Bayfield’s Early Days

December 22, 2016

By Amorin Mello

This is a reproduction of “Bayfield’s Early Days;” a paper read at Bayfield’s 50th Anniversary by Nazaire LaBonte, as printed in the Bayfield County Press on April 6th, 1906.

"Map of Bayfield situate in La Pointe County, Wisconsin." 1856. ~ Wisconsin Historical Society

“Map of Bayfield situate in La Pointe County, Wisconsin.”  By Major McAboy for the Bayfield Land Company in 1856.
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

BAYFIELD’S EARLY DAYS

Nazaire LaBonte ~ FindaGrave.com

Nazaire LaBonte
~ FindaGrave.com

Mr. Toast Master, the Bayfield Commercial Club and Ladies and Gentlemen: We are here this evening, as you all know, to commemorate Bayfield’s fiftieth birthday, and I am duly grateful and exceedingly happy to be in your midst this evening, and at the request of the club, to make an accounting of the fifty years just past which was spent here.  In order to prepare you for the ordeal, it might be well to remind you that I am not an orator of note, and if I hear some one say, “That man LaBONTE is a cracker Jack of a talker,” don’t you think for a moment I will believe it.

If you are prepared for the worst, I will proceed.  I am one of a family of eleven (five boys and six girls) and the son of Francis and Angeline LaBONTE.  I was born at Quebec, Canada April 6, 1836, and lived on a farm adjoining that city until I departed for Bayfield which occurred when I was twenty years of age, taking passage at Detroit on the side wheel steamer, Superior, Capt. SWEET commanding the boat.  I am not sure, but believe the folks around felt pretty bad when I left, and I have heard since that lots of people in Canada cried when they learned I had quit that country, and it was said I was a brainy man and it was a shame to see me go, and that it would be hard to replace me.  I cannot say whether they ever replaced me or not.

John Baptiste Bonneau (Bono) ~ FinaGrave.com

John Baptiste Bonneau was the father-in-law of LaBonte, and the namesake of Bono Creek on Chequamegon Bay.
~ FinaGrave.com

Among those who were fellow passengers with me for Bayfield were Benjamin BICKSLER, Frank DAVIDSON, John T. CAHO, and a Mr. WYMAN and a Mr. STEADMAN.  Our boat’s cargo consisted of a little of everything including a lot of cattle for Ontonagon, Mich., but on account of a heavy sea that prevailed we were unable to make that port and came on through to LaPointe, Wis., then a stirring village and headquarters of the American Fur Company, where we arrived June 9th 1856, being en route four days as I remember it.  The boat did not stop at Bayfield for the reason there was no dock here at that time.

I was anxious to continue on to Superior, but my cash was running low, and when I struck the captain for a ride to that port on the strength of my good looks, or pay fare on the installment, (and all I could scrape up was seventeen cents) the captain, in a gruff way said: “You walk, you pea souper!”  I never liked Capt. Sweet since.

The following morning in company with those mentioned, I came over from LaPointe to Bayfield in a rowboat which landed us at the present site of the Dormer BOUTIN Fish Co.’s plant, where there was a dock being built, owned by a Mr. Charles CHILDS of Sault St. Mary, who sometime afterward sold the same to H. M. RICE, C. P. RUDD, and S. L. VAUGHN, and afterwards known as the Vaughn dock, until sold to W. F. DALRYMPLE.

Henry Mower Rice was a prominent Democratic Party politician in Minnesota, commissioned the 1847 Treaty at Fond du Lac on behalf of the United States, and signed the 1854 Treaty at la Pointe.
Benjamin Franklin Rittenhouse and Charles Edwin Rittenhouse were brothers.  Rittenhouse Avenue is named in honor of Benjamin.
Henry B. Payne was a prominent Democratic Party politician in Ohio, and an attorney and business partner with the Leopolds and Austrians.

The only building here then was a log house located where M. RYDER’s store now stands, built and owned by the Bayfield Land Company for the accommodation of the men employed by this concern. This company consisted of H. M. RICE, John D. LIVINGSTON, RITTENHOUSE, DAVIDSON and PAYNE. There was not a woman here and it makes me lonesome to make this statement.

That part of the town site lying on the flat was covered by a scattering growth of small Norway pine with an occasional large white pine; and the only thoroughfare was a trail leading from the dock site to the log house mentioned. The hills now dotted with buildings were covered with mixed woods, mostly hardwood.

Robinson Darling Pike’s father Elisha Pike purchased the sawmill from Julius Austrian, as recollected in his memoir Bayfield’s Beginnings.

I found employment here with the Bayfield Land Co., on a mill that was building on the site upon which now stands the R. D. PIKE Lumber Co. mill. The mill was completed and operating in October of that year and about two months afterwards burned down after which I turned my attention to cutting cord wood which was sold to the steamers for fuel purposes.

Read Early Trails and Water Routes for more information about the origins of the Bayfield Road to Saint Paul.

In the Spring of fifty-seven, I with others started to cut out the Bayfield and St. Paul stage road as far as Yellow Lake, a distance of about 140 miles; the balance of the route to St. Paul was by way of Wood River to Sunrise over logging roads. Sunrise (50 miles from St. Paul) was a junction where the St. Paul stage met both the Bayfield and Superior stages and took their freight and passengers. It required six days to make the trip from Bayfield to St. Paul and the fare was twenty dollars, meals extra at 50 cents each and lodgings the same.

From this time until about 1880, I cut cord wood, logs and made fish barrel staves of clear white pine that was so plentiful at that time.

Matilda Davis ~ FindaGrave.com

Matilda Davis; wife of LaBonte and stepdaughter of Bono. 
~ FindaGrave.com

On April 4, 1861, I was married to Miss Matilda DAVIS [Bono], Father John CHEBULE officiating.

In the summer of ’61, I went to work in the Red Cliff saw mill (the property of Uncle Sam), which had just been built under contract with the government by Colonel John BANFIELD. I worked there for twelve years in the capacity of sawyer, filer, and scaler on a salary of $3.00 per day. My family and myself resided there about half of the time and the balance of the time in Bayfield.  Six men, including myself, constituted the mill crew and the capacity of the mill was six thousand feet per day, which was measured, marked and piled as fast as it left the saw.  My neighbor (Commodore Bob INGLIS) was engineer in the mill part of one season, Bob was a good mechanic, a trim, good-looking fellow, and of course was a favorite of the maids on the reservation, and I never found out why he quit that good job and pleasant surroundings so soon. I am told Bob likes the girls yet, but of course, one must not believe all he hears, and allowing that it is the truth, I cannot blame him, for I like the girls myself.

The LaBonte house is still open to the public for boarding as Greunke’s First Street Inn & Dining.

The mill was sold to Duluth parties after operating twelve years, after which I built and kept a summer boarding place known as the LaBONTE house at Bayfield which house was open to the public for many years. I raised a family of four children (Mrs. N. BACHAND and Mrs. CHURCH) who are both here with their families at the present time, and lost a son at the age of six and one half years and also an infant daughter.

My health has always been good, and as far as I know, I am a better man than my wife today. I am seventy years of age, have lived here fifty years and expect to live here fifty years longer, at the expiration of which time if the politics are too corrupt or conditions don’t just suit, I shall move West and grow up with the country.

I am yours very respectfully,

N. LaBONTE

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