How’d they get here? Walking & riding

This is another installment in the transportation-themed series that began with our July 6, 2021, Monday: Map Day! – How’d they get here? and continues from there.

Queen, James Fuller, [A Man and a Woman Standing at the Entrance to a Trail Through a Forest] (detail), graphite drawing on cream paper, circa 1850-1870. Library of Congress

I’m still writing the next two (or three) longer, narrative installments of our “How’d they get here?” series, which I began working on to assist Clark House education director Margaret Bussone and our education team as they develop a transportation-themed project for use at the Jonathan Clark House later this summer.

For quite a while I was worried that I would not be able to find enough visual material to adequately illustrate our early Mequon immigrants’ journeys of the 1830s and ’40s. It turns out that I now have a lot of material to share with the education team—and with you. Rather than hold on to it until my longer posts are complete, I thought I’d do something different today.

An archive of “by land” travel, in galleries

Since many of our initial “How’d they get here?” posts have featured ships—on canals, rivers and lakes—today’s galleries are all about historic land transportation images. I’ve gathered these images into thematic galleries, and tried to properly label all the sources.

Almost all the images are public domain and completely copyright free. Others are somewhat restricted and require that you publish the name and source of the image. For details, see the image captions, links, and Notes 1 and 3 (below) for details.

On foot

In the 1830s and ’40s, if you wanted to move west to the newest U.S. states and territories, the cheapest (and slowest and possibly most dangerous) way was on foot. People walked enormous distances in those days. And even if your possessions were in a horse-drawn wagon or ox-cart, chances are most of your family or party walked next to the wagon or cart as you moved west. I’ve not found a lot of images from this era that are focused on people walking. But here are a few, just to give you an idea of what folks “on foot” looked like in this era.

  • Queen, James Fuller, [A Man and a Woman Standing at the Entrance to a Trail Through a Forest], graphite drawing on cream paper, circa 1850-1870, original and detail. Library of Congress
  • Anon., [Landscape With Natural Bridge], detail, [Place not identified: publisher not identified, circa 1840-1875] Lithograph. Library of Congress. For full image, click LoC link.
  • Darley, Felix Octavius Carr, Artist. Farmer With Scythe Walking Down Road After Livestock, circa 1840-1888], wash drawing. Library of Congress.
  • Anon, Jonas Cattell, 1830. Print, originally illustration in Memoirs of the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club, Philadelphia, 1830, opp. p. 28. Library of Congress.
  • Sharp, William, Artist, and William R Dempster. The lament of the Irish emigrant – a ballad / W. Sharp, del. ; printed by Sharp and Michelin. Ireland, ca. 1840. [Boston: Published by Oakes & Swan, 81/2 Tremont Row] Lithograph. Library of Congress.

On horseback

People rode horses from the early years of the American colonies until the early-20th century. But if you look through early 19th-century drawings, prints and paintings—circa 1830 to 1860 or so—you’ll rarely find a simple image of a rider or two just going somewhere on horseback. Celebrated races and racehorses sometimes get recorded, and there are breathless illustrations of the U.S. Mail’s Pony Express service from later in the century. But usually, people on horseback around our 1830-1850 period of interest only show up as “extras” in images that are focused on other topics. But here’s an exception, the mail carrier, as depicted on a later U.S. postage stamp:

  • Anon., 2c brown Post Rider & Horse plate proof single, engraving, brown ink on paper, 1869. Smithsonian Institution, National Postal Museum, CC0 license.

Note that this is not an image of one of the U.S. Mail’s famed Pony Express riders. This is just a Post Rider with his cylindrical mailbag strapped to his saddle. He’s moving a quit a clip, suggesting he is on a nice, clear road, and definitely not on the rough roads of old Washington/Ozaukee county. We’ll have more on the Mequon-area post riders and mail coaches in later blog entries.

Moving your stuff: carts and wagons

If you were traveling West on land, and you needed to move your household furniture, stove, clothes and other goods, you’d need a some kind of wagon or cart. Here’s a sample of some typical wagons and carts from the period:

  • Bennett, W. J. , Engraver, and George Harvey. Autumn. No. 4. Gigantic sycamores. An ox team crossing the ford. Owl Creek, Ohio / engraved from the original painting by G. Harvey A.N.A., New York, 1841. Color aquatint and letterpress text (original and detail). Library of Congress.
  • Bodmer, Karl, Bellvue, Agentschaft des H. Dougherty am Missouri. Bellvue, Agence de Mr. Dougherty sur le Missouri. Bellvue, Mr. Dougherty’s agency on the Missouri (detail). Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library, New York Public Library Digital Collections. Print issued 1840-1843. A black and white print of this image in the Library of Congress is dated 1832.
  • Kollner, Augustus, Artist. In Washington City [man with two horses and a cart selling produce]. Washington D.C., 1839. Drawing. Library of Congress.
  • Utica [New York], in Cadwallader Colden, et. al., Memoir…at the Completion of the New York Canals, New York, 1825. Image (detail) from “extra-illustrated” edition in New York Public Library Digital Collections, scanned copy of standard edition of book via GoogleBooks.
  • View of a horse and covered cart in front of white frame building with signs for County House, J. Griggs and L.J. Phillips, Daguerrian Rooms, circa 1850-1860, Daguerreotype. Library of Congress.

