The first schools of the county were small and not taught regularly as
required by law. They were held in poor buildings wherever the requisite
number of children of school
age happened to be found. Many of the first
teachers made no
pretensions to be qualified for their work. The pupils were
young, the wages low and frequently the only way to have any school was to
give a homesteader's wife a permit to teach some particular school. Often
that school was held in the teacher's kitchen.
The first school in Fairview township was held in the homestead shack of S. A. Dove and Mrs. Dove was the teacher. Fairview now has four rural schools and the graded school of Harris, employing in all seven teachers. Gladys Foote is (1913) the principal of the Harris school. The value of the school property of this township is eight thousand dollars. It has two hundred and forty children of school age.
Horton township has five public schools and one hundred and ninety eight children of school age. It has school property valued at twenty thousand dollars. There is also, in connection with the Lutheran church, a denominational school with an enrollment of thirty-one. The first school in this township was the Clemens school.
Wilson township supports six schools for ninety-nine children of school age, and has school property valued at four thousand dollars. The first school here was on section 27. It was eventually moved to what was later called the Cloud district.
Viola township supports six schools and the school property is valued at six thousand dollars with one hundred and sixty-six children of school age. The first school was held on section 14 and was later called the Shaw district.
Allison township has nine schools and the children of school age number two hundred and fifteen, with school property valued at five thousand dollars. The first school is hard to locate at this late day but it was probably in the northwestern part in the neighborhood of the New England settlement.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 671
Ocheyedan township supports eight schools, outside of the "independent
district" of Ocheyedan, with school property valued at four thousand dollars,
and children of school
age to the number of two hundred and thirteen. The
first school house was built
by the "boodlers" in the same season that they
erected two or three others in the
county. They were all larger than was
necessary and built at an enormous expense. S. S. Parker later bought this
house, moved it onto his claim for a residence and a more suitable school
house was provided.
Holman township supports sixteen rural schools, outside of Sibley, with property valued at sixteen thousand dollars. The children of school age number four hundred and forty. The first school was at Sibley in one of the "boodler" school houses. Another of those expensive houses was located on the southeast orner of section 15, township 99, range 41. It was eventually sold and a proper kind of a school house located in the proper place.
Gilman township supports eight schools outside of the independent district of Ashton, with one hundred and eighty-seven children of school age, and school property valued at five thousand dollars. The first school, as near as can be made out now, was one near the first location of the Ashton church: another was in the western part of the township in the Quaker settlement.
Goewey township supports nine schools for two hundred and twenty eight children of school age and has property valued at about eight thousand dollars. The first school was on section 10, later moved to the regular school site.
Baker township has nine schools and property valued at four thousand dollars, outside of the Melvin schools, with two hundred and twenty-two children of school age. The first school was held on section 8 and was taught by Mrs. Orvis Foster, mention of whom is made in the Baker township notes.
Harrison township came in later and had its first school at May City post office. This township now supports nine public schools, for children of school age, numbering two hundred and two, and school property valued at six thousand dollars.
Besides the foregoing country schools, there are in the county four independent districts as follows: Ocheyedan graded school, employing five teachers, and having two hundred and twenty-nine children of school age, and school property valued at twenty thousand dollars. The present principal of this school is J. P. Johnson. The Ashton school employs four teachers, and has two hundred and thirty-four children of school age. The school property is valued at three thousand five hundred dollars. Lawrence Newby
672 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
The Melvin school employs two teachers with Alice Bahan as principal. It has eighty children of school age and property worth about one thousand five hundred dollars.
Sibley has a school building of fifteen rooms, with seventeen teachers. This school has a normal department and a music teacher. The Sibley school property is valued at forty thousand dollars. The children of school age number three hundred and eighty-three. The non-resident pupils, paying tuition, number twenty-nine. The superintendent is J. R. McAnelly.
The value of the public school property in the county amounts to the respectable sum of one hundred and fifty-one thousand dollars. This will not correspond exactly with the public records since there are instances wherein the records do not enumerate correctly. The total number of children of school age in the county according to the 1913 returns is three thousand three hundred and thirty-six.
The first settler was
Captain Eldred, of Gilman township, who was
later county recorder several terms.
The first town in the county was Sibley.
Sibley was first called Cleghorn.
The first store in the county was conducted by Thomas Shaw, on the bank of Otter creek, a few miles south of Ashton, to which place he later moved it.
The first store in Sibley was operated by H. K. Rogers.
The first railroad train came into the county in the spring of 1872.
The first death in the county was that of Wells, who died of heart failure and was found dead in his homestead shanty on section 8, Ocheyedan township, in the spring of 1872. He was buried on his claim and later his remains were moved to the Sibley cemetery by the old soldiers of the Ireland Post.
The first white child born in the county was a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Nimms, of Viola township. She was born in June, 1871, and lived only eighteen months.
Levi Shell opened the first lumber yard in the county at Sibley.
