HISTORY OF O'BRIEN COUNTY
THE PIONEER OF O'BRIEN COUNTY.
He came, he saw, he toughed it through,
He roamed the prairie wild,
He plucked the wild sweet Williams rare.
This early roving child.
He broke the sod, he twisted hay,
He lingered through those years;
Grasshoppers were the reapers then,
His children oft in tears.
He fought with debts, chewed rosin gum;
His wife built chicken coops,
And from the tumble weeds she made
Those dainty ox-tail soups.
The homestead shanty was his home,
For beast a grass-thatched barn,
And yet to him 'twas "Home, Sweet Home,"
Where wife his socks did darn.
He had no coal, he had no wood,
For fuel he burned hay,
And when the hay gave out he burned
Machine notes he did pay.
The skies cleared off and land went up,
The sun shone on this spot;
When the discovery was made,
Twas Eden's garden lot.
The railroad engine screeched and blew,
And yelled, "Where is that town?"
That townsprang up while it passed through,
And held that railroad down.
26 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
The elm, and ash, and maple twigs,
They grew, and grew, and grew,
For wind breaks, groves, and park and shade,
When wind it blew and blew.
The modern house and barn were built,
The auto hove in sight,
And then the pioneer was glad
He'd fit that scrappy fight.
Now when, at last, at heaven's gate,
You seek that heavenly rest,
Of all that's good and great and grand,
Iowa boasts the best.
When for this best the state you roam,
Along Iowa's ninety and nine,
Just keep your eyes a squintin', 'cause
O'Brien's down the line.
Four townships long, four townships wide,
On smooth and level land,
Just four and twenty miles each way,
You'll see a sight that's grand.
THE CREATIVE AND ADMINISTRATIVE PERIODS.
The creative becomes historic. The administrative becomes
merely commonplace. God created the world. It was historic. It was creative. It was
distinctly pioneer. The pioneer makes history. The tilling of the soil is
Columbus crossed the ocean and discovered America. That was historic.
In thousands we cross the ocean as the administrative
part of business and
tourist life. The
building of the Panama canal is creative. The thousands
ships will pass through its channel as part of the world's administrative
progress. Whitney constructing his cotton gin and Fulton building his steamboat were events, but we continue to spin cotton with a million spindles and
run our ships in daily commonplace.
Legislature of Iowa, in 1850, enacted the word "O'Brien" into
a statute, by naming this particular twenty-four miles square "O'Brien," it
wrote down an historic event for this
county. The officials in the court house
will continue to write the same name for the
years to come into the records
as mere administrative business. The United States issues its
patent to a
tract of land to the old homesteader. It is
only done once. It is a creative
event to that title. The mere deeds and sales and use of that land thereafter
is but the formal administrative
handing dowm of the original historic title.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.27
platting of a town on the record, or the vote by the people for its incorporation, is done but once. It is creative. The later living in or sale of
parts of lots in that town belongs to the usual everyday item. The building
of a railroad is
usually done but once. The daily train traffic thereon for the
years is but the daily ordeal of travel. The time of our birth, our birth day,
is our creative
period. The date is historic to us. The birth of a county is in
its beginning. Then it was created. The later people administer upon its
selling of our school lands by its first county auditor's certificates, or contracts, was creative. The loaning of the proceeds ot these lands
on school loans is administrative. The first
laying out or establishment of our
highways on the wild prairie was creative. We continue to ride in auTomobiles over these roads, in grim defiance and certain risk of our lives at fifty
per hour as merely administrative, when in truth the administrator is
called in. When the
squatter squatted his squat, he got title by jumping first
possession. It was a decisive first historic act. The living on the land
by himself and his children, though enjoyable, becomes the daily routine.
pioneer broke the first unsubdued prairie sod. It needed to be done but
once. It was among the first things. It created the wild prairie into a farm.
Later on in
years it became simply spring plowing. Our public parks are laid
out by the pioneer. We plant a tree or a grove. This is creative. We sit
beneath its shade. That is but the administrative
part of our laziness. The
condemnation of the acre for the school site
belonged to the pioneer in the
main. It was historic in the
community. Thereafter the children simply
came to school at nine o'clock in the morning. The building of the old homestead
shanty and proving up marked a period, as likewise the building of the
new modern house, but the living in same was for the every dawn.
original building of the Big Four mills at Sheldon was historic.
people will continue to consume the thousands of barrels of flour ("Prairie
Queen") as administrative, "Give us this day our daily bread." The erection
of the round house and
shops at Sanborn was an important event both for the
county. Its engines and trains are sent out in dispatch as daily occurrences. The
putting up of the soldiers' monument at Hartley in 1891 was
itself historic, as likewise was it
representative of a great national historic
people will continue to learn the daily administrative lesson of
patriotism and reverence for that which is brave and heroic each day as the
years go by. The first establishment of the county fair at Sutherland was
creative and historic. Under the statute
providing for it there can be but one
association. Its annual fairs, however, will be but administrative. The en-
28 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
dowment of the
public library at Paullina by Frederick G. Frothingham and
the construction of its electroliers and electric
plant were historic events in
the town. The
reading of those library books by the light from those electric
lights will be a part of the routine of town life.
things will occur as time moves. The pioneer will continue
his work in new fields. For instance, perhaps we will yet do the further
historic acts of building during the hundred years to come what will be equal
to the cement highway, the Roman or Appian Way, if you please, for the
automobile across the
country and O'Brien county. All else will follow suit.
Let us continue the work of the
pioneer, and make our bow, and take off
our hat in reverence both to the
past and coming pioneer. Let us honor the
historic and creative, that we
may the better enjoy the administrative. It is
the creative and historic which
keeps active the memory cells in our brains.
linger still in memorie's cell.
Engraven on our hearts."
