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Call, Asa Cyrus


Posted By: John R. Call (email)
Date: 7/7/2006 at 22:09:54


Written by His Sons, Largely
From his Private Memoirs.

Asa C. Call was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, on September 25th, 1825. By the death of his father when but seven years of age he was left largely to his own resources. His boyhood and early manhood is the familiar story of a poor boy working for an education. By dint of patient endurance and hard work he succeeded in obtaining a common school education and working his way through Oberlin College, graduating with honors of his class. Then he started west to seek his fortune.
His first important work was surveying public lands in Illinois, which gave him his first knowledge of the resources and fertility of this region of country, inspiring in his mind that abiding faith in the ultimate value of the Illinois and Iowa prairies which remained with him during life.
In the year 1849, being without means, he joined the westward tide to the newly discovered gold fields of California, and walked from St. Louis to San Francisco, obtaining his board on the way with an ox team for his services in standing guard against the Indians. On arriving in California he was appointed Indian commissioner, with the rank of Captain, in the regular army, and was given the command of one hundred men, with the duty of negotiating treaties with the northwest Indian tribes and the recovering stolen property from the Indians. His experience in this line alone would fill an interesting book.
After four years in California he started home with an accumulation of six thousand dollars in gold, for safety, quilted in a buckskin vest, and for many years his payments were made by recourse to this bank. On his return voyage from San Francisco his vessel was wrecked, and the only way of saving himself was by a plunge into the waves. He thought very earnestly for a few moments whether he would cast aside his heavily weighted vest to better his chance of saving his life, or whether he should keep it and take his risk, but remembering the hardships he had undergone in earning the gold, he decided to take his chances, and safely carried it with him to the shore. Fortunately he was possessed of great physical strength, and his rough experiences on the frontier had fitted him for great physical endurance.
On his return from California, having had thorough acquaintance with the Indians and their languages, and being inured to the hardships and dangers of the west, he made up his mind to find some desirable location in and new and fertile land, where he could make homes for the various members of his family and build a town.
Shortly after his return in 1854 and while on a visit to Elkhart, Indiana, he became acquainted with Sarah Heckart, and after a brief courtship married her and started for Iowa City, then the capital of the state, and after a sojourn there of a few months, which he spent in becoming better acquainted with the new land laws and government surveys and explorations of the northwest, he started with his youngest brother, Ambrose, who was then twenty-one years of age, to found his new home. But few were better equipped for this enterprise than he. It might be said that he was a typical pioneer and town builder. He had received a thorough education, had traveled very extensively, was thoroughly acquainted with the character and language of the Indians, a remarkable shot with his Colt revolver, which he always in those early days carried by his side; a projector of large things, comprehensive in his views, indomitable in his energies, resourceful in all his undertakings, the embodiment of physical strength and mental vigor; one who made very strong friendships, with the faculty of drawing friends around him to aid and assist him in accomplishing his purposes.
His brother Ambrose was an able second, equally courageous and determined and ready to support the undertaking at any hazard. His young wife was also willing to undergo the privations of a pioneer life and the dangers incident to an outpost, having full confidence in her husband’s ability to protect her.
The present site of Algona was selected as the most desirable point to be found in northern Iowa, at that time forty miles from the nearest house in a country infested with Indian tribes, from which the government surveyors had been driven the year before by the hostiles. Here they made their home. The first log cabin on the site of Algona was built a little north of the present house known as the Call homestead. The cellar of the old cabin can be yet seen among the first group of pines north of the house. The leaning of one of the pine trees was caused by the settling of the ground in the old cellar place. For a log cabin this building was quite pretentious, the main building being a story and a half, about sixteen by thirty-two, with a roof made of shakes or split shingles, the logs squared and the crevices plastered with clay, the outer walls covered with ivy and wild grape vines. In the rear was a one-story kitchen, with a tall Kentucky chimney at the end, and a wide fireplace, over which the cooking was done for many years before the advent of stoves.
In this log cabin the three sons, Frank, Harry and George, were born. Here he lived when the county was organized, with himself as the first county judge, and when he laid the foundation of the town that was to be.
As illustrative of the life and character of Judge Call, though living the life of a pioneer, almost alone in a wilderness among savage tribes, he still retained his love of study and never permitted his earlier education in the classics and sciences to become rusty in his mind. During the long winter evenings in those early days by his cabin fire he pursued his favorite studies of geology, ancient history and the classics, often reading aloud by the hour to his family from the poets he most admired. He was fond of writing and for many years was a regular contributor to the New York Tribune, his favorite paper, and other publications of that day, writing many little poems of merit, which he never ventured to publish. Several of these found among his papers would bear comparison, however, with many that are now appreciated by the reading public. From one of these a couple of stanzas are quoted, which his acquaintances will recognize as characteristic, giving his conception of the antiquity of the prairies, which were new again to him.

