It can be said that the city of Milwaukee was born in 1818,when French-Canadian Solomon Juneau founded a small trading post on the east side of the Milwaukee River, near its convergence with the Menomonee and the Kinnickinnick—on the peninsula known to us as Talossa. A successful trading post draws other settlers, and by 1 835, Solomon's “Juneautown” had grown to a population of about fifty. (Not to be outdone, Solomon's cousin Joseph Juneau later started a town of his own in Alaska.) In that year, George Walker and Byron Kilbourn established their own settlements across the River from Juneautown—respectively, Walker's Point to the south and Kilbourntown to the west. Development in Walker's Point was tied up in title disputes for a time, so Juneautown and Kilbourntown quickly became the main players in the region. In 1837, the town of Milwaukee was incorporated, consisting of an East Ward (Juneautown) and a West Ward (Kilbourntown), though each ward remained largely autonomous. Their combined population was about 700 by 1838, and 1,750 by 1840.
For the first few years, commerce between Juneautown and Kilbourntown was facilitated by a ferry barge that could be cranked across the River on a cable at Wisconsin Avenue (Fiova Province). In 1 840, the first bridge across the river was constructed at Division Street (now Juneau Avenue, the border between Maricopa and Fiova). A slapdash floating bridge soon followed at Wisconsin Avenue (in place of the ferry—this being the bridge that Caroline Quarlls fled across in 1 842), which was replaced by a more substantial drawbridge in 1 843. In 1 844, a third bridge was constructed at Oneida Street, sponsored by Daniel Wells (Wells would later represent Talossa in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Oneida Street has since been renamed after him). Another pontoon bridge erected that year connected the south end of East Water Street with Walker's Point.
This bridge construction occurred against a background of increasing sectional rivalry between the East Siders and West Siders. Upon coming to the GTA, Kilbourn recognised the superiority of the East Side, but was frustrated to learn that Juneau had already secured the rights to all the land on that side of the River. Forced to settle for the inferior West Side (after arranging for the eviction of the native Potawatomi tribe), the fiercely ambitious (and corrupt) land speculator realised that his only hope to ensure the preeminence of his own town was to isolate the East Side as much as possible. Consequently, he did everything in his power to discourage the construction of bridges across the River (for example, by laying the streets on the West Side so they did not match up with the streets on the East Side). He financed the main harbor steamboat in town, so that it would only land cargo and passengers on the West Side. The Kilbournites also spread rumours that Juneau and his fellow Frenchmen had taught the East Siders to live on a diet of frogs.
Some, therefore, reckon the Bridge War to have started with the construction of the first bridge at Division Street in 1 840. During the years to come, the East Siders fought for more and better bridges, while the West Siders pushed for the opposite. In February 1 845, Kilbourn sought to have a settlement imposed by the state legislature, ensuring the passage of a bill that purported to recognise the perpetual right of Milwaukee's East Ward to maintain bridges across the River, but only mentioned the bridges at Division Street and Water Street, and stated that any expenses would be the sole responsibility of the East Ward. The East Siders saw this as foreshadowing an attempt to remove the Oneida Street and and Wisconsin Avenue bridges. The Milwaukee Sentinel proclaimed:
Of one thing we are morally certain, viz: that the [bridge] at Wisconsin street is the most necessary, as it is, in fact, the main artery into the country, and under no circumstances will we allow it to be removed. Let it be borne in mind that the citizens of the East ward—and we know of what we speak—will under no circumstances allow this bridge to be removed. And the West side may as well understand it.
Early in the morning on the 8th, when news of this destruction reached the East Side, Juneaumen were summoned by the ringing of bells. An angry mob assembled on the east bank of the River, and one group even rolled a small cannon up Wisconsin Avenue, intending to aim it at Kilbourn's house on the other side. At this moment, respected attorney Jonathan E. Arnold mounted the cannon and gave a speech that dissuaded the mob from violent action. Bloodshed was averted for the moment.
At this moment, respected attorney Jonathan E. Arnold mounted the cannon and gave a speech that dissuaded the mob from violent action. Bloodshed was averted for the moment.
On 28 May, tempers boiled over again. A group of hot-headed East Siders decided that maybe being cut off from Kilbourntown wasn't such a bad idea. A mob sallied forth again, the cannon was hauled out again and fired (harmlessly) in indignation, and the Juneaumen again disabled the Wisconsin Avenue bridge (from the east this time) and also damaged the Walker's Point bridge. This proved to be the last outbreak of violence in the Bridge War.
Enough steam having been let off, a spirit of compromise begain to build over the next several months, and the town trustees (East Ward and West Ward together) were finally able to agree on a set of bridge resolutions, including a new two-lane bridge at Wisconsin Avenue, the expense of which would be equitably divided between the two wards. With the bridge controversy resolved, a month later (on January 31, 1 846) a unified City of Milwaukee was incorporated, and Solomon Juneau was elected as its first mayor.
The spirit of the Bridge War, and what it reveals about the spirit of Talossa, is perhaps best captured by the following anecdote from Andrew Carpenter Wheeler's 1 861 Chronicles of Milwaukee (as reported in the Milwaukee Genealogical Society's 1 881 History of Milwaukee). It will strike a chord with any seasoned Erteier:
E. J. Roberts, a prominent citizen of Detroit, came to Milwaukee in 1 836 or '37. He landed from a boat and walked up East Water street just as Jonathan E. Arnold was addressing a crowd in relation to some bridge controversy. He returned to Detroit, and did not visit Milwaukee again until 1 845, again happening to come up East Water street just as Mr. Arnold was in the midst of his speech [from the cannon as reported above]. Mr. Roberts rubbed his eyes, and, turning with amazement to a friend, exclaimed: "Great heavens! Haven't they adjourned that meeting yet?"