Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

The works below are biographies & memoirs in Wisconsin history. See the right column for more info about this website.

Go Down to Collective Biographies

Life story of Rasmus B. Anderson

Madison: Anderson 1915
Anderson, Rasmus B. Go to Book

Rasmus Anderson, the American author, scholar, editor, businessman and diplomat, intertwines his life story with the cultural and institutional history of the Norwegian-American community as a whole. There are eyewitness accounts of tension within American factions and branches of the Lutheran church over such issues as slavery and public education as well as anecdotes about Ole Bull, Knut Hamsun, Björnstjerne Björnson, Robert La Follette, James G. Blaine and various European monarchs and heads of state. Anderson began his life on a farm in Albion, Dane County, Wisconsin. After many efforts to finance and obtain the kind of education he wanted, he pioneered the study and teaching of Scandinavian languages at the University of Wisconsin (1869-1883). Between 1885 and 1889, he served as U.S. minister to Denmark. He eventually prospered as president of the Wisconsin Life Insurance Co., from 1895-1922. In 1874, Anderson attracted widespread attention with his America Not Discovered By Columbus. He is remembered for his studies, translations, and retellings of Norse mythology. The more active and public aspects of his life are emphasized in this work.
– from the Library of Congress American Memory website

Anderson, Rasmus (1846-1936)

“Personal Narrative of Capt. Thomas G. Anderson”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Volume 9, 1882, 136-206

Madison: Historical Society of Wisconsin
Anderson, Thomas G.Go to Article

Thomas Gummersall Anderson was born and raised in Canada, where he worked as a store clerk as a young man. In 1800, at the age of 20, he headed for the wilderness of the Great Northwest. This 70-page memoir describes his life for the next 28 years. During the period until the War of 1812 he was an Indian trader in Wisconsin. During that war he raised a company of volunteers and captured Fort McKay at Prairie du Chien. See the article following this one in the same journal entitled “Capt. T. G. Anderson’s Journal, 1814” for a day-by-day memoir of events there.

Anderson, Thomas Gummersall (1779-1875)

“Reminiscences of Early Days on Mackinac Island”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol 14, 17-64, 1898

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Baird, Elizabeth T.Go to Article

Elizabeth Therese Fisher Baird was born at Prairie du Chien in 1810, the daughter of fur trader Henry Munro Fisher. She spent much of her youth on Mackinac Island, where she was married to Henry S. Baird at age 14 in 1824. She and her husband, a young lawyer, immediately departed for Green Bay, where she lived until her death in 1890.

Elizabeth Baird published a series of articles about her memories in the Green Bay State Gazette from 1886 to 1887. Those articles were reproduced in condensed and edited form in two articles in the Wisconsin Historical Collections. This is the first of that pair; the second is “Reminiscences of Life in Territorial Wisconsin”, found below on this webpage. A third article, “Indian Customs and Early Recollections” had been previously published in Wisconsin Historical Collections in 1882. That is also found below.

At the beginning of this article are portraits of Elizabeth Baird and her mother.

Baird, Elizabeth Therese (1810-1890)

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

“Reminiscences of Life in Territorial Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol 15, 205-263, 1900

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Baird, Elizabeth T.Go to Article

This is the second part of a 2-part article. See the entry above on this web page for Part 1, “Reminiscences of Early Days on Mackinac Island”.

Baird, Elizabeth Therese (1810-1890)

“Indian Customs and Early Recollections”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol 9, 303-326, 1882

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Baird, Elizabeth T.Go to Article

See the entry above on this web page for the article by Elizabeth Baird, “Reminiscences of Early Days on Mackinac Island” for information about the author.

This article has several parts. Pages 303-316 are entirely about various Indian customs. On page 316 begins a small section describing Mackinac Island when Baird visited and lived there as a girl until 1824, and on page 319 begins reminiscences of Green Bay when she arrived in 1824. The last part is a description of an Indian massacre at Prairie du Chien in 1830.

Baird, Elizabeth Therese (1810-1890)

“Nicholas Boilvin, Indian Agent”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 27, No. 2, Dec. 1943, 145-164

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Scanlan, Peter Lawrence Go to Article

The author describes the experiences of Nicolas Boilvin (1761-1827), born in Canada and an early resident of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, who worked as an Indian Agent from 1811-27 in the areas surrounding Prairie du Chien.

Boilvin, Nicholas (1761-1827)

An English Settler in Pioneer Wisconsin; the Letters of Edwin Bottomley, 1842-50

Madison: State Historical Society 1918
Bottomley, Edwin. Quaife, Milo M. ed.Go to Book

Edwin Bottomley was born in Lancaster, England; the son of a manager of a cotton mill. As a young man Edwin became a skilled pattern-maker in the mills, marrying in 1829 the orphan grand-daughter of a physician. In 1842, with five children, the couple decided to change the future for all of them and emigrate to America.

This book consists of the letters that Edwin wrote to his father from the time the family boarded for departure in 1842 until his untimely death in 1850 in Burlington, Racine county. The Wisconsin Historical Society chose to publish the collection of letters not because Bottomley became an important personage, but because he didn’t. He was very typical of early Wisconsin immigrants, except that a detailed written record of his experience was preserved.

