LYON COUNTY GENEALOGY
By Henry Kelso
On March 20, 1871, the Honorable S. C. Hyde located me on section 28 99-43 in Grant Township and in two days later located Eugene W. Ripley and Chas. Teter on the same section. We found at that time that the inhabitants of the town and also the East End of the county consisted of R. A. Bell, W. H. Barens and Mr. Wilder in a camp on the Little Rock, almost two and one-half miles East and one mile North of George, trapping for furs. They went North to Minneapolis. In the fall Bell and Barcus returned and located in the township. About the first of April, A. H. Atspaugh, of Newark, Ohio, located on section 26, and a little later in the same month, Otis King and son Charley, from the state of Maine, arrived and located on the same section. The next year R. A. Goodale and John Flannegan located on the same section.
About the 11th of April 1871, what was known as the May Colony from Appleton, Wisconsin arrived. During a snowstorm they visited the various camps and ate about everything eatable. Colonel May and Frank Allen located on section 12, Thomas May and Arthur Fitch on section 14. Dan Fisher on section 36, Anson Tolman on section 22, Henry Bowen, Charley Bowen and Charley Fisher located on section 36 in Elgin Township, Tyler and son Frank on section 2 in Grant.
About this time grandfather and D. C. Whitehead settled on section 2. D.C. was elected county clerk in the fall and the old man died the following spring.
C. N. Reynolds, a sin-in-law of Grandfather Whitehead, then moved out from Illinois and homesteaded the claim.
In May 1871, L. A. Ball came from Vermont and located on section 22, and when the county was organized, was elected first county superintendent of schools.
The same month Jessie W. Monk, of Cedar County, Iowa, bought and moved upon section 36 in Liberal Township. Weslie Pense, of Virginia, located on section 12 in Grant Township. George Monlux on section 10, and Ezra Monlux on section 2.
Sometime in June, Thos. Langen and son Thomas located on section 24 in Elgin, and his father-in-law, old Mr. Beeman, across the line in Osceola County. In February 1872, Beeman started to the Big Rock to get a load of wood; a blizzard came on, the old gentleman lost his way and he and his cattle were frozen to death about three miles east of George, near the Little Rock. When found the old man stood leaning against the cattle dead.
In the fall of 1871 Reuben Hatch bought the west half of section 10 and moved right on. Jerry Argo located on section 12. May 25, 1871, I sent for my mail and groceries, and also my plow to be sharpened to LeMars by Charley King. Neighbors took turns to accommodate one another in going to town, the distance being only about fifty-five miles, which was nothing when you got used to it.
June 8 I went across to Spirit Lake. There was no road, no water, and no houses. I saw several herds of elk and deer and the cranes and curlews sung their beautiful songs. It seemed to get dryer and dryer all the time. The Rock River had quit running, still everything kept growing, but it was awful dusty and windy. They were grading the Omaha Railroad. Next year we were to have a town closer. The track reached Sibley the middle of June 1872.
In March 1872 I brought my wife to the county. The snow was about four feet deep. The first of April I went to Cherokee for seed grain and supplies. The snow went off and I did not get my load home for two weeks. When I crossed the Floyd the water run over the top of my load. The Otter and Little Rock Rivers were about four feet deep all over the bottoms. In May I went to the Big Rock for wood and some trees to plant. Wife went along and we camped out. It snowed that night and the Little Rock came up so we had to swim it going back next day. Early in the spring of 1872 Abner Hatch, of Cedar County, Iowa, located on section 28 and in the fall of 1882 he was drowned while driving his herd of cattle across the Little Rock. His body was recovered that night and was buried at Sibley beside that of his wife, who had died the previous year. Jerry Fergerson, and son Chancy, located on section 34. John Sweet on 13 in Liberal Township, and Harry Hatch and William Green on section 24 in Elgin Township. Almost the same time, Job Whitehead located on 36 and John Rucker on 24 of the same township.
Dan Bailey and John Lenahan settled on section 2, Frank ONiel and Herman Conger on section 14. Mike Hickey on section 22. John Grimes on 34, Martin Grimes on 22, John Grimes, Jr., on 26, John Flannagan on 26, Mrs. Mansfield on 22, Adaline Piper on 28, W. H. Irwin on 28, Will Jackson, Al Tubbs and W. H. Kingston on 24.
In the fall of 1871 the youngest son of Colonel May accidentally shot himself while getting out of the wagon with his gun and was buried on the homestead. The following spring his sister, Mrs. Fitch, died and was buried by his side, and a couple of years later their mother died and was buried in the family graveyard.
The winter of 1872 and 73 was extremely hard. January 7, 1873 the stage got lost and the driver and a passenger by the name of Jenkens were frozen to death about a mile and a half south of the Sibley Road in Liberal Township. Everybody seemed to be out that day and there were many narrow escapes. Several farmers lost their stock.
In the spring of 1873 Chas. Lowry settled on 14, Wm. Kemp on 34 and Nick Walrich on 36. In June grasshoppers came and emigration very nearly stopped. In the spring of 1874 Geo. Spratt settled on section 27 and J. H. Jackson on 36.
