A Record of Settlement, Organization,
Progress and Achievement
Volume 1
Chicago, Illinois
The Pioneer Publishing Company




Dickinson County lies in the northern tier of Iowa counties, bordering on the Minnesota line, and is the third county from the west line of the state. It is twenty-four miles in length east and west and about seventeen miles in width north and south. It comprises an area of about four hundred square miles, one-eighth of which area is covered by lakes.

Dickinson County received its name in honor of Daniel S. Dickinson, one time United States senator from the State of New York.

The general chapter upon the "Period of Preparation" recounts accurately the early explorations in this part of the country and the events which happened in the territory then comprising the land now included in Dickinson County. One of the oldest written accounts of the Spirit Lake country, which means Dickinson County country, is described by Judge Fulton in his book "Red Men of Iowa," in which he 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 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 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."

That this part of the country was inhabited by roving bands of white men, namely trappers, voyageurs, adventurers and Indian traders, is considered probable, but owing to the very nature of their occupation and their idle regard for the supposedly sterile country, they left no records of the life here or their conception of the beautiful lake region.

During the administration of President Van Buren, 1837-1841, the younger Nicollet was appointed by the secretary of war to draft a map of the Upper Mississippi River basin. This was done in accordance with the order of April 7, 1838, and in the general report of the region explored, Nicollet states: "It has heretofore been 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." No statement is made regarding the Okoboji Indians. In another portion of the report the following astronomical table is given by Nicollet Place of observation: Spirit Lake, about the middle of the northern shore; altitude above the Gulf of Mexico, 1310 feet; north latitude, 43° 30' 21"; longitude west from Greenwich, in time, six hours, twenty minutes and twenty-six seconds, in arc, 95° 6' 30"; authority, Nicollet. R. A. Smith writes in regards to this: "It will be readily seen that the point from which this observation was taken cannot be far from where Crandairs 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 '50s. 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 Gen. 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 bo 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."

Another note in regard to early writings upon the vicinity of Spirit Lake is contained in a paragraph of Jacob Van der Zee's article in the Iowa State Journal of History. "The Early History of the Des Moines Valley," in which the following is said: Another interesting reminder of the relations between the far-away Canadian settlement and the nearest American pioneers is a map of Iowa Territory showing 'Dixon and McKnight's route to Pembina settlements in 1822. These men ascended the valleys of the Des Moines and its tributary, the Racoon, proceeded almost straight northward along the divide between Spirit Lake and the headwaters of the Des Moines to the sources of St. Peter's and Red Rivers, and then descended the valley of the Red River to Pembina."

This constitutes practically all that is known of the early lake region, that is, all that can be gathered from available records. Many things are known, however, which lead back into tradition and story. The Indians who dwelt here (this was the favorite hunting and camping grounds of the Wahpekutah branch of the Yankton-Sioux) regarded Spirit Lake with awe and superstition. Their legend of the lake and its mysterious currents is well presented in Mrs. Buckland's poem in the introductory of this History. That they believed the waters of Spirit Lake guarded and watched by a great spirit, or kindred spirits, that no Indian dare venture upon the water in a canoe, is true; and it is a curious fact that no early settler of Dickinson County, or any traveler in this early country, remembers seeing an Indian canoe upon the lake. This legend of the Spirit Lake is a beautiful one and deserves commemoration in some form or other to insure permanency to it; a preservation which has not yet been secured.


On July 16, 1856 Rowland Gardner, from Cerro Gordp County, Iowa, and his son-in-law, Harvey Luce, came into what is now Dickinson County, made the necessary claims and erected rude cabins near what was then known as Gardner's Grove. This Gardner cabin has stood the ravages of time, and was occupied for several years by Rev. Samuel Pillsbury and then by Mrs. Abbie Gardner Sharp. James Mattock, from Delaware County, Iowa, with his family, and several other people from the same locality, located in the grove just south of the later Okoboji bridge. This grove was shortly known as Mattock's Grove, named in honor of the elder Mattock, a very prominent man in the community. Near the same time of the year another band of settlers came in, hailing from Red Wing, Minnesota. Among them were: William and Carl Granger, Doctor Harriott and Bert Snyder. They settled on the point on the north side of the Okoboji bridge, upon land now included upon the C. M. & St. P. right of


way, half way between the lake shore and the depot. The Granger boys claimed the point of land adjacent to East Okoboji Lake; Dr. Harriott, the Maple Grove on West Okoboji and Snyder, the Center Grove. Center Grove, in fact, was known as Snyder's Grove for several years after the first settlement. Joseph M. Thatcher was another early settler at the north end of the present Tusculum Grove; he came from Franklin County, Iowa, having previously come to this state from Howard County, Indiana. At the same time Joel Howe made location at the south end of the grove. In September of the same year a man named Marble, from Linn County, Iowa, located upon the west bank of Spirit Lake in a grove known for a long time as Marble's Grove. These are the settlements made in the year 1856 in Dickinson County.

With Mattock and his family, which consisted of a wife and five children, came a Mr. Madison, who had taken a claim upon the west side of Okoboji Lake. He was from Delaware County also, and left his family there over the winter. Gardner had four children with him, the oldest of whom was married to Mr. Luce. Two young men, named Clark and Wilson, were stopping with Mr. Gardner temporarily; Wilson afterward married one of the Gardner girls, Eliza. Joel Howe had his wife and seven children with him. Thatcher and Noble each had one child. With Thatcher was a trapper named Morris Markham, a Mr. Ryan and a brother-in-law named Burtch. Marble had no children. One could hardly say that there was a scarcity of children in the first settlement of Dickinson County; there were no less than eighteen or twenty of them to make life merry around the fireside during the long winter nights on the frontier.

