Banjos and Booze

The year of 1893 was to go down in history as a year of recession--"depression" many people called it. Business was poor--money was very, very tight. There were a lot of business failures and even out in the farming areas the pinch was felt.

Rock Rapids started the year with optimism. The Lion Banjo Manufacturing Company was incorporated and started in business. The firm planned to manufacture banjos, using H.A. Middlebrooke's patent, which joined the head of the banjo to the neck with a metal yoke. This patent had been granted the year before and boosters were sure it would be the foundation of a substantial industry.

The new company was capitalized at $35,000. J.K.P. Thompson was the president; H.G. McMillen the vice-president; F.M. Thompson was general manager; Middlebrooke, the jeweler who had the patent, was secretary and H.B. Pierce was treasurer.

In February F.M. Thompson announced that a lot of machinery was being installed in the factory. This included a Pelton 8 h.p. water motor, power lathes, drills, band saws, etc.

Thompson and Middlebrooke went to Chicago to hire skilled workers and two were hired to move here and work in the factory.

In May a shipment of banjos and guitars made in the Rock Rapids factory were sent to the world's fair. These instruments were outstanding. The Review said they were "made of the most costly and handsome woods-curly walnut and Hungarian ash." August Carlsadt was hired from Chicago to become foreman of the guitar making department for the company.

People were talking about electric lights and there was hope that a company could be organized to start a generating plant. E. Huntington and O.P. Miller were both having new homes finished during the winter and they both decided to wire their homes for electricity, so that when it was available their homes would be ready.

In March the area got a lot of notoriety. Prize fighting was unlawful-but there was much interest in the "sport". A match was organized between Billy O'Donnell, Sioux City and Danny Daly of Omaha. The lightweights were to fight at an undisclosed site. Word got around that the fight would be near Manley, Iowa, but at the last minute a site on the state line, three miles from Rowena was selected. A special train came up from Sioux City, and was switched over and ran down to Rowena, and from there teams took the spectators to the fight site. The scrap started at 2:30 a.m. and it lasted until 7:30 a.m. The fighters used six-ounce gloves and fought under the Marquis of Queensbury rules. O'Donnell was knocked out once but was able to come back before the rest period was over. The fight went 81 rounds and was then called a draw. The fighters got the gate-55 people at $3 each-plus side bets.

The city election the early part of March was quiet. H.S. Bradley was named as mayor; J.H. Bahne and B.L. Richards were elected to the council; and E.T. Greenleaf was named to fill a vacancy on the council. A.J. Squier was elected to the paying job-that of street commissioner. Only 326 ballots were cast.

In the school election held two weeks later, there were 343 votes cast. The "regular" ticket won-putting W.E. Lockwood, Lon F. Chapin and George Gilman on the board.

A major social event of late March was the "book banquet" put on by the Ladies Reading Circle. The group was starting a library for Rock Rapids. There was a feast in the Knights of Pythias hall, after which those attending moved over to the Masonic hall where a program was presented. Mrs. Whitney gave a history of the four-year-old club and those present heard "feast of reason and a flow of soul". One hundred eighty-three volumes were contributed to the library.

Members of the council, at their next meeting, approved the use of the two rooms back of the council room for a city library.

There had been a number of fairs and race meets held in various communities throughout the county. In April a County Fair Association was organized. J.T. Fisher was the president; Jonathan Miller was vice-president; R.S. Matthews, secretary; L.J. Norton, assistant secretary; and H.G. McMillen treasurer. The group was organized to put on a real Lyon County Fair for the first time.

Liquor was a problem in the county and in Rock Rapids. In spite of the prohibition laws in Iowa, little was done to enforce these laws and every town had several saloons. At Doon the accepted procedure was for the saloons to be "fined" $50 each month. John Case refused to pay-so the authorities at Rock Rapids were notified and they went down and arrested Case charging him with 14 violations of the liquor laws. He was sentenced to $50 for each violation, or $700. He refused to pay again, so he was sentenced to 210 days in jail. Jake Minton and H. Hanson, who also had saloons were fined $200 and $50 respectively. When the officers arrived they found some liquor in the Case place, but Minton and Hanson had a wire from Rock Rapids before the officers arrived and their places were found free of alcoholic beverages. They paid their fines.

