HISTORY OF O'BRIEN COUNTY
THE COURT HOUSES OF O'BRIEN COUNTY.
OLD LOG COURT HOUSE.
first, or old log court house, was built on the farm of Hannibal
House Waterman, on the northeast quarter of section 26, by Archibald Murray in the early part of 1860, and after the election of February 6, 1860,
organized the county. But this log court house was not the only
county building at Old O'Brien. There were several offices or buildings used.
For instance, to start with, the election which so organized the county was
held in the
private residence of Mr. Waterman. In that sense his farm house
was the first
county building or court house.
Murray was at once on the job in court house building. He
built or supervised it. It all run along for months, even the building of a
moderate, usual-sized cabin log house. The record made about it all is
Negotiations were had with Mr. Waterman to purchase forty acres of
his land for a
county seat. They finally paid Mr. Tiffey two thousand dollars
forty acres from him, and at a time when land at best was not worth
five dollars an acre. This
probably explains why Mr. Waterman did not sell
his land. Mr. Tiffey was one of the powers that be. Mr. Waterman was
not. Mr. Waterman was
trying to farm, and they were farming the county.
log court house was moved down from Mr. Waterman's place,
three-quarters of a mile to the forty acres purchased of Henry C.
Tiffey, namely, the southwest quarter of the northwest quarter of section 36,
township. Mr. Tiffey made the deed June 25, 1861, but did not
draw his warrant until September 2, 1861.
August 28, 1861, the Hon. A. W. Hubbard, judge of the district
court, held a term of court at Old O'Brien and appointed Lemuel Parkhurst,
county, Edward Smeltzer, of Clay county, and James Gleason,
of Buena Vista
county, to select the county seat. They located it as stated.
(Judge Hubbard was the father of the late Congressman Elbert H. Hubbard,
who died a
congressman in 1912.) We will give the exact wording of the
relating to these county buildings:(9)
130 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
"Office of the County Judge.
"October 20, 1860.
"O'Brien county, by its judge, has this day entered into a contract with
James W. Bosler to build an office at the county seat, and to be of good material. Size not more than
eighteen feet square, and to be finished by the
first day of May, 1862, for which he shall receive the sum of two thousand
dollars, which amount the court now issues on order to the treasurer.
"I. C. FURBER,
"Office of the County Judge.
"November 5, 1860.
"Ordered that Henry C. Tiffey be allowed the sum of fifteen hundred
dollars to build an office for the district clerk, at the county seat; said office
to be built in connection with the office of treasurer and recorder.
'I. C. FURBER,
"Office of the County Judge.
"November 30, 1860.
"'Ordered that A. Murray and I. C. Furber be allowed the sum of three
hundred dollars for
building temporary office for the county judge and district clerk, and that same be paid.
"I. C. Furber,
"September 21, 1861.
"Archibald Murray allowed $2,000 for building county building.
"Henry C. Tiffey allowed $2,000 for forty acres land."
"October 17. 1865.
"Charles C. Smeltzer allowed $3,000 for services as attorney for services
rendered during the year 1860."
"September 21, 1861.
"I. C. Furber, for office rent $300.00
"J. H. Cofer, wood furnished offices 500.00
"James H. Bosler, wood furnished office 200.00
"Henry C. Tiffey, office rent 300.00
"A. Murray, office rent 300.00
Total office rent $1,600,00"
Above mainly relates to the old court house or rentals.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 131
It is quite impossible to determine from the record what the above
$2,000 for county building is for, whether to finish up the log building, or
whether to tear it down and remove it from Mr. Waterman's farm or not.
It is one curious fact that
up to November 30, 1860, that the bills allowed were all small and
ordinary bills, being one, the largest, for $100, then
one for $50, one for $32, and the balance below $20, out of forty bills allowed
up to that time. But after that it commenced with these court buildings and all else.
temporary office spoken of was none other than the old log court
Just how much business was actually transacted in that building is
hard to determine. A bill had been allowed Charles C.
