Century Ends - Part 3--

Bar room fights were obviously common in Rock Rapids in 1902. There were constant fights and many court actions against those who indulged too freely in the cheap liquors which were available. One of those bar room fights occurred the first of December. In that fight, between Pat Haley and Dave Graft, the latter bit off part of Haley's thumb. It was known as the "thumb sucking case." Haley sued Graft for $2,000 and the jury brought in a verdict in Haley's favor-but they set the damage at $1 and assessed the cost of the action to the plaintiff.

Although no name was mentioned, there was great public indignation against a Lakewood man that got himself plastered and tried to drive his team across a railroad trestle. The horses got their legs between the ties, so the owner went off and left them. Shortly thereafter the Bonnie Doon came along, and not seeing the horses, the engineer drove his engine right into them, creating a very messy accident-both horses, of course, were killed.

The year ended with a shooting at George. Helmer DeBoer and August Bunge had been feuding for some time. They happened to be together in the B. W. Feldman Store at George one evening and there had been more words. Bunge started to leave the store and DeBoer kicked him, "the blow striking Bunge's private person." Bunge then pulled a gun and shot DeBoer. Bunge walked the streets of George for several hours before the sheriff came down from Rock Rapids and took him into custody.

Agriculture, farming and feeding still made the big news of 1902. In January H. G. McMillan held his annual sale of Percherons from Lakewood Farm. The sale was a good one and more than $11,000 was paid for the various animals offered. The top stallion sold for $1,000 and the top mare went for $485. Average paid for the stallions was $748 and the average for the mares was $309.

Probably because of the success of his annual sales-which were held at the opera house-McMillan decided to hold a fall sale also. He held one in November of 1902. That sale at the opera house was a two-day event. The first day they sold Percherons and the second day was for blooded cattle. Chancellor was the top stallion offered and he brought $1175. Receipts from the two-day sale totaled $23,025.

Rock Rapids had a new settler in March. He was Mert McLaughlin, a prominent farmer and feeder, moved her from the Inwood area. He came to Rock Rapids community because the schools here were so good and he wanted his children to have the very best. McLaughlin brought with him fancy herds of purebred livestock, both cattle and hogs. He farmed in this area for many years before moving to Rock Rapids. He was for many years the leading auctioneer in northwest Iowa. Later, in the 1930s, he was for a short time named acting postmaster by President Roosevelt.

Property owners in Minnesota were still advertising for men and teams to break up the prairie and seed it to flax. This land had never grown a cultivated crop until this time.

Lyon County was having its normal weather-unpredictable-never the right amount of moisture at the right time. After a cool spring and lack of moisture, a bad storm swept across the area doing much damage to crops and farm property. William Link's new barn just north of town was moved off its foundation. There were numerous washouts on the Illinois Central south of here and train service was disrupted for several days. Drought had hurt crop prospects greatly and there was feared that there would be little or no grain. Then the week of June 20-the temperature dropped below freezing on two nights. The 21st of June it was reported that a real good rain had fallen-but no one would hazard a guess as to whether the crop was beyond help or not. Final harvest results were very disappointing.

In spite of the poor crop, year's prices of land continued to move upward. H. J. Roan Land Company was advertising Lyon County land at from $57 to $65 an acre. They also had Minnesota land which could be bought for $32 an acre.

An agriculture item of note was found in the December 18th paper. H. Boomgaarden, who owned a section of land west of Rock Rapids had just shipped a big lot of sheep to Chicago. The shipment was made in a special train of 15 double deck cars-in all there were 3,111 animals in the shipment. Boomgaarden kept 500 ewes to start a new flock.

Rock Rapids still offered a variety of entertainments of varying degrees of quality. In March the production "Ten Nights in a Barroom" came to the opera house. In March a lot of Rock Rapids people went to George to see the dramatic club of that place present "The Merchant of Venice." Louis Vogt, a George lawyer, was a very competent actor and he played in the production, as well as directed it.

In March Hal Barber's Londale Theater Company came back to Rock Rapids to close its season. They presented three performances here-to big crowds. Most of the actors returned to the east, but Barber and Bert Higgins, who played bits with the company and was a specialty man, remained here for the summer. They started work on new scenery and announced plans for a much-expanded tour for the coming season.

The last number of the lecture course was presented the last of March. It was a whistling program presented by Abbie Thomas. Her whistling and singing proved very popular.

The community was quite proud of another Rock Rapids young woman who seemed to have great dramatic potential. She was Minnie Conklin Stone, who had gone east to study for the theatre, had considerable success on the stage, and was good enough that the great producer Charles Frohman had picked her for special study in his dramatic school.