Bottomley, Edwin (1809-1850)

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

Memoirs of Mary D. Bradford; Autobiographical and Historical Reminiscences of Education in Wisconsin …

Evansville, WI: Antes 1932
Bradford, Mary DavisonGo to Book

(title continued) “… through progressive service from rural school teaching to city superintendent; illustrated with photographs”

Born in the farming community of Paris, Kenosha County, in 1856, Mary Davison Bradford was forced by her father’s ill health to begin teaching at the age of sixteen, before she had finished high school, and she continued to work actively as an educator until 1922. Bradford describes how she taught in small rural schools, in the expanding Kenosha system, and at centers of educational experimentation such as Central State Teachers College at Stevens Point and the Stout Training School at Menomonie. Eventually appointed Superintendent of Schools in Kenosha, Bradford instituted kindergarten, vocational training programs, breakfast programs for needy children, and politically independent procurement and hiring processes, and advocated courses in citizenship and health education. Bradford’s autobiography chronicles the development of Wisconsin’s public school system in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Wisconsin had a strong commitment to primary, secondary, and higher public education in this era, and Bradford’s work reflects at the grassroots level many of the pedagogic reforms then sweeping the country.
– from the Library of Congress American Memory website

Bradford, Mary Davison (1856-1943)

Early days in the Chippewa Valley

Menomonie, WI: Flint-Douglas 1916
Bundy, Charles SmithGo to Book

This is an autobiographical narrative about a young lawyer’s search for the best community in which to build a legal practice in the Upper Midwest in the late 1850s. Charles Smith Bundy’s experiences reveal how networks of friends, family, and associates from earlier places of residence assisted young men anxious to “get ahead” in mid-nineteenth-century America. Bundy first came to Wisconsin from Oxford, Chenango County, New York, in 1856. His initial contacts in Wisconsin were relatives and two businessmen from his home community, a social foundation from which he was soon able to develop political contacts. His account provides vivid descriptions of Reed’s Landing, Pepin, Eau Claire, Menomonie, and Chippewa Falls.
– American Memory Website, Library of Congress

Bundy, Charles Smith (1831-1928)

Reminiscences of a Pioneer in the Rock River Country

Madison, State Historical Society of Wisconsin 1908
Coe, Edwin DelosGo to Book

In this 13-page article the author recounts his early years not far from Watertown, from 1839 to 1848.

Coe, Edwin Delos (1840-1909)

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

Myself: The Autobiography of John R. Commons

Madison: University of Wisconsin 1963
Commons, John R.Go to Book

John R. Commons was an American institutional economist, progressive, and labor historian at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Among his contributions was the editing of a 10-volume Documentary History of American Industrial Society, which preserved many documents of the American labor movement.

Commons, John Rogers (1862-1945)

Patrick Cudahy: His Life

Milwaukee: Burdick & Allen 1912
Cudahy, Patrick Go to Book

Patrick Cudahy was the son of an Irish immigrant who settled in Milwaukee. Patrick was employed at the Plankington and Armour meat packing plant, where he worked his way up to superintendent. In 1888 he and his brother John acquired the company, changing the name to “Patrick Cudahy”.

Cudahy, Patrick Jr. (1849-1919)

“Jeremiah Curtin, Traveler, Linguist, Ethnologist”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 35, No. 1, 1951, 17-20

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Heath, FredericGo to Article

“A biographical look at Jeremiah Curtin (1835-1906), who grew up in Milwaukee and went on to become a well-known linguist of Spanish, Hebrew, Icelandic and Sanskrit, among others, at Harvard. He studied Russian and Polish at Cambridge University. Also mentioned in the article is Curtin’s work with the Imperial Russian government, his work with the American Bureau of Ethnology to study American Indian languages, and his world travels for pleasure and study.”
– Wisconsin Magazine of History

Curtin, Jeremiah (1835-1906)

Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin, edited with notes and introduction by Joseph Schafer

Madison: State Historical Society 1940
Curtin, Jeremiah and Curtin, Alma M. CardellGo to Book

Born to an Irish Catholic family, Jeremiah Curtin, a linguist, translator, and folklorist, spent his early years on a farm in Greenfield, Wisconsin, and the first portion of this memoir, compiled by his wife, Alma Cardell Curtin, concerns his rural Wisconsin boyhood and subsequent struggles to obtain a scholarly education. After graduating from Harvard (1863), where he studied under Francis James Child, he moved to New York, read law, and worked for the U.S. Sanitary Commission while translating and teaching languages. He then traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia (1864), where he served as Secretary to the American legation headed by Cassius Clay. The memoir describes their difficult relationship, as well as Curtin’s first travels through Russia and the Caucasus. Upon his return to the United States, Curtin lectured throughout the country about Russia, marrying Alma Cardell of Warren, Vermont in 1872.
– Summary from American Memory website.

Curtin’s birthplace in Greenfield has been preserved and is open to the public.

Curtin, Jeremiah (1835-1906)

Henry Dodge, Frontiersman

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin 1957
Clark, James I. Go to Book

Dodge was a U.S. Congressman and Senator, and served as Wisconsin’s first Territorial Governor.

