Township No. 5 north, range 9 east of the 4th principal meridian, is situated in the center of the southern tier of townships in the county of Dane. The surface is undulating, and was, in the state of nature, covered with burr and white oak openings, with a few small prairies and marshes. The soil is good for most agricultural products, but is not rated first class in the county. There are four small creeks, outlets to the same number of springs, two of which are on section 12, forming the head waters of the Badfish, and one each on sections 18 and 20.
Bartley Runey built the first cabin in the township, in the fall of 1841, and moved his family, consisting of his wife, three boys and four girls, into it in the spring of 1842, near the junction of the mail route from Madison to Janesville and the road from Mineral Point to Milwaukee, known as the “old lead route.” It was a favorite stopping place for the teamsters hauling that mineral, and many an old pioneer has seen from ten to fourteen yoke of oxen pulling one stalled wagon out of the mud near the pioneer tavern. His nearest neighbor was Wm. Quivey, in town 6, range 9. Mr. Runey was a man of great energy, but lived only two or three years after settling here. His son Garrett now occupies the old homestead, and few landmarks remain to mark the site of the once famous tavern.
The next settler was Robert Thompson, who located, and, with the assistance of Mr. Runey and boys, built a cabin on section 12, near a beautiful spring which bears his name. The log house is there in good preservation, and the spring, as if in mockery of the decrepitude that has overtaken the young and robust pioneer, still bubbles and sparkled in perennial youth. At the close of 1842, Mr. Runey and family and Mr. Thompson were the only residents in the township.
In 1843, the number was increased by the settlement of Stephen Hook, who located on section 27, and Thomas Hook, his brother; also, C. Sargeant, on section 34, where he still resides. Abram Kierstead and family consisting of his wife, two sons and three daughters who in a few years were married respectively to three prominent young pioneers, viz: Hon. S.G Abbott, Hon. I.M. Bennett and Wm. S. Bedford, Esq. C.P. Mosely settled that year on the present site of the village of Oregon, built a cabin-partly frame and partly logs-and opened a tavern. This log tavern was the nucleus of the present thriving village. Horace Watrous settled on section 1, and built a log house. Eli Root made a claim on the same section, but soon left. Thus ended the pioneer settlement for 1843.
This number was enlarged in the year 1844 by the arrival of Rueben Boyce and family, who settled on section 36, where his son Rueben still resides. In a few days after his arrival, several members of his family were prostrated by ship fever, of which two of his children died-the first deaths in the township.
Mr. Boyce was highly respected by the early settlers. His influence was large and always exerted for their best interests. Wm. S. Bedford located about the same time, on section 35, Stoddard Johnson on section 1, and Wm. Cummings on section 10, who built a cabin. Mrs. Cummings killed a large deer which had been driven into the door yard and caught by the dogs. She achieved a victory, but rumor hath is that in the struggle she lost nearly all the drapery with which woman delights to adorn herself. Ay any rate, she beat a hasty retreat on the approach of the young and blushing Joseph G. Fox, and would only speak to him through a chink in the door.
W.F. Lee and Schuyler Gilbert came in this year. Mr. Gilbert located on section 10, and still owns under his patent. S.J. Pratt came in September, the same year. Landing in Milwaukee, he started on foot and along across lots, and crying, “to find a home.” Arriving at Runey’s in a few days, he located his present homestead, and now four generations frequently gather under his roof-tree.
About the same time, John S. Frary arrived in Milwaukee. Hardly had he stepped on shore when he was accosted by a stranger: “Do you want to go west, young man?” “West!” cried the weary and homesick John; “west! For eighteen long days and nights have I sought the west on the fastest conveyances the country affords, and if you have anything further west, commend me to the first boat going east.” But he changed his mind, came with the stranger, and in a short time was building his cabin on section 24. 1844 closed with less than a dozen structures to shelter a civilized man in the township.
In 1845, the township rapidly settled up. R. Underwood, wife and two sons-John and Henry-located on section 3. John still holds his parchment title; Ira Hays and two sons-Enos and Plympton-on section 5; R. P. Main on section 24, and six brothers, by the name of Devine, on section 23. They deserve a far more extended notice than the space allotted the writer will permit. Joseph Algard and family settled on section 17; Harry Brown and John Ellsworth on section 9, and Wm. De Boise on section 8; Amasa Salisbury on section 1; Rufus Rawson on section 12, where he built the first blacksmith shop. Dick Castleman has the credit also of building this first shop.
In 1845, Nathaniel Ames, three sons and one grandson-J.N. Ames-settled in the township. Mr. Ames was born in 1761, joined the revolutionary army, saw Washington when he visited the winter quarters of his army near Morristown, N.J., witnessed the execution of Major Andre, and died in Oregon August 27, 1863, at the great age of one hundred and two years and four months. When asked by one of his neighbors to what he ascribed his long life, he quietly and philosophically replied: “I have always slept well.”