NAMING OF COUNTY AFTER WILLIAM SMITH O'BRIEN.
The Iowa state
Legislature, at its session of 1850, in one law, in a sort
husking bee as it were, named fifty of the ninety-nine counties in one enactment. O'Brien
county was christened with good Irish water from the River
Boyne itself. At least that was the sentiment. It was the argument in the
Legislature to have represented in these names as many different ideas and
possible, from the Indian names of Winneshiek. Poweshiek
and Sac, to the patriotic names of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Clay,
Webster and Polk, to the final awarding of three names of the sons of Erin,
to that prince of Irish orators, Robert Emmett. to John Mitchell and then to
our own Irishman, William Smith O'Brien, after whom the county was
William Smith O'Brien was born in
1803 and died in 1864, and was an
educated man as well as a man of
ability. He was an Irish politician. He
was educated at Harrow School and
Trinity College, Cambridge, in England.
He entered the
English Parliament in 1828. In 1835 he was returned from
county of Limerick and for several years strongly advocated the claims
oF Ireland to a
strictly equal justice with England, in legislative as well as in
Professing his inability to effect this in the United
Legislature, and having been committed to prison for refusing to serve on
by the speaker's orders, he withdrew from attendance in Parlia-
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 29
ment in 1841, and joined that great Irish patriot, Daniel O'Connell, in the
agitation for the repeal of the legislative union between England and Ireland.
progress of that agitation our William Smith O'Brien sided with the
partY known as "Young Ireland." In other words, he was one of the "Young
Turks," or incorrigibles or unconquered. In 1848, when that excitement resulted in a call to arms, he took part in an attempted rebellion in the south of
Ireland. He was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death. The sentence,
however, was commuted to transportation for life. He, with other political
offenders, was exiled to Tasmania, an obscure English colony, but years later
was allowed to return.
It can thus be seen that Irishman William Smith O'Brien was no small
man, a man worthy of a cause championed by the great Daniel O'Connell and
fighting side by side with such men as Robert Emmett and John Mitchell. The citizens of the
county have no reason to be ashamed of William
Smith O'Brien or of the name. He was considered
by the editors of the
"International Cyclopaedia" of sufficient world-wide celebrity to entitle him
to a half column
write-up in that great compendium of the world's great men
IN THE BEGINNING.
In the beginning, while northwestern Iowa was still nine-tenths raw
prairie, with scarcely a tree; with angling roads, running with the ridges of
land; with waving prairie grass from ten inches to four feet in height, and
with all surrounding things apparently without form and void, O'Brien county
was created or rather carved out of Woodbury. Woodbury county, or Wahkaw
county, as it was first called, was thus the mother hive from which
swarmed eleven counties, Woodbury, Ida, Sac, Buena Vista, Cherokee, Plymouth, Sioux, Osceola, Lyon, Buncomb (name later changed) and O'Brien.
Woodbury county, thus included, was first named Wahkaw county, as recorded in
chapter nine, section twenty-seven, proceedings of the third General Assembly of Iowa, in 1851. The following, or fourth, General Assembly (chapter eight), by an act approved January 12, 1853, which was entitled "An Act
Organizing Counties therein named," in its fourteenth section
provided that those eleven districts should be known as Wahkaw county for
purpose of collecting taxes and holding elections and courts and ordering
that the then organizing sheriff could call elections at Sargent's Bluffs and
places as he might designate. This same fourth General Assembly
(chapter twelve) passed another act entitled "An Act in Relation to New
Counties," on the same date, January 12, 1853, providing a method whereby
30 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
either of the eleven counties might, by a named number of citizens, petition
the court of Woodbury county, directed to the judges of the court, asking
county, naming it, might be organized and thus become a legal corporation. This law also provided for the establishment of a county seat, and
also provided for the changing of the name of the mother county from
Wahkaw to Woodbury county. Thus early was northwestern Iowa looking
for a Missouri terminal for a future
city, or capital, so to speak, for this
larger territory, on first thought lighting on Sargent's Bluffs, but, for later
reasons belonging to Woodbury county history, landed in greater permanency
at what is now
recognized as northwestern Iowa's business terminal, chief
city and distributing point, Sioux City.
THE COURT RECORD.
petition directed to the court of Woodbury county was signed by
seven so-called voters and
by sundry soldiers of the Federal army, then under
Sully fighting Indians in these several states. Indeed, and in fact,
Hannibal House Waterman was the
only real, bona fide, legitimate and squaredeal citizen or voter in this
county, though six other men (record a little
confused whether six or
seven) signed this petition and voted with him at
the election held February 6., 1860, at the house of this first settler, Hannibal
House Waterman, on his United States homestead on the northeast quarter
of section 26, township 94, range 39, in Waterman township, named for him,
as was likewise the stream Bowing through the whole eastern part of the
give below the full order of the court relating to the organization oi O'Brien
county, which recites its own history.
"County Court, Woodbury County.
"January 25, 1860.
"Whereas, a petition has been presented to this court, signed by Hannibal
H. Waterman and seven other citizens of O'Brien
county, and I. C. Furber
having made oath that the signatures to said petition are a majority of legal
voters of said
"Whereas, the said petitioners ask that the said O'Brien county may be
organized in accordance with the provisions of law upon that subject.
"Now therefore, I, John P. Allison, county judge of Woodbury county,
in the state Of Iowa, do hereby order :
"First: That the countv of O'Brien, in the state of Iowa, be and the
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.31
same is hereby organized from and after the twenty-fifth day of January,
A. D. 1860.
"Second: That an election be held in O'Brien
county and state aforesaid, at the dwelling house of Hannibal Waterman, on Monday, the sixth day
of February, A. D. i860, for the purpose of electing officers, and that I. C.
Furber act as one of the judges of said first election.