In all there were about forty persons located near the lakes by the end of the year 1856. This is an unusually large showing for the first year of a county's settlement. Ordinarily, in the average county, the first year's, or for that matter, the first two or three years' settlement comprised about a dozen people, perhaps all living in the same cabin.

Then came the terrible Spirit Lake massacre. This is described in detail in Chapter XXI. To the present-day reader it is hard to conjure up the feeling and excitement which prepailed over the entire country, especially along the frontier. The case is well illustrated in the case of any calamity which befalls the country at the present day; first reports are vague and often exaggerated and contorted; the people form their own impression and in nine cases out of ten magnify the true facts many times. This is not meant to carry the impression that the Spirit Lake massacre was anything short in horror, cruelty and ghastliness of the story first circulated among the settlers. It is but to show that the whole countryside was alarmed and expected to see the murderous Indians appear at any moment ‐ from any direction. R. A. Smith writes


that: "Nearly the whole line of frontier settlements were abandoned and in some instances the excitement and alarm extended far into the interior. In deed, in many cases where there was no possibility of danger the alarm was wildest. Military companies were formed, home guards were organized and other measures taken for defense hundreds of miles from where any Indians had been seen for years. The alarm spread to adjoining states. The wildest accounts of the number and force of the savages was given currency and credence. Had all the Indians of the Northwest been united in one band they would not have formed a force so formidable as was supposed to exist at that time along the western border of Iowa and Minnesota."

The aftermath, though, was different. Settlers were attracted from every part of the land to the scene of the massacre. Emigrants, adventurers, curiosity seekers and the morbid sought this territory; the massacre had brought this land of the lakes to their attention. The ones who came expecting to build their homes here were, for the most part, rewarded, but the ones who came expecting to see "rivers of blood" and mutilated victims of the Indians were sorely disappointed and many returned the way they came.


The Jasper County party, mention of which is made in the story of the massacre, consisting of O. C. Howe, B. F. Parmenter and R. U. Wheelock, made preparations for a return to the lakes, after their return to Fort Dodge with Major Williams' command. Howe went to Newton, while Wheelock and Parmenter remained in Fort Dodge, to attend to the commissariat and await Howe's return. Howe secured a party of men at Newton to accompany him upon his return to the lakes. This party consisted of George E. Spencer (afterwards United States senator from Alabama), his brother Gustave, M. A. Blanchard, S. W. Foreman, Thomas Arthur, Samuel Thornton and Doctor Hunter, all residents of Newton.

Prior to this time J. S. Prescott, W. B. Brown and a guide named Overacker had started upon a trip to the lakes. They followed the Des Moines River, passing Major Williams' command en route, and reached the lakes about April 15th. After a few days spent here they returned to Fort Dodge to make preparations for a return to the lakes to settle there permanently.

The Newton party came to Fort Dodge without Howe, who had been held at home by family illness, and there joined Parmenter and Wheelock. Others joined the party for various purposes, and the whole proceeded. C. F. Hill, R. A. Smith and Henry Backman, were other


sturdy souls among those who made the first settlements subsequent to the massacre.

It may be said that the motive of the above mentioned party in coming to the lakes was a pecuniary one. They had ambitions to select a location for a town site, procure the establishment of a county seat there, and claim all the land around. The panic of 1857, however, squashed this idea to a large extent, as land values sank to amazing depths. 0. C. Howe succeeded politically in the new country, as he was elected district attorney for the fourth judicial district in 1858. All of the young men composing the party were animated with a high ambition to become rich and famous over night. So it was with the early settlers everywhere; they hoped even stronger than they spoke for the discovery of a bonanza in the unfamiliar country and often risked their entire possessions in the quest of this.

There were three distinct parties which started for the lakes after the massacre. All of them left Fort Dodge on April 30, 1857. The first party consisted of Dr. J. S. Prescott, W. B. Brown, Charles F. Hill, Moses Miller, Lawrence Furber and George Brockway. The second group was the Newton party, mention of which has been made. The third party consisted of B. F. Parmenter, R. U. Wheelock, William Lamont, Morris Markham, Alexander Irving, Lewis Hart and R. A. Smith. Although separated the three groups of men managed to keep in commiunication with each other for many reasons, that of protection not the least. They planned their route up the west side of the Des Moines River, to a point ten miles below the present site of Emmetsburg. Here the Newton party separated from the others and traveled in the direction of Clay County, to investigate the land conditions there and the opportunity of locating a town ‐ namely, Spencer. The other two groups proceeded up the river for a short distance and then struck across prairie to Lost Island. Here, on the northeast shore of Lost Island Lake, they encamped on the night of May 6th. They arrived at Okoboji at noon on the 8th. The Newton party, which had detoured, arrived the same evening and all set up camp and cooked supper at Gardner's location.

The making of claims and locating their limits was about the first task of the new settlers after arriving. R. A. Smith thus describes this : "It will be remembered that the land was unsurveyed and all that anyone could do was to 'squat' on a piece of land and defend possession of it under the laws of the state. Measures were taken as far as possible to settle with the heirs of those holding bona fide claims, and in every instance they were paid a valuable consideration therefor. There was no instance of any person settling upon any bona fide claim that had been improved previous to the massacre without an equitable settlement having been made with those entitled to receive it. The impression has


gone abroad and is pretty generally believed that Doctor Prescott took possession of the Gardner place without making any settlement therefor. This is a mistake."

