- The First Seventy-five Years in the Sanborn Community (1878-1953) -
First Settlers in Franklin Township
Although the first settler in O’Brien county, Mr. Waterman, came in 1856 it was not until 1872 that a settler came to Franklin township in which Sanborn is located.
In 1872 Wm. H. Dummett, father of Mrs. Sarah Brahan, came to O’Brien Co. from Benton county and homesteaded in Franklin township on an 80 acre tract in section 8. They came here in a covered wagon and brought a cow. They built a one room home 14x14. The grasshoppers took crops for three years and Mr. Dummett had to go back to Benton county to work in the factory to make a living for his family and while they were living there Mrs. Brahan was born. She remembers how the children used to twist slough hay and tie to burn to keep warm. She went to school in her grandmother’s kitchen until Mr. Protextor settled here. Then they elected him director and a school house was built. Her father drove to Milford for groceries and would butcher before he left so they would have meat while he was gone. At that time the town of Sheldon had just been laid out and there was no Sanborn. Mrs. Brahan used to grind corn for corn meal with a coffee grinder when they were short of flour.
The second settler in Franklin township was J.H. Wolf who brought his family here in 1873. He came from Pennsylvania and in 1883 became editor of the Sanborn Pioneer. He later went to Primghar and published the O’Brien County Bell for many years.
In a history by F.M. McCormack put in 1906 tells: “J.H. Wolf and family were the second to locate in Franklin township settling on section 14 in April, 1873. Their nearest neighbors were more than four miles away. The first winter they lived on the farm they were snowed in for eleven weeks from January 8 to March 28 not seeing anyone, the snow being too deep for travel. Mr. Wolf threshed their first crop, several hundred bushels, with the flail, his wife turning the fanning mill to clean it up.”
Isaac Daniels was mentioned as the third settler and John Neese the fourth. Soon after there came Wm. Woolworth, father of the late Mrs. E.A. Mayne, and Mrs. D.M. Norton. He with his family settled on a farm north of town where his great grandson, Verne Norton now lives.
Then there were Ira Brashears, Thomas Burns, grandfather of Mrs. Ralph Epping, and others followed.
The early farmers endured all the hardships of a new country but it was a great adventure and those who were brave enough to stay were glad that they did. There were grass hoppers, prairie fires, the electrical storms and the strong winds and heat of summer, the cold and blizzards of winter, epidemics of diphtheria, small-pox and scarlet fever that the pioneers were courageous enough to weather. The only trees were along the rivers, work was hard and manual. The main crops were flax, wheat, and oats. The farmer turned over the rich prairie with a walking plow drawn by two horses and when three horses were used on the plow it was a big advantage. Grain was cut with a scythe or an old fashioned binder, where two men stood on the platform and caught the grain and bound it by hand into bundles. A machine operated by horse power threshed the grain. Roads were trails across the prairie, houses were far apart, often water had to be hauled or carried long distances. The family went to town in a lumber wagon and bought supplies to last several weeks.
The lives of these hardy people were not devoid of social life. Often a farmer and his family would drive miles to visit a friend or relative, perhaps stay for the night or several days. Hospitality was a key virtue of the pioneers. School programs, spelling bees, neck-tie socials, box socials and lyceums furnished entertainment. Dances were held in the homes and all the family attended. Quilting bees, barn raisings, and husking bees frequently brought these early people together.
Franklin Township was detached from Floyd upon a petition of J.H. Wolf, an early settler, and nine others, January 8, 1878. The first election was held in the Wm. Gavin home the same year. The Gavin family came from Boston and located on a farm 3 1/4 miles west of Sanborn. Later it became the John Mitchell farm. The S.D. Boyer family lived there for many years. Ellis H. Reitsma lives there now.
In 1878, the year the railroad arrived here and Sanborn was started, Franklin township was described thus: “Just cast of Floyd township, without any streams, its drainage being what we would term sloughs, not mud sloughs, but those in which we find grass from 6 to 8 feet high. The C.M. St. P. Railroad crossed this township within a half mile of the south line. There is in this township but about 16 settlers.”
Before the railroad brought better transportation from the east the few settlers were beset by the hardships of a now and sparsely settled area. Grasshoppers destroyed their crops for several years in the 1870's appearing as a cloud in the sky resembling a storm cloud. They came in such hordes they denuded the earth in a short time. They came each summer fro a time, but each year diminished in numbers until they disappeared.
Blizzards were also a cause of much suffering and loss of life in the first winters when homes were far apart. But one of the worst and most persistent of their afflictions were the prairie fires which destroyed crops, buildings, stock and lives. They were greatly dreaded by the settlers. Roy Tifft, whose grandfather, Claudius Tifft, homesteaded in Center township, and later moved to Sanborn, tells that he has heard them tell that in the summer no one ventured out without matches in their pocket with which to start a “backfire” in case they saw a prairie fire coming in their direction. Many had saved their lives by doing this. The mentioned 8-foot high slough grass became dry in the summer and burned most readily.
This was of some benefit to the settlers however as the hay made good fuel. The O’Brien Pioneer states:”There is little timber so native fuel is hay and but a few of the inhabitants use anything else. It really makes a cheap and excellent fuel and by simple machines it is twisted into little skeins called “sticks.”