Smeltzer, an attorney
at Fort Dodge, for $27.50 on April 7, 1860, for county books, which was
evidently the county and bridge warrant books, and which, owing to the
distance to Fort Dodge and getting them printed, did not get around until
along in the fall. These first forty warrants or small ones were issued on
paper, but when it come to issuing warrants in the large sums,
they were now ready to commence issuing, they wanted a printed warrant bonk, as the warrants could not well be cashed or sold to
they were printed in good form. This accounts for the fact that this
log court house was not paid for until November 30, 1860.
In the meantime, the other offices were under way. From the above it
will be seen that four items were
paid on court houses, namely, three items of
S300. $1,500 and $2,000, in the fall of 1860, and an additional $2,000
September 2, 1861, to A. Murray. The record recites that the two other
buildings than the log court house were built "in connection" with each other.
This so that when done
they were one building in result.
At all events, this old log court house was soon needed for a school
house and a little later on was used as a residence
by Moses Lewis and family, still later by A. L. Bostwick and R. G. Allen as a blacksmith shop, and
still later by Clark and Lem Green as a stable. As nearly as can be determined, this log building did service as a county building at intervals only.
The above additional $2,000 allowed A. Murray September 2, 1861, for a
building was probably for tearing down the log building and removing it to
Old O'Brien, which was done; indeed, the log building could not well be
removed as a whole
bodily. The above office rents were also allowed. Just
why they needed so much office rent in addition to the palatial log court
house would be
impossible to determine from the records, but outside facts
indicate that during these interims of providing school house and buildings
of these other
parts of offices, that these respective gentry, Tiffey, Murray
132 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
and Fnrber, took their few books from their offices to their homes and then
allowed themselves $300 each for office rent for same. At all events, it all
rounded up in O'Brien county footing the bills at both ends of the line.
ANOTHER COURT HOUSE IN OLD O'BRIEN IN 187O.
But all this did not end the
building of county buildings at Old O'Brien.
The records are
meager. It cannot even be determined how much it cost.
Archibald Murray built it, and when it was done he lived in one end of it
family and had his auditor's office in the other. The record does not
even make allowance of bills for same. The record calls it a court house.
However, at another session the board had given Mr. Murray, as auditor,
authority to issue warrants on all indebtedness, which accounts for the meagerness of the record. We will give the several motions made. It is evident
part of the discussion before the board related to trying to move it and
repair it and get along with the old one. Under that authority given the
stub book would be the
only record. The following is the record:
"September 6, 1869, Motion carried that job be let to lowest bidder to
move the court house to the center of the
square and repair and plaster same
in good condition, and to do all other work to make it comfortable."
"November 8, 1869, Motion carried that the resolution of moving the
court house to the
public square be rescinded."
"November 8, 1869, Motion carried that the court house be moved
present site out of the road on a line fronting" south."
"November 8, 1869, Motion carried that the auditor be empowered to
procure a lease from Rouse B. Crego to put the court house on to use as
long as the county uses the building for public use."
"January 18, 1870,Bond of J. G. Parker accepted and with contract
on office or court house
"December 20, 1860, A. Murray allowed $150 for office rent."
"July 20, 1870.Motion carried that the court house be accepted as
Whatever was left of the court house
was, on moving to Primghar, sold
J. Edwards for forty dollars.
We here call attention to the contract in rentals and
buildings as above
set forth with the
building in 1887 of the present wooden court house. While
it is not an
up-to-date court house, it, with everything connected, was built
for six thousand dollars, and that the people of Primghar contributed all
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 133
hauling from Sanborn to Primghar of material free of cost to the county.
county was later looking up to better conditions. It could not be built
today, with its vaults, for the money expended.
We have woven into these various
subjects items relating to other questions, to show conditions. The above and other items given of old matters
are but samples of many other situations that could be given in detail, but to
do so would extend this
history to much too great length. We might also
here, that Archibald Murray and Rouse B. Crego, much mentioned
herein, were both badly addicted to intoxicating liquors, which may explain
many things in a degree.
THE SECOND COURT HOUSE, BUILT AT PRIMGHAR IN 1874.
The second court house of the
county was built by Stewart & Healy at a
cost of two thousand dollars. This unless
you count those several buildings
at Old O'Brien each a court house. The contract was dated
1874, and the building was completed and finally paid for April 6, 1874, and
shortly afterward occupied. Its size was about thirty-five feet square. It
had four offices below, of about equal size, with a small hall eight feet wide,
which left the officers well
cramped as can be seen. A stairway on the outside led to the court
room, through a small ante room.
large iron safes, perhaps fire proof, were purchased of the D. S.
Covert Safe Company, Chicago, at a cost of two thousand seven hundred
shipped to Sheldon. George J. Hill and A. P. McLaren were
awarded a contract to haul them down to
Primghar for three hundred dollars in warrants. We mention these
prices as showing the handicap even
up to this date on the cost of everything measured in warrants at thirty to
While the election to move the
county seat to Primghar was held November 11, 1872, it was not until April 29, 1873, that the then board, B. F. McCormack and Chester W. Inman (third place vacant), passed a resolution
county officers remove the records as soon as practicable. A few
days after this, Capt. A. J. Edwards, county auditor, himself hauled the first
load, being his auditor's records, and received ten dollars for it or equal to
about three dollars, a natural day's work. A few weeks later John F. Hollibaugh hauled two more loads and in June brought the balance of the records
and received twenty dollars in warrants for it.
134 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
PAINE'S STORE AN AD INTERIM COURT HOUSE.
We do not enumerate Paine's store as a distinct court house, as it was
but a rented
building. Mr. Paine had run a store in it for four years in Highland
township. In May, 1874, it was leased to the county by John Pumphrey,
it, for five months for eighty dollars cash. Later on in the year
he and W. C. Green, who had bought an interest in it later, leased it to the
county for one year for six hundred dollars paid in advance. It stood on
the block north of the
public square. Here the first court was held in 1873.
This Paine's store
building housed the officials and records until April 6,
1874, when the new court house was ready. This Paine store court house
was bought by Frank Teabout and moved to Sanborn in 1878 and used by
him as a store house in connection with his
Prior to this actual
building in 1874 the board had for a year wrestled
question with many resolutions and rescindings of same. It was
first ordered that sealed bids be received for a
building not to exceed five
dollars, but that was abandoned for the lesser building. This court
house was used until the summer of 1886, when it was sold for a residence
now on Slocum, Turner and Armstrong's addition, in which year the third
court house was built. Three
exciting items in the county took place in this
court house named elsewhere, namely, the exciting contest between Sheldon
and Primghar on the county seat in 1879, the county treasurer's contest between Alexander and Harris in
1877, and the county seat raid in 1882.
THIRD AND PRESENT COURT HOUSE, BUILT IN 1887.
present court house, third in number in the county, was built in 1887
by Green Brothers (Lem C. Green and M. D. Green, brothers of Clark Green), under contract dated July 9, 1887, for the sum of six thousand
dollars. It was
originally fifty by fifty-four in size. At the November term
of court for 1886 the grand jury, composed of George Hakeman, David Fife,
J. W. Coleman, W. B. Webster, Ira Waterman, G. S. Morean, Robert Cragg,
W. S. Castledine, George T. Wellman, J. A. Glenn, Charles I. Nelson, Fred
Frisbee, T. J. Irutret, J. M. Vincent and W. A. Wasson, filed a very severe
report condemning the court house as not being a safe place for the public
records and the
jail as unfit for prisoners. In fact, as the resolution of the
board later recited, the grand juries for eight years at various sessions had
jail, and during the year 1887 at each session repeated this
January 3. 1887, the board, then composed of W. W.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 135
Reynolds, chairman, J. W. Gaunt, Henry Hoerman, O. M. Shonkwiler and J.
E. Wheelock, by resolution appropriated the sum of five thousand dollars for
the erection of a new court house. This was the highest amount the board
could appropriate without a vote of the people. It was scarcely sufficient.