Dodge, Henry (1782-1867)

Biographies & Memoirs in Illinois History

The Life of Henry Dodge from 1782 to 1833 with Portrait by George Catlin …

Burlington, Iowa: 1890
Salter, WilliamGo to Book

(title continued) “… and maps of the battles of the Pecatonica and Wisconsin Heights in the Black Hawk War”

According to the author, Dodge was the first “American” (white?) child born (1782) in the area that later became the state of Indiana. He had 19 public service commissions from 1806 to 1846, including many years of military service up to the rank of Colonel, and capped by three 3-year appointments as Governor of the Territory of Wisconsin. This short, admiring biography contains highlights of Dodge’s career, a fairly extensive description of the Black Hawk War, and copies of letters from participants in that war describing key actions.

Dodge, Henry (1782-1867)

“James Duane Doty: Mephistopheles in Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 34, No. 4, Summer 1951, 195-198

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Smith, Alice E.Go to Article

“The article chronicles Doty’s career as a judge in the Western Michigan territory, as a territorial delegate to Congress representing Wisconsin, his involvement in Wisconsin and national politics as well as his role in land speculation around Wisconsin, in particular Madison, Neenah, and Menasha. The article concludes with his appointment, in 1861, by Abraham Lincoln as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Utah territory and then in 1863 to the office of Governor.”
– Wisconsin Magazine of History

Doty, James Duane (1795-1865)

“Pioneer Recollections of Beloit and Southern Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 1, no. 3 March 1918 pp 266-286

Madison: State Historical Society
Fisher, Lucius G.Go to Article

This is the story of Lucius Fisher, as told by himself, who found his way from Vermont to Chicago as a teenager in 1837, and then went on to Milwaukee (pop. 1,000) the same year. As this was in the wake of a nationwide financial panic and there was no work available there, Fisher decided to head toward the Galena mines. He then walked by way of the Indian trail to Beloit. Much of the rest of the article seems to be about early times in Beloit and the surrounding area.

Fisher, Lucius George (1808-1886?)

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

“Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 …”

Boston, Roberts Brothers, 1874
Fuller, MargaretGo to Article

Subtitle: “At Home and Abroad; or, Things and Thoughts in America and Europe”

Writer, editor, and social reformer Margaret Fuller recounts her trip to the Great Lakes in 1843. Organized as a series of travel episodes with literary and social commentary, Fuller traveled by train, steamboat, carriage, and on foot in a circle from Niagara Falls to Mackinac Island, west to Milwaukee, south to Pawpaw, Illinois, and back to Buffalo, New York. In this excerpt, Fuller describes her journey to and experiences in Wisconsin. The text given here was edited after her death by her brother.
– Summary from Wisconsin Historical Society site.

Fuller, Margaret (1810-1850)

When I was a Little Girl

NY: Macmillan 1913
Gale, Zona Go to Book

“It is not an autobiography nor a continuous narrative: it consists of detached scenes in the life of the little girl, with the feelings and fancies which each evoked. Most of these are illustrated by tales which are really allegories.” In one we learn how time was first measured, and in another a revelation of
the meaning of equality. “Upon the whole, the message of the book Is more to grown-ups than to children, helping us to recapture not only the vanished days, but the vanished spirit with which we met them.”
“The book Is an unusual addition to the very limited number of good reminiscences of childhood.”
– The Book Review Digest

Zona Gale (1874-1938) was an author and playwright, and was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, in 1921. Born in Portage, WI, she attended Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam and received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She then worked for six years at newspapers in Milwaukee and New York before returning to Portage, where she lived and worked for the rest of her life. In 1920 she published the novel Miss Lulu Bett, and then adapted it for a play. (The play can be found on this website, at the Wisconsin Fiction page.) It was this play that won the Pulitzer. In addition to being a prolific writer, Gale was very active in progressive political causes.

See also: Books about 19th Century American Women Authors

Gale, Zona (1874-1938)

A Son of the Middle Border

NY: Macmillan 1917
Garland, HamlinGo to Book

“‘A son of the middle border’ is Mr Garland’s view of himself and of the life he encountered along a vista that has seen one era after another of American progress give place to its successor. It is, moreover, a story of the advance of an American boy which Is none the less miraculous because it has been repeated so often in our history. … He was born in 1860 and his infancy and early childhood coincided with the most critical period in American history. His father, who had come to Wisconsin from Maine, after three years of work in Boston, enlisted in the Union army In 1863, and among the boy’s earliest recollections is the memory of his return. . . . Scene after scene of his childhood, face after face out of a past rich In recollections, Mr Garland brings before us, as his father restlessly moved westward from Wisconsin to Minnesota, from Minnesota to Iowa, and from Iowa to Dakota. . . . With his brother Franklin he went on his adventure into the east. . . . This was in 1883, when Mr Garland was twenty-three years of age. His real invasion of Boston came a little later. . . . For nearly ten years he was a Bostonian, winning his way against obstacles that would have daunted many a less ambitious young man. . . . Finally he became a professional man of letters.”
“The autobiographer is a rarer bird than the novelist; and we believe that this record may take its place among the handful of American classics of its kind.”
“In all the region of autobiography, so far as I know it, I do not know quite the like of Mr Garland’s story of his life, and I should rank it with the very greatest of that kind in literature. As you read it you realize it the memorial of a generation, of a whole order of American experience; as you review it you perceive it an epic of such mood and make as has not been imagined before.”
– The Book Review Digest

Garland, Hannibal Hamlin (1860-1940)

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

Reminiscences of Adele Gratiot; Recollections of a Young Mother in the Lead Region, 1826-1841

Weekly Gazette May 2, 1879

Galena Ill.
Gratiot, AdeleGo to Article

Adele Gratiot was a young mother of 24 when she moved to southwestern Wisconsin in the summer of 1826. Her husband and his brother, successful merchants in St. Louis, had decided to try their hand at mining and smelting in the Lead Region, and came north to found the village of Gratiot’s Grove in Lafayette County in 1825. Mrs. Gratiot here tells the story of their move, their neighbors, and about the Winnebago War of 1827 and the Black Hawk War in 1832. She provides many details about daily life on the mining frontier as women and children experienced it in the 1820’s and 1830’s, including their housing, furnishings, clothing, meals, and social life.
– Summary from Wisconsin Historical Society site.

