LYON COUNTY GENEALOGY
EARLY DAYS IN LYON COUNTY
By Chas. E. Goetz, First County Auditor of Lyon County
In 1868, myself and several other young men of about the same age, (20 years) became interested in reading Richardsons book Beyond the Mississippi, which had just been published, and which awakened in us a desire to migrate to the wild and wooly west. The mountains, of course, appealed to us because of the prospect of discovering gold mines, which we were sure was easy enough once we were on the ground, so we made up our minds that the only thing to do was to get there. The parents of the other boys persuaded them to give up the scheme, but as I was away from home, their opposition did not have much weight.
I was twenty years of age, and of course, knew enough to take care of myself (boys of that age always do), so I concluded to try my fortune in the west. At this time I was employed in a store in Elkader, Iowa, my parents lived at Guttenberg, twenty miles away. In the spring of 1869, I resigned my position, went home for a visit of a few days, whence I intended to go to Denver, Colorado, and try my luck.
Accordingly I boarded a steamboat at Guttenberg for Clinton, where I intended to take train for Denver. Upon the boat I met a former teacher of mine, who, when he learned where I was bound, advised me to go to Sioux City first. He had just been there and had formed a very favorable impression of the town and country, and believed it would suit me better than Denver and the mountains. Following his suggestion, I purchased my ticket to Sioux City, going by the railroad, which had just been running into Sioux City a short time. On my arrival here, the first acquaintance I met was Thos. Thorsen, who had arrived from McGregor a week or two before and was working in a hardware store for J. M. Bacon. I was not particularly impressed with Sioux City, but Tom wanted me to stay, and when I found an opening for myself that very afternoon in the dry goods store of L. D. Palmer, I decided to try it a while to see how I liked it. I found the people to my liking and the wages satisfactory, so I remained in Sioux City.
Some time during the summer of 1870, Halvor Nelson and H. T. Helgerson, old family acquaintances of Tom Thorsen, came to Sioux City on business. They told us about the wonderful possibilities of the Sioux Valley and adjoining territory. Mr. Carpenter had just purchased an interest in the land and waterpower from Mr. Nelson and was going to build a mill and a city, to be named Beloit, on the Sioux, in Lyon County. It was just the place for a couple of boys like us to get a start in the world and become the future merchant princes of what was to be a great city and a greater country. Our enthusiasm was aroused and in the fall of 1870 we journeyed up the Sioux to look it over. We found a garden spot. The more we saw of the country the better we liked it, and were assured that it was only a question of a short time until the whole country would be densely populated, and now was our chance to get in on the ground floor.
We closed a contract with Carpenter and Nelson to put up a store building for us and in the spring we would come up and open up business. The building was erected, and in the latter part of March in the spring of 1871, I left Sioux City with three wagonloads of merchandise to open up the first store in Lyon County, under the name of Goetz & Thorsen. It was only seventy-five miles from Sioux City to Beloit, but it took us a week to get there. Caught in one of the worst blizzards we had ever seen, we were compelled to camp four days in a sod house with a family by the name of Wolcott, who lived four miles south of Eden (now Hudson) in South Dakota. Two of the teamsters from Sioux City refused to go on and I had to allow them to unload the goods and store them in a straw stable. Then I hired mine hosts horse and scoured the country for teams to convey the stuff on to Beloit for me. It will seem strange to people now when I tell them it took two days to find teams, but in those days, when neighbors were only ten or fifteen miles apart, it took some time to visit them. However, we got thro to Beloit, foot-sore and weary, and with all the courage possible commenced to open our stock ready for business. Mr. Thorsen came up in July and brought with him his mother and father, two brothers and one sister, who had come out from McGregor to join him in the new country. Also a Mr. Nelson came from Lansing, Iowa, and opened up a hardware store and tin shop, and in the fall Keep & Bradley came from Beloit, Wisconsin, and opened a general store next to us.
Our business was not very brisk, because in fact, people were scarce. Over the river, in South Dakota (then Dakota Territory) the homesteaders were coming in, but most of them brought little money and it took a year before anything like a crop could be raised. Even then only a small amount of land had been broken enough to hold the claim and raise enough for bread and seed for the next year. Western Lyon County had a few homesteaders, but the land had been mostly entered by speculators, and all we new settlers could do was to work and wait for the county to develop. You all know it now, but you did not all see it in its wild natural beauty, before neighbors became close as now. We young people thought it a great frolic to visit our neighbors, twenty miles away, for a dance on a cold winter night. Twenty miles looks like a long drive now.
