Unearthing history

Finding the ghost town of Amador

Ken Martens poses with a rough draft of his book, “A Tragic Era on the Frontier.” Photo by Derrick Knutson
Ken Martens poses with a rough draft of his book, “A Tragic Era on the Frontier.”
Photo by Derrick Knutson

Those who know how to look just might be able to identify the inconspicuous remains of a ghost town along the bend of the St. Croix River in Wild River State Park.

Ken Martens, a Civil War history buff and re-enactor from the Stillwater area, is profiling the Civil War-era town of Amador and its founder as part of a book he’s writing, “A Tragic Era on the Frontier.”

Martens has spent countless hours researching Minnesota history by reading newspapers from the 1800s and consulting some of the oldest history books Minnesota has to offer, and he’s been able to find the locations of numerous towns that have been long forgotten by consulting property tax records.

“Property tax records begin, at least in Washington County (and some other counties), in 1862,” he explained. “In the 1850s, the people are tougher to follow.”

Through his research, Martens learned of Carmin P. Garlick, who started the town of Amador.

Martens said Garlick was a rare man in his day, not only because of his skill set — he was a physician — but because of his willingness to treat Native Americans.

“He came out here in 1854 to serve the Ojibwa population on the St. Croix River,” Martens said. “They had (signed away) their land (via treaty) so the logging could take place. The Ojibwa were receiving annuities, and sometimes they weren’t receiving the entire annuity, and sometimes the payments were late. The culture had transformed from one that had land to one that had cash, so they were able to pay for medical treatment.”

From what Martens has been able to ascertain, he learned Garlick was a unique man in his day for another reason: He felt the Native Americans were being mistreated.

“He felt bad about the treaty deal they got,” Martens said. “He said they got a raw deal, and it shouldn’t have happened that way. It was later discovered the annuity payments were only interest on the money the government was not paying.”

Starting a town

When Garlick came to the Wild River region, which later became known as the “Nevers Dam” area until the dam was torn down in 1950, he had higher aspirations than just treating the Ojibwa: He wanted to increase his wealth and start a town.

“The other opportunity that was here was with the logging,” Martens said. “He wanted to build a sawmill, so he did; he platted the town — lots, blocks and streets. I understand there was a total of four structures in town, including a two-story hotel.”

Garlick also decided to get involved in farming, and planted 80 acres of wheat.

He had the town of Amador off to a fine start, and then it all went bust.

“As soon as he had built the sawmill in 1857 and began operating the mill in the summer of that year, it ended, due to a financial crisis that was nationwide,” Martens said.

The value of the dollar plummeted by about 80 percent.

Unable to pay laborers to harvest the wheat from his field, Garlick only managed to collect 3 acres of it; the other 77 went to rot.

Garlick was also forced to walk away from his sawmill and his newly built town, which was soon short one structure after its hotel burned down.

“Candles (used for light) and fireplaces were pretty dangerous,” Martens said.

Civil War service

Garlick then moved to Osceola, Wis., to become that town’s physician, and soon afterward the Civil War started.

“It was an incredible thing for the governor to appoint him to the 14th Wisconsin (regiment) because he would be treating Menominee Indians, where nobody else would touch one,” Martens said.

Garlick served three years and attained the rank of major, but he, like many Civil War veterans, came out of the conflict far from unscathed.

Martens said he found records that note Garlick contracted pneumonia during his service, and he also afflicted with tuberculosis, which, at that time, was known as “consumption.”

He rebounded from his illnesses for a short time and was even reassigned to the 35th Wisconsin regiment, but the tuberculosis eventually killed him in 1865, just as the Civil War was ending.

Garlick died in 1865 of tuberculosis, known at that time as “consumption.”  Photo supplied
Garlick died in 1865 of tuberculosis, known at that time as “consumption.”
Photo supplied

Martens said Garlick was about 55 years old at the time of his death, which, for Civil War veterans, was actually fairly old.

He explained that many veterans marched anywhere from 2,000-5,000 miles during their service.

“Some got tougher and wiry, and it strengthened them like nothing else in the world,” Martens said. “For others, the farther they marched, the weaker they became, and they never recovered. They were never the same again.”

Remnants of Amador

Martens said if people go looking for the town of Amador in Wild River State Park, they probably wouldn’t be able to find anything.

He explained when people came across abandoned structures in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they often took them apart and used the wood elsewhere.

“They did not waste anything in those days; if somebody came across a settlement that was abandoned, they’d take the shacks apart and move them,” he said. “They didn’t go to Menards; this was their Menards — tearing down the old stuff.”

But those with trained eyes like Martens — he has decades of experience in construction — might be able to spot where the old foundations were or where old cellars might be.

“I’ve located cellar holes in the ground — you can still find those,” he said. “The grass is really thick in Amador. I think there are two or three cellar holes out there. With my construction background, I can identify where the soil or terrain has been altered.”

Martens said he hasn’t tried to unearth the area, because he would have to get permission from the park to do so.

He added that his book will be about 50,000 words when completed, and he hopes those who read it get an accurate glimpse of the past.

“Since the passing (of the veterans and early settlers), many of their stories and the events have been forgotten,” Martens said. “I know the pioneers well enough to bring them back to life for a few minutes.”

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