- The First Seventy-five Years in the Sanborn Community (1878-1953) -
Memoirs of Early Sanborn
By Ira Soop
As I was without a home to call my own, I took my most prized possession, a white and liver colored English pointer, and walked five or six miles into Webster City where I sold my dog for a ten dollar bill, the most of which I invested in a railroad ticket on the Illinois Central from Webster City to Cherokee, for after considerable thought, I had decided to accept the offer of my brother-in-law, Charles Murray, who then resided a couple of miles east of Primghar, to come to his home to do chores and go to school, for he had contracted to teach for the winter. I arrived in Cherokee on a bleak November night in 1881 and immediately made arrangements with old Pappy Stewart, who drove stage from Primghar to Cherokee and return twice a week, for transportation to Primghar on the morrow. We left Cherokee before sunrise in a spring wagon propelled by two small mules, which were not much larger than pack rabbits, and, the day being chill, we took turns, the other two passengers, Pappy Stewart and I at driving the mules while the others walked. We stopped once at a country post office which was then known as Erie, to deliver mail and secure our noon day lunch. It was after dark when we reached Primghar and I took my meager belongings and started out east along a road which was naught but a poorly marked wagon trail. When I arrived at my brother-in-law’s place the family was all in bed except my sister Rose, who was just completing her nightly housekeeping chores. It was very little schooling I got that winter, for the demands of a large herd of cattle were much greater than the opportunities for me to attend school.
It was during that winter that I made my first trip to Sanborn. We had just stopped our team in front of Roden’s English Kitchen (which was the old Omer Hotel), when two men emerged from the from door, seriously engaged in the scientific art of fisticuffs. The fight continued north along the board walk to the north end of the block. My first ride on the Milwaukee was taken in March 1882, for I had decided to return to Webster City, where I had the opportunity of a season’s employment on a farm. Charlie Murrey brought me up to Sanborn, but we were about 10 or 15 minutes too late to catch the passenger train. However, inquiry at the depot availed me of the information that I could ride to Algona on a freight leaving Sanborn sometime later that afternoon.
I returned to O’Brien county in the fall of 1882 and went to work for Albert Kane, who lived some three miles east and north of Primghar. I worked for my board that winter, milking my share of 30 cows night and morning, hauling hay off from the prairie in between times, when the weather permitted.
It was upon my return to O’Brien county in the fall of 1882 that I met Anna Moon. She was teaching the Scott School and was boarding with the Kane family. It was during that same fall and winter that I first met Jim Hollister, Bill Watters, Mr. and Mrs. Del Halliday, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Halliday and Hugh and Tom Scott. During that winter I attended several country dances, riding with a group of young folks who went in bob sleighs. Jim Hollister boasted the ownership of a light team and a pung, which was a vehicle resembling a dry goods box in shape, mounted on plank runners. It was the forerunner of the cutter. I worked that winter and through the summer for Albert Kane, but at harvest time the Kane’s were hailed out. We cut the small grain with mowing machines and scythes, so I then went to work in Buena Vista county, later returning to Webster City.
I came to this community in 1881, but my wife came here with her parents in the fall of 1871 when they homesteaded a quarter section of the land more recently owned by W.J. Foley. Her father, Charles H. Moon, having served in the 11th Illinois Cavalry, was allowed to homestead 160 acres, whereas other settlers who had not served in the military forces, were limited to 80 acres. Their family living in a sod shanty. Their neighbors consisted of the Abe Keifer family, who also homesteaded a portion of the Foley farm, the Coleman family, the Billy Edwards family, the Billy Brown family, the Melvin Wilkins family, Miner Blossom and Louvisa Garbeson, the woman whom he afterwards married. The first winter in O’Brien county the homesteaders took their ox teams and drove to Cherokee county, where they cut wood along the river, but after the grueling experience of being caught in a blizzard, being unable to reach home until after the blizzard had subsided, they learned the art of twisting and burning hay, so the next season they erected large haystacks in close proximity to their shanties, from hay cut from the adjoining unsettled land.
