Traveling in 1878 Trempealeau County

What were the roads like at the time the Borresens and Estensens arrived in Trempealeau County? For Elias and Kari Borresen, that would be 1873 in Fitch Coulee near Pigeon Falls; for Bertinus Estensen, 1875, and for his future wife Maria Thorsen, 1876.

In Merle Curti’s 1959 book on democracy in Trempealeau County, The Making of An American Community, page 36 holds a telling map of the roads in the county’s early life. Often these first roads followed established Indian trails and, of course, remained basically trails – muddy in rain and springtime, and hard and rough in dry weather. Townships called together groups of farmers for road repair, and the county itself often got involved in bridge-building. In low, marshy areas, logs were placed for corduroy roads. Spring floods and high water often undid the work. Perhaps the Borresens and Estensens participated in repair teams in Pigeon township after they arrived in the mid-1870s.

Beginning in the 1850s, people like George Gale of Galesville had already envisioned market roads from south to north across the county’s three river valleys of the Mississippi, the Trempealeau River, and the Buffalo (Beef) River. These roads were constructed very piecemeal; nevertheless, before the Borresens and Estensens arrived, the two arterials were basically in place (see map below). I have identified the “Trempealeau and Eau Claire” in pink/purple, and the “Galesville and Eau Claire” in blue. I find it quite incredible how close these routes are to Highways 93 and 53 today.

If farmers needed to move crops to market, these are the routes they would follow. Curti wrote that groups of farmers would gather after the ground was frozen and take their ox-team-powered wagons through the snow. They’d alternate lead teams, since cutting a path demanded more of the oxen. (Did Bertinus’s team of Buck and Bright get in on those trips? Probably not.)

By 1873 when Elias and Kari arrived, the Green Bay and Western Railroad built tracks generally following the Trempealeau River (orange/brown on map). That completely changed the market situation. Now farmers had only to move their produce to one of the depot towns, and for Pigeon township folks, that place would have been Whitehall. What a reduction in distance that would have been!

This entry was posted in Bertinus Estensen, Elias Borreson, Farming, Maria Thorsen, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Traveling in 1878 Trempealeau County

  1. Joe Hughes says:

    Hello from (spiritually, at least) the southern part of Trempealeau County! I believe that Dr. Curti’s cartographer sort of misplaced Whistler’s Pass… it’s not in Arcadia township at all, but on the border of Dodge and Trempealeau townships. I’ve been enjoying that book for more than 25 years and just now realized the map is off. I am also enjoying your blog a great deal! Best, Joe

    • Thanks for stopping by my blog. I assume what you say about Whistler’s Pass is so; I grew up in the county and was not aware of it. I keep learning! Glad you enjoy the blog – and Dr. Curti’s gem of a book.

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