“Ere the slaves by the Nile piled the Temple of Cheops,
And long ere Cholula arose from the plain,
The fierce winter storms swept the face of these praries,
And each coming summer brought flowerets again.
For millions of years have rolled by all unnoted,
Since first these fair prairies emerged from the mere,
While numberless races and peoples have flourished,
And left not a sign that they ever were here.

Socially he was exceedingly kind and genial to his friends, fond of his jokes, with a large fund of humorous stories, of which slight provocation reminded him, and when not combated, was liberal and charitable; but to his opponents he was known as an uncompromising antagonist. His acquaintances knew that a state of neutrality never existed in his mind. He was either for or against, and his convictions, once formed, were seldom changed. But he was very kind hearted and sympathetic to all who did not combat him. As illustrative of this, during the grasshopper period he held large numbers of mortgages against settlers for lands and stock sold and money loaned, and he was also owing mortgages on his own property as part of the purchase money. The destruction of all crops by the grasshoppers made it impossible for anyone to pay debts, or even interest. He allowed the mortgages against himself to be foreclosed rather than foreclose any of the mortgages which he held against his neighbors. In fact, he never did foreclose but one mortgage for himself, and that was an instance where the mortgagor had notified him to protect himself against other creditors.
He was a man of commanding presence, tall and very strong, with full projecting brows and penetrating eyes; austere and severe with his opponents, but with great kindliness of expression for his family and friends. His purpose and intention can best be told in his language, and the following is quoted from his original memorandum:

“I had for several years intended to found a new town and all through my residence on the Pacific coast I had that in view. I had explored the upper Mississippi and the west end of Lake Superior, where Duluth now stands, and although some fine cities have grown up since then, there was at that time no certainty of them, and a man without any great means had no right to presume upon railroads.
“I was determined to find a place where I could get fine lands, and as many other advantages as possible. At the site of Algona I found a tract of good land, with a fair supply of timber, some water power, and near the center of a county, and with those advantages, if I could not make and hold a county seat, it was because I was not the right person.
“I made my first settlement in the county in July, 1854. At that time there was no settlement north of Fort Dodge, which was forty miles from us, and no one on the east nearer than Clear Lake. I brought my wife to the new settlement on the 4th of November. In the same month Wm. H. Ingham arrived. Some others had struck the place, but Mr. Ingham and my brother Ambrose are the only ones who are in the county of those old settlers.
“During the winter of 1855 I went back to Iowa City and got a bill through the legislature to enlarge the boundaries of our county and locate the county seat thereof. When we came to name the town it was quite a study to get a name that was suitable. We came to the conclusion that we would not tack a city to our name. We thought if it ever came to be a city people would find it out, and it would only be ridiculous to make it a part of the name. It was finally left for my wife to name the place, and she decided to call it Algona. This was not a pure Indian name, as the Indian name that suggested it was not euphonious.
“In 1856 I found that Webster County had a project against Kossuth County. The idea was that this county was so large that it would undoubtedly be divided, and that might endanger their boundaries, and if they could divide this county about the middle it would be difficult to change it again. The scheme came to me through a friend in Ohio. To counteract this I went down into Humboldt county and got McNight to get up a petition to restore Humboldt county as it was, and I went with him to Iowa City and got the bill through; but when we came to see the bill as it passed, it contained only twelve townships. One of the clerks was responsible for substituting the changed bill for the real one.
“After the Spirit Lake Massacre it was necessary to take some measures of safety. We sent out scouts in every direction, Levi Maxwell, W. H. Ingham, my brother Ambrose and others, who explored the whole country and reported that there were Indians on our rivers and that we were at the frontier, all the settlers beyond us having fled. In two days we had got up a fort, made partly of four-inch plank and partly of logs set in the ground, barricaded with bastions and loopholes. I considered it entirely safe against any Indians that had no artillery.
“The year before the massacre there was a large party of Indians that came down and camped where Algona now stands. I was much struck by the chief’s geographical knowledge. He made a map on the sand in which he marked every river from the Red River of the North, the Mississippi and Yellowstone, the Running Water, Platte, and the Minnesota, showing just how it interlocked with the Red River and the Des Moines and the Mississippi. No white man who had studied the geography of our country could mark them down more accurately. He located all the forts and every settlement of the Waseches (white man), and where they were cultivating Waheska (corn). When his map was finished I asked him what there was further West beyond the sources of the Missouri and the Platte, but he struck his head. He did not know. I then finished his map by indicating the Rocky Mountains and the Great Salt Lake, and marked the course of the Colorado, and the two branches of the Columbia, and the Pacific Ocean beyond. I hten told him about the flat heads that lived on the Columbia, and how their heads were distorted, and when I got to that he ejaculated, ‘Ugh!’. He had some knowledge of those fellows. When he went home to his camp I saw him working out the map as I had made it for him, and presume those Indians would never forget it.
“In 1860 I went to Des Moines and bought an office of Stillson Hutchins. I think that the same press is now in Spirit Lake – and employed John Summers, who formerly worked in Des Moines, to run the paper for me. The paper was called ‘The Kossuth County Press’, and was a Douglas democrat paper. In 1861 I turned over the office to A. A. Call, and he changed the name of the paper to ‘The Pioneer Press’, and it was printed under that name until 1865, when I sold the office to Lizzie B. Read, who changed the name again to ‘The Upper Des Moines.’”

