They called him “Gray Devil”

January 21, 2015

By Amorin Mello

Gray Devil schoolmaster

(Lewiston Saturday Journal, April 27, 1895, page 11)

Lysander Cutler is renown for his service as a Union Army commander during the American Civil War.  His other, more obscure, adventures have had long-lasting impacts upon the social fabric in the Penokee Mountains of northwestern Wisconsin because his reign of terror allowed mining companies to dispossess the Penokee Mountains from the Lake Superior Chippewa.  Although his efforts failed to produce any significant minerals, this heritage still thrives in the conflict between GTAC’s proposed mine site and the nearby LCO HELP camp. Today, Bulletproof Securities advertises their eco-terrorism and economic sabotage security services, as seen in the Penokee Mountains on Indian Country TV.
(Lewiston Saturday Journal, April 27, 1895, page 11)

(Lewiston Saturday Journal, April 27, 1895, page 11)

Transcript from the

History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

From Prehistoric Times to the Present Date

as published in 1881 by the Milwaukee Genealogical Society:

MAJOR-GENERAL LYSANDER CUTLER was born in Royalston, Worcester County, Mass., February 16, 1807. His father, Tarrant Cutler, was one of the most independent and sturdy farmers of the county, and cultivated, with the help of six boys, as they grew up, one of the largest and most rocky farms in all that stony region of hills that lies at the foot of Mount Monadnock. Here Lysander received his early education. He worked on the farm during the Summers, and attended the district school each Winter till he was 16 years old. At that age he had acquired all that could be gotten from the town schools and all other sources within his reach, and in the opinion of his father was in a dangerous state of forwardness, calculated to unfit him for the high and noble career he had marked out for him — on the farm, and he accordingly determined that his education was complete, and set him down for the coming five years as a steady hand on the farm. The young man broke out in open rebellion against this paternal edict and announced his intention to leave the homestead forever, unless his father would at least assist him to acquire an academic education. After many stormy discussions, the matter was settled by a sort of treaty, whereby, although still under parental rule, he had a roving commission to forage for himself within limits set by his father. Under this arrangement he did very little farm work except in haying, when all the boys were called home to assist. During these five years he managed to clothe himself, learn the clothier’s trade, get a fair academic education, had learnt the art of land surveying, and had acquired a very enviable reputation in the county as a successful schoolmaster, as he had fought into submission several turbulent and unmanageable schools that had heretofore made it a practice to “pitch out” such teachers as were undesirable to them. With such acquisitions, at the age of 21, he emigrated to Maine and settled in the town of Dexter, Penobscot County, in 1828. His worldly goods on his arrival consisted of a silver watch and two dollars in money. He arrived in the Winter, just as the settlement was in an uproar over a rebellion in the school that had thus far proved unmanageable and had resulted in the flogging and summary ejectment of several masters who had attempted to maintain discipline by the ferule and switch, the only means then in vogue. He immediately volunteered to keep the school out for the sum of sixteen dollars per month — no school, no pay. The school committee accepted his proposition. The first day was devoted to an examination on the part of the big boys, as to the qualification of the new master. The examination was searching, and resulted in the thorough flogging of every bully in the school and a quiet orderly session thereafter to the end of the term. Thus early established in favor at the settlement, he began the business of his life. He surveyed the land up and down the stream which flowed from a small lake having an outlet at the village, and discovered the value of the water-power which had hitherto only been roughly put to use to run a saw-mill. In 1834 he entered into a co-partnership with Jonathan Farrar, a wealthy proprietor of the township, and built a woolen mill, then the largest east of Massachusetts, which under his successful management brought him what was then deemed an independent fortune in ten years. In 1843 the mill was burned to the ground, leaving him as poor as when he started. His partner, however, drew upon his private credit and the works were speedily rebuilt and added to from time to time till 1856. At that time the village had grown to a smart manufacturing town numbering 2,000 inhabitants, nearly half of whom were dependent on him for support. The firm owned three woolen factories, a foundry, a grist-mill, a saw-mill, a large store and many tenements. The panic of that year found his business widely extended. The mills stopped, the immense accumulation of their unsold goods were sold, in some instances, at less than half their cost, the property went into other hands and the firm was ruined. Turning his back on the scenes of his active life, he came to Milwaukee in 1856.