Professor Tonolli came to Rock Rapids the first of May 1902. Tonolli was a musician, and a volatile Italian. He had played with some of the finest bands in Europe and the King of Italy had given him a baritone horn with a jeweled mouthpiece in tribute to his fine playing. Tonolli came to Rock Rapids from Arthur, Iowa to direct the Rock Rapids band. Tonolli did an excellent job with the band, but raising the money for his salary was a constant problem. Late in the year he advertised to give lessons on the piccolo, flute, clarinet, oboe, sax, coronet, alto, tenor or trombone, at the rate of 50 cents a lesson. Tonolli continued to teach music here for a dozen years. He was rated as an outstanding musician-but he was also considered a "foreigner" and many were the pranks youngsters played on him.

Among the interesting items of the year one was a notice published by the municipal utilities telling local people not to let the paperhangers or painters take down the electric wiring in the homes. Most of this wiring was exposed and it was in the way when decorating had to be done. The superintendent of the plant said that people could call the city and someone would come out and take the wires down, rather than let inexperienced people do this dangerous work.

There was quite a write-up in the April 3, 1902 issue of the Review about F. E. Barber's dog "Silver Tip." It was claimed this dog could tell the difference between silver dollars and counterfeits. Local "sports" had a great time egging traveling men into making bets that the dog couldn't tell the difference between good and bad dollars, but it was claimed he never missed.

Lyon County schools were hurting for teachers and the subject was being discussed widely. Editor of a Rock Rapids paper said the reason was the pay scale. He said that the $28 a month which was being offered was not enough-the teachers should be paid $30 to $35 a month, which would attract the kind of teachers wanted.

The board of supervisors was notified that the poor farm started only a year previously had made money. The crops had been good and there were five people living in the facility-and evidently working in the fields for their care and keep.

Rollin E. Roach was named as the valedictorian of the graduating class of 1902. Members of the class who completed their school work in addition to Roach were Grace Barrett, Alma Greenleaf, Fay H. Martin, Eber L. Aldrich, Joseph H. Anderson, Edward C. Fitzgerald, Leo E. Gilman, Charles I. Gilman, Otis A. Henry, Guy H. Spratt and Malcolm E. Wilson.

Hunters of relics were very active north of town that summer. When road crews were working on the Kanaranzi Hill a couple of miles north of town, they uncovered a lot of Indian skeletons and many relics were found.

Early in June the Sons of Hermann Lodge held a "shoot" for children. They had air rifle contests all day long as well as other entertainment. Then there was a parade with the town band leading the way and in the evening a big dance for the parents. Everyone had a fine time. But a keg and a pony of beer, which was left over from the dance, was stolen during the night.

Inflation was raising its ugly head in 1902. On June 12, C. L. Stickney, who operated the Rock Rapids Bakery, announced that because of the increase in the cost of all the materials he used, he would have to raise the price of a loaf of bread from three and one-half cents to five cents.

In July, after getting their tracks back in shape from the June washouts, the Illinois Central announced the addition of a second passenger train each way on the Sioux Falls-Cherokee run. The train would leave Sioux Falls at 8:40 in the morning, reach Rock Rapids at 9:45 and Cherokee at 12:10 p.m. Returning the train would leave Cherokee at 4:20 p.m., reach Rock Rapids at 6:53 and be in Sioux Falls at 7:53 in the evening.


Nineteen hundred and three in Rock Rapids started off as a year of violence and a number of crimes featured the news of the year.

The first week of the year Helmer DeBoer, who had been shot in an argument at George, died. The man who fired the fatal shot, August Bunge was brought here for custody and charged with murder.

The DeBoer death pretty well split the community of George and it aroused major interest in the county seat. In a preliminary hearing Bunge was bound over to the grand jury and the magistrate set bond at $15,000. There was considerable controversy about the bond-as most thought the bond indicated that Bunge would not be convicted as murder was not a bailable offense. The grand jury met the first of February and after hearing the evidence it indicted Bunge for murder in the first degree.

Bunge's trial started the middle of February and the evidence was swiftly presented. The jury was out an hour and 32 minutes-and then returned a verdict of "not guilty." The spectators evidently liked the verdict as it was reported that there was much applause. In all there were less than two months from the time of the crime until the final verdict was rendered.

In March a particularly nauseous matter came to light with the arrest of a middle-aged schoolteacher in a rural school near George. A. C. Sheetz, a teacher who lived on a farm nearby, was charged with indecent exposure and intent to commit rape of the young girls in his school. The matter had evidently been going on for some time, until some of the girls-eight years old and older, refused to go to school and finally their parents got out of them what the trouble was.