In July W.C. Montgomery of Lester started to do something about the saloon situation. He filed charges against all six saloons at Alvord. The keepers were taken into court and each fined $50-half of which was remitted. Montgomery said he was going to carry the campaign into every town in the county.

A large group of citizens were very much upset about the liquor traffic, so in August they formed a corporation, to work for the enforcement of the laws on the subject. Each of the four saloons in Rock Rapids were paying the $50 monthly "fines". The corporation went to court and got injunctions against them. It was believed that the injunction would close the saloons-but it did not. The County attorney, James Parsons, refused to serve the injunction. He said that enforcement of the prohibition laws had been left up to the local communities. In Rock Rapids and Lyon County, he said, the people had elected officials who were not in favor of closing the saloons, and they would have to elect other officers if they wanted them closed.

Parsons said that liquor was the issue between the democratic and republican parties-and that all other issues were of little importance locally.

The election in the fall of 1893 was a hot one. Republicans swept out almost all of the democrats who had state offices-but in Lyon County in a vote that was almost neck to neck, voters went democratic. Only one republican county officer was named. Boise, the democratic candidate for governor, carried the county by 17 votes-with just over 2,000 votes being cast.

The Enforecement League was not daunted. They got a court order and seized a carload of beer and assorted liquors which belonged to the Schiltz Brewing Company and which was stored in the cold storage house of George Ballinger, who was the agent for Schiltz. The booze was transferred to George Lunt's grain warehouse and a guard was stationed to watch it. Ballinger then got another court order to have the liquor transferred back to the cold storage plant to keep it from going bad-there it was to be guarded also. However in some manner the liquor got loaded into a boxcar and was scheduled for shipment out of the state, when the word leaked out. Another court order was secured by the Enforcement League to seize and destroy the booze. The car was opened and men were stationed outside the car to break in the heads of the barrels as they were rolled out of the car. Reports were that about two-thirds of the barrels came out of the car and had their heads broken in, but about a third were rolled out the other door and disappeared. The Schiltz Company later got most of its barrels back.

In December members of the city council decided something had to be done about the saloon situation, so they doubled the monthly "fine" from $50 to $100. This hurt-one saloon closed immediately, another started operations as a "temperance saloon".

Community pride in Rock Rapids was high. People wanted a public park so they went to the island under the Burlington Bridge and cut out the underbrush and found it was ideally fitted for their park purpose.

Gus Webber started construction of a steam launch to use on the river. The launch was built to carry 13 people and it was powered with a two horsepower steam engine.

In June the park was the site of a great encampment of Veterans of the Civil war. The Northwest Iowa Veterans Association meeting was the largest ever held in the area. More than 525 veterans were camped out at the park in rows of tents. Then more than 200 others stayed at hotels and with friends in the town. The biggest thing about the meeting were the "campfires" around which the veterans gathered to swap experiences and reminisce about the big war. The grand parade was held on Wednesday and five bands and drum corps participated. More than 10,000 people were reported to be in town for the events. Military companies from Hull and Luverne were present and had competitive drills. The Reporter was issued as a daily newspaper during the week to keep veterans informed about daily events. Special trains brought veterans and their families as well as interested spectators from all over the section. Sells Circus was here and provided shows for the public.

Money was getting tighter by the day. Throughout the nation banks were closing and business establishments were failing. At Ellsworth the bank was closed. C.C. Crandall, who was the principal officer of the bank, also had a small bank at Sioux Falls. He was arrested for forgery. Rock Rapids banks announced immediately that everything here, as far as the banks were concerned, was in good shape. There was no money for new loans, but they expressed the hope that conditions would improve in the fall.

The First National bank of Rock Rapids published a statement showing that it had footings of $177,367 with loans and discounts amounting to $131,665. The national bank examiner was here and checked the bank and said there were less than $2,000 in past due loans in the bank's portfolio.

Four banks at LeMars closed, due to the tight money and as a result funds of the Doon bank were tied up. The bank closed from Friday until Tuesday, when it got straightened out and again opened for business.

The firm of Hastings & Bradley, pioneer merchants in the community, failed and was taken over by the First National bank. Assets were said to be about $15,000-but debts were about 50 percent higher than that figure.

