Century Ends

Part 1 of 3

The depression of the 1890s was still on in northwest Iowa as the last year of the century arrived. Prices were down, business houses were still failing, there was little activity in Rock Rapids.

The war in the Philippines was continuing and people were getting very sick of the situation. Letters from Rock Rapids men who were in the army and fighting against the insurrectionists were unhappy in tone, many expressing sympathy with the Philippinos who were carrying on an exhausting guerilla war against our troops.

There were a lot of floaters going through the country-and some of them were blamed from the break-in at the Farmer State Bank at Inwood early in January. They got away with over $2,000 and no traces of who they might be were discovered.

It was a very cold winter. Record lows were established in February where the official thermometer dropped to 42 degrees below zero. The inclement weather hung on and on. In April farmers who were not able to get into their field became increasingly alarmed and many decided to forget their small grain seeding and plant more corn.

In June weather conditions were still obstinate. A bad storm hit this area the first week of the month. There was a tornado funnel that passed over the city, but dropped down northwest of town. Two farms received the worst of this storm. At the L. H. Smith farm and the H. Hampe farm, which was operated by Adolph Jergenson, a twister pretty much destroyed the farmsteads. At Jergensons, the family was getting a meal on and were all in the kitchen. The house was lifted up, moved about 20 feet and then rolled over on the room. The kitchen stove started a fire, which did considerable damage before the flames were put out and members of the family were bruised and cut up, but there were no fatalities.

In the area four inches of rain fell in a half-hour. Moon Creek went on a rampage and all three railroads suffered severe washouts, which upset rail schedules for weeks.

By August there was hopes that the small grain would come through after all. The stand was said to be good and while there were evidences of rust, prospects were good. This hope was dimmed, however, when the harvest was started and yields were found to be only 5 to 20 bushels to the acre. The wheat, rye, oats and barley crop was very poor. Prices however were a little better than they had been.

The area was becoming known for its outstanding livestock feeding and E. A. Hunt, who came to Lyon County from Canada, and operated a "ranch" southeast of town, shipped a special trainload of cattle to Chicago. There were 12 carloads of stock in the shipment and Hunt was pleased when he received $5.75 per hundredweight for the beef.

Interest in local elections was not great. Mid March J. M. Parsons and J. W. Ramsey
were elected to the school board in an election in which very few votes were cast.

Only three hundred votes were cast in the town election later in the month, when M. A. Cox and D. R. Whitaker were elected to the council.

All spring and summer there was spirited electioneering for the general election in the fall. William Jennings Bryan spoke several times in the area for the Democrats and the depression was a big issue. In November when the vote was held Democrats carried all but one of the county offices and the county also went to the Democratic Candidate for Governor, White-but he was not elected.

The Norwegian people of the area had never had a church home and in March they held meetings and the Norwegian Lutheran Society decided to build a church on West Main Street. The structure was planned to cost $2,500 and work was to start at once.

Rock Rapids, in 1899, was quite a medical center. There were many medical doctors, osteopaths and dentists. Periodically traveling specialists came here and had 'clinics' usually at the Lyon Hotel.

On March 30 it was announced that Drs. Mcnab and Stoner had bought an X-ray machine and it was installed and operating. The x-ray was a fabulous machine to local people and many of them went to watch it work-viewing bones, etc., through the fluoroscopic screen. The doctors said it would be of tremendous help in setting bones resulting from the many accidents which occurred in the area-especially on the farms.

Letters from the Philippines, which were printed in May, indicated much unrest among the troops stationed there and fighting Aguialdo and his insurrectionists. There was much sickness among the troops, the letters said, and much resentment against high officers who were, they reported, sending wounded men into the field to fight against the snipers and irregulars who were making life miserable for the troops.

By July pressures to bring the troops home was getting strong, and the move to get out of the Philippines was prominently mentioned. The troops did start to come home. Two units in which this area was particularly interested were the First South Dakota and the Fifty-first Iowa. Both were infantry regiments.

Mid-October the First South Dakota came home. They were met with a tremendous celebration at Sioux Falls, and President McKinley came to Sioux Falls to take part in the welcome home ceremony. The city was decorated, bands played, there was a great parade. The next day, Sunday, the Rock Rapids members of the regiment came home. They were met at the station by the band, the cannon was fired and there was a huge crowd on hand. A big banquet was held to honor the soldiers, with a long list of speakers.

