Stories About Pioneers Who Settled in Wisconsin

submitted by Kevin Hoffman; photo by Mike Engelberger

Michael Stevens 3 6 2019

From left: Club President Jason Beren, Michael Stevens and Rotarian Loretta Himmelsbach serving as our club’s speaker greeter this week

Instead of writing about Wisconsin history in the pioneer era (1830-1850) from the perspective of the famous or leaders of that time, Dr. Michael Stevens chose to document the practical and emotional side of everyday existence for ordinary people.  What did it feel like to those who lived in a new situation from the land to weather to language to food to culture?

While there were many things to be negative about such as Wisconsin weather extremes, an imbalance in the male to female ratio (8 men to 5 women), poor food and hardship on the journey, having to learn a new language (English), loss of cultural affiliation, unfamiliar surroundings, and loneliness; the overall impression was that the pioneer had a positive outlook and balanced the difficulties against the opportunities, diversity, freedom and future prosperity they envisioned.

The trade-offs from having to learn English, live in rough conditions and with rough people, and missing their home country are the freedom they enjoyed to map their future, work hard for income and wealth, and the natural beauty of Wisconsin.

One essay of the time expressed the following about the Wisconsin Character:  There is a freedom and independence of mind – people think for themselves; an awakening spirit of enterprise – people are open to new ways of doing things; people work hard – they invest their sweat equity; and a public spiritedness about Wisconsinites – people support roads, schools, churches and a friendly interest in the welfare of all.

Dr. Stevens drew insights into the attitudes, humor and outlook of the early pioneer and the similarities to today’s Wisconsin Character.  The essay writer above said of his time:  “The settler here finds, within the limits of his acquaintance, people from all the states and many foreign countries, and those too have been formerly been engaged with a variety of occupations different from his own, so he acquires a great variety of new ideas and becomes much more liberal in all his opinions and life.”  Even through the hardships and inconveniences of the time, the pioneer’s outlook is not so different from our present-day Wisconsin outlook.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

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