The 1893 graduating class of the Rock Rapids high school completed it's work and graduating exercises were held at the opera house. There were seven members of the class: Jessie Miller, Leonard Holmes, Nellie Stokes, Alfred Sutter, Julie Bahne, Lois Wulf and Omer Thompson. Jessie Miller was the valedictorian. Her address at the commencement was "the Voice of God in History."

Rock Rapids was gaining national fame for the number of fast horses raised and owned in the area. The "American Trotter" devoted the lead story in its June issue to these horses and listed about 25 of the horses it considered outstanding, their breeding and records, and their owners. These horses were all from Rock Rapids area.

County officials announced that the total valuation for taxation in Lyon County had reached the figure of $3,036,079. Nine-tenths of that amount, it was stated, was farmlands.

The shadier element broke into the news on occasion, also. Maude Talbot was arrested for operating a house of ill fame. An 18-year-old girl, an inmate of the house, was also arrested, but a man in the house when the officers arrived was not bothered-the warrants called for arrest of women only. The Talbot affair was dismissed when she and the girl agreed to leave town at once and not return.

Social affairs and public entertainments were having a prominent place. A local home talent theatre company was presenting "The Queen of Fame" and Billy Marke and his noted theatre company were coming to town. The people liked very much the performance of Beach & Bowers minstrels, who played here to large crowds.

Economic conditions continued to deteriorate. By fall the country was flooded with vagrants who were begging and stealing on every opportunity. The first week in September, 16 vagrants were arrested in Rock Rapids and chased out of town.

Near Doon, the body of Lewis Elmer Shatswell, 12-year-old son of Mr. And Mrs. John Shatswell, was found. He had been shot. The lad had been missed from home for three days before the body was found. The crime was blamed on some of the floating vagrants who were found throughout the area, but no one was ever charged.

Two successive nights an effort was made to hold up Herman Hasche, a farmer near Doon, when he drove across a small bridge en route to his farm home. He escaped both times. Conditions were so tense that most farmers were going about armed.

Late in September the safe at the Kahl Brothers store in Doon was blown and a considerable sum of money as well as some merchandise was stolen. The job was credited to professionals. A hole was drilled in the top of the safe, explosive poured in, then the safe was surrounded with bags of flour to muffle the sound. The blast tore the safe apart. It was thought that the man responsible took what he wanted and left on the early morning train for Sioux City.

Two events at Larchwood marred the fall. A threshing crew was working near that community when 19-year-old William Cook of Waterloo, died after he was caught in the belt, had one arm torn off and the other chewed up badly. Surgeons from Sioux Falls came down and amputated what was left of the arm, but the young man lived only two days.

Then the last week in September fire got started in the machine shop of E. Paulson & Company. It got out of hand, spread to a small building next door owned by Charles Kehoe which housed a saloon. Then it burned down the R.A. Slyter livery stable and finally it destroyed Walter Bradley's lumberyard.

In October Governor Horace Boise came to Lyon County for a political rally. Boise, as it proved later, was fighting a losing battle. He was met at Estherville by James Parsons and the two came on to Rock Rapids. The train was several hours late, but it was met by the band and a large crowd of citizens. The political meeting at the opera house was big-more than 200 were seated inside and many more stood outside the building, even though it rained and the weather was bad. "Horace Boise" clubs from Doon and Larchwood were on hand for the speech.

A year which had started on a high note, was ending on a depressed note. Banks said times were getting better, but money was very tight.

An epidemic of Lagrippe had been plaguing the community all fall-and late in October little Kittie Cooper came down sick and her case was diagnosed as scarlet fever, one of the most dread diseases of the time.

The seventh grade, of which Kittie was a member, was immediately sent home, and kept there until it was certain that no other members of the class had contracted the disease.

The depression of the nineties was hard on people of northwest Iowa-but they were pioneers and they could and did take it. The year was filled with troubles-sickness and controversy. The controversy was mostly about saloons and prohibition.

Iowa had been legally dry-but at least three saloons operated openly in Rock Rapids-and there were saloons in all of the other towns of the county. The saloonkeepers each month paid a fine to the town-usually for disorderly conduct-and then were left alone to operate pretty much as they pleased.


At their first meeting in January the town council decided that the saloons were not paying enough into the community coffers so they decided that the fines in the future would be $100 a month. The saloonkeepers refused to pay. Peak & Ferris later did pay $75 as did Sam Boone.

