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CLOSE OF MILITARY OPERATIONS ON THE FRONTIER—A SUMMARY—THE FUR BUSINESS—TRAPPING AND GATHERING FUR—EARLY LITERARY SOCITIES—THE OKOBOJI LITERARY LEAGUE—THE "LEGEND OF SPIRIT LAKE."
IT IS NOT deemed necessary to follow further the details of military operations along the frontier. Those in which this county was most interested have already been noticed quite extensively. Several other military organizations than those mentioned were attempted and partially consummated, but inasmuch as they were never called into active service, they are not considered of sufficient importance to be given in detail here. Perhaps a recapitulation of the forces stationed here from the commencement of the troubles to the close of the war would be of interest to the reader.
The first in order is the company of state troops under command of Captain Martin, which was sent here in February, 1858, and kept here until July of that year, when they were ordered out of service, but not disbanded. They were ordered here again in the fall of that same year, and kept here until the spring of 1859, when they were disbanded. The next force stationed here was a detachment of the Sioux City Cavalry, whose operations have already been noticed. In the spring of 1863, when they were detailed for duty at General Sully's headquarters, their place was taken by a detachment of Captain Crapper's Company of the Northern Border Brigade, who were kept here during the summer of 1863. The next winter they were superseded by a detachment of Company I, of the Sixth Iowa Cavalry. This company was under the command of Captain Wolf, who had his headquarters at Estherville. The Spirit Lake detachment was commanded by Lieutenant Benjamin King. This company was kept here until the spring of 1864, when it was succeeded by a company of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry under Captain Cooper. This force was in turn superseded by Company E, of the Sixth Iowa Cavalry, commanded by Captain Daniel Eichor, who remained here until the spring of 1865, when they were ordered out and their places taken by a detachment of Minnesota troops known as Brackett's Battalion, under the command of Captain Read. This was the last military force stationed on the Iowa frontier. The last military post to be abandoned in Iowa was the one near the state line on the west side of Spirit Lake.
The year 1863 brought but little emigration. Among the arrivals for that year were Rev. Samuel Pillsbury and family, R. R. Wilcox, William Leggett and a few others. The Pillsburys and Wilcox are the only comers of that date who remained permanently.
Of the different avocations adopted for making a livelihood by those who were not in the army, the most important as well as the most profitable was trapping. It will be remembered that during the war the price of gold ran up to a fabulous figure, and as fur was about the only article of export that we had that represented gold, it advanced in price accordingly. During the sixties Spirit Lake was the headquarters of the largest fur trade of any town between Mankato and Sioux City. The furs most in demand at that time were otter, beaver, fisher, mink and muskrat. The coarser furs were not so much in favor at that time as they have been since. About the first of September the trappers would scatter out to look over the ground and form their plans for the fall and winter campaign. It was usually considered more advantageous for two to go together. Sometimes larger parties were made up, but they did not usually do as well as where they went in twos. The whole country to the north and west of here was open to them, and the innumerable lakes, sloughs and streams in that direction were richly stocked with fur bearing animals
After locating their camp and pitching their tent, usually by some lake or stream, they at once proceeded to business. Each person tended from forty to sixty traps. To do this successfully required from fifteen to thirty miles tramping over the prairie each day, sometimes more. Walking through the prairie grass without trail or footpath is about as tedious and tiresome anything that can be imagined. It was a common experience start out in the morning about daylight, taking a sack containing from fifteen to thirty traps, and put in the entire day setting traps, taking up and moving others, sometimes skinning the game, but more often taking it back to camp with them, put in the entire day tramping over the prairie, reaching camp about dark, and then after partaking of a trapper's supper put in the evening preparing and taking care of their furs.
The life which these trappers lived was about as primitive as could be endured by civilized beings. A small tent, the smallest possible supply of bedding, a few indispensable cooking utensils, a generous supply of ammunition, together with a little flour and a few necessary groceries, completed the outfit. During the winter time these camps were moved from place to place on large handsleds. A favorite method for trappers traveling over the prairie, especially during the fall and spring or any other time of high water, was to have small, strongly built boat mounted on two light wheels, such as hayrake or cultivator wheels, and load their luggage in the boat. By this means they were enabled to take a direct course across the prairies, regardless of swollen streams and impassable marshes.
Spirit Lake was a great outfitting point for the trappers and also a great point for collecting furs. It is probable that Henry Barkman of Spirit Lake, in the twenty years that he devoted to the business, bought, packed, handled and shipped more fur than any other man who ever lived in Iowa. Collecting fur over the vast uninhabited region of northwestern Iowa, southwestern Minnesota and southeastern Dakota was no picnic.
In pleasant weather when the streams were low it was not a very bad job, but these conditions were the exception and not the rule. A large proportion of the fur was gathered in in the winter. The two men on whom Mr. Barkman depended the most largely for assistance in buying and collecting the fur in this region were John P. Gilbert and James S. Johnston, both of Spirit Lake. It was no uncommon experience for either one of these men to start out in the dead of winter over the snow-covered prairie on a trip varying from three to ten days in extent with no expectation of meeting a human being except at the trappers' camps as they struck them. They had to take along grain for their teams and provisions for themselves. They also usually took along a supply of groceries and provisions for the trappers at the camps they expected to visit. It was customary at the larger camps to put up a little hay in the fall for the benefit of the fur-buyers during the winter.
