Many gatherings of old settlers, in small groups and neighborhoods and townships, took place along through the early years.
But probably the first full-grown, county-wide reunion on a large scale of old settlers took place at Primghar on August 31, 1889. The old homesteaders were practically all yet alive, and actually there. Hannibal House Waterman and Hannah H. Waterman, his wife, were the honored guests. The writer was present. He must pronounce it beyond question the grandest public function ever held in the county, even up to this 1914. It was representative of the idea that brought the great crowd of eight to ten thousand people together. It was not simply from one section of the county. Every township and town was largely there. It occurred only eighteen years distant from the first large incoming of the real citizen homesteader in 1871. While this same class of a reunion was repeated in 1894, 1899, 1904 and 1909, none of the later reunions reached in size or detail its equal. It was democratic. It was pioneer. The people were in fact there. The real homesteader was there; they were all there with their children. They were close enough in time to reach back to the real grasshopper and hay twister, to understand its true meaning, and yet it had struck into the high tide of the better prosperities. The trees in the court house park had reached a sufficient size to really make a shade. It was one of the greatest, as it was probably the last occasion when the real old settler and all of them were so universally present. At the succeeding reunions, many were dead. The later and lesser in numbers compared with the increasing numbers of new settlers began in the later reunions at intervals of five years to swallow the old homesteader up in the swim, as it were. On this occasion, August 31, 1889, the old homesteader had reached his climax. The bright day had dawned. The railroad at Primghar had been built but two years, the new buildings had been completed, and its new people were on hand in dress parade to bid welcome. As this was one of the great occasions in the county that rises to the dignity of a county-wide historic occasion, and inasmuch as its details will include a weaving among those details much of the early situations, customs


and people, we will give the full account of same as published in the O'Brien County Bell the following week.


The O'Brien County Bell, September 5, 1889: "From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," but there is just no use in attempting to tell the story complete of the old settlers' reunion and harvest festival, held at Primghar last Saturday, for two reasons, first, the heart is too full, and the mouth is too small.
The morning came in beautiful, the sun appeared in its glory, the atmosphere was pure. By daylight every man, woman and child in Primghar was up and dressed for the occasion, ready to assist in making the day, as it was, one never to be forgotten by the thousands who were present. It goes without contradiction, that the assemblage of people was the largest and grandest that has ever occurred in the entire Northwest, outside of the thronged days at the Sioux City Corn Palace exhibition.
At sunrise occurred the national salute of forty-two guns, during which time those of our citizens who had not completed (the night before) their decorations, could be seen, some on roofs, others on boxes and barrels, tacking up bunting, stars and stripes, mottoes and pictures.


First the reader will be, as was the visitor, introduced to the decorations as prepared by the Primghar people, from thence invited to follow these lines on through in regular order as the exercises of the day were carried out.
One-half mile from the court house, on all roads leading into the town, and at the depot, were suspended, eighteen feet high, large banners, "Welcome," each of which was decorated with either corn, flax, wheat, oats, haytwists or vegetables of some description. By this it was made manifest to all visitors that they were expected, and further, that the town and inside of it belonged to them. Every house, public building, as well as numerous stables, sheds and fences were found ornamented with decorations of some sort. Front gates and sidewalks were arched over with beautiful designs, made of grain of all kinds, grasses, wild flowers, house plants and vegetables. Many of the arches bore appropriate mottoes. In the business part of the town, there seemed no way to enter except under mammoth arches at each of the four corners of the public square. At the northwest corner was an arch, or


