The Beginning - Part 2--


With the opening of spring of 1871 the rush for land continued--a group of 25 families from Appleton, Wisconsin, under the leadership of W. B. May and Anson Tolman, took up land on the Little Rock River.

This spring saw the start of mail service from Luverne, Minn. to LeMars, Ia., by way of Rock Rapids-the first in the county.

During the summer of 1871 work was starting laying out and improving the site for the town of Larchwood. J. W. Fell of Bloomington, Ill., was the chief promoter for this community and he was reported to have planted something over 100,000 trees, mostly Larch, around the site of that proposed community.

Eighteen hundred seventy-one saw the first newspaper established in Lyon County. The Rock Rapids Journal was edited by C. E. Bristol, who also had a newspaper at LeMars. The Journal was printed at LeMars. Obviously, from items in the early issues, it was not dependable as to distribution-probably on account of the problem of getting the printed papers to Rock Rapids.

Bristol, who edited the paper, was also an itinerant preacher-and he frequently asked for money to help keep the church services going-as well as his paper. He had taken a 40-acre homestead in Lyon County-and seemed to think that this county held tremendous promise.

The first issue of the Rock Rapids Journal was dated July 25, 1871. The publication had as its motto: "With malice towards none and with charity for all." In his salutatory Mr. Bristol Said,

"To our friends and we hope they will be our patrons, we have withdrawn the quill from behind our ear for this first editorial in Lyon County. And of course, in making our 'debut' we shall have something to say as well as to make our very best bow, to the reading public.

"To look abroad over our unsurpassed prairies, we cannot if we would, forget that this is a new county, but the soil is being rapidly turned to the sun in alternate sections all over this great northwest and it makes it resemble a mammoth checkerboard from the air.

"In presenting to our readers, from week to week, the columns of the Rock Rapids Journal will endeavor not to slide into the too common fault of supposing that because we live in Lyon County, beautiful and rich though it may be, therefore it is the 'hub' of all things.

"We will try to remember that we have sister counties all around us equally meritorious and equally beautiful to look upon and indulge in no spirit that will prevent our seeing and helping in the welfare of all. Of course, Lyon County will be our own, containing ours and our sanctum therefore dear, but we shall try and not indulge in clannish spirit and ever remember that we only rise as others rise around us. While we would guard well the interest in our home, we remember that the end is best served by guarding as well the interests of all that join us widening out to counties, states and people.

"Thus, catholic in spirit, we mean to help the welfare of all, bidding each a hearty 'God's speed' in everything that makes men better and leads them on to happiness and prosperity. We pledge ourselves to no faction or sectional scheme that shall not have for it's aim the bettering of the public interests or avowed aim to bring before our friends, in as concise a manner as possible, a word picture of our beautiful country and it's advantages and it's disadvantages not concealed, or its beauties overdrawn and concealed, or its beauties overdrawn and then bid those writing home to 'look on this picture and then on that' and decide where they can do best for themselves and their children and act accordingly.

"Some of our friends say to us that as we go into the editorial chair "Now Mr. B, set up the county just as strong as your conscience will allow you to.' Our answer to them is 'not so, my dear sir.' Truth is ever stronger than anything. A plain straightforward statement of truth and all sides of our country (for she will bear to be looked at on all sides) will conduce more to permanent prosperity than any overdrawn statement can. One great error of the West has been overstatement of facts insomuch as to be proverbial for exaggeration. To such overdrawn picture comes a sickening reaction which we wish not to inflict on our young, rich and vigorous soil.

"Give her a fair show and she will attract to herself men who mean business and who come from homes and know how to make them. Men who have eyes and know how to use them; men who are not afraid of the rough handle of pioneer life; men who are not too proud to be poor. We want no kid-gloved gentlemen, pampered in the lamp of luxury with lily-white hands who are ashamed or afraid to toil. We have no place for that class of bipeds.

"We want men here who are anxious to better their conditions and make for themselves and their loved ones a home and a home worth having. Men who will accept the proposition that it takes hard knocks to accomplish great things. Such men, willing to labor, have learned to wait till the harvest can ripen, will find here one of the most beautiful countries the sun ever shone upon, where land is cheap and within the reach of the horny hands. We welcome all such with genuine heartiness that comes from hopeful hearts.

