county was originally an open prairie, and destitute of timber of
any kind with the exception of a little willow brush that had escaped the annual
prairie fires along Ocheyedan creek. The Ocheyedan and Otter creeks
only streams of importance. Ocheyedan creek has its source in a
small lake of the same name in Nobles
county, Minnesota, about two miles
north of the northern
boundary of this county, the same being the state line.
There are a few
ranges of low hills along either side of the Ocheyedan, but
opposite sides. One conical shaped hill, called the Ocheyedan
mound, is about one mile from the stream, and is the highest point in the
vicinity. This stream crosses the county from north to south and was originally a very crooked stream. It bears somewhat to the east and empties
into the Sioux river in
Clay county, near Spencer. The lower ten or twelve
miles of this stream in this
county has been straightened in recent years,
thereby improving the land very much in its vicinity. Otter creek rises in
a big slough near Bigelow, across the state line in Minnesota, and crosses the
county in a southwesterly direction, passing out of the county at the southwest corner. It then runs west into East Rock, also known as the Little
Rock River, in Lyon county. The land along both of these streams is nearly
all tillable and excellent farming ground.
There are no lakes of importance in this county. The largest is Rush lake, near the village of Ocheyedan, which covers about five hundred and forty-eight acres, varying a little with the season. There are sloughs connected by streams that contain water in wet seasons and were originally called Chain lakes. These are being ditched and are making some of the best land in the county.
536 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
The soil is a dark
prairie loam with a clay subsoil. This subsoil is
porous, which causes the land to stand either wet or dry seasons,
very well. Some search has been made along the streams and in the Ocheyedan mound and
although some indications of coal were found no minerals
of importance were ever discovered. The general altitude of the county
varies from one thousand four hundred to one thousand five hundred feet,
with a few
higher points, and is the highest region in the state. The surface
of the land is
generally rolling, with a small level district in the eastern part
county and another in the western part. The soil is from two to
four feet deep and of fine quality, free from stone, and, with proper cultivation and rotation of
crops, is practically inexhaustible.
In the year 1859, Jefferson Davis, who later became president of the Southern Confederacy and served in that capacity during the War of the Rebellion, was surveying for the United States government and at the same time had command of the United States troops in the Northwest. He was instructed by the United States government to mark the boundaries of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Dakota. In his survey he located the northwestern corner of Iowa, the southwestern corner of Minnesota and the east line of Dakota, a short distance southeast of Rowena, South Dakota, and marked the spot with an iron stake. No question of the correctness of his work has ever been raised. The point to be recorded here is the fact that so distinguished a man as Jefferson Davis, in his report of this survey, said that within a radius of one hundred miles of this iron stake was found what he considered the richest soil in the world. Time has verified his judgment to a wonderful degree. During this year (1914) of short crops in many parts of the country there is a bountiful crop throughout all of that one hundred mile limit from this iron stake, and Osceola county falls well within this territory.
county was named after a Seminole Indian chief, the acknowledged head of a band of Indians who inhabited the Everglades of Florida. It does not
appear why a northern county was named after an Indian who lived
so far to the south and it is not known that he ever came north. He died in
Fort Moultrie where he was sent by the United States government after he
was captured and his tribe was subdued in 1837. However, it is quite a
pleasant sounding name and old settlers who still survive, whether living in
the county or elsewhere, have learned to love the sound of the word Osceola.
When the first settlers began to turn their attention to this part of the
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 537
state it was known that a railroad was to
go through from St. Paul to Sioux
City, but it was not known where it would run. The settlers tried to get in
ahead of the railroad and each one made a
guess as to where it would go and
county seat would be located. The road eventually crossed the
county a little farther west than most of the settlers expected. Before the
railroad came there were several
wagon roads or trails into or across the
county. One trail led from Spirit Lake to Sioux Falls, crossing the county
from east to west; another trail led into the county from Cherokee; still
another from LeMars and still another from Worthington. At first, of
course, there were no bridges, but soon two were built, one across the Ocheyedan and another crossing the Otter.
When the railroad was completed to Sibley, in June, 1872, all wagon trails pointed towards that town, the first town site to be laid out. The next town site was Ashton, in Gilman township, although first called Saint Gilman. Sibley was early selected as the county seat, owing to its central location. The first mail reached this county by way of LeMars, in Plymouth county, and was distributed at Shaw's store, which was located on the bank of the Otter creek in Gilman township on section 32 not far from the present town of Ashton. Mr. Shaw later moved his store to Ashton and it was the first store in that thrifty town. His original store building still stands on the main street of Ashton and is used as a poolroom and lunch counter. Mr. Shaw moved to Oregon in 1888 and is reported dead. The first post offices were at Sibley and Ashton and were established soon after the railroad was completed to those towns. When the people received daily mails, instead of weekly, by way of LeMars and Shaw's store they thought they were metropolitan.