In the winter of 1874-75 I taught the Doon school and boarded with Geo. W. McQueen. His son and daughter afterwards became the leading educators of the county. The family finally moved to Washington and Ivan, who was at one time superintendent of Lyon County schools, became a member of the Washington legislature. It was a severe winter, with lots of snow and in the spring a number of the bridges in the county went out. Grasshoppers still kept coming and settlers became very much disheartened; some sold their places for a little or nothing and left the county and it began to look at one time as though we should lose all of our population. My wife taught school to help us and so we kept from starving. In the spring of 1876 John Watkins and John Duncan moved from New York and located on section 16. Later Watkins was elected as county treasurer and afterwards when the town of George sprang up, moved there and started the George Courier, the first newspaper in the town. He sold this at the end of his first year there and went back to New York to the New York Sun office.
About the same year in which Mr. Watkins came here, Elmer Meed settled on section 16.
On June 26, 1876 we had an Indian scare. George Kemp rode up to my door about 3 oclock in the afternoon and said that there were about 500 Indians about ten miles down the Little Rock and about that many more on the Big Rock, and that they were going to murder everybody that night. I told him to just wait till I got through my dinner and then I would sharpen up my knife and go down and clean out the whole caboodle. He looked scared and said, I tell you it is so. Of course it is, I said, but Ill just go right down and clean them all out. Some fifty or sixty had gathered at the Hopkins school house in Dale Township to fortify against the Indians that night, but when they found out that they had been hoaxed, they sent for a fiddle and had a dance. About 1880 Kinnan and son bought out Watkins and Duncan and moved from Illinois.
A. Morse and sons came from Wisconsin and bought out A. H. Alspaugh, V. E. Mudd, A. F. Poley and wife getting half of the Mudd place.
Ralph Julian bought out Anson Tolman and Geo. Protexter bought the ONeil farm. John Protexter the Conger place and J. M. Houck the T.M. May place and Levi N. Kelso the Pence place.
In the spring of 1878 John Lenahan was shot by his daughter, Maggie. At the inquest the daughters, Maggie and Anna, and their mother were held to the grand jury and one Burch was held as an accessory. The grand jury indicted them. At the trial Burch was cleared. The rest plead guilty. Maggie was sentenced for life and Anna and her mother for ten years. After serving five years they were pardoned by the Governor.
In the spring of 1883 Joe and Sam Wright located on section 27.
Wm. and Charley Hindt bought out William Jackson and in the spring of 1885 John A. Kruger bought out the Hatch estate.
In the fall of 1883 Aaron Sprinkle, a renter living in Elgin Township, carried some vegetables over to the editor of the Rock Rapids Review and the paper did some blowing about what a renter could do. Some of the old residents thought it too bad that we could be outdone by a renter, so I promised C. N. Reynolds that when I went to the Rapids I would lay Mr. Renter in the shade. So I took to Shepard, of the Review, some strap leaf turnips that weighed over twelve pounds each and eight potatoes that weighed over sixteen pounds and measured more than a peck, twelve onions that weighed over fifteen pounds and some cabbage, pumpkins and squashes of mammoth size. It was a good year for garden truck, but corn was a failure, everybody having planted Nebraska seed. Homegrown seed was all right, yielding good sound corn. About 1885 Peter G. Kruger settled on section 30. Herman Foelrich, Ailt Kruger, Peter A. Kruger, Martin G. Kruger, Fred H. Klassen, Andrew and Harm Klassen, B. Gerken, John Lonneman all located in the township. In 1885 Beck and sons, Henry Damman, Sever Witzma, Hero Herron and sons and others too numerous to mention arrived and bought homes in the township and from this time everything in Lyon County boomed.
By Phil J. Allnight.
About the 8th of September 1983, the writer, with his bride of six weeks, loaded a few household goods into a prairie schooner, hitched up a pair of mustang ponies, and in company with Grandma Thompson (mother-in-law) left McGregor, Iowa, bound to seek a home in the West. We had our own provisions, and a camping outfit. We did not intend to camp out nights, on account of Grandma, unless we could find no settler to stay with. But at noon we would camp. The first night we stayed in Fayette County, near the line of Chickasaw County, where we all slept in a house. On going out in the morning I found that dogs or some other animal had gotten into our grub box and made way with a good portion of our grub. After that wife and I always slept in the wagon. The next day, in the afternoon, one of the ponies stumbled and hurt itself so that the next morning it was too stiff to travel, so we laid by for half a day. The fourth day out we reached Forest City, Iowa, where we had relatives. We stopped there and recruited our provisions. Then we struck out for Algona, which was then the terminus of the Milwaukee Railroad. That day we passed but one house, in the afternoon, and that was a dugout. People would dig into a hillside and cover the top of the opening with willows and hay; then on top of that they would place prairie sod to shed the rain; the front was built out of cottonwood logs with a door and one window; so it made a comfortable place to live in winter when heated by burning twisted hay. And near that was a cozy white schoolhouse, which shows that the settlers of these early times saw the need of schools for their children.
About 11 oclock that day we saw something glittering in the sun away off toward the West. I said, That must be Algona. We kept on and on with that beacon still in sight most of the time until at six in the evening, when we stopped at the sod house of a settler for the night. We asked what the object was which we had been trying to reach for so long a time and were greatly surprised to learn that it was the dome of the new $45,000 court house of Algona, and we were yet twelve miles from there. That will give the reader some idea of the nature of the prairie of Kossuth County, and the enterprise of her citizens.