In the summer of 1871, a notice came to us that the county was to be organized. A convention was called to nominate a county ticket. Personally, I had no desire to enter politics, so I did not attend the convention. Helgerson, Nelson, Thorsen, Carpenter and a few others attended it, and when they returned brought me word that among those selected as candidates were: my partner, Thos. Thorsen, recorder; H. T. Helgerson, our supervisor for Lyon Township; and myself for county auditor. This brought me into politics. It was a surprise to me I assure you, that I, a young man not yet twenty three years of age, should have been selected for such an important office, as I surely was not known by any of the people living along the Rock Valley and East of there in the county. What were my friends thinking of? However, if their confidence in me was so strong that they were willing to nominate me for such a position, I was going to do the best I could to be a credit to their judgment, if elected. The magnificent number of ninety-seven votes were cast.
Think of it! Ninety-seven votes in Lyon County. Whether I made good to my friends for the confidence reposed in me, my record as Lyon Countys first auditor and the verdict of the people must decide. The ticket nominated at that first convention was as follows:
County treasurer, Jas. H. Wagner of Doon.
County auditor, Chas. F. Goetz of Lyon.
County sheriff, Chas. Shultz of Doon.
Clerk of courts, D. C. Whitehead of Rock.
Recorder, Thos. Thorsen of Lyon.
Superintendent of schools, L. A. Ball of Doon.
Surveyor, Ethan Allen of Rock.
Coroner, S. C. Hyde of Doon.
Supervisors, J. S. Howell of Rock, H. T. Helgerson of Lyon, Chas. H. Johnson of Doon.
On November 24th, the officers elected appeared before the board of supervisors of Woodbury County to qualify. Lyon County being attached to Woodbury County, this action was necessary to enable the board of Woodbury County to close up its affairs and turn Lyon County over to its own officers on January 1, 1872. It was at this time I became acquainted with my brother officers of the county. It was in store for me to become better acquainted with them before my term of office expired.
Lyon County was new. Its settlement was sparse and neighbors far apart. It had a number of streams. Roads were to be located, streams bridged, the county seat located and the courthouse built. There were things doing right from the beginning. There was also dissension among the people as to how fast they should go and how much money expended. Pressure was brought to bear on all sides. People now at this time, thirty-two years having intervened and not having been in it, cannot appreciate the conditions and all that pertained at that time. Crops failed either by reason of too much moisture or by drought. The county lands were owned by railroads, granted lands and speculators. Settlement was coming on slowly. Some of the people thought it best to bridge every stream in the county, give the people work and tax it up to the landowners. (Our people being mostly homesteaders were exempt from realty taxation and personal property was not largely in evidence.) Others were for making haste slowly and managing the county business economically, and avoiding debt as much as possible.
The champions of liberal expenditure were headed by D. C. Whitehead, who was backed by J. S. Howell and Chas. H. Johnson, both members of the board of supervisors. The other side was championed by S. C. Hyde, Anson Tolman, J. W. Monk and others including H. T. Helgerson, Thos. Thorsen and myself. And I assure you the fight was fierce. It was not limited to the county business alone, but was carried into the school districts as well and some of you know of the litigation and expense it has caused. However, I was not in the school district fight. The board of supervisors being with those who were favorable to liberal expenditure two to one, made it necessary for those who believed in economy to hamper them as much as possible, and I believe by this action, many a dollar was saved the county. The auditor signed warrants under protest, by advice of his attorney, and signed bonds under protest, but that was all he could do, being nothing more than the servant of the board of supervisors. The courts were appealed to for injunctions and restraining orders, but with no avail. Yes, the fight was fierce, and yet, I want to testify to the goodness of heart and generous hospitality of all those men. No one was ever turned away from the home of an early Lyon County settler without a meal and the best the house afforded for himself and beast. The last sack of flour was ready to be divided with a neighbor who needed it. The last dollar was his, if his necessities were more pressing than were those of the owner. Neighbors were neighbors, tho miles of open wild prairie lay between them. We were all neighbors and friends, even if we differed on questions of public policy. Now I marvel that we could remain friends under the circumstances. I have a very warm and grateful remembrance of J. H. Wagner, our treasurer, with whom I became well acquainted and greatly attached. L. A. Ball, superintendent of schools, S. C. Hyde, T. K. Bradley and D. C. Whitehead were men who had many admirable qualities and were generous to their friends. There are many old settles, whom I remember warmly and gratefully, among them being Anson Tolman, J. W. Monk, Harman Cook, H. D. Rice, Geo. McQueen, Geo. Monlux and in the West End Hans J. Olson, A. Severson, E. W. Lewis, Jno. Albertson, Fred Keep and others.
