268 EMMET AND DICKINSON COUNTIES
Traps had to be set, others moved, the "catch" skinned and likely places
for "setting" found. The men usually lived in tents, which could be moved
quickly from place to place. "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 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 a 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 prairie, regardless of swollen streams and impassable marshes."
Spirit Lake became a great starting point for the trappers and also a
collecting and buying point. Henry Barkman was in the fur business
there for over twenty years and handled and shipped vast quantities of
furs. Most of the fur was gathered in the winter months. John P. Gilbert
and James S. Johnson, of Spirit Lake, were the chief employes of Mr.
Barkman and did most of the collecting. These men would go on long
journeys across the prairie, lasting from ten days to two weeks, visiting
solitary trappers' camps and buying the furs. Other trappers preferred
to hold their season's catch until spring and then sell it all at once. The
fur, after being assorted at Spirit Lake, was packed and sent to St. Paul,
where it was again inspected and assorted and shipped to London and Leipsic.
The rapid settlement of the counties to the north and west caused the
fur business to decline, but even now, as ever since the early days, trapping
is one of the favorite occupations of the people. Muskrat trapping,
beginning December 1st of every year, is carried on very extensively, the
other animals having largely disappeared. The skins of the muskrat are
sold for a price ranging from fifteen cents to a dollar and a half apiece,
according to size and quality.
HOMESTEAD AND PREEMPTION
The homestead and preemption laws, although practically dead statutes now,
were at one time quite a boon to the new settler. Under the
former the settler filed an affidavit with a register at the nearest land
office that he entered upon his claim at a certain date and intended to
improve the same. He was given six months to settle upon the claim and
after five years' continuous residence could perfect his title and own
the land. Under the preemption law he was required to send a dollar
to the land office and on stating that he had entered upon and improved a
tract of government land he could claim the ground under the preemption
EMMET AND DICKINSON COUNTIES 269
law. He was entitled to one year in which to prove up his claim and make
payment on the land if it was offered for sale in the market; otherwise
he could hold the land until it was offered for sale. The price was $1.25
per acre, but others, with soldier's warrants or college scrip, bought for
seventy-five cents or one dollar an acre.
The first settlers in Dickinson County utilized the preemption law,
as the homestead law had not yet been passed. After the passage of the
latter many changed to it. The nearest land office, and the one which was
used, was located at Sioux City.
Open sales were held, lasting for several days, when land could be
secured in no way except by bidding, the highest bidder getting the ground.
These sales were started by the commissioner of the general land office,
under orders from the President. After the close of the sale any unpurchased
land could be had for the regular price of $1.25 per acre.
Practically all of the land now in Dickinson County, with the exception
of Center Grove and Spirit Lake townships, was ordered on sale
during the administration of President Johnson. It was kept open for
sale by private entry until 1870. Then it was withdrawn, in order that
the railroads, whose grants reached into the county could file their plats
and receive the land promised them by grant. The Chicago, Milwaukee
& St. Paul (then the McGregor and Sioux City and the St. Paul,
Minneapolis & Omaha, then the St. Paul & Sioux City, were the ones to profit
by this arrangement.
The Iowa Agricultural College located a few sections under grant in
this county and Ringgold County located the indemnity land received in
place of her swamp land here. These grants thus took over two-thirds
of the county, leaving the remaining third for the settlers to preempt and