After leaving Algona the houses were very few, indeed, until we got into Emmetsburg. From that, on for a whole day, we were hardly ever in sight of a house, but always in sight of water, it seemed. And these lakes, how they did swarm with geese, ducks, brants and other waterfowl. One day, while driving along, the ponies became frightened. I pulled them down and looked to see what was the cause. There, near the track, was a large crane, with one leg broken, so he could not get momentum enough to fly. I caught up my ax (never thinking of my gun) and went in to dispose of that bird. Well, say! when the smoke cleared away I looked as though I had been up against a corn sheller, but I had the crane.
There seemed to be millions of prairie chickens. I could sit in the wagon and shoot any amount of them. One day, while riding along, a covey of them ran out of the road into the grass nearby, and I picked up a boot, that lay in the wagon, and threw it, and knocked one over. They seemed to have no fear of man.
After leaving Emmetsburg we went to Spencer, where we stayed overnight, thence to Sibley, and on to the Little Rock stream, where we stopped and fed the ponies, had a lunch at 5 oclock p.m., then on to Rock Rapids, where we arrived at 8 oclock p.m., September 18, 1873. Soon after leaving our last camping place darkness came on. After driving some time in the dark we could hear halloing and reports like the crack of pistols. We were in doubt for some time as to what it was. But as we came nearer we soon discovered it was a train of some dozen or more bull whackers, mostly Indians, freighting goods from Sibley to Sioux Falls. I inquired of one how far to Rock Rapids. He said, About four miles, I think. It is pretty hard to tell as the country is so near alike, cant tell much about it in the dark. So we pulled out and drove by them. One fellow sang out, Goodbye, tell them were coming. A short time after we could see a few lights twinkling in the distance and we knew we were near the end of our long journey of three hundred miles. We drove up to the residence of J. K. P. Thompson, brother of my wife. They were living in a little frame house 12 by 16, 10 feet high. The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and daughter, Lilly, not yet three years old (now Mrs. F. B. Parker) and two boarders, Charley Goetz, county auditor, and Thomas Thorsen, county recorder. The family were just ready to go to a social at the residence of Dudley Whitehead. That night wife and I slept in the prairie schooner for the last time. After spending one day in the Rapids, I hitched up and drove to Sheldon, across the prairie in almost a direct line. I then, for the first time, realized the beauties and possibilities of Lyon County, the finest county in the best state of the union. Almost seven or eight miles southeast of the Rapids I came to the first house, occupied by Theo. Johnson and built of cottonwood logs on a homestead taken a few years before. The house is still standing, and used as a dwelling, I think, at this time 1904. A few miles further on I came to a schoolhouse. Then to the residence of Charley Johnson, a brother of Theo. and a member of the board of supervisors of the county. There I halted to enquire the way; also, I gave them some half dozen prairie chickens, which I had shot from my wagon seat, with a rifle. I passed but two other settlers till I reached Sheldon. I got my goods that I had shipped to Sheldon, also purchased some provisions. The price of produce was sugar, eight pounds for $1.00, potatoes $1.25 per bushel, oats $.65, wheat $.50, corn there was none, mess pork $.15 per pound, flour $4.00 per hundred weight.
After a few days I commenced the erection of a lean-to, 12 by 16, against the house of J. K. P. Thompson. When I arrived in Rock Rapids there were just thirty buildings all told, including stores, hotels, dwellings, barns, outbuildings and all. I also built a small stable, hauled wood from Doon, and did such other works as I could get to do. I hauled my lumber from Sibley to do the building with. Sometime in November I hauled lumber from Sibley and framed a shanty for J. K. P. Thompson, as a dwelling for his homestead, which he had filed on in Rock County, Minnesota, some ten miles from Rock Rapids. We loaded the lumber on the wagon, also a stove, some bedding, fuel and provisions, left Rock Rapids, drove to the claim, erected the shanty, put up the stove and moved in. I took the horse and buggy, which had carried Mr. and Mrs. Thompson up to the claim, and drove home, leaving my team there for them to drive back to town and bring their bedding and such things, as they did not want to leave there. They had commenced their residence on their homestead.
Mr. Thompson and I bought some cottonwood at Doon for $2.50 per cord, which I hauled with my ponies thirteen miles up the bottom, making one trip per day and hauling about three-fourths of a cord per load. After getting wood and other provisions for winter, we bought some wheat, and then began to make inquiries as to a mill to have it ground. There was a gristmill at Beloit, in the extreme southwest corner of the county, some twenty miles away, but we were told that a person was in great luck if he got his sacks back after getting his grist ground. We also heard of another mill just completed on the Big Sioux, on the Dakota side, south of Beloit, and some thirty miles from Rock Rapids, so we decided to go there. I loaded up thirty bushels of wheat, and in company with Sid Johnson, a young man from Clayton County, Iowa, with a similar load, started bright and early Wednesday morning for the mill. By hard driving over slippery roads, with bare-footed horses, and by inquiring of the few settlers we passed on the way, and most of whom had never heard of the mill we were in search of, sometime after dark, while wandering among the bluffs of the Sioux River, we at last came to a shanty, where we found a woman who could talk to us (the most of the settlers were Norwegians), and who had heard of the mill, which was but a few miles off, and which we had passed in the darkness. We turned, and by wandering among the hills for about an hour more, we finally reached it about 10 oclock p.m. We found a nice little mill, just built by parties from Waterloo, Iowa. We succeeded in getting our teams under a shed, and a place to sleep in a loft of a nearby house, along with thirteen others who were there for the same purpose as we. There were men there with ox-teams from seventy-five miles. From Iowa, Dakota and Minnesota. The mill was so rushed it had to run night and day, and we had to wait till 4 oclock p.m. Friday, before we could get our grist. The miller measured the wheat and took one bushel out of seven for toll. We asked the woman who had housed and fed us how much she wanted for her trouble, including a generous lunch to eat on the way home. She said, Would a dollar be too much? We said, No, that will not be enough, so we gave her a dollar apiece and started on our homeward trip. We drove till 8 oclock p.m., when we stopped and fed and at our lunch, then on for home, where we arrived at 2 oclock a.m., Saturday.
