively decorated with beauti- ful old trimmings and covered with lighted candles. Its mar- velous aspect and delightful fragrance filled the sanctuary-and worshippers-with the spitit of this special season . Special programs would be prepared and presented on Christmas Eve, always featuring the children of the congrega-

tion presen ti ng readings and carols. Helen Jelinske recalled her debut performance at such an event.

I remember my fi rst attempt at public speaking at one of those Christmas programs. My Mother had taug ht me t he verses and I co uld rec ite them without mista kes . The g reat

day came and I sat w ith the other small chi ld ren in the front

sedately up to the front of

the church but I never turned around to face the co ngre ga- tion. I just faced t he altar, repeat ed my Christmas poem, and walked back to be seated . There were a few soft c huck les in the church, but my fam ily just smiled at their four-year-old.

row. When my t urn came, I walked

These Chris tmas programs tradition ally ended with a reading ofthe Chri s tma s story from the Go spel According to St. Lu ke. Then, after exchanging a final round of holiday greetings, the families of Couillardville would retrieve their horses and sleighs from the covered shed beside the church and set out

for hom e and a final round of chores in the gathering dusk.

celebration. Though sp 1ing-

time had usually arrived in the northla nd by this time, the

warming weather tended to create its own set of unique problems for Easter service worshippers. The most challeng- ing was traversing the deep mire as the unpaved roadways

thawed under the warming sun. A close contender was deal- ing with the fr equent spring floods as the win ter's accumu- lation of ice and snow began to melt. The resulting surge of water down the Oconto River often spread from bank to bank and beyond, occasionally even over-washin g the deck of the Couillardville bridge.

But for those h ardy souls who m as tered the obstacles and made it to the services, the sight must have been charm-

ing. The sanctuary would be lined with pots and sprays of colorful spring blossoms; the women and children dressed in their most colorful , church -appro priate clothing; and the men in their usual somber attire, of course. But all were fine ly attune d to the significance of the occasion and fille d with the spirit of the Resurrection.

Easter was an equally joyous


After several years, and with additio nal growth in the com- munity, the church elders decided that they could support a

full-time, residen t pastor. So they

across from the church on the west side of Brookside Road.

constructed a parsonage

Besides offering them a home, the comm u nity rallied to

support th e minister and his family in many practical ways.

For instance, local farmers would ha ul

parsonage to fill the woodshed for the coming winter. Pota-

loads of wood to the

left : 4-H leaders Ruth Johnston, Irene Funk, M elba Heise, and Gaius Nichols, meet in the Community Hall to plan activiti es. Note the arched windows, a re minder that this was the former church. ri gh t: A 4- H play is presented to a pa cked house in the Community Hall. This alcove is where Sunday School was held during the build ing's previous role as the Presbyterian Church.

toes, apples, and other vegetables, fresh and canned, were deliv- ered to store in the cellar. Milk and eggs appeared at their door on a weekly basis. And when the fall butchering was done, there always was a generous portion set aside for the pastor's family, Though pastors ofrural churches and their families made many sacrifices to serve the spiritual needs of such small, crossroads villages, God always found imaginative ways to provide for their daily wants.


itual. He also was expected to be the churd1 janitor and gen-

eral handyman, shoveling snow in winter to keep the s toop

and walkways dear, filling the large wood box by the stove,

m orn ings, well in advance of

the service, to knock the chill off the sanctuary. Nonetheless,


The pastor's responsibilities extended far beyon d the

starting the fire on Sunday

parishioners often had to keep their coats, mittens, and hats on during the winter. The comfort of the driving teams was also attended to by a long shed that was constructed alongside the church to shel- ter them during services. A split-rail fence, likely for use as a hitching place during pleasant weather, spanned the front.

The abandoned parsonage, j ust before it was moved a mile or two east where it becam e the ho m e of the George G. Donlevy family. It still exists today.

Next came the Ladies Aid Hall that had first been con- structed by the Grange on the west side of Brookside Road.

When the church bought it, it was moved across the street and added to the rear of the church where it soon evolved into the social center of the community. School programs and home talent plays were popular attractions, as were ice cream socials when the strawberries were ripe, and harvest festivals in the autumn.

On every second Wednesday of each month , the Ladies Aid served a noon dinner at the hall. "The cost was r5 cents,"

H elen Jelinske noted. "I can still

meals. The ladies cooked much of the food from their own farm produce. There would be home-baked beans with salt pork, scalloped potatoes or potato salad in su mmer, cabbage salad, pickles, and homemade buns and cake." Hugh ("Duke") Couillard enjoyed his share of those meals, according to his wife, Etta, who said he remembered them with g reat fo ndness even many years later. "I heard stories of when Duke was in grade school and the ladies association of the Presbyterian Church would have a meal once a month or something like that," she said. "The kids could go over and have their dinner in the hall, which was a real high point for them." There was a practical purpose behind these monthly feasts:

the money raised, though meager, was used to supplement

the pas tor's salary.