The lumber and material had to be hauled from Sanborn or Paullina. Its
actual cost was six thousand dollars, with vaults added. The people of Primghar, however, signed a written agreement to the board to haul the material
without cost to the
county, and the bids were called for on that basis. It
was accepted and so hauled. Bidders were invited to make sealed bids on
January 28, 1887. The bid was for even six thousand dollars. It was finished in December, 1887, all with suitable fire proof vaults, and at once occupied. It being not quite sufficient in size, in the year 1902 an addition, twenty
by thirty-two feet, was added to same at a cost of one thousand four hundred
dollars. The old court house was sold for the sum of four hundred sixty nine dollars and
ninety-five cents, and is now a residence in Primghar.
THE COURT HOUSE PUBLIC SQUARE.
William Clark Green and wife and James Roberts, by deed dated September
5, 1872, deeded two acres to O'Brien county for a court house square,
as they likewise deeded two acres for a school house square and two acres to
the Trinity Methodist Episcopal church, where the Congregational church
grove of maple trees in same was planted in 1878 by the county,
by William D. Slack, and the trees and ground cultivated during the summer by Emanuel Kindig, member of the board of supervisors.
part of the summer was excessively dry and the little sprigs, being
practically planted in the sod, did not leaf out until the rains began in
In 1891 the county, town of Primghar, George W. Schee and Charles
S. Cooper combined or contributed in hauling down about two thousand
yards of earth, from the grading of the hill at Mr. Schee's residence, and
square from six inches to eighteen inches of earth, and filling in
the street on the west side of
square from three to four feet deep. The
south and west sides of
square were then a boggy slough, which made this
Two court houses and one
jail have been built on same. It has been
used by many public gatherings, old settlers' reunions, old soldiers' gatherings,
July celebrations, caucuses, conventions and the public generally
136 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
in addition to
county uses. A cement sidewalk, now entirely around the
square, has been built at intervals.
First by resolution of the board of supervisors, on petition of sundry
citizens of Primghar, and later by deed dated September 21, 1887, O'Brien
county deeded or rather dedicated five feet on each side of this square to the
public to widen the street. The citizens of Primghar at the same time dedicated nine feet from off the
respective blocks for the same purpose, leaving
eighty feet in width. The county has also placed a gas lamp at
each side of the
square. In the year 1911 the county also appropriated the
sum of one thousand two hundred dollars for
sewerage connections with the
sewerage system of Primghar constructed in that year, as likewise the independent school district of Primghar appropriated nine hundred dollars for its
like connections with
sewerage. The county likewise provided four wells
square, one at each corner. Other smaller trees and shrubbery are
process of growth on same.
A jail perhaps is not a court house. The history of a jail, however,
contains sufficient "sentences" from the records of the court house to make
a full chapter. The jail proposition at Old O'Brien was much on a par
with the old
log court house. They needed a jail there bad enough, but the
put themselves into it.
At Primghar there have been two jails. The first one, built in 1874,
was more like a block house in the Indian
days. It was about sixteen by
twenty-four feet in size, and stood near the southeast corner of the court
square. It consisted of timbers, two by six, laid flat on each other,
through and through thickly with large spikes. It was much laughed
at as a bastile. But nevertheless, thus filled with sharp metal spikes, the
fellow breaking jail would even today have a better chance punching out a
square hole through the brick walls of the present jail, as to untangle or get
through those mass of spikes. It was later sold by the county as a residence
1907 was burned down.
In size the
present jail is twenty-five by thirty-six feet and built of faced
It, with its
furnishings, was built by contract dated July 9, 1890.
jail cages and steel work was built by the Paully Jail Company of
St. Louis. The first cost of the
jail was about five thousand dollars. Sundry
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 137
additions in improved cells and patent locking apparatus have been added.
It stands on block 8 of Primghar, next west block from the public square.
MORE ON THE FIRST COURT HOUSE.