Usually the buyer in traveling over the country could strike a camp at night, but failing to do this the only alternative was to get into a place as well sheltered from the wind as possible and pass the night there, counting himself lucky if no storm came up to prevent resuming his course in the morning. In addition to the furs gathered in this way, many trappers kept their entire catch until spring and sold it all at once. This fur, after being brought to Spirit Lake was assorted, packed and sent to St. Paul where it was opened, reassorted, repacked and started on its journey to the London and Leipsic sales.
It is to be regretted that no statistics have been preserved showing the magnitude of the business from 1860 to 1875. With the settlement of the counties to the north and west which occurred in 1869 and 1870, the fur business began to decline and within fifteen years of that time it had practically died out.
The claim has heretofore been made and maintained with a good degree of plausibility that the early settlers of this county represented a higher type of intelligence and literary attainment than is usual in frontier settlements. The superior intellectual culture of our earliest inhabitants has always been recognized. How much this early influence has had to do in so shaping our more recent literary growth as to make the establishment and maintenance of the Chautauqua of today a complete success we can never know; perhaps not any. Still the fact remains that among the more prominent of our people, whether numbering few or many, there has always been a decided bent for intellectual improvement and literary entertainment.
Literary societies were organized here as early as 1861 there being one both at Spirit Lake and Okoboji that winter. The most prominent literary society of those early days was known as the "Okoboji Literary League," organized in the fall of 1863. Many of the papers read before that society would do credit to any of the many literary societies that have flourished since that time. The one attracting the most attention, Mrs. A. L. Buckland's "Legend of Spirit Lake," has been published in several of the papers of northwestern Iowa and extracts from it have been given in several eastern magazines. It was not claimed by the writer at the time that there was much foundation for the legend as there related but the public has seized upon the tradition as being the true one and it is accepted, as such where the poem itself has never been heard of. A writer in the "Great Divide" recently gave the incidents of the poem rendered in prose with this introduction:
"The legend of Spirit Lake has about it a touch of genuine pathos and true wild flavor peculiar to the Indian alone, and savors of that age long since gone by when the red man's canoe alone floated over the clear blue water of Spirit Lake."
LEGEND OF SPIRIT LAKE.
(Note by the Author.)
This lovely sheet of water which lies in the northern part of our country is, save our own wild charming Okoboji, the most beautiful in the West. Its waters are pure and clear, it shores either smooth and pebbly or wild and rocky and in some places walled with a regularity we can but admire. What is remarkable it has no visible outlet, but about half way across the lake when the waters are not moved by the wind a strong current is perceptible. The Sioux have a superstition that the lake is watched over by spirits.
The following lines tell their tradition:
The West, the West, the boundless West,
The land of all I love the best,
Her beauties live on every hand,
Her billowy prairies vast and grand,
A landscape spread so wild and free,
What other clime can lovelier be?
Her rivers on toward ocean flow,
Her lakes like gems of crystal glow,
With pebbly beach or rocky shore
Or wooded cliffs, trees hanging o'er
The water's edge, while down below
The finny tribes dart to and fro;
No place so dark but wild flowers spring;
No spot so lone, but wild birds sing.
For me the prairie and the lake
Possess a charm I would not break.
I love them when in springtime bright
Each scene is touched with tender light,
Or when midsummer's stronger heat
Makes life a burden, rest a cheat,
These wilds, these lakes, this prairie breeze,
These lovely haunts among the trees
Make fittest place to while away
The tedious, dull midsummer day.
But more I love them when the year
With autumn frosts is growing sere,
When gorgeous sunset's golden dyes
Light up our Indian-summer skies.
Now, Nature claims these wilds her own,
But art ere long will share the throne;
E'en now the pioneer has come
Within these wilds to make his home,
The Red Man farther west has gone—
The Indian trail is overgrown.
Ere hither came the sons of toil
To make them homes and till the soil,
The bold and fearless hunter came
In search of sport and western game:
And oft adventure strange he met
While here the Red Man wandered yet.
But since it is not my intent
In rhyme to tell each wild event
Which early settlers here befell,
This narrative I'll briefly tell:
'Twas years ago, perhaps a score,
And possibly a dozen more,
My chronicler don't tell exact
But simply furnishes the fact
The Indian-summer time was here,
The loveliest time of all the year;
Through clay the sun's bright golden rays
Combined with autumn's smoky haze,
The mellow harvest moon at night
Cloaked Nature's form in misty light.
A sportive party on a hunt,
Who dared the warlike Sioux confront,
From wandering many a weary day
To these our lakes now bent their way,
And on the shore of Spirit Lake
Their noonday rest they thought to take.
