The Big Blizzard - Part 2


Doon was a lively community in 1891 and the first week in January a new I.O.O.F. Lodge was instituted there. Six charter members and 16 initates made up the first lodge there and more than 100 members of the order from Rock Rapids and other Northwest Iowa towns attended the meeting to get the Odd Fellows started of in good shape.

Rock Rapids has had its share of bad fires-many of them were suspected as being incendiary. Efforts had been made for at least 15 years to get an organized fire department, so Mayor Overrocker and his council passed ordinance Number 27. This provided for the establishment of a municipal fire department, set out the form of organization, and equipment was purchased. J.K. Medberry was the recorder, and he was to be active in affairs in Rock Rapids for almost a half century.

Industry was sought diligently-and with some success. Rock Rapids' original tow mill had been closed down after a fire had destroyed the engine room and much of the stock of flax straw which was on hand-but it had been reopened by the Racine Twine and Cordage company. The company reported that during 1890 it had paid more than $10,000 to Lyon County farmers for the flax straw it processed-pointing out that without the mill the straw would have been worthless.

The community started the year with a flourishing school system. The county superintendent reported that there were 94 schoolhouses in the county and 157 teachers. The teachers were 36 males, who earned an average of $34.29 a month and 121 females, whose average salary was $31.27. Value of the schools was said to be $49,650. There were said to be 2851 persons in the county of school age-five to 21 years of age.

Farmers were feeling the pinch of low prices and high taxes and other costs. Throughout the county many township Farmers Alliance organizations had been started. They met the middle of February in Rock Rapids to organize a county Farmers Alliance. Six of the 11 township organizations were represented. A speaker told the group that they must organize to protect themselves. He said that in the past farmers had 75 percent of the wealth and paid 80 percent of the taxes-but at that time, 1890, he said they had only 25 percent of the wealth but were still called on to pay 80 percent of the taxes.

Many people of diverse nationality had come to Lyon County in the 20 years of its history-but the Germans were probably the most numerous of the newcomers. In early March at a term of the district court, 12 people were given citizenship papers. Of that number 11 were Germans and one was a Norwegian.

The March 19 issue of the Review said that the election for city officials had been a quiet one. J.M. Parsons, lawyer and sometimes newspaper publisher, was elected mayor and J.W. Ramsey and V.G. Coe were chosen as new members of the city council.

One of the human interest items of the paper on March 26, was the story that banker O.P. Miller had gone to Cincinnati, where he would be present at the opening of the bank's safe. It seemed that the time lock on the safe had misfunctioned and the safe could not be opened. In it were the bank money, the books and valuable papers. It was necessary to send the safe "by fast freight" back to the manufacturer at Cincinnati, where workmen drilled into it and finally got it open. The drilling took 24 hours, the report said, and Mr. Miller was there when it was completed to take charge of the bank's property.

The first of April saw another class graduated from the Rock Rapids High School-which was now a four-year high school. There were six members of the class.

April 9 the Review told of the observance of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Grand Army of the Republic-the organization made up of union veterans of the Civil War. The observance was held all over the United States. In Rock Rapids Col J.K.P. Thompson presided at the event. Captain W.W. Gardner read the history of the organization. There were other speeches and patriotic numbers as a part of the event.

Rock Rapids had a large number of professional people in the early days-many doctors and lawyers. One of the first of the community's doctors, and an extensive landowner, was Dr. W.G. Smith, who came here in the early 70's from New York State. He had come to care for his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Chan Smith, who had a bad case of typhoid. He liked the community and moved here, to practice his profession. Dr. Smith lived here for a dozen years and then moved to Pasadena, California. There he died early in April of 1891, following a stroke.

Rock Rapids had a busy group of medical doctors, who were doing more and more surgery. There were Drs. McNab, Stoner, Wallace, Vail and Gleason. April 21 the Reporter told of Drs. McNab, Stoner, Vail and Gleason, assisted by Dr. McNeil of Sibley, operating on a youth and removing "a six-ounce stone." The youth made a fine recovery.

Lyon County's farms were becoming more and more valuable. Many sales were being made at from $20 to $25 an acre-and on May 7, 1891, it was reported that the Oliver McKee farm three miles east of Rock Rapids, had been sold to Samuel Perry for $30 an acre.

Business was improving-and the First National bank reported its footings to be $147,296.77. Both the First National and the Lyon County National bank, which was operated by O.P. Miller, were growing, both were building following bad fires-and owners of both were also carrying on banking business in other area towns.

Demon rum kept popping his head up and on May 14 the Review told of the formation of a County Temperance Alliance. J.K.P. Thompson was named as the president of the group; the Rev. Mr. Leichliter was the vice-president and H.B. Pierce was the secretary. The group was organized to support the state's prohibition laws and to insist on the enforcement of the laws.

