by Elaine Radditz as told to Mary Matsumoto (our cousin and John’s daughter)
The ancestors of our family came from the tribe made famous in the book ‘Last of the Mohicans’, by James Fennimore Cooper. They fought with the British in the French and Indian War and later allied themselves with the Americans against the British during the Revolutionary War. (See ‘Forgotten Allies’ by Glatthaar and Martin).
In 1820, crowded off their land in upper New York by European settlers, our great-great-grandparents made the long trek to Wisconsin. Two of the three tribes, the Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians, eventually settled along the eastern banks of Lake Winnebago in what is now Calumet County.
Among Elaine’s (our) ancestors were Moses and Elizabeth Doxtator, who had sixteen children.
Stories have been handed down that their son, Peter, played the fiddle so beautifully it brought tears to listeners’ eyes.
After Peter had been married long enough to have eight children, his wife (Elvira Larson) left him. taking only the three oldest with her. Elaine’s father, John, stayed behind, caring for the four younger ones remaining at home. He did much to bring in food and prepare it for his siblings, all this while he was just a schoolboy himself. He’d leave for the little one-room schoolhouse on foot, but instead of going inside, he’d weave back to the road that led to the lake. There, he’d climb in his boat and spend the afternoon fishing so he could bring dinner home to his family.
John grew up two miles south of Stockbridge on the acre of land his grandmother purchased. He was poor, but he knew how to live off the land.
In those days, neighbors threw house parties for entertainment. They’d clear the room of furniture and engage in square dances and jigs to the music of neighborhood musicians. John’s father, Peter, played his violin at these parties, and it was there that John met his wife Frieda, who had come down from the Stockbridge reservation in Red Springs near Shawano to care for her ailing sister in Quinney. The couple married in 1925.
John and Frieda lived on that one-acre plot with a barn, a couple of cows, rabbits, chickens and a horse. Everyone had a horse in those days. Blacksmiths operated shops every few miles. It was in the 1940s before the Doxtator family bough an automobile, a Studebaker.
In the winter of 1923, John and Frieda received at their home in Stockbridge an Onondaga chief from New York. They discussed Indian matters during the visit. The Doxtators drive the chief and a couple who accompanied him to Chilton to catch the train after the visit was concluded. John was driving the team when the sleigh ran into a bump on the snow-covered road. The chief and the others landed in a snowbank and the team came unhitched. No one was hurt. The horses were re-hitched by the light of a lantern and the travelers were soon gliding over the snow again toward Chilton.
John was a hunter and trapper in the beginning. he brought in pelts from high Cliff to the Killsnake Creek in Chilton and as far south as Brothertown walking wherever he went. He sold the furs to the Percy Fur Company in Oshkosh. Buyers would blow on the mink pelts to see if the fur was fine or thick. They paid more for the fine fur of smaller animals.
“One morning,” John told his daughter (Elaine), “I got up early and set out for Quinney Beach at daybreak with three skunk hides and a mink pelt. It was the dead set of winter, and I carried them in a gunny sack slung over my back. I walked across Lake Winnebago to the Percy Fur Company in Oshkosh where they paid me $37 in cash for the hides.”
An accomplished fisherman by this time, he knew the wardens and gave them nicknames, Swampy and Sludge. They always seemed to be lurking around the shore somewhere, watching. If they weren’t around and he happened to catch a sturgeon out of season, though, he’d look both ways and take the catch home. The local undertaker would haul sturgeon in his hearse (very large fish).
In the 1930s and 1940s, set-line fishing was permitted for several weeks in the fall. The lines were about half a mile long stretched out, with hooks tied every few feet. He would tie ten in a bunch and set the lines in a washtub with the hooks hanging from the rim. John paddled his boat across the lake, releasing the lines, and baiting the hooks with crickets, worms and grubs as he went. He had wooden buoys attached to them every few yards. Later in the day, he’d pull the lines in and arrange the hooks on a rack made of wooden slats. He caught all kinds of fish that way.
In the winter, he built a hut on the ice and laid a straw mat inside the hut. He then cut a hole in the ice and fished for the sturgeon through the hole. He then pulled the large fish through the hole with a pole. This was an art, because if you didn’t spear the sturgeon just right they would drop to the bottom of the lake.
For a time, John worked at the old sorghum mill down by the lake. It operated down the crossroad (now called Artesian Road) off “the old road” (Lakeshore Drive). Farmers grew sugarcane back then. They’d harvest it, cut it in bundles and shocks, and bring it to the sorghum mill for processing.
Later, Steve Welch hired John to work for his stone company in Quinney. Hired men picked stone in the fields, sometimes having to dynamite the big ones. They built stone fences. John had been cooking since he was a kid, so he made meals for the laborers. On their time off, the guys formed sports teams – the Stone Men vs Quinney, Brothertown or Stockbridge.
When Frieda had her children, Dr. JohnKnauf, a young man at the time, would come out to the Doxtator home to help her deliver. In 1940, Frieda delivered twin girls. (Elaine was one of them).
When Elaine was a child, her father partnered up with the next door neighbor in his junk business.
“It was the perfect business for my dad” said Elaine. “He loved being outside, and he loved to find things.”
The men hauled iron, tin, copper, and aluminum from area farmers, separated it, and trucked it to Sadoff’s in Fond du Lac. Even little Elaine learned to tell the difference between metals.
John collected more than scrap metal. Every spring, he’d gather ginseng, catnip, elderberry, consumption weed and wahoo. He not only knew what the plants looked like, he knew exactly where to get them, seeking them out in his special places well into his 80s.
In 1968 John sang an Indian song at a ceremony at Stockbridge Harbor commemorating the trials of the Indians upon their resettlement from the East Coast to Wisconsin.
John lived until he was 89.