The explanation is that Eliza Gardner was at Springfield at the time of the massacre and had gone down to Fort Dodge with the return of Major Williams' men, and there married William Wilson. Prescott himself returned to Fort Dodge and they sought to sell their claims to him, that of Gardner along the shore of West Okoboji Lake to the south and west of the Gardner cabin, also that of Harvey Luce, a son-in-law, adjoin‐ on the east. East of these was Wilson's claim which embraced the site of the present Arnold's Park and the land east of it. These were the claims offered to Prescott, which he accepted, paying $1,100 in gold coin for them. He also promised to settle with Mrs. Abbie Gardner Sharp if she ever succeeded in escaping the hands of the Indians, with whom she was a prisoner at that time. Later, it is said, Prescott made another settlement with her, as she had received no funds from the Wilsons. Prescott also purchased the Howe claim and that of Thatcher. Prescott afterwards had trouble owing to the law preventing one man from holding more than one claim, whilst he had four or five.

The Red Wing, Minnesota, party, mentioned in the forepart of this chapter, had been wiped out by the Indians with the exception of one ‐ "Bill" Granger, a notorious character along the border at that time. The Grangers bore an ill reputation among the settlers of the Northwest, especially along the Des Moines River; they were reasonably suppposed to have been implicated in horse-stealing and counterfeiting and were decidedly unpopular. The Granger claim was northeast of the Okoboji Bridge. After the massacre and when the new settlers had commenced to come in, Bill Granger started for the scene from Red Wing, accompanied by a party of cronies. He claimed to represent the heirs of the members of his former party who had been murdered and with threats and display of bravado he ordered. that no one should touch the claims of his party in any way. His attitude did not "take," however, with the settlers and he soon abandoned the attempt. The claims, on what is now known as Smith's Point and Harriott's on the present Dixon's Beach, were not touched, though, until almost a year later.

Howe, Wheelock and Parmenter selected the present site of the town of Spirit Lake, and made their claims adjoining. This they believed to be the proper place for the location of the county seat and the center of all business transactions. The men whose names have been known as the original proprietors of the site were: O. C. Howe, B. F. Parmenter, R. U. Wheelock and George E. Spencer. Dr. J. S. Prescott afterwards purchased one-fifth in the site for $1,000. The county seat was located here in 1858, James Hickey of Palo Alto County, C. C. Smeltzer of Clay County


and S. W. Foreman of O'Brien County acting as commissioners for the location.

Many others came into the lake region during the spring and summer months of 1857. In June Henry Barkman, with a small party from Newton, put in an appearance; on Independence Day a number of people from Sparta, Wisconsin, namely, Rosalvo Kingman, William Carsley, J. D. Hawkins and G. W. Rogers, drove in and settled. Jareb Palmer was another early arrival. The latter had been in Springfield at the time of the Indian raid and had assisted in defense of Doctor Thomas' home there, also was a member of Major Williams' forces.


Many times during these few months reports were brought into the settlement of another Indian outbreak and a threatening raid. At first the settlers became alarmed whenever these stories came in, but later learned to accept them stoically and await results ‐ in the meantime, however, preparing themselves for any eventualities. Alarmists were rife ‐ one of the most conspicuous being "Bill" Granger, who, failing to intimidate the settlers by his own bearing, started a report that the Indians were coming. This was his last straw and it failing to "break the camel's back" he and his party departed for the north again.

The first thing the settlers did in their preparedness campaign was to erect a general building, in dimensions about twenty-four by thirty feet, built of large logs, with puncheon floor and "shake" roof. Surrounding this house a stockade was erected, composed of logs ten feet in length and eight to ten inches in diameter, sunk in a trench sufficiently deep to give them a strong hold. For convenience in case of a siege by the Indians, a well was sunk inside the stockade. The row of logs surrounded the house at a varying distance of six to ten feet, making in all a compact, strong and easily defended fort. June and July, 1857, witnessed the erection of this stronghold. After two years service, with never an opportunity to test its strength against invading tribes, it was demolished and a hostelry, then known as the Lake View House, was erected nearby. It may be noted here that the town site then was about a half mile north of the present Spirit Lake city, having been chosen before the United States survey was made.

The largest number of the settlers had located their claims near Spirit Lake and a number of cabins could be seen in the vicinity of the fort. The reason for this is plain, for in case of sudden attack all could congregate within the stockade. W. B. Brown, C. F. Hill, William Lamont and a few others were at Center Grove, while Prescott and his party were at the old Gardner claim at Okoboji.



The year 1857, which brought the new influx of settlers to Dickinson County, was the year of the great financial panic, caused in greater part by the fever of speculation in real estate which had gone on in the country during the previous two years. "Paper" towns were thick; railroads were projected, aid promised, and towns laid out on the proposed right of way. The value of property in the practically unknown West was inflated to a point where, like a toy balloon, it was bound to burst. The ebb-tide grasped the country in its clutches immediately after the explosion; town sites vanished; land prices dropped to almost nothing; and settlers remained in their eastern homes rather than venture a trip to the West under the conditions. Paper currency was worth nearly nothing in value and the available gold in the nation was soon used up. This year saw the demise of many banks all over the land, their securities having depreciated to such an extent that continuance was impossible. The settlers then in the frontier and border country hesitated to make extensive improvements until something of a normal condition had again come to the country.