"There is a future before us that is great with promise. We have just been out over our 40 acres, broken this year, and such soil with such seasons as this congenial climate, cannot help but return bountiful harvests and we propose to 'hold the plow and drive.'

"We cannot give our friends all our time in the sanctum or pulpit for we came out here to make our home and we are under the blessing of heaven, going to do it and do it ourselves, remembering that if we want our business done 'go and not send' and we propose to go, nor do we propose to hire someone else to write for us in the sanctum, but do it ourselves. We of course solicit communications from our friends and shall be at home to receive them nor allow the devil to officiate in the absence of the boss.

"We may waste the midnight oil to do all this, but we know how that is done and our lamp burns clear while reason deeper digs beneath the moon."

Mr. Bristol, the editor, continues with his opening paper and says under an editorial he entitled political:

"We were a soldier and our vote goes the same way the bullets did. We wish to be unqualifiedly understood as a Republican. We shall hold our columns open to the principals of the party and would give as our first toast a parody on Webster's' Our Party, "May she ever be right, but our party, right or wrong. If wrong, stand by her to right her, so long as there is any hope, and jump off, if jump off we must, only when she goes down, never to rise again.'

"We are sorry for the opposing party in the northwest and especially in Lyon County, as there are not enough of them to fill in the blanks on the ticket for county officers. In our county (we cannot speak with knowledge of other counties,) we are nearly all Americans and Republicans.

"At the extreme west is a large settlement of Norwegians on the Big Sioux River-stirring, live men. The center and southern portion is settled by good fellows native to American soil and we are glad our home is among them and in the blessing of Heaven, we expect Lyon County will not take a course politically to disgrace the name of the hero she bears.

"Yet, while we are unqualifiedly Republican, we would not be so political that we could see nothing right among our Democratic friends. We shall try in all our political affairs to adhere to the motto we have chose and prove to our patrons and enemies (politically for we have none otherwise) that we have 'charity for all and malice toward none.'

"In all matters pertaining to the interest of our county, we neither propose ourself nor to allow others, to throw dirt through our columns. Personal animosity need not expect space be given, in which to vent personal spite. We say to such, rise above personalities if you expect room in our columns or sanctuary. We shall hold ourselves free to say what we think of public men and measures and will give others the same chance to criticize them."


"We are often asked by letter and otherwise, "Are there more homesteads not taken in Lyon County?" It is commonly said that the last government land in Iowa is entered. But, we ask our friends not to be deceived nor diverted from this northwestern Iowa. "Contesting of claims will open lively next spring as the tide of immigration again sets it's face westward. There is plenty of land yet that can be had by actual settlers who are wise men. So come on 'Don't be alarmed' for Uncle Sam is rich enough to give all a farm.

"We are often asked "Tell me what I must do to pre-empt a quarter section so it will hold until I can bring my family (or come myself as the case may be) in the spring." To pre-empt a quarter section it is only necessary that you locate your quarter section by aid of surveyors, whose business it is to help settlers for which you are to pay his fees, usually from $5 to $8. Then yourself, or your agent, go to the land office in Sioux City and file on the given quarter section, where you get a receipt covering the quarter section. This prevents anybody else from entering a claim for six months. If you are on the land by the expiration of that time then you have another six months to make the necessary improvements 'prove up' as it is called and get deed for your land.

"If you do not choose to pay for your land, then you can give up your pre-emption paper or what is called abandon your claim to the government and then by paying into the land office yourself, approximately $18 you can homestead the same quarter section. The pre-emption paper can be handled by your agent, but the homestead must be personally done. We say this much because we know many a man east, like myself doesn't know what or how these things are done.

"In this connection, we would say each of the gentlemen whose card appears in our paper as surveyors and real estate agents are reliable men. All parties sending them money, writing for information or writing to us will not be humbugged."

Bristol in mid-August reported on a trip to the West End of the county where he spent the night at Beloit with E. W. Lewis. On that trip he saw his first Indian since coming to the area. Beloit, he reported was a growing city with a mill, a dry goods store, grocery, implement house which also sold nursery stock.

