the “other” Pond Brothers

May 18, 2009

FdL County’s Pond siblings carve niche in U.S. history

By Justin Connaher

Though long deceased, James B. Pond and his brother George F. Pond possess an unrivaled distinction in Fond du Lac County history.

In the 232 years of America’s existence, the Civil War-era duo remains among only seven sets of siblings to have received the Medal of Honor.

“This is the highest award given by our country for valor in combat action,” said Marcus Oksa, commander of American Legion Post 75 in Fond du Lac. “The rarity of the Medal of Honor is profound. There have been some 3,448 recipients in all time … and only 97 of those (recipients) are currently living.”

In the week leading to Memorial Day, The Reporter has undertaken a multi-media project that recounts the lives of two of the area’s most-heroic — but little-known — figures.

Called “Brothers in Arms,” the six-part package will feature a daily online documentary exploring the lives and challenges faced by the Pond brothers of Alto. In addition, the newspaper will offer insights into a story so extraordinary that, if offered to a Hollywood producer, might be rejected as too sensational to be real.

In his lifetime, for instance, James Pond struggled as an indentured servant; became a journalist at age 15; rode saddle-to-saddle with famed abolitionist John Brown; fought off some 600 Confederate raiders nearly single-handedly; and became one of the country’s best-networked socialites.

“He was the pre-eminent talent agent in the country (during his life after the war),” noted Bob Schuster, Wisconsin historian and administrator-emeritus for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “His regular clients included Mark Twain, (Ralph Waldo) Emerson, Walt Whitman, Robert Louis Stevenson, musicians, explorers, scientists. Pond knew virtually every celebrity in the country.”

Like many American heroes who paid a high price on fields of battle, the Pond brothers are not often highlighted in history textbooks. But for those who know the entire story, their contributions to the country — during the nation’s greatest crisis — still resonate.

“Obviously, these two were really exceptional,” said Allen Buechel, Fond du Lac County executive. “We always think of people that served in the Civil War as being from the other states where the action actually took place, but we had a lot of heroes from Fond du Lac County and I’m proud of all them.

“These were two of the finest young men to come out of Fond du Lac County. It’s a certain source of pride for me.”

Humble beginnings

Because James Pond ended his life possessing the kind of notoriety that would make him a media celebrity in contemporary America, it’s easy to overlook the bare-knuckle poverty that plagued his youth.

In 1847, during an effort to establish their own farm, the Pond family — 10 in all — made the trip from Waukegan, Ill., to Alto, Wis., the old-fashioned way — they walked, pulling a single wagon with them. Family patriarch Willard Pond made the trip by foot twice — bringing his wife, youngest children, pigs and cows in the first leg, and then backtracking to fetch the older sons. It was 132 miles each way.

“It probably made a pretty interesting parade,” Schuster mused.

The historian added that “it was a mystery for a long time as to why Willard looked in the Fond du Lac County area,” but records indicate he was able to buy land from a sister who had acquired property in Alto.

The Pond brothers’ childhood was not easy. Their father rented the boys out to neighboring farms for physical labor and collected their wages. “That was not uncommon,” noted Wisconsin Historian Kevin Dier-Zimmel of Beaver Dam. “It’s just the way it was.”

“James, in his memoirs, was concerned that he would be sold into servitude, never to see his mother again,” Schuster said. “(Faced with the prospect of indentured service until the age of 21), James left home by the age of 15 and made his own life.

“He forever held his father guilty of this kind of behavior.”

As trying as his youth was, Pond’s greatest challenges still awaited him.

COMING TUESDAY: As the country tears itself apart, the Pond brothers take up the cause of abolition.

Additional Facts
Visit to view a video history of the Pond brothers, the only siblings in Fond du Lac County history to garner the Medal of Honor.

TODAY: Yankee servitude

TUESDAY: War is brewing

WEDNESDAY: Massacre at Baxter Springs

THURSDAY: Nightmares

FRIDAY: Parting of the ways

SUNDAY: Heroic legacy
Coming Sunday: 2009 Memorial Day Salute special section



One Response to “the “other” Pond Brothers”

  1. Justina Says:

    Woah. This is amazing! Your ancestors? Where is there more info?

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