When the first settlers came to the territory now embraced within this county it was a part of Woodbury county. Therefore, Woodbury county had to set Osceola up in business for itself, which it did in 1871, and the story cannot better be told than to quote from the records of Woodbury county:
"State of Iowa, Woodbury County.
"I, George W. Wakefield, auditor of Woodbury county, Iowa, do hereby certify that at the June session, A. D. 1871, of the board of supervisors of Woodbury county, to-wit:
on the sixth day of June, A. D. 1871, the following proceedings were had. to-wit: Resolved that the county of Osceola in the state of Iowa be organized at the general election of 1871.
Resolved, that three townships be formed out of the county of Osceola in the state of Iowa, to-wit: all of township 98 of ranges 39, 40, 41 and 42 shall compose one
538 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
township to be known and called Goewey township. All of township 99,
ranges 39, 40, 41 and 42 shall compose one township to be known and called
township, and all of township 100 of ranges 39, 40, 41 and 42
compose one township to be known and called Horton township.
Resolved, that an election be held for the election of township and county officers at the general election for 1871, to be held as follows, to-wit: in Goewey township, at the house of E. Huff; in Holman township, at the house of A. M. Culver; in Horton township, at the house of H. R. Fenton.
Resolved, that the question of whether the provisions of chapter one hundred and forty four, of the laws of the twelfth General Assembly of the State of Iowa, shall be enforced in Osceola county, Iowa, shall be submitted to the legal voters of said county at the general election of 1871, as provided in said chapter.
Resolved, that the proper officers are hereby authorized and instructed to do and take all necessary steps to have these resolutions carried into effect.
Resolved, that the auditor be instructed to assess the lands of Osceola county at two dollars an acre."
Following this was a resolution levying taxes on the taxable property of Osceola county, totaling forty mills or four per cent. The general election was held in accordance with the foregoing authorization, resulting in the election of the following county officers: Frank M. Robinson, auditor; A. M. Culver, treasurer; D. L. McCausland, recorder; Cyrus M. Brooks, clerk of courts; Delila Stiles, superintendent of schools; J. D. Hall, coroner; John Beaumont, drainage commissioner; M. J. Campbell, surveyor; George Spanieling, H. R. Fenton and J. H. Winspear, county commissioners or supervisors.
Thus was organized a county government over as fair a section of country as was possible to be found with the exception that it was treeless. Some years before the settlement of this county, the author in writing to a lawyer friend in Spirit Lake asked for information about this country and he replied at length. In the course of his letter he stated that west of Spirit lake and immediate neighborhood the land was not fit for white settlement as it was a vast treeless plain fit only for buffaloes and Indians. In fact, a part of it was then known as the Great American Desert.
The first convention for the nomination of county officers was held July 4, 1872. The convention was called by a number of the homesteaders and presided over by H. G. Doolittle, of Sibley. It was held on the Culver homestead, which was located on section 24, township 99, range 42. The following pioneers were placed in nomination for the various county offices, to-wit:
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 539
For auditor, McDonald; for treasurer, Captain E. Huff; for recorder, D. L.
McCausland; for sheriff, Jeff Cutshall; for superintendent of schools, Delila
Stiles; for clerk of courts, Cyrus M. Brooks; for supervisors, A. M. Culver,
H. R. Fenton and
George Spaulding. F. M. Robinson was the independent
candidate for auditor. The vote for auditor resulted in a tie between McDonald and Robinson and was decided
by lot in favor of Robinson. D. L.
McCausland was absent teaching school when the time arrived for him to take
charge of the recorder's office, and John Beaumont was appointed to fill
his place. In the meantime, McCausland had forwarded his bond by mail
and after some difficulty got possession of his office.
Osceola county was cursed then, as many other counties were at the time, with an influx of grafters and looters whose sole occupation, seemingly, was to prey upon the newly organized counties and loot the county treasuries to their hearts' content. The "gang," of which detailed mention is made in another chapter of the history, likewise placed a ticket in nomination and imported floaters and fraudulent voters to win at the subsequent fall election.