rather arches, or cross arch from corner to corner, really a double arch, seventy feet square at the base and forty feet high, which was decorated with prairie flowers, wild thistles, corn and small grain, together with two hundred yards of bunting. At the foot of each arch was a shock of either corn or grain of some kind. An arch at the southwest corner was a duplicate of above. At the southeast corner of the square was an arch crossing the entire square seventy feet from corner to opposite corner, timbers from each corner rising to the center, pyramid shape, forty feet. The frame work was so constructed as to leave a large square, twenty feet high, in which were placed humorous paintings by Primghar's very clever artist, M. P. Messenger. One was represented as follows: Numerous grasshoppers were stripping stalks of green corn same as sugar cane stalks are stripped, with another large hopper starting out on a journey, apparently captain of this band of hoppers, bearing in his mouth a banner, "More to conquer." At the lower right hand corner of the picture was a long, lean, lank hog, poorer than Job's turkey. On his back was perched a large hopper, and on the ribs of the hog painted the words, "Spare rib," "Corn all gone." Another of Mr. Messenger's paintings represented the "Old Log Court House," with six county officers in view, with "Old Dutch Fred" standing at a distance, smoking his long pipe, as he was making that well-known remark, "I am de beeples, you fellows am de officers." As everybody knew, Dutch Fred was the only man in the county who was not an officer, there being only seven residents at that time. Still another painting represented a large grasshopper painted in colors bearing a mower sickle and reaper reel in his mouth. "O'Brien County Combined Reaper and Mower, 1876."
We next come to the imposing arch at the northeast corner of the square. It was indeed a surprise. George R. Slocum and George W. Schee each had a bank across from each other at this time at this northeast corner of the square, and they had challenged each other for the best donations and decorations. It was asserted at the time that this arch as a whole actually cost over three hundred dollars. This arch was forty feet square at the base and seventy feet high, two stories, with full stairway to ascend, and held several hundred people. The long procession passed under each of the four arches, but here the officers and committees reviewed the procession. This arch was pyramid in shape, built of heavy timbers, bolted together and self supporting in the center to hold up the audience expected, the other arches being supported only at the corners. During the day the bands dispensed music from the top of this arch, and hundreds of people ascended the stairs to take a view of the crowds and country. High in the air, at this arch, was


suspended "Welcomes," made of kernels of corn. The entire structure was completely covered with grain of every description and design, mixed in with hundreds of yards of bunting. George R. Slocum had constructed a map of O'Brien county about six feet square, made up of every possible combination of ears of corn and the grains of all kinds of corn imaginable. It was claimed that had value of time been considered, one hundred and fifty dollars would not have done the work. It was taken to Sioux City to the Corn Palace for exhibition and later to the state capitol, so many wanting to see it. The four arches cost about five hundred dollars. When we state that the town raised more than one thousand dollars, exclusive of individual expense for the day. we can see the scale on which it was carried out.
The sidewalk from the front entrance to the court house was decorated in like elaborate style. Frank N. Derby was then county treasurer and Charles H. Winterble county auditor, and they vied with each other as to which could suggest the most original idea. This sidewalk of about eighty feet was one long, high arch, covered roof like; Japanese style. In size it was eight by twelve, and thirteen feet high. The roof was thatched with oats and grains, Japanese shape, all decorated very elaborately with the grains, ears of corn and its grains as appearance demanded. The north side, near the entrance, was finished with grain and corn stalks trimmed, being placed in such a manner as to leave a large diamond, three feet square, in the center, and in which appeared steel engravings of all the Presidents of the United States to Grover Cleveland, inclusive. This diamond was beautifully draped with the Stars and Stripes. The south side was dressed with grains of all kinds, together with grasses in the center, to correspond with the diamond on the north side, its three-foot diamond being worked in kernels of corn. The interior of the whole long archway was finished with all kinds of grasses interwoven in a multitude of forms.
The inside of the court house was similarly decorated, as likewise the entrances to and the inside of the offices themselves. Near to the stairway leading to the court room was a beautiful arch constructed with flags. Isaac Clements, who was then county recorder, and John W. Walters, clerk of the courts and whose offices were on the west side, made archway decorations on an equal scale.