Hey, where’s that wagon?

Note that there are no images here of the famed Conestoga wagon. The Conestoga wagon had been in service in the eastern states since the 1700s, and remained popular until after the Civil War, when the railroads became a more efficient way to ship cargo and transport people.

It was large enough to transport loads up to 6 tons […], and was drawn by horses, mules, or oxen. It was designed to help keep its contents from moving about when in motion and to aid it in crossing rivers and streams, though it sometimes leaked unless caulked.

Most covered wagons used in the westward expansion of the United States were not Conestoga wagons but rather ordinary farm wagons fitted with canvas covers, as true Conestoga wagons were too heavy for the prairies.


If a pioneer headed westward to newly open lands in a Conestoga wagon, he or she might get as far as western Pennsylvania or parts of Ohio before the prairies became too soft, or the roads too primitive, to drive on. For early Mequon settlers traveling by land, the soft, marshy terrain around Chicago and northeastern Illinois—and the few rough roads cut through the dense forests of southeastern Wisconsin Territory—would only permit passage for more modest-sized farm wagons or carts. As far as I know, the Conestoga wagon does not play a part in the story of early Washington and Ozaukee county immigration.

By coach

Early trails and roads in old Washington/Ozaukee county were usually passable only on foot or horseback. After the trails were initially “grubbed out,” in the late-1830s and early-1840s, it was possible to maneuver a sturdy horse-drawn wagon or cart along one of the first federal and county roads.2

Early Wisconsin stage lines, or mail coaches, first connected larger area cities and villages such as Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison, Janesville, and Mineral Point. By the late-1840s, local roads had improved enough so that Mequon residents could finally begin to travel on various scheduled stage lines, many of which ran regular routes to transport the U.S. Mail. Images of Midwestern stagecoaches from the ’30s and ’40s are hard to come by. Here are two: one a colorful, speedy coach on the well-established route from Washington to Baltimore, the other a more rugged (and typical) Concord coach in New York state:

  • Swett, Moses, Artist. Phoenix Line, “safety coaches” Owned by Beltzhoover & Co. running between Washington and Baltimore, time 5 hours / / M. Swett, invt. et del. ; lith. of Endicott & Swett, N.Y. Maryland, circa 1830 – 1834, Chromolithograph. Library of Congress
  • McIntosh, H. P., View of people in a stagecoach, circa 1850-1930 [sic]. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Immigrants coming to Wisconsin Territory from older, more developed states, would be used to better roads, capable—in many seasons—of handling reliable mail and passenger stagecoaches. Routes were regularly advertised in newspapers. Some ads would include woodcut images of the stagecoaches and horses. Here’s a sample:

All news items via, excerpted and used here under Fair Use provisions of U.S. copyright law.

  • Line of Stages at Racine, Milwaukee Advertiser, December 1, 1836, p. 5
  • Ohio Coach Lines schedule in Cleveland Daily Advertiser, August 8, 1837, p. 2
  • Milwaukee to Chicago daily stage, Milwaukee Sentinel February 19, 1846, p. 2
  • Line of Stages from Green Bay (on Military Road?) Wisconsin Enquirer, April 27, 1839, p. 4
  • Line of Stages & steamboat to Green Bay, etc, Green Bay Republican, reprinted with commentary in Milwaukee Weekly Sentinel, August, 3, 1842, p.2

Crossing the water

Whether you were on foot, horseback, a wagon, cart, or stagecoach, you might need to cross any number of lakes or rivers. Where the water was shallow, you could just ford a not-too-large stream or river. Otherwise, you needed a ferry. Regular man-, sail- and steam-powered ferry service was an established feature of travel back East. And by the early decades of the 1800s, many ferries had sprung into service along the popular routes to the West. Here are two inland ferries. We’ll talk about ferries in harbors and across larger rivers as part of a future post.

  • Bennett, W. J. , Engraver, and George Harvey. Autumn. No. 4. Gigantic sycamores. An ox team crossing the ford. Owl Creek, Ohio / engraved from the original painting by G. Harvey A.N.A., New York, 1841. Color aquatint and letterpress text (detail). Library of Congress.
  • N. Currier, and F Palmer. The ferry boat / F. Palmer, del. ; N. Currier Lith. N.Y. , ca. 1847. [New York: Published by N. Currier] Lithograph. Library of Congress.
  • View on the Susquehanna River, Pa.; raft transporting stagecoach, circa 1810-1815, from “Aquatint by Strickland,” used as illustration in: The Portfolio Magazine, 1810-1815 (original and detailed images. Library of Congress.

What about railroads?