Late in May a series of meetings were held to try and get a paper mill started here. Promoters had gone to Sioux Falls to start a mill there, and had been promised several thousand dollars to help them get going. Somehow the money had not been forthcoming and local boosters got hold of the information. They tried, unsuccessfully, to get the mill here but as near as can be determined the promoters finally gave up and left this area.

On May 28 the prohibition forces reported a victory. C.A. Sefeld and Lauxen and Tausen of Alvord were arrested for keeping liquors with intent to sell. All three were convicted and each was fined $100.

That same week the people of Larchwood were proud of the fact that a second couple had been married in their new town. The Rev. Father Dullard officiated at the nuptial mass which united Henry Venner and Katie Hoppenjaust. Following the ceremony the couple went to Sioux City, where they planned to make their home.

The railroads were still prominent in the news of the new community. The Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern (Rock Island) was advertising their very fine accommodations to Chicago. The train left Rock Rapids at 2 p.m. and arrived in Chicago at 8 a.m. the next morning. The train carried sleepers and a smart buffet car.

The first of June, Larchwood had a big celebration. Horse racing was the attraction, although there were also bicycle races, baseball, etc. Hundreds of people attended and everyone had a big time. As was usual, some neighboring communities were not satisfied with the way the races were run-and thought the competition had not been fair and above board.

Druggist W.C. Wycoff was a weather buff among many other interests and he erected a flag pole in front of his drug store, where each morning flags were flown to indicate what the weather would be that day.

Proudly announced on June 18, was the signing of a contract for the Rock Rapids Ladies' Cornet band to play for the July 4 celebration at Ashton.

The Main street bridge in Rock Rapids was giving trouble, so the county board decided to build a new bridge. The original bridge was a wooden structure, and it was reported as not being safe for heavy loads, such as threshing machines. Successful bidder for the iron bridge to be built was S.M. Hewitt & Company of Minneapolis. Their bid was $2560.

Late in June northwest Iowa had a bad storm-wind, extremely heavy rains. They did little damage in Lyon County-but around Cherokee the flooding was very bad. Trains were discontinued, tracks washed out and a number were drowned. Governor Boise came to the area and immediately issued a plea for help from people of the state. He said that at least 100 families were homeless and that there was need for clothing, food and shelter. On July 2 Rock Rapids papers reported that trains were again running through here on the Illinois Central, but they still had to by-pass Cherokee, where the situation had not been cleared up at that time.

B.C. Middlebrooke was a Rock Rapids jeweler and musician. He had been working for some time on certain improvements on banjos. Early in August he received letters of patents on two major improvements on banjos-one a new method joining the head of the banjo to the neck and the other for a new fret and peg system. This invention was later to provide the basis for a short-lived industry in Rock Rapids.

At their August meeting the board of directors of the Rock Rapids Independent schools decided that a new grade building had to be built and they bought two lots in Block 19, on Tama Street for the building. It was decided that a two-story building should be erected-to take care of two grades-but the board could not agree whether it should be built of bricks or should be a frame building. Bids were taken and John Olsen was the low bidder. He offered to erect a frame building for $1560 or he would build one of brick for $2217. No action was taken as it was decided that the community leaders should be consulted as to which type of structure was to be erected. The board was reported split three to two for a brick building.

Tragedy hit the Alvord community the middle of September. A German farmer in the area, E. Engerman, had his son out plowing with a sulky plow and three horses. The horses were getting out of control and started to run away from the boy. Engerman got in front of them and tried to stop them, but was knocked down and the plow passed over him-the lay ripping into his hip. His wife managed to pull the machine back off of him and sent for a doctor from Doon. Engerman did not regain consciousness and died a few hours later.

Lyon County's newest community, at Alvord, had been founded the year before, and the editor of the Reporter told his readers that he had visited the town for the first time that week. He said he was amazed at the up-and-coming spirit of the new community, and predicted great things for its future.

With fall there was much anticipation about the forthcoming season at the opera house. The McCutcheon & Cooley theater company opened for a week's stand the last of September and three shows were to be presented, "The Lone Pine", "The Planter's Wife" and "After Dark".

Later in the season Augusta Ohrstrom, a soprano, and her company presented a musical program, which was rated as only fair-but Lenore K. Murray, elocutionist, put on a fine show and played to a big house.

Being dissatisfied with the reliability of water power-William Berkholtz decided to put a steam engine into his mill south of town. This could be used when the water was low-as it was in the fall of 1891. Berkholtz' mill continued to be very popular and the quality of the wheat that year was very high-it made outstanding flour.

In October the grand jury indicted a German farmer in Cleveland Township for the murder of his stepson, Emil Suschutz. There had been a lot of talk about the way the stepfather treated the lad, who was sickly. The wife and mother wanted to get a doctor, but Schallenberg said the boy needed only to be sweat. He piled a feather bed on the youth and when he took it off the boy had smothered. There was much testimony of how the boy had been mistreated and had not been given enough to eat.