"Third : It is ordered, that I. C. Furber act as organizing sheriff, and
post notices in three of the most public places in said O'Brien county,
stating the time and place of holding said election at least ten days prior to
the election aforesaid, and make return of his doings to this court.
"John P. Allison,
""County Court, Woodbury County,
"January 26, 1860.
"Now comes I. C. Furber and
qualifies as judge of the election to be
held in O'Brien
county on the 6th day of February, A. D. 1860, by taking the
oath as required in section 249. chapter 25 of the Code of Iowa.
"John P. Allison,
ELECTION ORGANIZATION RECORD.
"At an election held in O'Brien
county, at the house of H. H. Waterman,
February 6, 1860, I. C. Furber was elected to the office of county judge, A.
Murray, clerk of district court, and H. H. Waterman, treasurer and recorder,
to hold their offices until the next general election, this being the first election
after organization of the county. I. C. Furber acted as organizing sheriff at
"I. C. Furber,
FIRST GENERAL ELECTION, NOVEMBER 6, 1860.
On the same
day that Abraham Lincoln was first elected President,
November 6, 1860, O'Brien county's first full-term corps of officers were
elected as follows: Henry C. Tiffey, clerk of the district court; I. C. Furber,
treasurer and recorder; A. Murray, county judge; Sam H. Morrow, surveyor, and H. H. Waterman, road supervisor. There were eighteen votes
cast at this election.
32 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
SECOND GENERAL ELECTION, OCTOBER 14, 1861.
next, or second, general election the following officers were
elected: A. Murray, sheriff; J. W. Bosler, treasurer and recorder; George
Hoffman, coroner; John S. Jenkins, county superintendent of schools; A.
Phillips, drainage commissioner; H. H. Waterman, township supervisor.
BAD WORK BREWING IN ABOVE ORGANIZATION AND ITS TWO FIRST ELECTIONS.
give here the results of the first two elections, after its organizing
election, to emphasize the fact that right here in its organization, and first
two elections, is evidence on its face of a scheme to farm O'Brien county
As we have
previously remarked, Hannibal House Waterman was
only bona fide settler and citizen. Those other gentry, I. C. Furber, John
S. Jenkins, John H. Cofer, James W. Bosler, Moses Lewis, George Hoffman,
H. C. Tiffey, A. Phillips and, in a degree, Archibald Murray, and who were
among those other seven named in the petition, were but a bunch of schemers
who came on with others from Sioux
City and Fort Dodge and organized
county seats for three counties, Clay, O'Brien and Beuna (sic)
county seats handily arranged for, three mile apart, at Old O'Brien,
Peterson and Sioux Rapids, in which well-laid scheme the set of men who
acted as officials in O'Brien
county would appear as contractors in the various
humbug building of bridges and other schemes in the other counties and
Tiffey was the best business man of the bunch, so far as
papers and their preparation were concerned. James W. Bosler was a politician of some note from
Pennsylvania and, a grafter of western innocence,
laid out the
plans and did the best head work. John H. Cofer was the
swamp land gentleman and schemer.
It will be observed that in the
petition for organization before the court,
gentry took care that the name of Hannibal H. Waterman, the only
real citizen, headed the list, and thus make a showing of good faith, and had
him in the first instance
appointed to the important offices of treasurer and
recorder of the
county, but it will be further observed that at the very first
general election the same year, with still only nineteen votes cast, that the one
only one bona fide citizen and honorable man, Hannibal H. Waterman,
was dismantled of the chief offices and handed the
sop of the insignificant
offices of township and road supervisor.
Even at this late date it seems
astounding that these same gentry were
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 33
thus allowed to thus
organize and farm in literal fact not simply one but
adjoining, in so open-handed a way. It also seems incredible
that such a bunch of outlandish
proceedings as an organization of three
counties in one batch for such financial farming as we will presently see,
passed the serious order and judgment of the court, and that,
too, by such a man so long prominent in Sioux City banking circles as Judge
John P. Allison, so long a partner with George Weare in the banking firm
of Weare & Allison. We
hardly wish to raise a question of his integrity,
especially his judicial integrity, but when we also see, later on, that this banking firm of Weare & Allison in the subsequent years purchased thousands of
dollars of the depreciated county warrants, not only of these, but other
counties in Iowa
similarly organized, and later sued them, got them into
judgment, thus putting them out of reach of defense, and later having the
bonds of the
county issued for them, and they usually buying them at about
thirty cents on the dollar, and then collecting full face value with ten per
cent interest, we are at least entitled to raise the question of his good judgment, if we do not as to his integrity.
might also criticize with justice the early fathers or legislators of the
state in leaving one lame loophole in the law above referred to providing for
the organization of counties. Had these solons or lawmakers provided that
no county could thus have been organized until it had at least five hundred or,
better, one thousand voters, it would have saved O'Brien and many other
counties much trouble. While votes of honor are often
given to our pioneer
solons, it would seem that O'Brien county could, without blushing, enter its
protest that the General Assembly of Iowa for 1851 were thus direlect in this
THESE SEVEN OTHERS SIMPLY "LIT."
As a literal matter of
fact, these "seven others" had simply and suddenly
lit, as it were, for the express purpose of not simply organizing, but farming the cash or infantile credit of this and many other counties in the West.
These three handy county seats in nearby corners formed a grand triumvirate. These seven
others, or twenty-one in the three counties, were about
as vigorous a lot of rascals as went unhung. They proceeded to issue solemn
contracts and issue
county warrants and other evidences of indebtedness to
the enormous amount of two hundred and
thirty thousand dollars (and upwards) on this one county alone. Verily the seven had her to wife, and the
paid the bills.