There were many jolly parties in Rock Rapids that fall and winter, including dances, mite societies, etc. Oh, we pioneers were a happy lot; each one was as good as his neighbor. It was no uncommon thing to drive five, ten or twenty miles to a dance, debate or spelling-school. Buggies were almost unknown in Rock Rapids those days, I had a light lumber wagon, and it was in great demand if a young fellow wanted to take his girl for a ride.
We men used to get up parties and fish up and down the Big Rock and the Kauaranzi, and such fishing I never expect to see again. In a few hours time a person could catch as many pickerel as he could carry. The fish would bite anything from a live minnow to a spoonhook. I have shot wild geese with a rifle in the river inside of what is now the corporation of Rock Rapids. Elk, deer and antelope were a common thing on the prairies in those days. In the spring of 1876 I frequently saw a herd of eleven deer on the Kanaranzi bottoms, and there were beaver-dams all along the streams of the county. There was but very little government land in this county those days, but there were homesteads to be had in Rock County, Minnesota. We were anxious to get hold of a farm so I saddled my pony and rode to Luverne to see about a claim. I did not succeed in getting a claim at that time, but I was offered three blocks in Luverne in what is now the best part of the city, where the Rock County Bank stands, for my team of ponies, which offer I refused and the next spring I sold my team for $210. That fall, 1873, I drove to Sibley, twenty-three miles distant, to mail a letter, which I was anxious to send away. We had a semi-weekly mail here at that time.
I heard of a cousin whom I had not seen for a number of years and who was then living in Dakota, and as I wanted to see about a school to teach for the winter, wife and I started out to combine business with pleasure. We drove fifteen miles for the nearest settlers to the southwest who was John Mickleson, school director. He was not at home. His sister, who kept house for him, said, Put your horses in the stable and stay until he returns; and you had better stay overnight as we are going to have a dance in the new schoolhouse. So we stayed, and a right merry time we had, although we had never seen any of the company before. When getting ready for the dance, a young sister of our host found that her shoes were worn out at the toe, so that her white stockings would show. So she sewed some black cloth on the toes of her stockings and went to the ball and had as good a time as anyone. The next day we arrived at my cousins whose husband was a Methodist Episcopal preacher, and who kept a store and postoffice in his house of Dakota brick, that is, prairie sod. The next day, which was Sunday, I accompanied him to quarterly meeting, which was also held in a sod house 20 by 30 feet, with the inner wall plastered with line and the floors carpeted. Whole families came in ox-wagons for miles and brought their dinners and stayed all day. The next day we returned home. While on the way we were overtaken by one of those terrible northwest windstorms, which used to be so prevalent in the early days. There was no storm, but wind and dust. But the prairie had been newly burned and the ashes were something terrible. To a person who has never seen a windstorm sweep over a newly burned prairie, it is something appalling. Our faces were soon as black as an Ethiopians and we could scarcely. Such was life on the frontier.
I succeeded in getting a school in the village of Larchwood. We secured board with J. F. Geiser. We moved to Larchwood the second day of January 1874. Larchwood then contained one schoolhouse, two residences, two stables, and one granary. I taught the first, second, third and fourth terms of school in Larchwood.
In Larchwood lived S. B. Willard (who was postmaster) and J. F. Geiser. East of Larchwood three fourths of a mile, lived P.M. Rutland. One and one half-mile east lived James B. Dement. Five miles east lived the Van Derwerker brothers, Lew and James. The Independent School District of Larchwood then included what is now Larchwood, Logan, Centennial and Sioux Townships. The first school board were J. F. Geiser, director and president, J. B. Dement and John Mickleson, directors, Wm. Friscius, secretary and F. W. Lewis, treasurer.
There were four schoolhouses built in the district in 1873. One in Larchwood, one near J. B. Dements, one and one-half miles east, one five miles south near E. W. Lewis and one seven miles west on the Sioux River near Petersons. P. J. Allbright taught the first school in Larchwood. There were six pupils enrolled, namely: John W. Geiser, Fred Geiser, Fanny Geiser, Galena Willard, William Willard and Maggie Willard. Salary paid teacher, $35per month. The Dement school was taught by Hiram Brooks with four pupils enrolled, namely: Jack Dement, John Dement, Hester Dement and Lydia Dement. The Lewis school was taught by Miss Jenny Austin and the west school by Frank Buzzell. The secretary of the school board received a salary of $100 per annum and the treasurer received $75 for his services.