Rev. Matthew A. Fox came in August, 1845, and a few days after, held his first service in the log cabin of Mrs. Kellogg, the occasion being the funeral of her husband. His next service was in the bar room of C.P. Mosely’s tavern. In 1856, the first church was built, and he was installed as pastor, which position he has acceptably and usefully filled to the present time. The church stands within a few rods of the cabin in which he performed his first sorrowful service. Many of his early pioneer friends have been carried through its portals to their last resting place, for whom he has performed a like sad service, and it seems as though his labors might end almost on the spot where they commenced.
J.W Scovill opened the first store in the township, in the fall of 1845, on section 21, or the “Hollow.” He chopped the logs, split the puncheons for the floor and rived the shakes himself. After it was raised and completed, he went to Racine for this tock. During his absence, Mrs. Scoville papered it throughout with Albany Evening Journals. How the heart of the venerable “T.W.” would swell to know his paper had served so good a purpose! The enterprising young merchant, by thus surrounding his customers with sound Whig doctrine, insensibly led them to vote that ticket, and from its organization the town has been Whig or republican by large and uninterrupted majorities. What might have been the result had the good lady used the Albany Argus?
Rosel Babbit and Seba T. Lewis opened farms this year on sections 14 and 15. Mr. Lewis was accidentally killed in his well by the fall of a bucket. Ephraim Newton and perhaps tow or there others located in 1845.
Joseph G. Fox returned from Ireland with his young bride in the fall of 1845 and commenced housekeeping in the first frame house in the township. He had it erected during his absence. His brother James settled near him about the same time. At the close of 1845, pioneer life in the township was about closed. Mills were being erected on the Catfish and Sugar rivers, post offices conveniently established, merchants and mechanics commencing business, roads laid out and bridges built, and the gospel preached by numerous missionaries who heard with delight the crowing of the unwary spring chicken.
The glowing descriptions of the salubrious climate, fertile soil and abundance of game, sent through the mail or carried by those returning for their families or sweethearts, produced its effect in 1846 and 7, and friends, relatives and neighbors hastened to possess the remaining unocccupied lands. All the conveniences of older settlements were here, or in the near future, except a market, and they cared little for that in comparison with the prosperity that surely awaited them. With strong hearts and willing hands they toiled on, and are today reaping the rewards of their enterprise and self-denial. During these years, among those who came to stay, are L.|M. Storey, T. Storey, Samuel Shepard, Smith Patchin and Daniel McKeeby. They settled near together, and the settlement was called Storeytown. W.W. Dwight, Phineas Baldwin, father and three brothers, came still later. In 1846, I.M. Bennett opened a store in “Rome Corners,” and laid the foundation of his large fortune, and a few years later Wm. S. Bedford engaged in the same business.
The first marriage solemnized in the township was in the first log house built therein; the happy parties being David Anthony and Jane Runey. A Rev. Mr. Miner, of Madison, performed the ceremony. On his way to Mr. Runey’s, his horse got mired in the Nine Springs creek. Unable to extricate him, he started on foot to fulfill his agreement. At Lake View he sent assistance to his horse, which was found dead. Wearily walking on, he reached Mr. Runey’s about 11 o’clock at night, wet, muddy and exhausted. He performed his work so well, however, that Dave and Jan today enjoy a well earned competence in peace and contentment. The first piece of cloth was woven by Mrs. Sophia Underwood, who now lives with her son Henry, on a loom made by Enso Hays, the first of its kind in the township. The first public religious service was held in Runey’s bar room, by a Methodist missionary by the name of Hawks; and the first parties to a lawsuit were J. S. Frary vs. B. Runey.
In this narrative, the writer has found no place to speak of the real pioneers of the present town of Oregon-the noble band of women who came with or followed their husbands and lovers to this wilderness. They suffered the real hardships and privations of pioneer life. They, unmindful of storms without or minor distress within, gathered little delicacies and needful articles, and visited and assisted the sick and suffering, through frequently miles away. Every old settler’s memory is filled with recollections of their gentleness, their kindness, their charity. Many of them have found the repose of death, but those who live are thrice blessed by those who received and now live to testify to their noble and unselfish labor.
The political history of the township is short. To gratify the young and enthusiastic pioneer’s longing for ballot-boxing, towns 5 and 6 of range 9, and town 6 of range 10, were formed into an election precinct in 1846, and at the suggestion of J. N. Ames, was called Rome, from which fact the present village of Oregon was then called “Rome Corner.” In 1847, Rosel Babbit circulated a petition for separate township organization under the name of Oregon, which was adopted at the town meeting held in April and Reuben Boyce elected chairman. Then “local self government” became fairly established, and as it consists mainly in electing officers and paying taxes, the ballot-boxing pioneer has no reason to regret his work, if its success is measured by the numbers of the one or the magnitude of the other.
Ref. Howe, Dr. I. (1877). Oregon. IN “History of Madison, Dane County and Surrounding Towns,” Publ. by Wm. J. Park & Co., Madison. WI, pp. 505-512. 1977 Reprinted version.