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"Eau Claire County History, 1949"
History of Bills School Area
As we look back at the early life in the Bills District, we find it filled with interesting stories of fin, hard work and adventure.
A part of this district is included in what is known as Thompson Valley. There, the first known settler was Andrew Thompson, a bachelor, who lived west of 27 and north of the Thompson Valley Cemetery. The whole valley was named after him.
One of the earliest settlers was the Foster Livermore family. The Walkers, still living in the district are descendents of them. The Ezra and Robert Haskins and Burval Yule families are descendents of Ed Haskins who bought the present Robert Haskins farm in 1891. Elmer Chrysler and Paul Ida families are descendents of Philip Chrysler who came shortly after 1850. Charles Pettis, who still lives here came about 1890. The first farmers who came to this region bought their land from the lumbermen, thus, there was little timber left standing. The first crop was wheat. The wheat had to be hauled to Sparta, about fifty miles away, over the "old tote road." The tote road ran from Sparta to a place somewhere east of Osseo (no one seems to know exactly where it was). Several farmers went together with their loads of wheat to help each other through some of the mud holes and over the steepest hills.
It might be interesting to tell a few of the stories as told by some of these early settlers and their children.
Crowe told us of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Foster Livermore...
The house was a small frame building with an upstairs loft or attic where the children could sleep.
One day while my mother was ironing a dress for the baby, some Indians opened the door and walked in. Mother was frightened but they seemed friendly. They indicated that they wanted the baby's dress. Mother did not hesitate but gave them the dress. They soon went on their way, apparently satisfied.
Wheat was the main crop and it was often sewed in a field before all the stumps were removed. The first threshing machine that was used in the community was brought in along the old tote road. It had to be hauled from farm to farm with horses. The grain was always stacked and then threshed later in the fall. The thresher was run by horse power. Four to six teams were hitched to poles which protruded from a center, like spokes in a wheel. They were then driven round and round in a circle thus turning the wheel that ran the thresher. Many times the stumps left in the fields interfered when the thresher was moved from farm to farm.
One time when my father was after cows he came onto a mother bear with cubs. She was very angry and started toward him. Father shot once but had to stop and load again but before he could do so the bear attacked him and would have killed him, but he had a hunting knife with him. He pulled this out and slit the bear's throat.
"Father came from New York to Columbia County in southern Wisconsin and from there to Thompson Valley between 1850 and 1860. He traveled across country from Columbia County sometimes following the Indian trails. He bought 80 acres of land in Thompson Valley. Later he bought another 40 acres over the hill to the east and lying in the present Bills District. He soon went back to Columbia County to marry and bring his young wife, Miranda Ketchum, to a home in this new settlement. The Silas Ketchum family came about the same time, made a home and raised a family. Some of their grandchildren still live in the valley.
We children had to help mother pick and dry the wild strawberries and blueberries which grew in abundance.
The farm owned and operated by Robert Haskins was first bought by F. Woodward in 1856, then by the following: H. A. Elkerton in 1867, Ed Haskins in 1891, Harley Haskins, and Robert Haskins in 1948.
Those who became sick were usually cared for by the mother with the assistance of neighbors who were always willing to help. Perhaps the only exception to this was when someone had diphtheria or small pox, for helping a neighbor then usually meant bringing sickness and probably death into your own family. Even then, sometimes some people did go to do what little they could. When several of the Haskins children were down with diphtheria a neighbor and his wife would go to help for a day or two at a time, go home and make a complete change of clothing and wash thoroughly before going near their own family. That method did keep the disease from spreading so some old fashioned ideas have become modern methods in health care. When two of the children died of diphtheria, crude coffins were made and were buried without funeral service of any kind for no one could or would have gone."
Charles Barka, an early
lives in Augusta but his son, George lives on the farm. This
"I came from Germany with my parents when I was three or four years old (about 1873). They went to Green Lake County (WI) where there were many other people who had come from Germany. When I was seven years old we moved to Augusta where my father had a job. When I was sixteen, father hired out to Sud Coolidge (actually the family was hired) to work on the farm now occupied by Ed Shong in Thompson Valley. My father and the boys worked on the farm and my mother cooked for six or seven men, all for $500 a year. We only stayed a year because it was too hard for my mother. The following year we moved onto another farm owned by Mr. Coolidge, which my father later purchased and which is now owned by my brother, Fred.