Later that month the noted temperance leader Alex Cooper came to town and conducted a series of meetings. He got 600 people to sign the pledge not to drink alcoholic beverages. Realizing that much of the problem was that there was no place for men to gather, it was decided that a reading room be set up. This was done. Coffee and crackers were served and there was a smoking room. A stand also sold fruit, etc.

An incident was reported about the Cooper meetings which were being held. At one of the meetings one of the overhead lamps fell down during the meeting and some of the oil spilled on the coat of one of those present, D.S. Doyle. His coat caught fire and a small panic developed. However the people were calmed down, the fire put out and there were no serious consequences.

Prohibition efforts continued. In April the WCTU submitted a petition to the council asking that the saloons be shut down. Nothing was done by the council-because the General Assembly was working on a new liquor bill. Cooper came back to Rock Rapids for another series of meetings and newspaper reports said that 800 people attended.

By May the General Assembly had passed the "Martin" bill. Under this bill a fee of $600 was ordered for a state license. Any saloon had to be operated without curtains or shuttered doors. Those proposing to operate a saloon must have a petition signed by at least 65 percent of the voters favoring the operation-and they must get the consent of all property owners within 50 feet of the proposed location of the establishment.

Acting under this bill, the council added a $900 town license fee.

Lon Chapin, the editor of the Review wrote that there must be a lot of money in the saloon business, because the three Rock Rapids watering places would have to pay $4,500 in taxes each year. He figured that they must take in at least $12,000 to $15,000 for booze sold to Rock Rapids and area people. Chapin said that would provide jobs for 30 men and support that many families. He said it would build a college every other year, build an electrical generating plant every year, pave the streets and put in a sewer system several times every decade.

In June the county board of supervisors decided that they ought to get into the act, so they voted an additional tax of $350 on each saloon for a six months period.

In August Cooper again came to Rock Rapids. Then it was reported that 1100 people had signed the "Cooper" pledge. The WCTU was very active-but the saloon business seemed to operate much as in the past.

The depression started to hurt local businesses severely. The C.E. Henderson Company, pioneer merchants closed their door for lack of money to operate.

In February an appeal was made to everyone in the community who had work to be done, to do it now, so that the mechanics and laborers could have something to do and money to feed their families. That month Mack & Sinclair closed their business. They held a big sale to dispose of dishes, lamps, notions, flowerpots, etc.

In July the Lion Banjo company, in which people of the community had taken great pride and had great hopes for growth and progress stopped operations. It was said that better machinery would be needed, and that business could not be resumed until the depression eased up.

Railroad service was disrupted-first by a strike of the coal miners and then by the Pullman company workers. Trains were running behind schedule if at all. Carloads of produce-butter and eggs, were held over at central points until they spoiled.

In spite of the hard times there was a lot of social activity in Rock Rapids. A very elite social group had developed and they had entertainments, dinners, and parties that attracted much attention. This group was composed of the Millers, the Thompsons, the Parkers, Huntingtons, Casadys, Bradleys and others.

It wasn't just the elite who were active socially either. Dances and entertainments of many kinds were held. Traveling show companies came to town almost every month. One which proved especially popular was the appearance of Blind Boone and his troupe. Boon, a blind Negro, was a very accomplished pianist and he drew much praise for the performances given.

In January of 1894 the Women's Reading circle reported that there were more than 500 volumes in the city library. A drive was started to raise funds for a separate library and gymnasium-up to that time the library had occupied small rooms back of the council chamber. By February $2,500 had been raised for the new building. In April the fund had grown to $4,000 and it was expected that a total of $5,000 would be raised.

Thirty-three members of the Banjo and Guitar club gave a concert in April. This was sponsored by the Lion Banjo Company-which not long afterwards went out of business.

One of the entertainments which came to town was the display of a nine-hundred-year-old petrified Norwegian. Chapin, editor of the Review commented that "giants of that class are now being manufactured in this country regularly."

In May 1894 the new church being built by the Ebenezer Presbyterian congregation, on the state line north of Rock Rapids, was completed. Ira Roseberry and P.J. Allbright did the work. The building was 24 x 42 feet in size. German services were held on Sunday mornings, and in the afternoons the same services were repeated in English.

