Buena Vista County, IA
USGenWeb Project




During 1862 a serious election fight involved the community and was not settled until the following year.  W. S. Lee and George Killam were rival candidates for the office of county treasurer and the contest was heated.  Both men fought hard to line up the 20 voters that comprised the total strength of the county: it was even asserted that votes were bought and sold.  Sometimes cash, or a cow, was exchanged for the promise of a vote, but both candidates went to bed that night before election uncertain whether the votes they had bought were really theirs or only bad promises.  Each man doubted his neighbor's word.  Even when the ballots were counted, the men accused one another of having tampered with the ballot box.  Killam began legal proceedings against Lee, but finally gave up, sold his farm, and left the county.  Lee had won again.

In 1866 another election fight started.  A cry went up that the same set of men were holding office year after year, and that a change should be made.  When Richard Ridgway had been elected treasurer the previous year, he had been prevented from serving, at the point of a gun, and Oliver Moore was allowed to have the office.  Now Abner Bell and Hubbard Sanderson decided to fight the office holders – W. S. Lee and his friends.  Every voter was asked to come out and vote.  They came, and came well armed [sic].

It was the October election.  The air was crisp and cold and the men were angry as they stood on street corners watching and talking.  Open battle was expected to break out at any moment if the main body of citizens did not win, for the election was a fight to the finish.  No more fraud and misuse of public funds was to be tolerated.  Even Uncle Michael Hollingsworth, who was a Quaker and a peaceful citizen, came to the polls armed and ready to battle for his rights.

The long day drew to an end, the polls were closed and the votes counted.  Bell and Sanderson had won.  The citizens were jubilant over the result and celebrations and congratulations were in order.  But some of the people were still angry, and an ugly rumor started that the old officers should be lynched.  That night M. S. Jameson and Oliver Moore left the county, taking with them every record which had any bearing on their past financial transactions.  They also took the minute book, in which the record of the doings of the board of supervisors was kept and the county seal.  They went to friends at Fort Dodge and said that the citizens of Sioux Rapids were threatening them.  These friends decided to organize an expedition to go back and help theme and to restore them to the offices they had lost.  But it was not long before the real story of what had happened reached Fort Dodge and the expedition was immediately abandoned.  No one would help the dishonest officials and at last Moore and Jameson were indicted in the district court of Clay County for wrong conduct in office and warrants were issued for their arrest.  But then the guilty ones had disappeared.  Their cases were finally dismissed.

The new board of supervisors met November 16, 1866, and declaring the office of clerk vacant, appointed Abner Bell.  The county was then eight years old and so far had no permanent records.  Thus all the facts gathered up to this have been set down as given from memory by Abner Bell on the one side and W. S. Lee on the other.  As far as Bell was concerned, it was said that his writing was "frightful" and his spelling still worse, but at least he could read it himself.

Since the county had no courthouse, and Bell did not wish the Struble home to be the permanent meeting place, he set about providing other quarters.  He built a sod house up against the Christian Johnson log cabin, where he had been living.  It was 14 feet square and seven feet high.  He moved into it, made himself a bed of poles and willow boughs made a straw mattress, and used his buffalo robe for covering.  He also obtained a stove so he could make pancakes and was thus “independent.”  Nelson Suckow, son of Lars Suckow who settled at Sioux Rapids about that time, wrote about Abner Bell in the Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune for February 26, 1931.  After he was snugly fixed in the sod hut, says Suckow “the hardy old pioneer then invited the board of supervisors (of which my father was a member) to use his home for a courthouse, which they proceeded to do.  It remained the official meeting place of the county government for a long time.

“The place was pretty well crowded, sometimes, but Bell had boxes to sit on and the supervisors brought their dinners with them.  They always adjourned for dinner, at which time Bell mixed up his batter and made himself a meal of pancakes.  If any of the officers forgot their lunch they would steal some of the pancakes when Bell turned his back.”

At about this time, 1868 or 1869 F. M. Mills was publishing the Iowa State Register in Des Moines. Day after [day] he saw the long and continuous stream of wagons and prairie schooners drawn by oxen and horses passing through Des Moines on their way to Kansas and Nebraska, and he decided to give Iowa a little publicity and turn the tide of immigration nearer home.  He sent a man to the Sioux City land office to make a map of every northwest Iowa county, showing all the land which had not yet been taken.  When this map was brought back, he printed a pamphlet showing the map and a truthful description of the land, written from the surveyor's notes.  He then met every team coming into Des Moines and gave each driver a booklet.  When the settlers read this description of the fine farm land in Iowa they drove into the Fort Dodge country with plans to stay.  And they did stay, more and more of them.  Mills' literature had an almost immediate effect, for by the fall of 1870 the records at the Sioux City land office showed that every section of land open to settlement had been taken.  It is said that Buena Vista County grew fastest of all the counties.  From 242 people the population grew to 1,160 the first year and by the second was well over 2,000.