Emigration to Dickinson County in the fall of 1857 was slow; "in most cases made up of persons who had been stripped of their property by the panic and struck for the frontier to try their luck anew." Isaac Jones and William Miller from Story County, Iowa, came at this time and set up a diminutive steam saw-mill on the banks of East Okoboji Lake. It was located a short distance southwest of the Stevens' boat landing. This brought the possibility of timber construction to the settlers, whereas logs had been used for every detail of the house before. Algona had been the nearest point from which to get sawed lumber prior to this and the addition of the mill in their immediate vicinity was heartily welcomed.

There were just four women in the settlement during the winter of 1857-8. 0. C. Howe had his wife and one child, Rosalvo Kingman had his wife and family, a settler named Thurston had his wife with him, and Mrs. Peters who lived between Okoboji and Spirit Lake, on the isthmus. Thurston stayed only during the winter.

Another mill was attempted by one James S. Peters in the fall of 1857, on the isthmus mentioned above. He dug a mill-race across the isthmus, but owing to the insufficiency of the water supply, made little success of his plan. He succeeded in getting the mill frame up and the crude machinery in place during the summer of 1858, and commenced operations in 1859, but the work he turned out was far from satisfactory. It is told that Peters was a superstitious fellow and believed in spirits


and witches, ascribing the ill working of his mill to the wrath of the ghosts or whatever he happened to believe. Some person would frequently be blamed by him for bewitching his mill and then he would rudely sketch their head with chalk upon a tree and then spend hours shooting at the picture with silver bullets. In this way he hoped to break the "spell." After a year or two of vain effort he sold out to Stimpson & Davis of Emmet County, but they, too, failed to make a paying investment out of the mill. The place was again sold to Oliver Compton in 1869; he overhauled it and put in new machinery, but the water situation prevented success as before and it was finally wrecked.

In 1857 a claim was taken on the Little Sioux by Philip Risling, remembered as a pre-massacre settler. He came here in the summer with William Oldman, George Deitrick, Levi Daugherty, William Wisegarver and others, with coffins, for the purpose of disinterring the bodies of their friends. Very soon after Risling made his claim on the Little Sioux others were made in the same vicinity by Moses Miller, Andrew Oleson, Mr. Gunder and Omen Mattheson. H. Meeker and a Mr. Close constructed a mill on the outlet, which they ceased to operate a year or two later. R. R. Wilcox and Hiram Davis also took claims on the river mentioned before 1865. This small settlement is described as being on the trail from Sioux City and the first sign of civilization after a forty-mile hike across barren prairies. The winter of 1857-8 is remembered by the old settlers as having been a rather mild one, with provisions easily obtained by the forty or so of people living at the lakes. The cabins were comfortable and warm, if small and inconvenient. Some of them are said to have borne fanciful names such as St. Cloud, St. Charles and St. Bernard.


The formation of claim clubs, or associations for protection was a common procedure among early settlers everywhere, in almost every western state. In this manner each settler was guaranteed the protection of his fellows and some organized opposition could be exerted against the speculator and claim-jumper, a type, or types, not unfamiliar upon the border of civilization. Disputes and neighborhood quarrels were often decided by the august body of the claim club, as well as other matters of business.

The Dickinson County Claim Club, or Spirit Lake Claim Club, as it was sometimes called, was formed during the winter of 1857-8. This was before the government survey, when each man was entitled by the laws of the state of Iowa to defend possession of three hundred and twenty acres of ground. Under the claim club laws each settler was


entitled to two claims, one in his own name and another in the name of some other person, with the provision that the person named would settle upon and improve it within a year. The club was under the command of a captain and two lieutenants, who were empowered to call meetings. The first captain was William Carsley, and his lieutenants were Charles F. Hill and J. D. Hawkins. The local club had not much business to transact, consequently was abandoned shortly.


The first postoffice in Dickinson County and in northwestern Iowa was established at Spirit Lake in February, 1858, R. U. Wheelock being the first postmaster to assume office. Prior to this time most of the settlers obtained their mail from Sioux City or Fort Dodge. Anyone traveling to and from these towns acted as mail-carrier and brought letters for the whole settlement, taking them there to mail as well. In 1856 there had been a mail route, semi-monthly from Mankato to Sioux City, becoming a regular route in 1857, and in charge of Mr. Babcock of Kasota, Minnesota. He was paid for his labor the sum of $4,000 a year and received one section of government land for each twenty miles of route in the state of Minnesota.

A Mr. Pease of Jackson County, Minnesota, was subcontractor to Babcock; he handled the north route alone, but sublet the southern route, from Spirit Lake to Sioux City, to Jareb Palmer. In the summer of 1858 Orin Nason and Cephas Bedow of Kasota, Minnesota, procured the mail route and operated it until 1862. They acted as "official buyers" to many people along the line of their delivery, when the settlers were some distance from a store or had no means of transportation. Their purchases were made at Mankato and Sioux City.

Nason and Bedow established the first trail between Spirit Lake and Peterson, marking the route with bushes at first until a line was worn so as to be distinguishable. Snow at one time covered their route so deeply that Bedow could get only as far as the Norwegian settlement at the head of the south branch of the Watonwan. He solved the problem by engaging a Norwegian named Torson to carry the mail through on skiis. The snow was of just the right consistency for this style of traveling and the husky Norwegian made the trip from Spirit Lake to Sioux City and return in five days, an average of over fifty miles per day, carrying the heavy mail sack upon his shoulders. His trips continued until the snow had disappeared sufficiently for the continuance of the teams and wagon.

Wheelock left Dickinson County in 1861 and he was succeeded in


office as postmaster by B. F. Parmenter, his brother-in-law. Parmenter also left the county about two years later.