D. L. Riley was the first mayor of Sibley.
The first mail coming into the county was distributed at Tom Shaw's first store.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 673
meeting of the board of supervisors was held in a small shack
that is still making a doubtful stand on Ninth street in Sibley.
The first session of the grand jury was held in the fall of 1872 in the old frame court house, which had just been completed.
Maud Barclay, born December 17, 1872, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Barclay, was the first child born in Sibley. She grew to womanhood, was educated in the public schools of Sibley and married Alfred Morton. She died at Ocheyedan, January 11, 1902. where Mr. Morton was engaged in the banking business. She left one daughter who now resides in Sibley.
The first threshing machine outfit was run by John A. Haas, a homesteader on section 34, in Goewey township, in 1872, with Abe Shapley, of Viola, a close second. Both were horse power machines. Mr. Shapley was the first to own a steam power outfit.
The first bank was opened by H. L. Emmert at Sibley.
The first church was the Methodist church at Sibley.
Otto Turk had the first automobile, a steam machine.
George Carew had the first gasoline automobile.
The first term of court convened July 16, 1872, with Henry Ford, judge; C. H. Lewis, district attorney; Frank Stiles, sheriff, and Cyrus M. Brooks, clerk. The first case on the docket is entitled, "L. F. Diefendorf versus J. H. Winspear & Company."
The first residence in Sibley was built by John L. Robinson, who was father of Frank M. Robinson, the first county auditor.
John L. Robinson died in Sibley at the advanced age of ninety-eight years.
company operated in this territory many years and at one time it
was said to be the richest
company doing business in Iowa. Its plan was to
buy the cheap prairie land in large quantities, partially improve it, put a
cheap set of buildings on the various farms, and run them as tenant farms
a number of
years. Eventually the company sold out and thus gained the
price. The purchase of these lands was made in 1881 under the
management of Close Brothers & Company. The stockholders were all English and Scotch.
In 1883 the firm of Close Brothers & Company dissolved, and C.W. Benson, one of the partners in the old firm of Close Brothers & Companv, (43)
674 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
took over the management of the Iowa Land Company, in which Ker D. Dunlop and C. F. Benson were active partners.
A new firm of Close Brothers & Company was formed and operated in Pipestone, Minnesota. The Iowa Land Company operated principally in Osceola county, with headquarters in Sibley. However, it brought some land in surrounding counties. Their entire purchase amounted to something like one hundred and fifty thousand acres, of which it broke in the neighborhood of eighty thousand acres, and built about two hundred set of buildings. While the Iowa Land Company operated here it was quite a rendezvous for young Englishmen who had nothing to do but spend an allowance. They gave Sibley the appearance of being a lively town. Horse racing, polo playing, fox hunting and toboggan sliding were the usual sports for pastime. The company sent agents east to look up tenants and a vast number, good, bad and indifferent, were brought in by their enterprising agents. During those years, Sibley seemed to have a boom, but as a lot of the floating class of tenants moved on, the merchants found that they were losing more from poor accounts than they had ever lost before. It was probably the hardest time the Sibley merchants ever experienced. The managers of this company were fine gentlemen and free buyers, as well as prompt paymasters, but many of their tenants were a damage to the town. Finally the Iowa Land Company closed out its interests here and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where it is still doing business. Not one of the Englishmen are left in this vicinity.
problem of the first settlers was of more importance than the matter
of fuel. Nearly all fixed their houses in some way to withstand the onslaughts of wind and weather. But there was a total lack of any kind of
fuel sufficient to supply the necessary demand.
The first fuel was obtained from a little willow brush that was found along the Ocheyedan and Little Rock rivers, but that was insufficient in quantity and besides was very poor in quality. The only other visible supply was the timber growing along Big Rock river in Lyon county on the west and on the shore of West Okoboji lake on the east. It was a drive of from twenty-five to thirty miles over poor roads and through soft sloughs to either place. With the poor and ill-fed teams of that day it took two days of hard work for man and team to get a load of green and unsatisfactory wood. When the railroad was built into Sibley soft coal was shipped in, but it was high in price and poor in quality, and money was even scarcer than coal
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 675
When a car load arrived there was more effort to
get to it first to earn one
fifty cents for scooping it off, than there was to buy a load of it.
Finally some good Samaritan suggested the use of hay for fuel. At first it was considered a joke. However, people were in such desperate straits for fuel that it was given a trial. After a good deal of experimenting the best kind of hay for fuel was discovered and the best way of preparing it for the stove devised. The long, coarse slough hay that grew abundantly in all the sloughs, cut before it was badly frozen, proved to be the best. When cut in the proper season and well prepared for the stove it made good fuel either for cooking or heating purposes. It was prepared by twisting a long handful tightly and doubling it into the appearance of a skein of yarn. When twisted tightly, with the ends securely tucked in, it made neat, tidy and useful fuel. The tighter it was twisted the longer it lasted. A bran sack filled with this knotted hay would do a big baking or last through a long, cold evening.
