Cadwallader Colden Washburn was born in Maine in 1818. He settled in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, in 1839 and served in Congress before moving to La Crosse.
When the Civil War broke out, Washburn organized the Second Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry Regiment and became its colonel. Washburn's ability and political influence marked him for advancement. He served with distinction throughout the war. He commanded the Military District of Western Tennessee by 1865, and he was one of only two Wisconsinites to attain the rank of major general.
Washburn returned to Congress in 1866 and became governor in 1871. Washburn advocated moderate reforms such as government control of telegraphs, regulation of railroads, and support for libraries. Washburn retired from politics in 1874 to attend to his business and philanthropic interests. He donated an observatory to the University of Wisconsin, funded the establishment of a public library in La Crosse, and with his Madison residence ("Edgewood") endowed a Catholic Girls' school. His flour-milling concern in Minneapolis eventually became General Mills. Washburn died in 1882 and is buried in La Crosse.