From the time of his first settlement the biography of Asa C. Call is the history of Algona, for he was identified with every important move in the making of the town. Soon after his settlement he bought a large combined sawmill and grist mill, which was located near the present residence of J. E. Blackford. All the machinery in this mill was hauled by ox team from Dubuque. The lumber and timbering was sawed by the mill after the machinery was in place. The loss of this mill by fire, without any insurance, was his first serious financial reverse.
He located the land upon which the town of Algona is built, and platted it; then he turned his attention to railroads. The difficulties in the way of securing a railroad across the unsettled prairies can hardly now be understood or appreciated. In order that he might secure a railroad for the town he spent a winter in Washington to secure the passage of a bill granting to the state of Iowa the alternate sections along the line of several roads to be constructed across the state from east to west. This bill became a law on the 12th day of May, 1864. He then associated himself with John Lawler, of Prairie du Chien, and D. C. Shepherd and others, and secured the passage of an act by the legislature of Iowa, granting these lands to a railroad to be constructed from McGregor westward, by the act making Algona a point on the proposed road. He then surveyed all those lands as far west as the Missouri River, and made accurate plats and field notes to guide in the sale and settlement. For these services the people of Kossuth County, in public meeting, presented him with a richly embossed gold headed cane.
His next important move was securing the location of the Chicago and Northwestern through Algona. The first plan of the road was to build a straight line from Webster City to Elmore, but by personal endeavor he secured a change of the location. The difficulty of this can be seen in the long curve to reach Algona.
His life work was the building of Algona. Every hope he had was centered in the town; but like many another strenuous life, when he was ready to reap the reward of his labor, with a live, progressive town, an assured competence, and an affectionate family around him, death came unexpectedly and ended his labors.
His wife, who had borne him a family of seven children, had passed on before.
The children surviving are: Frank, a lawyer at Sioux City; Harry, a lawyer at Los Angeles, California; George, and investor at Sioux City; Mary, now Mrs. Frederick Perkins, of Manchester, N.H.; Vesta, now Mrs. Frank B. Miller, of Cedar Falls; Zada, now Mrs. Harry Baketel of New York. His daughter Stella, Mrs. Wm. R. Spencer, of Duluth, died in 1896.
And so history is made, and unceasing time brings to all its never-ending change.