With the passing of years and the passing of the older ge neration, ch urch membership began to decline. As a con-

sequence, it no longer was practical to keep a full-time, resi- dent minister. After he and his family departed for Oconto, the Otto ("Pete") Utech family rented the parsonage for a period of time. (Their son Orville, a widower, still lived in Oconto at the time of this writing; his younger brother, Marvel, and his wife, Carol, resided in Green Bay. Then known as Carolee Carriveau, she grew up on a farm on County J north of Couillardville and a ttended Victory School.) However, before the old parsonage was eventually aban- doned to the elements, it had one last service to render.

remember those wonderful

In r9 4r , Andrew Couillard and his

fami ly, who h ad been

living in Oconto wi th Alice Couillard's mother, returned to the family homestead. Since the original farmhouse had burned years before, they had to make do in a small, tar- paper-covered shack without run ning water, indoor plumb- ing, electricity, or telephone. When World War II broke out shortl y thereafter, Andrew decided to go to Milwaukee to seek employment in the war industry. With housing in ex- tremely sho1t supply there, Alice and their three young so ns, Ken, Doug, and Jim, remained behind. Andrew was unwilling

to leave them alone under the primitive conditions at the farm, so he arranged to move them into the abandoned parsonage.

Though they still lad<ed electricity, running water, and in-

door plumbing, a common deficiency in rural homes in those days, they now had plenty of room and plenty of neighbors within hailing distance. Elmer Johnston, his wife Beulah, and

their children Bill, Jack, and Jane, we re just

the cheese factory. Closer still, at the s tore, we re Martin and

Eleanor jacquart, with their children, Harold ("Syke"), Jim, Evelyn, and Betty. Just across River Road were Art and jewel Matravers, along with their two boys, David and Dean (John was born later). And the Flynn family-George, Agnes, and

Stiles Road. Al-

down the road at

son, Elmer- was just a few ya rd s away across together, a very busy neighborhood.

"The house had a two-story garage-shed and the upper level was used to sto re rou nd , wooden cheese boxes," Ken noted. "It made a great play environment. We lived at this site for about two years and I attended first and second grade at the Couillardville School. In the summer of 1943. Dad finally found us a small house on the outskirts of Milwaukee and we joined him there."

Alice Couillard and her sons , Jim, Doug, and Ken, lived in the old parsonage for about two years before joining Andrew in Milwaukee.

The parsonage stood on this site at the corner of County Road J and Stiles Road.

The parsonage was largely abandoned after the Couillards

moved to George G. Donlevy 's

left. The shucture was later

farm where it was renovated into the family's handsome two-

story farmhouse.


Little is known about the daily affairs of the church for many years of the new century. We can only surmise that its im-

portance and activities grew as the store and cheese factory opened on adjacent pr operties. But Lovetta McDonald Clas- son left some lists of names in h er recollections that offer points of clarity and new paths for investigation. Following the ministry of Rev. Blakely, the church was served by sev-

eral pastors of uncertain ten ures, including Barrows, and Parker . The las t s he cited as

Among the elders that served in later years were Harry Du-

Lane (Delano?) and J.C. Crawford. "Men serving as trustees during those years, according to my memory, were George Glynn, Samuel Couillard, Ed- win Matravers, Edwin Couillard, Frank Knisley, and Joseph Leigh ," she added. These names mean little on a list, but th eir family trees re - veal the complex patchwork of marital connections through which the Couillard, Matravers, and McDonald heirs share DNA. They and others were important in the founding and growth of the church; their descendants continu e to play im - portant roles in Couillardville today. As the years rolled by, the same factors that led to the clos - ing of the neighboring general store had a similar impact on the Presbyterian Church. Automobiles and improved roads made it possible for local Presbyterians to atte nd services regularly at churches in Stiles, Oconto, or other towns, just

Revs. Boteler, the fin al pastor.

as parishioners of other denominations had been doing all along. The effect of losing even a few regular members in such a small congregation was devastating and it was even- tually d ecided to close the chu rch aroun d r940 . So the altar, side chairs, and other religious paraphernalia were removed and donated to the then new Oconto Museum (Beyer House Museum ), wh ere they r emained for many years as reminders of times past. Then the double doors were closed on an era. However, before the old sanctuary was abandoned once and for all, it briefly reopened as the Gospel Chapel Ch urch, an unaffiliated Protestant congregation supported by like- minded worshippers in Green Bay and Milwaukee. The last couple to be married there was Louis C. Meyer and Ruth

Leigh, who was the teacher at Couillardville School in r937-38.

A relatively brief while thereafter, the

doors were closed for the

final time as the parishioners moved their church to Oconto.