Times were changing. Lyon County had been one of the nation's solidest Repulican counties-but in 1891 the county with the state went democratic. Most of the offices were taken over by the democrats and the county gave incumbent Horace Boise, the democrat, a solid majority. State commentors were remarking about the great swing which had taken place in the county from the republicans to the democrats.

Late fall there were a few land transactions-and the prices were climbing. Top land sale reported was that of the farm of R.M. Piele, which adjoined Rock Rapids on the north. This farm was sold to William Dix of Waterloo for $50 an acre-an unheard of high price. The land was very productive, the improvements were good and the location so close to Rock Rapids, were said to be the reasons for the high price which was paid.

Winter came and leaders were thinking of bettering their community. E.A. Knight of Sheldon came up to talk about an electric generating plant. Knight owned a plant at Sheldon and he was interested in organizing a company in Rock Rapids. The Sheldon man told Rock Rapids people that if a load of 450 lights could be assured a company could be organized and a plant built here.

The year 1891 was a big one for Lyon County, as far as crops were concerned. More and more acres were brought into production-yields were good and railroads had a banner year hauling grain and stock from the community returning the thousands of items, big and small, which were needed by the growing city and the prospering farmers.

Reports at the start of the year 1891 showed that a total of 932 carloads of grain and stock were shipped out of Rock Rapids. Freight receipts for 1891 for the three roads came to $62,848, passenger tickets purchased totaled $17,637 making the total income of the railroad stations in Rock Rapids for 1891, $80,385.

Over in Russia a terrible drought had scourged the land and millions were in abject poverty, hundreds of thousands starving to death. All over the United States efforts were being made to gather grain and money to buy grain-to be shipped to Europe to feed the starving Russian people. In Rock Rapids a continuing campaign was carried on and something over $705 in cash and grain was given for the relief program.


The year started off with unusually cold weather-in fact the whole year was to be one of adverse weather, which affected crops markedly. The third week in January a low reading of 41 degrees below zero was recorded. Fortunately the winds were moderate. And while there was suffering, it was not a disastrous situation.

In February there were several entertainments to enliven the times. Jas. K. Applebee came here for a series of lectures-and attendance was poor. The editor of the Review said he was a man of great ability, and he bemoaned the fact that people did not show more interest. However, when the Chicago Ladies' Quartette performed here there was a large and enthusiastic audience. In March Paul Alexander Johnstone put on a lecture and demonstration of mind reading, which was heralded as having been very interesting and enlightening. Another of the spring entertainments was that of the New York Symphony club, whose appearance brought much applause.

There had been much sickness in the little community that spring of 1892. Fortunately there were many doctors to care for people-although it seemed they could do very little with Lagrippe, which was quite prevalent. Lagrippe (probably about the same thing as flu) didn't respond to treatment in many cases. It was said that the epidemic had started in Russia and spread around the world. Bad thing about the malady was that many of those afflicted developed serious aftereffects. In quite a few cases infections of the ears resulted and many lost their hearing as a result of pus which caused the rupturing of ear drums.

The editor of the Review then was Lon Chapin, a very talented writer, an ardent democrat, and he was said to be one of the finest printers in the mid-west. Chapin later moved to Pasadena, California, where he made a big name as editor of the Daily Sun.

One bit of his writing was "Ladies who call on brides for the first time and wish to do the proper thing will not forget to turn down the upper corner of their calling card, which signifies best wishes and congratulations-but guard against turning down the lower corner of the card, which means sympathy and condolences."

The price of land was gradually increasing and the first of March Jas. Mulhall sold the former Watson farm, south of town, to John Rosenburg of Tama. The place sold for $33.50 an acre.

In the March city election the big issue was the matter of the city scales. Some wanted the city scale weights required for all grain sales-while the elevators were insulted at having their weights questioned. At any event the "city scale" ticket won the election.

On April 14 the Review told its readers that more than a quarter million dollars worth of land sales had been completed in March. Largest of the transfers filed was of a section of land-2-100-47, which was sold by Mary T. Riggs to P.H. Lamb for $15,000. Most quarter sections brought from $3,000 to 4,000.

The spring was cold, wet and uncomfortable. Farmers could not get into the fields, temperatures were 10 degrees below normal at all times, and it was reported that there "were not over 12 hours of sunshine any week."

While plowing could not be done on account of the wet fields-early planted small grain was coming along nicely, the grass was luxuriant and fruit trees were making fine progress.

It was a time of floods and the Floyd River at Sioux City went on a rampage. More than 100 people in Sioux City and Leeds were said to have drowned and property damage was tremendous.