Asa Frank Call, oldest son of Asa C. Call, the first boy of Algona, was born May 20th, 1856. He received his education in the public schools and academy of Algona, with a period at the State University and West Point Military Academy. Studying law with his uncle, a well known lawyer of Elkhart, Indiana, in 1877 he was admitted to the bar, and two years later entered the employ of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway company, as attorney for the northern Iowa division.
In 1884, he formed a partnership with George E. Clarke, who was formerly his father’s partner, and together they had a large practice in northern Iowa. In 1869 he moved to Sioux City as the partner of William L. Joy, then the best known lawyer of the city.
On the retirement of Mr. Joy, in 1896, he formed a co-partnership with Craig L. Wright, son of Judge George G. Wright, and one of the very best lawyers in the state.
The firm of Wright and Call are generally recognized as the leading lawyers of Sioux City. Attorneys for two of the large railroads, and other important corporations, their practice extends over Iowa and adjoining states in litigation of importance.
Mr. Call has devoted himself almost exclusively to the study and practice of the law, and has attained a leading position among the prominent lawyers of the state, universally respected for character as well as ability.

Joseph Harry Call, second son of Asa Call and Sarah Call, was born at Algona, Iowa, July 24th, 1858. He attended the public schools at Algona until 1872, when he attended for nearly two years, the higher school at Algona known as the Algona college; and in 1875 he was an irregular student at the Iowa State University. He studied law and in 1878 and 1879 he attended the Iowa State University as a law student and graduated in the law department in 1879.
He removed to Des Moines and practiced law in that city, associated with Judge Whiting S. Clark, until 1887, when he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he has ever since followed his profession. In 1888 he was appointed special counsel for the United States in numerous railway land grant litigations, and from that time to the present, (1904) he has represented the government in that capacity in numerous litigations with railways concerning land grants, franchises, government transportation and interstate commerce cases, principally against the Pacific railways. He represented the United States in civil and criminal proceedings in 1904 arising out of the great railway strike brought on by the American Railway Union and instituted and carried to successful termination the first suit brought by the United States to prevent, by injunction, obstructions of mail and commerce, by combinations.
In those sixteen years the government service has required nearly all of his time. In 1891 he was married to L. Dora C. Vickrey, at Los Angeles, California, and they have three children, two sons and a daughter, vis: Asa Vickrey, Cecil Sarah and Joseph L.

George C. Call, the third son of Asa C. Call and Sarah Call, was born September 24th, 1860, at Algona. He entered active business life when he took charge of a stock of goods for his father, at Swan Lake, in Emmet County, in 1877. In 1882 he entered the real estate business in Algona, which he conducted many years, and in 1898 was the second heaviest resident land owner in the county.
For several years he had been urging the Iowa Central officials to extend their Belmond branch to Algona, and in 1898, after an interview with the president and board of directors of the road, he obtained their agreement to build the extension provided certain subsidies were granted along the line. The fall of 1898 was put in in working up these subsidies, and on February 14th, 1899, the board set aside the money to build the line, which was completed to Algona the fall of that year. Mr. Call in return for his services was allowed to locate the towns of St. Benedict and Kanawha, which he platted in that year.
In banking circles Mr. Call obtained a prominent position in the county, and when he sold out his interest preparatory to leaving Algona, he was president of the County Savings Bank of Algona, President of the Peoples’ Savings Bank of St. Benedict, vice-president of the First National Bank of Swea City, and a director in the First National Bank of Burt, being a charter member in all these institutions and one of the leading spirits in their organizations. Besides this he was a stockholder in the Farmers’ and Traders’ bank of Bancroft, the First National Bank of Wesley, and the State Savings Bank of Kanawha.
In 1901 he founded the Algona Advance, erecting the brick building which is its present home.
In politics Mr. Call has always been a republican, and has taken an active part. In 1889 he was elected mayor of Algona, being the youngest man who has filled that chair. In 1896 he was a delegate to the national convention in St. Louis which nominated McKinley for his first term, and was secretary of the Iowa delegation.
In 1894 he married Alice E. Spear of Algona and the family is blest with two children, George R. born May 22nd, 1898, and Helen E., born March 19th, 1903. Mr. Call removed to Sioux City in 1902, where he is engaged along the same lines of work that kept him active in his old home. He is one of the directors of the First National Bank of that city, which is one of the large banks of the state, and is occupied in caring for his varied interests.


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