Life was a rather lonesome experience for the children of the homesteaders. The only pet my wife had was a cub fox that her father and Mr. Coleman had dug from a den. The young fox grew rapidly and soon became a clever pet, but he learned the art of extricating himself from his collar and acquired an appetite for fresh eggs, which proved to be his undoing. He disappeared one day when Anna was spending the day with the Colemans. She never knew, for sure, what became of the fox, but she always had her suspicions. Her father broke prairie and attempted to raise a crop, but an infestation of grasshoppers for two successive seasons brought about their departure for their old home in Peoria, Ill. One of the outstanding experiences of my wife’s childhood here in O’Brien county in homestead days, was a trip with her father to Sheldon in a lumber wagon drawn by an ox team. The only house between their homestead and Sheldon was a shanty on the 80 acres which was located on the north side of what is now Highway 18, four miles and a quarter west of Sanborn, more recently the old Burns farm, which I believe is now occupied by Ed Kreykes. The purpose of the trip was to have wheat ground into flour.
In the fall of the year the peat bed on the old Spicer place, more recently owned by the Rohrs Brothers, used to catch fire and burn for days on end, even after the first snows of the winter had fallen. One day in early fall a lone rider, astride a lathered horse, rode up to the Moon homestead and told them that the Indians were rising and to be prepared for a seige. After partaking of a little refreshment he rode on to warn the other settlers. The settlement was pretty well aroused, but later developments proved that the Indians had received permission from the government to leave their reservation in Dakota and go to Pipestone, Minn., to dig pipe clay. Their departure from the reservation aroused so much excitement among the settlers that the Indians became so badly frightened, themselves, that they decided to return to the reservation without the desired pipe clay.
Had the Moons stuck it out until the next year, they could, and undoubtedly would, have made a go of it, for there were no more grass hoppers the next season after their departure. Those stouthearted homesteaders who did remain, began, then, to prosper.
Anna Moon and I were married in Peoria, Ill., on April 9, 1885, and we lived on a farm near Webster City for one year, moving to O’Brien County in the early spring of 1886. We, like many others, squatted on railroad land in the hope that when the land was offered for sale the railroad would give the squatters the first chance, but we, like the others, were disillusioned. I erected a small one story cabin on the south east quarter of the section, a part of which is now the county farm. The quarter upon which I had erected our cabin was sold that summer, so I had to look for another location. My first purchase of land was an 80 acres which belonged to Tom Wooster. Wooster wanted to get married and he had approached Geo. Schee to ascertain if he knew of anyone who might be interested in buying a farm. Schee told him that if he could get me to take the farm he would finance me. I only had a speaking acquaintance with George Schee at that time, but Wooster insisted that I but his 80 acres. The price was right, so I went home and broke into the kid’s bank to get enough money for Wooster to get a marriage license and to pay the preacher. I had half the land broke up and I sowed it to sod flax the next spring. The flax crop, when it was harvested and sold, was sufficient to pay for the entire farm. This farm was a part of the farm east of town which is now owned by Mrs. John Damman.
I moved into the town of Sanborn in 1893, first living with my wife’s folks in the house now occupied by Mrs. Veenstra, and a little later we moved into the house east of George Chrisman, later occupied by the Cooper family and more recently occupied by Joe Buren. I worked some with Dan Moody, who, at that time, was the leading contractor in town. W.W. Johnson operated a lumber yard on First Street, just north of where the railroad company ice house burned down last year. Mike O’Halloran ran the flat house, which was a grain storage elevator located in east of where the Huntting Elevator now stands, and Mr. Davidson ran the elevator which stood on the present site of the Huntting elevator. Both structures were blown down at the time of the 1914 tornado. G.R. Phelps operated the elevator which is now operated by the Hartogs. Frank Fields operated a hardware store on the west side of Main Street. He erected the house now occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Dick Weirsma. His stepson’s name was Billy Poston.
