Larchwood Reminiscences

Louis Stiegelmeyer recalls of dragging wooden troughs, fitted with bang boards filled with kerosene, through fields and grass to kill herds of grasshoppers, which were eating the oats and corn. He also told of breaking virgin prairie with an old walking plow on the homestead; also the blizzard of 1888 in which the Cleavland boys perished. Larchwood was an English settlement. Sykes started the nursery in the west part of town, brought with him seedlings of the European Larch, which are in the town park, from which it got its name.

A.M. Saterlee, the town photographer, had his studio on the southeast corner of Main Street intersection and later years was a produce station, later a general merchandise store, Thompson & Lein, and still later Williams & Son. The sloping glass of the phographic studio faced north toward the Schonfelder harness shop. Directly across the street to the west was the John Haggardt & Son general store. Across the street north of this store was a frame building known as Fullers Garage.

About 1914 automobiles became popular. Also the Larchwood Auto Co., operated by George Castle, which was built like a barn, and was a short distance north of the Rock Island Depot.

A lumberyard was on the south of Oscar Schumann implement business.

Mr. Stiegelmeyer bought his first car from George Castle, a 1913 Buick Touring car equipped with Presto lights and a crank. This garage burned during World War I period. A block building was later built and operated as a garage by P.H. Kelly, known as "Hook Kelly," as he had a farm machine accident and severed his hand. The Ashton Blacksmith Shop was directly across the street, and an old livery stable was south of it.

Some senior citizens can remember the movie house operated during World War I by Mr. McGee and his wife. It was an old frame building located on the southeast corner of Main Street. Mr. McGee sold popcorn on the streets and Mrs. McGee sold it at the movie house during show nights, which was usually only on Saturday nights. Music was furnished during the show by a Victrola and was turned by a crank, by hand, in a booth where the temperature was usually over 100 degrees. He played reels of World War I and Keystone Cops, and comedies and Sousa Marches and It's a Long Way to Tipperary and many others of that period.

During the armyworm invasion Mr. Lape used a walking plow and cut a furrow 6 or 7 inches deep all around the cornfields to keep the worms from traveling from the grain fields to the cornfields. The rolling colter would cut a deep furrow; the worms could not climb up the steep edge of the trench. Mr. Lape had the first six-foot Deering self-tying binder.

Lars Severson held many meetings of Sioux Township Farm Bureau at their home.

Mr. Hubert Roeman owned one of the first cars in the community, a 1910 Overland, with license plates made of patent leather and aluminum numbers.

In early days the Long home was a landmark for travelers. The road passed through the farm to a river crossing into South Dakota near the family dwelling. Hardships and pioneer life there were blizzards, lack of bridges meant streams and rivers would flood over and there was a lack of telephone communications. Medical services were only sought and secured in dire circumstances. This made for closer intimate dependence on good neighbors. The nearest grocery store might be a couple days away on foot. Soon after coming from Sweden, Johanna Long ventured a shopping tour to Sioux City, not realizing the distance and hazards involved. She started early one morning following a southerly path, and became completely lost. Due to language difficulties, not being able to communicate with even a stranger in this sparsely populated area, she was unable to chart a homeward path. After a week's inquiry and search it was discovered that she missed her way. She was found in Yankton, South Dakota.

One day Johanna was alone at home with her family. A group of Indians came by and set up camp on the banks of the Sioux River, just a few rods from their dwelling. This was a new experience for her. She listened to man stories of fierce atrocities and killings committed by unfriendly Indians. With thoughts of her helplessness to defend herself and family, she was suddenly seized with fear, what would she do? She couldn't run away, no place to go. Could she conceal her whereabouts until her husband returned? But with children this was most difficult. Besides, there were chores to do and an evening meal to prepare. Finally she hit upon a more positive strategy, she churned butter, made bread, gathered a few eggs, and took them in person to the Indians. They gladly accepted these tokens, a meaningful symbol of good will, and in turn offered some wild game roasting on the fire. This was a signal point of friendship. The smiling Indian chief stepped forward and gave her a gentle pat on the shoulder. Johanna returned home with assurance she had nothing to fear.