Public opinion was very much against Sheetz. He was bound over to the grand jury and brought to Rock Rapids where he was jailed. He was brought to trial in April and April 23; the papers reported his conviction by a jury on the charge of assault with intent to commit rape and other charges. The middle of May he was sentenced to spend five years at hard labor at Anamosa.

The first of March another crime took place at Ben Clare-involving well-known people of the area, which aroused much indignation. Frank Bowen was a grain buyer at Ben Clare and he had been quarreling with Henry Stegald, the Illinois Central agent at Ben Clare over the demurrage Stegald had charged on a shipment of grain. One morning Bowen and his 12-year old son went to the depot and the argument started again. Stegald pulled out a gun and shot Bowen and also the boy. Bowen was killed outright but the boy was only wounded. He managed to get to his home and told his mother about the shooting-she rushed to the depot and found her husband dead.

South Dakota officials immediately arrested Stegald, the railroad sent in its detectives and an investigation was started.

Stegald had been an assistant agent at George prior to being assigned to Ben Clare. He had a lot of friends-but her was known as being very nervous and highly excitable.

When Stegald was brought up for a preliminary hearing in April a plea was made on his behalf of not guilty by reason of insanity. When the trial was held a jury -at Sioux Falls-found that Stegald was mentally unsound and he was found not guilty. The widow-Mrs. Frank Bowen, late in the year started an action against the railroad, demanding $20,000 damages for the loss of her husband.

A note of interest-at least to the people of the immediate community was that for the first time in the history of the county a democrat had been re-elected clerk of court and had taken over that office. he was George Macnab, son of a prominent pioneer doctor, and a highly popular man. His personal popularity was given in explanation of the fact that the office had gone to the Democratic Party.

One of the community's most important men died January 15. J. K. P. Thompson had been a resident of the community for many years. He was prominent as a banker, land dealer, and public benefactor. He had built the finest home in Rock Rapids, had built a beautiful new home for one of his daughters when she married F. B. Parker-and had only a few weeks previously married another daughter to Albert Wold.

Thompson had been commander of the Iowa Grand Army of the Republic; he had been a power in the national GAR organization. He had been named to the commission to locate positions around Vicksburg where Iowa troops had fought. Thompson had made an unsuccessful try for the convention nomination for lieutenant governor of Iowa. He was a member of the Congregational church, was an active member of the Masonic Lodge, and was widely recognized as one of the most prominent public figures of Northwest Iowa.

Word was out in Late January of 1903 that the Rock Island was going to put in another passenger train through Rock Rapids. This passenger would go east at about 8 a.m. and west about 7:30 p.m. It gave the community another direct route into Chicago.

The infamous James Estate matter got into the lime-light the middle of February when one, Nathaniel Rose, who claimed a one-sixth interest in the estate, served papers on all of the people who had bought lands formerly owned by the estate, claiming that the titles were no good and demanding damages. E. E. Carpenter, the Beloit promoter, who had been mixed up in the estate for many years, was said to be back of the newest series of actions--and the papers said that it was sure that as soon as this "heir" had his day in court, Carpenter would dig up another heir and start in again. Over 11,000 acres of Lyon County land were involved in the case. That Carpenter was mixed up in the action seemed established when he published an advertisement in the Review offering to settle titles for the various farms, as far as the Rose claims were concerned, for small amounts-less than the cost of taking the matter into court. The buyers of the estate lands held meetings and decided to fight the case-to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Nineteen hundred and three was to be a violent year as far as weather was concerned. Mid-March the ice went out of the river, there was a very heavy rain and much flooding resulted. The Rock Island had a lot of washouts on its line and train service was disrupted. The Kanaranzi and Tom Creek were both on a rampage and adding much floodwater to the swollen Rock.

A number of Rock Rapids young men had very narrow escapes from drowning at this time. Evidently there was a major flight of ducks and geese going north and the hunters were out on the river after them. At least three or four duck boats tipped over, spilling the hunters into the raging waters-and there were several very close calls. The Millers, Phin and Art, were spilled into the river two miles south of town and barely reached a small island where they managed to get out of the water and rescuers were able to reach them.

The last week in April Rock Rapids had a real bad snowstorm. It broke off wires, tore down electric and telephone lines, and caused much damage and distress. It was said to be the worst snowstorm on record since 1802. The last of June a real bad electrical storm hit the community. Lightning followed the telegraph wires into the Omaha depot where much damage was done. The tower on the German Lutheran Church was struck, and badly damaged. Ed Tressler's big icehouse was hit and burned to the ground. Fortunately Tressler had another, smaller ice house, which was full and people of the community were told that if they were careful there would be enough ice to get them through the summer. Throughout the area a number of barn were struck and quite a number of head of cattle were killed. There was a terrific downpour with the lightning.

