Another IAGenWeb Project
DICKINSON COUNTY—NAME—FIRST EXPLORATION—FRENCH TRADERS—LEWIS AND CLARKE—NICOLLET AND FREMONT—THE FAMOUS ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATION—THE FIRST ATTEMPT AT SETTLEMENT IN 1856—SETTLEMENTS IN ADJOINING COUNTIES.
DICKINSON COUNTY was named in honor of Hon. Daniel S. Dickinson, formerly United States Senator from the state of New York. The student of political history will be at no loss to fix the date of the naming of the counties of Iowa, fully fifteen per cent, or about one-sixth, of which were named for prominent men in the councils of the nation about the middle of the Nineteenth Century. Benton, Buchanan, Calhoun Cass, Clayton, Dickinson, Polk, Dallas, Wright and Woodbury together with several others, all smack strongly of the same period, the forties and fifties. How long the country had been known, or what was known of the country at that time, it is difficult to find out. In endeavoring to investigate this subject we are at once brought face to face with the fact that but very little has been written and that very little is known about it. Spirit Lake has been known of for a hundred years, and how much longer, we don't know. The time when it passes from legend to history is the early part of the Nineteenth Century. An interesting and instructive paper written by Prof. Charles Keyes for the October, 1898, number of the Annals of Iowa, in discussing the origin and meaning of the word Des Moines, as applied to the Des Moines River, uses this language: "At the beginning of the present century the Des Moines River was one of the principal routes of travel to and from the Northwest. St. Louis was the great trading post of the region. The Indian .and French voyageurs paddled their canoes up-stream, passing through several little lakes near the headwaters and then on to the Hudson Bay region. This was a waterway practically unobstructed from the northern fur country to the lower Mississippi."
The article which occupies six pages of the Annals of Iowa is illustrated with three maps, the largest one of which was copied from an old map made as early as 1720. This map shows the Des Moines as much larger than either the Mississippi or Missouri, and as having its source in a lake many times larger than the combined area of all the lakes in Iowa. The question at once arises, Did any of the early travelers in their journeys front the Mississippi Valley to the Saskatchawan country ever go so far to one side of their usual route as to pass through the lake region? It is more than probable that they did, but if so, when was it done and where is the record?
The famous Lewis and Clarke expedition up the Missouri River was made in 1804. The Louisiana Purchase was made in 1803, and this expedition was fitted out for the purpose of examining and reporting on the character and resources of the newly acquired possessions. They had for their guide and interpreter a Frenchman by the name of M. Durion, who had been much with the Indians and spoke the Dacotah language fluently. he imparted to them a vast deal of information relative to the country adjoining that through which they were passing. This information they made a record of and have given it to the public. While his statements are not strictly accurate in all particulars, they are sufficiently so to convince any person that he had a pretty good general idea of the geography of the country, whether he had ever seen it or not.
Judge Fulton, in the "Red Men of Iowa," writing on this subject, says: "Lewis and Clarke's French interpreter described other localities in the country of the Sioux nation now known to be within the boundaries of Iowa, with sufficient accuracy to warrant the conclusion that he had some knowledge of the geography of the country, though not strictly accurate in some respects. He described the Little Sioux as having its source within nine miles of the Des Moines, as passing through a large lake nearly sixty miles in circumference and dividing it into two parts which approach each other very closely, as being very irregular in its width, as having many islands, and as being known by the name of Lac D'Esprit, or Spirit Lake. This lake in the country of the Sioux, from the earliest knowledge of white men the chief seat of one of the Sioux tribes, is now known by the name of Spirit Lake and Lake Okoboji." So far as can be ascertained, this is the first and oldest written account of the Spirit Lake region. The region must have been, and doubtless was, frequently visited by hunters, trappers and adventurers during the early part of the century, but they left no written account of their explorations or discoveries. The treaties relative to the "Neutral Line" and the "Neutral Ground," which were intended to define the boundary between the country of the Sacs and Foxes on the south and the Sioux on the north, were negotiated, the former in 1825 and the latter in 1830, but whether these lines were surveyed or even examined at the time, we are in total ignorance.