Cutler served as a Lieutenant Colonel during the Aroostook “Bloodless” War land dispute in Maine. 

During his New England life he took an active part in the affairs of his State. He was almost uninterruptedly a member of the Board of Selectmen of his town, served in the State Senate one term — 1839-40 — as a Whig. He commanded a regiment of troops on the border, pending the settlement of the northeastern boundary, in 1838-9. He was also active in educational matters. He was for several years one of the Trustees of Westbrook Seminary, and served on the Board of Trustees of Tufis College, during the years when it was struggling into life. He also gave his time and means to the development of the railroad system of the State, and was one of the Board of Directors of the Maine Central (then the Androscoggin and Penobscot Railroad Company) until it was built as far east as Bangor. He was generous to a fault, and for the thirty years he lived in Maine he carried an open hand and purse to all who needed. It was certainly no small thing or such a man at such a time of life to commence anew, in a strange country the strife for business success among the crowds of younger men who were thronging every avenue that opened to even a chance of good fortune.

“…the population of Ashland increased quite rapidly…  Of these a few remained only a short time, coming merely for temporary purposes. 1855 brought a still larger increase of inhabitants, among them M. H. Mandlebaum (now a resident of Hancock, Mich.), Augustus Barber (who was drowned at Montreal River in 1867), Benj. Hoppenyan, Chas. Day, Geo R. Stuntz, George E. Stuntz, Dr. Edwin Ellis, Martin Roehm, Col. Lysander Cutler, J. S. Buck, Ingraham Fletcher, Hon. J. R. Nelson, Hon. D. A. J. Baker, Mrs. Conrad Goeltz, Henry Drixler (father of Mrs. Conrad Goeltz, who died in 1857, his being the first death in town), and Henry Palmer.” ~ Ashland Press, January 4, 1893 (Wisconsin Historical Society)
Dr. James P. Greavesinvestigated animal magnetism and was a bad egg.

He came to Milwaukee in answer to a letter from an old Maine friend, Horatio Hill, then one of the most active business men and public-spirited citizens of Milwaukee. He with Palmer, the Pbrothers Hercules and Talbot Dousman, Dr. Greaves and others had organized the Penokee Mining Company. The company had a sort of undefined and undefinable title to some parts of the celebrated iron deposits in the Penokee Range lying some thirty miles inland from Lake Superior, at the extreme northern point where what is now Bayfield County, juts out into the lake. The title was held by virtue of some Indian script which had been bought from the Sioux Indians, then inhabiting that region, and was by no means a perfect one, except the land was surveyed and occupied by the company and direct warrants thereby secured from the Government Land Office. Most brilliant reports had been made of the extent of the deposits and the purity of the ore. There could be no doubt that the development of these immense mineral resources would bring to the owners untold wealth. Mr. Cutler was appointed the managing agent of this prospective Wisconsin bonanza, at a fair salary, to which was added a liberal amount of the stock of the company. His first task was to perfect the title to the property, and the first step toward it was to take a personal view of the situation and the property. It was a somewhat arduous undertaking, not unfraught with danger. Excepting two or three traders and surveyors, who had stock in the company, the population, which consisted mostly of Indians and half-breeds, viewed this incursion of wealth-hunters from the lower lakes with suspicion and distrust. To add to the difficulties of the situation, other parties owning Sioux script were endeavoring to acquire a title to the mineral range. One man working in the interest of the company the year before, had been discovered, after being missed for some weeks, dead in the forest, near the range. Bruises and other indications of violence on the body gave strong ground for the belief that he had been murdered. Altogether it was a position, the applications for which were not numerous. His first trip was made in the Summer of 1857. He spent several months on the range and at LaPointe, Ashland, Bayfield and on to the Indian Reservation, acquainted himself thoroughly with the status of the company’s claims, and returned to Milwaukee. He had ascertained that the immense value of the claim had not been overestimated, and had made a further discovery, less desirable, that the company had no valid title to it, except they occupied it as actual settlers. It was determined to organize a colony sufficiently large to cover every section of the territory desired, and squat it out a sufficient time to entitle them to settlers’ warrants. The colony consisted of picked men, some from the State of Maine, who entered the employ of the company, and built their cabins as fast as the surveyor’s stakes were driven. The main cabin, which was a depot of supplies, was of importance as it was the center of the town, and as it complied with all the requirements of the law, being organized as a store and a school, it gave the company a claim to a “town plat” of a square mile. Here Colonel Cutler spent two Winters, during which he and his trusty employs endured all the hardships and dangers of a pioneer life. The nearest point where supplies could be obtained was thirty miles distant through a trackless and dense forest. All supplies were packed in on the backs of the squatters or half-breed packers who sometimes in a surly mood would lay down their burdens and return to the settlement. Nothing but the fearless pluck and dauntless courage of Colonel Cutler kept these men in wholesome awe, and insured the safety of the settlers while they remained.