Jesse W. Geiser was the first child born in Larchwood, 1872; Addie Geiser, the second, born in 1874; Arthur K. Allbright, the third, born in 1874. The first dwelling house was built by S. B. Willard in 1872 or 1872, second by J. F. Geiser, third by P. J. Allbright. First store was built by P. M. Rulland and Ole Helgerson in 1874. The first sermon was preached in the summer of 1874 by Rev. Palmer from Sheldon Congregational. The first wedding was of Wm. Friscius and Hannah Nelson of Larchwood, who were married July 4, 1874.
The writer, with his wife, commenced housekeeping in the schoolhouse in Larchwood where we boarded the carpenters, Walt Greaves and I. L. Bargett, who were then building one house and the store. During the spring of 1874 and 1875 I worked for Hon. J. W. Fell, one of the members of the Larchwood Bloomington Land Company, who owned the large tract of land on which the town of Larchwood is located. I assisted in the running out of the lines and planting the willow hedges all about Larchwood. There were nine sections in one body and there was a double hedge of willows surrounding each section, also a double hedge of the same planted through the center. Also there was a tract of twenty acres of timber in the center of each section, making five acres on each quarter section. The trees consisted of European larch, chestnut, soft maple, box elder, etc., of which the larch predominated, hence the name of the village. And those larch trees, which were planted in 1872 and 1873, have grown until in 1902 some of them are as large around as a kerosene barrel. And many of them have been felled and cut into stove wood.
I bought our supplies to keep house with at Sioux Falls, to which point they had been hauled by ox-teams, from Sibley, Elk Point, LeMars, etc. I paid $21 per barrel for pork, $4 per bushel for beans, flour $6 per hundred weight, salt at the rate of $6 per barrel. Wife wanted some salt pickles and there were none to be had at Sioux Falls, but we heard of a woman over in Dakota who had some, so I took a tin pail and walked seven miles across the prairie until I found the woman and got the pickles. My wife was watching for me and when she saw me she came half a mile to meet me to see if I had the pickles and a more pleased woman you never saw.
The winter of 1875 I preempted a piece of land in Rock County. Minnesota, adjoining J.K.P. Thompsons homestead and nearly twenty miles distant from Larchwood. Then we began to know the pleasures of holding down a claim. We would hitch up our team, load in a stove and other furniture, tie the cow by the side of a horse, take our baby and go and live on the claim in the summer, then back again to Larchwood. In the spring of 1876 we moved away from Larchwood and took up our permanent residence on our claim. It was there our second son (Chase) and our older daughter (Pearl) were born. Then it was that we began to realize what it meant to live on the frontier. Our nearest neighbor was three-fourths of a mile away, a Norwegian and a bachelor; another lived a mile away, a Frenchman and a hard citizen. That summer my wife was there for three months without seeing the face of a woman. I had rented land of my brother-in-law and put out 120 acres of crops, mostly wheat, oats and barley, with corn, potatoes and other garden stuff. When the barley was within three days of the time to cut it, the grasshoppers came and cleaned out everything, excepting a little wheat. I got 160 bushels off of 80 acres and nine bushes of potatoes where I should have had 100 bushels. Oh, those "hoppers!" Individually they were an insignificant thing; collectively they were a terror to the settlers they visited. Generally they would hatch at some place west of us and when they had grown large enough and strong enough they would wait until the wind was in the direction in which they wanted to go, and they would commence to fly about 10 oclock a.m., and go until they were tired of had made a selection of a place to light. They would float through the air as light and gracefully as a thistle-down and fill the air with untold thousands, flying in a cloud that would darken the sun and extending as far up and as far in every direction as the eye would reach and with a roaring noise which sounded like roaring water, or as a heavy storm approaching. And when they commenced to settle it was like the dropping of hail. After a few hours there would be scarcely a green thing left. It was a terrible blow to us settlers to have our labor of months (just as we were expecting to reap an abundant harvest) swept away in a very few hours. Many of the homesteaders that had a little money left, would let their claims go for little or nothing and return to their friends in the east, or seek some new locality where they would be free from those pests. And some like myself would hang on hoping against hope that times would be better, borrow what money they could, make some shift to get seed year after year, until they were so badly involved that they would lose their all and try something else. There were some wise guys in the east who proposed that the settles should utilize the hoppers as food, and some of those cranks went so far as to make a feast of hoppers. They had hoppers roasted, hoppers dried and ground into meal and hopper soup. But as far as I know, we that were living among the hoppers had all of them we wanted without eating any of them.
In the early summer of 1877, I attended an election in Manaranzi Township, Rock County, Minnesota. I walked four miles across the prairie bare-footed and clothed in a cotton shirt with a pair of overalls, made from a couple of old grain sacks and a badly worn slouch hat. When the meeting was called to order we found that thee was a vacancy in the township trustees and on account of my possessing appearance I was unanimously elected to fill the vacancy. I was also chosen chairman of the board, which position I held during my residence in Minnesota.