George W. Warfield, the auditor of Woodbury County, gave notice on August 22 that a vote would be held October 10, 1871 to organize Lyon County. To be elected were a treasurer, auditor, sheriff, clerk of the district court, recorder, superintendent of common schools and three members of a board of supervisors. Also in the two established townships-Lyon and Rock, there were to be elected three trustees, two constables, a clerk, an assessor, and a road superintendent. The voting was to take place at a schoolhouse in Lyon Township-section 34, township 99 and range 48. In Rock Township the voting was to be in section 32, township 100, range 45. With the increasing population of the county, the splitting off from Lyon Township a Doon Township was to be voted on. This was to include township 98 and the south half of township 99, ranges 43, 44, 45, 46.

Another election was called for September 4-for Lyon Township voters to decide whether a special tax of five percent on all taxable property should be levied to be given to the Sioux City and Pembina Railroad, who planned to build up the Sioux River Valley from
Sioux City.

Industry was valued in the early days-and S. L. Bailey late in August of 1871, started construction of a solid rock dam on the Sioux River, to provide water power for a sawmill to cut up the cottonwood which abounded along the rivers. He expected to be able to sell this lumber at $10 per thousand feet-about a fifth the price of lumber which had to be brought in by freight wagons from LeMars.

The matter of where the county seat was to be located had started coming up periodically. Beloit thought it should be the seat for the new county's government, and Rock Rapids people were insistent that as it was centrally located-it should be chosen. The McGregor Railroad, which had property in Lyon County and which planned a line through this county, offered to give the county 25 acres for a court house, 20 acres for a fairgrounds, if the county seat were established in Rock Rapids. Wm. M. Mays, one of the most influential of the settlers in Rock Rapids, said he would give 40 acres if Rock Rapids was chosen. With the promise of the railroad company that they would have their lines through the county, "before snow flew in 1872" the prospect for progress in the new county was great.

The elections were held and the new government for Lyon County was chosen. Messrs. J. S. Howell, C. H. Johnson and H. T. Helgerson were to be the supervisors and early in December they went to Sioux City to be sworn in.

On December 12, 1871 it was announced that the new board of supervisors would meet at the office of the county auditor in Beloit the first Monday in January. It was also announced by James H. Wagner, the newly elected treasurer, that $32,000 in taxes would be payable in Lyon County-and that for the first time, in 1872-the taxes would be paid in Lyon County, rather than in Sioux City.


At that first meeting of the Lyon County Board of Supervisors the new officers were sworn in. They were: D. C. Whitehead, clerk; Charles Schultz, sheriff; James H. Wagner, treasurer; C. D. Goetz, auditor; and Thomas Thorson, recorder.

Best news of the New Year-a mail route was to be established from Spencer to Sioux Falls, via Rock Rapids, and also another route from LeMars to Beloit.

Hope was high that winter of 1872. Meetings were held and plans made for a fair to be held in the fall. The settlers had get togethers; they worked together; they had worship services in the various homes.

Frequent mention is made of the "healthful climate" of the northwest Iowa-and no deaths were reported.

The tide of those seeking new homes in northwest Iowa was swelling rapidly. The Vidette, at LeMars, reported on March 19, 1872 that "Five carloads of Hollanders arrived early in the month, nine more carloads on the 13th and seven carloads on the 15th." These settles were mainly headed for Sioux County, but some came in Lyon County. That same issue of the LeMars paper (edited by Bristol of the Rock Rapids Journal) reported that 72 covered wagons had left Fort Dodge with their goal as Lyon County.

Travel was slow-and it was often hard. Bridges were non-existent and spring floods were holding travelers up in many cases. To meet the needs of travelers two ferries were established in April of 1872-one at the forks near Doon and the other one at Rock Rapids. Now, it was said, "travelers could reach Luverne, Minn., high water or low..and there would be no more detention of the mail by impassable streams."

Early Lyon County history is filled with reports about the "bridge warrants." These were promises by the county to pay certain sums, and many were issued to pay for bridges-some built, some not-some were built and shortly washed away by rampant streams.

Editor Bristol pleaded with officials to stop issuing the bridge warrants as the bridge fund was already badly overdrawn. He also pleaded with the people not to let the speculators beat them down on the price of the warrants issued for public works. That there were speculators in these warrants and later in county bonds, is evident by advertisements in the early day papers offering to buy these warrants for cash."

There were other problems in the early days of Lyon County-one of which was the claim jumpers. Those who homesteaded had to file on the land, live on it within a certain period, and make improvements. Some of the early day compliance was probably not exact-and there were those on hand, ready to try and step into such situations and grab off the land.

