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Dunn County
Place Names

How various cities and geographical features in the county came to be named.

Though originally home to Santee Dakota and Ojibwe native peoples (and other peoples before them), jurisdiction over the land that comprises Dunn County has been claimed by France, England and the United States.

The county was created from a portion of Chippewa County on February 19, 1854, and at the time included all of the present Dunn and Pepin Counties (formed in 1858). Its present-day boundaries encompass some 858 square miles.

The County is named for Charles Dunn, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Wisconsin Territory (1836-48), who was appointed by President Andrew Jackson.

The "Seat of Justice" was at Amos Collburn's at or near the ferry across the Red Cedar River near its mouth at Dunnville. The courthouse in Dunnville burned to the ground in October 1858. After several months of moving from place to place the county seat was moved to Menomonie on January 1, 1861.



Named for the Boyce family who operated a mill at the west end of the village.

Cedar Falls

Named for falls on the Red Cedar River, north of Menomonie. A water power dam and sawmill were located here as well. In the Curtiss-Wedge History ot Dunn County, geologist, ethnologist and explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcroft spent a night there in 1831, referring to it as Kakabika Falls.


Once know as "Begga Town" because of the rutabaga crops raised by area farmers, Colfax was renamed in 1868 in honor of Senator Schuyler Colfax who served as vice president under Ulysses S. Grant.


Named for James Downing, a Civil War veteran and former employee of the Knapp, Stout and Co., Company. In 1867, he and his friend William James Doughty bought 80 acres of Railroad land for $6 an acre and settled their families there. They logged the land, and when the Wisconsin Central Railway was built in 1884, the settlement became officially known as Downing.


Captain Burrage E. Downs built a dam across the Red Cedar River and operated a sawmill here.


Once the county seat of Dunn County (1854), Dunnville, like the county, was named for Charles Dunn, then a state senator and former chief justice of the Wisconsin Territory (1836-48). Supplies for the Knapp, Stout & Co., Company mills were unloaded here and carted to Menomonie, 12 miles north. In 1858, the courthouse burned to the ground. That same year, Pepin county was formed from the southern part of the county. After several months of moving from place to place, the county seat was relocated to Menomonie in January 1861. Dunnville was located a few miles upriver from the confluence of the Red Cedar and Chippewa rivers.

Eau Galle

May have been named by voyageurs as the name means "gravel bank" in French.

Elk Mound

A 1,200 foot bluff here once provided a lookout for Ojibwe (Chippewa) Indians watching for their Santee Dakota (Sioux) enemies during the early 1700s. Whites settled the area in the 1860s and occasionally spotted elk on the bluff.


Named for George Irving who travelled here from Iowa by steamboat up the Mississippi and Chippewa rivers.


Named for John Holly Knapp, founder of the Knapp, Stout & Co. Company. When the Tomah and Lake St. Croix railroad came through in 1871, the railroad depot here was called Knapp Station but the post office was called Knapp.


Menomonie, in its various spellings (probably adopted from the Ojibwe) comes from the Algonquin language word meaning "wild rice people." At a time when the Red Cedar River was commonly known as the Menomonee (or Menominee) River, the lumber operations/settlement here came to be known as the "mills on the Menomonie" or "Menomonee Mills," and finally Menomonie. The township of Menomonee was established in in 1857, and the village was platted in 1859 as Menomonee. In the mid-1880s the post office urged an alternate spelling to avoid confusion with other Menominees. City officials adopted the "ie" ending, which had appeared on British explorer Jonathan Carver's 1767 map of the area.


The Curtiss-Wedge History of Dunn County recounts the story of a Mrs. Dean and her daughter Mary who were travelling on the Chippewa River by steamboat. Mary had won the hearts of many on board during the journey. She suddenly took ill and was taken ashore where she died. She was buried there under a tree. The place was then named to commemorate her. A large lumber operation was located there in the 1860s, '70s and '80s. It was later relocated downriver.


Originally named Annesburg and situated in southern Barron County, Ridgeland was relocated a mile south in Dunn county and renamed for the wooded ridges on either side of town in 1900, when the Dallas and Menomonie Railway was built through here.

Rock Falls

Established in 1857, Rock Falls was named for an 18 foot waterfall located on Rock Creek here.


Once the center of a large wheat growing area, Rusk was once known as Sherburne or Rusk Prairie. Located four miles east of Menomonie, it is named for Jeremiah Rusk, soldier, governor and congressman. Rusk was a brigadier general in the Union Army and served as the first U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Sand Creek

A firm sand and gravel bottom in the Red Cedar River here made it easy for covered wagons to cross here. Originally settled by Norwegian families named Toycen and Myron. The Knapp, Stout & Co., Company had an operation here as well.


In 1864, Maria Welton sold some land to the St. Croix and Chippewa Falls Railway Co., which established a station here named Lochiel. Part of the land was plotted into a new town named Welton. A store was built by a firm named Sherburne and Wheeler, and H.D. Wheeler of that firm became the first postmaster and insisted the town be named Wheeler. Around 1892, locals convinced the railroad to change the name of the station to Wheeler as well. Early industries included a sawmill and brickyards.


Chippewa River

Named for the Ojibwe people that inhabited northwest Wisconsin when white men arrived. Once known as Riviére des Sauteax (Sauteax was the French name for the Ojibwe). Chippewa is an English variation of Ojibwe.

Red Cedar River

The Red Cedar River has been known by a number of names. In the 1600s, it was "Folleavoine" (wild rice). In the 1700s, it was reportedly known by the Ojibwe as "Miskwagokag" (miskwa = red, gokag = is unknown, but not cedar). "Cédre Rouge" is reported in the 1780s. In the early days of settlement, the river was known as the Menomonee (or Menominee) River, meaning "wild rice people" (see Menomonie). Local tradition holds that the river name was changed to avoid confusion with the Menomonee River that forms part of the Wisconsin - Michigan border. Geologist, ethnologist and explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft descended the river in 1831, commenting that the name Red Cedar was "quite inappropriate" (since presumably there were no red cedars along it, though one local tradition holds that there was a single specimen on its Red Cedar Lake headwaters) and that "Folleavoine" was more suitable.

Lake Menomin

Menomin is a variant of Menomonie. Marshy ricing beds on the Red Cedar River on ceded Ojibwe lands were flooded by small dams to create a millpond/reservoir for the growing Knapp, Stout & Co. Company operations in Menomonie. Senator James Huff Stout is said to have suggested the name sometime after 1901, when the mills had closed and it was apparent that the former mill pond was a lake.




State of Wisconsin Blue Book
Compiled by Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau

The Romance of Wisconsin Place Names
by Robert Gard and L.G. Sorden
Published by the Milwaukee Sentinel

Where the Wild Rice Grows
Edited by Larry Lynch and John Russell
Published by the Menomonie Sesquicentennial Committee

Wisconsin Travel Companion
by Richard Olsenius and Judy A. Zerby
Published by Bluestem Productions/Mijaz, Inc.

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