And thus the fuel problem was solved. The early settlers became so attached to hay fuel that its use was continued as a matter of preference several years after the grasshopper scourge was past. They considered the burning of hay as a blessing instead of a hardship. Some good housewives at this late day express the wish, when wanting a quick hot fire, that they had a sack full of good hay to do their baking. Now when many of these old settlers are still here and sitting round their big hard-coal heaters or over furnaces they never enumerate the burning of hay as one of the hardships of early times. The use of corn for fuel was not practiced in this county to any great extent. The intensive schooling the first settlers received during the grasshopper scourge caused them to look upon the use of corn for fuel as nearly a crime.
In this good and abundant year of 1913 the groves of forest trees planted by the early settlers as well as by those coming later furnished such an abundance of fuel that there is not only "wood to burn," but much going to waste. Many large trees are being cut each year both for lumber and fuel and the smaller trees are growing faster than the big ones are being used. One cottonwood tree in Sibley cut for fuel in 1910 made four cords of four foot wood, thus showing how rapidly the timber grows in this country. This tree was planted in 1873. In order to illustrate by an actual example the statement heretofore made that the timber planted in this county is now furnishing an abundance of fuel, Mr. O. B. Harding, one of the early settlers in Goewey township, and many years a prominent farmer but now retired, was interviewed and made the following statement: "I commenced preparing
676 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
the ground for trees in the spring of 1874. The following year I began
planting cottonwood and willow cuttings. During the summer of 1875 I
planted some seed of the soft maple. A year or two later I began planting white ash and box elder seedlings. In ten years' time after planting I had
nearly all the fuel we needed from the thinning and trimming of the timber.
I then began using willows for posts and have had an abundance from that
time to the
present. In the year 1910, after using a large amount of timber
for fuel, posts, cattle sheds, etc., I concluded to saw most of the cottonwood
timber into lumber. I sawed twenty-five thousand feet of good lumber and
year cut about seventy-five cords of wood from the slabs and trimmings. I also cut about two thousand willow posts from a small piece of
ground the same year. After all the cutting that has been done the timber
has more than held its own, and bids fair to furnish timber and fuel for the
many years to come. I also sawed some ash timber into lumber
suitable for sled and
wagon tongues, eveners and various other purposes for
use on the farm. I have used
part of the cottonwood lumber in building a
large corn house, wood and tool house, chicken house and other outbuildings. Had all the cottonwood timber used for other purposes during all
years been left standing I could easily have sawed fifty thousand feet
of lumber. This timber
occupied little ground, being along the road side,
buildings and on the outskirts of other timber."
The experience of Mr. Harding has been duplicated by others. For instance, L. G. Van Eaton, also an early settler in Goewey township, now retired and living in Little Rock, made extensive sawings from the timber growing on his farm in Viola township. Soren Anderson in Goewey did the same thing on his farm, which was the homestead of A. Romey, now a merchant in Sibley. Among others who made extensive cutting of lumber from their own groves is J. T. Greenfield, of East Holman, who sawed sixteen thousand feet of lumber as well as many posts and large quantities of wood. R. S. Eakin, of Wilson, has cut considerable lumber, posts and wood. Henry Dagle and William Dagle, of Goewey, both living on their original homesteads and now wealthy farmers, have sawed a large amount of lumber. There are many others, but space does not permit mention of any more. If this county were entirely cut off from outside sources her fuel supply would be sufficient without any great hardship except that a few who never swung it before would have to swing an ax.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 677
The first settlers of this
county came here by way of the prairie schooner
route. A few who
possessed the means shipped their goods on the Illinois Central to Cherokee or Le Mars and then moved them
by wagon the rest of the
way. In the early seventies all roads led to northwestern Iowa, where roads
ended and a few trails took their
place. There was no track to guide the
claim seeker when he left the trail and he had to trust the heavens or his compass to reach any desired place. People usually came in family groups and
helped one another through the soft sloughs. When a slough was reached
some one of the
party would examine the ground and if found soft, all
stop and double up their teams and help one another across. All
carried a few
simple cooking utensils and at night camped, prepared the
meal and fixed
up for a night's rest‐some sleeping in the wagon and others
under it. When the weather was
good they had a very good time, but when
the weather was bad
they suffered many hardships. Old settlers say now
that the least said about it the better. Each morning they moved on. House
cleaning had no terrors for them. Three meals and fifteen to twenty-five
per day was the usual day's work. They forgot there was any Sunday.