The Rock River was almost at flood stage for weeks following the June storm. One evening about 9 p.m. the second week in July, Charles F. Wagner, popular young abstracter working for H. B. Pierce, with a bunch of other young men went down to the river south of the Illinois Central Bridge and were swimming. Wagner called for help, but it could not reach him and he was drowned. Boats and dragging equipment were brought to the place and efforts to recover the body were successful some three hours later. The river was about 12 feet deep in the area where the man was swimming and the high current had washed his body about a block from where it had disappeared.

Another bad storm hit the county a couple of weeks later. This storm-heavy rains, hail and wind, practically wiped out the crops in the eastern end of the county and did damage over a widespread area. Many farmers starting returning twin they had bought for the harvest. J. W. Roach, prominent farmer and banker, made a trip over the entire county to find out how bad the situation was. He reported that although the East End of the county had very serious and extensive damages-the rest of the county was in pretty good shape. He thought the West End would have a real good harvest-with the damage increasing the farther east one went.

In October another bad storm hit. While the whole county had minor damage, in and
around Inwood the tornado did its worst. Many buildings, both in town and out were leveled. Two people were seriously injured in Inwood. Politics was always a hot issue in Rock Rapids. For the coming city election three different tickets of candidates were filed. The citizen's caucus filed a slate, the republicans held a caucus and filed a slate and then the socialists nominated men for the council.

The socialist effort here was never successful, but there were a small number of people who subscribed to that philosophy had meetings, brought in speakers but who never polled enough votes to be a factor. Leader of the group who was supporting the Socialist cause was Dr. J. E. North. He was a homeopathic physician and surgeon. His wife was also a physician and they had a large practice here. Dr. North had a huge static electric generating machine in his office that he used to treat various diseases. He was very public spirited, and he was quite popular as an obstetrician.

Anyhow the citizen caucus candidates were elected to the council without any trouble.

The middle of March N. Koob & Sons ended their closing out sale and moved the rest of their stock and merchandise to Waseca, Minnesota where they had bought a store and would expand the operation. The Koobs had been leading merchants in Rock Rapids for many years.

Two months after the Koobs left Rock Rapids F. A. Reed opened a store in which he sold dry goods, ladies' ready-to-wear and notions. There were already two general stores in Rock Rapids-J. H. Harrison's and Lockwood & Pirwitz.

Long time efforts of the owners of the water works in Rock Rapids to sell that system to the town came to a head in April. The company made an offer to sell the system to Rock Rapids for $15,000. They claimed this was about half what had been invested in it.

The city hired an engineer to look over the matter and he recommended the purchase be made. A committee was named to check the books of the company-and they evidently were not entirely satisfied with what they found. The matter was finally settled by a decision to hold an election on whether the people wanted to buy or not. As usual the attorneys in the community took sides-as did the banks, and there was a lot of argument abut the matter.

The election was held the middle of May-and results startled everyone. There were 202 votes against purchase of the system and only four favoring the deal.

One thing the water proposal did do was to start talk about a steam heating system for the business district. The proposal was that exhaust steam from the electric plant could be used to heat a substantial area of the business district. The heating plant was discussed widely for a number of years before it finally was adopted.

In May residents of the city presented petitions to the council calling for the construction of a sewer system. They wanted sewers built on Main Street-and also laterals on Union, Adams, Carroll and Greene Streets. The council took the petitions under advisement-they were checked out and found to be sufficient-and after much argument contracts were let in September for the system. A "huge" trenching machine, which had been sent to Sioux Falls to dig sewers there, was brought to Rock Rapids and used for the work. At Sioux Falls, the owners of the machine and the sewer contractor got into an argument, and as a result the ditcher was never used there at all.

In their September meeting, the council also decided to put additional generating equipment in the municipal plant. There was a division of opinion as to whether additional direct current equipment should be installed, or whether the whole system should be changed over to alternating current. The final decision was that there was to be an additional dynamo for direct current and a new high-speed engine.

Not all council meeting dealt with major matters such as purchase of electric equipment, a water system, etc. In their June meeting the council passed another ordinance-this to make it unlawful to spit on the walks or streets in Rock Rapids.