Gratiot, Adèle Maria Antoinette de Perdreauville (1802-1873)

“Augustin Grignon’s Recollections”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol 3, 195-295, 1857

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Grignon, AugustinGo to Article

“The personal narrative of fur trader Augustin Grignon (1780-1860), whose family controlled the crucial portage on the Fox River at present-day Kaukauna from 1805 to 1835. From this place, Grignon met and was involved in some way with every important event that touched the Fox-Wisconsin waterway. His narrative touches on his own experiences and those of his forebears, from the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s uprising to the invention of the railroad and the great waves of European immigrants.”
– from the article webpage summary by the Society.

Grignon, Augustin (1780-1860)

Family correspondence, 1838, 1855-1874 (Transcriptions)

Madison: State of Wisconsin Collection
Hastings, Lucy A. Go to Collection

Family correspondence of 25 letters to and from Lucy A. Hastings and her husband David; including letters from relatives in Dexter, Michigan, and an 1855 description of moving from Massachusetts to Oxford, Wisconsin, and information on Indians around Oxford, moving to Eau Claire in 1857, and an Indian panic there in 1862.

Hastings, Lucy A. (?-?)

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

Autobiography, Orrin Henry Ingram: May, 1830–December, 1912

Eau Claire, WI: 1912
Ingram, Orrin HenryGo to Book

Ingram was a successful lumberman in the Chippewa Valley and influential resident of Eau Claire.

Ingram, Orrin Henry (1830-1918)

Solomon Juneau, A Biography. With Sketches of the Juneau Family

Milwaukee, WI: Evening Wisconsin Printing Co. 1916
Fox, Isabella Go to Book

Solomon Juneau is considered the founder of Milwaukee. He was a French-Canadian fur trader who settled with his Metis wife on the Milwaukee River near Lake Michigan in 1818, establishing a post there when the area was still wilderness. He put his business skills to work in developing the village of Milwaukee, and was for many years one of its leading citizens. He served as mayor of Milwaukee from 1846 to 1847 and was also the town’s first postmaster.

Juneau, Solomon (1793-1856)

“Rufus King, Soldier, Editor, and Statesman”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 4, No. 4, 1921, 371-381

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
King, CharlesGo to Article

King, Rufus (1814-1876)

Wau-bun, the “Early Day” of the North-west

Chicago: Caxton Club 1901
Kinzie, Juliette AugustaGo to Book

Juliette Kinzie published this memoir in 1856 about her life at Fort Winnebago (Portage) in 1830-1834, where her husband was the U.S. Indian sub-agent.

“This book recounts the experiences of a young, genteel wife adjusting to the military life and frontier conditions of life at Fort Winnebago, Wisconsin, in the early 1830s. She describes her perilous journeys back and forth to the early settlement of Chicago, her complex cultural encounters with a diverse frontier society, and her determination to instill her own standards of civilized behavior and Christian observance. There is abundant information on the customs, folklore, economic practices, life-cycle events, medical treatments, diet, warfare, environmental responses, social hierarchies, and gender roles of the different groups of people that Kinzie comes to know best. She also provides detailed portraits of individual native Americans, voyageurs, fur traders, missionaries, pioneers, soldiers, and African Americans who impressed her positively or negatively. As pieces of local and family history, Kinzie retells stories of settlers captured by Indians; battle scenes from the wars with the British, the Sioux (Dakota) and other native Americans; and the fall of Fort Dearborn.”
-Library of Congress American Memory website

See also: Books about 19th Century American Women Authors

Kinzie, Juliette Augusta (1806-1870)

La Follette’s Autobiography: A Personal Narrative of Political Experiences

Madison: La Follette 1919
La Follette, Robert M.Go to Book

La Follette, Robert Marion Sr. (1855-1925)

“Liberace: The Milwaukee Maestro”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 92, No. 2, 2008-9, 14-27

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Povletich, WilliamGo to Article

Liberace, Władziu Valentino (1919-1987)

“Early Times and Events in Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Volume 2, 1856, 98-196

Madison: Historical Society of Wisconsin
Lockwood, James H.Go to Article

Lockwood (1793- ?) describes his life from the time he was raised on a farm in upstate New York. He worked for a sutler to an artillery regiment in Buffalo during the War of 1812, and at war’s end was offered a job working for the sutler to the military post at Green Bay. This 98-page memoir seems mainly to cover Lockwood’s first few years in Wisconsin and includes many details about Indian life.