James Perkinson, Sr., wanted to enlist at the age of 17, but was too young. The army did accept him to drive a provision wagon during the Civil War. His hand was injured and he was sent home.

Josephine Wachtler Webber and her parents started for California in the gold rush of 1849 but were forced to turn back at St. Joseph, Missouri because of illness. They later settled at Galena, Illinois, where she played with President Grant's children.

John and Ed McKelvy and Leon Webber were participants in the Alaskan gold rush. Ed made Alaska his home, he helped with mining and building of the Alaskan highway.

Granite Savings Bank was the only bank in Lyon County that was not forced to close its door during the depression.

It took Charley Swansons about three weeks on a sailboat to cross the ocean. In spring of 1869 they landed in Chicago. Charley went to school to learn the English language. That fall the family left for St. Paul, Minnesota. They rented a house near the Mississippi River. His father tells how they worked building a railroad between St. Paul and Lake Superior. Large trees were chopped down, roads cleared wide enough so two-yoke-ox teams could get through with skids holding four tons of provisions which were piled up on high places along the way about 10 or 12 miles apart. Sixty men were to clear one mile each day. A cooking outfit was filled with dried peas, beans and pork. The men sat on four or five foot snowdrifts to eat with their mittens on. When ready for bed they would tramp down a place in a snowdrift large enough for a bed. They would put down a few evergreen branches in this space then cover it with a blanket. This was their bed with another blanket to cover over like a tent to hold out the snow. Some mornings the men were froze fast to snow and had to be chopped loose with an ax. They got so lousy they had to boil their clothes. When spring came the ice on the Mississippi River was gone and the family boarded a steamboat and went to Lansing, Iowa where Peter Newberg worked on a farm. Swansons and Newbergs then started out westward in a covered wagon to search for a homestead. Each couple had one horse, a cow and two hens. They traveled to Nebraska for two or three days and stopped to camp near a creek. Soon they saw two covered wagons coming from the west. As the wagons came nearer they could hear them talking Swedish. They looked startled as here was a neighbor from Sweden. They said it was so hot and dry out west they were moving back. All four wagons traveled back to Sioux City, Iowa.

Adam Hohman said the first time a truck was used to haul cattle to Sioux City, the trucker arrived at the farm the evening before, driving a Hawkeye truck. Loading chuters were unheard of at this time so a trench was dug in front of the barn door and early the next morning the steers were driven into the truck and hauled to the stockyards.

Minnie Schmidt says when her father was breaking sod in the spring she would search for prairie chicken eggs as there was no domesticated fowl. At that time they twisted hay for fuel and heat; also had a supply of buffalo and cow chips dried and stored for fuel.

Mrs. Catherine Schulte has memories of early days of Larchwood, recalling the Larchwood chautauqua, a main event. People had no radio, television or stereo, only an occasional western movie, a chautauqua brought in unusually good talent. One night a terrible wind and rain storm came up during the performance, it was feared the tent and all would blow away, but the men helped hold it from collapsing.

Mr. Lawler, a carpenter about 1890, built the house occupied by Margaret Doherty. Later he remodeled two more homes from old school houses. One, Les Rockhill lives in, and Old Will Sweeney home, now occupied by Barney Snyders.

George Monlux was one of the first settlers in Lyon County, coming by ox wagon in 1871.

Karl Swanson had bought a pre-emption claim, 160 acres of land nine miles north of Canton, South Dakota. He paid for it and had $1.00 and a half sack of flour left. He built a one-room sod house on this land and a hay stable for cows and horses. His land adjoined the Big Sioux River. From the timbered slopes, he had wood to burn and build with. Farming at first with sickle and scythe for harvesting. Twins were born in the covered wagon in 1870. That was before the sod house was built. Sophie, a twin, lived to be 98 years old, David died within the year. The first winter, grandfather Karl, went to work chopping wood 30 miles south of Sioux City and left them only with a half sack of flour and a little corn. They made corn soup to live on. The earth from the sod house had sunk down from the roof and the Indians would come and peer down in the sod house. Grandmother Karoline kept an ax beside her bed, but the Indians never hurt them. When their little baby died he was placed outside in a snow bank until Karl came back in the spring and then they walked 10 miles across the country to a Norwegian cemetery.