On May 25 it was announced that Congressman Lot Thomas of Storm Lake had appointed Emil Tonne of Rock Rapids to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. Tonne was given the appointment direct, without having to take a competitive examination, and The Hon. E. C. Roach, Rock Rapids, prominent republican leader, was given credit for the appointment.

Fifteen Rock Rapids young people received their diplomas upon completion of their high school studies. There were three areas of study in the school-and diplomas were granted in each area. Valedictorian of the class was Homer Pierce who graduated from the Latin-Scientific course. From the Latin-English course graduates were: Nellie A. Brown, Robert E. Spratt, Myrtle Piele, Hattie M. Hamlin, Bertha A. Ewer, Beulah E. Tupper, Margaret E. Morgan, Arthur J. Jansen and Carrie M. Wallace. From the German-English course the graduates were John E. Key, William H. Olson, Wesley S. Lamberton, Clarence E. Moon and Roswell Puckett.

Baseball, which had been a big-time effort of the community in 1902, was not so popular. The cost of fielding a large professional team had been a burden. However, the fans wanted a team, so "Dad" Greene, when he completed his coaching duties at Iowa State College, brought three of his best players to Rock Rapids and built a team around them. He had Pitcher Brown, Catcher Cotton and Second-baseman Deshler, and they made a very formidable aggregation. The season opened with a game against the Sioux Falls Canaries that the locals won 1 to 0 in 11 innings. Throughout the season the Rock Rapids' Browns built up an impressive record and won most of their games.

There was much surprise and considerable shock when Mrs. Laura D. Stoltenberg arrived in Rock Rapids the first week in August. She had been sentenced to three years in Anamosa the year before on conviction of operating a house of prostitution in Rock Rapids. She wanted to move back into her house-but it had been rented and she could not break the lease. Local people were very unhappy with Governor Cummins who issued the pardon.

Mid-summer an extensive program of remodeling of the Lyon Hotel was started. An addition was built over the sample room on the West Side of the hotel. A number of new rooms were available and several additional baths were installed.

A spectacular railroad accident took place at the crossing of the Omaha and the Rock Island just north of the business district. The Omaha was going south when a freight came from the east at high speed and did not stop at the station or for the crossing. Fireman Edwards on the Omaha saw the Rock Island train approaching without any evidence that it was slowing down or would stop. He yelled at the engineer to reverse, which was done-or the Rock Island would have hit a passenger car on the rear of the Omaha and loss of lives could have been extensive. As it was both trains were badly smashed up, the Rock Island engine ditched and the tracks were torn up. None of those on either train had anything more than minor injuries.

To take care of increasing business, directors of the Iowa Savings Bank voted to issue all of the $50,000 capital stock that had been authorized. Up until this time only $25,000 had been issued. Nick Hampe, a newcomer to Rock Rapids, who owned a number of farms in the community bought a large block of the new stock and was to become one of the chief officers of the bank.

It had been several years since a fair had been held in Rock Rapids, but businessmen decided they wanted a celebration so a three-day street carnival was organized. A number of free attractions were booked, there were stands, games, band concerts and dancing for the visitors to the community. The event cost over $900, but when it was over it was found that there was a profit of $16. It was pronounced a great success and everyone had a wonderful time.

With a year of experience behind them the high school footballers took the field in October and defeated Luverne in two games. Then they took on Sioux City at Rock Rapids and won that game 17 to 12. Unhappy when they went to Sioux City for a rematch the city boys proved too tough and the locals lost 33 to 3.

There was great community pride when H. G. McMillan's Lakewood Farm horses walked away with many honors at the Iowa State Fair. The farm entered 15 horses and every one of them won a ribbon. The Percherons took nine first places, five second places and one third place. The stallion Calypso was picked as the best Percheron stallion and also the grand sweepstake winner for all breeds.

Poor crops seemed to have no effect on the price paid for Lyon County land. One sale which attracted much attention the fall of 1903 was when Henry Klahn bought the James Kemplay quarter west of town for $62 an acre. This was a new high for the area.

The year ended as it had began, with criminal news. Charles Rocker, who had been mixed up with the death of August Schroeder three years before, was arrested. He had later married Schroeder's widow and they had moved to near Elkton, S. D. One night he got to talking in his sleep and recounted the events leading up to Schroeder's death and how he had hung Schroeder in his own hog house. Mrs. Rocker got scared and came to Rock Rapids and told County Attorney Simon Fisher about what Rocker had said. Fisher got a warrant, had the man arrested and brought back to Rock Rapids for a trial on a murder charge.


Buncombe Index   |   Home   |   Century Ends - Part 1


Webization by Kermit Kittleson - Aug. 2006