1847 First Politician Arrives

From History of La Crosse County, 1881.

Some time during this year (1847), it is believed Hon. Timothy Burns, afterward Lieutenant Governor of the State, and a gentleman who contributed, both individually and through others, to making La Crosse what it now is, was passing the present site of the city. It was then a collection of log houses, with Levy’s hotel and Myrick & Miller’s trading-post, the most elaborately constructed establishments to attract attention. There were no trees or shrubbery of any kind from the river to the bluffs, and the appearance of ” things ” then bore little resemblance
to that which grew up in after years. Yet Mr. Burns was captivated by the location of the town for business purposes, and halted and examined into the commercial prospects thereof.

This occupied some time, and, after a careful investigation of the facts, he became thoroughly convinced that there were few sites on the river possessing the advantages of La Crosse, and decided to remove here so soon as he should be able to effect arrangements for that purpose.

He was one of the remarkable men great enterprises produce, and to him, more than any one individual, it is said La Crosse is indebted for her present prosperity. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, May 31, 1820, and, while yet an infant, was brought by his parents to America, landing in New York. Here he remained until 1837. In the fall of that year, he immigrated to Wisconsin, and, settling in Iowa County, where he engaged in mining, so continuing until 1844, when he was elected Sheriff; a member of the General Assembly in 1846, re-elected in 1848, and chosen Speaker at that session. Upon the expiration of his term as member of the Legislature, Mr. Burns became one of the Commissioners of the Board of Public Works, and, in 1851, Lieutenant Governor of the State.

In 1850, he moved to La Crosse, which he foresaw was destined to become one of the leading cities of the State, investing largely in land. At one time, he owned one-quarter of the original town site. His interest and efforts in advancing the prosperity of the city he had selected as a home, and his prominence in State affairs, made him a favored object by his fellow citizens for the bestowal of such official and honorary confidences as was within their power. These included the chairmanship of the first Town Board, that of the first County Board, the first County Judge, and, as stated, Lieutenant Governor of the State.

His career, however, after his elevation to the office of Deputy Executive of the State, was of brief duration. During the incumbency, he visited a brother-in-law, Warren Johnson, of La Fayette County, and while here was prostrated by an attack of bilious fever. Every attention was paid to the invalid medical skill could suggest, and his convalescence hastened by the loving devotion of friends and relatives, enabled him in the fall, of 1853 to undertake the trip homeward.

He reached La Crosse in an exhausted condition, and was borne from the boat to his residence, whence he never more departed until carried to the tomb, universally mourned by citizens and friends, whose admiration and confidence he had done so much to attract.

The death of a man so enterprising, so public-spirited and of so commendable ambition as that expressed in the character of Gov. Burns, could be no less than a deplorable misfortune to the State, the constituency he  represented, and the city whose prosperity and permanent good he so sincerely and earnestly sought to promote. He gave his support most cheerfully to any meritorious undertaking, and, his advocacy of a movement for the public benefit, invariably added an impetus, and caused its advance toward the wished-for consummation. In private life, his character was above reproach, and refracted its rays of excellence upon his official career.

The following from the La Crosse Democrat of Sept. 21, 1853, on the deceased, will commend itself:

By a most calamitous stroke of Divine Providence we are this morning called upon to chronicle the decease of
the most prominent citizen of our village.

Hon. Timothy Burns, Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, died at his residence this morning, at a little past 12 o’clock, of billious fever. His family had been visiting their relatives in the southern part of the State for several months past, where, some two weeks since the Governor joined them, on his way to the Democratic State Convention, as a delegate from this Assembly district. While visiting with his family at the residence of Warren Johnson. Esq., of La Fayette County, a brother-in-law, he was taken down with a violent attack of the disease with which he died, but in a few days so far recovered as to be able to start for home, where he arrived by the steamer Dr. Franklin Sunday evening last, very much fatigued, and exhibiting evident symptoms of a relapse. Medical aid was immediately called, but the disease yielded not to medical treatment. It is doubtful whether he was fully sensible of his danger. During the forenoon of Tuesday he expressed a good deal of anxiety, and a desire to recover, but in the after part of the day became delirious, and later in the evening entirely insensible, in which state he remained until his death, surrounded by his family and friends. Everything within reach of human aid was done to save his life, “but he is gone.” A wife loses an affectionate husband; a family of interesting children a noble protector; brothers and sisters lose their adviser, their staff; parents have lost the child of their young attachment, the idol of their hearts, and such a son as may well be said to be the glory and honor of their gray hairs. But this is not all.