The trees in the park were then eleven years old, planted in 1878. There were then probably ten times the number of trees as now, many being thinned out as they grew. These trees were all decorated in all manner of forms and


shapes. They were smaller then, the first limbs being then just about as high as one's shoulders, the right height for decoration. The invincible F. M. (Pomp) McCormack, of the Bell, made this work his special feature. He had enthusiastically gotten every merchant and business man in town to take it upon himself to decorate one tree. For instance, one tree for the "Press" was decorated by all sorts of hangings relating to the newspapers of the county and their editors.
The speaker's stand, twetny (sic)feet by sixty, four feet above ground, with a back wall eighteen feet high, was literally covered with flags and bunting. In front of the stand, nicely arranged, was a rope of flowers twenty feet long, and very beautiful, the work of Mrs. L. D. Wooster. Directly in front of the speaker's stand was a mammoth floral anchor, the work of Mrs. Frank N. Derbv. At the noon hour sixteen long tables were constructed, one for each township and each eighty feet long, or a total of twelve hundred and eighty feet, the whole loaded, as was humorously remarked that day, containing enough provisions to have lasted the entire population of the county in i860 (seven voters) from that time until the grasshoppers came. The old homesteader up to that date made all his bows and comparisons to the grasshopper.
At the northwest corner of the park, and clear across the corner, was erected a soldiers' monument, fourteen by fourteen feet at base and seventy feet high, which was headquarters all day for the old soldier homesteaders, and one hundred and forty old soldiers registered, though all did not get their names recorded. This monument was nicely and appropriately decorated in keeping with the other decorations of the day. Many of the business buildings were likewise elaborately decorated in various designs in corn and the grains. This subject can best be summed up by saying that everything and everybody in Primghar was decorated, and the streets were a sea of flags.


Many arrived as early as Friday, among them being Mr. and Mrs. Hannibal Waterman, the first citizens, Mr. John McCormack, the early-day hunter, and Uncle Don C. Berry, a very unique and early-day character.
Even as early as eight o'clock in the morning the people began to pour in; at eight-thirty it was estimated there were two thousand. The excursion train from Cherokee at eight-forty brought in several hundred, who were met at the depot by Assistant Marshal Charles F. Albright, the Hub Cornet Band and reception committee. By this time every highway leading to Primghar


was lined with teams as far as the eye could reach, some processions actually being two and three miles in length. At ten the excursion train from Sheldon arrived, every car packed with people, bringing their fine Sheldon Band. This delegation was likewise met with Primghar committees. Next came the Sanborn and Franklin township delegation, headed by the Sanborn band. With the Paullina and Union and Caledonia township delegations came the Caledonia Brass Band, making in all six bands, including the Sheldon Drum Corps and Charley West's unique drum corps, composed entirely of members of his family. It seemed that every citizen of the county was there. Assistant marshals went out to meet the delegations from each township as they arrived.


"Fall in" was the order given by the marshals and old soldiers. The Sanborn band headed the procession. Next came Hannibal Waterman and wife, the first settlers, seated in the rear of a beautifully decorated carriage. The front seat was occupied by John McCormack, the deer slayer, Mr. Waterman's neighbor and noted hunter of the early days. At his left sat Miss Jennie Scott, holding the banner: "First Settlers of O'Brien county, Mr. and Mrs. H. H. Waterman."
This carriage was surrounded by a band of Indians in war paint, apparently intent on capturing Mr. and Mrs. Waterman, picturing out the scenes and frights they had contended with. "All this can only be described in part. The procession was lined with all kinds of banners and mottoes, and included all manner of old relics, horses over twenty years in the county, harness made of rope and hay twists, haytwisters, twisting hay, as was actually done during the years and throwing them out to the crowd, with even sod shanties built on wagon floats. One banner read, "Dod blame it, boys, come on," being a very familiar expression of Capt. Andrew J. Edwards, an old homesteader, an old soldier and captain in the Civil War and ex-county auditor, 1872-1876. Another read, "How far is it to Paine's store," so many years standing on the treeless prairie in Highland. One large banner read, "In this (s) Wheat Bye and Bye," and was represented by two grasshoppers sitting on the fence looking over into a wheat field, one playing a musical instrument, while the other was doing the singing. A banner from Carroll read "1889 Prosperity and Friendship." Another read, "1880 Turn of the Tide." Another, "Common Schools the Hope of Our Country." Another, "1876, They Took It All, Still We Stay." As this last banner moved along, scores of spectators who lived here in 1876 could be seen wiping away the