Near Doon two men drowned in the Rock River. Charles Loop and a man by the name of Sturgis were out in a boat trying to get some cattle out of the water, when it tipped over-both men lost their lives. Following heavy rains on May 16 and 17., the Rock River and its tributaries started to flood the area. Moon creek was especially bad and scores of people living in the north part of town had to be evacuated from their homes as the waters rose. The Rock River was within four feet of its 1881 mark-which was the worst flood ever recorded. Railroads were having many washouts and service became very erratic for a period.

On May 21 there was a big ruckus at a dance in Alvord. A fight got started and one Jack Dempsey was shot through the neck. Henry Meyer, a saloon keeper and Herman Wedlock were assaulted by William Hanrahan. Jack Price, who was floor manager for the dance, was cut up when he tried to maintain order. Hanrahan was arrested, but when the sheriff went down to Alvord to get Meyer and bring him to Rock Rapids to testify, it was found he had skipped out.

Great plans had been made for a Fourth of July celebration. The committees bought a 50-pound cannon to shoot off on the fourth and made arrangements to sell it to the GAR at half price, after the celebration. The cannon cost $150.

On the Fourth of July, they started firing the cannon at 3 a.m. and kept it up most of the day. Special trains on the three railroads brought lots of people to town-it was said that more than 5,000 were present for the day.

There were horse races, footraces, bicycle races. There was a ball game and then in the evening a "mammoth display of fireworks."

In the afternoon one of the racehorses got out of hand and ran over Evan Jones. Some of his ribs were broken and his lung punctured. The doctors decided he could not survive. Later at the big dance another accident took place. George Mundt who was one of the participants, went to a window to get some air, because the place was hot and not well ventilated. He fell out the window, hit a sign and then dropped the rest of 20 feet to the sidewalk. He was not seriously injured. The editor pointed out that he was not drunk, but that he had leaned out the window and just then a dancing couple had bumped into him and out the window he went. The celebration calmed down about 10 p.m., when the special trains left Rock Rapids to take area people back to their homes.

Announcement was made on August 25, that the Christian Society had bought two lots on Greene Street in which to build a new church. The church was to be octagon in shape, with an attached lecture room.

It had been a bad year for drownings, the Review told its readers on September one-six people had been drowned in the area so far-and then the last week in August Oliver Flint, who was working with a threshing crew, went swimming near Overrocker's ice house. There was a hole in the river-and he got in it. It was some hours before his body was recovered.

Unrest in agricultural areas was marked. The "populist" movement was gaining some converts and a convention was held to set up The People's Party in Lyon County. Only nine people attended the meeting. Resolutions were passed, but no candidates were named to contest for any of the offices.

The incidence of sickness in the area which was manifest in the spring continued-only more serious diseases were rife. At Hills seven deaths from diptheria were listed. Blame for the serious epidemic of the disease there was put on the fact that when a small child had died of the disease, her coffin had been opened in church, and it was believed the germs had spread throughout the community as a result of this exposure.

With crops very much behind on account of the poor growing season, everyone was alarmed when there was a slight frost the middle of September. It was said that only the most favorable weather in the fall would allow the corn to mature.

The small grain crop which was being threshed was proving better than anticipated. Two hundred twenty loads of grain were sold in Rock Rapids the third week in September. Oats was running around 50 bushels to the acre and wheat in many fields was producing 20 bushels. Prices being paid in Rock Rapids were: wheat, 53 cents; oats, 20-22 cents; barley 35-45 cents; flax, 84 cents; rye, 40 cents. Hogs were bringing $4.50 per hundredweight while butcher quality beef was selling at $1.50 to $2 per hundredweight.

In October the first municipal elections in the new town of Alvord were held. Joe Schnee was chosen as mayor; T. Habager, G. Umhoefer, L. Kreber, William Wilcox, William Barron and George Miller were named to the new council.

All year there had been reports of farm accidents-most of them serious but not fatal. Early in October Frank Weaver, a young man working with a threshing crew near Larchwood, was caught in a separator drive belt. One arm was practically torn off, and he suffered other injuries. Surgeons from Sioux Falls amputated the arm and patched him up, but he only lived a couple of days.

The November general election in 1892 had been preceded by a very aggressive campaign at all levels. Grover Cleveland was the democratic candidate opposing William Henry Harrison. Lyon County which had generally been staunchly republican had gone "off the reservation" two years before and had gone democratic by about 325 votes. This year the fight was very intense and the results very close. Cleveland carried Lyon County over Harrison 115 votes to 113. Republicans gained 216 votes over the two years previous-but it wasn't enough-democratic officers were chosen for all but a couple of county job-and the county also went for the democratic governor. The state ticket went democratic by three votes and the congress race in this county went democratic by 36 votes.

Hope of industrial development were high when in mid-November H.G. Mc Millen and H.C. Middlebrooke went to Minneapolis to talk with financial people there about starting a banjo and guitar factory which would use Middlebrooke's patents. They were seeking about $50,000 in capital to back the factory.


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