The State has lost one of its most gifted citizens, its counsels one of the most sound, energetic minds of which it could boast. Few men in this or any other State have had a more brilliant political career. His influence has probably been more directly felt in all the great State interests generally, and the all-absorbing railroad interests especially, than that of any, if not all of the present State administration, although occupying a secondary position.

He was a man of superior native mind, and notwithstanding he was emphatically what is termed a “selfmade” man, his political career had not thus ended if his life had been spared him. And yet, there is one more sufferer—one who will receive and feel the death of Gov. Burns to be a public calamity—we mean the young city of La Crosse. The  pioneer and founder of La Crosse, he has from the first made it his idol, and with an untiring energy and zeal he has without a single waiver or halt, at great personal sacrifice given freely, the whole scope of his powerful and  comprehensive mind—the whole force of his extensive political influence to the furtherance and accomplishment of her interests. La Crosse is clad in mourning.

Pursuant to call, a large meeting of the citizens of La Crosse was held at the court house, for the purpose of expressing the public sentiment on the mournful occasion of the death of our lamented citizen, Hon. Timothy Burns.

The meeting was called to order by Col. Childs, who appropriately stated the object of the meeting, and nominated
William Hood for Chairman, who was unanimously elected. R. Looney, Esq., was chosen Secretary.

On motion, a committee of three, composed of T. Rodolph, E. Childs and C. A. Stevens were appointed to draft
resolutions, who reported the following, which were adopted:

WHEREAS, It has pleased Almighty God, in His inscrutable wisdom, to take from our midst our friend and fellow-
citizen, the Hon. Timothy Burns, at the early age of thirty-three years, and in the midst of a brilliant and useful
career, therefore be it

Resolved, That in the death of the Hon. Timothy Burns, the State of Wisconsin has lost an honest and faithful public servant, the Northwest one of the most upright and unassuming political men, and the town and county of La Crosse the founder of her prosperity, the constant, untiring and vigilant promoter of her welfare, and the zealous defender of her interests.

Resolved, That we deeply sympathize with his afflicted family; that we feel that while his parents have lost a dutiful son, his wife and children a tender husband and a loving father, his brothers and sisters a kind and affectionate  brother; we have lost a true-hearted friend, ever ready to assist the needy, to give counsel to the inexperienced, and whilst seeking his own advancement never loosing sight of the public good and the advantage of his new home.

Resolved, That we will ever cherish his memory as the pioneer of La Crosse, whose keen eye and calm and sagacious mind knew how to appreciate the natural and geographical advantages of La Crosse, and who had marked but as his task to build in this spot a city that would be second to none in our fair Wisconsin, who would doubtless have  succeeded had life been spared him, and who has set us an example of perseverance, energy and enterprise worthy of imitation.

Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be presented to. his family, and that they be published in the La Crosse Democrat.

Resolved, That as a token of respect we wear the usual badge of mourning for ten days.

F. M. Rublee, Esq., offered a resolution that the stores and offices be closed after 12 o’clock on the day of the funeral, which was adopted.

On motion a committee of five, consisting of E. Childs, J. M. Levy, F. M. Rublee, C. A. Stevens and C. T. Jansen was appointed to assist in making suitable arrangements for the funeral.

The subject of erecting a monument over the grave of Mr. Burns by the citizens of La Crosse, was called up by F. M. Rublee, Esq., and the meeting adjourned to Thursday evening next, for the purpose of taking action upon that subject.

WIWJAM HQOD,, Chair-man.

R, LOONEY, Secretary.


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