Muskego Historical Society website

James Denoon Reymert


In 1845, James Denoon Reymert came to this country from Forsund, Norway. He was 24 years of age and previous to his arrival here he had studied law and business in Scotland. His natural abilities and knowledge of the English language quickly made him a leader in the New World Colony. In about a year he was married to Caspara Hansen, daughter of a dancing master who had recently come to the colony and lived on what is now the Posbrig farm.

In 1847, Reymert founded and began publishing the first Norwegian newspaper in a small print shop on Lake Denoon. The paper was called Nordlyset (Northern Light). The first issue was published July 29, 1847. It was a four page paper, with three columns and measured eight by eleven inches. It had a circulation of 200. This was the first Norwegian [language] paper to be published in America. A picture of the American flag headed the editorial column. The motto of the paper, "Freedom and Equality," was later expanded to "Free Land, free speech, free labor and free men." The first issue even contained a translation of a portion of the Declaration of Independence. Eric Anderson Rude, a compositor loaned by a Chicago newspaper taught the art of typesetting to Ole Heg, Even Skovstad and Ole Torgeson. Reymert continued to publish the paper until May of 1850, when he sold it to Knud Langeland, who changed the name to Democraten and moved it to Racine.

Reymert was close friends with Søren Bache, one of Muskego's first settlers, who had large holdings in the area. It is believed that Bache was the backer for most of Reymert's enterprises. One day after returning from hunting, Bache stopped at a friend's house to pass the time of day. As he was entering the cabin, the trigger of his gun caught on the doorlatch and the gun fired, killing the neighbor's young wife. That same year, grief-stricken over the tragedy, he gave Reymert power of attorney over all his holdings and returned to his native land.

From the first time Reymert set foot on the shores of Lake Denoon, which was called Silver Lake at the time, he dreamt of building a city and naming it after his mother, a Scotch woman named Jessie Sinclair Denoon. In 1850 he named his new town and the lake on whose banks it stood, Denoon.

The new town of Denoon grew rapidly, no doubt with the help of Søren Bache's money. The first two-boiler sawmill in America was built on the southeastern-most corner of the lake. Reymert also built a two-story hotel, a soda factory, a tannery, and blacksmith shop. In this same period he established the Denoon Post Office. The farm on which he lived in 1852 embraced about 3,500 acres and was stocked with 2,000 sheep, 20 horses and 100 head of cattle. He employed over one hundred workers in his prospering town at this time.

Just as everything was going smoothly in the Town of Denoon, new immigrants to the town brought with them the plague (cholera). Pestilence raged; death took victims every hour; all transient persons fled. Reymert was the only active organizer in the panic; his wife was in confinement with their last born son and there was no escape for him. He improvised a hospital. The contagion continued to spread. There was but one doctor (Dr. Squirls) but he soon fell prey to the disease. Reymert quickly mounted his horse and raced to Milwaukee for medicine and help. Upon his arrival he met Dr. Lissner, who had just arrived from Norway. Reymert bought the doctor a horse and filled their saddlebags with medicine and returned to the settlement. In three days the doctor was in his grave. In that week Reymert buried 110 victims of the plague. On one night, while his wife and child were fast asleep, Reymert went to the neighbor's house whose family had all been taken by the plague. The father had fled; the grandmother was sick and unable to comprehend the situation; two young children were asleep; and the mother was drawing near her end. Within half an hour the mother died. Reymert went to the mill, but found not a soul in sight. With great haste, he shouldered a casket to the plank road and loaded it on a wagon and drew it by hand to the house where he lifted the body into it. He then enlisted the aid of the trusty gravedigger and the grandmother and buried the young woman's body before sunrise. He returned to his home without his wife discovering his absence.

The Town of Denoon was practically wiped out and little remains today of that dynamic settlement.

Reymert left the area and was active in Wisconsin government. He was appointed receiver for the United States land office at Hudson, Wisconsin, where he moved. He was nominated for the western district congressional seat, but lost in a heated campaign. He moved to New York in 1861 to practice law and became a successful attorney. In 1873, he went to Chile (South America) where he was in business for a couple of years. Then in the 80's he turned up in Arizona, where with a son he took up mining, started a small paper and was appointed a judge by President Cleveland. He died in Los Angeles in 1896.

(from THE DENOON SETTLEMENT by Agnes Posbrig)

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