One day in the winter of 1877 we found we were out of kerosene, so I took my oil can and started for a neighbor living two miles away to see if I could borrow enough to last until next day. But they were out, so I went on to Rock Rapids, ten miles, a foot, through the snow which was about two feet deep and drifted in places so hard it would bear my weight for a few steps and then I would break through which made it very hard traveling. It was not so bad in daylight, but night came on while I was yet six miles from home. I had on a pair of shoe packs, that is, rawhide shoes with no heels on them, and they were as sleek as glass, so that when I would step on a place that would bear my weight my feet would slip out from under me and down I would go, but I would hold my gallon can, which I had filled but half full, so I did not spill much of the precious oil. Owing to the darkness I missed the crossing of the Kanaranzi so that in crossing the creek I broke through the ice and got my feet wet. As the weather was extremely cold, I was afraid I would freeze my feet, but I took off my shoes and socks and wrung the water out of them, tore my neck scarf in two and wrapped my feet up so they were all right. My dear wife had been thoughtful enough to make a "Witch-lamp by twisting a cotton-rag and placing it in a saucer of grease and had placed it in the window to light me home. I do not remember to have been as tired in my life as I was when I got home from that twenty mile walk through the snow for a half a gallon of coal-oil.
The fall of 1878, the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha railroad had built a branch road from the main line, starting at Worthington toward Sioux Falls. The road was completed as far as Luverne, Minnesota that year, so that settlers, who had been in the habit of going to Sibley, Worthington, and other points for their supplies, could do their marketing at Luverne. I took a load of grain and started one afternoon for market. When I got there I found two strings of teams one-half mile long, waiting to unload at the one elevator, and as but two could unload at a time, I took my place in the line and waited from 4 oclock p.m. that day, until 4 oclock p.m. the next day, before I could get started for home. When I drove up I found my wife out by the stable, crying, and trying to water and feed the cows, a job she had never been required to do. Our three little children were in the house and crying for their papa. But when I went in and explained the situation, all went well as usual.
After four years of hoppers, I left my land and returned to Rock Rapids where I have worked at my trade of carpentering ever since, by means of which and by teaching winters I was able to maintain my family until my boys were old enough to help themselves and me. I think that, with perhaps one exception, I can lay claim to the championship of pioneer teachers of Lyon County. I commenced my first term January 2, 1874, and did my last teaching in 1903, having taught about thirty terms in all.
On October 15, 1880, came the terrible blizzard, which all old settlers will never forget. The storm came in the night and many people rose in the morning to find their stables filled with snow and some of their stock frozen to death. There were snowdrifts twenty feet high in places, with trains blockaded everywhere. Oh, that terrible winter of 1880 and 1881! We had had some very severe winters before this, but that stands alone as the most severe winter ever known in the history of the early pioneers. After the October blizzard the weather warmed up and some of the snow melted, but not until the latter part of April 1881, did the snow all go off. For more than three months there was no train into Rock Rapids, and scarcely any communication with the outside world. Fuel and groceries became scarce so that people raided the lumberyard and burned pine lumber and cedar posts and everything that was combustible. Railroad ties and telegraph poles were consigned to the flames. I, in company with a neighbor, drove eight miles to Ash Creek, where we had heard of a lot of railroad ties. We loaded them onto a sled, which I had made of a couple of 2 by 10 soft pine planks, and hauled them home and divided them between us. Some families in the country, after burning up all their furniture perished with the cold. But none of that happened in Lyon County as far as I could learn. After the fore part of February 1881, it seemed to snow and blow nearly every day. Sometime along in April one of my neighbors got me to go three miles to get a load of straw. It had begun to thaw that day. We succeeded in getting the straw loaded and started home. We loaded that straw fourteen times before we got home. We and the horses were nearly dead with fatigue and our faces were blistered and we were nearly blinded with the glare of the sun on the snow.
I have tried to give a description of some of the early days of Lyon County and the trials and privations of her early settlers. But it is at best a faint description of what we went through with. For fear the reader is bored with this narrative, I will close.
By Wm. Peile
It seems that from the many solicitations I have received to add my testimony of the years gone by, as an old settler of this community and of Lyon County, I must write, and maybe it is my duty to add to the pages of the book now under consideration to be published as a memento of early days. I had decided not to write a line, but rather to pass out of history as a blank to future posterity. Another thought suggested comes before me, would my first decision bear any influence in that abstract manner? My history might be the means of obstructing the path of indiscretion of some soul in its early flight and conflict with a world of sin and cause them to stop and reflect, and avoid many pitfalls already placed in waiting for their reception. If through the earliest desire of my whole mind and spirit this aim would accomplish good results I will add such information in an informal way as may best serve the cause, I was once a young man, but at this time I fully realize that I now stand at the portals of eternity, and perhaps before this will appear in print and be given to the public, I may be among the number on the other side. About the year 1856 there might be seen a lone boy about eighteen years old on a public road in Illinois walking in the dust under the hottest sun he ever felt, lost, in a strange country, no friends, homeless, houseless and hungry.The first word of sympathy on this side of the Atlantic, I received while inquiring for my brother. Somewhere, in answer to a question asked by an old man, I told my story. Come home with me and I will find your brother were the sweetest words of consolation I ever received. Thus commenced my voyage of life in America. A young man, well educated, opportunities for advancement, etc. Here was the turning point for the future. I made my choice, but took the wrong road, which made my life unsuccessful. This is why I write in this manner to give to those who read, that they may learn from the writer to avoid the deceptive appearance of sin and its sure destruction. Start out on a sure foundation, accept the right, shun the wrong. Your life will be happy, prosperous, and a benefit to humanity.