Singing songs, telling stories and the shooting of prairie chickens were the
common pastimes. They came from southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois
and eastern Iowa, a hardy, happy, jolly lot, full of hope and courage and
ready to subdue a wilderness. How well they succeeded the following pages
The first settlers came in 1870, more followed in 1871 and the number increased in 1872 and 1873. During the summer and autumn of 1871 the St. Paul & Sioux City Railroad was graded through the county and in June, 1872. the ties and rails were laid and the first engine came into Sibley from the north. The road had been completed to Worthington, Minnesota, in the late fall of 1871. The winter following was so severe and so much snow came, followed by extreme cold weather, that railroad building was impossible until well along in the spring of 1872. Along about that time some stage lines were established to carry mail and passengers from Spencer to Sibley, and from Spirit Lake to Sioux Falls by way of Sibley. About that time much freight was hauled by teams overland from Sibley to Sioux Falls by way of Rock Rapids. Large quantities of wheat were hauled from Sioux Falls and vicinity to the Sibley elevator, considerable of that work being done by Indians with ox teams. So much wheat came to the Sibley market that
678 OBRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
as many as fifty wagon loads were lined np to be unloaded in the morning
after the elevator men worked as long as they could in the evening‐unloading at what was then the railroad elevator. All this occurred before the grasshopper scourge.
The first railroad was the St. Paul & Sioux City line and to that company fell every odd numbered section of land given as a bonus by the United States government for building the road. The above named road kept and sold all the railroad land, but the road itself changed hands and is now called the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad. The road is known locally as the Omaha, and is used as a part of the Northwestern system. This railroad continued to be the only one until the year 1884, when another line, the Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern, crossed the county from east to west. At that time the towns of Harris, Ocheyedan and Allendorf were established, of which more will be written in other chapters. This line was later sold and is now a part of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad. In the year 1900 the Gowrie branch of the Rock Island was built from Gowrie to Sibley, giving Osceola county a direct line to Des Moines and the coal fields of southeastern Iowa. On this line were established the towns of Melvin and Cloverdale, thus giving the county seven railroad towns for market and trading purposes; also giving all towns several daily mails. Sibley is now accommodated with fourteen daily mails. These various lines of railroad add materially to the assessors' valuation for taxation purposes.
history occurs in stages or periods. Thus there was a period of
settlement, a period of improvement, and then a period of grasshoppers accompanied by privation, stagnation and hard times. We thought we had experienced many privations and hardships during the first years, but we were
young and nervy and expected it, and in our minds were prepared for it and
through it with hope and song.
In 1872 a few acres of crops were sown and planted on land broken the year before, and produced fairly well, considering the wild and raw nature of land and the lack of proper tools to work the soil properly. More breaking was done, and a considerably increased acreage planted in 1873, in land better prepared for the seed. Everything came on prosperously and our people began to see their visions more clearly and to believe they were rapidly nearing realization. When lo! one fine day early in June a great cloud appeared in the distance with a slight roaring sound of millions of wings. First came
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 679
a few of the swifter hoppers, dropping, dropping, dropping here, there and everywhere‐then more rapidly, oftener and thicker, more and more and more until all the ground was covered, the buildings and the little trees we had planted were borne to the earth by the heft of the hoppers that had clustered on them like swarms of bees. Immediately upon lighting, they began to eat every green thing in their way. As the grain, was more tender then prairie grass, they gathered into the grain, and ate all day and during the night. A person could go out over the grain and corn fields in the stillness of the night and hear the stripping and chewing like the subdued noise of a drove of cattle. In the morning the crops were all destroyed. Corn, grain, potatoes and garden stuff all gone. The young trees were stripped of leaves and some of them of bark. This was the prospect of profit and living for two years gone, and gone in less than twenty-four hours. After the crops were all gone the hoppers scattered out over the prairie and lived on grass a few days, but they could make very little impression upon that. In a few days they left as they came, in a great swarm, making it look like an eclipse of the sun. They went to clean up some other county. But before going they deposited millions of eggs in the hard prairie soil and in the new breaking so there should be something left to remember them by. After the hoppers had gone, the settlers had little time to recover from the shock and disappointment of their loss. Remember, dear reader, that everything was staked on that crop. Here the true spirit of these sturdy pioneers asserted itself. Most of them, with true Yankee grit and American enterprise, commenced to summer-fallow the devastated fields, preparing for another campaign. They said that to plow early meant a heavy crop for 1874. So hope re-entered the stricken land and work went cheerily on, and, although the settlers had lost the first round with the hoppers, they refused to throw up the sponge, but came up smiling prepared for another bout. The hoppers, too, returned to the conflict but in a different way. In due season of time the same sun that warmed mother earth, and the same balmy breezes of spring that fanned and brought to life the grass and flowers of the prairie, and the same rains that caused the farmer's seed grain to germinate and grow, also warmed into life the millions upon millions of clusters of grasshoppers' eggs laid the year before. Suddenly it was discovered that the country was literally alive with minute young hoppers and that the hoppers must eat to grow, and did eat with a marvelous appetite. Being chips of the same, they immediately manifested their preference for the tender growing shoots of the cultivated crops instead of tougher prairie grass. Thus was witnessed day after day the race between the growing grain and the devouring pest. The
680 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
season was ideal and the crops, as if entering into the spirit of the life and
death contest, accepted the challenge, and came valiantly on. The hoppers
also, growing larger and stronger, and eating with a never-satisfied appetite,
continued the onslaught with ever increasing strength and insatiate appetite.
