The early settlers arrived in the Lake Charlotte area in 1855-56.  They were faced with the daunting task of clearing the land of trees and dense brush in order to plant their corn, potatoes and wheat.  These plants were essential to their survival. It was a back breaking job with the axe, grub hoe and shovel.  They barely grew the necessary food crops for their own use and money to buy other items was scarce.  It turned out that the saving plant for many of the pioneers was a wild root (Ginseng) growing right under their feet every where in the Big Woods. Digging this plant was called Sanging by the Pioneers.


 In May of 1859 Robert Blaine of Virginia came to Rockford to buy Ginseng. This plant was valued herb in the Oriental countries where it was used as a medicine and an aphrodisiac.  It had been harvested for years in the eastern states and marketed overseas.  As the eastern States became settled and cultivated the supply of ginseng naturally declined.  Mr. Blaine built a drying and storage house in Rockford and purchased the root from 1859 to 1861 when the Civil War began. The pioneers called the harvesting of this plant “Sanging”.  The name “Gin Seng” is Chinese and means “like a man” the root is shaped like a man.  The root was located one to four inches below the surface. The plant could be harvested from spring to fall however in the spring when the plant first appears above ground it is difficult to spot in the woods.  As the growing season progressed the roots become soft and flabby as the stored nutrients are used up for above ground growth.  The best time for sanging was in September to October until the first frost killed the above ground growth.


 In June of 1859 it was recorded that Mr. Blaine paid out $8,000 for the root.  The Women and Children did most of the sanging partly because the men may have regarded that the digging of a wild root was not men’s work. It was reported however that some men spotting the plant during the day would mark the spot and go back in evening to dig it.  It turned out that the kids were the best at finding the plants growing among all the undergrowth in the woods.  They were paid by the pound of sang they bought in. At first they brought the roots in very clean.  They soon found out that Mr. Blaine did not care about the amount of dirt which added to the weight. He paid the same price for dirt and all. (His margin of profit must have been very high)   It was important that after digging the root was not allowed dry out as it would loose weight. Mr. Blaine advised them that the best way to keep the roots was to bury the roots in wet soil until bringing them to market. This led to the people after burying the roots to pour water over the soil and mix in some black clay into the mass of roots.  Often the mud alone out weighted the ginseng but Mr. Blaine still paid the same. He even made a crude washing machine which consisted of perforated barrels rolling in the Crow River to clean the roots inside of the barrels. The price started at 3 to 10 cents a pound but from 1859 to 1861 with some competition coming in later the price rose.    


Mr. Thomas Walker had the only oxen team in the area and during the first years of ginseng activity he hauled may loads and sack of the roots to Rockford for the settlers. Usually a certain day was set to make the trip and the neighbors for several miles around would carry their sacks of roots to his place the day before.  They would get an early start with the wagon piled high with the sacks of ginseng.  The owners, men, women, boys and girls would walk behind.  It required the whole day to make the trip. It was only four miles but the roads were very poor. John Walker wrote that a fair days work digging ginseng, ranged two to ten pounds for an adult and ten to forty pounds for children.  In the summer of 1860 when he was 11 years old he dug as much as forty pounds a day. 


Mr. Blaine did not come back to Rockford after the start of the Civil War.  Some local merchants took over the business which was beneficial to the people as the prices for the roots increased to twenty five cents mud and all.  During the next few years the business flourished even though it seemed that the ground had been dug and re-dug that no more could be found.  Often the same ground was gone over by different gangs and each time finding some more.  As the woods were cleared the ginseng became scarce and by 1865 it was very much depleted.  The little plant with no known name was the saving crop for the settlers around Lake Charlotte until larger areas could be cleared for other crops and livestock.