Before the location of the county seat at Rock Rapids, we decided to enter the contest for Doon. Goetz and Thorsen being the owners of the southeast quarter of section 26 purchased from G. R. Badgerow. With that end in view, we organized the Lyon County Real Estate Company composed of the following members: A. J. Warren, H. D. Rice, C. E. Goetz, Jas. H. Wagner, Thos. Thorsen, H. T. Helgerson and Jesse M. Fell. We went into the fight to do the best we could. Our success with the courts did not encourage us much, inasmuch as the district judge was the appointing power, and so far we had not been much in favor. A commission of three was appointed by Judge Ford and we succeeded in getting one member. So the location was made at Rock Rapids as expected. At what cost was only a rumor. No one would say.
One of the schemes from the fertile brains of these men was the celebrated Swamp Land Scheme. D. C. Whitehead appeared before the Board and argued that the state having received from the Federal Government an allotment of land for each county, in lieu of lands located in the counties of the state and not tillable, because of being too wet and low, and Lyon County not having received her allotment, it was only necessary to ascertain the number of acres of actual swamp land in the county and then go to the state government and have the county reimbursed, either in money or the privilege of locating upon government land elsewhere for the same number of acres we had of swamp land in our county. It was a question in fact whether or not the titles to these lands in the county could not be vacated, and Lyon County become possessed of the swamp lands actually within its own county. With this end in view the Board let a contract to surveyors to make a survey of the county, at a cost, it seems to me, of $3000.00. The map of said survey, throwing about one third of the county into swamp lands, for a long time hung in the auditors office, perhaps it is there now. A trio of Sioux City lawyers were given a retainer of a couple of thousand dollars to carry the scheme through the courts. That was as far as it ever got and perhaps is as far as it was intended to get. The records of the auditors office for the first three years would be interesting reading now, and would recall many things now forgotten by some of us.
We tried many ways to defeat the Rock Rapids crowd as we called them. We contested the election of supervisors and won out in January 1873. It was at this contest, tried before Judge Allis Oliver of the Circuit Court, when D. C. Whitehead made the remark to the Court, who had overruled an objection, that if this Court is going to furnish brains for these outs, we will appoint him King.
Later, we tried Chas. Johnson, supervisor, for malfeasance in office. Before the District Court, our side was represented by C. H. Lewis, district attorney, and Isaac Pendleton, the orator lawyer of Sioux City. The case went as usual. Johnson was discharged.
Before the county seat was located, the auditor and recorders records were kept at Beloit, the clerk at Rock Rapids, the superintendent over at Little Rock and the treasurers at the Wagner farm at Doon. We were soon obliged to removed to Rock Rapids, and need not say that the quarters used were somewhat primitive and uncomfortable, but they could not be otherwise in those days, until the county built a court house. The courthouse was built, but not during my term as a county officer.
In Rock Rapids I became acquainted with new people, who came there because of the county seat. First among these was my friend, J. K. P. Thompson, with whom I lived for sometime, and whose house and family were home to me until I gave up my office in January, 1871. T. K. Bradley moved over from Beloit, also Chan. Smith. Others came and settled there and Rock Rapids began to be a town. In January 1874, I returned to Beloit. H. T. Helgerson, member of the Board of Supervisors died in April, and I was appointed to fill the vacancy on the Board until the next election. In January 1874 the firm of Goetz & Thorsen was dissolved. Thos. Thorsen having succeeded me as county auditor, being Lyon Countys second. I then concluded to form a life partnership with Mr. Thorsens sister and we were married April 14, 1874, and I then retired from politics, so far as being a candidate for any office was concerned. I was financially poorer than when I first came to the county, but rich in experience. I then went into the farm machinery business. In 1875 the grasshoppers came and they surely were a burden in the land. No conception of a grasshopper raid can be formed by anyone not having had experience with them, no more than they can of a blizzard as we knew them in those days. I left Beloit with my family in 1881, taking a position as station agent at Canton, South Dakota.
I often think of the ninety-seven voters in the October election of 1871. Many of them have gone to their reward and a few are still with you. Some are elsewhere and even I, then one of the youngest, am getting along in years. Thirty-three years have passed since we began to build a county in Iowa, and in the whole magnificent empire of the noble state of Iowa, there is today no finer, no more prosperous, no better county, than is the county of Lyon. God has blessed Lyon County and Lyon County is a credit to Iowa.
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