Lysander Cutler's store and school for a town plat. (Paul DeMain © 2013)

Lysander Cutler’s town plat ruins at the “Moore Location” of the Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Education Learning Project (Paul DeMain © 2013).

(Pioneer History of Milwaukee: 1847 by James Smith Buck)

Lysander Cutler and the Ironton Trail (Pioneer History of Milwaukee: 1847 by James Smith Buck)

The following story is told by James S. Buck, of this city, who was one of the colony, as illustrating his mode of discipline: Late one week it was discovered that there were not sufficient supplies to last over Sunday. Colonel Cutler dispatched one of his men to the lake, with instructions to load two half-breeds and send them forward to camp the next day, he agreeing to meet them at the half-way camp and pay them for their services. They arrived before him, in a surly mood, and without waiting except to get breath took up their loads and trudged back to Bayfield. Soon after Colonel Cutler arrived and having been informed of their return set out after them. He did not overtake them on the road, but entered Bayfield a few minutes behind them, and found them at the store sitting by the fire, with their packs, which they had just thrown off, by their sides. On entering he drew up his rifle and said: “Boys, you can have just half a minute to shoulder those packs and start for the range.” In less time than was allowed they were again on the return tramp, supported in the rear by the Colonel and his rifle. At the half-way camp they begged for rest, but the only reply from their implacable guard was: “March!” with an expletive which showed undoubtedly that he was in earnest. They reached the range late at night. It was the last attempt at breach of contract on the part of the half-breeds while he remained in that region.

Cutler was contracted for carrying the mails in 1858 (United States Congressional serial set, Volume 1013).

Cutler was contracted for carrying the mails in 1858 (United States Congressional serial set, Volume 1013).

In the Winter all the communication with the rest of the world was cut off, except by a weekly mail which was brought through from St. Paul by an Indian mail-carrier. Once during each Winter he made the trip on snow shoes, to St. Paul, a distance of over two hundred miles. The claim was at last secured, and a valid title to the land vested in the company. He left the region, at the end of two years, successful in this mission, and attained, while there, the general respect of all, both white and red, although his pet name among the Indians did not evince a love unmingled with fear; they called him Gray Devil.”  The dull times that followed put a long quietus on Western schemes of speculation, and Colonel Cutler’s company was laid on the shelf with many others of less merit, till more propitious times.

Cutler's contract ceased. (United States Congressional serial set, Issue 1041, Part 2).

Cutler’s contract was not successful for long. (United States Congressional serial set, Issue 1041, Part 2).

In 1859 he engaged in the grains and commission business, in which he continued with indifferent success till the breaking out of the war.

The first gun fired on the flag seemed to rouse the full energies of his naturally pugnacious nature. It seemed as though the burdens of twenty years had fallen from his shoulders, and he showed the war-like enthusiasm of a young man of thirty instead of the more quiet demonstrations of a man who had already done the arduous work of a common lifetime. It was only in deference to the earnest protests of his friends that he did not enlist as a common soldier when the first call was made for ninety-day troops.