Linn Grove, in Barnes Township, was named by the surveyors who camped at the site in 1855.  They admired the heavy growth of linden trees in the woods there and so called the spot Linn Grove.

The man who was most energetic in promoting the growth Linn Grove had arrived from New York in the spring of 1866.  He was Moses Sweet, an experienced miller who was at once attracted by the possibility of water power development on the Little Sioux River.  Realizing that future settlers would need lumber with which to build homes, he bought the northwest quarter of section 6 from Hiram Julbert, paying $2,000 for it.  Within a year or two he had built a dam and a framework of hewn logs on which to put the machinery he had shipped in.  With this he turned out hardwood framework that was still in use in various buildings many years later.

Before long he decided to use the water power to grind flour and about 1876 excavated a long ditch since known as the millrace.  The dam was thrown across the river just below the race head, resulting in approximately a six foot head of water for power.  Sweet built new quarters about 15 rods down from the race intake at the river.

A number of Scandinavians were attracted to this locality.  One of the first was the Hesla family, which moved to Barnes Township from the northeastern corner of Town in 1866.  They took up a half-section homestead, and their son, O. L. Hesla, lived on the property almost continuously for more than 60 years.

The first settler in the southern part of the county was Daniel B. Harrison, who in 1867 located at the west end of Storm Lake.  That fall George Holt arrived and made his home near the Harrisons, and two years later, in the summer, of 1869, a post office was established with Daniel Harrison as its first postmaster.  Charles Pomeroy was congressman from the district at that time and helped to put the petition through.  A postal route was than established between Sac City and Sioux Rapids by way of Storm Lake and was continued until the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad was built through the north part of the county.

How many settlers were already in Sioux Rapids when Storm Lake was first settled?  We cannot name them all but a few we do remember.  There was the Hollingsworth family who came on a summer day in June and stopped to eat their first meal in the shade of a big willow tree which remained a landmark for many years.  The family included Michael Hollingsworth, the old Quaker; Isaiah Hollingsworth, his son; and his son's wife and their children, and Nurse Hollingsworth, who was said to be the only doctor west of Fort Dodge for years.  This family lived for about a year in a double log house which had been used for a fort.  In the fall of 1865 they moved to their claim outside of town in Barnes Township.  Here each year Hollingsworth and his son would break and plant a few acres.  They raised only the crops the family needed because there was no market for surplus grain or meat until the railroads were built.

Another settler was John Franklin Clough who served in the Civil War as a member of Company I, Twenty-seventh Iowa Volunteer Infantry, and fought in the battles of Shiloh, Vicksburg, Pittsburg Landing, Bull Run, and also at Pleasant Hill and Holly Springs.  After the war he returned to his family at Waukon, Iowa, and in the spring of 1866 they moved to Buena Vista County.  When Clough entered the army he was strong and well but after his long service and constant fatigue from long marches his health was poor.  The family lived in a sod shanty for the first years and had to drive 70 miles to Fort Dodge for supplies.  In spite of these hardships Clough was made county supervisor and worked hard to build up a good community.

It was a boy from Norway who helped to build the first store in Sioux Rapids.  He was Henry Jacobson who had come to America when he was 12 years old.  Later with two other young men he started for Buena Vista County and at Sioux Rapids in 1869 they opened the first store.  The nearest railroad was then at Fort Dodge and they went there to get supplies.  They used four yoke of oxen to haul their goods and when crossing a bad slough would put all of them on one wagon to pull through the deep mud.  One day they traveled only four miles because the trail was so poor.  It usually took a week to make the entire trip.  Sugar sold for 20 cents a pound, tea at $2.50 a pound, flour for $7 per 100 pounds, and salt at $10 a barrel.  By the time the store was ready for business the settlers were ready to buy.  Ox teams were kept busy hauling goods all summer and many a pioneer woman was glad to buy new calico for a bright dress without spending a week going to Fort Dodge for cloth.  Later Jacobson started the first creamery in the county.  Torkel Torkelson was another Norwegian to reach the county at an early date.  When he started for Sioux Rapids with his family the Civil War was still in progress and he had to obtain permission from State authorities to go from one state to another.  In November the family reached Fort Dodge where they remained during the winter.  In the spring of 1865 they reached the Little Sioux River where they built a log cabin and spent the summer.  But in the fall they heard rumors of Indian troubles so they again moved into a house, on section 8, where the settlers had fortified a place, prepared against attack.  Three families lived here together -- the Torkelsons, the Johnsons, and the Stennersons.  Here they lived for three years and then Torkelson built another cabin on the farm he had taken in section 9.  On this farm the family lived ever afterward, always adding to their land holdings and to their buildings and livestock.  Torkelson often heard wolves howling at night and would occasionally see a herd of deer or elk and sometimes even buffalo.  Ox teams were used in crossing the sloughs because the cattle were more quiet and patient and would keep on wading, while horses feared the deep mud holes and would start plunging and turning wildly to get their hoofs on solid footing.

