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The Brayton Family of Jefferson County

 

Jefferson Banner, 05 31 1906

 

The Madison Democrat, in mentioning the renaming of one of Madison's schools in honor of Mrs. Sawin, who was the first school teacher in Madison, and who taught school in this city, when she was Mrs. Louis M Brayton, published a sketch of Mrs. Sawin, part of which will be interesting to our readers . . .

 

Louisa M Brayton was born in Wilna, Jefferson County, NY, on the 23rd day of May, 1816. Her father was Deacon Jeremiah Brayton, who moved from Wilna to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1835, and in 1837 emigrated to Wisconsin and settled on the banks of the Crawfish River near Aztalan in Jefferson County.

 

The Brayton family consisted of the father, mother, three daughters and one son.

 

Move to Wisconsin

 

They came from Cleveland to Wisconsin by way of the lakes, bringing their household effects and a generous supply of provisions with them. Mrs. Brayton's brother, James Manville, and his wife accompanied them and at Milwaukee others joined the party, swelling it to about a dozen persons. There they secured, with the assistance of Solomon Juneau, six ox teams and as many prairie schooners and started for Aztalan.

 

The streams were unbridged, necessitating fording them, and in many places the roads had to be cleared of obstructions. They sought to make each night at some settler's house where better conveniences for cooking as well as rest might be expected. Their arrival at these habitations always caused considerable commotion, especially as there were four of five young girls in the party.

 

Concord

 

The third night out, they reached the Sacias, in what is now the town of Concord, Jefferson County. The day had been a tedious one, darkness overtook them long before they reached the stopping place and they were about discouraged, when a light indicating its whereabouts appeared in the distance.They pressed on and as they drew near the light shining more distinctly through the chinks of the log house caused it to present somewhat the appearance of an illuminated checker board. It was half past 10 when they arrived.

 

The Sacias three bachelor brothers were living in a small log house and holding down their claim. They were rough, burly, warm hearted fellows, and turned out to welcome and assist the new comers as best they could.

 

Unaccustomed to female society, they were especially shy to the ladies, and the girls of the party enjoyed their edging around and away from them and then suddenly springing to their assistance in some little act of kindness. A meal was quickly prepared and the bedding brought in and spread upon the floor of the one room, entirely covering it.

 

Watertown

 

Here all rested for the night, the men sleeping on some improvised bunks against the wall. An early start was made next morning, and Johnson's Rapids, now Watertown was reached that night.

 

Aztalan

 

The following morning they forded Rock River and reached Aztalan on the Crawfish before dark of that day.

 

At once the Braytons commenced to build a log house on the east bank of the river, about 2 1/2 miles below the settlement on a claim that had previously been entered, and as soon as the roof was on the family moved in and commenced making their home.

 

Earlier in the same year, 1837, A A Bird passed through from Milwaukee to Madison with his party of workmen to build the capitol, he having been appointed by the general government one of the commissioners for that purpose. Later in 1837 he brought his family through and stopped a day at Aztalan for conference with settlers as well as rest for the family.

 

There they met and visited with the Braytons, and Mrs. Bird becoming somewhat nervous at the thought of going further into the interior, was anxious to have one of the Brayton girls go with her. So it was arranged that Miss Lavina Brayton, a sister of Miss Louisa should become a member of the party and accompany it to Madison, which she did. In speaking of engaging the first teacher for the first school at Madison the Democrat says:

 

Tick-Tock

 

It was thought that the oldest Brayton girl, Miss Louisa, at Aztalan, might be induced to come. Her younger sister, who had come out with Mrs. Bird was called in and she encouraged sending for her, and it was concluded to send at once. In the meanwhile, a tall Winnebago Indian had quietly slipped into the room and stood back against the wall, watching the proceedings, and listening attentively. Although he could talk little English, his natural keenness soon enabled him to comprehend what was going on, and he offered to go and bring the girl. He made known that he knew where the Brayton family lived and that he had been there some days before and was anxious to take his pony and go and bring the girl at once. To impress his good faith on his hearers he explained with much pantomime and gesticulation, where they lived, the number in the family, and somewhat of their habits and surroundings. Then with much eagerness he tried to explain something he had seen there that had evidently made a decided impression on him. He beckoned them to the door, pointed up at the sun then drew his finger slowly down the sky to the eastern horizon, then struck his fist 5 or 6 times in his hand uttering "Ugh" with each strike. Then he traced his finger up the sky at intervals stopped and struck his fist as before but with an additional strike at each stop, until he reached the zenith when he made 12 strikes. Then he swung his hand slowly backward and forward, uttering "Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock". At once Lavina told him he was describing the tall, old fashioned Seth Thomas clock they had in their little log house at home.