In 1872 they moved to an adjoining homestead about one mile away. This was across from Sioux and Centennial Townships. Then a log house and other buildings were built. The log house had been sided but the logs can still be seen from inside. They lived in a dugout about two years waiting for money for floors and ceiling for their log house. Four children were born, the youngest of nine children born to Karl and Karoline is August Swanson, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, born 1876. The children swam, boated, skated, trapped, fished, seined, picked fruit and chopped wood about the river. The children walked three miles to school. When herding the cattle across the river they would catch hold of the cows tail when swimming and thus be towed across. Swimming experience helped Charles as he saved nine lives from drowning in the Sioux River, including Dr. O.M. Norlie, professor of Luther College of Decorah, Iowa. During the flood in the spring of 1888 the river was about a mile wide in places.

The Banning Mill, near East Sioux Falls, came floating down the river. Charley and his brother boated out to it and tied it by its lightening rods to poles that had been driven down into the Iowa side of the riverbank. The season of hard times, grasshoppers and drought Charley worked on the Illinois Central Railroad. In the fall of 1887 the railroad reached Sioux Falls. Charley started batching in the spring of 1888 with Phil Jacobson, and building a one-room shanty costing $12.00 in Iowa across the river from his father, Karl. He rented three quarters of land, breaking the sod.

Charley and Ann were married. Anna came from Sweden in 1887, she worked in a hotel in Valley Springs, South Dakota. It is said she helped plant some of the trees around Larchwood. Charley rented five quarters of land that was sod broken and sowed flax and wheat. The quarter of land where the shanty was on was offered to him for $7.00 an acre, but he did not buy. After two years he rented land five miles Northeast of there along a valley on both sides of Blood Run Creek, where in time he established livestock raising and farmed. He had a herd of 1200 cattle for grazing from distant owners. Here he built moderate buildings. At one time he farmed and grazed 2,000 acres. Cutting wheat oats and barley with four binders and at corn husking time six men picked corn.

Mrs. Peter Rulland was famous for her mincemeat and apple pies that she served the Englishmen at the races and Polo games. Also she made crocks of doughnuts.

James Perkinson, Sr., worked in a flourmill and he carried home a sack of flour, the price 50 cents, which was also a days wages.

The Larchwood Fire Department records were lost or destroyed some years ago, but the writer remembers the old "hand pumper" that was used until 1929, when the first truck was purchased. This was a six-cylinder Chevrolet. The siren was also purchased in 1929. The second truck was purchased in 1947.
The history of the Fire Company would, the writer is sure, date back to before the turn of the century. My family moved to Larchwood in 1911 and the Fire Company was not a new thing at that time.

In 1886, the railroad came to Larchwood, being built as a link between Sioux Falls through Rock Rapids, Little Rock and Ellsworth, to connect to a line from there to Watertown, South Dakota. This line was built by the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Falls, and Northwestern Railway Company. The Company became part of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Line in 1902. The B. CR, & N in turn became a part of the Rock Island in 1903.
Basically this line to Sioux Falls was built to tap the grain markets and livestock and meatpacking of that place. Chicago was the big grain-dealing city available to the area with the advent of the railroad.

Passenger service on the line had long since been discontinued, and in May, 1969 all service was ended by a flooding of Mud Creek at Lester, which washed out great portions of the tracks. Following months of waiting, the Rock Island finally received permission to abandon the road from Rock Rapids to Sioux Falls in 1972, thus ending even the hope of further Railroad service to Larchwood. At one time the Rock Island operated two passenger trains each way, daily.