The first really authentic account we have of the lake region is that contained in the official report of the government exploring expedition by the younger Nicollet. During Van Buren's administration Nicollet was appointed by the Secretary of War to make a map of the hydrographic basin of the upper Mississippi River. The appointment was made on the 7th day of April, 1838. In the body of his report, speaking of the Little Sioux, he uses the following language: "It has been heretofore designated as the Little Sioux, and has its origin from a group of lakes, the most important of which is called by the Sioux `Minnie Waukon,' or `Spirit Water,' hence its name of Spirit Lake." Nicollet makes no mention of the Okobojis, but simply designates the whole group of them by the single name "Spirit Lake." In another portion of the report the following astronomical observation is recorded:
It will be readily seen that the point from which this observation was taken cannot be far from where Crandall's Lodge was afterwards located. It is not at all probable that many, if
any, of the hundreds of visitors who every summer sport on the sandy beach or bathe in the crystal waters of that charming region are aware that they are treading on ground made historic by reason of its being the first of which any mention is made or record preserved in all northwestern Iowa.
The old Nicollet maps, or imperfect copies of them, were much in evidence back in the fifties. They showed the larger portion of Spirit Lake as being north of the state line. The state line was not surveyed until several years after these maps were made and consequently the northern boundary of the state had not then been determined. Nicollet's assistant and companion in this expedition was a man with whose name the world has since become familiar, being none other than General John C. Fremont, then a young engineer in the service of the United States, afterwards the gallant "Pathfinder of the Rockies," the first republican candidate for the presidency, and a prominent major general in the Union army during the War of the Rebellion. It is more than probable that the observation before noticed was taken by him and the record made in his handwriting. If this be so, it can be safely asserted that John C. Fremont was the first explorer of the Spirit Lake region to give to the world an account of his discoveries. From this time on the lakes were frequently visited by hunters, trappers and adventurers up to the time when the state was admitted to the Union in 1846.
The foregoing accounts embody all that is known of the early explorations of the lake region. The fact that this region was the favorite resort of the Wahpekutah branch of the Yankton-Sioux has already been referred to. In the early days it was a well understood fact that the Indians regarded Spirit Lake with a kind of superstitious, reverential awe. The Indian name, "Minnie Waukon," signifying Spirit Water, is proof of this if there were no other, and the early trappers and adventurers agree in ascribing to them a belief in various legends and traditions to the effect that the lake was under the guardian watch care of a "Great Spirit," that its waters were continually troubled and that no Indian ever ventured to cross it in his canoe. That some belief of this kind existed is certain; to what extent is unknown. It may be regarded as a singular circumstance, but it is a fact, nevertheless, that no Indian canoe was ever found by the early settlers in the vicinity of the lakes. The veil of mystery, the shadow of uncertainty, the tinge of the supernatural, which rested on this enchanted region, early excited the interest and attracted the attention of the restless and hardy pioneers, who were thereby induced to strike out far beyond the confines of civilization and make homes for themselves and their posterity in this land of romance and this region of mystery.
On the 16th of July, 1856, Rowland Gardner, from Cerro Gordo County, in this state, and his son-in-law, Harvey Luce, came in and made claims and erected cabins adjacent to what was then known as the Gardner Grove. The Gardner house is still standing. It was occupied for several years by Rev. Samuel Pillsbury, and is now occupied, during the summer season, by Mrs. Abbie Gardner Sharp. James Mattock and his family, with several others from Delaware County, in this state, settled in the grove south of the Okoboji bridge, which was then known as Mattock's Grove, taking its name from Esquire Mattock, one of the principal and most influential men in the settlement. About the same time a party came in from Red Wing, Minnesota, consisting of William Granger, Carl Granger, Bert Snyder and Doctor Harriott, and located on the point on the north side of the Okoboji bridge. Their cabins stood upon what is now the right of way of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, about half way between the lake shore and the depot. The Grangers claimed the point and the land along East Okoboji Lake; Harriott, the Maple Grove on West Okoboji Lake, and Snyder, Center Grove. Center Grove was known as Snyder's Grove for some time after the settlement subsequent to the massacre. Mr. Joseph M. Thatcher, from Hampton, Franklin County, but formerly from Howard County, Indiana, about this time settled at the north end of what is now called Tusculum Grove. His cabin formerly stood a little north of the present residence of H. D. Arthur. At the same time Joel Howe settled at the south end of the grove, near the present residence of Mr. Ladu. In September a Mr. Marble, from Linn County, this state, settled upon the west bank of Spirit Lake in the grove now owned by J. S. Polk. This grove was for years known as Marble Grove. These comprise all of the settlements made prior to 1857.