The Okoboji postoffice was established one year after the one at Spirit Lake, with G. H. Bush as the first postmaster. He was followed by M. J. Smith and J. W. OTarrell. Until the establishment of the Milford office in 1869 these two comprised the only postoffices in Dickinson County.

The mail from Mankato to Sioux City was continued until the year 1862. In 1859 a weekly mail was run between Spirit Lake and Algona, the contract being in the hands of Judge Asa C. Call of Algona, who sub‐ let the same to a man named Henderson residing also in Algona. These routes were discontinued in 1862 and a weekly run between Spirit Lake and Fort Dodge was opened. This was carried by John Gilbert.


When the weather moderated and the season opened in 1858 there was a renewal of emigration to the lake district. The country here was well known, many having been here to investigate. Some of these returned to Dickinson County for permanent settlement, some bringing their friends. Among the men who brought their families here at this time were: J. D. Howe, R. U. Wheelock, B. F. Parmenter, J. S. Prescott, Henry Schuneman, Henry Barkman, James Ball, Leonidas Congleton, Alvarado Kingman, William Barkman, George Ring, Philip Risling and M. J. Smith with his sister, Myra. With all these new arrivals opportunity was supplied to the settlers for social intercourse ‐ many young men and women having come in to live. Sarah and Mary Howe, Belle Wheelock, Myra Smith, Mary and Emma Congleton, Sarah McMillen and Dema Adams made up the list of the season's debutantes at Spirit Lake. M. J. Smith made a claim on what has been called Smith's Point; Dan Caldwell and T. S. Ruff located on what is Dixon's Beach and Jareb Palmer on upper Maple Grove, later known as Omaha Beach. Agriculture began to be the main subject with the settlers and farming began to be the popular occupation. Mr. R. A. Smith is authority for the statement that during this season the greatest hindrance to successful farming was the prodigious number of blackbirds in the vicinity. The destruction they caused was great. He writes in regard to this:


"Corn was the principal crop, as no machinery for handling small grain had been introduced into the country. The time when the blackbirds were most destructive was when the grain was just coming out of the ground, or about the last week in May and the first two weeks in June. They would come in such clouds as to almost darken the sun, and lighting


down on the mellow fields where the corn was just coming up, would destroy a large area in an incredibly short space of time. They have been known to destroy for one man an entire forty-acre field in one day. And one great difficulty about it was that there was no way of keeping them off. Scare them up in one place and they would immediately light down in another and keep right on with their work of destruction. Shooting among them had no appreciable effect, but it was lots of fun for the boys and gave them good practice. Fred Gilbert, who has for so long held the world's championship trophy, first acquired his wonderful skill as a wing shot by shooting blackbirds in his father's corn field with an old muzzle-loader.

"Effigies and scarecrows placed in the field had no effect whatever. Various schemes and devices were tried to circumvent them, but with indifferent success. Some claimed that soaking the seed in copperas water or in tar so as to give it a bitter taste kept them off, but about the only remedy that had an appreciable effect, and one by which many farmers saved a portion of their crops, was to scatter corn on their fields every day for the birds to pick up. By this means, and a continuous working of the corn until it was to large for them, a portion of the crop was saved for the time. But the farmer's tribulations were not by any means over when his corn was too large for them to pull or scratch up. Just when the kernel was forming, or when it was on 'roast- ing ears,' the birds were very destructive; nearly or quite as much so as in the spring. They would light on the ears, and stripping down the silks and husks, would destroy the grain on the ear in a very short time. Many a man who had neglected to watch his field for a few days was surprised on going to it to find only a few dried cobs. Some farmers saved a portion of their crops by erecting several high platforms in their fields and keeping their children on them yelling, screaming, ringing cow-bells and drumming on tin pans until they were completely worn out. The plan had one advantage, if no other; the children made all the noise they wanted to and nobody scolded them for it. The pest became so general that in the Eighth General Assembly Mr. Blackford of Algona succeeded in getting a bill through providing for paying a bounty on blackbirds, which remained in force about four years, when it was repealed. The pest died out gradually as the country settled. As the area of tillable land was gradually increased, the birds scattered until their depredations were no longer noticeable."


Due in large part to the nature of the season, the emigration of the summer of 1858 was small. It was known as a wet season. Heavy


spring rains swelled the streams and rivers out of their banks and the settlers, with their cumbersome wagons, "prairie schooners," and slow ox teams, found it difficult to ford the water-courses. Various expedients were tried, which are described later.


The year 1858 was the time of the noted mill controversy, between Messrs. Wheelock, Parmenter and Howe upon one side and Prescott upon the other. In 1857 the first three men purchased a steam mill and shipped to Iowa City, the terminal point of the railroad. The agreement was that an advance payment should be made before the mill could be shipped from Iowa City, but the financial panic of the year came on and they were unable to make this payment or pay the freight upon the mill. In the last extremity they turned the obligation over to Prescott, who payed the freight and assumed responsibility for the payments. He also entered into a written agreement with Howe and Wheelock, by which they were to retain an interest in the mill and in operating it. In the spring of 1858 arrangements were made to bring the mill to the lakes ‐ the overland route to be used. From the Rock Island depot at Iowa City to Spirit Lake was something over three hundred miles, two-thirds of which distance the prairie was under water and the streams unbridged. A government wagon was secured to haul the four-ton boiler and other wagons for the smaller parts, fully twenty yoke of oxen being employed to draw the wagons. Mr. Wheelock had charge of the caravan.

After six weeks hard journey the mill was landed in Dickinson County and located in the grove south of the Okoboji bridge. Here a controversy arose between Howe, Wheelock and Parmenter and Prescott as to the control of the mill. The quarrel was a bitter one and rapidly grew.