The 51st Iowa Infantry got back to San Francisco, but there wasn't money available to bring them back to Iowa. Governor Shaw asked each bank in Iowa to advance $300 for a fund to bring the regiment home-but response was very poor. The group did finally get back that fall and Rock Rapids members came home. All were pretty disgusted with the war.

The war spirit was flaming however, in Sioux County. The Boers in South Africa were fighting the English in a sanguine conflict and the Dutch around Orange City were all stirred up. A company of 50 men was organized and started clandestine drilling, with the idea of going to South Africa to fight on the side of the Boers. Federal officials at Sioux City got wind of what was going on and came to Orange City. The military training was stopped at once, and people were informed that this country was not going to be mixed up in the fight, nor were units going to be training for the war. Several of the Orange City men decided they were going off to the war on their own.

The community had always had a high population of people who came from Germany and in March the men decided they should have a chapter of the Sons of Hermann here. Seventy-two men joined up and the grand officers of the order came here to install the lodge. John Doss was named as President of the society: Henry Raveling was the Vice-President; Frank Belzer was Secretary and Henry Rohlk was Financial Secretary.

The lodge continued very active here until World War I, when it was pretty much closed down because of the high feeling against Germany and Kaiser Wilhelm.

The Sons of Hermann planned for a great Fourth of July celebration in 1899. The celebration was held and it lived up to advance promises. There was a huge parade with band, floats and different lodges from all over the county had marching units. The Women's Relief Corp rode in buggies in the parade. The hose companies and the hook and ladder company were all in the line of march.

After the parade there were all kinds of athletic events and then a tremendous picnic was served at Island Park.

Rock Rapids three banks were all doing well. P.M. Casady had been head of the Iowa Bank. This was a private bank, backed by Dubuque and Des Moines banks, in which Casady was a major figure. It was decided that the bank should be incorporated as a state bank, so Casady sold his stock, and Simon Casady, President; L. Sutter, Cashier; J. W. Ramsey and C. N. Voss were the incorporators of the new Iowa Savings Bank. The bank was incorporated for $50,000 of which $25,000 was paid in.

Later in the year the bank named J. W. Ramsey as President and F. L. Sutter as Cashier. The Casadys returning to their other interests in Des Moines and Dubuque.

In June a class of 17 young men and women were graduated from Rock Rapids High School. In the group were Ida M. Anderson, Louise Arildson, Cora N. Berry, Lida V. Brown, Ethel Coonrod, Alice L. Eastman, Neil C. Honens, Thomas B. Howell, Bessie M. Kelso, Maude McDonald, Verona J. McKinley, Rose L. Morgan, Henry Oleson, Ermine S. Puckett, Anna M. Roan, Emma C. Scholerman and Genevieve C. Williams. Miss Scholerman was valedictorian of the class and Ermine Puckett was the salutatorian.

Rock Rapids was noted in national circles in July. B. L. Richards, who was head of the First National Bank and a great whist player, was elected President of the American Whist League. The election took place at the annual congress of whist players in Chicago. Richards had a team in the league that was winning matches regularly. He was written up in the Chicago papers as one of the foremost authorities on the game in the world.

The first of August W. G. "Gay" Smith again bought into the ownership of the Reporter. He and his father, C. H. Smith had owned and operated the paper some years prior to this, but had sold it. In 1899 Smith bought a half interest from the then owner, William Junkin, who had come here from Fairfield. Junkin was scheduled to become postmaster so he sold an interest to Smith, who had been raised in Rock Rapids, having come here as a child, with his parents in the early 1870's.

The Rock Rapids Crimsons, a good semi=pro baseball team, had been fielded in Rock Rapids and was winning more than its share of games from area teams-including Storm Lake, Sioux Falls, Cherokee and Pipestone, but the treasury ran dry and the team was disbanded the middle of August.

The harvest was below expectations, prices did not meet the levels that were thought desirable, and winter was approaching.

Numerous entertainments were held at the opera house. There were traveling light opera companies, many show troops, medicine shows, and much to do was made about a second performance of the great pianist, Blind Boone.

The early part of December brought a real shocker to the area. One of the children of Thomas Cleary at Alvord came down with smallpox. The dread disease had not been prevalent in the community and it is thought she probably picked it up on a recent trip into Minnesota. The young lady had been in school and about in public so it was thought that many had been exposed. The family was quarantined, school was dismissed for several days and everyone waited.