In order to avoid confusion a recapitulation may be desirable.
First. The party consisting of Granger brothers, Harriott. and Snyder resided north of the straits, where the Okoboji bridge now stands. The track of the Milwaukee Railroad runs through the site of their cabin. They were all young men without families except, William Granger, and his family was not here. There was also stopping with them temporarily at the time of the massacre a young man by the name of Joseph Harshman.
Second. The family of Mr. Mattock, consisting of himself, wife and five children, resided at the south end of the Okoboji bridge. There were also residing with him a Mr. Mattison, who had taken a claim upon the west side of Okoboji Lake, on what was for a long time known as Madison Grove. The family of Mr. Madison remained in Delaware County during the winter, expecting to join him in the spring.
Third. The family of Mr. Gardner, consisting of himself, wife and four children (the oldest being the wife of Mr. Luce), and Mr. Luce, his wife and two children, resided in what was long known as the Gardner house, now occupied by Mrs. Sharp. There was also stopping temporarily with Mr. Gardner a young man from Waterloo by the name of Clark, also a young man by the name of Wilson, who afterwards became the husband of Eliza Gardner.
Fourth. The family of Joel Howe, consisting of himself, wife and seven children (the oldest being the wife of Mr. Noble), resided in a cabin near the present. residence of Mr. Ladu, .at the south end of Tusculum Grove.
Fifth. The family of J. M. Thatcher, consisting of himself, wife and one child; and the family of Mr. Noble, consisting of himself and wife and one child, resided in a cabin at the north end of Tusculum Grove, on the place now owned by H. D. Arthur. There was also boarding with Mr. Thatcher e trapper by the name of Morris Markham, a Mr. Ryan, who was a brother-in-law of Mr. Noble; and a brother-in-law of Mr. Thatcher by the name of Burtch.
Sixth. The family of Mr. Marble, consisting of himself and wife, resided in a cabin located in the grove on the ridge between Spirit Lake and Marble Lake.
From the above it will be seen that over forty persons, men, women and children, were dispersed in the various localities adjacent to the lakes. It has been deemed advisable to be thus particular in pointing out the location of the different families and the number of persons connected with each, from the fact that the massacre in the spring of 1857 is the one important event in the early history of this county, and the one about which travelers and strangers make the most inquiries; and at the same time, the one about which they get the least reliable information.
It may assist our understanding of affairs at the lakes by knowing something of surrounding settlements. The same year that the first settlement was attempted here, namely, in 1856, some six or eight families had settled on the Des Moines River in Jackson County, near where the town of Jackson now stands. They called their settlement. Springfield. It was about fourteen miles from Marble's, and about twenty miles from the balance of the lake settlements. In Emmet County George Granger had built a good sized cabin four miles above where Estherville now stands, and there was a small cabin between his place and the river occupied by a couple of trappers. There were also two or three cabins in the neighborhood of high Lake, There was no settlement at Estherville until 1857. There was a small settlement eighteen miles east of Estherville, at Chain lakes, known as "ruffle's Grove." In the same year (1856) an Irish colony came from Kane County, Illinois, and settled on the Des Moines River in Palo Alto County. Between there and Fort Dodge there were cabins along the river from two to five miles apart occupied by settlers and trappers. To the south of the lakes the first settlement was at Gillett's Grove, about thirty miles distant, where two brothers by the name of Gillett had brought in a large herd of cattle, which they were wintering there. From Gillett's Grove to Peterson there were some eight or ten families scattered along the groves that skirt the river. Waterman, four miles below Peterson, was the only person between there and Cherokee. Below Cherokee there were settlements every few miles to the Missouri. There was no settlement to the north or west. From Cherokee west there was no settlement until the Floyd was reached some ten miles above Sioux City.
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