The early days produced its stern, quaint and eccentric characters on many lines, who did business, and brought results to pass, and made successes in O'Brien county.


Dr. Claiming Longshore, of Sheldon, was an early, eccentric and able physician. He was called to a gentleman patient, in bed on his back. Whether the eccentric doctor had his doubts or why, but as a remedial operation all but surgical, in his rough and tumble manner he actually got into bed with him, and began to roll him and tumble him, very much a la John Sullivan, with the patient heroically remonstrating and finally yelling that it would break his back, with the doctor all the time vigorously continuing to demonstrate as if at a clinic and retorting that that was what he was trying to do, to break his (adjective) back and limber him up and get him out of that bed forthwith and immediately. The patient was only too glad to get up and run clear out of the house, swearing that it was the (adjective) dose of medicine or surgery he ever took in his life. He literally got him up off a sick bed in real earnest.


We will not to any extent give place to small jokes, but, for spice herein, will give space to some jokes which illustrate some early quaint surroundings and the fears, doings and facts in the county.


As heretofore remarked, "Pomp" McCormack was an inveterate joker, not merely with individuals, but with the whole community. What was known as the "Primghar Art League," a circle of thirty who for ten years in early days conducted a weekly discussion of current events and questions


at the homes, held an annual outing picnic on the Waterman. With their friends, on this occasion they numbered seventy, going down in buggy conveyance for the day. "Pomp" was early in the morning on hand and down on the Waterman, as an advance current event. The crowd even were not appraised of it, only a few. He had been on the stage in early life and knew how to "make up" a character. He dressed up as a veritable Indian and went down all prepared with actual pony, feathers, rifle, blanket and tomahawk, with all the gestures. He also made up similarly several of the boys on hand. They first gave out along the route that a band of Indians were on the Waterman. As the crowd proceeded along the road, "Pomp's" advance boys had started up in curiosity, if not fright, and warned them of the fact. At the point of the picnic on the Waterman, on the homestead of O. A. Sutton, on a high hill where it could be seen for a mile or more, "Pomp" put up several wigwam tents, got his pony and the boys and equipments into action, and held a veritable Indian war dance, with whoops and yells and firing of rifles. The news spread all over Grant and part of Highland as the real thing. The fears handed down from the real and awful Spirit Lake massacre were still fresh in people's minds. It was all humorous, half serious, and a quite practical and harmless joke, and worked with both the picnickers and resident families.


This time it was at Sheldon. "Pomp" made himself up as a genuine Irishman, with long, loose duster that hid his identity of body, with other make-up to match, and appeared at the office of Jurgen Renken as a man with means seeking to buy a good sized farm for his family of "byes." Pomp could imitate the Irish brogue to perfection and keep it up all day. Mr. Renken held large land holdings, and sold for others. Mr. Renken was a veritable uplifter of what he could see in the genuine qualities of the grand soil and future of the country, and became quite famous the county over in spreading the word of "Jurgen Renken's Garden of Eden," as he called the lands he showed up to people and purchasers. "Pomp" was quite anxious to get located and Jurgen was anxious to show up his Eden and make sales and settle up the county. A land trip for miles around Sheldon was arranged, and "Pomp" and Mr. Renken were soon driving over the then broad prairies, and "Pomp" all the time entertaining Mr. Renken in continuous flow of Irish wit. Though Mr. Renken and "Pomp" were well acquainted, he did not take in the situation, so perfectly did Mr. McCormack earn it out. When


within about four miles of Sheldon on return. "Pomp" accidentally (?) lost his handkerchief, dropping it. Mr. Renken, all eager to serve his purchaser, jumped out and back after it, when "Pomp" drove off and into Sheldon, with the treats on the Garden of Eden, and Mr. Renken to walk into Sheldon four miles for his health.


"Pomp" was similarly "made up" and with long duster, again Irish. The town of Primghar had just got its road, and E. W. Shuck with others had just laid out the several additions to the town and each eager to sell town lots and get the town started just after the road arrived. Shuck placed the selling of lots in hands of Tom Ward, then new attorney. "Pomp" appeared at Ward's office to locate his "byes" in the town, and would build and improve. Shuck was called in as a secret matter, not to allow the other agents to get hold of it. Though Tom was daily with "Pomp," he never so much as "hooked on," but bit with full mouth, the whole joke. "Pomp" had elaborate contracts drawn, with all his objections included. Along in the evening, after sundry consultations and "Pomp" walking both Tom and Shuck all over town looking at properties to sell, "Pomp" arranged to have the jokers of town on hand at the climax of signing up the contracts, which was all carried out, when "Pomp" made himself known in front of Tom's office with the boys all calling for the full treats of Shuck and Tom. "Pomp" had suddenly got mad, kicked the contract out, and raised such rumpus that the boys outside all appeared.


Tom Ward was absent all day trying a law suit at Paullina. "Pomp" first got all the town fellows to decorate Tom's front windows and the lot surrounding on the plan of the Sioux City Corn Palace, only in burlesque. They planted out several rows of the biggest tall, five-foot weeds on each side of the office, and the windows and front corresponding, this for Tom's showing upon return. Then, through a party happening to be going to Paullina, "Pomp" communicated to Tom and arranged for Tom to have his leg broke in joke and word to be sent back to Primghar during the afternoon. The word came back soon and created a lot of sympathy. Word came that a team was bringing him across on a stretcher. "Pomp" then arranged to have the court house fellows be ready to carry him up stairs to his room in the hotel.


It all worked out to exact time and fact. Tom's leg was all fixed up true to the expert surgeon, ready for the show with the boys. They actually carried him up stairs by main strength, some dozen assisting. In the meantime "Pomp" had said to the town boys that it would be a mean trick to leave the planted weed decorations at his office, under such affliction. They had all carefully removed same when Tom arrived. To round it up, when the right time came, and after they had all gone through with their great sympathies and carefully handling him to his room, he jumped up and danced all over and down stairs and over the hotel, and all wound up in a hilarious time during the evening. But "Pomp" could work both sides of such a joke to perfection, and on good sized scale.


This time the joke was on "Pomp" himself. One Sunday forenoon a bunch of the court house officials set up a job, and induced all hands, including "Pomp," to go up on Mt. Aetna to the top of the capitol building, the "Court House Lookatory." It worked, without "Pomp" hooking on, and all hands landed in the cupola. Keeping "Pomp" engaged in conversation, they one by one slid down the ladder in the attic, and drew the ladder after them, leaving "Pomp" as monarch of all he surveyed. For some reason, he had no means of escape. The court house rats for once in their lives all went to church, but first passing the word all along the line, around the square and at hotels, that "Pomp" was holding Sunday services up on high, but that no one should listen to him nor attend upon his services. He remained there until sometime in the afternoon. It was one time that he thought justice was called for.


It was Col. Osmond M. Barrett, an attorney at Sheldon and for eight years state senator of this district, who loved a game of chess. He hired an Irishman to dig and prepare a hot bed in the spring. He started the man at work by platting off the size desired, and told him to dig away until he returned and went down town. He was soon engaged in a game of chess. He did not return until nearly night. As he approached his home he could see some spadefuls of dirt coming up over a great pile. The man had proved faithful. He had dug a great hole some ten or twelve feet deep. He had dug until he came back. It took another day to fill it up.



J.L.E. Peck was county auditor, whose duty it was to issue the bounties on prairie wolf scalps. George Ginger, of Grant, brought in six young wolves in a sack, alive. The auditor took him out by the side of the court house and between them they killed the wolves. They returned to the auditor's office, and prepared an affidavit for Mr. Ginger to sign to the effect that they were and had been killed. Mr. Ginger was somewhat of a wag. He remarked: "What a damn fool that Peck is to go out himself and see and help kill those wolves and then make me sign an affidavit and swear to it, that they were dead."


It was a justice of the peace case that was called and ready for trial before his honor, Justice W. H. Hammond, of Grant township, in an early day. The attorney for the defendant decided to take a change of venue. He made out the affidavit for same, making it read that he asked a change of venue "For want of prejudice."


It often happens in the curious and wandering individuals who roam over the country, and who become a nuisance, that they must be restrained and sent to the hospital for the insane, and charged up to the county until it is ascertained where they belong. It also happens that many of these people are cute enough to refuse to give their names or homes. One of these individuals some years ago was before the three commissioners of insanity for the county. They were attempting to ascertain his home in order to get the cost of his care on to some other county. No persuasion could induce him to tell. Question: "Where do you live?" Answer: "In the United States." "What is your name?" "Jim." "What is the rest of your name?" "Well, when they got to Jim they quit." He was sent simply as "Jim."


The commission for insanity in 1912 had one very queer specimen of humanity to deal with. He was not simply ragged. That did not express it. He was simply one mass of strips and rags sewed one on top of the other.


He had newspapers packed in and around him and between the strips to keep warm, or rather to keep from freezing, for it was winter. The commission stripped from him every vestige of the one‐time clothing. He had been sleeping in hay stacks, barns, school houses and other like places. He had frightened sundry school teachers. When people would notice him, he would run on his hands and knees through the corn fields. His clothes were carefully examined. On his person, in rags upon rags tightly he had thus sewed up two hundred and fifty dollars in bills, many of which he said himself he had had since 1880. They were sent to Washington for redemption. The bills were about ready to fall to pieces from dry rot. He also had one hundred and thirty dollars sewed up likewise in gold, all tarnished from long years of carrying around. He would give no name nor place of residence. He was sent as "John Doe." He said, on questions being asked, that he had seen better days. He was well educated. He was well posted on business matters. He may have been a college professor or banker. He evidently had family connections he would not divulge. His money was returned when released from Cherokee.


It was George R. Whitmer, member of the lower house of the General Assembly of Iowa in 1905, who was in his seat, when a loquacious member had been speaking for an unusually long time, and had been specially loud and long in his quotations from the Scriptures and in pounding out his conclusions from Holy Writ. Just as he was in his climax. Mr. Whitmer solemnly rose to his seat with, "Mr. Speaker, I rise to a point of order." The speaker pounded his gavel, and announced in equally solemn tones, "The gentleman from O'Brien county rises to a point of order. The Honorable gentleman from O'Brien county will state to the house his point of order." By this time it was all stillness and attention. Mr. Whitmer then gravely stated his point of order: "Mr. Speaker, the hour for devotions has expired."


It was a hot afternoon in the court room in the court house in Primghar. The judge was on the bench. A lull for some reason was taking place. Hon. Scott M. Ladd, now O'Brien county's able and honored representative, was presiding as the then district court judge. Judge J. H. Swan, one of the very able attorneys of northwest Iowa, from Sioux City, was on hand represent-


ing the Sioux City & St. Paul railroad. The lull in the proceedings had become oppressive. There was nothing doing, and Mr. Swan, apparently dozing as if half unconcsious (sic) where he was, broke out in a loud voice with that familiar hymn, "Revive us again," and sung a whole verse through, when all hands began to realize that this was not a "camp meeting," but a solemn court, when all hands at the bar applauded, leaving Judge Swan bowing as if before the footlights.


It was the irrepressible Milt H. Allen, one of the early attorneys at the O'Brien county bar, who always had an icicle to crush down the back of the neck of several who were present, or some other equally impressive ceremony. The judge and attorneys were at the hotel, and the good Judge Hutchison, who also loves a good joke, had returned. It was a very hot night, but late in the fall‐in fact, cold spells had started. The Judge was asleep. Milt smelled a good bed‐time joke. He carried all the clothes from his own bed and his own personal clothes and piled them on top of the good judge. Milt had disrobed to the night gown and lay down. The judge, however, had been sleeping with one eye open. Quietly he rose and turned the key in the door. It being already the fall of the year, during the night it grew very unpleasantly cold. Mr. Allen wanted his clothes. He rapped at the door of the judge's room. The Judge continued to sleep soundly. Mr. Allen begged and continued to freeze. Mr. Allen contended that he was simply trying to give the judge what he thought he needed, a sweat. At least it was one case where he did not secure the ear of the court. This occurred in a hotel at Sibley. Inasmuch as Judge William Hutchinson belongs to and holds court in both counties, and as this is a joint history of O'Brien and Osceola county, Mr. Allen being from O'Brien county at that time, it is one case where the two counties come together in a court item.


It was Dr. Claiming Longshore, one of the earliest of physicians from Sheldon, who. in 1876, was elected county recorder. The good Doctor has a powerful voice. When he spoke on the street, they used to call it whispering. He had much of the idea of the humorous. When he opened office he opened court, with all the solemnity of a court and by the sheriff. He would first pound on the office door with three raps, and in one of his whispering


court orders would announce in a manner that every court official would hear and understand, "Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, the county recorder's office is now open and ready for business."


It was at the election of 1904. The office was vacant by reason of the resignation of Ed. R. Wood as clerk of courts. J.F. Boyer had been appointed temporarily to fill the vacancy. That, however, under the law, could only last until the voters would have an opportunity to elect, which meant that Mr. Boyer would be clerk until election. At the Republican convention Harry C. May was nominated for the regular full term, but no mention or even thought was made of the interim term of about a month and a half from election to January first. The Democrats at the election made no nomination for the interim. Thus far no nomination was made. The Democrats laid low. The law further says that if no nomination is made, then a man may be nominated by petition if done ten days before election. Late in the evening of the tenth day before election, the Democrats filed a petition for the nomination of W. H. Downing for this month and a half interim. The Republicans had slept on their rights. Mr. Downing being the only man in the printed ticket, was elected. The Republicans were helpless. It was simply a case where good shrewd politics scored a point and nominated a man who was all right for the office. He served for the short interim term.


It was the eccentric Dr. Claiming Longshore, that pioneer physician of the early days, who did enough free practice and service during those years when there was no money, which if paid for would have made a man rich. A little child of homesteader John Griffith, in Carroll township, had swallowed a dose of concentrated lye. There were no telephones in those days. A horserider was quickly dispatched into Sheldon for Doctor Longshore. He came hurriedly. "My God," said the Doctor as he rushed in the house, "cram a lot of lard down its throat and make soap out of the lye." The child was saved. The Doctor knew how to make soap, to neutralize and start things.



It was when Doctor Longshore was county recorder, and was attending at his duties at the county seat and boarding at the hotel. At urgent request he had made a trip beyond Hartley to a patient. Like all homesteaders, they had no money. They came in middle of night for him to make a second trip. He was a little surmised with the idea that it was questionable whether the patient was bad enough off for warranting a long trip. He stuck his head out the hotel window upstairs and yelled out, "Got any money?" "No." "Well, I don't doctor no such damned cattle as them without money," and let the party go home. Notwithstanding this rebuff, this former patient had such faith in his ability to help out that he at once started the horseman back to the county seat with urgent demand that he come. Still the Doctor mentally diagnosed the case that the patient was not so very bad off. He put up several prescriptions and handed the truck to the party, and said, "Tell her to take it; perhaps it will cure her, perhaps it will kill her; give it to her." Inasmuch as the party was around in a few days, it was apparent that he exercised the physiciaius skill that healeth.


A chattel mortgage was sent in an early day to an O'Brien county attorney. The mortgage was on two hogs and a mule. The poor homesteader in his dire distress in early times had eaten the hogs for pork in his family. The mule died. The attorney wrote his report to the company holding the note, "That chattel mortgages were hard for mules to understand. That the mule had lived in such daily fear of fatal results that it had died with grief and a broken heart. That it was the only mule that was ever known to die. That a mule withstood all other calamities, but a chattel mortgage with the people and the mule eaten out by grasshoppers had proved fatal." By that letter the attorney meant to break it gently that the debt was uncollectible.


One early homesteader was having some trouble with the bank, trying to pay eighteen per cent, which was the going rate in those days. In that case it was quite a large sum. The banker made arrangements with the fellow, to have another bank take up his paper to save the question of usury being raised. In drawing up the closing agreement with the party and in part arranging for the matter with the other bank, an agreement in writing had to be drawn up. In drawing it up hurriedly, the bank cashier inadvertently


used this language: "That when the debtor," naming him, "did so and so," enumerating the conditions, that the "bank would hand over to him all the notes in the bank." Of course it could mean none other than Mr. Homesteader's notes in the bank. The notes belonged to the stockholders of the bank. However, the homesteader was considerably game, and he actually came into the bank with a written demand on the bank for the whole of the asset notes or bills receivable in the bank. This was an actual occurrence.


It was old-time settler Oliver M. Shonkwiler, among the earliest of the old timers. Mr. Shonkwiler has been of the hustling disposition, with a keen eye to the ultimate of O'Brien county land value, and which has developed right to him, he now holding some half dozen quarter sections of its high priced land. But in the early days he tumbled round much, with debts. That is, he carried these lands with debts in the first instance until he by his push paid it off. At one time when driven hard to meet a call for money in thus carrying a lump of land, he made application for a hand loan for a few months, but in a good sized sum. "Well," said the banker, "what rate of interest can you pay?" "That is not the question," said Mr. Shonkwiler. "I did not ask that question. What I asked was. Can I get the money?" Money then was eighteen per cent, so the joke can be appreciated.


Several years ago the city of Omaha sent out its advertising train, showing up the superior facilities of Omaha as a market and city. The train made a stop at Archer. The score or more of Omaha representatives made their usual march up town. They were passing the Bank of Archer. John H. Archer called them into the bank. When they got through with their deliverance, Mr. Archer made his speech: "Gentlemen," he said, "there are five points in which the town of Archer is ahead of Omaha: Archer never had a busted bank; Archer has not had one of its citizens in jail for five years; not a single citizen of Archer, or within its trading territory, is in the poor house; ninety-five per cent, of its citizens, and the patrons in its trading territory, are independent, and not only self-supporting, but have a good competence; a far greater per cent, of citizens in the trading territory of Archer can borrow five hundred dollars on their own note than can be found in Omaha. We invite Omaha to come to


Archer to live." Be it added that Mr. Archer could almost have made the application to the whole of O'Brien county.


The following humorous and witty oration was prepared for and delivered by Master Wirt Close (twelve years of age), grandson of William King, an old homesteader on the southwest quarter of section 8, Highland township, at the old settlers' reunion held at Primghar September 2, 1909.
"I'm a pretty big small boy. I am twenty‐four miles square. I'm not William Jennings Bryan, nor Mr. Dennis O'Brien, but I'm the original Irishman, O'Brien county himself.
"I'm a Democrat and believe in sixteen to one, so I have sixteen townships spread all over the county map.
"These trees were planted in 1878, in this court house square. I was planted here in O'Brien county on a homestead in 1871.
"I was born in a log court house before the war in 1860, down in Old O'Brien. Well, in fact, come to think of it, I was not born at all; I was just organized, and there was just seven votes at the election, when I was elected into a county. I'm like Topsy, I just growed, and here I am. I'm really getting to be some pumpkins, but when I got here in 1871-5—well, now maybe it was my folks who got here instead of me, but we got here somehow, in a covered wagon and a mule and a cow hitched together.
"Well, the first thing father did was to borrow five dollars at John Pumphrey's Bank and gave a chattel mortgage on the mule and the coffee mill, and, would you believe it, that mule died. The mortgage killed it, the first mule that was ever known to die.
"In them days it was all prairie grass and the roads went everywhere and anywhere right across the prairie. Father built a sod house and we twisted hay into stovewood to make a fire with. Father broke prairie sod and planted maple seed, and these trees are the corn crop from that maple seed.
"I gathered rosin weed gum from rosin weeds on the prairie, and there wasn't any nickel in the slot machine about that either. Instead of rolling around in automobiles, we rolled around in promissory notes and mortgages and debts and had a whale of a time. The whole farm got into a big county debt, but that was all paid off more than a year ago, so there's no use whining about that either. Life's too short to go on the grunt list. We have raised hogs and cattle and corn, and now we are raising the price of land. See? (30)


Father kept right on breaking prairie and twisting hay, and mother got her cut flowers from the conservatory‐wild sweet williams off the prairie.
"Well, when I was about twelve to fifteen years old. I had the measles and the mumps and the whooping cough and the grasshoppers. Them grasshoppers were frisky fellows. We dug ditches along the edges of the fields to keep them from jumping into the grain, and made a long board basin, pulled by a horse like a hayrake, and filled it with kerosene oil, to catch the pesky little critters. But they ate up the melon vines, the wheat and the oats, and, would you believe it, those saucy, impudent little grasshoppers, after they had eaten up all the wheat and the oats and corn, would sit on the fence in rows and wink their eyes, and actually squirt corn juice into father's face. But we got over the grasshoppers after all without the doctor having to put on a quarantine. We didn't need a quarantine then. The neighbors were two miles apart and no danger of catching the grasshoppers, and the nearest doctor was at Cherokee, and there didn't have to be any of us cut open for appendicitis either. But the grasshoppers all quit and the measles all ran away, and the hoppers went out of business.
"Then I commenced some real doin's. In 1872 and 1873 I built the Sioux City & St. Paul railroad, and on the road down I stuck down a shovel, and spaded up a few shovels full, and planted the town of Sheldon, and a right smart of a kid of a town it is today. Then I rested from railroad building for several years. I just simply held railroad meetings and licked out the grasshoppers.
"In 1878 I built the Milwaukee Railroad and lariated Hartley and Sanborn out on the prairie, and built a round house. Then in 1881 I built the Northwestern Railroad, and staked out Paullina and Sutherland right in the prairie grass.
"Then, what do you think? Primghar got to squealing for a railroad, and I built the Illinois Central, and planted out Archer, Gaza and Calumet. You must not laugh at Gaza, because land down there is worth one hundred and fifty dollars per acre all right. If you do not believe it. just go down to Gaza on one of their busy days and watch the big smoke stacks in their factories, and the wheels of commerce as they go round and round. And now just lately I built the Rock Island Railroad from the city of Moneta to Plessis.
"There was a time when the 'squatters' came into the county like the old homesteaders and we licked out the railroads, and showed them a thing or two, and the squatters went to raising land, growing it up to a big price just like other folks.
"I built a poor farm and a poor house. Amy of you ever been there?


No? Well, the fact is, we can't hardly raise any poor people in O'Brien county, and the poor house boss has to go to raising corn and cattle and hogs just like other folks. I built one hundred and fifty school houses, and our boys and girls began to go to Ames, the best agricultural college in the United States.
"The maple seed kept on growing and we began to have shade trees, and we went to cutting wood instead of hay for fuel.
"Then I started the big county fair at Sutherland and will hold a session there every fall, which will make the folks down at Ames College know that we are raising cattle and cucumbers up here. We hold a big district fair at Sheldon every year, which got to be such a big affair that they took its secretary, Joe Morton, down to Sionx city to teach them fellers how O'Brien county does things.
"Then I planted apple seeds to show up the fruit deal, and went to building big houses all over the farms in the county, with hot water heating plants and wash bowls and all them other jim cracks in them, and began to shove the old homestead houses back into the back yards for chicken houses, and the chickens grew up into old hens, and the old hens laid eggs and we sold the eggs and raised hogs to eat more corn, to buy more land, to raise more corn to buy more land, to raise more hogs to buy more pianos and automobiles with. So I suppose we will keep right on raising land, and seven-dollar hogs, and sixty-cent corn and dollar wheat and one-hundred-dollar cows and two hundred dollar horses and ten thousand dollar boys like me. I have concluded to get married and settle down on a farm and be an Old Settler."

O'Brien County Iowa Genealogy - The IAGenWeb Project