D. C. Whitehead, who had bought the Rock Rapids Journal from C. E. Bristol, wrote "Any measure that settlers may be obliged to resort to protect themselves are but the dictates of common justice, and our voice and pen shall not be lifted against them, if they measure out summary justice to all such thieving. Mildly speaking, a little lynching may be necessary."

Settlement was proceeding rapidly. Where in 1871 there was little but sod on the prairies of Lyon County, 10,000 acres were said to be planted to crops in 1872.

In May that year the supervisors gave notice that they would let contracts for the construction of two bridges across the Rock River-to be built either of wood or iron. They were to have 100-foot spans and the abutments were to be 20 feet high.

There was a minimum of tragedy in the early history of Lyon County-but tragedy came with people. And it left its mark. Early in May of 1872 Col. May's young son had gone to a neighbors, "Mr. Roberts," to help them plant corn. After the work the youngster started to put a shot gun into the wagon, and one barrel went off, the charge catching him in the chin and killing him outright. Then a couple of weeks later fire struck at the fine home of the May's and completely destroyed it. The May home was shelter for four families at the time. The loss was estimated at $2500.

Dissatisfaction with the operation of the county government was growing-and petitions were circulated to change the number of supervisors from three to five. It was a time of contention and lawsuits were frequent. The little town of Rock Rapids had four lawyers-and all of them were kept busy with litigation. Suits to have warrants "bonded" by the county were frequent-and almost always the plaintiff's won and their claims were put into bond status.

Buildings were going up rapidly throughout the county-and especially in Rock Rapids, where more and more signs pointed to its eventual selection as the county seat. Crops that year of 1872 were good. The prospect was promising.

Social gatherings were frequent. Dances were held on many occasions. The people went into the winter with high hopes for the future.


The need for industry was early recognized and in February of 1873 a local corporation was formed to improve business of the area. J. S. Howell, D. C. Whitehead, T. K. Bradley, O. A. Cheney, J. F. Eccelston and C. H. Moon incorporated the "Rock Rapids Waterpower Improvement, Milling and Manufacturing Co." The firm planned to build a woolen mill, a paper mill, two flouring mills, and an implement manufacturing plant, to be powered from a series of dams. It was planned to raise $75,000 for the corporation, but evidently the project did not get off the ground. Later on two of the proposed dam sites were developed-one just north and one just south of Rock Rapids.

Other projects for community development being pushed in the late days of that winter of 1872-73 included a railroad line from Sibley to Sioux Falls, through Rock Rapids, and a forestry company to grow timber and hedges.

More tragedy struck early in February when a sudden blizzard struck and Mr. Jenkins, the bridge company agent, was caught between Little Rock and Rock Rapids and died. A man by the name of "Brady" also caught in the storm, lost his limbs as the result of freezing and exposure. There was an immediate demand for the building of some sort of a halfway house between Little Rock and Rock Rapids, and it was suggested that hedges should be planted along the whole distance to give some protection from the storms.

The big issue as to the location of the county seat came to a head in February of 18873. District Judge Ford named three commissioners, who were to consider the matter and make the decision as to where the new county seat would be located.

Here is the report of the final consideration of the matter and the reaching of a decision which ultimately made Rock Rapids the "big" town in the county and meant the gradual demise of Beloit.

Under the heading "Rock Rapids Ahead-The Roaring Lyon Has Taken Its Seat" the Rock Rapids Review of March 8, 1873, told of the commissioners' meeting which picked Rock Rapids as the county seat for Lyon County.

"D. L. Riley, B. F. McCormick and Mark Burket, the commissioners appointed by Judge Ford for locating the County Seat of Lyon County, came forth last Tuesday and took dinner at the Hotel. The importance of their meeting was surrounded by no little curiosity, while local interest, party strife, and other hindrances caused some profound thinking, developed many faces to a prodigious length, and others into a still bold expression of doubt. The barroom became packed to its utmost capacity with these anxious waiters.

"The legal custodians then retired to a private room for the purpose of examining the county map. Meanwhile an occasional smile, elongated countenances, terrible scowls, with hats occasionally pointing upward from the effect of the hair on their heads standing upon ends, then an unpleasant rush toward the door, all served to make up a marvelous show, or a grand picture of mental derangement.

