Four Stewart brothers came to the area around Verona and Springdale in Dane County, Wisconsin, from Little Dunkeld, Perthshire, Scotland. The following information about the first brother, Thomas Stewart, who arrived in Dane County about 1837. The following is transcribed from Verona Centennial Souvenir: History of Verona by Alice Kunstman:
By an act of the territorial legislature approved Feb 11, 1847, town 6, range 8 East, was created. The township had been surveyed by the U. S. Government in December 1833. Records show that it contained 23, 153.97 acres.
Mr. Miller, surveyor, remarked that this is a good township, timbered with yellow, whit and burr oak. Deer and wild bear were plentiful at that time and many are the exciting tales recalled in the early history books of encounters with the bears and traps used to catch them.
In 1836 a census was taken of what is now Dane County and the population was 25 males and 11 females.
In 1837, there was situated on what is now known as the Speedway road, a place called "the Campbell Relay House. Edward Campbell was the proprietor and he employed two young Scotchmen, Thomas Stewart and John Young. They had been in the butchering business in Galena, Ill., before coming to Wisconsin.
Early one Sunday morning a party of men, among whom were Thos. Stewart, James Young, George and William Vroman and the Wakefield brothers started out in a wagon from the Campbell House to explore the upper valley of the Sugar River.
The Sugar river received its name from the Indian word, "Suga."
After driving in their wagon for about three miles down the valley, they came to the north end of a prairie and there they discovered 10 mounds, nine of which were round and the other in the form of a mamouth. Here they had a view of all the surrounding area. They named the spot "Nine Mounds Prairie," and today it is still to be seen, but faintly on the John Zingg and Carl Fassbind farms.
The continued their journey in a southeast direction and they came to a creek, which they crossed. Later that creek was named Badger Mill Creek. Here they found many acres of flat level land, no stones, no obstructions and covered with thick growth of grass. A growth of hardwood trees suitable for future building made this a desirable place for a home. And that was the choice of Thomas Stewart at James Young. The party returned to the Campbell house.
A week later, the two Scotts, James Young and Thomas Stewart, returned to take possession of what was to be their new home. They dug a place about 6 by 8 feet in the hillside and roofed it with poles and grass. They stored the cooking utensils, supplies, and such household goods that two bachelors would need, and then returned to their place of employment. During the night, a heavy thunderstorm swelled the creek into a river and when they returned the following day, they had to wait until the water subsided before they could cross the creek to their new home, the first "built by white men in Verona township." They found that the water had carried away most of their possessions. After searching along the band, some were recovered.
This experience did not discourage our hardy pioneers, so they started to dig again, but this time, it was above the high water mark. During the digging they unearthed some skulls and bones of a human being, probably the remains of some early mound builders. The excavation they made now was about 10 by 14 feet, using logs and grass for a roof. They built a door, the frame of which was made with an axe and auger. Lumber and nails were a luxury they could not dream of possessing. This spot can now be found on what is known as the Walker farm on highway 69, south of the village , where Verlin Jones lives.
One day they discovered that they were not the only occupants of this knoll. a large and full grown lynx was living in the underbrush not far from their door. They decided it would be best not to disturb him so they passed and repassed him several times a day. They were quite astonished to find that Mr. Lynx preferred their chickens to the wild fowl that was so plentiful in those days. So Thomas armed himself with a club, while James brought forth a musket (which he called "Nicodemus") and discharged the contents into the lynx. Wounded, but not disabled the maddened brute sprang from his lair and gave battle. Thomas charged on him with the club and by a well directed blow he gave riddance to a bad tenant.
A few words must be said about "Nicodemus." This musket had a barrel about 6 feet long and a bore that could swallow a Springfield rifle. When loaded and discharged the report would shake the ground and echo through the hills for many miles. Game that once heard its thunder never cared to come within its range again. Donald McDonald who wrote about this musket in 1877 remarked that it was always a matter of doubt to him whether it was the shot or the concussion that brought down the game.
They broke some land, planted corn and potatoes and by this time their provisions were quite short. And in those days the nearest place where supplies could be purchased was Galena, Illinois, a distance of 90 miles. So Thomas hitched the team to the wagon and started out. There was no road to follow, only a wild, uninhabited country before him. He stopped at a stream to let his horses drink, and suddenly it occurred to him that he was returning to his old home and would appear before the fair maidens of Galena. In those days they believed in the saying that "Cleanliness is next to Godliness," so Mr. Stewart removed his shirt from his back, washed it in the creek, dried it and put it on again.
His partner, left at home, started out as usual to the fields with his trustworthy companion, "Nicodemus." About dinner time he became very hungry but since no game had crossed his path, he knew it was useless to return home, he continued to work until the sun began to lower in the west. Returning home, he saw a flock of blackbirds alight in the large burr oak tree near the door of their home. Nicocemus was speedily put into action, and nine of the blackbirds were gathered up, plucked and prepared for supper and breakfast. The next day a wild prairie hen fell when Nicodemus went into thundering action.
Thos. Stewart left his section of land which he purchased from the government for $1.25 per acre, and went to California in the gold rush of 1849, and he was never heard from again.
In 1842, the census of the Sugar River Valley was taken and recorded as follows:
Geo. McFadden, 3 males, 3 females.
Geo. Kendrick, 2 females, 2 males.
Thos. Stewart, 3 males.
Samuel Taylor, 2 males
Patrick Davidson, 4 males, 3 females, a total of 22.
* * *Miscellaneous bits about Thomas Stewart:
Excerpt from the Madison Dane County and Surrounding Town History published in 1877...
... is now occupied by the modern and comfortable residence of Donald Stewart, brother to the pioneer. Thos. went to California many years ago, where he aquired a fortune, but very mysteriously and suddenly dying, while his partner in business equally suddenly disappearing, nothing satisfactory was ever known about his estate.
Might this be our Dane County Thomas Stewart: 1850 U.S. Census, Township 5, Tuolumne, California; Family Nbr. 882; Thomas Stewart; age 34; occupation miner; birthplace Scotland.
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Thomas Stewart may have "built the first house by a white man" in Verona township, it appears his history may be lost to us. However, who knows in what mysterious ways this wonderful cyberspace works. Perhaps the history of Thomas Stewart will find it's way home.
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© Joan Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications