Inasmuch as this association as an organization lasted from 1877 until 1881, a full statement of its work in the county will be given.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 77
on that ticket. He, disagreeing with them on that subject, it placed him on
the other side, and he was elected in 1879 to that office on the side of payment
of the old debt. This
organization was formed for the express purpose of
defeating this old debt in whole or in part, to agitate inquiry into the matter,
and to enlist, not only citizens, but nonresident land owners, to contribute in
money, on the argument that if the debt were defeated taxes would be lessened. There is no doubt that the
county would have been a unit on this question had there not been in the
opinion of many still higher questions that they
thought should control, namely:
1. The injury to the credit of the county and its later results on the county.
2. In the judgment of many, impracticable.
3. The still more serious question that the county had had its day in court, or res adjudicata, with due service of notice on the proper county officials, and this these sharpers, many of whom were good lawyers, had looked after. In other words, that the United States courts do not render serious judgments for nothing or as a pastime. By this time, 1877, about two-thirds of the whole debt had been thus rendered into judgment, and that portion that had not been put into judgment had been intermingled with the judgments and put into bonds, until it was, as was thought by many, impracticable to separate them.
78 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
This effort to defeat the debt (or Taxpayers' Association) was the outgrowth of a righteous indignation, and taxpayers' popular meetings were held all over the county. Attorneys were employed. The records were thoroughly searched, in which both sides of the question were discussed. It was discussed in school house lyceums. All citizens were bent on a full search to find out the situation. An injunction was issued in an equity suit in the district court of the county, entitled, "A.P. Powers and One Hundred and Ninety-nine Others, Plaintiffs vs. O'Brien County and its Officers, Defendants," to enjoin the payment of all bonds and judgments until the question of the validity of the bonds and indebtedness could be investigated.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 79
nearest wagon tongue the first county officer who would attempt to collect a cent of tax for the purpose." This expression came from an honest heart and was in essence a righteous condemnation of a great moral wrong that had been done. On moral lines and as applied to Bosler, Cofer & Company it was unanswerable. But the argument on the side of payment prevailed, namely, that, whether right or wrong, the county had been in court and judgments rendered; that they were closed out; that it was impracticable; that in the future judgment of O'Brien county and its future citizens that they would feel a higher sense of honor in having paid even an unjust debt, even a fraudulent debt, which it was, than to have a prolonged fight for years, and that the future people would be the better satisfied. At that meeting Mr. Steele's statement was cheered to the echo. Still the day's discussion drew the lines sharply throughout the county. The people began to see that there were two sides to the question, and articles were written in the papers, and discussed in many ways. Mr. Steele's statement voiced public indignation.
80 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
to the supreme court of the state. The question was raised that each plaintiff must bring his own suit. Two hundred resident and nonresident landowners had united in the suit on the belief that they could thus join. The supreme court decided on October 6. 1880, in effect that they could not so join. (See case of A. P. Powers and One Hundred and Ninety-nine Others vs. O'Brien County, in 54 Iowa Supreme Court Reports, page 501, for the decision.) This decision also held that it would not enjoin that part of the debt or those parts of the debt given for actual necessities. These bondholders had mixed these parts of the debt for necessities, the good with the bad. until it was seen that an endless chain of litigation was to follow. This decision practically paralyzed further proceedings. The board had refused to bring the suit. The United States court had held that the board only could bring it in that court. Add to this the further outlook that even after such an injunction was fought through and even sustained, that the bondholders, not yet made parties, could go into court each separately and test out these several rights and questions, and the still further fact that it was tying up the county business—all contributed to its final dismissal. Both sides agreed that the debt as such was unjust. It was simply a question whether to fight it was practical. The court's decisions thus far seemed to sustain the contention of the side advocating payment as the best road out of the bad matter. The meshes of the law seemed too intricate to practicallv contest out such complications. A. P. Powers, "Huse" Woods and many other leaders in this large movement spent much time in this earnest effort to defeat this unjust debt. Three months after this, on January 4, 1881, the county, by its board of supervisors, rebonded the whole debt, as shown elsewhere, and followed up with the policy of payment of the debt, and the last bond was paid off in 1908. The Taxpayers' Association employed the legal firm of Miller & Godfrey, of Des Moines, the chief members being Judge William E. Miller, prior chief justice of the supreme court of Iowa. The firm of Joy & Wright, of Sioux City, represented the other side of the question.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 81
the supervisors' record. George W. Schee was elected in 1875 to quality January 1, 1876, on the conditions that these debts and judgments and bonds must be looked into, made of record and the public informed of the results. Mr. Schee made the first tabulated list of the indebtedness; indeed it was an exhaustive search of every possible debt, bond and judgment, rendered in the various courts, and tabulated them in a record purchased by the board expressly for that purpose. Therein Mr. Schee rendered the county a very great service in putting matters into shape where the people were informed of the real condition and what the county was up against. The more the search, the deeper and more deplorable it was found. The debt as finally summed up (and his tabulation stood the test of the later years of examination), showed a total debt of two hundred and forty thousand dollars in 1876 and two hundred and thirty thousand dollars in 1880. All that had been bonded bore ten per cent. The annual interest, therefore, reached above twenty thousand dollars. As this was not being paid, it was simply adding itself to the unfortunate situation.
82 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
It was further decided that the board of supervisors be asked to pass a resolution, in effect, discarding for the time being all back debts, so far as any present effort to pay same. This resolution was finally adopted to apply to the year 1879, the resolution reading that all county warrants for that year should have endorsed thereon in red ink the words: "Issued on the levies of 1879." which meant that all expenses of that year should be paid out of the taxes collected for that year. When once a man could get one hundred cents on the dollar for his warrant, it became at once worth one hundred cents. The plan worked immediately, and for all time thereafter. The total expenses on the county fund for this last year of the term of George W. Schee as auditor was just a little over five thousand dollars, and for 1880, the first year of J.L.E. Peck as auditor, about six thousand dollars. Later on, when the county got a surplus of funds, the older and then discarded warrants outstanding were paid in full, and O'Brien county established on a cash basis. It was hardly a case of resumption, as the county had never been on a cash basis since its organization. It was rather a case of establishment of that condition. The real credit for the originating of this plan must largely be given to George W. Schee, Ezra M. Brady and Thomas Holmes, and to its fulfillment, to the board, then composed of Thomas Holmes, Ralph Dodge, J. H. Wolf, Ezra M. Brady, William Oliver, Emanuel Kindig and Joseph Rowland, who were among the members of the board during the following two years. It was not simply in the policy thus adopted, but the principle was carried out in the details of public expenses. For instance, the board insisted that the auditors, George W. Schee and J.L.E. Peck, should serve for seven hundred dollars per annum salary, this being later on enlarged to eight hundred and twenty-five dollars. All other officials and expenses were put on a similar basis.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 83
with the fact that the values of land had risen somewhat, and the further fact that the county had at this date been on a cash basis for one year, and the people were getting heart again, brought out a large number of bidders and was the largest tax sale ever held in the county. The sale, together with funds from a prior sale, amounted to thirty thousand dollars. In the regular course of funds, this sum should have been distributed to the several county, poor, bridge and school funds, as per levies, and in theory of law it could have been enforced. The board, however, took the bull by the horns, as it were, discarded the question of funds, and applied the whole thirty thousand bodily on the debt of two hundred and thirty thousand dollars. This, as can be seen, reduced the debt to even two hundred thousand dollars. While in a sense it was illegal, yet as the four years were past, and even the schools needed only the coming current year's taxes, the people justified the board's action. It was one of the very few cases where a direct violation of law proved a crowning success. At all events, this payment and reduction of thirty thousand dollars of the public debt gave new heart to the people. It was the first lifting of a dark cloud.
84 OBRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
1881, and the people began to conclude that we might even yet amount to something. New settlers were added and people began to talk of the grasshopper times as a past calamity. Still later on this debt was again rebonded and the interest this time reduced to five and still later to four and one-half per cent, and the people began to see the clear sky clear down to the horizon. But even then the people were exclaiming that if their land ever got up to twenty-five dollars per acre it would be the top, and they would sell at once, which many of them did, little dreaming that right here in O'Brien county was a soil unequalled anywhere on earth, and that in this year of grace 1914 it would actually sell for one hundred and fifty dollars per acre. The last thousand dollars of the debt was paid off in the year 1908.