Prescott made the effort to hold the Okoboji Grove by staking it off as a town site and also the Gardner place under the pre-emption law. The mill had been set up in the north part of the Okoboji Grove. A log house, thirty by sixteen, and a blacksmith shop had been erected in the vicinity. During the forepart of that winter Prescott hired men to cut and haul over a thousand saw-logs into the mill-yard, to be sawed into lumber when the mill was started. His opposition claimed that he was violating his agreement and his contract by doing this, also that he was violating the town site law by his claim. In support of this John Gilbert filed a claim on it under the pre-emption law and began proceedings in the district court to obtain possession of the saw-logs which Prescott had hauled onto the property. C. F. Hill, the sheriff, refused to serve the writ of replevin obtained by Gilbert and consequently he was removed


from office by the simple method of requiring more bonds from him and then refusing to accept any he produced.

On February 22, 1859, the newly appointed sheriff, with about ten men, came to Prescott's place to remove the logs. Prescott himself was in the East, but had left his business in charge of G. H. Bush and his employes. These men met the sheriff's party when they arrived and by rolling the logs off the wagons as fast as the latter loaded them prevented the timber from being hauled away that day. When the sheriff's party became weary of this comedy they left and in the evening came back with a warrant for the arrest of the men who had opposed the serving of the writ of replevin. With him was a small squad of soldiers from Captain Martin's company, which at that time was stationed at Spirit Lake. Everything looked ripe for a scrimmage and possibly bloodshed, when a courier arrived at the scene with the startling news that the Indians were in the grove at the head of Spirit Lake. The sheriff's party and the soldiers immediately left, taking with them a few of Prescott's leaders and the promise of the others to appear.

Mr. Bush then consulted an attorney. Judge Meservy of Fort Dodge and, acting upon the latter's counsel, obtained a counter writ of replevin. With this and an injunction procured later all further proceedings were stopped and everything quieted. Gilbert withdrew from the field.

Howe and Wheelock, however, stuck to their guns. They employed every tactic to prevent the mill from running. First they sent men there to take away the pump-valves and other parts of the mill machinery, but Prescott's engineer, Mastellar, made new ones. Prescott himself secured an injunction against such acts. Undaunted, Howe and Wheelock again had their men visit the mill and take away more parts of the machinery which could not be replaced except from the factory. Prescott retaliated by obtaining a warrant for the arrest of those who violated the injunction. He came here with an officer and posse from Webster County, but found that his men were missing, having taken refuge in Minnesota. They had been warned by a soldier belonging to Martin's command, who had overheard the plans in Fort Dodge. After a few days they returned, however, and appeared before Judge Congleton who issued a writ of habeas corpus and they were discharged. The first term of the district court soon after dissolved the injunction. Prescott had become unpopular, owing to his swinish methods of holding land, and many settlers left, among them G. H. Bush and C. F. Hill, who had previously championed Prescott's cause. Prescott then sold off his Tusculum claims for a song, but retained his hold on Okoboji Grove. The claims were purchased by Alfred Arthur and disposed of by him to H. D. Arthur, John Francis, John P. Gilbert, Crosby Warner, Peter Ladu and Charles Carpenter, who


came from Wisconsin in 1859 and 1860; these men settled upon the land at once.

In the spring months of the year 1859 H. D. Arthur, John P. Gilbert and Spencer Humphrey built a shingle-mill at Spirit Lake. This was operated for a little over a year and then moved away.


In the spring of 1861, also in the summer months, a large number of settlers came to Dickinson County from Winnebago County, Illinois. They were induced mainly through the efforts of J. S. Prescott, who had been sent there by the supervisors to dispose of swamp land deeds. Among the settlers who came were: Henry Meeker, Daniel Bennett, William Close, Samuel Phippen, J. W. O'Farrel, E. V. Osbom, James Evans, C. H. and Samuel Evans, John Brown, H. W. Davis, George Kellogg, and Samuel Rogers. Most all of these men had their families with them.

Then came the opening of the Civil War and as a result emigration practically ceased altogether. Also, when the possibilities of the struggle became more apparent the large number of eligible men from Dickinson County enlisted for service. Detailed history of the part Dickinson County played in the Rebellion may be found in the chapter on military affairs.


In 1863 there was little emigration, among the newcomers being Rev. Samuel Pillsbury and family, R. R. Wilcox, William Leggett and a few others. The Pillsburys and Wilcox are the only ones who stayed permanently. Many of the former settlers of Spirit Lake had left, owing to the nearness of the Indian troubles, among them B. F. Parmenter, Doctor Prescott, O. C. Howe, R. U. Wheelock, William Barkman, R. Kingman, A. D. Arthur, J. D. Howe, C. Carpenter, Leonidas Congleton and Philip Risling. More of this exodus is explained in the Spirit Lake chapter.

The emigration had not only lessened very materially, but those here before were leaving, so that the county in 1865 had very few more than two hundred people living within its boundaries, about as many as in 1856. The settlements were clustered in close proximity to the various groves and the prairie and government land avoided. Farming, stock raising and improvements were at a standstill, the panic of 1857 and the Indian troubles having completely disheartened the population.