This area got a lot of notoriety in 1893. Prize fighting was unlawful-but there was much interest in the 'sport.' A match was organized between Billy "Donnell, Sioux City, and Danny Daly, of Omaha. The lightweights were to fight at an undisclosed site. Word got around that the fight would be near Manley, Iowa, but at the last minute a site on the stateline, three miles from Rowena was selected. A special train came up from Sioux City and was switched over and ran down to Rowena and from there teams took the spectators to the fight site. The scrap started at 2:30 a.m. and lasted til 7:30 a.m. The fighters used six-ounce gloves and fought under the Marquis of Queensbury Rules. O'Donnell was knocked out once but was able to come back before the rest period was over. The fight went 81 rounds and was called a draw. The fighters got the gate-500 people at $3.00 each, plus side-bets.

The story of the way Larchwood obtained such an euphonious name comes from old Mr. Willard. Jesse Fell wanted to call the town 'Willardsville,' but Mr. Willard said, "No, we'll call it Larchwood from its larch groves." And so it came about that the town was given a name as beautiful as it is itself.

In the earliest days of the country, the nearest shipping point was Sioux City and LeMars. Old settlers tell us that they have often seen a line of ox-trains stretching over the prairie for a distance of two miles hauling wheat to the nearest shipping point.

One winter day, in late February, Charles Swanson was sent, by his parents, with a message for the Christopher Sorem family. As they lived on the Dakota side he must cross the Sioux River. Usually this posed no hazard as the river was still thought to be solidly frozen over. In those days the river was deep and the current swift. However, on the return journey, as Charley neared the middle of the river, the ice gave way and he found himself suddenly submerged in the cold waters. (A few mild, sunny days had weakened the ice and it was thinner than expected.) A battle for life ensued. Each time he tried to jump out the ice broke in front of him and he found himself getting deeper and deeper until he could barely touch bottom with his toes while bracing himself against the ice to keep from being pulled under by the current. He called for help with all his might. Luckily Mrs. Sorem heard his cry of desperation and surmising what had happened, with great resourcefulness and presence of mind, grabbed a board and ran full speed to the scene. She pushed the board out to him, which helped to strengthen the ice and Charley was out in a minute with never a cold as a result of the icy plunge!

The English boys who came here under the guidance and tutelage of the English company were a jolly, whole souled, lot of fellows, plentifully supplied with money. Some of them came of their own accord to attempt to carve out fortunes for themselves, while many were sent out here by their parents to learn farming according to American methods.

April 23, 1891: "J.D. Sheneberger, of Rock Rapids, was in town, Wednesday, purchasing trees for the planting around the Lyon County Courthouse."

May 25, 1881: William McKay was given a contract to build 90 houses and 90 stables, (both for $500), in the area.

The price received for breaking prairie sod was listed at $2.25 pr acre.

1881: A windmill is being put up over the town well. Guess it is too hard to pump by hand.

June 4, 1891: 1,200 people paid admittance to the Horse Racing. The celebration also included a baseball game, and bicycle races.

June 8, 1893: "A Fine Field of Fliers," 70 horses were entered at the Larchwood Race Meeting. There were 800 people in attendance the first day and 1,000 the second day.

April 9, 1891: "The Larchwood Nursery Company has started work for the season. They expect to do a big business this spring having received a number of large orders.

May 18, 1893: Ed Lewis was in town Tuesday. He has lived here 23 years and says that during that time he has never seen a better crop.

It is reported that Banker Shade will build a $5,000 residence this summer.

L.E. McGilvera now rides in a brand new Curby Surry purchased in Milwaukee.

E.J. Reigel, our barber, announces that he will do no more Sunday shaving. Good for Jake. Men can just as well get shaved on Saturday if they only thought about it.

December 7, 1893: A few would be gentlemen undertook to run the dance to their own satisfaction, but met with disappointment as Marshall Bothwell seemed a little inclined to play "boys in the air" and tossed several out into the street.

Cold weather seems to have induced a few Larchwood people to try their hand at tapping their neighbors coal bins at hours when dreams should take the place of labor. It's risky business.

Source: Larchwood, Iowa Centennial "Remember the Past Build for the Future 1872-1972" with written permission by M.W. Rockhill.

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