Lockwood, James H. (1793-1857)

“The Macarthurs and the Mitchells: Wisconsin’s First Military Families”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 94, No. 2, 2010, 14-27

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
McLean, JeffreyGo to Article

“Pioneer life in Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol 7, 1876, 366-404

Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society
Merrell, HenryGo to Article

Henry Merrell moved from Sackett’s Harbor, NY to Fort Winnebago, WI in 1834 where he was appointed sutler. Soon afterward he became postmaster, and served as superintendent of the Bank of Wisconsin. He was elected to the state senate in 1848. Throughout these years he was a merchant, and manufactured threshing machines and other farming implements. In this article Merrell relates the details of his journey from New York to Fort Winnebago, describes Fort Winnebago in the 1830s, and portrays life in the region with many lively anecdotes.

Merrell, Henry (1804-1876)

Old Times on the Upper Mississippi; the Recollections of a Steamboat Pilot from 1854 to 1863

Cleveland: Clark 1909
Merrick, George ByronGo to Book

The ‘Upper Mississippi’ is defined in Wikipedia as the portion north of Cairo, IL, where the Ohio meets the Mississippi, but for this steamboat captain, the southern-most port on the Upper Mississippi seems to have been St. Louis. The northern port was in the vicinity of St. Paul; 800 miles by river. There are a number of photos of steamships, and of some of the locations featured in the text. In the appendix is a list of all the steamboats that traveled the Upper Mississippi from 1823-1863. Chapter headings are:

-Early Impressions
-Indians, Dugouts, and Wolves
-On the Levee at Prescott
-In the Engine-room
-The Engineer
-The “Mud” Clerk-Comparative Honors
-Wooding Up
-The Mate
-The “Old Man”
-The Pilots and their Work
-Knowing the River
-The Art of Steering
-An Initiation
-Early Pilots
-Incidents of River Life
-Mississippi Menus
-Bars and Barkeepers
-Gamblers and Gambling
-Steamboat Racing
-Music and Art
-Steamboat Bonanzas
-Wild-cat Money and Town-sites
-A Pioneer Steamboatman
-A Versatile Commander; a Wreck
-A Stray Nobleman
-In War Time
-At Fort Ridgeley
-Improving the River
-Killing Steamboats
-Living it Over Again

See also: Twain, Mark, Life on the Mississippi in Navigation on the Great Lakes & the Region’s Rivers

See also: Life on the River in Frontier Days

Merrick, George Byron (1838-1934)

Billy Mitchell: Founder of Our Air Force and Prophet Without Honor

NY: Dutton 1942
Gauvreau, Emile and Cohen, LesterGo to Book

Mitchell, William Lendrum (1879-1936)

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

The Story of my Boyhood and Youth; with illustrations from sketches by the author

Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1913
Muir, JohnGo to Book

John Muir (1838-1914), whose writings about the natural world have shaped the conservation and environmental movements for more than a century, wrote this autobiographical account near the end of his life about his childhood in Dunbar, Scotland, his immigration to America (1849), his adolescence on a pioneer farmstead near Kingston, Wisconsin, and his student years at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The Story of My Boyhood and Youth reveals the evolution of Muir’s scientific curiosity and the beginnings of his reverential attitude towards nature. Treating his encounters with wildlife as high adventure, he gives especially informed attention to bird life in both Scotland and Wisconsin.
-Summary of the entry at the Library of Congress American Memory website

“In essence it is largely a chronicle of two things, of many animal pets and of the Spartan upbringing which Muir’s father, to an even greater degree than other strongly religious Scotchmen of his day, felt wise for his children. Added to this are many well-told anecdotes of Scotch life and of times and habits in Wisconsin 60 years ago, when forests were being felled to make farms for the new settlers and when though there does not seem to have been actual menace from the Indians, livestock would occasionally be stolen or killed by a thieving redskin. But one of the most remarkable features of the book is to be found In the descriptions of Muir’s various inventions as a boy and later as a young man while painfully working his way through the University of Wisconsin before he began roamIng the world as a naturalist.”
“It is a notable piece of autobiographic writing – the story of an unusually interesting boyhood and youth told with an energy and an eye for the diverting and significant that distinguish it at once from the slipshod garrulity of most books of the kind.”
– The Book Review Digest

Muir, John (1838-1914)

“Pioneer Life in Wisconsin”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol. 2 (1856) pp 326- 364

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Parkinson, Daniel M.Go to Article

Parkinson was born in Tennessee in 1790 and migrated to southern Illinois in 1817. In 1826 there was great excitement about lead being discovered at Galena, so he joined the crowds of people flocking to that region to get rich. He stayed on, temporarily as a militia sergeant, then as a miner, then as a tavern keeper. In this article he describes the lively scene of the mining country during the ‘lead rush’.

Parkinson, Daniel M. (1790-1868)

“Memories of Early Wisconsin and the Gold Mines”

Wisconsin Magazine of History Vol 5, December 1, 1921, 119-141

Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society
Parkinson, John B.Go to Article

The author’s family moved from Illinois to Wisconsin in 1836, when the author was two. They settled on a farm in Fayette, Lafayette County, and the author reminisces about their life there in the early days. In 1852 he went with a small group by wagon to the gold mines of California, and describes the journey and his experience at the mines.

Parkinson, John Barber (1834-1927)

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

Chapters in Fox River Valley History

Madison: State Historical Society 1913
Powell, William and Arndt, John WallaceGo to Book

This booklet contains two papers: 1. William Powell’s Recollections; and 2. Pioneers and Durham Boats on Fox River, by John Wallace Arndt.

