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Wisconsin History Spot: The Early History of Duck Creek, Part II

By Melinda Anne Roberts
Hobby historian and “Little Wisconsin” author

Editor’s note: This article is Part II of a series. For more information about the history of Duck Creek and Howard, visit the Howard-Suamico Historical Society website at hshistoricalsociety.org/.

HOWARD – With all the roundabouts, overpasses and heavy traffic, it may be difficult to imagine the Duck Creek area was once heavily wooded and home to a Menominee camp.

As Europeans arrived, the landscape evolved – from a French fur trade post in the woods, to sawmills, a dozen lumber camps, two substantial brick manufacturers, and two sizeable stone quarries, until the logged-over acreage was finally converted to agriculture.

Saw mills at Duck Creek

Judge John Arndt established a saw mill on Menominee land at Duck Creek in about 1827.

Permission to build was signed by Chief Oshkosh and two other Menominee chiefs.

Next to Joseph Roy’s trading post (operated by Roy’s grandson, Lucas Rioux) he built four log cabins to house his employees.

By 1834 Arndt’s sawmill exceeded local demand and his products were shipped out from Green Bay.

In 1836, Arndt built a second sawmill where Pamperin Park is located today and employed mostly French-Canadian newcomers.

In 1846, a shingle factory was added.

By the 1860s, a dozen lumber camps operated in the Duck Creek area.

The insatiable demand for lumber – to build houses and for firewood – and voracious logging practices led to a rapid decimation of the area’s 2,000-year-old forests of hemlock, pine, cedar, tamarack and other conifer species, forever changing the landscape and from which forest and wildlife ecology are still recovering nearly 200 years later.

David Gorham, the first murdered person in Green Bay, which also resulted in and Green Bay’s first hanging, is tied one of Arndt’s four houses.

Gorham managed the construction of Durham boats – introduced by Arndt from Pennsylvania. They were able to carry 25-30 tons of lumber, brick and quarry stone.

The boats were “well suited for crossing the many shoals and rapids in the Fox River.”

Gorham was also a Captain at Fort Howard, in charge of soldiers living at Duck Creek and working at Arndt’s sawmill.

These soldiers were prone to drink, which eventually affected their work performance.

Fed up, Gorham banned whiskey and soldier Daniel Hempstead was infuriated.

On a June morning he lay in wait at Gorham’s cabin, Hempstead shot Gorham at close range with a musket when he stepped outside; Gorham died a few hours later.

Hempstead hid in the Duck Creek forest for several days until a “’voice’ told him that he had done wrong and that he should pay for his crime.”

His would be the first hanging in the Green Bay area, carried out by volunteer sheriff Ebenezer Childs in September 1830.

A growing community

An Indian trail connected Fort Howard with Duck Creek. A canoe or raft carried travelers across the creek to where the trail continued on Glendale Avenue “past the mirror-like quarry rock… the trading post and blacksmith shop, where it turned northward to the Indian settlements at Suamico, Oconto, Peshtigo and the Menominee River.”

An 1830s census counted a population of 1,358 in Brown County.

Five households were recorded at Duck Creek, but because most French-Canadians, Creoles and Indians were not U.S. citizens, their numbers were not counted.

As the population grew, so did contamination of food and water supplies by “sewage and poor public sanitation.”

Devastating cholera epidemics struck the area in 1832 and 1834.

A person perfectly healthy in the morning could be dead by nightfall. Sometimes entire families were wiped out in a matter of hours.

Father Van den Broek, at the mission at Menomineeville, recorded in 1834 that people were dying so quickly “(w)e had to bury from four or five in one grave.”

Affecting communities nationwide, many believed the plagues were divine punishment for “sinful living” and petitioned President Andrew Jackson to “declare a day of public fasting and prayers.”

Jackson refused, saying such a declaration was prohibited by the First Amendment “separation of church and state.”

In 1840, more than 30 mostly French-Canadian families lived at Duck Creek. Only the Adams, Early, Cummings and Perigue families were not Canadian.

Most lived in log houses and farmed large plots. The men hunted and fished. The women chased black bears and deer out of their gardens.

The area Native Americans traded “medicinal herbs… maple sugar, wild rice, meat, (and) fish” with the settlers for “blankets, cloth, guns, traps, cooking-utensils, etc.”

Soon, the mass migration from Ireland and Germany brought new families to Duck Creek.

A few English families also arrived, followed by large numbers of Flemish and Belgian Walloons.

Most settlers attended St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Green Bay, but early pastors would travel to Duck Creek when requested.

Father Bonduel, Father Carabin and others also provided Mass and religious instruction at private homes.

In 1849, a log church was built on the site of an old cemetery and named St. John the Baptist by Father Bonduel at the insistence of the three daughters of Jean Baptiste Grignon, one of Green Bay’s oldest and most illustrious families.

From 1840 to 1850 “the winds of change blew with increasing velocity.”

Duck Creek’s population doubled, French-speaking settlers were required to register their decades-long claims with the Green Bay Land Office, and there would be no reversing the “Americanization” of Duck Creek.

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