Contracts for the new Christian church in Rock Rapids were let in July, John Olsen, local contractor got the contract on his bid of $3,175. Church leaders thought with the plumbing and heating the structure would cost $4,000.

One of the big social events held in the county in July 1894 was the butcher's picnic held at Doon. A special train brought hundreds from Sioux City and Omaha for the event. They brought along a brass band, there was a bowery dance, a couple of stands were operated and there was "lots of beer". Feature of the occasion was the contest to see who could skin, and split a carcass of beef in the shortest time. An Omaha man won the contest in five minutes and 32 seconds. The second fastest was a Sioux City man who finished the job in six minutes and five seconds.

The last of October the first of a proposed series of lectures was held. It was hoped that the program could be expanded into a five-program lyceum series. It would be necessary, the newspaper said to sell 150 tickets for the series at $1.50 and $1.00.

In December a group of local people formed a Unitarian congregation. They joined with the denomination at Luverne and hired the Rev. Charles Graves of Anamosa, to serve the two groups.

Newcomers to Rock Rapids in February of 1894 were J.F. Nagle and Tom Delaney. They came from Marcus, Iowa and bought out the Penman Implement Company. The men were long prominent in local business circles.

New faces were coming into the county regularly-in spite of the hard times. The latter part of February a train of 28 carloads of emigrants, mostly from Scott County, came to go onto farms in this county.

As spring advanced weather conditions were very favorable for the planting of crops and farmers had high hopes. Pat McGuire, one of the county's leading farm operators planted his corn in April-he said it was only the second time in 16 years that this had been possible.

By mid-June farmers were very much worried. No rain had fallen and crops were deteriorating rapidly. It was said that unless there was rain within a week everything would be gone. Wells in Rock Rapids had started to fail, there were restrictions on using water. Water was to be pumped out of Moon creek and allowed to seep down into the well, with the hope that it would purify itself as it seeped through the sand.

Nearly two inches of rain fell on June 20. This was the first rain since May 4. It helped, but the crop was badly damaged. Early in August temperatures soared over 100 degrees-reached a high of 107.

Land had been selling all through the spring months at $20 to $25 an acre-although the sales were not as frequent as had been the case in past years. The drought slowed things down considerably and prices sagged. By fall most sales were about $5 an acre less than had been the case at the start of the year.

By fall the story was bleak. Receipts of grain in Rock Rapids for the month of September were 400 loads below the amount brought in during September 1893.

In December sales of grain were almost cut in half that of the year before. For the second week in December only 190 loads of grain were brought in. This was 152 loads less than the year before. Prices being offered were wheat, 48 cents a bushel; oats, 26 cents a bushel; corn, 42 cents a bushel; barley, 45 cents a bushel; flax, $1.25 a bushel. Hogs were bringing $3.75 per hundredweight, while the price for the butcher cattle was $2.50 per hundredweight.

More trouble came in December of 1894. Hog cholera had showed up in the county earlier in the fall-and it continued to increase in intervening weeks. Hundreds of animals were dying.

In spite of the hard times the community was not lying dormant. Charles Libby bought a street sprinkler to be used in keeping the dust down.

In May plans were made for the graduation of another class from the high school. The graduates were Hans Roan, Henry Kenyon, Elvin Shipman, Lorin Roach, Fred Manning, Katie Fitzgerald, Lydia McCutcheon, Minnie Brown and Nellie Flick. Manning was voted the valedictorian of the class.

In June the first race meet of the Lyon County Fair association was held north of town at the new track east of the railroad. 1.300 people attended one of the sessions and "probably not more than 100 looked over the fence to save a quarter." There were horse races and also bicycle races.

In August Superintendent Blanchard reported that enrollments in the school had doubled since 1890. He reported that in 1887-88 there were 186 in the schools and that enrollment for 1893-94 was 535.

September saw a grand reunion of the survivors of the 21st Iowa volunteers held in Rock Rapids. It was a big affair, but nothing like the great encampment held a few years previously.

A good idea of the nationality of the people who were coming to Lyon County to settle was found in the figures for naturalizations at the September term of court. Of the 25 who took out citizenship, 10 were from Norway, 11 from Germany, one each from Denmark, England, Canada and Ireland.