34 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
"WE ARE SEVEN."
phrase, "seven others," had a special meaning. One of these
"seven," in a personal conversation with the writer many years ago, boasted
that he was one of the seven. Said he: "We built a
bridge, and then made
report. Then we drew our county warrant. Then I and we of
that seven tore down that
bridge. Then we built that same bridge‐excuse
me, another bridge‐in another prairie slough, and drew another warrant,
and so on until seven
bridges were built, and each of the seven got a share.
Why shouldn't we tear it down? Nobody ever crossed on it, no road there
even." Then this boastful
organizer of new counties, who was of a considerable
literary turn of mind, laughingly and dramatically recited several
stanzas of Byron's "Seven Prisoners of Chillon," in a fine oratorical voice,
making special emphasis on the words of the stanza, "We are seven." Said
he: "Byron's 'Prisoners of Chillon' suffered in chains for their religion.
Didn't we suffer in chains like them in this then God-forsaken wilderness
country, even worse than in chains." Then, in grim satire, he went
then, with due regard to the comfort, happiness and general welfare of
my dear family, I tore down that damned bridge and built for myself
a 'home, sweet home.' This braggadocia statement was no joke. We, of
course, can make due allowance for the magic number seven, and of his
tendencies to the classical, but it was too literally true both in spirit and in
fact. He then went on further: "Lumber was scarce in them
lumber for seven
bridges was more than we could get hauled up into that
neck of the woods in them
days." Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he said:
"Well, Mr. Peck, you are one of these reformers, and I want you to have a
little credit for it, but we might as well have a little fun out of it." Had he
added that the "seven others" should have been punished as Byron's Prisoners of Chillon were punished he would have hit the truer mark.
O'BRIEN COUNTY TO THE FRONT.
Lest, however, this first and some other chapters may raise a false and
impression of the county; lest the outside reader may jump at a hasty
conclusion, let us pause and anticipate a statement of an historic fact of this
year of grace 1914. Land here is worth one hundred and fifty dollars per
acre. It is true, as will be seen in further chapters and items, that our
people did discuss the feasibility of a defeat of this debt, and well they
might, yet finally they decided of themselves to pay it all. That high sense
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 35
prevailed, that our people in the future would feel and enjoy and
hand down to its future citizens a loftier
pride and honor by paying off even
an unjust debt, rather than to be forever subjecting themselves to be jolted
by the odium of bankruptcy. The county did not even compromise. It
overcame its troubles in full. In this
year 1914 the county is absolutely
free of debt. The last cent was
paid off in 1908. At the outset, then, the
reader will pardon us and at same time will feel a thrill of pride when we
record these true historic words, "O'Brien county paid every cent of its debt."
THE FIRST CITIZEN AND HIS FAMILY.
Hannibal House Waterman was born March
28, 1821, in Cattaraugus
county, New York, where he was raised on a farm, and attended the district
school until twelve
years of age, when, with his parents, they moved to Erie
county. New York, where, with them, he lived until he was twenty-one years
age. He attended Allegheny College, at Meadville, Pennsylvania, for a
time. Later he went into the lumber woods of that
region and remained
years. This well fitted him for the rougher experiences of the West.
Mrs. Hannah H. Waterman was the first white woman in O'Brien
county, and was born in Cattaraugus county, New York, December 2, 1836,
but, as a singular coincidence, Mr. and Mrs. Waterman never met until the
1852 in Bremer county, Iowa, where they were married in June,
1854. One child, Emily A., now Emily A. McLaren, of Sioux City, was
born there. They resided in Bremer county until the spring of 1856, when
they decided to go still further west. They arrived in O'Brien county, then
Woodbury county for taxation purposes (though he thought for some time
that he was in Clay county), on July 11, 1856. It was too late for a crop,
consequently but little could be done that summer other than to put up
On May 7, 1887, one of the writers hereof (J.L.E. Peck) visited the
home of Mr. and Mrs. Waterman, at their residence and on their pre-emption
claim on the northeast
quarter of section 26, township 94, range 39, in
township, which bears his name, where they resided until, in
age, they retired from the farm and removed to Sutherland, where
he died on
September 2, 1908. At this visit the writer obtained from their
lips the narrative of their lives, as well as many facts and items found
They were very hospitable people. Mr. Waterman was a tall man, full
feet, swarthy, wore full beard, of lightish color, as likewise was his hair,
36 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
which later on in
years was mingled with gray, had bright, clear blue eyes,
and was a
hearty, pleasant old gentleman. He was an intensely religions
man. He was an exhorter or local
preacher. His religion moved with each
movement of his body and in every hour of his life. Mrs. Hannah H.
Waterman is a
hearty, well-preserved lady and still resides at Sutherland.
passed through all those rugged experiences in a pioneer country.
THEIR SEVERAL HOUSES.
On the occasion of that visit the writer had his horses fed in the first
building ever erected in the county, built in July, 1856, a log building, in
size eighteen by twenty-two feet, which was used as the first home until their
second and better house was built in 1860, and wherein they lived for twenty seven
years, and which was destroyed by fire in 1887. At the time of the
writer's visit in 1887 they were temporarily living in the third house erected
county, being built as a tenant house for "Old Dutch" Fred Feldman,
who was his tenant.
They had for years used it as a storehouse and for
machinery. This building, so ancient, was in 1887 settled considerably into
the ground and was situated on a little branch or spring brook of the Little
Sioux river. Later on in this
year of 1887 they built a fine, new, commodious, two-story frame residence, on the same ground occupied by the
destroyed by fire. This residence is one quarter of a mile south
of the mouth of Waterman creek, or river, which bears his name, and one half mile southeast of the old iron
bridge, built in 1872 and which until
1897 spanned the Little Sioux river.
pitifully referred to the loss of their home, the "old
home," that had been theirs for twenty-seven years, and excused the meager
they had saved from the fire, and had not yet
had time to
replenish. The writer's remark to her that "fires did not
always leave even millionaires in the most desirable positions in life," placed
all in a good mood.
only natural timber of any consequence in the county being on the
Waterman and Little Sioux, in the vicinity of his claim and on his claim,
furnished sufficient material for his
log house, eighteen by twenty-two feet,
which was later used as a stable as stated.