I worked in the woods, the first year in a saw mill and received nine dollars a month plus board and bed. Later I took a team to the woods to work and was paid fifty dollars a month for man and team. That winter I worked nights hauling water to ice the roads.
After I was married we lived on several different farms until, in 1895, I bought the farm where George now lives, for $2000 from John Ball, a big lumberman. There were 120 acres in the farm. It was all cleared except about seven acres. There were also a few trees on the top of the hill. There was a low, marshy spot with many springs running into it. We used to cut the hay in the marsh and carry it out onto higher ground to dry. Today there are no springs running and the marsh is filled in with good soil washed off the hillsides.
The Roads were bad, especially in the spring, the hills were steep and travel difficult. Prices were low too and we had to make a living and pay for our farms by selling oats at 14 or 15¢ a bushel. Pigs were $1.50 a hundred and butter was 10¢ a pound. In spite of these prices though, we paid for our farm in about five years.
Fred Sieg, August's father bought about the same time as I did. He had to pay a little more than I did but he too paid for it in about five years."
We cannot tell the stories of all the people but these people were later followed by others. In our old records we find these names: Hilts, Bullis, Magnussen, Emerson, Peetz, Campbell, Anderson, Rucks, Bills, Ida and others who did their part in building the community.
The first school was called the "Little Red School" and stood where the Thompson Valley Church now stands. In 1875 the schoolhouse was too small for the enrollment so the district was divided into 5 parts and a new school built in each district. These districts were Bills, Pride, Yule, Otter Creek Center, and Thompson Valley. Today, only Pride and Bills Schools are still operating, the others still have schoolhouses but too few pupils to operate.
The Bills school was built on land donated by George Bills. The lumber for the church school and many of the homes was hauled from Bennett's Mills located about six miles east of Augusta.
The interior of the schools looked very different from those today. There were no blackboards, maps or pictures, the desks were double benches, the books had few pictures, and none of the interesting stories or colors we find today. They had spelling bees and the program at Christmas or the end of the year.
Our oldest school records go back to 1900. That year we find the district raised $200 for expenses. They paid $2 a cord for wood to Charles Pettis for 5 cords of green jack pine and 5 of oak body wood, $5 for cleaning the school, that going to the lowest bidder. School was held for 7 months, 4 months winter term beginning in October, and 3 months summer term beginning in April. The teacher was Jennie Wadley and she received $35 a month. An item of expense found three or four times each year was "washing towels - $.50 to $1.00."
In 1904 the enrollment had become so large that the voters voted to build an addition on the building so that they would have two rooms and two teachers. A committee was appointed to look into the cost and report at a later special meeting. At the special meeting the committee made their report after which it was voted not to build and $100 was raised for current expenses. In 1905 they still did not build but with 90 children in the district between 4 and 20 they voted to take no children until they were six years old. In 1906 we find that they voted again to build the addition about 20' by 24'. They raised $600 but later at a special meeting changed that to $900 to pay for the addition. Money was borrowed for which they paid 3½% interest.
In 1929 the old building was torn down and the present modern building erected in its place. This year, 1947-48 with the district slightly larger than at that time, the enrollment is 14.
The teachers who have
taught here since 1900 are:
Many of the people of this region attended church in Thompson Valley where it was held in a building erected for school and church about 1840. In 1875 the cornerstone was laid for the church which still stands (1949). Today in the era of cars and good roads few people attend this church, most going to Augusta to the different churches there.
In looking back over the bits of information we have been able to gather we find most of our early settlers came form the east and were of English and early American extraction. Some have come, lived awhile and have gone, others have stayed and their children's children have married and still live here. All have had a part in building the schools, churches and communities of Eau Claire County. What we have told of some families would be equally true of others. Today we find a good school, prosperous farms and neat farmsteads with very low percent of tenancy. Most of the farms have power machinery, electricity and many modern conveniences, which makes work easier. However, we find the people of today are confronted with some of the same problems as those of 50 or 75 or 100 years ago. Such problems as making a living, paying for farms, improving their schools and communities and adjusting themselves to a changing world.
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