Caldwallader Colden Washburn
One very ambitious and well-respected gentleman made a lot of money in Pepin County. He was a Congressman and a one-term Governor of Wisconsin. Cadwallader Colden Washburn was Governor of Wisconsin from 1872 to 1874. He also served as a highly regarded officer for the Union Army during the American Civil War.
Washburn was born on a farm near Livermore, Maine, in 1818; he was one of ten children. Washburn and three of his brothers were all elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Two of the brothers became governors and one was even a candidate for President of the United States.
Washburn left Maine at the age of 21 intending to settle in a community along the Mississippi River. He had numerous jobs over the course of the next three years, but also managed to study law and was admitted to the Wisconsin Bar in 1842.
He set up a law practice in Mineral Point and soon formed a business partnership with Cyrus Woodman. The two men began buying large tracts of pine forests. One such tract was 12,000 acres, very near the present Pepin-Dunn county line on the southwest fringe of the great white pine forests of northern Wisconsin. Most of their land was located around Waubeek Mound, a well known Chippewa River landmark, a few miles upriver from the site of the present City of Durand.
In 1855, Washburn built a lumber mill on the Chippewa River in the shadow of Waubeek Mound which was to be the largest Wisconsin lumber mill of the pre-Civil War days.
Washburn led the 2nd Cavalry Regiment of the Wisconsin Volunteers when the Civil War broke out. Following the war, he retired from the military with a rank of major general.
Washburn returned to Wisconsin only to find his Waubeek lumber mill had been badly managed during his absence and was now saddled with a large debt. He regretfully sold his mill to Knapp, Stout and Co. at Menomonie. Washburn collected his money several years later after the timber had quadrupled in value which made Washburn a very rich man.
Washburn became a two term U.S. Congressman and one term Governor of Wisconsin. He was very likely the richest man ever to be governor of this state. He eventually took his money to Minneapolis and built flour mills there. He died in 1887 and is buried in LaCrosse. Washburn County and the City of Washburn are named for him.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Pepin County’s most famous resident became known around the world for her stories about her pioneer childhood in Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota. Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in Pepin County in 1867 and lived here for six years. Her very first book, Little House in the Big Woods, published in 1939, was set here in Pepin County and contains stories about her early childhood. Laura went on to write many more books about her life and adventures. She died at the age of 90 in 1957. She is arguably still the most popular author of children’s literature in the world. The people of Pepin County remember and pay tribute to their most famous daughter with a reconstruction of the log house Chards “Pa” Ingalls built in 1863. Her life is remembered also at the Pepin Historical Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and the annual “Laura Ingalls Wilder Days” festival where “Little House” fans from around the world gather on the second full weekend in September to visit her birthplace and share their enjoyment of her work.
Milton and Charles Coleman
During July of 1881 a wild west style shootout took place in Durand. Two brothers, Milton and Charles Coleman, both officers of the law died in a blaze of gunfire. They were the first two law officers to die in the line of duty following Wisconsin’s statehood. The Coleman’s were killed in the shootout by two other brothers, Ed and Lon Maxwell, who fled after the shootout.
Ed Maxwell was captured on a farm near Grand Island, Nebraska after an intensive nationwide manhunt. He was brought back to Durand to stand trial. His brother, Lon successfully escaped and was never heard from again.
Ed Maxwell had his preliminary examination and statement of charges on November 19, 1881 at the Pepin County Courthouse. Maxwell pleaded not guilty, but self-defense, pure and simple! The courtroom crowd went into a tremendous uproar.
Ed Maxwell was hung. A grand jury, which later convened to investigate the lynching, determined that no local citizens had been involved in the incident beyond watching it. For many years afterward, the good citizens of Durand and Pepin County suffered considerable embarrassment from the city’s undeserved reputation as a hanging town.
Helen Parkhurst was born March 7th, 1887 and raised in Pepin County. She graduated valedictorian from Durand High School in 1904. She became known and admired around the world, because she thought children were our most important natural resource.
Helen Parkhurst is considered by many to be one of the most important female educators of the 20th century. She developed a theory of teaching based on individual learning which she tried for the first time in 1920 in a high school in Dalton, Massachusetts. She called her theory the “Dalton Plan” and she eventually founded the Dalton School in New York.
Parkhurst lectured around the world and received numerous awards and recognition from the governments of China, Netherlands, Japan, Denmark and more.
Her father was a livestock agent who selected cattle and horses from Wisconsin farmers and delivered them to the stockyards in Chicago. Her father also owned a hotel in the center of the Village of Durand. Durand was a regional center for farming, logging and shipping in the 1890’s. The train station and the traffic on the river brought many travelers to Durand.
Parkhurst took her first teaching position in a one-room rural schoolhouse called Black School, located near Arkansaw. She had embarked on her teaching career and her lifelong project to discover and preserve the child’s point of view. The Black School where Parkhurst taught still stands, located along County Road Z about three miles northwest of the village of Arkansaw.
Elizabeth Clark Hardy
The poem, “In Durand”, which includes a very respectful and heartfelt description of the City, was written by Elizabeth Clark Hardy, a highly regarded poetess, who was a 25 year resident of the city. Elizabeth Clark was born in New York State in 1849 and eventually married Joseph Hardy of Durand in 1871. They farmed near Red Cedar for many years, and Elizabeth moved to Durand following her husband’s death in 1913.
Hardy was a popular writer of prose and poetry, contributing to many of the leading magazines of the time, including “Woman’s Home Companion” and “Harpers Magazine”. One poem, “When the Tide is Low”, was read at the state funerals for both Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding. She also was the Household Editor for the “Wisconsin Agriculturalist” during the last 18 years of her life.