LYON COUNTY GENEALOGY
The Indians did not take their final departure from their favorite hunting and fishing grounds, within Lyon County until 1869. Although they had formally relinquished all claims to their lands in 1851, and stipulated to remove at once to their reservation on the Upper Missouri, they were loth to bid a final farewell. Some lingered around their old council fires, and others returned on frequent hunting excursions.
With the exception of a few families at Sioux City, no settlement had been made in northwestern Iowa and the country was but little known except to Indian traders, hunters and explorers for many years. In 1854, Dr. John K. Cook began the government survey and the same year laid out Sioux City. In 1855 the government land office was moved to Sioux City, and on the 11th of September, Alexander Anderson, United States deputy surveyor, completed the field surveys for the southern tier of townships in Lyon County. The remainder of the surveys were completed the two following years.
The abundance of game and fur-bearing animals soon brought several parties of hunters to the Rock and Sioux rivers, who were joint occupants with the Sioux Indians, of Lyon County for several years. Among the most noted of these adventurers was Daniel McLaren. "Uncle Dan," as he was commonly called, was the first white man to construct a cabin within the borders of Lyon County. It stood hard by the sparkling waters of the Big Sioux, at the mouth of a creek now bearing his name. He remained there several years, being fortunate enough to retain his scalp in presence of the none too friendly Sioux warriors, and always having a full storehouse of buffalo, elk, deer and beaver skins. He caught the land fever, as settlers came in, and took a "claim" and many of the pioneers recall his hospitality. But like many another such character, he soon tired of civilization, so he went on west to find as he termed "more elbow room," but to him belongs the historic honor of having been the first to locate in the county.
A character known as "Old Tom," was the next to come upon the scene. He built his cabin home at the mouth of what was later styled "Tom Creek," near the present city of Rock Rapids. But with the advantages of implements possessed by the whites, and his wonderful skill as a hunter and trapper, he would take more beaver than the Sioux, or they ruthlessly shot him through the heart with an arrow, one morning, while engaged at setting his traps.
The next to wend their way to these parts were three young men from Massachusetts, Roy McGregor, George Clark and Thomas Lockhart. As they were possessed of education, talent and noble ambition, the tragic fate of two of their number was sad, indeed. It was in the summer of 1862 that this party resolved too spend the winter in a hunting tour in this part of the west. They reached Rock Valley in October, and being elated with the prospect of a successful winter's hunt, they built a cabin on an island in the river, at the forks of the Little Rock, West Branch and Rock river. Here the three passed the autumn in rare sport, taking an abundance of choice game. But alas! their happiness was soon to cease. One morning, after the snow had mantled the ground and while McGregor and Lockhart were attending to their traps, a short distance above the "Lone Cottonwood," on the bank of the Little Rock, opposite where the residence of Jesse Monk was subsequently built, they saw a drove of elk bounding down the valley.
Seizing their rifles and firing into the drove, they brought down a huge buck. They were preparing to carry the venison to camp, when they were suddenly attacked by a bank of Santee-Sioux Indians from Minnesota, who had been following the elk. The savages first fired upon them with bow and arrow, from which McGregor received a shot in the side, and then charged upon them with unearthly yells. McGregor and Lockhart returned the fire from their rifles, and then retreated a short distance, down the stream, under cover the overhanging bluffs on the south bank of the stream. Here the superiority of their breech-loaders, together with the position they held enabled them to keep the Indians at bay. Soon as he could Lockhart extracted the arrow from the side of poor McGregor and enquired if he was much hurt. He briskly answered "Oh, no," but soon began sinking and died in a few hours. When night came on, Lockhart escaped under cover of darkness aided by thick underbrush and soon joined Clark at their camp. They feared to move for several days, but finally returned to the scene of encounter, but could find no traces of poor McGregor.
Notwithstanding the severe shock produced by the loss of their companion, Lockhart and Clark decided to remain and contest with the savages, the right to hunt on their grounds. They were not, however, again molested and so continued hunting and trapping with much success until the following spring. Their cabin was fitted up with great taste, being lined on the inside with wolf skins, and it became a favorite resort for hunters throughout this region. The two companions had barely recovered from the gloom caused by the death of McGregor, when still another calamity befel them, more crushing, if possible, than his tragic death.
The little island upon which the cabin stood was very low; but as the river was also low at the time of building it, they had no serious thoughts of a flood overtaking them. Early in March, 1863, the weather became warm, the snows melted rapidly, and as the river began to rise, Lockhart and Clark felt some uneasiness, lest the water should come into their cabin home. A heavy rain ensued and the streams continued to rise, until as they had prepared to retire one evening, they found the water up to within a few inches of the door. Yet, they decided to wait until morning before making preparations to move.
