Another look at Ouisconsin Territory, 1836
As a kind of postscript to our look at the early Wisconsin territorial, state and federal censuses, today’s Monday: Map Day! revisits an interesting map that we first discussed on October 29, 2017. Today’s post includes a few updates and corrections based on new information.
It’s 1836. Where’s…Wisconsin?
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.1 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, mostly on post at Ft. Howard. In the last year or so of his service he was busy cutting trees and building bridges for 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 might have done some surveying and seen—or helped draw—a variety of maps of the military road and its vicinity. But for a better overview of this new territory, Jonathan or Mary might have sought out a map such as this2:
Where are the people?
In January, 1837 Michigan would become a state. In July, 1836—in preparation for statehood—its western counties were split from it to form the Wisconsin Territory. This 1836 map shows only that part of Wisconsin Territory that lies east of the Mississippi River (at that time the territory also included all of 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.
But there were already plenty of people in Wisconsin. 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 negotiated with various tribal leaders, and they 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). With only a few exceptions—such as the “Menomonie” village just south of Ft. Howard/Green Bay, none of these native peoples are represented on this 1836 map.
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 French, English and Native American languages. Milwalky for Milwaukee is an interesting spelling; a more frequent alternative of this era is Milwaukie.
To get a better sense of what Jonathan and Mary might have understood of their future home in the mid- to late-1830s, see this annotated detail of the southeast part of the new territory:
I have added a few notes in red. 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 the 5th regiment’s Cos. G, I and K, that were cutting trees and building bridges for the military road, somewhere upstream of Ft. Howard on the Fox River. 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 looks, and wonder how many places on the map must have seemed—to the white settlers of that time—vast, unknown, even forbidding. Some European Americans found this intimidating and stayed where they were, “back East.” Others, like Jonathan Clark and Mary Turck and her family, saw opportunities and headed West.
- For more on Jonathan Clark’s final summer with the army, see Census Records for the In-Between Years: 1836.
- 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 JPEG of the map that will enlarge nicely after you click the map to open it in a new window. If you would like to see this and other maps in all their glorious high-resolution detail, click the link in the caption 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.