Mr. and Mrs. Waterman arrived in O'Brien
county with two yoke of
oxen, a wagon and household goods. As autumn was near at hand, they
realized that winter was not far in the
rear, and they were without food
except the prospect of game, and possessed but a small amount of money.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 37
Mr. Waterman started his hired hand, a one-armed Dutchman, to Fort
Dodge, with instructions to purchase five hundred weight of flour and two
hundred weight of meal. Sad were the tidings to the ears of Mr. and Mrs.
Waterman, as the hired man, on his return, informed them that all he could
procure was a few hundred weight of flour. Trappers, stragglers, bands of
Indians through the country, and occasionally an emigrant like himself, going
somewhere west, soon made inroads on the flour.
ANOTHER OX-TEAM TRIP.
In December, 1856, this one-armed Dutchman was again detailed with
yoke of oxen to go southwest in search of more provisions. This
time he went as far as
Shelby county, traversing what is now Cherokee, Ida
and Crawford counties. A severe winter set in, snow first
falling in great
quantity, which continued to increase until everything was enveloped, after
which the weather became
intensely cold. The one-armed man found himself powerless to return, snow-bound in a strange country, with two yoke
of cattle looking to him and his one arm for support. He did not, because
he could not, return until spring. While putting in the winter in Shelby
county he kept his oxen (all four) alive by digging corn from the stalks out
snow, doing this work, remember, with but one arm. After Dutchy
had dug corn all the winter to keep the four oxen alive, the owner of the
corn took the best
pair of oxen as pay for the corn, besides getting Dutchy's
nothing. Dutchy returned, as stated, toward spring, minus one
yoke of oxen and the hair on the oxen he brought back was turned the wrong
way, not in very good condition for opening up a new farm.
In the meantime a
family by the name of Black was burned out down in
county and Mrs. Black and her child were brought up to Mrs.
Waterman's on a hand sled, and they had to feed the woman, the child and
brought them to their house for some days. The Black family
literally lived in the snow banks four or five days, in their desperate effort
to reach Mr. Waterman's house, where they were heartily welcomed and
made as comfortable as
possible. All this preyed on the small stock of provisions. Mr. Waterman's
family subsisted for six weeks, during that
winter, on beef, except a small allowance of flour Mrs. Waterman reserved
for her babe.
INDIANS IN O'BRIEN COUNTY.
In addition to all these troubles, they must also undergo an experience
with the Indians. The first
Sunday after they arrived in the county, a band
38 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
of five Indians visited them and were
very friendly. Numerous other friendly
dealings with the Indians followed. Sometime in February, 1857, the
Indians seemed to be somewhat scattered and roamed down the river from
they lived. Many of the bands visited Mr. Waterman
very friendly terms and paid for everything. They said they would not
beg, had plenty of money, and many of them showed Mr. Waterman several
hundred dollars in
gold, saying, "We got heap money, too much money."
appears that when these Indians had arrived down the river at Smithland in Monona
county, or near there, they had coralled a number of elk in
the bend of the river and killed the whole herd. Some of these Indians
(Sioux) had, in the past, perpetrated stealings of corn, pigs, etc., greatly to
annoyance of the settlers. General Harvey had notified the Indians to
keep off the lands belonging to the settlers. Mr. Waterman thinks there
sixty armed Indians in the whole band. By some means the
whites at Smithland and in that
vicinity took possession of all their guns,
and the Indians were allowed to
camp near town. The Smithland people
aver that they intended to set them across the river in the morning, and
guns to them. But in the middle of the night a boy rode into
camp with the story that General Harvey was coming and right on
hand. They stampeded like so many wild devils, leaving guns, dead elk
everything. The next day they ascertained that General Harvey was
nowhere near and concluded that it was a
put-up job to beat them out of
guns and game. It was too late for the Smithland people to prove
that they were going to return the guns.
The father-in-law of
J.L.E. Peck, George H. Wilkinson, who lived
many years in Primghar, was in Smithland just after this incident occurred in
1857. The people of Smithland, says Mr. Wilkinson, at that time
conceded that Smith, the founder of the town, had acted rashly, and that the
act of the Smithland
people, or those in charge, was wrong.
Of course these Indians at once became hostile. At this crisis the
settlers dared not return the
guns. This left the Indians in the dead of
guns or provisions. They started for their home in Minnesota and the farther
they proceeded the more angry and hostile they became.
they commenced stealing, and then to take guns from the settlers.
On their return from Smithland, Mr. Waterman told the writer, "Seven
big strapping Sioux bucks stopped at my house; they were so tall I had to
up at them." These same Indians had been to his house before, and
very friendly, but this time they were ugly. They introduced themselves by
rushing into the house and reciting the Smithland affair and a harangue about
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.39
the "bad white men" down there. They stalked into the house and began
stealing. Six of them had guns they said they had taken from settlers.
They took combs, files, pocket compass, Mr. Waterman's only white shirt,
scissors, and, in brief, all they could lay hands on, in value to forty or fifty
dollars. They next proposed to take his gun. Dutchy had not yet returned
trip southwest for provisions and his gun was to his mind the big
half he had. Mr. Waterman showed resistance, when one of the bucks, Mr.
says, "struck me in the back with a squaw hatchet. I had a long
scuffle with one of them which was terminated
by the other bucks, except
one, leveling their guns at me and firing, but their guns fortunately were
only with power, except a young buck's gun, which he fired into the
ceiling where the bullet lodged. I am satisfied they only intended to
frighten me, but they got my gun just the same. After this little introductory was over, they quieted down to quite an extent. Then they commenced
to banter me on the
proposition to sell the gun back to me. They finally
agreed on two dollars and fifty cents and I handed over my last money.