The settlers, meantime, were intensely interested spectators. What that crop
meant to them must be left to the imagination. Pen can not fully portray it.
However, people did not stand idly by and see everything devoured without
effort. Many devices were employed to drive off, kill, crush, trap and poison
young and apparently helpless hoppers. But to stop the wind from blow-
ing, or the rain from falling, would have been equally successful. Now,
whenever those devices, at that time tried, are referred to, it is a matter of
Finally, the great race was ended, the hoppers gained their maturity and rose en masse and flew
away, leaving only a few remains of a
crop. The settlers saved a little, but not very much. When they went
very Christian gentleman said he wished they would go to ‐‐‐‐ and
there checked himself, fearing he might be wishing ill to some one and, after
pause, said "where no one lives." When the hoppers left people were again relieved and although they were obliged to consider themselves the losers in the second bout with the
hoppers, their spirits were not
broken. They proceeded at once to prepare the ground for another crop in
1875. The hoppers left without depositing their eggs and this was encouraging, but later in the season they returned and filled the ground with such an
eggs that in turning a furrow, which broke up the clusters, the
ground assumed a gray appearance on account of the exposed eggs. The
experience of 1875 was a repetition of 1874. These three years were the
worst. After that,
they gradually degenerated and by 1879 they did little
damage. By 1880 the country was free from them and they have never returned in
any serious numbers.
During the grasshopper period many, with good reason, left the country. Some returned to their original home and others wrent where they could find work. Each one had all he could do to take care of himself and was not able to employ or help any one else to any great extent. It is a wonder more did not leave. It may be interesting to readers of these lines to know how so many were able to remain and live through it all. One thing that contributed largely in enabling many to stay was the discovery that hay could be used for fuel. Other reasons will be better told by enumerating the experience of some of the early settlers from memory. Sidney Beckwith, of Viola, for several seasons hauled freight from Pierre, South Dakota, to the Black Hills across the Big Sioux reservation. Ed. Smith went to some place where a
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 681
railroad was under construction and worked as a grader. Peter Shaw, also of Viola, brought a little money with him and saved a few remnants of crops. D. D. MeCallum, of Ocheyedan, put his axe on his shoulder, took a walk for his health and landed in the vicinity of Sioux City and chopped cord wood all winter. He had an ox team and as other settlers came in with a little money, he broke prairie for them according to their wants. Amos Buchman, who lived in a dugout on the banks of the Ocheyedan, went to Spencer and worked at his trade as a tailor. M. Harvey went to northern Illinois and taught a winter term of school. H. G. Doolittle taught winter terms of school in eastern Iowa. W. J. Miller and G. H. Perry returned to Illinois and taught where they had taught before coming to this country. Later W. J. Miller taught the Sibley school. D. L. McCausland taught school somewhere in the east and in the spring of 1872 got possession of the recorder's office to which he had been elected the previous fall. J. Q. Miller and many others handled ties for the railroad company. In fact many of the homesteaders found employment on the railroad at various times. After the grasshopper scourge was over, those who had remained were of the pluckiest and most determined. The most of those that hung on through those trying times made permanent citizens and are still here or have crossed over the great divide.
crop report of Osceola county for 1913, as compiled by V. A.
Burley. auditor of the county, presents many interesting facts, and an abstract
report is here presented.
The total number of farms in the county is 1,102. The acreage of these farms is 238,410, of which 11,803 acres are devoted to farm buildings, highways and feed lots. There were 111 acres in garden, 494 in orchards, 11,198 acres of tame hay, 11,434 acres of wild hay, 51 acres of alfalfa, in acres of crops not enumerated, and 1,539 acres of waste land not utilized for any purpose, in addition to the other land wasted for the use of towns.
Corn was the king crop of the county. On 72,392 acres 2,993,755 bushels of the golden cereal were produced. At market prices this single crop brought its growers over $1,500,000, which explains some of the new automobiles.
The second important crop is oats, of which 2,558,396 bushels were grown on 61,645 acres. This grain supplied over three-quarters of a million dollars for the sustenance of the poor downtrodden farmer.
682 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
Of winter wheat 199 acres were planted and 3,331 bushels harvested.
Spring wheat was a little more extensively grown; 1,504 acres yielded 25,734
Of barley there was 287,675 bushels grown on 11,785 acres. Three hundred and twenty-six acres of rye yielded 6,445 bushels.
There were 11,646 tons of tame hay. 12,146 tons of wild hay and 93 tons of alfalfa cut.
A yield of 93,070 bushels of potatoes was dug from 1,066 acres.
On 658 acres 5,212 bushels of flax seed were grown. Of timothy seed there were produced 15,828 bushels from 1,975 acres; and 539 bushels of clover seed from 450 acres.