Everyone lived in the hopes that the close of the Civil War would bring with it a renewal of the emigration to this part of the country, and so it did, though it brought very little improvement in the county of Dickinson. Indian apprehensions were largely quieted by the improved polic‐


ing of the border and this in greater part ceased to be a factor in the calculations of the settlers. Those who had left the county for the war went in other directions when they were mustered out of service, believing that they saw better opportunities elsewhere than in Dickinson County. The construction of the Union Pacific Railroad held forth a tempting course to others. The homestead law had been passed by Congress and poor settlers thought by taking advantage of it they could make a fortune easily and quickly. In this, as history sadly states, they were disappointed, as they hardly realized the sacrifice and labor necessary to make paying ground out of the barren prairie. These reasons were a few of the many obstacles in the way of rapid emigration just after the war.


By the spring of 1866 Dickinson County was again favored by a band of incoming settlers. At that time Joshua A. Pratt, George W. Pratt, Joseph A. Green, A. Price and others came in and made their first settlement at Lakeville. Another party composed of George Wallace, James Heldridge, F. C. and Israel Doolittle took claims upon the open prairie. They did not spend the winter months in the open, but purchased a lot in the timber of Okoboji Grove, built log cabins, and there hibernated. E. J. Davis, Jerry Knowlton, A. D. Inman and Wallace Smith came into the county during the same season. That these settlers had a hard time during the first year goes without saying. Supplies could be procured only at Fort Dodge and Mankato; the wet season had flooded much of the land and the streams were raging; no bridges were then built; lack of crop cultivation had inflated prices for grain to a high figure; corn reached $2 a bushel and wheat $13 per hundred; and roads were impassable. These were a few of the hardships encountered.

Other settlers who drifted in to augment the colony were: John and James Skirving, W. S. Beers, Joseph Austin, John and Miles Strong, in the south part of the county; L. W. Waugh, K. C. Lowell, George C. Bellows, 0. Crandall, Curtis Crandall, A. A. Mosher, Lauriston Mead, A. D. Arcy, William and John Uptagraft, Nelson and Chauncey Read; in the north portion of the county. Rev. Seymour Snyder made a claim on the west side of West Okoboji, the first on that side, and Rev. W. A. Richards located af the north end of the lake.

The years 1868 and 1869 brought a full tide of emigration once more to Dickinson County. The open prairie began to be settled and claims were taken away from the streams and timber, which hitherto had been the favorite, and in fact the only, location desired by the settler. In 1869 and 1870 Winneshiek County, Iowa, supplied quite a large number of new residents, prominent among them being: A. M. Johnson, W. W. Stowe,


William Vreeland, L. J. and L. W. Vreeland, John and James Robb, H. C. and E. Freeman, C. E. West, T. Pegdon, R. C. and John Johnson, A. G. and C. E. Sawyer, L. E. Holcomb, Samuel Allen and Wiley Lambert. Most of these located in the northeast part of the county, and stayed there until the grasshopper raid a few years later, when many of them decamped.

About the same time another movement was made from Mitchell County. In this party were: James and John Kilpatrick, R. B. and Clark Nicol, G. S. Needham, Leonard and Ellis Smith, James H. Beebe, Benjamin Peck, Samuel Walker, Richard and Samuel Campbell, D. C. Moore and a score of others. From other localities came G. Anderson, J. Sid, W. H. Anderson, R. K. Stetson, Robert Middleton, Samuel Bartlett, Henry, S. P. and George H. Middleton (sons of Robert), and H. H. Campbell. H. J. and Daniel Bennett were making their second trip to Dickinson County, having been here previously in 1860-1.

Quite a large conmiunity was formed at Lakeville and a postoflice established, with H. J. Bennett as postmaster. This settlement was near the meeting point of four townships ‐ Lakeville, Excelsior, Okoboji and Westport. A schoolhouse was built, the largest one in the county at that time.

The remainder of the early history of settlement in the county will be reserved for the chapters on the respective townships and towns.


The first white child born in the county was Robert Wheelock Howe, son of Mr. and Mrs. O. C. Howe, his birth occurring in February, 1858. The first girl, and the second child born in the county, was Dena Barkman, daughter of Henry Barkman and wife, born in the summer of 1858.

The first funeral services in the county were held at Okoboji in the spring of 1858, for Daniel Poorman, a blacksmith from Newton, who was drowned in the lake. He was buried near the south end of the east shore of West Okoboji Lake.

The first marriage was that of William E. Root and Addie Ring, of Okoboji, in the spring of 1859. Doctor Prescott performed the ceremony. The second marriage was that of Abel Keene, of Mankato, and Carrie Doughty, of Center Grove, also in the spring of 1859, at the residence of W. B. Brown, R. Kingman officiating.


The first hardship encountered by the pioneer settler, while traveling overland to the new country, was the difficulty of travel. Mention has


been made before of the condition of the prairie country, particularly in the season of 1858, when the streams were swollen out of their banks, the land in large part inundated, and a total lack of bridges and passable roads. Add to these obstacles the slow ox-team, the cumbersome wagons and the trouble of getting the "outfit" over streams and across bottomless sloughs, and some idea of the task may be obtained. Oxen were the popular motive power of the early wagon train, because they required less care and feed than horses. Each wagon was drawn usually by two to four teams of oxen, and in a train there were from two to twelve wagons. Many of the wagons were so heavy that when a slough or stream had to be crossed the oxen from all the wagons were hitched to one wagon and it was drawn across. This was done in turn with each of the other wagons, many of which had a long rope attached for that purpose. Mr. R. A. Smith describes the process rather humorously: "In traveling, whenever a party reached a slough or marsh, or other place difficult to cross, it was customary to 'double up' and help each other over. This was done by driving up as near to the slough as could be done without miring down, and then one or more boys would take two or three yoke of cattle, or as many as were needed, and cable enough to reach to solid ground on the other side and cross over. The cables were then rigged from the team and wagon on the one side to the teams that had crossed over, and as soon as everything was in readiness the signal was given to start, when by dint of much yelling and whipping, and some swearing, which, under the mitigating circimistances, wasn't usually considered a very serious offense, the other side was usually reached without any mishap other than a general bespattering of everything with mud and water. It was absolutely necessary after once starting to keep going until solid ground was reached on the other side, since if by any unforeseen accident, a wagon should 'mire down' it would keep settling and the black, sticky mud would settle in around the wheels until it would be impossible to extricate it in any other manner than by unloading and prying out, and this in two or three feet of mud and water was no picnic. The process had to be repeated with variations until every wagon was over.