This same band of Indians was next heard of in the
vicinity of Peterson, three and one-half miles up the river from Mr. Waterman's, where they
committed other and similar
outrages, leaving there for the scene of that
terrible massacre in the
vicinity of Spirit and Okoboji lakes, thence on to
still greater outrages in Minnesota. It is quite probable, had Mr. Waterman's home been
just a little further on, that, in their anger as they proceeded, he would have met the Spirit Lake results.
While a little outside the historic facts in O'Brien
county, yet, as these
Indians were at Mr. Waterman's
just the second day before the massacre,
proper that a brief statement of that awful affair should be given. This
massacre commenced at the home of R. Gardner, on the southwest bank of
West Okoboji, on the morning of March 8, 1857, but a few days after the
unfortunate Smithland affair. Mr. Gardner and
family were at breakfast.
An Indian entered and was
given a place at the table. Soon others entered
given places also. They all at first pretended friendship. They
were treated kindly and shared the hospitality of Mr. Gardner's home. After
a little time
they began to be overbearing and demanded ammunition, together with other articles. They remained at Mr. Gardner's some hours
they left they took his cattle with them. Toward evening Mr.
Gardner ventured from home for the
purpose of ascertaining the true situation of affairs. Below we
give the words of Abbie Sharp Gardner, as contained in her
history of the massacre, a history of three hundred and twelve
40 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
pages: "Father hastily returned, saying, 'Nine Indians are coming, now
only a short distance from the house, and we are all doomed to die.' They
entered the house and demanded more flour, and as father turned to get them
what remained of our
scanty store, they shot him through the heart, while
instantly turned upon mother and Mrs. Luce, seized them by
the arms and beat them over the heads with the butts of their
dragged them out doors, and killed them in the most cruel and shocking manner." The entire
family were butchered, except the author of the history,
who was taken
captive and retained for many months, the full particulars of
given in her account above referred to.
on, in 1895, the Legislature made an appropriation of five thousand dollars to erect a monument, which was built, commemorative of the
massacre. It is a fine granite shaft, fifty-five feet in height, with proper
inscriptions. The dedicatory services were held on the lake and on the
spot in the summer of 1896, and were attended by the writer hereof. Citizens
from all over the state were there. During the several succeeding days the
forty-six of the victims who suffered the same fate were gathered
up and down the lake. These dreadful massacres produced numerous
scares in O'Brien
county. At one time a mere flock of sandhill cranes caused
the scare. At another time a herd of
hogs frightened a whole neighborhood, and at another a drove of cattle. In fact, it was the fear produced
by that real calamity, rather than the scares themselves.
THE ABILITY TO SAY GOOD-BYE INDICATING STRENGTH OF CHARACTER.
courage to say good-bye. Mr. Waterman said good-bye in
New York to come west. Thousands have done likewise. Charles Dickens
tells us that
many of us, when we fear to say good-bye, will remark to some
friend, "I will see you again," when they know within themselves that that
very remark is the real good-bye. In 1862, when, with six covered wagons,
family, with others, started from the old Eastern home, the little five year-old brother of the writer had said the fond farewells to all the relatives,
and then at last to
grandmother, and the writer lay down in the bottom of
wagon, and looked back at grandmother as long as she could
seen, and past the turn in the road. When still several weeks on the road,
day's travel seemed tedious and the horses were tired, this little
out, "Usses left usses grandma, but usses hasn't left usses
grit that could say good-bye was on hand to do and dare‐yes,
on hand ready to advance to the front of the stage in a new country and do
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 41
his part. That quality has made this country strong. It produced grit and
courage to meet the emergency. It has also done one other thing in every
community in the West, not only for O'Brien county, but all over the United
States. It has furnished to
every county in the country the combined brain
power and resourcefulness from everywhere else on earth. Thus O'Brien
county has its Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Hollanders, Irish, English, Scotch, French, and in fact, people from every state in the Union, and
all together have added strength and made up that combined forty-horsepower of character that has made this a great, great country.
DARK AND BRIGHT SIDES OF THE RECORD.
We would not be true to the
history of the county did we not give both
the sunshine and shadow, its "darkest Africa" period as well as its automobile
age. O'Brien county has had its share. Indeed, perhaps a county would
not rise to its best
level, like individuals, unless it had to overcome the plagues
Egypt, so to speak.
ANNA WATERMAN, FIRST WHITE CHILD.
30th day of May, 1857, occurred the birth of the first white
child in the
county, Anna Waterman, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Hannibal
H. Waterman. She was the second white child born in the three counties
Clay, Buena Vista and O'Brien. Eleven children in all were born to Mr.
and Mrs. Waterman. Anna Waterman was married to D. W.
they moved to Woodbine, Iowa, where, later, after a few days' illness, she
departed this life, leaving her husband and the three children.
Mr. and Mrs. Waterman were members of the Methodist
church, he uniting at the age of seventeen. He was very emphatic in his
religious views and quoted much Scripture, carrying the same out in his
devotions, and he was much of an exhorter in his religion. He believed
things were ordered from on high during all these years for his
following additional statements were written down in full and
read to him
by the writer at the time, to which he assented.
PROPOSAL TO ORGANIZE A COUNTY.
About the last month of
1859, one James W. Bosler, a short man of
sandy complexion, came up into this country from Sioux City and proposed
42 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
to organize a county. Bosler achieved a later fame with J. W. Dorsey,
ex-United States senator, in the "Star Route" frauds and operating, with
Dorsey, an extensive cattle ranch in New Mexico.
very idea of organizing a county for one man's benefit was preposterous. When Mr. Waterman was interviewed by Bosler concerning the
replied: "I am farming and know nothing about organizing."