 

All were satisfied then that he had been at the Braytons. His kind offer to go and bring the girl was declined and it was decided to send Charles H Bird, and younger brother of A A Bird on the mission. Such was the first school meeting held in the city of Madison, and a native Indian of the forest took a striking part in it.

 

The next day the young man started with a horse and cutter on his journey, fully authorized to offer $2 per week, a very significant salary then, to secure the teacher. He reached the Braytons the same night and at once made known his business. The salary proved quite attractive, especially as he told the young lady she would have to pay only half of it for her board. The night was an anxious one, for the family, but before morning the bargain was closed, and the two young people started for Madison the following day.

 

The sleighing was quite poor, as the ground was bare in many places and the young man was obliged at times to get out of the cutter and walk.

 

At different times on there way they saw sulking through the woods, a large Winnebago Indian, evidently keeping pace with them, who proved to be the same one that took part in the school meeting. He had evidently gone unhidden on the mission for the teacher and was now returning to see that she was safely brought to her destination.

 

On arrival at Madison, the teacher, Miss Louisa M Brayton, took up her home in A A Bird's family under an arrangement to pay $1 per week for her board, and continued to board here during the time of her teaching.

 

In the meantime Mr. Bird had prepared the little log house for the school. A rough plank had been fastened up around the side of the room to serve as a desk. Benches had been made of oak slabs with the round side down and stakes stuck in holes for legs. A round bass wood board set up on sticks, served as the teacherís desk, and a common kitchen chair served as her throne. The teacher passed to and from the school and boarding place in a path through the weeds connecting the path though the two in a straight line, for there were no houses, fences or other obstructions to prevent.

 

Sometimes the Indians would gather around the school house and make threatening demonstrations. At one time it is recalled, that quite a band of them in war paint and feathers surrounded the log house, singing, howling and dancing, and peering in the windows and making threatening demonstrations with their fists and more threatening with their fierce countenances.

 

The children were very much alarmed, the teacher also. But this was continued only a few moments when Ira Bird, a brother of A A Bird, and afterwards sheriff of Jefferson County, and County Judge of Jefferson County afterwards, appeared. He was a great friend of the Indians and was somewhat familiar with their dialect. He went among them and quieted them and led them away.

 

Miss Brayton continued to teach the school for three months and then returned to Aztalan. Her services were now eagerly sought for, and subsequently she taught in other places, including Jefferson. There the Rock River separated the school house from her boarding place and she crossed the river in a canoe, taking the east side scholars with her and literally paddling her own canoe. When the water was low and the current not so swift and the canoe in use by other parties, she would cross standing on a plank and polling it across.

 

George Sawin

 

In January, 1843, she was married to George Sawin of La Porte, Ind. two children were born to her there, one a son, Albert B Sawin, and one daughter, Maria S Sawin. The son was a private in Co. F of the 29th regiment in the Civil War, and died in a hospital at St. Louis, the mother reaching there just as he expired. The daughter is Mrs George W. Bird of this city.

 

George Sawin died 1/9/1853, and the daughter was married to Col. George W Bird in October 1864, and since then Mrs. Sawin has lived in their family. She is now over 87 years of age and in the enjoyment of remarkably good health.

 

The old clock that the Winnebago Indian so graphically described in the first school meeting stands at the head of the stairs in Col. Bird's residence, and Mrs. Sawin, every night as she retires, passes to the head of the stairs, draws up the weights and thus keeps it running. Although a wooden clock, it has now been keeping time for over 82 years, and after such long service is as reliable as any clock in town except the special clocks in the university. It has a clear striking bell that rings through the house, and a strong tick that makes itself constantly known. No wonder it made an impression on the Indian.

 

Cross-References:

No 1:Thomas Brayton, Territorial Justice of the Peace, Jefferson Cty

No 2:Thomas Brayton, 1840 Census, Aztalan

 

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