The leaders of the gang prevailed upon Mr. Culver to take the nomination for treasurer so as to give strength and respectability to the rather doubtful ticket which they proposed to place in nomination. The "gang" wished Culver to run for treasurer in order to make room for J. H. Winspear, who wanted to run for supervisor.
Mr. Doolittle and others tried to prevail upon Mr. Culver to refuse the doubtful honors which the gang wished to thrust upon him, but their pleadings were of no avail and he was elected treasurer along with the "gang" nominees. Then began a period of looting which was unsurpassed for the short period of time in which they were in power. The county treasury was looted to the tune of over twenty-two thousand dollars in a few months, all of which the taxpayers were forced to pay in the end.
So brazen and lavish were the expenditures made by the "gang" that the people soon became thoroughly aroused to the enormity of the official government of the county and made up their minds to throw the grafters out. A special grand jury was held in the following spring which was presided over by H. G. Doolittle. Indictments were found against every county official who had participated in the looting and they were placed under bonds of one hundred dollars each, the object being to drive them from the county and allow them to escape without further trouble. All left the county and forfeited their bonds.
Mr. Culver opposed every fraudulent action of the gang and stood like
540 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
against the wholesale grafting indulged in by the gang. He did everything in his power to bring them to justice and stop their nefarious work.
In the proceedings of the Woodbury county board, in canvassing the returns of the vote of Osceola county, it appears that the length of terms the three supervisors was to hold was determined by lot. The drawing for terms allowed George Spaulding to hold office three years; H. R. Fenton. two years; and J. H. Winspear, one year. Thus a kind divinity shaped things, as Winspear, who was the leader and furnished the brains for whatever swindling was practiced on this county in the early days of its history, drew the short term of one year. At the next general election in the fall of 1872, Capt. D. L. Riley was elected supervisor of Holman township and from that time to the present county affairs have been honestly conducted.
However, during that first year, under the leadership and plotting of Winspear, the county was saddled with a debt of about forty thousand dollars for which it had very little to show. That debt, however, has long since been paid and the county is now practically out of debt.
ROSTER OF COUNTY OFFICIALS.
Auditor‐F. M. Robinson, Wallace W. Moore, James S. Reynolds,
George W. Thomas, V. A. Burley.
Treasurer‐A. M. Culver. S. A. Wright, Levi Shell, H. C. Hungerford, R. S. Hall, J. B. Lent, J. E. Townsend, Dick Wassmann, A. J. Tatum, A. Wachtel and H. E. Richards.
Recorder‐D. L. McCausland. E. Huff, Mrs. C. I. Hill, S. S. Parker, W. H. Gates, Charles A. Chambers, Joe Reagan and O. A. Metz.
Clerk of District Court‐ Cyrus M. Brooks, John F. Glover, William J. Miller, J. S. Davison. J. B. Mead, W. H. Kimberly, Will Thomas, A. W. McCallum, J. P. Hawxhurst and Otto J. Frey.
Sheriff‐Frank Stiles, John H. Douglass, J. B. Lent, J. F. Stamm, Frank Desmond, Frank L. Stevens, E. S. Robertson and Joseph Gill.
Superintendent of Schools‐Delila Stiles, Dr. J. M. Jenkins, W. J. Miller. Dr. C. L. Gurney, Mrs. Mary E. Parker, Dr. W. R. Lawrence, J. R. Elliott, W. J. Reeves, F. W. Hahn, Charles Lowrey, T. S. Redmond, J. P. McKinley, J. R. Wilson and Mary E. DeBoos.
Surveyor‐M. J. Campbell, H. G. Doolittle, John A. Flower, Walter Barber and L. A. Wilson.
Coroner‐ J. M. Jenkins, W. R. Lawrence, W. H. Barkhuff, H. Neill, W. E. Ely, G. B. Palmer, L. H. Heetland, F. S. Hough and D. C. Steelsmith.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 541
County Attorney‐G. W. Lister, J. F. Glover, C. M. Brooks, W. C. Garberson and O. J. Clark.
Board of Supervisors‐J. H. Winspear, George Spaulding, H. R. Fenton, Titus E. Perry, D. L. Riley, H. L. Emmert, O. Dunton, B. F. Mundorf, A. H. Brown, C. W. Wyllys, Henry C. Allen, Robert Stamm, Nicholas Boor, William Mowthorp, George S. Downend, George W. Barrager, Albert Romey, S. A. Dove, Carlos P. Reynolds, James E. Townsend, C. W. Conner, A. Batie. P. A. Cajacob, W. H. Noehren, Charles Bangert, F. H. Hunt, William Truckenmiller, Nick Leinen, J. C. Ward, John Wehmeyer, C. M. Higley, Herman Haack, Henry Schmall, John Wehsinger, W. J. Reeves, H. C. Hattendorf, A. B. Snider, B. Klosterman, John W. Lindaman and L. J. Philips.