During the night the ice broke up, and with the floating timber gorged the stream above the head of the island, almost completely damming it. Behind this gorge the waters still continued to rise until it had covered the river bottom to a great depth. Lockhart and Clark had arisen and began to prepare their morning meal, when this gorge broke, and the flood came down upon the island and cabin with terrific force. Hearing the rushing of the water and breaking of timbers, they ran out of the cabin just as the water came down upon them. Lockhart seized hold of a tree and succeeded in climbing out of the way of the flood. Clark jumped into the river and swam for the east bank. He succeeded in crossing the cold stream, and grasping some over-hanging boughs, turned his head and exclaimed "Tom, I'm all right," when the flood suddenly came upon him, and overwhelmed in the angry torrent, he sank to rise no more.
Lockhart remained in the tree top for several hours, when, by means of some floating logs, he reached the high bank and made his escape.
Gladly does the historian turn from the early footprints of white men in Lyon County, and relating wild tragic scenes, to record the next steps made in its settlement.
July 23, 1866, marked the first actual resident settler. It was in the person of Lewis P. Hyde, who entered lots 1 and 2, section 19 and lot 5, section 20, township 98, on the Sioux river, about two miles above Beloit, in what is now Lyon township. He formerly resided in Wisconsin. But surrounded by a family of grown up sons, he decided to emigrate to the great west, where each could secure that birthright of every American citizen--a good home. He first stopped in Minnesota, but not being fully satisfied with the location, he looked upon the beautiful prairies and valley lands of Lyon County, Iowa. He ascended the high table land overlooking the present town of Beloit, and beheld in the broad and magnificent valley of the Sioux, future wealth, population and prosperity. He accordingly settled here, while his sons made selections across the river in what is now South Dakota.
Mr. Hyde and his sons immediately set to work and erected a small log cabin which formed their homeshelter. Little did they dream as their axes broke the solitude never before disturbed by true husbandmen, that so soon should they be surrounded by a prosperous community, with all the blessings of civilization.
During the summer of 1866 the preliminary survey for the Sioux City & St. Paul railway, now the "Omaha line," was made and their land grant located.
In the autumn of 1866, Hyde and his sons returned to Minnesota to spend the winter and prepare for removal of their families and effects in the spring following. Thus Lyon County was left again to trappers and hunters, Indians and wild beasts, with no record of its history for the winter of 1866-7. In the spring of 1867, the little band returned from Minnesota and resumed the toil of home building again. With Sioux City seventy miles distant, for their nearest market place, and the ever-to-be watched Sioux Indians to keep them company, their advantages for a successful summer's work must have been anything but good.
The next to enter this fair domain for settlement was Halvor Nelson, of Clayton County, Iowa, who came to be known as one of the true fathers of Lyon County, who came in the fall of 1867, accompanied by his brother, Ole Nelson. They had set out for the purpose of locating a milling business and to build up a town. They followed the Big Sioux up to where now stands the town of Beloit. Here they found a splendid water power, situated in one of the most extensive, as well as fertile valleys in the west. Mr. Halvor Nelson at once laid claim to a large tract of land, embracing the present town site of Beloit. He then returned to Clayton County and organized a large colony of Norwegians.
During the winter of 1867-8, L.P. Hyde and family, and "Uncle Dan" McLaren, who had just taken a homestead at "Uncle Dan's Ford," were the only inhabitants of Lyon County, hence the historian is unable to glean much concerning the events or character of that winter.
Early in the spring of 1868, Halvor Nelson and his colony, consisting of thirty wagons, took up their journey for Lyon County. The last hundred miles lay across an open prairie, without bridges or even a trail to mark their westward course. The water being high, they encountered many difficulties in crossing streams and keeping their general route. Upon reaching Beloit, part of the colony settled in South Dakota, while James Paulson, Chris H. Sogn, A.K. Lee, Arne Helgerson, Gano Gunderson and Morton Hanson settled near Beloit, where, amid many difficulties, they began opening farms.
Nelson immediately commenced work on his saw mill, and although obliged to freight machinery and supplies from Sioux City, had it cutting lumber by late in the fall. A good grade of oak, black walnut, ash and cottonwood lumber was turned out, which materially aided in the settlement of the Sioux Valley.
During the month of May, 1868, H.D. Rich, then a resident of Clay County, Iowa, being encouraged by tales of the wonderful beauty and vast resources of Lyon County, proceeded to explore the region of the Rock river. He was much impressed with all he saw, but while standing on the highland above the present town of Doon, he has charmed at the romantic scenes nature's own artistic brush had there painted in the waving grass, the forest and sparkling water falls. Who shall tell his true feeling? Suffice to say he resolved to build there a permanent home.