“William Powell’s Recollections in an Interview with Lyman C. Draper.”
A paper was dictated by Captain William Powell in 1877 or 1878 to Historical Society Secretary Draper, “embracing his recollections of the Menomonees and their prominent chiefs, Col. Robert Dickson, the British leader of the Northwestern Indian tribes during the War of 1812-15, and the derivation and meaning of many Indian geographical names in Wisconsin having a Menomonee origin.” When the Historical Society editors many years later prepared it for publication, they combined a letter written by William Powell detailing some additional facts in the lives of father and son.

“Pioneers and Durham Boats on Fox River” by John Wallace Arndt.
Arndt arrived in 1824 at the age of nine with his father, and assisted him with transporting goods on the Fox river. This paper includes details about the introduction of the Durham boat on the river, glimpses of some notable early settlers in the Fox River Valley, and a chronicle of a typical voyage from Green Bay to Fort Winnebago in 1830.

Powell, William (1810-1885)

Life story of the Ringling Brothers …

Chicago: Donnelley & Sons 1900
Ringling, AlfredGo to Book

(title continued) “… Humorous Incidents, Thrilling Trials, Many Hardships, and Ups and Downs, Telling how the Boys built a Circus, and showing the True Road to Success

This appears to be sort of an ‘official’ biography, produced by the Ringling Brothers’ company. Five sons of German immigrants growing up in Baraboo, WI created an act in which they performed skits and juggling routines, performing at town halls around Wisconsin. In 1884 the brothers began their first circus, and by the end of the 1880s it was one of the best in the country. For many years the Ringling Brothers circus was based in Baraboo, and there is still a large circus museum there, at the site where it wintered.

See also: Conklin, George, Ways of the Circus in Section 791 “Public entertainment” in Amusements – Books on Recreation Topics

For more about 19th century theatre and entertainment, see:
– Cody, Mrs. Louisa (Frederici) and Cooper, C. R., Memories of Buffalo Bill in Century Past Biographies: C
Kellogg, Clara, Memoirs of an American Prima Donna in Century Past Biographies: I, J, K & L;
Daly, Joseph Francis, Life of Augustin Daly in Century Past Biographies: D, E & F;
Barnum, P. T., Struggles and Triumphs: or, Forty years’ Recollections of P.T. Barnum in Century Past Biographies: A & B;
Sherman, Robert L, The Chicago Stage; its Records and Achievements in Illinois Cultural History;
Strang, Lewis C., Famous Actresses of the Day in America in Century Past Collective Biography Q – Z;
Carson, William G. , The Theatre on the Frontier; the Early Years of the St. Louis Stage in Illinois Cultural History

Ringling Brothers, circus history, Baraboo (WI), history of Wisconsin, autobiography, free ebooks

“Pioneering in the Wisconsin Lead Region”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol. XV (1900) pp 338-389

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Rodolf, TheodoreGo to Article

Theodore Rodolf came to Wisconsin from Switzerland in 1834, settling in the lead country of Lafayette County. Drawn to the area because of its rising economic importance, Rodolf met many prominent Wisconsin settlers, including the Gratiots, in his search for a new home and a new occupation. Rodolf tried his hand at a number of occupations, including farming and running a grocery store, but had little luck until he entered politics. In 1853, he was appointed to the land office in La Crosse. Rodolf later served in the state assembly and was mayor of La Crosse. Rodolf reminisces here about the growth of the lead region and his life since coming to Wisconsin.
– Summary from Wisconsin Historical Society site.

Rodolf, Theodore (1815-1892)

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

Uncle Jerry: Life of General Jeremiah M. Rusk. Stage Driver, Farmer, Soldier, Legislator, Governor, Cabinet Officer

Madison: Hill 1895
Casson, HenryGo to Book

Rusk moved from Ohio to Vernon County, WI (then Bad Axe County) in the early 1850s, rising quickly from tavern-keeper to Sheriff and then to legislator. The author of this admiring biography was Rusk’s personal secretary in his years as Governor and U.S. Cabinet member.

Rusk, Jeremiah McLain (1830-1893)

Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz, 1841-1869, translated and edited by Joseph Schafer

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin 1928
Schurz, CarlGo to Book

This is a collection of personal letters written by the eminent German- American statesman, Carl Schurz (1829-1906), to his immediate family and close friends. Schurz maintained a legal residence in Watertown, Wisconsin from 1855 to 1866, even though lecture tours and campaign speeches took him all across the northern United States. Several of these letters deal with Schurz’s Wisconsin years, and most are published here for the first time in English. They are filled with descriptive insights about German immigrants and native-born Americans as well as about the newly developing urban centers of the Upper Midwest. Schurz was a political revolutionary during his university years in his native Germany. When he emigrated to the United States, he became an outstanding spokesman for the anti-slavery cause and the Republican party. One of his missions was to mobilize German-American communities against slavery, but his rhetorical skills in English as well as German soon won him a broader following. Later, Schurz became an ardent champion of civil service reform. His other contributions to American life ranged from farming and practicing law to serving as Ambassador to Spain (1861-62), Civil War general (1862-63), Senator from Missouri (1869-75), organizer of the Liberal Republican Party (1872), and Secretary of the Interior (1877-81), where he made the conservation of natural resources an object of policy for the first time. Schurz was also considered one of the leading journalists of his day, editing the New York Evening Post (1881- 83) and writing for Harper’s Weekly (1892-1901). His biographies of Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln are still read today.
– from the Library of Congress American Memory website

Schurz, Carl Christian (1829-1906)

“Narrative of a Pioneer of Wisconsin and Pike’s Peak”

The Wisconsin Magazine of History Volume 12, number 4, June 1929 pp 403-421

Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Sheldon, Thomas HanfordGo to Article

Sheldon was a boy in the summer of 1833 when his family left their home in Detroit and traveled across Indiana and Illinois to a new home in Mineral Point, WI. In this account he describes some of the events that occurred during the journey, as well as the family’s life in Wisconsin in the early years.