Now, in the grove, the lake close by,
An Indian tepee caught their eye,
And soon the youthful brave they met
Who here his tepee-poles had set.
Umpashota was the name,
Some of you have seen the same
As years ago, five I believe,*
He passed through here an aged chief,
A prisoner with his little band
To Captain Martin's brave command;
But this was in an earlier day
Long ere his locks were mixed with grey.
But young and strong and brave was he
As ever Sioux was known to be.
The hunters bold he gave his hand
And welcomed them the "smoky man."
They saw the beauty of the place,
The lake's walled shore and rippled face,
And asked what name to it belonged.
For well they-knew the Indian tongue,
"Minnie Waukon," the warrior spake;
Translated this means Spirit Lake.
"And why thus called," he asked the brave,
As he looked out upon the wave,
While they the pipe of peace imbibe
He told this legend of his tribe:
How many, many moons ago
The West belonged all to the Sioux.
They were a countless tribe and strong,
But soon the white man's bitter wrong
Took of their hunting ground the best,
Forced them to make their marches west,
Forced them to leave those sacred mounds,
Their father's ancient burial grounds,
Their god of war was illy pleased,
Would not by trifles be appeased,
But woke within the warrior's breast
Anger for being thus oppressed,
And war parties were often made
The white man's country to invade;
And many a captive brought from far
Was offered to their god of war.
At last they brought a maiden fair,
Of comely form and beauty rare,
With eyes than lustrous stars more bright,
And flowing tresses dark as night.
Too fair for human race seemed she,
But fit the white man's god to be.
Now, the Dacotah worships ne'er
The beautiful, the bright, the fair,
But his Waukon's some hideous thing
With awful eye and monster wing,
Loves what is vilest, lowest, worst,
Thinks truth and beauty things accursed.
He loves the dark and hates the light,
Protects the wrong, destroys the right,
Ah, captive maid, what luckless fate!
The victim of such fiendish hate.
A savage vengeance craves thy life.
The brave makes sharp his scalping knife.
Those tresses dark their dance shall grace
Ere next they venture on the chase.
But 'mongst the warriors brave and gay
Was one they called the "Star of Day."
The chief's much loved and honored son,
His first, his last, his only one.
By all both feared and loved was he,
Their chief 'twas said he was to be.
He hardly seemed like others there,
His eye was dark, his beard was fair,
In fact 'twas whispered round by some
He was a paleface and had come
Into the tribe some years ago,—
Was stolen by the chieftain's squaw.
He, always swiftest in the race,
Loved well the reckless hunt and chase.
His arrow true ne'er spent for naught
Was sure to bring the game it sought.
He white man born and savage reared
By instinct nature's God revered;
He saw the captive, "Pale Face Dove"
And in his breast she wakened love.
Full well he knew the cruel fate
Which might the captive maid await
Resolved himself to rescue her,
The lovely dark-eyed prisoner.
To take her from that savage band
And bear her to her own bright land,
And there with her he thought to stay
And make her bride to Star of Day.
The captive saw his cheek's light hue
And curling locks, and quickly knew
He was not of the savage race,
But some long-captured young "paleface."
She caught the glance of his bright eye
And sweetly blushed, but knew not why.
It chanced that to the warrior's care
The chief oft left the captive fair,
And though each spake a tongue unknown
Love has a language all its own,
And by some silent magic spell
It found a way its tale to tell.
At Marble Grove within its shade
'Twas planned to offer up the maid,
The whole being left to Star of Day,
He managed quite a different way.
Beneath the bank, just out of view,
He anchored near his light canoe;
Across the lake within a glen
Two well-trained ponies waited them.
One eve as light began to fade
He cut the thongs that bound the maid,
And 'neath the twilight's dusky sky,
While followed them no warrior's eye,
He led her to the water's brim,
She not resisting went with him,
And launching quick their light canoe
They o'er the waters swiftly flew.
The god of war willed not that so
This victim from his grasp should go,
Awoke a storm upon the lake,
Which caused the waves to madly break,
And as the night grew wild and dark
Upset their fragile, dancing bark,
And angry waters closed above
The Star of Day and Pale Faced Dove.
But water spirits 'neath the wave
Soon led them to a shining cave,
Whose floor was paved with sea shells light,
Whose walls were set with diamonds bright,
And pearls and gems a glittering lot
Had there been brought to deck their grot.
And there e'en now still live and love
The Star of Day and Pale Faced Dove.
Not mortals now but spirits grown
They claim the lake as all their own,
And watch its waters night and day.
And never since that time, they say,
Across the lake in his canoe
Has gone as yet a single Sioux.
But if he venture on the wave
No power is able him to save
From angry spirits who with frown
A whirlpool set to drag him down.
And no Red Man dare undertake
To sail upon this Spirit Lake,
But if the white man's jolly boat
Upon its silvery surface float,
Quick ceases then the whirlpool's spell,
The spirits know their people well,
And by a ripple on the wave
Tell where is hid their shining cave.
*This poem was written in February, 1864.
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