FIRST COURT AND GRAND JURY.
The first term of court was held in July. 1872. The officers of the court were Henry Ford, judge; C. H. Lewis, district attorney; Frank Stiles, sheriff; Cyrus Brooks, clerk. The grand jury consisted of the following: H. G. Doolittle (foreman), Benj. A. Dean, J. L. Robinson, E. Morrison, J. I. Halstead, A. M. Culver, M. Thompson, J. Schlect, Henry Babcock, J. W. Kerr, T. J. Cutshall, Charles Mandeville, R. F. Kinnie, D. L. Riley and C. Dunton. The only members of that grand jury still living, so far as known, are H. G. Doolittle, of Sibley, who is spending his declining years in comfort; Charles Mandeville, who this year moved from Sibley to Holden, Kansas, and Rev. Benjamin A. Dean, who is still preaching and now has a charge at Hildreth, Nebraska.
FIRST COURT HOUSE.
The old frame court house was built in 1872 and when completed was about all the county had to show for its forty-thousand-dollar debt. The sessions of the board of supervisors, before the completion of the court house, were held in a small frame building in Sibley on Tenth street and the building, now used for junk storage, is still standing in a dilapidated condition.
When Woodbury county set Osceola county up in business in 1871 it authorized its county auditor to assess Osceola county lands at two dollars an
542 O BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
acre. But as there was
very little deeded land in the county the revenue
from land tax was
very light. The railroad paid a small tax. However,
the railroad land was in controversy on account of litigation arising from a
claim of the Chicago & Milwaukee railroad claiming the land under a former
government indemnity grant. The title to the land in the meantime rested
in the United States
government and consequently the land was not subject
to taxation. This
litigation was settled in the courts in the year 1877, and
was at once offered for sale and
put on the tax list of 1878. Prior to that
only land on which taxes were collected was a little land of the
speculators and a few tracts entered under the pre-emption act. The homesteaders had to
prove five years' residence before final proof for a patent
could be made, with the exception that soldiers of the Civil War could get
credit for the time served in the
army. Some old soldiers did not embrace
privilege for the reason that land was not subject to taxation until its
proved. About the same time the railroad land came in for taxation
nearly all the homesteaders had deeds to their land, so that the list of
property suddenly increased and the county revenues were correspondingly enhanced. The assessed value of all taxable property in the
county in 1873 was $439,964.00; the taxable value was $109,991.00 and the
total amount of taxes levied was
In 1880 when the railroad land was listed for taxation and the homesteaders had proved their titles, the total assessed value jumped to $700,368.00 and the total taxes for collection increased to $31,703.01. The tax list of 1890 shows a healthy gain, some of it by reason of the natural increase in the price of land, but more largely on account of the increase in personal and town property. The total valuation that year was $1,577,095.00 and the total tax levied was $59,118.51. In 1900 the total valuation shows at $2,183,150.00 with a tax levy of $87,862.51, while in 1910 the total valuation was swelled to the respectable sum of $3,363,871.00 and the tax to be collected run up to $140,162.07.
The foregoing is but a fair illustration of the increase in the value of land generally. The first land was bought under the pre-emption law and brought two dollars and fifty cents an acre. The same land now sells from one hundred to one hundred and fifty dollars an acre. Some well improved farms near town are worth two hundred dollars an acre. The mileage of railroad bed in 1873 was seventeen and ninety-eight hundredths miles. In 1913 it was as follows: The Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha, seventeen and ninety-eight hundredths miles, assessed at $1,004,724.00 and taxed for one quarter of that valuation. The main line of the Chicago,
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES IOWA. 543
Rock Island & Pacific is assessed on twenty-six and twenty-nine hundredths miles and valued at $771,872.00, while the Gowrie & North Western, which is a branch of the same line, shows thirteen and thirty-three hundredths miles, valued at $391,368.00. This makes a total mileage of fifty-seven and sixty hundredths miles of railroad property on which taxes are collected in this county. The telegraph lines are recorded at fifty-seven and eighteen hundredths miles and valued at $18,296.00. The miles of telephone in the county as shown on the books are five hundred and thirty-six and valued at $13,167.00.