Sheldon, Thomas Hanford (1825-1909)

“Reuben Gold Thwaites”

Historical Collections Vol 39, 1915, 387-391

Lansing: Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society
Wood, Edwin O.Go to Article

A biographical sketch and appreciation of Dr. Thwaites (1853-1913), who led the State Historical Society of Wisconsin from 1887 to 1913, and was the author or editor of numerous historical works.

Thwaites, Reuben Gold (1853-1913)

Memories of Early Days

Weaver, Melinda A. Go to Book

A woman looks back 40 years to when she and her husband moved to Waukesha County, Wisconsin from New York.

Weaver, Melinda Ann Warren (1813-1886)

The Worlds and I

New York: Doran 1918
Wilcox, Ella WheelerGo to Book

An autobiography of a popular writer. Wilcox grew up at Lake Mendota, near Madison, where she remained until her late 20s. She became widely known for contributions to leading newspapers and for her poetry. Her poem Solitude began with the still-familiar lines: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone”

“These intimate reminiscences disclose to us the complete life of Ella Wheeler Wilcox from her earliest babyhood days. The final chapters contain much comment on spiritualistic phenomena. Her mother’s dreams and ambitions for the coming baby; the rather queer little girl’s early life in the meagre, discordant Wheeler household; her unique “breaking into print”; her many subsequent successes; her romance; her happy married life with its abundance of acquaintances; and finally her real sorrow, and the consolation she found in spirit communion with her dead husband, are here recorded with much vivid detail. Numerous photographs at the close of the book repeat Mrs Wilcox’s narrative, presenting “In a unique and appealing way the chief events of Mrs Wilcox’s life to the beginning of 1919.”
“Her meteoric career she discusses delightfully. Her American friends compose a remarkable company of notable people.”
– The Book Review Digest

See also: Books about 19th Century American Women Authors

Wilcox, Ella Wheeler (1850-1919)

Collective Biographies

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940

Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress
Go to Collection

This collection of life histories consists of approximately 2,900 documents, compiled and transcribed by more than 300 writers from 24 states, working on the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program that was part of the U.S. Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA) from 1936 to 1940. Typically 2,000-15,000 words in length, the documents vary in form from narratives to dialogues to reports to case histories. They chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century and include tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, grueling factory work, and the immigrant experience.
– From the Collection’s Website.

Folklore, biography, life story, life history, oral history, personal narrative, memoirs, free ebooks

The Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Representative Men of Chicago, Milwaukee and the World’s Columbian Exposition

Chicago: American Biographical Publishing Company 1892
Go to Book

The book has two parts, both together in one volume at this link.

Commemorative Biographical Record of the Fox River Valley Counties of Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago …

Chicago: J. H. Beers and Co., 1895
Go to Book

(title continued) “… containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens, and of many of the early settled families”

See the notes at the entry immediately below for the Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lake Region for information about the J. H. Beers biographical publications.

biography, county history, history of Wisconsin, Fox River Valley, Brown county (WI), Outagamie county (WI), Winnebago county (WI), free ebooks

Commemorative Biographical Record of Prominent and Representative Men of Racine and Kenosha Counties Wisconsin

Chicago: Beers 1906
Go to Book

(title continued) ” … Containing Biographical Sketches of Business and Professional Men and Many of the Early Settled Families”

Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lake Region, containing biographical sketches …

Chicago: J.H. Beers 1905
Go to Book

(title continued) “… of prominent and representative citizens and many of the early settled families”

There are almost 500 biographies in this book. Normally the profiles are of people alive at the time the book was published (1905). The length and depth of articles vary, depending on the perceived importance of the individual. Some publishers of group biographies like these, which were commonly a part of county histories, charged fees to the individuals profiled, and a generous payment could often inflate the size of the profile.

These profiles can be very useful for tracing family history because they normally contain biographical information about the parents, and sometimes the grandparents and in-laws, of a subject. However, publisher’s researchers did not normally attempt to verify information provided by subjects, so factual errors are common.

biography, county history, history of Wisconsin, free ebooks

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

Fifty Years in the Northwest; With an introduction and appendix containing reminiscences, incidents and notes

St. Paul: Pioneer Press 1888
Folsom, William H. C., edited by Edwards, E.E.Go to Book

While the title suggests this volume is an autobiography, it consists mostly of county histories of a number of counties in northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota, with a collection of biographies for each county. The author lived in the region for fifty years and has also included his own reminiscences and some autobiographical material.