Within a couple of weeks it was evident there were more cases of the disease. Five more were diagnosed-and one of the patients was critically ill. The town council at Rock Rapids met and passed a resolution quarantining the town of Alvord from Rock Rapids. For a period of 40 days no one came from Alvord or that immediate area was to come to Rock Rapids, and no one from Rock Rapids was to go to that community.

P. H. (Patrick Henry) McCarty, who was the editor of the Rock Rapids Review at the turn of the century, was an Irishman from the word go and a very devout Catholic. He wasn't concerned at all about the argument about when the 20th Century started. The Pope announced that it would start January 1, 1901-and McCarty figured that ended the matter.


As usual the weather at the start of 1900 was cold and there was lots of snow. The community had settled down somewhat from the more boisterous days of the 70s and 80s, but there still was fussing and fighting about the saloons. The Opera House and the Unity Hall provided the location for dances, dinners and entertainment, and socially the town was very much on the move.

In January several more cases of smallpox were diagnosed in Doon and in the farm areas south and west of Rock Rapids. There was great fear of the disease and rigid quarantines were imposed.

At Alvord, where smallpox had shown up in the home of the Thomas Clearys and scared not only people at the Alvord community, but in Rock Rapids, too, the Clearys were released from quarantine. Mayor Paulson supervised the fumigation of the Cleary home and their belongings. The Review said that in the home all the paper was torn from the walls, the bedding was burned, the walls washed with corrosive sublimate and then a 'disinfecting machine' was brought in and the home thoroughly fumigated. The Clearys were put in the summer kitchen, all put on new clothes, and all of the clothing they had been wearing was either burned or thoroughly fumigated.

The entertainment fare in Rock Rapids was very good. Traveling theatrical groups stopped here frequently. In January a company presented "Darkest Russia." The play was said to portray most vividly the terrible conditions under which people of that land lived, where the Czars had absolute power over the millions of citizens.

In February two big dances featured the month. The Modern Woodsmen of America had a big ball and the Sons of Hermann, who were growing in popularity, held a masquerade party that brought in a lot of people.

The 51st Iowa regimental band played a concert in Rock Rapids the middle of March and people liked them very much. So much in fact, they returned twice more during the year to play concerts here. One of the concerts was played in May. The high school band had bought new 'drill suits' at a cost of $1.80 each, and the 51st band happened to come through here headed for Sioux Falls, so they stopped off and played a benefit program. The uniform fund netted $20 from the concert. The band returned here again for a program in mid November.

In September Pawnee Bill and his Wild West show played here. Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill were famous frontiersmen and each had a Wild West show that traveled all over the world. Later the two shows were merged. But in 1900 Pawnee Bill's appearance in Rock Rapids was a highlight of the season. The dramatic production of 'Faust' brought out a good house in October, but the musical program presented by The Haywood Celebrities did not attract the attendance that had been hoped for.

At the end of the year dances at both the Opera House and Unity Hall were well attended and were gala occasions.

Time continued hard. Money was tight and farm income was not what was desired. Four farmers filed for bankruptcy in January of 1900-the first such proceedings ever noted in Rock Rapids papers. The hard times resulted in considerable interest in the Populist Party, which was out to fight the trusts and business of all kinds. In May the railroads offered a special excursion rate for those who wanted to go to Sioux Falls for the Populist convention being held there and a lot of people from this community attended the meeting.

Politics were one of the main items in each week's issues of the Review and the Reporter. Smith & Junkin, who published the Reporter, were staunch Republicans and supporters of the McKinley administration. McCarthy was a Democrat-and even leaned somewhat to the Populist persuasion. His paper always carried at least a couple of columns about the trusts and big business and what they were doing to the country.

One of the highlights of the political year was the visit to Sioux Falls of Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt. Many from Rock Rapids attended the speech he gave and the festivities incident to the visit in the Midwest of this Spanish-American War hero. The Rock Rapids band went to Sioux Falls for the affair.

The campaign of 1900 was particularly bitter. Bryan, former governor of Nebraska, had been nominated by the Democrats and his stand for free silver was being cussed and discussed all over the nation. He was bucking a popular president, McKinley, and a vice-president who had been glamorized by his war record.

The election early in November was a great disappointment to the democrats. Republicans won practically everything in the north-including the presidency, control of congress, governor of Iowa, control of the Iowa General Assembly-and all the county offices in Lyon County. The vote was even more republican than it had been in recent elections, when a few of the county offices had been taken over by the democrats.