Some of the families twisted the hay by hand but machines were soon made by some ingenious person and one copy of the Pioneer contains an item concerning “a new and improved machine for twisting hay for fuel.”
Before the land was all taken up and before much fencing was put in pasturage was open to everyone. Concerning this the Pioneer boasts, “We have an excellent herd law and no fencing is required. The neighbors put their cattle all in one herd and usually a boy herds them at a very small expense to each.”
Because of the lack of timber and transportation building material was scarce and many people here used sod for making houses and sheds for their livestock.
In his history Mr. McCormack tells of the early roads: “The first roads were “anywhere” to escape the sloughs. There was between Old O’Brien and Fort Dodge what was called Hell Slough or the Twenty Mile Slough and this was difficult to cross. They who traveled it, if it was convenient went together, several teams of them, carried rope and when a stream of water was reached would first swim the horses then with the rope fastened to the wagons would pull one over at a time.”
The same trouble was encountered in this part of the county. One bad place we have heard mentioned was near the farm first settled by Wm. Gavin on the present highway west of Sanborn and with great difficulty was spanned by a stretch of road called the Gavin Grade. At one time when a circus was moving along the road several wagons became mired at this spot and the circus people had to get out and walk through or help get them through. But one wagon was carrying the fat lady and she couldn’t get out and walk through the deep mud so extra horses from the Gavin farm had to be brought to pull her wagon out.
Travel was slow and it was common for the settlers to put up travelers overnight and for meals. Such guests were welcome when visitors were infrequent. On one occasion Frank Teabout, and extensive O’Brien county land owner, was a guest in the Claudius Tifft home. For breakfast they were all enjoying pancakes. Mr. Teabout reached over and helped himself to a piece of meat on the platter, but it was soon discovered he had eaten the “griddle-greaser” so they could have no more pancakes that meal. The Tiffts “then had to butcher and the whole neighborhood had meat,” according to a story told by Roy Tifft.
To serve the county seat a mail route was started between Sanborn and Primghar. Passengers were also carried by carrier. The Pioneer of July 25, 1879, then being printed in Primghar reports an improvement in the service: “Geo. McCormack who carries the mail between Primghar and Sanborn has changed and improved his mode of conveyance very much having exchanged his rather delapidated “one hoss “ rig for a two seated easy riding two horse spring bottomed adjustable top, hickory tongued, bronze mounted, lavender colored, 4-wheeled “bourouche” in whose capacious cushions he can comfortably seat 4 to 10 passengers and “whisk” them to the depot at Sanborn on time, for a few nickels. Geo. is an old hand at the biz and is always accommodating and we bespeak for him the liberal patronage of the traveling public.”
Franklin township was named for Benjamin Franklin and the first election was held January 8, 1878, in the Wm. Gavin home in section 30, now the Ellis Reitsma farm.
Mrs. Eugenie Powers recalls hearing people tell that they paid 25c a barrel for water in the early days and there was one well on Main street used only by the fire department.
With the coming of the railroad, settlers came in larger numbers and in May 1880 Sanborn was reported as having a population of four or five hundred. The town was a year and a half in age and had been incorporated in an election March 13, 1880, by a vote of 40 to 24.
Social life grew with the community and in the rapidly growing Sanborn it became quite elaborate and sophisticated. Substituted for the simple neighborhood gatherings were “soirees” which were reported in the Pioneer with long and quite extravagant language to describe the affair and many times the costumes worn and the “repast” served. By the time the town was four years old there was an “Old Timers” club. At their third annual banquet on December 5, 1884, at the Clark House (W.O. Kaynor, prop.) the menu served consisted of:
Blue Point Oysters
Tenderloin Beef with Mushrooms
Venison with Cranberry Sauce
Quail on Toast with Saratoga Chips
Pigs in Blanket
Etc., on call
For entertainment foot races were arranged between men of the town which took place down the center of Main street with side belts and much joking to make it more fun. Shooting galleries were mentioned as entertainment fixtures. Later skating rinks were the popular recreation. There was a skating rink where the cement building, owned by R.H. Leonard, now stands (just east of the Municipal electric power plant). Here many skating parties, shows, plays, Catholic suppers and home talent plays were held. On one occasion a hypnotist was giving a performance. The hypnotist called Frank Johnson, Lorne Foote, Henry Roden and Allard Durgin to the stage for a demonstration but he couldn’t work on Frank Johnson so sent him away.
Sanborn can thank the Stocum family for their fine park as this plot of ground was given to the town for a park, but we are told with the stipulation that it must always be used as a park else it will revert to the Stocum estate. A block and a half in size it has nice shade trees and lawn with some play ground equipment, picnic place; band concerts are given here and outdoor programs.
The trees for the original planting in the park were sold to the town in 1890 by D.C. Killam and his younger brother, Arthur, then of Hartley. Many of those trees were destroyed by the 1914 cyclone, but some are still in the park. D.C. Killam later moved to Sanborn; he married a Sanborn girl, Edith Todd, daughter of John W. Todd, who brought his family and settled here in 1887. Mr. Todd had an implement house in partnership with Amos Powers and later with Bob Powers. Herman Gibbs, father of Milton Gibbs, was and early drayman of Sanborn and he plowed the furrows to lay out Main street.
Return to Table of Contents