Brady Brothers Hardware store was in the building which later burned out and is now the site of the Odd Fellows Hall. Arthur McCardle operated his shoe shop in the Richardson building, which later burned out. The building had been moved here by Mrs. Richardson from Primghar and sat on the site of the old opera house (now the George Getting Implement Shop). Mort Wilbur operated the Sanborn State Bank at the site of the present Post Office and Gurney Slocum was the cashier. The business was owned by the firm of Ellis and Ellis, of Charles City. Wm. Harker operated a National Bank, which was later converted into the Sanborn Savings Bank after his death. There was a saloon located on the lower floor of the building now occupied by Mulder’s Fixit Shop, and a gambling house in the second story, where Jack Turpin, of Webster City, and several other professional gamblers used to relieve some of the railroad boys of a goodly portion of their pay checks. I cannot recall the names of the gambling house operator nor the saloon keeper, but a saloon keeper on the west side of the street was the same man who killed the minister in Sioux City some years later at the spot where the gold star used to be embedded in the side walk. Mrs. Curt Cutting operated a café on the west side of the street. Curt had lost his leg in a railroading accident in Dakota. He spent much of his time in the fall of the year hunting prairie chickens and ducks. Kaynor operated the Clark House, which was burned down in 1922 on the site of the O’Brien County Cooperative Creamery. Clark Green and Wasson operated grocery and dry goods stores. Dr. Leary and Dr. Cushman were the practicing physicians. Teabout bought livestock and operated a store. The Milwaukee stockyards, at that time, were a flourishing institution. They occupied the railroad land that is farmed by Harold Grafton and Wren Reitsma and also a portion of the old Jim Van Zyl farm. They were much reduced in size by a fire. The fire which destroyed the old Milwaukee oil house, burning one man to death and maiming two others, created quite a sensation, especially so when Tom Farnsworth found one of the men, with the rims of his ears burned off, in his hay loft the next morning after the fire. The men were Knights of the Road who had sought shelter in the oil house because of the heat that was used to keep the oil fluid. It was apparently the same old story-matches, tobacco and a conflagration.
Bigelow came here from Chicago in the 90's, where he had been a railroad conductor and had apparently prospered quite well. He purchased the quarter section known as the Koster place and now occupied by Ed Donkersloot. He erected an elegant horse barn with box stalls, a paddock and racing stables for visiting horses, a large amphitheater which sat quite a ways north and east of the Donkersloot residence, and constructed the finest half mile race track in the state of Iowa. He had a lovely racing park and conducted attractive racing programs. Bigelow had some good race horses of his own, but at times they proved to be not good enough. The races attracted quite a crowd for awhile, but after the death of one of the jockeys on the track, racing interests seemed to wane, and Mr. Bigelow’s financial interests took a perceptible slump. I was at the trackside at the time the boy was killed. I believe that his home was in Minnesota. The horse belonged to a neighbor, and the kid had often ridden the horse in local races.
The boy’s mother was opposed to his riding in the Sanborn races, but finally consented for the boy to do so when the owner was unable to secure the services of another jockey. Part way around the track one of the boys feet came out of the stirrup and the other foot ran clear through the stirrup as the boy fell from the horse. The lad’s head would strike the ground and then his body would be hurled into the air as far as the stirrup would permit. The horse came the remainder of the way around the track, kicking viciously as he came. The boy’s foot became disentangled from the stirrup as the neared the amphitheater. The boy drew a few breaths after he was picked up, but expired shortly after.
Bigelow also owned a large tract of land some seven and a half miles north west of the north west corner of Sanborn, the first place west of the old Chris Miller farm, where John Scheerhorn now lives. The place was known as the Bigelow ranch. The old horse barn burned down when Garett Peiters lived on the farm, the first year after John Koster had bought the place from W.R. Powers (the father of Vic and Claire Powers and Mrs. Mary Guce ). Koster then moved the amphitheater into the site now occupied by Donkersloot’s barn, converting the amphitheater into a barn. It was in that structure that the Damstra boy was crushed to death when the tornado demolished the building in 1914.