Disease and fire were probably the two most feared things as far as people of the county were concerned. In January of 1900 a bad fire at Lester destroyed the elevator owned by Roach, Keck & Wold. They lost not only the building but also 3,000 bushels of small grain and 8,000 bushels of corn. The lost was set at about $5,000.

The last of February, fires at Steen burned down the Edmunds & Company and the Minnesota and South Dakota elevators. These fires were definitely attributed to arsonists. Only a week later the big barn on the W. P. McCaughey farm southwest of Rock Rapids was burned to the ground. Eight head of horses, 10 pigs and two calves were destroyed along with machinery, harness and grain. Only a couple of months prior to this fire 30 tons of hay had been burned at the farm-both fires were considered the work of an incendiarist.

Rock Rapids authorities were proud of the fine fire department the community had, but they were very much afraid of what might happen in the central part of town if fire got started. The frame buildings-and most of the were frame-would go up fast and the fire could spread rapidly. The council finally passed a rule that all frame buildings had to be veneered with a fireproof material. Many of them were covered with tin.

The Political Equality Club continued active in Rock Rapids and in January of 1900 petitions addressed to the General Assembly, urging that body to give the right to vote to women, were being circulated and signed.

Early in February, H. G. McMillen, who operated Lakewood Farm, had a sale of Percheron stallions. The farm was known all over the country for its fine horses and cattle-and buyers came from a wide area to participate in the bidding for the offering. McMillen held the sale in the big barn at the farm and 25 stallions were offered. The top horse sold for $1080-and the average for the entire sale was a little over $500 per animal. These prices were fabulously high by 1900 levels. McMillen was highly pleased, he said, to see so many of the farmers in Lyon County buying his stallions, because he thought that would upgrade the quality of work animals of the area.

The spring of 1900 was favorable for the farmers. Weather was good for getting in the crop and there were adequate rains. In May a storm crossed the southern part of the county which had a lot of hail with it. This did some damage-particularly in Doon, where many windows were broken out.

Crops were quite good throughout the county and after the harvest it was found that many fields of wheat had yields of up to 30 bushels to the acre. The corn crop was also good-but prices were below what had been expected.

Agricultural leaders were constantly pointing out to the farm operators that they had to feed cattle to make money from their farming operations. The county was becoming one of the larger producers of cattle ready for slaughter and several operators had built up wide reputations. E. A. Hunt, who came to Rock Rapids from Canada, had his ranch south of town, where he fed cattle on a big scale. His stock was often shipped to Chicago and New York and in such quantity that the Illinois Central in June started construction of an 800-foot side track and cattle pens across the road from Hunt's farmstead. The 300-cattle pens were to serve Hunt and also others in the area with stock to ship.

Another big feeding operation was carried on around Granite by Roach, Keck & Wold of Rock Rapids. In July Hunt and the Roach, Keck & Wold group decided to ship cattle direct to England for sale there. A shipment of 760 animals was brought together here and put on two special trains-a total of 45 carloads of cattle. Arrangements were made for the special trains to go direct to Detroit where the cattle were unloaded for 24 hours, fed and watered and then reloaded and taken direct to Boston. At Boston the shipment was put on the steamer 'Michigan' for the trip across the Atlantic. In letters home Albert Wold wrote that John Roach had become real friendly with the captain of the boat and they had renamed it 'The Irishman.' He said the captain had taken the Rock Rapids men into his quarters for the trip. Wold said that 22 men were needed to feed and care for the cattle on the trip. The shipment took 12 days to get from Boston to Liverpool, but they arrived in good condition and not an animal was lost. The stock was sold at a good figure. Shipping cost from Rock Rapids to England figured out at $26 per head.

The value of Lyon County land was going up steadily. In August Nick Roach sold a half section northeast of town for $45 an acre. It was one of the best sales ever made of land in this area. In October Roach & Wold (Roach was not only a feeder and farm operator but was also one of the owners of the First National Bank, while Wold operated a department store here) bought the Porter Ranch near Little Rock. The ranch was comprised of 728 acres and they bought the property for $35 an acre. They already owned a half section adjoining the Porter property. They only had the land for a few weeks when they resold it at a profit of $2800.