Twenty-eight acres of sweet corn produced 474 bushels; and 570 bushels of popcorn were taken from 16 acres.
There were 4,777 bushels of apples picked.
Stock grazed on 43,584 acres of pasture.
There were on the farms January 1, 1914, 60,981 hogs, and 36,620 had died of disease in 1913.
The number of horses of all ages was 9,441, and of mules 149.
The total number of cows and heifers kept for milk was 7,508, of other cattle 17,127, and of cattle of all ages 25,189.
The sheep kept on the farms numbered 2,781; shipped in for feeding, 2,969; sold for slaughter, 3,338. The wool clipped amounted to 14,908 pounds.
There were 179,158 head of poultry on the farms, and 787,935 dozens of eggs were laid during the year.
The average monthly wage of farm help was $32 in summer and $23 in winter.
The two following letters were written by Josef von Willemoes Suhm to his brother in Germany in the spring of 1872. Suhm was a very observing young man and his letters throw not a little light on the early experiences of the first pioneers of this county. It might be stated that Suhm stayed only a short time on his claim. He returned to the county in the summer of 1913 for a visit and was intensely interested in seeing the marked changes, which had come about since his first view of the county in 1872.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 683
684 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
while his wife was driving, and the wagon upset. Not much damage was
done, only the tongue broken and the fair damsel fell in a basket of eggs,
gave her dress a nice yellow color. While Dunkelmann and we repaired
wagon the women changed her dress behind a bush and after one hour's
delay we started again.
Shellrock is a clear, bright river. We camped in the center of the market place at Rockford on the Shellrock. Near Mason City we had a beautiful camping ground on Lime creek, close to a water mill, and on the other side of the river opposite our camp there was a high rock, a bluff, all grown over with ivy, which looked splendid in the pale light of the full moon. Our two young farmer friends left us here, as they had bought land in the neighborhood at twenty dollars per acre. We had a good look at the fine land around Clear Lake, and after a stop of five days started again for Algona.
From now on we found worse roads day after day and the night before reaching Wesley we had one of the biggest thunderstorms I've ever witnessed so far on the open prairie. Unable to start a camp fire we went hungry to bed. When we started next morning the wide prairie was one big bog and even on the hill where we had camped the wheels dropped, as soon as we started, up to the axle in mud and our horses had no footing whatever, so we were obliged to hire oxen to haul our wagon to Wesley, while we led the horses. On reaching the station we shipped our baggage by rail to Algona, at this time the terminus of the Dubuque Railroad. Six other wagons suffered as we did and when we made camp at Wesley we joined thirteen more emigrant outfits who were likewise detained by the bad roads. All told, we were, that night, twenty wagons in camp‐it was a grand sight after the fires were lit to see the men. women, children, dogs, horses, mules and also some cows moving about in the glare of the light! On the last day of April we reached here (Algona), having been that day up to the knees in mud and water, while helping the horses and wagons to cross the sloughs and creeks. We found regular roads, anywhere with bridges, and the trip through Hancock and Kossuth counties is a never-to-be-forgotten recollection of hardship.
On the first of May we fetched our baggage from Algona station. The price of the freight was only seventy-five cents. The weather was very cold, with a little dash of snow. On that day (1st of May) eight more wagons reached our camp and there and then started our friendship with N. D. Bowles and his famous mules. Uncle Ned, as we called him, was a grand companion, always ready to spin a yarn. Today, the 2nd of May, Dunkelmann and August went to look at some land near Algona, which has been offered for sale, while other men from camp went fishing.
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 685
sitting before the mess-box. The weather is turning cold and it is
also difficult to write in the
open air while children and the dogs are running
around me. Therefore I close my letter. You will hear from me soon again.
Give my love to the whole family and kindly remember
Sunday, the 19th of May, 1872.
In camp near "Bean-slough," Osceola county, Iowa.
Dear Mother‐I hope that my letter from Algona reached you. We left that town on the 3rd of May with six other wagons, bound via Emmettsburg and Milford, for Osceola county!
Without much trouble we reached here on the 6th of May and camped the first night near the sod shanty of a half-breed trapper by the name of John McKinney. The land in sight is very fine‐a vast, treeless, rolling prairie, without a limit to the eye and no settlers', homes to the north, south, east or west, can be seen from the trapper's little place. Dunkelmann took a homestead claim and so did August Carstensen and I, but it would have been better to my liking if we could have gone to North Dakota near the Buffalo range, where the wild Indians roam about four hundred miles northwest from here. I am afraid that this will be rather a lonely place with no other excitement than hard work, for all the game has left this vast prairie and the elk horns we found were well bleached and therefore not lately dropped.