"In crossing streams that were too deep for fording, the method of procedure was somewhat different. It was customary to take the best wagon box in the outfit and caulk it, making it as nearly water-tight as possible. Cattle are natural swimmers and they seem to like it when they get used to it. They soon learn, upon arriving at a stream, to strike straight across and make a landing upon the farther side without any delay whatever. Upon arriving at a stream too deep for fording the wagon box that had been fitted up for the purpose would be taken off and transformed into a ferry boat. A cable would be rigged to each end


of it, when a boy would mount one of the oxen that had been trained for that kind of work, and swim the stream, holding the rope in his hand. Arriving at the opposite side, he would make fast his rope, turn his cattle loose and proceed at once to business, which was to ferry the balance of the party across. The first load to go over would of course be men enough to manage the ferry and take care of the goods as they were sent over. The wagons would now be drawn up to the bank of the stream, where they would be unloaded and their contents placed aboard the improvised ferry boat, and drawn over to the farther side by the men who had previously crossed over, and there unloaded again. The wagon box would then be drawn back and loaded and again sent over. This operation would be repeated and repeated until the contents of the wagons were over. Then the wagon boxes would be lashed down to the running gear and the wagons floated over. The cattle would then swim across, the balance of the party was ferried over and the labor of crossing the stream was finished."

It is easy to understand that this operation took from one to three days for completion, and that progress across the country was burdensome and slow.

Clothing and shoes were of the most primitive kind. Luxuries, such as tea, coffee and sugar, were unknown, and ordinary staple groceries were enjoyed by few, while corn, wheat and barley were offered as a substitute for coffee. "Prairie tea," as it was known, brewed from the leaves of the red-root so common on the prairie, was a favorite drink. Rawhide, sacking and skins of animals were the materials chiefly used for clothing. Comfort was the main consideration.

Fuel and the obtaining of it was an important item in the settler's account. There was timber in Dickinson County, but in groves and along the streams. Ofter a settler, upon claiming a bit of land, would purchase a portion of a timber grove for the wood alone, caring nothing for the ground. An owner of a wood lot would divide it up more or less systematically and legally among several of the nearby settlers and after the wood was taken from it, it was again sold for a very small sum. It is said that the three acres of the Okoboji Cemetery were once sold for $2.50.

Other settlers, however, were so unfortunate as to take claims many miles from a patch of timber and thus were compelled to adopt some sort of substitute for fuel. This led to the use of prairie hay for fuel. One writer claims that the use of this hay in this way originated in Dickinson County and was practiced as late as 1870. "In a short time the art of twisting hay for fuel came to be an acknowledged accomplishment. After throwing a lock of coarse slough hay upon the ground, placing the left foot upon it, and then with the right hand taking enough of the coarse grass to make a rope of the required size, twisting it hard and


drawing it out at the same time until it had reached the required length, then it was coiled back upon itself and the ends neatly secured, thus resembling in shape an enormous old-fashioned New England doughnut. In many families it came to be a part of the daily routine to twist hay enough in the evening to answer for the following day's fuel. The litter which the use of it caused was something to which it was difficult for the neat and thrifty housewife to accustom herself, but in the language of a sturdy boy of that period, "It was a heap better than freezing'."

Some clever inventions were made for the use of hay as a fuel. One man figured out a mechanical hay-twister; another a stove for burning the hay under pressure. Corn on the cob was also used for burning, as it made an excellent fire. On many a farm today corn-cobs are used for fuel, the heat from the blaze being exceedingly hot.

Iowa and Nebraska are known as the states of the sod house. It is true that in Iowa, in Dickinson County to be exact, they were not used to a great extent and then not for long, but they were here and assumed every form from a common hole in the side of a hill to a really pretentious structure for the kind. Braces were erected to hold the sod in place. The house usually took the shape of a "lean-to". They were substantial, but had a faculty of poorly resisting water. One settler described how a miniature rivulet coming down the side of the hill during one stormy night had gradually moistened the sod upon the roof and about morning precipitated it to the ground, covering everything, including himself, with a layer of moist earth.

Log cabins were the principal homes of the settlers. They were strong, weather-proof and comfortable, although small. A detailed description of the art of constructing a log house is printed in another part of this volume.


One of the chief occupations of the early residents, particularly during the time of the Civil War, was trapping. Fur was valuable at this time as it meant gold, which in itself was a very scarce medium in those days. During the '60s, it is said, Spirit Lake was the center of the largest fur business between Mankato and Sioux City. Otter, beaver, mink, muskrat and fisher were the animals sought for their valuable hides. The trappers usually made their plans and outlined their season's work about the first of September, usually two going into partnership. They had practically limitless territory in which to trap and hunt, the many lakes, sloughs and streams making a productive field. Each person tended and accounted for forty to sixty traps, a task which necessitated long marches each day across the prairie and through the sloughs. It is recounted that some hunters made thirty miles regularly every day to visit their traps.


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.


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


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 homestead.