Born December 27, 1857 in Trenton, New Jersey. His father died in the Civil War, and his mother could not support her family alone, so Joe was sent to work as a farmhand. The work was rough, and as soon as he was able, Joe left to join the Army.
joined Troop 1 of the 7th Cavalry of the US Army
around June 1876, was under the command of General Custer in Montana and the Dakotas, and participated in the rescue of men from Little Big Horn. In the course of battle, he received an injury to his foot and lead to a limp later in life. Many others, including Custer, fared far worse. Joe served actively for three years.
circa 1880, was an Army Scout in Montana (1865-1872 is when Buffalo Bill was a scout, so how they met is a bit unclear).
following the military, Hill took up work with the Omaha railroad as an engineer, focusing on the route between Minneapolis and Eau Claire.
he next worked as an engineer for Valley Lumber Company in Eau Claire; while in Eau Claire, a son named Arthur died in infancy. A daughter, Gladys, died of diphtheria. They are buried in Eau Claire. He was soon moving again to Oshkosh, taking up work as a traveling engineer for Standard Oil. At night, he would self-teach himself steam and electrical engineering from textbooks. He took and passed the engineering license exam.
His final move was in 1898, where he became the chief engineer of the Gilbert Paper Company and resided on Doty Island at 342 Naymut Street, Menasha until his death. He invented the “Hill pump” and hired on his three sons to help in the business — Richard in the record office, Earl in the plant and Gilbert in the laboratory.
While in Menasha, Joe opened the first movie theater there and owned an electrical supply business — a trade that became a family tradition.
on February 11, 1900, Hill was one of William Gilbert’s pallbearers. Hill was chief engineer, and the pallbearers were taken from each department of the Gilbert Paper Company.
Hill was a Menasha alderman in the early 1900s, and then mayor from 1910-1911. During his administration, the city water and light plant received a new engine.
August 10, 1910, the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show came to Neenah and set up near the intersection of Winneconne and Commercial. That morning, Bill Cody met up with his old friend Hill at Hill’s home on Naymut Street.
December 1917, visited his two sons who were stationed in Waco. Traveling with him was Neenah mayor C. B. Clark, who wanted to see the Neenah boys.
Died Saturday, October 24, 1925 at his home within 24 hours of an attack of acute indigestion. He had been working in the engineering department at Gilbert Paper when the attack hit at 4:30pm.
On October 26, 1925, the funeral of Joe Hill was held at his Naymut Street home. He was such a respected member of the community that the city’s flags were put at half-mast and the Gilbert Paper Company closed down for the day. People from all over the state arrived to pay their respects. Reverend R. T. Dorward of Madison, a friend of Hill’s, officiated the service and the local Masons were there, as well, along with the Fraternal Order of Eagles.
Hill’s honorary pallbearers were C. B. Clark, Fred Huband, Albert Gilbert, Charles Grofs of Waukesha, E. H. Schultz, Charles Thines, Gavin Young Sr., and C. W. Sawyer. Burial was in Oak Hill Cemetery, Neenah.
Surviving him were daughter Abigail (Sidney R.) Johnson of Chicago, sons Richard T. Hill, Gilbert K. Hill and Earl J. Hill, and grandsons Richard Johnson and Gilbert Hill, Jr.
Second Generation of Winnebago County Hills
Earl was an electrician and a county sheriff. He worked at Gilbert Paper in the 1940s, served in WWI, and later joined the Menasha Power and Light Commission. He took up residence at 394 Elm Street in Menasha, on the back side of the same block as Naymut. Because Earl converted to Roman Catholicism to marry his wife Lucy, he is not buried by his father and brothers.
Richard worked with Earl at their electrician business (J. E. Hill and Sons) and took over the Naymut residence. He served in Menasha’s E Company during World War I as a captain. During his service, he was hit by mustard gas, shot in the left arm, and had a shell fragment lodged under his left eye for the remainder of his life. He had been fighting in the so-called Meuse-Argonne Offensive from September through November 1918 in France.
Gilbert was a paper chemist at Gilbert Paper Company, but went to Harvard to study psychology and ended up an Episcopal clergyman in 1939. Gib served as a chaplain in WWII. He also enjoyed writing, directing and acting for the Winnebago Players in Neenah-Menasha. Among other roles, he once played Rip VanWinkle.
Abigail, Sid and Richard Johnson were buried in Eau Claire after passing away many years later, reuniting Abbie with her childhood siblings.
Third Generation of Winnebago County Hills
Earl’s son Richard (1928-2014) attended Menasha High School and the Oshkosh Business College, both leading up to his 42-year career with Banta Corporation as an accountant. He married Joan Fischer, but had no children. After retirement, Richard spent 22 years volunteering at Theda Clark Medical Center in many different capacities.