Celebrate the arrival of summer by coming to our next grill-out at Nelson Agri-Center in Viroqua. We’ll be grilling hot dogs and bratwurst there on Saturday, June 5, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Proceeds will benefit the Vernon County Historical Society, in particular funding recent maintenance projects on the museum’s parking lot and sidewalks.
A Black man who was probably a Civil War veteran lies in an unmarked grave in the Viroqua Cemetery. Jefferson Craft was born in Tennessee and moved to Cheyenne Valley in Vernon County after the Civil War. He owned a farm there in the 1870s and 1880s, and then moved on with his young family to Viroqua. In Viroqua, Craft was employed as the city lamplighter, and also worked for Frank Minshall on his farm and at his draybarn.
The 1890 Special Census of veterans and widows indicates that Jefferson Craft served in the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry from 1862 through 1865. Most Black soldiers in the Civil War served in segregated units which weren’t formed until 1863, shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation, so it’s surprising to find Craft in the 2nd WI Cavalry in 1862.
His name does not appear on any other war records or rosters that we have found yet, so we think that he was possibly employed by the unit as a laborer, serving as a cook, or a horse handler, or a drayman – something other than a soldier, at least to begin with. His work with the cavalry no doubt helped him find a job in Minshall’s draybarn years later. You can learn more about Black military service from the new book, “Make Way for Liberty: Wisconsin African Americans in the Civil War,” written by Wisconsin historian Jeff Kannel.
Jefferson, his wife Lottie, and their young daughter Delia all died in Viroqua in the early 1890s. Craft bought six lots at the Viroqua Cemetery, three of which are now occupied but unmarked, and we believe that Jeff, Lottie, and Delia are buried there. Jefferson Craft’s unique story will be featured at this year’s Cemetery Walk.
The Cemetery Walk will be held on Sunday, June 13, at the Viroqua Cemetery, beginning at 2 p.m. This year’s theme is “Hidden Stories of Viroqua’s Diversity.” Tours will be offered on the hour at 2, 3, and 4 p.m., with the event concluding at 5 p.m. Costumed actors from the Viroqua Community Theatre will portray people who lived here a century or more ago. Suggested donation is $5, with proceeds going to the Vernon County Historical Society and the Viroqua Community Theatre.