In October the first concrete sidewalks were laid in Rock Rapids. These were said to be much better than the wooden walks which had previously been standard. The new walks cost over slightly more than those of wood, but they were much superior in every other way and would last much longer.

Twice in October there were fires at the tow mill. One morning workmen coming to the plant, opened the doors, and a pile of rags which had been used for painting burst into flames. The building was pretty well filled with smoke, but little damage was done. A week later, a fire started on the newly painted roof. This was extinguished before the firemen could get to the scene.

Dr. Gilbert Cottam, who had practiced with Dr. G.C. Wallace until two years previously, returned to Rock Rapids and reentered partnership with Dr. Wallace. Dr. Cottam had gone to St. Louis where he had a two-year internship in the St. Louis hospital, specializing in surgery.

Other doctors too were trying out new ideas. Dr. Vail installed a static electricity machine. The machine was supposed to be very helpful in treating many diseases.

All fall there had been much sickness and to the dismay of the people diptheria was spreading. Many causes for the situation were advanced. It was said that this disease was always bad when there was a drought and water in the wells became low and contaminated. Another reason for its spread was said to be the practice in schools of collecting all the pencils at the end of the day, and then distributing them again in the morning. The pencils were all mixed together, and the children-as children always do-were putting them in their mouths. Many cases of typhoid were also reported.

There was much of tragedy in the community-many accidents occurred and death reached into numerous homes. Eight-year-old Ray Fitzsimmons drowned in upper mill pond in May. He had been playing in a skiff which was pulled up on the bank. He went to the back of the boat and his weight evidently lifted the front of the boat and it floated away from shore. He fell in and drowned in about nine feet of water.

In July, Cora, the four-year-old daughter of Nic Kock, Allison township farmer, was caught in the sickle of a harvester and horribly mangled. She lived only a few hours.

In December little 13-year-old Ellen Carlson was skating on upper mill pond. The ice broke under her weight and she drowned. It was near midnight when her body was recovered.

Rock Rapids was served in 1894 by a privately owned water company. The company had wells north of town near Moon creek, and a pump house at the end of Boone Street. The system was powered by a steam engine-and it had a very unpleasant whistle that could be sounded when people were to quit using water-or when they could begin using it. The company was managed by H.B. Pierce, local attorney, abstractor and insurance and land man.

In May it looked as though the plant would have to shut down because of the coal miners strike. Coal was just not available. Pierce had written and wired all over the country trying to get coal, but could find none. He did find one company which said it had hired men, was mounting gatling guns around its mine and would start operations in the near future. In Rock Rapids it was reported there was only enough coal to keep the plant operating for a week.

In mid-summer the Illinois people who owned the water system leased it to E.C. Rohr, who would manage it, and Gus Weber, who had been the operating engineer since the system was installed.

The fate of the water works was very much in doubt. In November a party of men from Peru, Ind., offered to buy the water works and put in a new electric system, if the community would grant them a franchise for both systems. Mayor Greenleaf wouldn't go along with this. He believed that such franchise should be kept by the town and that the town should built its own electric system.

Eighteen hundred ninety-four was an election year. All year long there had been meetings, charges and counter charges, and political demonstrations. Most of the county officers were democrats, while the state had returned to the republican party at the last election.

This year, in addition to the republican and democratic candidates a populists ticket was named. The populists never made much headway, but were a group which flourished for a short time, probably as a result of the depression.

Nominated by the populists were: George Hitchings, Larchwood, for auditor; John Quinn, Doon, for recorder; John DeBoer, Liberal township, for clerk; and J.A. Crouse, Rock Rapids, for county attorney.

The newspapers didn't give the populist candidates any chance of winning office, but both sides feared that they might pull some votes away from their established parties.

When the election was held in November republicans made a clean sweep of all the offices. First reports indicated that George L. Martin, the democrat had won over R.A. Bell, the republican, for county recorder. The first returns showed Martin ahead one vote-1102-1101. On the official canvass the vote was shown to be for Bell by a margin of five votes-and a contest was filed. When the official contest was held, Bell won-with a three vote majority. The republican majority overall was reported as being 400.

Republicans of course could not have a victory of this magnitude without a celebration, so a special train came up from Doon with party members, the band was out and there was a grand parade through town to the corner of Maine and Marshall streets, where a huge bonfire was held.


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