In July, the same year, Mr. Rice accompanied by L.F. Knight, reached the forks of the Rock river, the second time, where they built a cabin and began the first settlement on Rock river. In August Mr. Rice returned to Clay county for his family, leaving Mr. Knight at the forks. This circumstance gave rise to the name of Doon, which the place now and doubtless ever will hear. Sitting in solitude on the bank of this beautiful stream, far removed from all humanity, with naught but the songs of the wild birds, or the soft murmur of the waterfall to break the silence in that "green, glad solitude," Mr. Knight recalled those touching lines of Robert Burns', beginning:
"Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair;
How can ye chant ye little birds,
And I sae weary, fu' o' care!"
This suggested to him the name he should give to the place.
In August, that year, Emerick Erwin and H.W. Reves built a cabin near the forks, where they spent the winter. Mrs. Rice reached Doon in September, and moving into their little cabin, was the first woman to settle on Rock river.
J.B. Hartson, of Wisconsin, arrived at Doon the latter part of December, and selected land upon which he lived many years.
These persons and the little colony at Beloit comprised the population of Lyon County for the winter of 1868-9. This winter was extremely milk, with but little snow. Pioneer Rice turned his stock out on the river bottoms early in March, where they subsisted in good order with no other food.
The various bands of Indians--mostly Yanktons, hunted through these regions, and seem to have been peaceable. Although almost cut off from the world, these little settlements passed the winter in comparative comfort.
In May, 1869, Charles H. Johnson, of Wisconsin, one of the hard-working pioneer band, explored the valley of the Little Rock river. Being pleased at the outlook, he accordingly selected a homestead at the junction of that stream and Otter creek, thus beginning the settlement of the Little Rock valley.
Soon after this came T.W. Johnson, A.A. Johnson, Emerick Irwin and the Messrs. McGuire, all settling near the forks above named.
Prior to this, no settlement had been made in Rock township and the Rock river valley in the north part of the county had never been visited with a view to settlement. In the month of June, 1869, D.C. Whitehead, of Webster county, an enterprising man, who became foremost in all that looked toward the future development of the county, proceeded to make explorations. On his route he was joined by Matthias Sweesy and Delos Towsley. On the 22d of June this party reached the rapids at the junction of the Rock and Kanaranzi rivers, and here stood enchanted by the sound of the waterfall, which for long ages had wasted its power and lavished its beauty upon the wilderness. At once filled with enthusiasm and high hopes of the future of the place, Mr. Whitehead here gave it the name of "Rock Rapids."
The party soon selected homesteads, Mr. Whitehead nearly adjoining the present town plat, and Messrs. Sweesy and Towsley a short distance above, and then left to secure their families. Thus was commenced the thriving city of Rock Rapids and the settlement of Rock township.
In June, 1869, George W. McQueen and John A. Wagner, of Lynn County, Iowa, reached this county as land and home seekers. McQueen entered several fine tracts of government land, and settled permanently at Doon. Wagner selected a homestead on Burr Oak creek, beginning the settlement on that stream.
In July, S.G. Martin and Justice Martin and family, settled a short distance above Rock Rapids, Mrs. Justice Martin being the first white woman to settle in Rock township, and they were the only family residing in the township during the winter of 1869-70.
While the above related progress at settlement was going on along the Rock river, it was also lively in the Sioux Valley. In July, 1869, Amos Severson, Thorsten Korsted, Ole Sorenson, Hans J. Olson, Simon Tobiason, and others, settled on the Big Sioux, in township 99, and began what is now one of the best settlements in Lyon county. John Albertson effected the first settlement, between Doon and Beloit. In November, E.W. Lewis, of Pennsylvania, selected a tract of land on the Big Sioux, in what was later known as Larchwood township, and located there the following spring.
The Beloit colony had been added to in goodly numbers, and during that season the first crop, of any importance in Lyon County was raised--this was 1869. The dam at Nelson's Mills, at Beloit went out and was replaced in the spring.
During the summer of 1869, H.D. Rice erected a large frame house on his place at Doon, which was the first frame building at Doon, or on the Rock river. A large share of the lumber for its construction was hauled from Sioux City. But the protection which it later gave to settlers, as they reached the county, amply repaid for all it cost.
During 1869 large tracts of government lands were taken by speculators, which would soon have been taken by actual homestead settlers. In the fall of that year the Sioux City and Dubuque Railway, reached LeMars, and this brought Lyon County only forty miles from markets. At the close of 1869, probably not to exceed one hundred people claimed Lyon County to be their home. It should be remembered that the country for a hundred miles to the south and east was still unsettled, and that section caught its share of emigration.