tears, for they knew too well what it meant; the days when prayers were offered to take from them the grasshopper plague came fresh to their memories. The mother recalled to her mind those days of distress: that little boy or girl she could see again, with nothing scarcely to eat and less to wear; she beheld them clustering around on the boxes used for chairs endeavoring to keep warm by the old hay stove; she saw the labor of herself and husband vanish in a day before this unconquerable foe, the hopper, and in this affliction the parents' affection for their little ones became stronger and the child's for the parent, as they entwined themselves in actual embrace around papa or mama, even as the delicate tendrils of the ivy wound around the protecting and sheltering limbs of the sturdy oak. Those were indeed days of trial and desolation, and now, this August 31, 1889, the panorama was passing by ‐yes, mother and father beheld it in all its meaning. The plague was here, the earth was parched, distress was inevitable, the clouds of misery were enveloping them with its wrapper in stern reality; courage must hold out, and to withstand the storm was the only hope. What gave them hope? We will tell you. As the dew of early morning most refreshes and benefits the summer blossoms, so the sweet, trusting confidence and sublime simplicity of these children keep fresh the flowers of affection, and prevent the father's heart from becoming like a parched and sandy desert. But victory came at last.
Charles Slack, one of the oldest settlers from Grant, carried in the procession a beautiful fruit banner, upon which were many different kinds of fruit, all from his farm. Nothing "slack" about that. The Omega township delegation had a beautiful banner made entirely from the grasses and wild prairie flowers. As the procession passed sixteen guns were fired, one for each township. Gust Kirchner, the first settler in Clay county, was in the procession, and also Mr. Phipps, though not the first, one of the first from Cherokee county. The procession was one hour and thirty minutes passing a given point. It was claimed that the procession was between five and six miles long, besides which hundreds of teams did not get into it at all. It was said by many here from the other counties that no parade ever held in northwestern Iowa equaled it. At the stand two other banners found a place. "We came to see the father and mother of the county," and "We want to see the Old Folks, Pap and Mam." Prof. W. S. Wilson, for so many years head of the public schools at Sheldon, was chairman of the day. The address of welcome was deliverey by J.L.E. Peck. D.A.W. Perkins was scheduled to deliver the main address, but failed to arrive, sending a letter instead which was read.



During the old settlers' reunion held August 31, 1889, the following relics were exhibited that related to O'Brien county people:
Canes secured by Capt. Robert C. Tifft (Primghar) during his sea voyages.
Mariner's compass, by Capt. Robert C. Tifft.
War relics, by William Church.
Cedar knot from cedar tree on Waterman, by Mrs. Roma W. Woods.
Chair fifty-five years old, by Mrs. Hannah Waterman, used in their family.
Piece of first house built in county by Hannibal H. Waterman.
Indian mauls or war axes, by A. W. H. Stone and C. West.
Cluster of buffalo, antelope and deer horns, by Mr. Wells, of Highland.
Hog trough thirty-two years old, by H. H. Waterman.
Deer horns, by William King, of Highland.
Baby carriage used for Frank Tifft, of Primghar, when a baby.
Pocket book made in 1660, used in family of Capt. Robert C. Tifft.
Captain Kane's panoramic views in the Arctic, by Captain Tifft.
Picture frame and spoon carved by N. Remington in grasshopper times.
Spinning wheel used in family of Henry Buse seventy-five years.
Spike and brick taken from old school house in Grant. A brick made for same.
Sample of oak, walnut and cottonwood cut on Waterman creek and sawed at Peterson in 1870.
Silk dress, one hundred years old handed down in family to Mrs. C. F. Albright.
Photographs of early settlers, contributed by John Walters.
Photograph of first court house (log), contributed by Clark Green.
Letter head used by Arichbald Murray.
Knife used by John McCormack in killing and dressing over two hundred deer in O'Brien county.
Early maps of O'Brien county, by W. H. Gunsul.

O'Brien County Iowa Genealogy - The IAGenWeb Project