(History of Milwaukee)

pg. 787 (History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

Colonel Cutler was commissioned as Colonel of the Sixth Wisconsin Regiment June 25, 1861. His regiment left the State July 28, and joined the forces around Washington August 7. August 29 it was attached to King’s Brigade, of which it remained a part during the war and shares in its imperishable renown asThe Iron Brigade.” During its first year of service Colonel Cutler was much of the time in command of the Brigade, and did much in perfecting it in discipline and tactics. His active service in the field commenced with the campaign of 1862. McDowell’s Division, to which the “Iron Brigade” was attached, did not participate in the peninsular battles of the campaign, being held as a reserve force to repel any overland demonstrations on the Capital, similar to that of the year before, which culminated in the first battle of Bull Run. During the earlier months of the campaign Colonel Cutler commanded the Brigade, till the assignment of Brigadier-General John Gibbons, May 2, when he again returned to his regiment. The Brigade was almost constantly on the march from point to point to avert threatened danger or mislead the enemy, till the beginning of August. On the fifth of that month the withdrawal of a part of the rebel forces from McClellan’s front, and a movement up the Shenandoah as well as toward Pope, commenced the active campaign. August 6, Colonel Cutler with his regiment and a New Hampshire regiment of cavalry penetrated into the enemy’s country as far as Frederick’s Hall Station, twenty-three miles from the junction of the Virginia Central with the Richmond & Potomac Railroad, and there tore up the track for a mile in each direction, thus cutting off the rebel communication between Richmond and Gordonsville. They also burned the depot, warehouse and telegraph office and destroyed a large amount of Confederate supplies. The expedition was entirely successful. During three days and one half the regiment had marched ninety miles, and were, when they struck the railroad, thirty miles from any support. It returned without the loss of aman. General Gibbon in his official report commended the regiment and Colonel Cutler as follows: “Colonel Cutler’s part in the expedition was completely successful. I can not refer in too high terms to the conduct of Colonel Cutler; to his energy and good judgment, seconded as he was by his fine regiment, the success of the expedition is entirely due.” On the 19th of August General Pope commenced his retreat. The “Iron Brigade” was for nearly ten days within sight of the enemy as they slowly worked their way up towards Washington, avoiding as much as possible any collision with the troops during its maneuvers to outflank Pope and if possible intercept him in his march to the defense of the threatened Capital. On the twenty-eighth having so far out-maneuvered him as to have separated the divisions of the army too far for support, the division of Longstreet fell upon the “Iron Brigade” which was marching toward Centerville on the Gainesville road. The Federal troops were outnumbered three to one, but they held the enemy in check till night put an end to the carnage which marked it as one of the most severe engagements of the war. How Colonel Cutler and Colonel Hamilton of Milwaukee bore themselves on that bloody field has been detailed in a previous chapter. They were severely wounded. Colonel Cutler had his horse shot under him, and was wounded by a minnie bail which passed entirely through his thigh, His wound was dangerous and kept him from active service till November 5, when he returned to the front and took command of the Brigade which he retained till the twenty-second, when General Sol. Merideth, who had been appointed Brigadier-General, assumed the command and he again returned to his regiment. At the battle of Fredericksburg he again led the “Iron Brigade,” being put in command during the action, after the Brigade had crossed the Rappahannock, and taken position in line of battle. Soon after he was appointed Brigadier-General, to date from November 29, I862, and assigned to the Second Brigade, First Division, First Army Corps. His Brigade with the “Iron Brigade” comprised the division commanded by Wadsworth. The corps was commanded by Major-General Reynolds. He fought through the Chancellorsville campaign, his Brigade covering the retreat after the three days’ slaughter was finished. At Gettysburg his brigade was in the advance, opened the battle and, with the “Iron Brigade,” sustained the brunt of the fighting on the memorable 1st of July 1863. During that day. his old regiment, the Sixth, was attached to his brigade. Major-General Newton, in his report, details the part taken in this action as follows:


General Cutler was in the advance and opened the battle of Gettsyburg. In this severe and obstinate engagement he held the right for four hours, changing front without confusion, three times, under a galling fire, and lost, in killed and wounded, three-fourths of his officers and men, having three of his staff wounded and all the horses killed. When the order was given to retire, he marched the remnant of his brigade off the field in perfect order and checked the advance of Ewell’s corps, which gave the artillery time to retire. In effecting this he lost heavily. His brigade was engaged on the night of the second and the morning of the third in repulsing the assaults of the Rebels on the right of our line.”


During Grant’s campaign of 1864, General Wadsworth was killed in the second day’s battle in the Wilderness. On his death the command of the division devolved on General Cutler, which he held thereafter all through the series of battles that followed, and during the siege of Petersburg, until August 21, when he was wounded in the face while repulsing an assault on the Weldon Railroad. On the 15th of September, wounded and in broken health, from his long and arduous service, he was, at his own request relieved from field duty, and ordered to New York, to take charge of the forwarding of troops from that State. Subsequently he was ordered to the command of the draft camp of rendezvous at Jackson, Mich., where he remained till the close of the Rebellion. He was appointed Brevet Major-General. the commission to date from his last fight on the Weldon Railroad, August 21. 1864, He resigned July 1, 1865,and returned to Milwaukee. With the excitement of active duty gone, his recuperative powers failed to restore his impaired health, and his earthly career ended July 30, 1866. The following orders were issued at Madison on the occasion of his death, by Gov. Fairchild, one of his companions in arms, and by the G.A.R.


State of Wisconsin, Executive Department,
Madison. July 31, 1866.

Executive Order No. 7.
The people of Wisconsin will hear with deep regret the announcement of the death of Brevet Major-General Lysander Cutler. at Milwaukee, on Monday the 30th inst.

General Cutler was among the most efficient and best beloved soldiers from this State. Distinguished for his services, covered with honorable scars, filled with years and glory, he goes to his grave deeply mourned by the entire people of a sorrowing State.

As a testimony of respect, the flag upon the State Capitol will be displayed at half mast, on Tuesday, 31st of July, inst.

By the Governor,
Charles Fairchild, Military Secretary.

LUCIUS FAIRCHILD


Headquarters Post No. 1. G.A.R;
Madison, July 31, 1866.

Special Order No. 1.

It is my painful duty to announce the death of one of Wisconsin’s most devoted and prominent general officers during the late war, Major-General Lysander Cutler, of Milwaukee.

It is ordered that as a mark of respect to the deceased, the members oi’ this post wear the badge of mourning prescribed by army regulations, for the period or ten days from this date.

By command of
Henry Sanford, P.A.

J.W. TOLFORD, P.C.


General Cutler was married in 1830, to Catherine W. Bassett. He had five children, two sons and three daughters, all of whom are still living. His widow still survives. In stature he was six feet tall and spare. His eyes were iron gray, deep set. and overhung by heavy eyebrows. He was prematurely gray, and during the later years of life both his hair and beard were white. His indomitable will and strict devotion to duty rendered him stern and uncompromising in his general bearing and appearance; but underneath his rough exterior beat a heart, as tender as a woman’s, that won the lasting love of all who came to know him well. To the toils, dangers and sufferings of his campaigns he never yielded, but on receiving the tidings of the death of his little grandson, who died while he was in the service, he took to his tent and bed, completely bowed and broken by the great grief that had smote his heart.  The child and the grim old warrior now sleep side by side at Forest Home.

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One Response to “They called him “Gray Devil””

  1. Leo said

    Great first post, Marangoin. It’s hard to sort most of the historical figures in this area into neat piles of good guys and bad guys, but it’s clear what pile Gen. Cutler belongs in. Is there a paper trail on the “Sioux Scrip?” Did it come through the Dousmans at Prairie du Chien?

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