I shall probably need a lot of books from home for the long winter evenings when there is nothing to do outdoors. For the registration of my claim I had to pay fourteen dollars. We had to do this in Sioux City, the land office for this district. McKinney, or "Lazy John," as we called him, went with us as a witness. The weather had turned warm and the trip across the prairie to Sioux City, touching the little town of LeMars, was a pleasure trip as Uncle Ned, who had taken a claim next to Dunkelmann's, never left off telling yarns about his mules and deeds in battle during the late rebellion.
Dunkelmann, being an old soldier, got one hundred and sixty acres. I only eighty acres, for when I mentioned that I had been also a soldier in the Prussian army during the war of 1866, I was told that Emperor William had to give me eighty acres, as from Uncle Sam I could receive only eighty acres, not having served him during the late war. Eighty acres is, therefore, all I could claim, but as there is railroad land in front of my homestead which I can buy at three to five dollars per acre, I have the intention of ac-
686 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA
quiring one hundred and sixty acres of said land so that I shall soon have
two hundred and forty acres, which will be as much as I can well look after.
camped near Sioux City on a piece of prairie, close to the Floyd river
and were soon joined by six hundred U. S. A. soldiers coming from Kansas
City, being on the way to Dakota to protect the settlers against hostile Indians. In the afternoon the band
played nice pieces from "Die Weise Dame,"
"Robert der Teufel," and "Lucrecia Borgia." The soldiers offered to sell
(very cheap) buffalo robes and revolvers, but I had no money to spare.
Twenty-three of them deserted that night and only a few were recaught the
Since we returned to our land we had a look for our county seat, Sibley, expecting to find it quite a big town. One fine afternoon, Dunkelmann, Carstensen and I mounted our horses, and started in the direction northwest, where, according to rumors, Sibley should be. While riding along we first looked at the soil, which was, according to our judgment, not near as good as our own claims. So the time was filled most pleasantly, but suddenly we remembered what we had come for, and glanced from a near hill over the Country. To the south there stood a big frame house, otherwise there was nothing to be seen of a living settlement, for the sod shanties we had passed had all been deserted. My proposal to ride to that big frame house and there to ask for information about the whereabouts of Sibley was cut short by my dear friend Dunkelmann, who said, "No, Joe, I'm not a tenderfoot or a greenhorn like you. I'm an old prairie-rider and pathfinder, who has been roaming three years on the plains of Dakota, chasing Indians and buffalos. No, my boy, I shall not ask for hints to find a town on the level prairie!" Well, mother. I gave in, but when soon a fearful thunderstorm bursted over us, and we were compelled to ride full speed for shelter to that big house, we found that we were in Sibley! Think of it, that one house, Sibley, our county seat! Down went the biggest castle in the air I ever built! The one big room below was full of surveyors, land agents and a great variety of other professionals, while up stairs were bed-rooms, for it was also a hotel and restaurant, besides being a court house! It was, so far, the funniest experience I've had in the west, always to be remembered as long as I live, the hunt for the town and the great scout, Henry Dunkelmann, my beloved friend !
Now we are breaking our land and making sod shanties with board roofs, one day is like the other. We are hard at work, have plenty of rain and are often wet to the skin, but that don't bother us.
The other day we went for a walk across the prairie when Prinz found
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 687
an old he
badger. We three big men and the dog went for the poor fellow
and when we had killed him we found that his meat was not fit to eat. I felt
sorry and ashamed of the deed. At night, serenaded by the mysterious silence
prairie, we sit around the camp-fire talking and expecting big things
from the unknown future. Some
day we will know all about it, as "Uncle
always answers when I ask his opinion about the unsolved mystery of
our future in Osceola
county. Farewell, mother. In love I remain
Those of the first settlers who remain alive look around at times and
wonder and marvel at the
change. When this beautiful prairie was first
viewed, all covered with rich
grass and bedecked with prairie flowers, it
brought visions of fine farms, with good buildings, protected by thrifty
groves and lined by well-graded roads. However, after a few years, the
first glamour wore off and we hardly expected to live to see our visions a
reality. Now we look about and wonder whether we are dreaming.
During the first ten years we experienced hard times and met many disappointments. Well do we all remember when we were following the breaking plow and turning up to God's sunshine and air the richness of the sod for the first time; we wondered then, as we do now, how many thousand years of accumulated richness we were disturbing. Scientists can examine rock and estimate something of the distance of the primeval time, when the rock commenced to form, but no one has told when this soil began the building process. It was something of a privilege to be first to disturb the accumulation of untold centuries.
We have witnessed a miracle. The present generation can only see the achievements performed. Of the experiences that wrought these miracles, it knows but little. We hear a lot about the high price of land at the present time. The fact is Iowa land is cheaper today than it was forty five years ago. You probably think this is a rash statement, but we can prove it by evidence that will stand the test of any court in the land. You say our land cost us almost nothing. That all depends on how you figure the price paid. Today you can buy land in this county at from one hundred to one hundred and fifty dollars per acre. You can go on that land and if properly tilled and managed can pay for it with the income from the land. In the meantime, while you are paying for it, you enjoy all the comforts of a king. Every convenience of the twentieth century is at
688 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA
your door. You wear good clothes, your children enjoy good school privileges, and your families live as well as the wealthiest people, as far as good
wholesome food is concerned. You ride to town in a fine
carriage or in an
enjoy all the comforts of a wealthy and prosperous community, with good roads and as fine schools as the best in the land.