The first court house in the
county was built of logs on Mr. Hannibal
Waterman's claim, and remained there for something over a year. It was
built by virtue of a contract with James W. Hosier, and was to be eighteen
square, but was shy a few feet on each side, so that its real dimensions
were about fourteen by twenty. Instead of being used for a court house while
on Mr. Waterman's claim, it was used by Moses Lewis as a residence, but a
court house was not needed much, as the county officials carried the various
departments of the county business around in their pockets. They tried to
purchase of Mr. Waterman forty acres of land for county purposes, but at
the time he wanted the scene of their manipulations as far away as possible.
log court house was moved to the forty acres purchased from Henry
C. Tiffey, on which Old O'Brien was started. The county wanted all its
belongings together, but when it was set up again it was soon used as a school
house, and by Moses Lewis as a residence, and later by A. L. Bostwick and R.
G. Allen as a blacksmith shop and still later by W. C. Green as a stable.
We call this
building a court house, because that was the name given to
it, but after all it was a curiosity and a sacreligious travesty upon jurisprudence. It was erected not for use. because nobody used it for the purpose
for which it was
supposed to be intended. It was erected, in fact, in order
large number of warrants could be issued in pay for it, and these warrants went into the general pool of the gang. A court house implies a good
deal. Generally, that emblem of justice, a blinded female holding in equipoise the scales of justice, stands prominently elevated, and at the fore, to
people that here the wrongs of this wicked world are righted, and that
there is given to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and that justice is dispensed with an impartial hand. But here was a pile of logs, cut from the
banks of the Little Sioux, notched, placed together in the form and shape of
a building, and the temple of justice was complete. About it, and on all sides
of it, were the consultations and manipulations of men, in devising the various
methods of theft, the means of perpetrating robbery and plunder, while
within, if it had been a court house in fact, the emblem would be truer to the
conditions if that blinded female was weeping and her attitude that of a
devotee at the throne of
justice, whose heart was crushed with remorse.
Never within the walls of this
illy-constructed structure was an actual court
held, never the sound of a voice of an advocate echoed among its rafters.
138 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
practically no records. None were needed. Court houses were
not needed, for the elements of wickedness were averse to them; the only
county records were the warrant books, and the only business of the county
officials was to fill
up the blanks and detach them for their purposes.
original log court house, there was built another in 1870, a
frame, fourteen by sixteen, which cost several thousarrd dollars. The records,
what few there were, were moved into it, but were moved out again, as Dan
Inman needed a
place to live and the court house was vacated to him for that
purpose. This building was burned the next year, and soon afterward a
building was erected, at a cost of several thousand more, which was
used until the
county seat was moved to Primghar.
In this latter so-called court house also Archibald Murray lived and also
called this residence an auditor's office. It is somewhat difficult to reconcile
these several buildings and so called court houses at Old O'Brien, either in
number or size or
quality. All this to say nothing of the sundry items for
office rent in warrants issued to the same
gentry. We will not attempt it.
To sum it all
up, the whole farce was simply to drum up some excuse, either
by calling it office rent, or the erection of a court house, when in fact the
offices for which rent was
charged were the private residences of the officials,
but by whatever name, or for whatsoever the purpose, it rounded up with a
generous county warrant.
As a side statement
relating to some of these same county organizers,
quote the following from a Sioux county authority, relating to their doings
over in that
any court house was built, and before there was any habitation
county, a county government was effected under the shade of a cottonwood tree
by those enterprising characters in northwestern Iowa, Archibald
Murray and Moses Lewis, assisted by lesser lights, and before the sun went
appropriation of twenty-five thousand dollars had been made for
purpose of building a bridge across the Sioux river. Arch Murray was
delegated to go to Chicago to negotiate the sale of warrants. He sold to the
Lombards, Chicago bankers. While in Chicago he interested several other
capitalists in investments in western bonds and county warrants."
We thus see that O'Brien
county was but one of many counties in northwestern Iowa that were victims of these men. It would also
actually cast votes as electors in these several counties, as they did
county. There seemed to be no consistency as to place of residence. The mere
legal question of a right to vote was swallowed up in the
swim of the
greater wrongs committed by them.
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