Ouisconsin Territory, 1836

In September, 1836, Sgt. Jonathan M. Clark was discharged from the U.S. Army at “Ft. Hamilton,” Wisconsin Territory, after serving his three-year term of service with Co. K, Fifth Regiment of Infantry.  One year later, in the autumn of 1837, Jonathan’s future wife Mary Turck would make the long trip from Palmyra, New York, to Milwaukee and finally Mequon, Washington County, Wisconsin, with her parents Peter and Rachael Turck and six younger siblings. By the end of 1840 Jonathan and Mary would be married and starting their family in Mequon.

That seems simple enough, until you take a moment to wonder how much Jonathan—or especially Mary and her family—knew about this new Wisconsin Territory.  Jonathan had been in the territory since October, 1833, building portions of the military road along the Fox River waterway from Ft. Howard (Green Bay) towards Ft. Winnebago (near modern Portage). As a road building soldier, Jonathan probably had seen—or helped draw—a variety of maps of the military road and its vicinity. But for a better overview of the larger territory, Jonathan or Mary might have sought out a map such as this:


MAP-Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan 1836

Burr, David H. Map of the Northern Parts of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois and Michigan and that part of the Ouisconsin Territory lying East of the Mississippi River, 1836. From the Library of Congress map collection, permanent ID: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3700m.gct00284 Click image to open larger map in new window.

In January, 1837 Michigan would become a state, and in July, 1836, its western counties were split from it to form the Wisconsin Territory. This map shows only that part of Wisconsin Territory that lies east of the Mississippi River (at that time the territory also included present-day Iowa and Minnesota, and those parts of North and South Dakota that lay east of the Missouri River). In studying this map, the main impression is that—as of 1836—there was not much settled in this part of the Old Northwest except for a few army outposts, built and garrisoned to maintain the peace with the indigenous peoples and develop roads and other communications as white Americans pushed westward.

Along with the new white settlers, a large number of Native American peoples still lived in the territory, including the Menominee, Ojibwe (Chippewa), Potawatomi, and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago). They had been there for centuries, their earliest presence dating back almost 10,000 years. In the 1830s, in preparation for opening southeast Wisconsin lands for sale, the federal government and various tribal leaders had agreed to move the indigenous peoples to the northwest, beyond a line running roughly from Green Bay in the northeast to Prairie du Chien in the southwest. In reality, a number of Native Americans remained in southeast Wisconsin throughout the era of white settlement (and to the present day, for that matter).  None of these native peoples are represented on this map.

To get a better sense of what Jonathan and Mary understood of their new home in the mid- to late-1830s, see this detail of the southeast part of the new territory:

Map of…Ouisconsin 1836 (detail with notes)

Burr, David H. Map of…Ouisconsin…1836. (detail) Click on image to open larger map in a new window.

Not surprisingly, the spelling of place names has not been standardized yet. Ouisconsin? That’s how the earlier French explorers, trappers and traders transliterated the Native American words for the Wisconsin River. Different spellings, but similar pronunciation in all three languages.  Milwalky for Milwaukee is interesting; a somewhat more frequent alternative spelling of this era is Milwaukie. 

I have added (in red) a few additional notes. The three U.S. Army forts garrisoned by Jonathan’s 5th regiment (Forts Dearborn, Howard, Winnebago) are marked. Jonathan was garrisoned at Ft. Howard for the duration of his 1833-1836 enlistment. I have also noted the very approximate location of Jonathan’s discharge from the army in September, 1836. This “Fort Hamilton” was not an official army post but was, instead, a temporary work camp for the several companies of the 5th regiment that were cutting the military road somewhere upstream of Ft. Howard on the Fox River in summer, 1836. I have also indicated the approximate location of the Jonathan Clark House Museum.

Most modern readers will look at the map and note how empty it is, and wonder how many places on the map that must have seemed—to the white settlers of that time—vast, unknown and perhaps forbidding. Some European Americans found this intimidating and stayed where they were. Others, like Jonathan Clark and Mary Turck and her family, saw opportunities and came.

Technical note: these maps from the Library of Congress digital map collection are free to all and available in a variety of scanning resolutions and file sizes.  For technical reasons (i.e., WordPress does not like JPEG2 files), I have uploaded a decent-quality scan of the map. If you would like to see this and other maps in all their glorious high-resolution detail, go to the Library’s website and take a look. The JPEG2 scans are very detailed, with modest file sizes, and can be seen and stored with many common applications, such as Apple Preview. For optimal quality and detail, and long-term lossless digital storage, try the TIFF images.