The history of the Village begins on May 9, 1840, when John Cook, living in Ohio, purchased his Wisconsin land from the U.S. government that would become the Cooks’ village, and on June 25, 1840, John Cook, his brother Daniel, and friends arrived in their new land alongside the Bad Fish Creek.
And the year 2017 will mark the 175th anniversary of the Cooks officially platting their Village of Cooksville on the new American frontier.
John Cook purchased his Wisconsin Territory land—officially described as the NW ¼ SW ¼ of Section 6, town 4, range 11 north in Rock County— directly from the U.S. government. Shortly thereafter, on June 22, 1840, he invested in two more parcels of land: the SW ¼ SW ¼ Section 6 and the E ½ SW ¼ Section 6. Undoubtedly Cook knew that the land directly to the east of his new property had been purchased in 1837 from the U.S. government by the famous U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Daniel Webster, who soon would sell it to his friend, Dr. John Porter of Massachusetts. Maybe Cook thought living next to Senator Webster’s land was a good investment.
John and Daniel Cook and their fellow pioneer travelers journeyed from their Ohio homes to the new Wisconsin Territory arriving on June 25, 1840. Earlier reports had indicated that the open prairies were rich and easily traversed, with the clear, spring-fed waters and fresh lakes, and the oak-openings and other trees would provide abundant lumber and firewood.
The pioneering Cook group included the brothers John and Daniel Cook; Daniel’s wife Elizabeth and daughter Rhoda; Mrs. Cook’s brother James Shurrum and his wife Hannah; and Hannah’s sister Angeline Courter Johnson, her husband David Johnson and their three children.
The Cooks’ contingent traveled in covered wagons pulled by yoked oxen, probably accompanied by a horse or two, and probably a cow or two. Maybe some chickens were caged in the wagons. They were a typical immigrant family group in the Westward movement in America, traveling across prairies and fording or ferrying across rivers, following Indian trails and perhaps military wagon trails, easily crossing the oak savannas. Their first destination was the new and growing village of Union in Rock County, which had been serving as the midway stagecoach stop on the early route between Janesville and Madison. In 1840, Union was about as large a settlement as Janesville and was the jumping-off place for new settlers in the area. No other communities existed between Janesville and Madison at the time. (The first settlers arrived in Rock County in 1835, and Janesville was platted by Henry Janes in 1837.)
The Cooks’ final destination was just a quick three miles to the east of Union, on the Bad Fish Creek, which originally had the Indian name, “Waucoma,” believed to translate as “Clear Water.” The Johnson family remained in Union, while the Cooks and the Shurrums traveled the last few miles further on to the fish-filled little creek flowing through the oak-openings.
According to a daughter of the Johnson’s, when the families arrived in Wisconsin there were “several houses and one general store” in Janesville, with only one house standing between Janesville and Union; two houses were in the vicinity of Union; and only one house was further along the stage route from Union to Madison. The Union Tavern was the solitary welcoming accommodation at the time, both for people and for the horses that were changed there for the next stages on the trip to Madison.
When the Cooks and Shurrums arrived in 1840, they initially lived in their wagons and tents. Before winter set in, the Cook brothers built a log cabin—the first house in Cooksville—to shelter the family. They probably built a log barn as well to shelter their animals—sometimes a barn was built first for these important animals. The log house, we are told, was about 14 feet square without floors or windows or normal doors, probably with a crude earthen and stone fireplace on a dirt floor; typically a split log floor was added later.
This lonely settlement would soon officially become a village named “Cooksville.” And before long, the Cooks would soon follow the American movement even further to the West
The Cooksville Mill, built 1842, painting by Leila Dow, c. 1900.