Bosler assured him that he could have the choice of the
county offices and
it would be well not to make
any objections. Bosler then departed. But in
a short time Mr. Waterman ascertained that this man Bosler
Pennsylvania, and that others were coming from Sioux City for the
purpose of organizing.
BOSLER APPEARS AGAIN.
Early in February, 1860, Bosler, with seven or eight others, arrived,
among them I. C. Furber, Henry C. Tiffey and Archibald Murray, who said
an election would be held
February 6, 1860. Two or three of the number
left for Sioux
City before the day appointed for the election arrived. The
day arrived and the election was held in Mr. Waterman's house. The ballot
box consisted of a hat and the total number of votes
polled were seven, only
five of which
pretended to belong to either Woodbury or O'Brien county.
Two votes were borrowed, one from Buena Vista and one from Clay county,
James A. Gleason from the former and a Mr. Freeney from the latter. Mr.
says both men were from Clay county, but the record says Gleason
was from Buena Vista. They all voted. Mr. Waterman was generously
elected, as assured by Bosler, to the office of treasurer, recorder and superintendent of schools. These unusual
doings, said Mr. Waterman, will explain
the indebtedness of the
Soon after this election the old
log court house was built directly in
front of Mr. Waterman's house and is the
"temporary office" the record
speaks of as built by Archibald Murray for the county judge. I.C. Furber,
Murray, L. McClelland and H. C. Tiffey boarded with Mr. Waterman the remainder of the winter.
THE FORT DODGE CROWD.
Everything went pleasantly with this Sioux City crowd until in the
summer of 1860, when John H. Cofer, Charles C. Smeltzer and one Messervey, hearing of the lucrative pasture the Sioux City fellows were enjoying,
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 43
up from Fort Dodge with about a dozen men. Gofer conveyed the
idea to Mr. Waterman that
they were actual settlers and would immediately
proceed to the opening up of farms, which would be the means of bringing
many other settlers into the county. By this time, says Mr. Waterman, "I
began to perceive that Bosler was a shrewd, far-seeing man, whose chief
evidently was to procure the dollars. Myself and family welcomed
Cofer, or the Fort Dodge crowd, as actual newcomers and settlers. A brisk
contest and feud at once
sprung up between these Sioux City and Fort Dodge
crowds, the latter being in the majority, and a fight was on for supremacy.
I sided with Cofer because I thought he was here for actual settlement. My
course enraged the Sioux City crowd against me. This contest between
these factions was so fierce for a time that I feared an actual
The two factions
finally compromised, as necessarily they must. One of the
conditions of this compromise was the exaction by the Sioux City crowd that
get out and keep out of public matters. Evidently I was not what
MR. WATERMAN'S LAND JUMPED.
"A short time after this I was notified from Sioux
City that my land
was jumped by one Charles E. Hedges, and that H. C. Tiffey, Bosler and
Furber were the
instigators of the scheme. This report was soon confirmed.
It was not long before I was waited upon by this trio of gentlemen, who took
upon themselves to inform me that they would let me have my land back
and release the contest
provided I would resign the county offices I held.
What else could I do? To be sure there was
plenty of land, but there were
my improvements. I did resign December 11, 1860, as the records show."
The abstract of title on Mr. Waterman's land also shows that Charles E.
Hedges was so connected with same and that they made the lever strong
enough to make him be good.
"I think," says Mrs. Waterman, emphatically, "that that was a good
price to get our own land back, that is the idea of it." Mr. Waterman
added, with much emphasis and earnestness, "I have never been in half the
danger, or suffered so much from the Indians, as from the whites." Mr.
Waterman added that
they were all rebel sympathizers and of Southern
principles, and that H C. Tiffey was a Virginian, a speculator and Southern
gentleman, James Bosler, though from Pennsylvania, was a rebel, as likewise was Furber, though the latter was from Massachusetts. John R.
Pumphrey was also from Virginia, though he served in the Union army for
a short time. At one election during the war there were only two Republican
44 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
votes cast in the three counties. In fact, these new states during the war
were dodging places for many rebels and copperheads.
Mr. Waterman was
exceeding" emphatic "that there were some mighty
mean white men in this world." Mr. 'Waterman further went on to
"I have never read over that earliest record, but I am satisfied from what I
have heard that it contains entries to which I never consented, and that
funds were drawn in
my name by those fellows that I never knew of or
except to my proper amount. I attended to my farm, and H. C.
Tiffey did the office work; I knew but little about it, and was forced out in
year in order to get my land back. The record says. I think, "that
my place," but he did not; he sent his clerk, whose name was
up from Sioux City to do the work and I thought for years that
Stuart was the official." Henry C. Tiffey died at Fort Dodge about 1871.
says that the "eighteen-foot square court house" was in
fact about fourteen
by twenty feet in size. And, also, that that log court
house was used on his farm for a
year and six months and that one Moses
Lewis also lived in it as a residence. Moses Lewis committed suicide some
years ago at Fort Dodge.
Mr. Waterman continued:
"They tried to purchase forty acres of me
county seat, but I had had all the experience with them in the land
business I cared for." Land was
finally bought of H. C. Tiffey and then
it was that O'Brien
county was born. The old log court house was then
moved to old O'Brien and later on used as a school house and residence, and
in 1868-1869 by Bostwick and R. G. Allen as a blacksmith shop, and still
later by W. C. Green and Lem C. Green as a stable. Meantime Waterman
built the then new house (the one that was destroyed by fire in 1887) for the
family. Then all but Mr. Waterman and family moved to Old
Mrs. Hannah H. Waterman
taught the first school, with three scholars
enrolled. But before the fall term was
taught in 1860, the new magnate,
Cofer, preferred that his daughter should teach, and she followed, with seven
Right here the reader will no doubt be pleased to know that Bosler was,
once at least, the loser, as the following will show: "While the log court
being built, a work bench sat in front. Bosler arrived from Sioux
City on horse back. Pie tied his horse to the work bench and, while Bosler
was absent for a few minutes, some Indians sneaked
up and stole the horse.