John Russell Howe worked as a farm hand first near Peterson and then came to Buena Vista County and took a quarter section of land which he entered as a homestead.  He bought a team of oxen for $150, paid $60 down, and gave his note for the remainder.  Later when he was unable to pay the note, Stephen Olney, who held it, let him work it out by chopping wood, hauling hay, and in doing other jobs.  Later Howe went to Sioux City to help a man locate and prove his claim but the man failed to pay him so he came back home.  He tried to buy flour but was refused credit and had to haul grist from the mill for a friend in order to get some.  The next year he took a yearling steer to Sioux Rapids and by selling this animal was able to buy his winter supplies.  His family used hay for fuel, cutting the long slough grass and twisting it up into bundles, and piling it up for the winter as others did.

Dr. Stephen Olney was the first practicing physician in Buena Vista County.  He came there very early and at first busied himself with helping with the accounts in the treasurer's office and surveying in the county, because he had only a few patients.  His practice grew, however, until often he had to work all night driving over the prairies to look after the sick throughout a wide area, braving blizzards and rain storms to relieve the suffering of more and more people as the population grew.  In 1872 the young doctor married the daughter of William S. Lee and later moved to South Dakota, but still kept his land near Sioux Rapids.

B. O. Christensen also came from Norway, and started the first furniture store at Sioux Rapids.  In October 1872 arrived in the town and built his store, hauling the lumber from Newell.  He took 0. K. Hogen into partnership with him but even with their combined resources they were almost out of funds when the store was finished.  They had only $100 left with which to buy furniture.  Besides this the financial panic of 1873 left the county hard pressed for any money at all.  Farmers were obliged to pay for any goods bought with black walnut lumber which brought only a low price on the market.  The finest quality of black walnut sold for four cents a foot for dry lumber, three cents for green.  After 1880 the business prospered, but Christensen finally sold out to a larger firm and started a cabinet shop of his own.  He had learned this trade in Norway as a boy apprentice.

William Brooke, another early settler, proved in later years to be the savior of his community.  There were about 55 people living at that time near Barnes Grove but Brooke had come earlier and had stored away several hundred bushels of corn.  When winter blizzards came, after a summer in which grasshoppers had destroyed the corn.  Brooke gave corn to his neighbors, rationing it out according to the size of the family, and so this Sioux Rapids settlement got through a hard winter.

In June 1869, shortly after the first settlement at Storm Lake was made, a group of citizens petitioned the board of supervisors to lay off the county into townships so that roads and schools could be established.  Before this there had been but one large township, Barnes, in the county.  In July, therefore, the supervisors met.  The place of meeting was an unfurnished store building and they used sawhorses for chairs and a work bench for a council table.  J. D. Adams, Daniel Harrison, and W. S. Harlan were the committee sent from Storm Lake.  Before reaching the meeting place this delegation stopped at Struble's Hotel in Sioux Rapids and found W. S. Lee and Dr. Stephen Olney hard at work on a prospective township map which divided the county into seven townships, four in the north and three in the south.  They thought this was fair as the northern part of the county had been led since 1856 and the south part only since 1867.  The population in the north half was, of course, much greater.

After some discussion of the matter, Lee Olney and the committee left the hotel to go to the supervisors’ meeting.  There the rivalry between the two communities started.  The Storm Lake committee asked for an equal number of townships for both sections, but since each township elected a member to the board of supervisors the Sioux Rapids people wanted to keep a majority on their side.  So in spite of the protestations of the committee, Dr. Olney's map was adopted by the board, and seven townships were created.

The board named the first township Lee, in honor of W. S. Lee.  Harrison and Harlan selected Storm Lake as the name for their first township. Poland Township was named by Dr. Olney from a place in Ohio, his former home, and J. D. Adams named Nokomis Township for the place from which he had come.  Brooke Township was named in honor of William Brooke, and George Struble named another township Coon, after the name of the stream which flowed through it.  The name Barnes was retained as the name of the township in which Sioux Rapids was located.  These names were recorded that day and were never changed.

Later, however, Elk Township was set off from part of Nokomis, and in 1872 Fairfield was set off and also Newell, Maple Valley, Grant, Providence, and Emma, which was later named Scott Township.  Lincoln Township was created in 1873, Hayes in 1877, and Washington in 1878.  The Atlas of 1904 shows these 17 townships.  Later Storm Lake Township was incorporated with the city of Storm Lake, making 16 townships in the final organization of the county.

Iowa Writers’ Project.  Buena Vista County History.  Storm Lake, Iowa:  Work Projects Administration, 1942.  26-32.  Print.

Contributed anonymously