I immigrated to Lyon County A.D. 1873, and was the first emigrant to cross the new bridge, carefully advancing on foot across. I found it completed only about two hours previous. Mr. VanSickles, store located immediately south, was a scene not often witnessed. Two loaves of bread, a barrel of whiskey and a tin cup furnished the materials for the celebration. During the summer I built a house and moved into it, situated where now stands Lockwoods store. Soon the erection of the present courthouse was begun, Sam Hyde contractor. Under the corner stone, southeast corner (I think) will be found a box containing a rare collection of names, letters, poetry, money, (paper and coin), history, etc. The writer contributed his share. I was elected county superintendent to succeed L.A. Ball, who was the first superintendent. I think I have the sole honor of officiating either as assistant or principal of every office in Lyon County. From a dreary expanse of blizzard-stricken wild prairie, without inhabitants, comes the homesteader to hold the fort. Success crowned their efforts, others advanced, till, at this writing we look upon the county without a spare or uncultivated spot. Railroads traverse its broad expanse. Twelve towns situated in the county cater to the wants and necessities of a large population. Many items of interest I could relate, but they will appear in other writings in this book. The old settler is passing away, strangers filling his place and only history alone will tell to future generations that such once existed on the fertile prairie of northwestern Iowa.
By Harmon Cook of Pasadena, California
To the Historian:
Although I am not now a citizen of Lyon County, but reading your appeal for early history has stirred me all up and let down the bars and let in on memorys walls of the days of Auld Lang Syne, when I was proud of my Lyon County home, and by your permission I will stir up some of the things that helped make me that home. How little do we realize the events of our lives as they pass and repass us and shape the whole of our lifes work. Before I was a voter I was somewhat of a politician. After the war I learned the trade of woolen manufacturer. While doing this as my business I was busy helping my friends get office. Some of them promised me anything you want, just name it. Being a Republican and to the victor belongs the spoils, I accepted this proposition. I felt as if I would rather be in the postoffice department than anywhere else. The Rock Island Railroad had just been built across Iowa and through my section of country. General Williamson was in touch with the government and Frank W. Palmer was member of Congress from my district, and as I had been of vast help to them they would now help me. I was glad when a telegram was received from them reading:
Des Moines, Iowa. Hanson Cook: You are appointed mail route agent on the railroad from Davenport to Council Bluffs. Come at once to begin work. Signed, Palmer.
I resigned my place as clerk in the woolen mills, left my wife and two children to be cared for and took the stage for Des Moines. Two days had passed since I was appointed, but lo and behold, when I got to Des Moines I found that there was a power behind the throne larger than an M. C., for Schuyler Colfax was vice president and he had a brother-in-law that wanted that place and got it. My friends tried every effort to break that combination but failed. They promised me any other place, but I got mad. I said I am done with politics. I went back to Dallas County and organized a land scheme. Northwest Iowa had just come into notice by the Homestead Act and I concluded I would turn back to my old trade, a farmer. I wrote to the register of the land office at Sioux City, George H. Wright, who was a personal friends of mine, asking about northwest Iowa. He told me the four northwest counties were all good and worth looking after; that Lyon and Osceola were unorganized and there were no settlers. In October 1869, in company with Jacob Hinshaw and Isaac Lawrence, we started in a covered wagon for northwest Iowa. It took several days to reach that part of Iowa. We passed Sac City, Storm Lake, Cherokee; these were out on the boundless prairie. At the close of a hard days travel over the unbroken prairie, over hills, through the short and the tall grass we found the last house in the northwest OBrien County, a Norwegian family in a sod house. The sod so new the grass yet green growing between the sods. The floor the ground covered with new mown wild prairie grass. We could scarcely understand his Norse language, yet after a night under his hospitable roof of dirt, we secured a few numbers of supposed vacant land in all four of the counties around the four corners. We started out to make a location, as it was quite easy as the government stakes and mounds were readily found. While we were looking for the government corners we saw plenty of wild animals. We passed over what is now Sheldon, the railroad stakes being our guides. We found Huffs house, or the walls of it in the creek bottom north of Sheldon, the first house built in Osceola County. He had hauled the lumber from Sioux City and had made the frame, no doors, no windows, no floor, only the ground.
