James S. Buck

Safe haven for deserters

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The Water Street store of Ludington, Birchard and Co., where trigger-happy Army officers were not welcome. Illustration from James S. Buck’s Pioneer History of Milwaukee.

In his Pioneer History of Milwaukee, early settler James S. Buck notes the fledgling city became a safe-haven for U.S. Army deserters in the 1830s.

In those years, Buck wrote, the existence of hell as a punishment for the wicked in the hereafter was much debated among theologians but an earthly hell, “certainly as far as the common soldiers were concerned,” was a reality. It was in Portage, Wis., and it was called Fort Winnebago.

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Dead moved to make way for church

St. James Episcopal Church

St. James Episcopal Church occupies an enviable site in downtown Milwaukee. Located on Wisconsin Avenue opposite the public library and the Wisconsin Club, construction of the church involved removing a pioneer cemetery. Carl Swanson photo

The spirits of Milwaukee’s early pioneers may have said, “You can build your church over my dead body.” And that’s just what the founders of St. James Episcopal Church did. The historic church at 833 W. Wisconsin Ave., is built on the former Spring Street Burial Ground, once the resting place of many of the city’s first European settlers. (more…)

High-proof whiskey

A prank played on a whiskey-loving visitor in Milwaukee's early days gave a new meaning to the term "strong drink." Illustration by Carl Swanson

A prank played on a whiskey-loving visitor in Milwaukee’s early days gave a new meaning to the term “strong drink.” Illustration by Carl Swanson

Early settler James S. Buck wrote the four-volume Pioneer History of Milwaukee [1881], which chronicled events both great and small – plus a few Buck found too funny not to share. For example, many historians recorded the construction of Milwaukee’s first courthouse, but only Buck gave us “The Courthouse Trouser Disaster.”

In the summer of 1845, John Shields, a fellow resident of the boarding house at which Buck was staying, ran afoul of the historian – and paid the price.

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