During 1870, many came to Lyon County, including H.T. Helgerson, in February, who took a homestead at Beloit; C.H. Moon, one adjoining the present plat of Rock Rapids and D.C. Whitehead moved there with his family, enduring great hardship and suffering from a terrible storm which came on at the time. Early in the spring came James H. and William Wagner, James I. Taylor and Robert Parks, who settled on Burr Oak creek; J.S. Smith, Christian Larson, Issac Kester, John Monlux, Abraham J. Hamlin and William Hamlin, near Rock Rapids.
While the western and central portions of the country had begun to be fairly well sprinkled by settlements, the eastern part was yet entirely vacant. This is embraced within the limits of the Sioux City & St. Paul Railway line, and the even numbered sections were held by the government for actual settlers, only, at $2.50 per acre, or a homestead of only eighty acres. In June, 1870, S.C. Hyde, of Wisconsin, settled on Otter Creek, in the southeast corner of the county and tried to induce fellow-settlers. In July the Messrs. Schultz and others located near the mouth of Otter creek. Later came John F. Thompson, Eli Baker, John Thompson and William Mead, with families, from Illinois and Wisconsin, all making selections farther east on the Otter. In November, Jacob Hinshaw, Harmon Cook and Isaac Lawrence, made the first selections of land for the Quaker settlement, on Otter creek, and the foundations for settlement in the eastern part of the county were laid.
In July, G.R. Badgerow of Toronto, Ontario, located at Doon, engaging in the real estate business. He bought several tracts of land on Rock river. In September, J.A. Carpenter and sons, of Beloit, Wisconsin, bought a half interest in the Halvor Nelson milling property and in real estate on the Big Sioux. The name Beloit was then given to the town and the building of a first class flouring mill was commenced. It was in the autumn of that year that J.S. Howell, of Cherokee County arrived at Rock Rapids and became interested in business there.
Drought struck Lyon, as well as all other counties in Iowa, in the summer of 1870, and farmers were greatly handicapped and not a little discouraged. The following winter was unusually open and mild and with the spring opening of 1871, northwestern Iowa, including Lyon County, received the largest immigration in all its history. This was induced by better railway facilities. Settlers crowded in and took all vacant government land left. One company from Appleton, Wisconsin, under leadership of W.B. May and Anson Tolman, numbering twenty-five families, settled upon a fine body of land on Little Rock river. A mail route was established from LeMars via Doon, to Luverne, Minnesota, and thus Lyon became connected with sister counties and the outside world.
During that summer, improvements were commenced at Larchwood, by J.W. Fell, of Bloomington, Illinois. He planted over one hundred thousand fruit trees; also forest varieties, on his land adjoining the town plat, which was made the summer previous.
By January, 1872, the population had grown to about one thousand souls.
With the spring of 1872, commenced a new and brighter era for Lyon County and the great northwestern country. Railroads were here and more planned; the newspaper had been established at Rock Rapids--the Journal--schools were in operation; a large amount of land had been broken the year before and was ready to seed; the harvest had been bountiful and many noble men and women had been added to the community. Thus did a band of hardy brave-hearted pioneers, enduring the perils and privations of frontier life, lay the foundations of one of Iowa's goodly counties. Verily, to use the language of another: "They have organized society in the wilderness; first the cabin, the field, and then the neighborhood; then a school, a village, a church and a county. They have erased the landmarks of the red men, and made the plow to take the place of the bow and arrow in obtaining a livelihood, and intelligence and humanity to supersede barbarism and war.
Standing at the front, in an age of progress, through energy, endurance and a strong faith in the future, they have paved the way and created a heritage of wealth, prosperity and happiness for those who are to come after them. Happy, then, indeed that their hardships and sufferings have not been in vain."
The settlement in Lyon County was practically at a dead stand-still from 1873 to 1883--during the grasshopper years. Another drawback was the fact that out of nearly 400,000 acres of land, only about 20,000 were subject to "Homestead rights," the balance having been given to railway land grant rights and gobbled up by the far-seeing speculators, including he who was later Governor Larrabee, who owned and controlled a full half of the whole township--the same having been located with college script warrants. For years thousands of emigrants passed over Lyon County, where for from $3.00 to $5.00 per acre excellent land was for sale, but they pressed on to the Dakotas and Minnesota to procure free lands and many rued the day. The grasshoppers frequented this locality in the years 1873, 1874, 1875, 1876, and some as late as 1878.
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