Memorial Record of the Fathers of Wisconsin Containing Sketches …

Madison: Atwood 1880
Tenney, Horace AddisonGo to Book

(title continued) “… of the Lives and Career of the Members of the Constitutional Conventions of 1846 and 1847-8, with a History of Early Settlement in Wisconsin”

This book is about the two constitutional conventions held in Wisconsin in 1846 and 1847, and the men who participated in that effort to pass a progressive constitution. There is a brief early history of Wisconsin, a chapter describing the two conventions, and then the bulk of the volume contains biographies of those political figures. The full text of the two constitutions – the rejected one and the approved one – are also included.

Wisconsin Constitution, Wisconsin Constitutional Convention, history of Wisconsin, political history, legal history, biography, free ebooks

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

Notable Men of Wisconsin

Milwaukee: Williams 1902
Go to Book

This book contains portraits only, not biographies, of about 700 men. The index begins on page 21.

Portrait and Biographical Record of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, containing biographical sketches of old settlers and representative citizens of the county

Chicago: Excelsior 1894
Go to Book

There may be about 450 profiles of Waukesha citizens in this volume. A glance through some of them indicates that all or nearly all were alive at the time of publication in 1894, and the majority would not have been considered ‘pioneers’ as they were not among the earliest arrivals in the region. Presumably many of the leading citizens can be found here.

biography, county history, history of Wisconsin, Waukesha county (WI), free ebooks

Sketches of Wisconsin Pioneer Women

Ft. Atkinson, WI: Daughters of the American Revolution in Wisconsin 1924
Dexheimer, Florence ChambersGo to Book

About 75 individual women around Wisconsin are profiled, many of whom, in addition to being pioneers in their regions, had notable achievements in voluntary service or professional careers. There are also group profiles for the ‘pioneer women’ of Racine and Superior.

For works about leading American women of the 19th century, see:
– Adams, Elmer Cleveland and Foster, Warren Dunham, Heroines of modern progress in Century Past Collective Biography A – F
Parkman, Mary Rosetta, Heroines of service in Century Past Collective Biography G – P;
Worthington & Co. , Our Famous Women in Century Past Collective Biography Q – Z

biography, women pioneers, history of Wisconsin, frontier life, Racine (WI), Superior (WI), books online

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

The United States Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-made Men: Wisconsin Volume

Chicago: American Biographical 1877
Go to Book

This volume was produced in 1877, in an early phase of this popular late-nineteenth century genre of biographical collections. It contains profiles for a few hundred prominent men in Wisconsin, of up to two or three pages and occasionally with a full-page illustration. As is usual with this type of book, a profile normally contains, at a minimum, names of parents, date of arrival in Wisconsin, a few interesting details of his personal story, some professional background, details about Civil War service if any, and some basic data about marriage, wife and children.

See the list of resources on this website for: Genealogy & Local History Research

biography, county history, history of Wisconsin, free ebooks

Wisconsin Diplomats

Manitowoc, WI: Maresch 1963
Plumb, Ralph G.Go to Book

A book of 80 pages. Chapter headings are:

Philo White
George W. Jones
Alexander W. Randall – Rufus King
Carl Schurz
Lucius Fairchild
Horace Rublee
Rasmus B. Anderson
Edward S. Bragg
Paul S. Reinsch
Albert G. Schmedeman
John Hicks
Gerhard Bading
Joseph E. Davies
John Cudahy
Wiliam D. Leahy
Robert D. Murphy
Karl L. Rankin
George Frost Kennan
Wisconsin Consuls

Wisconsin Lives of National Interest; Sketches of some Prominent People Identified with the History of the Badger State

Appleton, WI: Nelson 1937
Crow, William L.Go to Book

49 Wisconsinites in various professions are profiled.

Wisconsin Pioneer Experience

Madison: University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Go to Collection

A digital collection of diaries, letters, reminiscences, speeches and other writings of people who settled and built Wisconsin during the 19th century. This includes transcriptions of hand-written documents and translations of documents written by immigrants. Documents are provided in digital images and as OCR-converted electronic text. There appears to be 48 documents in this collection.

Included is a sub-collection called “Wisconsin Territorial Letters, 1837-1852”. These are, “selections from letters from various places in Wisconsin, addressed for the most part to residents of Eastern states, reflecting living conditions in rural Wisconsin during territorial and early statehood days. They contain frequent references to the prevalence of fever and ague among the settlers, and notations of wages and the prices of commodities and real estate. Among the letters are small groups from leaders of two religious denominations–the Congregational minister E. D. Seward of Lake Mills and the Presbyterian minister Jeremiah Porter at Green Bay– and 10 letters from ministers of the Baptist Home Missionary Society to the Reverend Benjamin M. Hill, corresponding secretary of the Society. A calendar of the collection is included. 222 photostated pages of handwritten text.”
– quote from the Wisconsin Territorial Letters entry on the collection site.

history of Wisconsin, pioneers, pioneer life, frontier history, correspondence, diaries, letters, memoirs, reminiscences, Baptist Home Missionary Society, free books online

Biographies & Memoirs in Wisconsin History

Wisconsin, Its Story and Biography, 1848-1913

Chicago: Lewis 1914
Usher, Ellis Baker Go to Book

There are 8 volumes. Volumes 1-3 are a history of Wisconsin from the 18th to the early 20th century. The remaining volumes appear to be made up entirely of biographies.

biography, history of Wisconsin, free ebooks

Who’s Who in Wisconsin

Chicago: Larkin, Roosevelt & Larkin 1947
Biographical PressGo to Book

(title continued) ” … A biographical dictionary of leading men and women of the commonwealth”

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