Our earliest white immigrants came to Wisconsin Territory well before railroads had reached the area. It’s true that railroads started to pop up in the East as early as the mid-1820s. Pennsylvania and Ohio began building railroads by at least the 1830s, as part of their growing and interconnected system of roads, stage lines, railroads and canals. Some of our Mequon settlers may have traveled via rail as a part of their migration westward. Along the way, they may have experienced some very early railroad locomotives and coaches such as these:

  • Rail-Road Scene, Little Falls (Valley of the Mowhawk), in Cadwallader Colden, et. al., Memoir…at the Completion of the New York Canals, New York, 1825. Image from “extra-illustrated” edition in New York Public Library Digital Collections, scanned copy of standard edition of book via GoogleBooks. Click to open larger image in new window.
  • The first steam railroad passenger train in America. New York [1831], image published c. 1879, Boston, Mass.: Antique Publishing Co. Library of Congress
  • William Norris manufacturer of locomotive steam engines Philadelphia: F.D. Sanno, chief engineer. / On stone by A. Newsam, Philadelphia: Lehman & Duval, lithrs., circa 1837. Credit: Library Company of Philadelphia.3

There are some early railroads in other parts of Wisconsin, including the lead mining area around Mineral Point and a connection between Milwaukee and Chicago. But railroads don’t really make their way to Washington and Ozaukee counties until the mid- or late-1850s.

Winter travel

The guidebooks of the era recommend traveling land routes in the late summer through November or so. The assumption was that the roads would be drier and in better condition for optimal road travel. But by December or so, long distance travel in the states and territories of the Old Northwest becomes difficult, if not impossible. The upper Great Lakes freeze over, usually before the New Year, and roads become impassible with snow and ice. On the other hand, local travel in winter was still possible via horse-drawn sleigh. And if you had a load to carry across the frozen land, you could hitch your horse or ox team to your sledge.

  • Bennett, W. J. , Engraver, and George Harvey. Winter. No. 5. Impeded travellers in a pine forest. Upper Canada / engraved from the original painting by G. Harvey A.N.A. Canada, 1841. New York. Color aquatint (obverse), text (reverse). Library of Congress.
  • Winter Outing With People Riding in Horse-Drawn Sleighs Across a Snow Covered Landscape Toward a Church in the Distance, [Place not identified: publisher not identified, between 1880 and 1890], Print, color wood engraving. Library of Congress.
  • Currier & Ives. (1853) The road, winter / O. Knirsch, lith. United States, 1853. New York: Published by Currier & Ives. Library of Congress. (lightly retouched for color balance). 
  • Winter Scene With Horse Team Hauling Logs on a Sledge Past a Windmill, With Snow Covered Landscape, Under a Full Moon, [Place not identified: publisher not identified, between 1880 and 1890] Print, color wood engraving. Library of Congress.

For more on winter sleigh rides, see our post from last February, Snow!

Coming up

I’ll have lots more to discuss about many of these images and modes of land transportation in upcoming posts. We’ll also look at the development of hybrid water-land-water routes from Lake Erie across southern Michigan to Lake Michigan in the 1830s and ’40s. And we have much more to say about the Great Lakes water route from the Eastern states and Canada to Milwaukee and Chicago, including info on sailing ships and smaller watercraft.

For now—whether you are part of the Jonathan Clark House Museum education team or just an interested reader—have fun browsing through and using any and all of these “How did they get here?” images.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions, or if you have trouble opening or downloading any of the gallery images.

Happy Trails!



  1. If you just want to flip through the images, just click on one of the gallery photos. This will open that gallery and then you can use the < and > arrows to flip through the pictures in that gallery.

    If you find an image that you’d like to see in detail, click on the info symbol (ℹ︎) in the lower-right corner. That expands the caption area to something like this:
  1. (continued): In the bottom left corner is an icon of a square-with-arrow-inside labeled : “View full size.” Click this and open the selected photo in a new window in it’s full, best-resolution, size. If you then select Save or Save image (or something similar) on your device, this full size image will be downloaded and saved onto your device for your use and enjoyment.

    Technical note: I write the blog using Mac OS; Windows users may need to perform slightly different operations to get the same results. Also, some of the larger, higher-resolution images are big (but not enormous) files. They may take a moment to load and/or download.

  2. We’ve talked a lot about the county’s early roads, and Jonathan M. Clark’s role in laying out and building them. Back in April I began a series of posts on Mequon’s earliest county and federal roads with County Government – Early Records and Monday: Map Day!, followed by Marking out the roads—The First County Roads, 1841, Roads into the Woods, 1841, Another Road into the Woods, 1841 and The county’s earliest federal roads (plural).

    Jonathan Clark gained substantial experience in wilderness road construction during the final year or two of his term with the U.S. Army at Ft. Howard, 1833-36. JMC was also instrumental in the early organization of the Milwaukee to Green Bay “plank road” (now Cedarburg Road, just east of the Clark House) in 1851. More on all this another time.

  3. Note that the image of the locomotive “Lafayette” may only be copied or republished if credit is given to “The Library Company of Philadelphia.”