First German Settler in Milwaukee

From: Milwaukee Pioneers 1845-1846

There is controversy regarding who was the first German Settler in Milwaukee. Many accounts state that it was Henry Bleyer. This article written in 1905, states the it may have been William Strothman.

Milwaukee Sentinel
June 11, 1899
First German Settler In Milwaukee
Circumstances Which Prove the Honor Belongs to the Late William Strothman, Who Came in 1835.

strothman Who was Milwaukee's first German settler? The question is one about which there has been some controversy and a great deal of uncertainty. Even the published histories of the city leave one uncertain on the subject. Wheeler's "Chronicles" embrace a paragraph to the effect that Henry Bleyer was the first of his nationality to brave the sea and find a home here. Dr. Koss' admirable history of the Germans of Milwaukee also names Mr. Bleyer as the pioneer German resident. Buck's history, written at a much later period than the works named, devotes half a line to the subject, and that in his list of arrivals during 1835, in which the words "First German settler" are added to the name of William Strothman. There is no reference to Strothman in the large work issued by the Western Historical company (sic) of Chicago, except in a paper contributed to it by Dr. Enoch Chase, and the lastest history in two volumes, ignores the question entirely. Mr. Buck who was personally acquainted with Mr. Strothman, subsequently furnished a newspaper with a sketch of him, among recollections of others whom he had inadvertently omitted from his books.


"As a son of the settler named in the earliest of our histories," said Henry W. Bleyer in a paper read at the last meeting of the Old Settlers' club, "it better becomes me than another of the decendants of our German pioneers to correct the statements of Wheeler and Dr. Koss. My father, though he often entertained his children with reminiscences of his first years in Milwaukee, never said he was the first settler. When the advantages of Milwaukee were advertised in Detroit, he worked his passage from that city, in the spring of 1836, as a fireman on the steamer Michigan. After a brief sojourn here, he chose the site of his future home, and returned to Detroit. In the following summer he brought his family, arriving here on the 5th of June. He did not deem himself a settler, except in the true sense of the word, and consequently never claimed that his temporary stay during the previous year entitled him to rank as a 36er."

"Mr. Buck's authority for his brief reference to Mr. Strothman was the signature of that pioneer when a member of our club, as may be gleaned from the roll now in possession of the Pioneer association. The claim for Mr. Strothman would have been valid even if he had not signed the constitution of the club. Dr. Enoch Chase who had settled here several months before, was the first to grasp his hand and tender him the hospitalities of a home. Edward Wiesner, the first shoemaker, who also claimed the distinction of having brought the first cat to Milwaukee, came two months after Mr. Strothman, though in after years he said that he settled here in 1833 or 1834. Later, in 1836, the earliest arrivals were Henry Bleyer and George Abert.

"I have not too confidently relied upon records for the information I have upon this subject. Several visits to the children of Mr. Strothman have yielded me material for a more extended sketch of their father than the one I have written for this evening.


"Mr. Strothman was born in Westphalia, Prussia, on the 8th of April, 1808. On attaining his majority he resolved to settle in America. Having by thrift acquired the means to cross the sea, he set out alone and arrived at Baltimore in 1832. There he found employment for a time, which yielded him the means to travel to Kentucky. Thence he worked his way to Cincinnati, where he was busied a year or more in the packeries of that city, which was then known as the "Porkopolis of the West." Leaving Cincinnati, he came to Chicago, then a low, muddy flat, without promise that it would ever became (sic) a commercial center. As neither the town nor the surrounding country were inviting to the newcomer, Strothman shouldered his bundle and walked all the way to Milwaukee, arriving here on the morning of Oct. 1, 1835. He knocked at the door of Dr. Enoch Chase's house, was heartily welcomed, and more than all, invited to share the breakfast which had just been prepared. The doctor employed him, assisted him in locating a claim, and otherwise befriended him. Strothman was also favored by Horace Chase, Capt. James Sanderson and Alanson Sweet, for each of whom he worked in turn, even after he had settled upon his claim, which comprised the northeast section of section 14, in the town of Greenfield. As the land was not in market, Capt. Sanderson persuaded Mr. Strothman that ready money would be safer with him than in a squatter shack until such time as the government sale would take place. Unfortunately the captain became insolvent, and Mr. Strothman was obliged to borrow money at an exorbitant rate of interest, in order to bid in the tract he had chosen for a homestead. All that he ever realized from the Sanderson estate was a yoke of oxen and several lots on the south side, the oxen then being accounted far more valuable than the city property. With these oxen he set out to break land for the pioneer farmers who had staked tracts within a few miles of town. As a plow was not to be obtained, he engaged Augustus Harmeyer, the pioneer blacksmith on the south side, to shape one to the best of his knowledge of an implement of the kind. With the plow, Strothman very soon found lucrative employment among his neighbors and his countrymen in towns 9 and 10. During the winter months he chopped wood on his farm, and for others, who paid him at a rate of 25 cents a cord. At times he hauled maple firewood from his place to the Chase steamboat supply dock, for which he was paid $1 a cord. To meet the needs of the new country he set up and operated a lime kiln, which proved un-remunerative, whereupon he engaged in manufacturing charcoal, for which he found a ready sale. In 1841 he married Miss Anna Christian, and in the employ of Charles Hart, the pioneer miller of the town of Wauwatosa, who proved to be a clever and industrius helpmeet(sic).


"By unremitting toil he gradually threw off the burden of debt that the Sanderson bankruptcy had entailed, so that in later years he and his worth spouse were free to enjoy the fruits of their long and offtimes discouraging struggle against adverse circumstances.

"In speaking of his early experiences, Strothman would say he had no cow the first year, half a cow the second year, a whole one the third year, and so on until he established a dairy herd as a result of his first purchase in company with Mr. Spillmore.

"But little more is left me to add to this plain recital of Mr. Strothman's career. He continued to live upon his homestead up to the time of his death, March 16, 1881. He was twice married and reared a large family, all of whom are comfortably situated. The eldest of his children is the wife of Col. Albert Bleuel of the Wisconsin National Guard. Another daughter is the wife of Supervisor Achtenhagen. Of his sons, Charles is an engineer well known on the south side; Philip, a retired farmer, lives in the old Layton residence at Layton park; Edward resides at West Superior, and William, the youngest, on the old homestead in the town of Greenfield."