This was the last ever seen of Bosler's four footed
"About this same
period Jacob Kirchner erected the first school house,
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 45
building, wherein John R. Pumphrey first resided after he was married. In those days they had what they called 'swamp land goods' (see item
entitled Swamp Lands), and traded warrants for them. Tiffey bought some
goods, and presented every woman in the county with a new
dress. Mrs. Waterman was also
presented with a whole box of goods from
Tiffey. All our trading before W. C. Green opened his store was done at
City and Fort Dodge. We would send our boarders to market for us
trips made by them.
"I.C. Furber remained in the
county only two years, and before he departed expressed himself as being ashamed of the manner in which he
jumped my land. 1 always considered Furber, at heart, a good meaning
man. I first met Rouse B.
Crego (later county treasurer) at a camp meeting near Smithland. I could never understand Crego. He was part of the
very bad man, and part of the time a Methodist preacher. He could
good-sized drunk or a revival meeting with the same energy.
FIRST ACTUAL HOMESTEAD ENTRY.
"The first actual homestead
entry that was maintained was by Archibald Murray. A man by the name of Zolier, a German, however, had had
his warrant on the land first, namely on the west half of the southwest
quarter of section 14, township 94, range 39. I showed it to him and located
him, but he soon got discouraged, folded his tent and departed. I then
showed it to D. W.
Inman, and he decided to take it. I wanted settlers,
but these officials at Old O'Brien didn't want
any." The reader may judge
why. Archibald Murray hastened to enter it. His object was to prevent
settling. The evidence appeared from various sources that no
settlers were desired
by these Old O'Brien officials. The Inmans then went
up into what is now Grant township and located, as the Grant list will show.
These brothers, Daniel W. Inman and Chester W. Inman (later county
treasurer), were the first legitimate settlers in O'Brien county after Hannibal
Waterman and Old Dutch Fred, though Henry F. Smith and Ed T. Parker
arrived about the same time, or in 1868. Moses Lewis, H. C. Tiffey and
Archibald Murray each did a little gentleman farming close to town, or, as
Mrs. Waterman said, "Mrs. Lewis and her boy done it."
FREDERICH FELDMAN, "OLD DUTCH FRED."
"I am der
peoples. Der rest all be officers. Don't it?" Fred Feldman, or Old Dutch Fred, entered and homesteaded the west half of the north-
46 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
quarter of section 34, township 94, range 39. (James H. Scott.
however, got the United States patent.) Mr. Waterman built a tenement house, Dutch Fred plastered it and rented Waterman's farm. But
little is known of his
history. He told Mrs. Waterman he had deserted
from the German
army and was living a secluded life to escape the punishment of death. His "frau" would not follow him to so wild a country. His
quaint expression, "I am der peoples und der rest he de officers," was used
sarcastically by the newer settlers referring to the hunch of looters then in
office, and whom each new voter desired to root out. He died in 1873 with
the request that he be buried by the side of his friend, Archibald Murray.
requests in a new country are not always fulfilled. Poor Old
Dutch Fred, who had lived a hermit life, far from wife, home and fatherland, to escape King William's wrath, could not enforce his request. Old
Dutch Fred, who would shake his ragged clothes, and laugh, "dese be boor
dines mit clothes, but Old Dutch Fredt be under here und his heart beat
shust like udder mans," lies buried in a lonely grave on his homestead claim,
unmarked and soon, perhaps, unknown.
Mr. Waterman had
pre-empted his land. He was entitled to a homestead. He made an
entry on the northwest quarter of section 22, township
95, range 40, Highland township, and got it under way, when his land was
jumped again. A woman living on that section heard of it and, taking her
child in her
arms, walked thirteen miles to inform him of what was going
on. That woman was Henrietta Richardson, wife of John Richardson,
later residents for
many years of both Primghar and Sanborn. Mr. Waterman was too late and lost his land, but remembered with gratitude this arduous effort of kindness on the
part of Mrs. Richardson. In justice to Mrs.
Catrina Dobricka, the patentee, it may be said it was not her doings. Again
Mr. Waterman concluded that this is a wicked world and that the whites can
"out-devil" the "Injuns."
COMMENT ON MR. WATERMAN'S NARRATIVE.
It will thus be seen from the above narrative of Mr. Waterman and
from other items in this
history that up to 1869 O'Brien county was in a
complete state of irresponsibility. She was an orphan without a guardian,
a ship, though sound, whose helmsmen and crew were in the hold playing
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 47
hookey with the cargo, expecting to let her float as best she might as soon
as they had had their fill. Their only passenger, Mr. Waterman, could but
look on. It was as if the United States
government should have organized
the state of Iowa, with ninety-nine men, one man for each county. The
record list of the old homesteaders shows that
they nearly all came in 1870,
1871 and 1872. They began to stop such doings as soon as they could get
control, and would have gotten control sooner had it not been for the grasshopper scourge. O'Brien county has been much abused for these doings,
but, as is seen, there were none to say nay or object. The main body of the
debt was created the first four or five
years. The looters during that period
majority. It can be seen from the one item of H. C. Tiffey making presents of so many dresses and goods that the bunch were nursing their
job, and postponing the fatal day when their doings would be ended by the
votes of an
exasperated people, as was later done.
O'Brien County Iowa Genealogy - The IAGenWeb Project