This was our headquarters and from this we hunted. One day I found the largest elk head of horns I ever saw. I tried to get it to camp but could not. The ground was covered with them, large and small. Our claims were taken in all four of the counties as first, second, third and fourth choice. A few days later when we reached the land office, when we gave our numbers, we found first and second choice all taken; third half taken; fourth choice, section 24. Dale Township, all clear and that was the way I broke into Lyon County in November 1869. I chose the southeast quarter. Hinshaw the northwest quarter and Lawrence the southwest quarter. We filed preemptions, which would hold one year and returned well pleased with our proposed new homes. When we came home from the army a few years before, old soldier boys, do you remember how we talked and wondered what we would do to make a living? So we in taking our claims wondered what we could raise on the land. We were told that it was twenty miles to timber and the grass on the uplands was very short. We concluded we could raise wheat and oats, and perhaps flax, but if we raised corn it would be the ninety days kind, as it was so far north. A few years later we found we could raise anything that grows, and I saw good hard corn, sixty bushels to the acre. I did not take my family in the spring of 1870 up there, but my brother John R., Uncle Martin and Uriah Cook, my stepfather and mother, Joshua Newlin, Joseph Regan with their families, took up a line of march for that far away northland. I went up and broke up a little prairie and made furrows on the two sides of my 100 acres facing the township lines. My east line was the county line between Osceola and Lyon Counties, and we debated whether we could not in time have a county road there. I bought me a team and went on the road as traveling salesman for my old employer in the woolen mills to have money enough to improve my homestead. I took my family up there in the spring of 1871 and found many neighbors. We could count forth houses or homes from our building point. I chose the highest place on my homestead and we lived outdoors in our wagon and in camp until I could dig a cave house. This was quite comfortable, especially when it rained, as it did sometimes. I hauled limbs of trees from the Big Rock for my rafters, put up big posts in the center at each end, firmly planting in the ground, then placed a log from post to post, then put one end of my rafters on the center log the other end on the ground; then hauled brush from other creeks eight and ten miles west, put on the rafters until the brush was thick enough to hold up the sod, then a layer of sod until all was covered, then dirt until it would turn the hardest rain. I had brought windowpanes and glass and tore up a large dry-goods box and got lumber for a door. I walled up each gable end above the ground under the roof with sod cut on the near prairie. Then we had a mansion in Lyon County, Iowa. Those days were thoroughly enjoyed by all. Everyones home was a home for whoever came. Neighbors were friendly for twenty miles around. S. C. Hyde was one of my Lyon County neighbors. S. C. Osgood and Baynes in Osceola County. The railroad had been built through Sheldon seven miles south of me and I was in town, so to speak. The county line became a county road and heavy travel from LeMars north into Minnesota. In that cave house my daughter, Viola Dianah, was born, who is now a married woman living near Liscomb, Iowa. The first school in that part of the county was taught in Jacob Hinshaws sod house, and his wife Hannah was the teacher. The children for seats and desks used the floor and beds. Early in the settlement the church was not forgotten, and as we were Friends, we must have meeting. We began by holding meeting in the sod house of my mother, Dianah Newlin. Later, when more families of the same persuasion came in, we thought we should be a recognized body, so asked for, and obtained, a monthly meeting named Dale. As the southwest corner of my 160 acres seemed to be the center of the settlement and I gave five acres for a church and cemetery. There one of my children was afterwards buried and her only child. So there is a sacred place still there for me. A large Sabbath school was organized also and each Sabbath we learned of God, heaven and immortality. The first church building in Dale Township was this old meeting house that was built on my old homestead. I think the first marriage was John Woodward, and I was justice of the peace. His intended lived in Osceola County and he went to Sibley and got a license, then come to Lyon County to be married. When I saw the license I found I was not liable to tie a know that would hold, so told him he would have to go to Rock Rapids to get another, or go to someone in Osceola County. The bride said Why if that is all, let us go across the road over in Osceola County and be married there. I told her my jurisdiction only extended to the middle of the road and Osceola County would object to my doing such a job. So they had to put off marriage another day, and he went to Rock Rapids for a license and they were then legally tied. He died many years ago. I do not know what became of the widow. The first death of our settlement was Elwilda, the baby of my brother John R., who now resides in southwestern Louisiana, as does my mother, who has lived with him for almost a quarter of a century, now eighty-four years old.
When I went to Lyon County I was determined to have nothing to do with politics. At the first election in October 1871, I did not go near the voting place. I had only temporarily yet made this my home. The winters were so cold we could not stay there, so I took my family back to the states. In the summer of 1872 I had met many of the citizens, who numbered ninety-seven in voters in 1871, now increased to over 300. There was much dissatisfaction over the county affairs. Many protests were heard over their acts. When the time for election come on there was a skirmishing for candidates. One day, at my humble cave home in Dale Township, came two young men I had met a time or two, and asked me to be a candidate for clerk of the courts. I told them, No, I wanted nothing to do with it. I finally agreed if they could not find a more available candidate I would accept just to help out the side I thought ought to win. When convention met I was selected as the one for the place. At the election the board of supervisors who were against me counted me out, and I took my family and went back to central Iowa. There, on January 7, 1873, as I was engaged in husking corn where I had hired out, I received a telegram that told me that Judge Addison Oliver had taken hold of the tangle and declared I was the clerk, and inviting me to return instantly. This I did, and after many delays, I was made custodian of the county records, and at the end of my two years I was almost unanimously re-elected, there being only a few votes in the county that I did not receive. So you will find my writing of the early pages of the records in the county clerks office. This place brought me in constant touch with every voter of the county. At the end of the four years I could name anyone in the county who came into the office as soon as I saw him. I refused to be a candidate for the third term as I have done all my life. Two terms are enough and let the other fellow have it and run it. My four years of clerk life enabled me to make many new friends and when at the close of my four years I numbered many of the leading men of the whole northwest Iowa.
Strange as it seems, sometimes I meet old friends of those early days here in southern California.
Some are here, many are gone to their long home and I suppose I will meet a few old faces there I once knew. I left Lyon County for Florida in 1880, but have been there since. I shall never forget those early days. Days of joy as well as sorrow. In all my rambles from Minnesota to Florida, from Ohio to California, I never saw better or nicer farm lands than in the four banner counties of northwest Iowa, and Lyon County is my choice of all.
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