Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Who named Pheasant Branch Creek?

"Every name is real. That's the nature of names."

― Jerry Spinelli


William Banks Slaughter's grave marker in Madison, WI

I received an interesting text from fellow birder and friend Shawn Miller this evening. Apparently, he happened upon a book belonging to his dad titled Dane County Place-Names by Frederic G. Cassidy, University of Wisconsin Press, 1968. Fascinatingly, it has a few mentions of Pheasant Branch and Pheasant Branch Creek and how it may have gotten its name.

Pheasant Branch
Another, probably the earlier, name for Pheasant Branch Creek.

Pheasant Branch, vill. 
Probably for the creek; see next. The land was bought in 1838 by Thos. T. Whittlesey, of Conn., who laid out the village in 1849. It was platted 1853: secs. 1 and 12, MIDDLETON.


Thomas T. Whittlesey

But here's the relevant and interesting entry...

Pheasant Branch Creek
This is a later form of the original name Pheasant Branch, evidently descriptive, there having been pheasants on this branch, or creek.

“The Pheasant Branch” was first used of the stream (earliest record found is 1845: Dane 127, 129, etc.). Next, the village of Pheasant Branch was laid out in 1849 and platted in 1853. Later, the pleonastic word “creek” was added to the name of the stream (earliest record found is 1861: Lig.), probably to distinguish it from the village, and also, no doubt, because “creek” is more familiar locally than “branch” (compare Nine Springs Creek).

Exactly what “branch” meant, in application to the stream, is a question. In the N Atlantic states it is not a common word, but when used, it means a division of a larger stream. In the S Atlantic states it is the most common word for a small stream, usually when this is a tributary, but even when it is the whole stream. (See NED, DAE, Ling. Atlas of New England, Wentworth's Amer. Dialect Dict.) Since Pheasant Branch (Creek) flows together with the water from Whittlesey's Marsh before entering L. Mendota, it is possible that “branch” is here used in the N Atlantic sense. The latter seems more likely because “branch” is coupled with “pheasant.”

For, assuming that the name was descriptive, “pheasant” must have referred to some local bird. At the time when the name was given, the most common that could have gone by this name was the ruffed grouse (Schor.), called “partridge” by Northerners and “pheasant” by Southerners. Thus the evidence seems to point to the name's having been given by a Southerner.

Who he can have been is another question. Since Thos. T. Whittlesey bought a large part of this land, including the stream, in 1838, and laid out the village and named it in 1849, some have thought him also responsible for the name of the stream. But Whittlesey was from Connecticut.


Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor 1937

However, Whittlesey was not the first in this location. In 1835 Col. Wm. B. Slaughter had purchased land just E of the mouth of the stream, where he planned to found his City of the Four Lakes. Since Slaughter was a Virginian, it seems more probable that he, finding what he would have called “pheasant” plentiful along what he would have called a “branch,” named the stream (perhaps about 1835).

Pheasant Branch PO
For the village. Est. June 28, 1850; disct. Dec. 31, 1902.

Pheasant Branch Spring
For nearby Pheasant Branch: a large spring in E sec. 1. MIDDLETON. (Schor.)

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a photograph of William Banks Slaughter, but I did find many instances of a book he had written:



At findagrave.com, I found this about William B. Slaughter:

"He was a fine scholar and an ornate writer, and prepared lectures on philosophical, moral, and literary subjects. He wrote a number of sketches for the American Biographical Company, for their work on the prominent men of Wisconsin; and had published a volume of his own on " Reminiscences of Distinguished Men ''— Jefferson, Jackson, and Randolph among them. He was a fine conversationalist, and possessed a wonderful memory."

Sounds like an interesting person. Anyway, I bought a copy of his book!

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