The Early History of Duck Creek: Part III
By Melinda Anne Roberts
Hobby historian and “Little Wisconsin” author
Editor’s note: This article is the final part of the series. For more information about the history of Duck Creek and Howard, visit the Howard-Suamico Historical Society website at hshistoricalsociety.org, or visit gopresstimes.com to view the previous stories.
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.
A town is born
When the members of town of Howard board officially organized on April 5, 1842, six years before Wisconsin achieved statehood, the first town board meeting was announced by a town crier in compliance with a Brown County law passed Feb. 1, 1833.
“Oyez, Oyez, Oyez,” was proclaimed at the entrance to the meeting place. “The honorable board of supervisors of the town of Howard in the County of Brown is now in session.”
In addition to roles like chairman, town clerk, assessor, treasurer, constables, and commissioners on highways, the board offices of fence viewers and pound master were significant to the community.
The pound master impounded stray livestock – the cows, horses, sheep, pigs, and fowl roaming about “at will” – and fed and cared for them until the owners were found and fines and other fees were paid.
If an animal was not claimed, it was sold at auction after a statutory “notice of sale” was given.
Town of Howard fence viewers ensured area fences reached the legal height requirements of 5 feet, “whether consisting of rails, timber, boards, or stone… or any combination thereof.”
Fence viewers reported height violations and fences in disrepair to the board. The office was abolished in the 1850s.
The town was colossal in size, once including what is now Oconto County, and the towns of Lawrence and Pittsfield.
By the early 1860s, the township was reduced to what is today the village of Howard (incorporated Jan. 19, 1959).
As the population increased, so did the needs of the residents.
A float bridge was established in 1845 at today’s Velp Avenue crossing, replacing a decades old ferry-boat service.
On Nov. 3, 1857, Lucas Raow (Rioux) was the first to be issued a license under the new state law requiring licensing of all establishments serving liquor. The license included a $1,000 bond.
By the 1880s, a number of saloons and hotels served the growing population.
Here the men met to socialize and relax; the women gathered at “church activities and quilting parties,” most certainly sans alcohol.
As area communities pressed for a railroad connecting Green Bay to Milwaukee, several stage-coach lines transported passengers, cargo and the U.S. mail in the interim.
Lucas Rioux operated a 60-mile rugged, tri-monthly route “through dark forests” and over corduroy log roads in marshes to as far north as Peshtigo and Menominee.
After one year of Wisconsin residency and the filing of an “Intent to be Naturalized” at the county courthouse, immigrants could vote and hold township and county offices.
In 1857, with “two free blacks” living at Duck Creek, the Brown County ballot queried, “Should suffrage be extended to colored persons?” “Yes” votes totaled 83; “no” votes totaled 584.
Of course, women did not have the right to vote until more than 50 years later.
While the Intent to be Naturalized did not make an immigrant a citizen, it did make him “liable for duty in the Union Army.”
Some Duck Creek soldiers volunteered, others were drafted.
Some hired a substitute to fight in their stead, others hired out as substitutes, the several-hundred-dollar fee a windfall for their families.
The railroad reached Green Bay in 1862. The Fort Howard station transported Duck Creek fish and ducks to Milwaukee in barrels, as well as Duck Creek community “stone, bricks, lumber, wheat and other products.”
Lucas Rioux opened the community’s first quarry on the north side of Glendale Avenue.
A large number of his workers were the Menominee who continued to “live in their wigwams along the river and amongst the houses.”
The second quarry was established in 1863 by David and Zepherine Cormier – directly across from Rioux’s quarry.
The Milwaukee Diocese sold land to Manuel Brunette in 1873, where he established a third quarry.
Quarry workers removed the stone on “hand-loaded cars drawn by horses on temporary steel tracks” where they were delivered “to the nine piers at the Duck Creek docks for shipment via water to customers.”
Workers averaged $1.75 per day, most working part time.
A company store sold food and other conveniences like a pound of tobacco for 24 cents, a gallon of oil for 14 cents, and five bars of soap for 25 cents.
Duck Creek quarries provided stone for custom-built railroad bridges, decorative fountains, gargoyles (many to Milwaukee and Chicago), churches and the Marinette courthouse.
The Rioux Quarry shipped “a bath tub with lions carved on it” to Chicago.
In the 1880 census the town of Howard reported 1,170 inhabitants.
The once isolated Duck Creek settlement trading post established in 1780 in the midst of a Menominee village had grown to “a bustling, thriving community with successful small industries, hotels, saloons and stores, all of which were surrounded by many fertile, productive farms.”
The Duck Creek settlement remains one of Wisconsin’s oldest – made up initially of Menominee and French-Creole, and eventually attracting British, Irish, German, Belgian and other immigrants.
The robust and detailed Early Duck Creek History and Memories of Old Duck Creek, both by Jeanne and Les Rentmeester, have been the primary sources. The books are available through the Brown County Library, or they can be purchased through the Howard-Suamico Historical Society.