"This of course, was all the result of wearied animation over the probability of having longer to wait for their report. This private council of the commission lasted about two hours, when they announced their willingness to report. They came to a definite conclusion in regard to its location, after having compare distances, determined all natural advantages, discussed points respecting the future development of the county, considered the extent of every settlement in certain portions thereof, and regarded what they believed to be to the best interests of all concerned.

"Their consultation, was the result of a unanimous choice in favor of Rock Rapids as being the proper place for the location of the county seat of Lyon County, Iowa, and in their report they selected block number 20 for the location of the county buildings.

"We are of the opinion that it would be a hard matter to select three disinterested persons from other counties, that would have decided differently; no three unbiased or unprejudiced persons could pass over the natural advantages of this place in the selection of a county seat. There has been no formidable opposition in regard to the matter, except a determination of some men to beat Rock Rapids at all hazards, but the judgment of the Commission was expressed without the interposition of any selfish motives, or the swerving influences of men who are willing to ruin others if they cannot profit themselves.

"In the evening they became the guests of T. K. Bradley's table where their responsibility became narrowed down to a good square meal.

"About 8 o'clock on Wednesday morning they left for Sibley in the height of their glory, while the doubtful group at the hotel relaxed from their spasm and changed to a convulsive grin."

Spring came in 1873 with a fine promise, but government problems were mounting. A report showed that the county had $48,874.23 in unpaid bridge warrants, warrants for the poor farm, and for supplies and equipment to start operating the county.

April 26, 1873, County Auditor Charles E. Goetz gave notice that bids would be opened June 2 for the construction of a courthouse.

In May, it having been determined that there was enough population to subdivide Rock Township, it was ordered that the school lands be appraised. These particular lands were section 16 in townships 99 and 100, both range 45. The land was appraised at $2.50 per acre-but notice of public sale said they would not be sold for less than $6 per acre.

Rivalry between towns was high in the early days. Horseracing was popular and side-bets were substantial. Mid-July 1873, the Luverne ball team came down in wagons to cross bats with Rock Rapids. The Review, in reporting the game said "...came down from Luverne in their beautiful red and white suits to play baseball against the Rock Rapids team. The Rock Rapids team won 38 to 28. After the play was over...a table was set for the merry crowd by T. E. Convers, when like a brigade of Sheridan's cavalry, they marched to the onset, armed and equipped with weapons of kitchen warfare and enjoyed themselves finely."

In August plans for the agricultural fair were announced. It was to be held September 10, 11, 12 and in addition to the agricultural displays "trial of teamsters and roadsters; plowing match, horse trotting, riding, etc." would make up the event.

Late in August election plans began to shape up and there was a call for delegates to the county convention. There were then four townships in Lyon County and townships were entitled to one delegate for each ten votes cast for the secretary of state in the last election. Doon Township was to have nine votes. Rock five votes, Lyon four votes and Larchwood two votes.

More signs of growth were the proceedings to organize Grant Township from Rock. At the same time the supervisors took steps to submit to the voters the matter of funds for bridges and a courthouse.

On September 27, 1873, notice was given that the matter of organizing two new townships-Dale from Doon and Grant from Rock, would be submitted.

Early in October the settlers faced a serious challenge, a bad prairie firer swept across the mid-part of the county. Every man was called to the fire lines to control the racing flames.

As was expected-when the election was held in early October of 1873, the entire republican ticket was elected. The voters approved, by a vote of 158 to seven, a levy of $10,000 for a new courthouse, and also a levy of $10,000 for bridge construction. Most of the officers elected, carried by a vote of 239 to one. In all cases the republican candidates carried the day.

Possibly that bad prairie fire set off the agitation-undoubtedly the burning of the Col. May residence also played a part in the decision, but late in November of 1873, a meeting was held in Sweet hall for the purpose or organizing a fire company. The company was formed with W. S. Piele being elected as president; Harmon Cook the secretary, and Henry Griffin was chosen as fire chief.

There is no record of the company having any equipment or of any immediate plans to buy equipment. It is presumed that as was the case with other communities, the organization was formed to establish a command in case of fire and to assign equipment which each man was to bring in case an alarm sounded-buckets, axes, bars, etc.


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