Reverend Parker, pastor at Couillardville Church.


Mindful of the lease term s, there was concern that the build- ings wou ld have to be removed an d th e land returned to the heirs. However, the Matravers family declined to exercise their rights, instead agreeing with the community's desire to turn the shuttered building into a different sort of com- munity resource-a center where various community-wide activities could be conducted

To that e nd, a la"rge group of citizens gathered at the Couillardville School on janua1y II, 1947, where they formally organized the "Couillardville Community Club." They elected officers, sold stock shares, and set in motion a process to purchase the abandoned church building outright. They also agreed to sell the bell and remove the church steeple.

The officers of the new Couillardville Community Club were:

President: Ll oyd Glynn Vice President: Art Matravers Secretary: Alvin Mittag Treasurer: George Flynn

Sergeant at Arms: Harold Crozier

Bui lding

Ernest Janssen, Norbert Carey

Committee: Wil liam Alberts,

The second name on that list was of particular significance, since Art Matravers could have exercised the option to reclaim the church land had he cl10sen to do so. Rather, he fully un- derstood the need for Couillardville to have a special place where neighbors could assemble for mutually beneficial pur- poses. His generous gesture cemented the plans to give the old church a new identity.

After the spire was removed, the former church began its second life as the Couillardville Community Hall.

Heading to the Community Hall fo r another event.

The institutional church may no longer have been viable, but the building that housed it was needed to serve the con- tinuing social needs of the community and cement Couil- lardville as a community throughout the remain der of th e 20th century.

From that time forward over the next five decades, the Com- munity Club served many of the functions tha t once occurred in and around the church. Equally important, it retained in its philosophy and procedures most of the same precepts that guided the church before it. The leaders were business-like and kept careful accounts; they carefully husbanded things in their care; they acted in a unified fashion and honored their commitments; they fostered inclusion and a sense of com- munity; and they actively sought out those in need in the com- munity and beyond.

In short, the members of the Couillardville Community Club continued to honor the "Golden Ru le" in the building where it had been preached each Sunday for so many years. The church may have been no more, but it co n tinued to insp ire similar dreams, values, and memolies for another halfcentury. "I remember the big sign above the door that said 'Couil- lardville Community Hall'," said Lavon Johnston Frazier. "My Dad made the sign and I painted it. I think it was a 4-H project." As mentioned, to equip and finance the Community Club building, shares were sold to members of the community for $so each. Add itional income was generated by sell ing old

opposite: For many years, this plaque hung on the wall at the Community Hall. It recognized those who donated funds in memory of loved ones to purchase equip- ment for the faci lit y.

The annual Christmas program at the Commun ity Ha ll was h igh ly anticipated by

children a nd parents a li ke .

church pews that were no longer needed, and renting out the hall for various activities-$2.00 per meeting for orga- nizations and Club members; $4.00 per meeting for non- members. (The school and the 4-H Club were exempted from these fees.) Syke Jacquart had especially warm memories of the Christmas parties there. "Near Christmas time, there would always be a party with Santa Claus distributing things for the children," he recalled. "We'd have cookies and hot chocolate afte1wards." Janice Detaeje Janssen. a former schoolteacher at the Couillardville School. just across the road, remembered how important the Community Hall was for such events. "We actually had the Christmas program in the social hall, rather than in the school. because we had more space for people," s he explained. "Lloyd Glynn even served as Santa." Lavon Johnston Frazier added, "I remembe r the Christ- mas parties with the singing and doing the plays. We'd cele- brate other holidays there, too, but Christmas was the big one." Various regular activities were centered there, such as the 4-H Club, Homemaker's Club, Gran ge, Farm Bureau, and so on. There were also frequent celebrations of a less formal nah1 re, such as da n ce parties on Saturday nights , and even the occasional wedding. "When I was in the upper grades and high school. " Donna Donlevy Esser said, "we could go to the club about once a month in the wintert ime fo r card parties." Helen Jacquart especially liked the ice cream socials and box socials. She added that many of the women once com-

piled a recipe book fi lled with favorite fami ly dishes. "The

conttibutors included Ruth Johnston, Helen Janssen, Grace Carey, Pearl Glynn, Jewel Matravers, the Heralds, Glynns, Crawfords, the whole community, really." Everybody pitched in to make the Community Club a suc- cess, led by such local stalwarts as Pearl Glyn n , H elen Jans - sen, Jewel Matravers, Eleanor Jacquart, and others. Later on, the younger generation assumed leadership roles. including Charlotte Ihde, Lorraine Jacquart, Ellen Beyer s, and Marge Hornick. "It seemed like nobody was afraid to work." Syke Jacquart observed. "I can recall times when a whole bunch would get together when the weather was nice and paint the building. It went quick." The lSt Annual Meeting of the Community Club was held on January 13, 1948. Among the issues of pres sing urgen- cy was the need to obtain and install two toilets, purchase 2,000 pieces of flatware, and pay Lloyd and Pearl Glynn for the piano they lent to the club. They also elected a new slate of officers:

President: Ernest Janssen Vice President: George Donlevy Secretary-Treasurer: Joseph Oetaeje Sergeant at Arms: Austin Oonlevy Building Committee: Gauis Nichols, Ra lph Crawford, John Ih de

"111e Community Club was always great," said Grace Carey Lutz. "We always had a good time going there because you caught up on all the news about your neighbors. And the kids would have a little program for you that was really nice." David Matravers played a key role at the Community Hall, especially during the winter months. "My job was to keep

Though the site of the former church appears empty today. it is filled with memories for many.

A meeting of th e Grange at Couill ardville Community Ha ll, appa rently on t he 1 0 th anniversary of the local organization.

the fire going," he explained. "For the 4-H and other meetings, I got the wood in and started the fire the night before be- cause the building was cold. Even after they switched over to oil, I still had to light it and look after the fire."


After serving Couillardville for over a century as both a church and, later, the community center, the old wooden structure finally succumbed to disuse and old age. In 1998, it was torn down and the land returned to the Matravers heirs as specified in John and Mathilda's 1895 lease. To the casual passerby, its former site in downtown Couillardville, now the lawn of an adjoining home, seems unremarkable. But for those of a certain age who have personal memories of the long-ago past, that corner is filled with bittersweet memories of a time when this was the spiritual heart of a unique community.


In the days before supermarkets and automobiles, rural resi· dents depended on the local general store for many of their frequent needs. These small enterprises, usually farnily-operat· ed, offered a range of goods, from various mercantile items to kitchenware, tools, and staple foods. Tuey also usually offered

a tempting array of confections to the delight of the neigh· borhood children.

The old country store bore n o resemblance to today's modern shopping em poria. For example, it usually had no refrigera· tion and carried very few perishable items, though oranges were generally available during certain periods in winter, especially around Ch ristmas. Besides, most of the neigh· b ori ng farm fa milies raised their own ki tchen gardens that provided easy access to fresh produce in the sum mer

can n ed goods year ro u n d. But they depend-

and p lenty of

ed on th eir local store for sugar, flour, cooking oil, spices and seasonings, and other items they couldn 't produce themselves. The coun try store was usually located in the center of "town," often near a busy crossroads. That was the case of the

first Couillardville store that Jacob Couillard established not

in r85 r. Previo usly the su ccessful op erator

of a merca ntile store in Oconto, h e naturally was interested

in setting up another in his n ew community to help attract addi tional settlers. The site he chose was along what would become known as Brookside Road (now Coun ty Road J) , just

a few yards from the river and his first cabin. The new church would later be built on the adjoining lot, confirming that this location was, indeed, the heart of Couillardville.

long after aniving

Typical country stores carried a selection of dry goods. house· wa res, tools, staple foods, and sundries. Many also marketed the produce of local farms, especially eggs, milk, and cured meats.

Among the most popular items on farm wom en's shop -

roasted coffee beans, which they would t ake

home and grind a day's supply at a time. Molasses and syrup in gallon pails were also in strong demand, as were baking soda and graham crackers, white and brown sugar, and smoking and chewing tobacco. A package of S&M or Plow Boy tobacco frequently was a part of their order.

pin g lists were


I n h er self-pub lished

Janssen Jelinske recalled the old country store in Brookside she

memo ir, Orice Upo11

a Lifetime, Helen

knew as a youngster.

The Brookside store was operated for years by the Windross

family. The lad ies from the farms would bring in their eg gs to

t rade for groce ri es . (The egg s)

to Abrams and shipped by train to Green Bay and Milwaukee . It was not unusu al to see a farmer's wife come in with a milk pail piled high with fresh eggs t o se ll.

we re put in cases, taken

The Brookside store was h eated by a large, wood-burning stove, as were almost all country stores and farmhouses at the time. Helen said she would see the smoke pouring from the chimney while walking to the nearby school. In the winter, she and her classmates often dropped in to wa rm u p by the stove and, perhaps, buy a pencil, tablet, or eraser. She described the display the kids liked most.

In the center of the bui ld ing was a long row of glass-en-

closed cases w ith sliding doors. These held the candy and gum and sma ll g lass ani mals f illed w ith tiny cand ies . The re would be long strings of black licorice and red anise candy. Also, these cases held smal l gift items, such as pretty hand-

kerchiefs or little bottles of perfume

left smudges on the g lass as they looked w istfully inside

Many sma ll noses

Since there was no reliable refrigeration until the country· side was finally electrified in the 1930s, few country stores offered perishable products. Th