P. L. Shenberger topped the land market when in October he sold his choice quarter section east of town to W. H. Kohrt for $50 an acre. Later in October S. D. Riniker and D. R. Whitaker, Rock Rapids businessmen bought the "Whitney homestead" which was in the corporate limits of the town of Rock Rapids. They announced the land was worth $65 an acre, but the exact sale price was not announced.

Liquor continued to be a sore subject in Rock Rapids. Under state law the saloon men had to have petitions on file with not less than 65 percent of the voters approving the operations of the saloons. A survey of the petitions on file in the county in March of 1900, showed that 75.8 percent of the voters had consented the liquor operations. In Dale Township 97.6 percent of the voters had signed up while in Lyon Township only 36 percent had approved.

Anti-saloon workers threatened to publish the list of signers on the issue, and quite a few of them took their names off the petitions, however, it seemed apparent that there were sufficient voters listed for the saloons to continue operation. Frequent meetings were held by those opposing the saloons and every effort made to discourage the business. Township trustees of Rock Township took action in the spring-as members of the board of health-to cut down the hours of operation of the liquor establishments. They said to stop the spread of smallpox, saloons had to close at 10 p.m., and that they could not operate on Sundays.

The saloonkeepers evidently were fearful that the petitions could not stand too much investigation, so in December they started a campaign for all new consent petitions. Early results of the canvass were said to be very favorable and the saloon people said
they would have far more than the 65 percent signup needed.

In March S. D. Riniker was elected mayor and H. B. Pierce was re-elected to the school board.

A tragedy that attracted considerable attention occurred in mid-April. Fifteen-year-old Gilbert Steen was out hunting and set his gun against a fence while he mounted his horse. He then reached over to pick up the gun; its trigger caught on the fence and the full charge hit the youth abut the chest and head, killing him instantly.

O. P. Miller, the Rock Rapids banker, drew considerable attention from Chicago newspapers during the general conference of the Methodist Church. Miller was reported to be the lay leader of the Northwest Iowa District. He was listed as a trustee of Cornell College and one of the main supporters of Morningside College. At the conference he was on the committee on episcopacy and also the committee on book concerns. He was acting treasurer for the general conference during the illness of the regular treasurer. They indicated he was "going places" in the Methodist organization.

An honor came to Col. J. K. P. Thompson when he was named by the governor as a member of the Iowa Vicksburg Monument Commission. The group was to decide what Iowa units were to be memorialized with monuments in the Vicksburg Park and where
these monuments were to be placed. Thompson was elected chairman of the committee. It was considered a major civic honor for the Rock Rapids banker, who had been one of the leaders in the Grand Army of the Republic.

Rock Rapids had been without its own cigar factory for some time, but M. E. Bushgena decided to return here and again go into business. He resumed rolling his well known and popular "Her" cigars and also planned to make several other brands.

County officials released their valuations of county property the middle of the year. They said that their latest assessments showed actual value of county farmland to be $10,331.956 plus $49,660 in new improvements for a total of $12,622,208. Rock Rapids values were placed at $1,662,203 plus $37,038 in new construction. Average actual value of farmland in the county was put at $29.31 per acre.

In July Adolph Schroeder was found hanging by the neck in his hog house between Rock Rapids and Doon. This was the start of a sensational murder case that was to run for several years before it was cleared up. The coroner's jury first said that he had to come to his death by suicide. Shroeder's brothers were not satisfied and they brought charges against the hired man, Charles Rocker. The two men had been drinking in Doon the evening before the body was found. It was established that Rocker had tried to buy some drugged whiskey in a couple of Doon saloons, and someone-possibly Rocker-had bought chloroform from the Doon drug store. The case against Rocker was dropped after a preliminary hearing in the court of Justice of the Peace Chan Smith.

The last of July a crime was committed at Lakewood that had everyone excited. Harry B. Bliss of Windom was visiting in that area and his girl friend, Mrs. Martha Rofe came down from Windom. They had a quarrel and Bliss took after her with a hatchet, hitting her on the head four times. Dr. Cottam was called and he removed bone splinters from the brain and dressed the wounds. Bliss came to Rock Rapids and turned himself in to the sheriff, fearing mob violence. Mrs. Rofe recovered and the pair finally returned to Minnesota.

About the first of August arrangements were finally completed for financing the Clark Automatic Telephone Company. A Van Wagenan was one of the chief promoters of this system. The Clark system used a dial system, instead of having a central office. It was reported that more than a million and half-dollars were being put up by eastern capitalists to finance the company.


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