Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Settling New Land near Cooksville—and Claim Jumping! PART TWO by Larry Reed

McCarthy House 1975
The McCarthy family of Porter Township related an incident involving “claim jumping” in the early days of land settlement near Cooksville. It begins with a question: Can a man on foot beat a horse-drawn buggy in a race from the Town of Porter to Milwaukee, a distance of nearly a hundred miles? The answer is “yes,” if the country is new, without many roads and with rivers to cross—and with a very determined pioneer on foot.

That happened in 1843, and the race was won by Dennis J. McCarthy who had settled on land just east of Cooksville near Caledonia Springs but had not yet formally claimed or registered it. 

The cause of the” race” was an incidence of “claim jumping.” In 1843, McCarthy settled in Section 9 of the Porter Township intending to establish his residency on his claim—and to be the first individual to ever own that piece of government land— but he had not yet filed the necessary papers with the U.S. Land Office.  Before he could file the papers for the land, McCarthy heard that a Mr. Lyons from the nearby Town of Dunkirk intended to jump McCarthy’s claim by traveling to Milwaukee in his carriage the next day to file papers. McCarthy immediately set out on foot for the Milwaukee Land Office himself. He did not have a horse available. The race was on.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Settling New Land near Cooksville—and Claim Jumping! PART ONE by Larry Reed

Several stories that describe the trials and tribulations of settling the newly-opened land in the Cooksville area of Wisconsin —and settling the disputes—were told by Joseph K.P. Porter and the McCarthy family. The stories reveal the rough-and-tumble land “rush” that sometimes occurred in southern Wisconsin in the early1840s.

Before government surveys were completed in the 1830s and for years afterward, land “ownership” on the new western Territorial frontier was often determined by a messy “border law”— basically a “first-come, first-served” informal set of “rules” for the squatters or early settlers. The earliest arrivals “enforced” their (illegal) land claims by “registering” them by simply carving their names on posts erected at the corners of the land they had measured off by pacing the boundaries on foot. And then later the claimants would appear at government land sales with some of their friends and fellow squatters armed with weapons to ensure that rich land speculators and other richer new-comers did not out-bid these earlier and poorer pioneer settlers.

Of course, some land speculators (such as Cooksville’s famous Senator Daniel Webster) and serious-minded settlers (such as Daniel Cook) bought their land as soon after the U.S. Government opened the land for sale in 1837 and registered it as soon as feasible. Their claims were settled early.

Joseph Porter, in his reminiscences as an “old settler” printed in the Evansville Badger newspaper of April 6, 1895, describes some of these disputatious events. His uncle, Dr. John Porter, had purchased land near Cooksville in 1842 from the famous Massachusetts, Senator Daniel Webster, a land speculator, who had bought it from the U.S. government in 1837 when it first went on sale. Joseph Porter, Dr. Porter’s  young nephew, was instrumental in helping transform the newly-purchased land into a potential settlement that he had platted as the Village of Waucoma in 1846, next to the Cook brothers’ little village of Cooksville.
Eliza and Joseph Porter