You pay nothing like the price the homesteader paid, forty-five years ago. Then the settler who came to northwestern Iowa and entered a homestead, jeopardized the life of himself and family. Many times neighbors were miles apart, and supplies, at first, were fifty to sixty miles distant. Wood for fuel had to be hauled twenty to thirty miles, requiring an absence from home of two or three days, if you had good luck and ever returned at all. The first few years a little sod corn was planted. The chances were that nothing fit for family use was harvested. When fall came the entire crop would not support a family of today one week. If the settler was fortunate enough to own a gun he could secure some small game to help a little. When he went a long distance to a railroad town for family supplies, there was only the mark of his own wagon as a trail to follow on his return. Sometimes he never returned. These things were part of the price he paid for a piece of land. If the grasshoppers left a little crop he was very fortunate.
Sometimes sickness came and wife or children were stricken with some wasteful disease. They could not be left alone long enough to go many miles for a doctor or medicine. The best you could do was to try to reach some neighbor, who would go and bring something for the sick one. Many times the settler was compelled to stand at the bed-side of dear ones, helpless to alleviate suffering, watch them slowly pass away, and then compelled to dig the grave with his own hands. This also entered into the consideration paid for a piece of northwestern Iowa land.
To this should be added something that money and land can never pay for. That was the days and weeks and months when the wives and mothers endured hardships that neither tongue or pen can ever describe the homesickness and longing for human companionship, which comes to those who are shut in by vast solitudes, where the faces of other men and women seldom appear. The men who were busy with their out of doors work did not feel this loneliness as did the wives and mothers, who, when their simple duties were over, had nothing to divert their minds, from day to day, but to wait and welcome night as a prisoner behind the bars welcomes the marking of one day of his long sentence. Months went by, when the women of the settler's family saw no one but the members of the family and the
O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA. 689
wonder is that the insane asylum did not claim more of these pioneer women.
This homesickness is something that cannot be put into words, but the victim
suffers more acutely than those who suffer from bodily ills, and no medicine
can bring relief. The victim either dies, goes insane or recovers. The suffering endured would melt the hardest heart. In computing the cost do
not leave this item out.
A few were fortunate enough to escape some or all of these ills and at the end of ten years were in possession of a piece of land worth ten to fifteen hundred dollars. Then they were obliged to mortgage it for all they could get to pay debts, contracted during the hardest years, to keep the family from starving. In other words, the homesteader had spent ten of the best years of his life and had only a small equity in a cheap piece of land to show for it. Do you think that was cheap land? Does it not seem more like a wasted life?
Many ask how people lived under such circumstances. God knows how. We often find ourselves asking the same question and we are unable to answer. We did not live in the true sense of the word; we merely existed. It was often purely a matter of endurance. Would you like to pay the price they did? Does not land at one hundred dollars an acre look cheap by the side of the price the homesteader paid? We insist again that land in Iowa is cheaper at one hundred and fifty dollars an acre now than it was forty-five years ago at two dollars and fifty cents per acre, and the ten years of hard service, while improving the same. The survivors of the old settlers rejoice over the marvelous changes that have taken place and are gratified to know they had a part in redeeming this country from a wilderness.
speak of a land most fair to the sight,
With its rich, waving grass and flowers so bright;
A beautiful land and good to behold,
With a wealth in its soil of riches untold,
Where the sunshine from Heaven spreads over the plain
And the valleys and hillsides respond to the rain;
Where the air with its ozone is laden with health
And the husbandman tickles the soil for the wealth (44)
690 O'BRIEN AND OSCEOLA COUNTIES, IOWA.
That is hidden
away in this grassy retreat,
To respond to the plowman and lay at his feet
A harvest so bountiful, an abundance so rare,
To sustain all who come and have plenty to spare.
The name of this land, would you like to know?
No lovelier name can be found, I trow,
Than beautiful Osceola.
Whether sunshine or shadow, or summer or snow,
Or whatever dame fortune sees fit to bestow,
Be it bountiful harvest and sumptuous fare,
With abundance for all and a portion to spare;
Whether summer brings showers and fortune and gold
Or winter brings blizzards and hunger and cold,
Whatever betide us we still love the land,
Our fair Osceola, so beautifully grand.
We love all our homes and do not repine
That we chose Osceola, the "ninety and nine."
Oh, dear Osceola, where brave men hold fast
And true hearted women spread a sumptuous repast,
Were't the last drop in the bucket, and we on the brink
Of eternity's ocean, 'tis to thee we would drink,
Our beautiful Osceola.