Robert Tifft, Heman Gibbs and Tom Bulger operated dray lines and were always busy. Link Hamilton built the livery barn which used to stand west of Omer’s hotel, a building which I helped to erect. He operated a livery stable there for some time, and Dave Palen operated the livery stable which used to sit on the west half of what is now Phil Cuppett’s lawn. Milt Allen, W.D. Boies, Babcock and Joe Wilcox represented the legal profession. Babcock was at one time county attorney. Mrs. Edith Burn’s father, Warren Walker was also an attorney and at one time published a newspaper in Sanborn. Mel Boyd and Lou Vogt organized and published the Sanborn Sun, which later became the Sheldon Sun. Steve Stokes operated an implement business and it was one of his new wagons that was used to move the court house from Primghar to Sanborn. The wagon, which the Primghar stalwarts cut into pieces and carried away as souvenirs, Mr. Stokes was reimbursed for by E.M. Brady and some of the other old timers. W.H. Barker was a watch maker in Sanborn when I first moved to town and he continued active in business for a great many years. Mrs. Maloney operated the hotel which later became known as the White House in the building which Tom Maroney later wrecked. It sat on the ground now occupied by the George Getting automobile show room and apartments.
The Western Hotel sat where the Sam Omer residence is now located. Mrs. Nick Palma later operated the hotel which the Omer Brothers purchased afterward. Dave Chrisman, Glen Chrisman’s grandfather and Tom Shaftner were masons and worked together. Fred Steuck was also a mason. He built the house afterward owned by John Gast and now occupied by Henry Glover. Dave Chrisman lived in the house now occupied by his grandson Glen, and Tom Schafner lived in the house which the tornado tore the east side out of when it was occupied by the Alonzo Moses family. The house sat on the site of the present Chris Leemkuil home. Bill Roberts, Mrs. E.M. Brady’s brother, worked for Brady Brothers for several years prior to my moving into town and for some two or three years afterward. He later started a grocery store in Sanborn. His store was known as the NBK store, “No Books Kept.” Bill was an expert tinner and tinned many of the decks on the houses in Sanborn.
Back in those days there were a great many railroad men running in and out of Sanborn and for many years thereafter. I know that I cannot remember all of the fellows who have railroaded here during the past 75 years, but I do recall quite a number that have served on the Milwaukee during those years. There was Jake Hansen, Bill Shirk, Coleman Carl, John (Jccco) Kinney, Tom Dunn, Howard Taylor, Bill Long, Frank McConnel, Lou Goddard, W.W. Cole, Clarence Cotent, Tom Morriey, Emmett Wentworth, Ed Clark, Tom McCardle, Hoxie, George Bryan, S. Grunland, Al Maulthouse, George B. Freeman, Charlie Alexander, Frank Penrose, Ed Workman, Ben Olson, John Inman, George S. Smith, Johnie Burns, John Hughes, E. Bradbury, Bill Stewart, George McCullow, Henry Mehren, Jack O’Keefe, Jim McGuire, John Wiley, Ed Sparks, Frank Hurlbut, Ed Love, Charlie Hyde, John Smock, Charlie Walston, George Irving, Charlie Foote, Jack Peterson, Henry Kissler, Guy Melvin, and a great many more.
I went to work for Brady Brothers in their store in 1898, and continued to work for them until Julius Kerberg bought E.M. Brady’s interest in the store. Brady Brother’s Store was quite a loafing place for many of the community’s residents who were possessed of a deep interest in political affairs. Many learned and heated discussions upon national, state, county and local affairs took place therein and much political strategy originated from these discussions. Pomp and B.F. McCormick operated the Sanborn Pioneer, and some considerable wit was gleaned from its pages and their respective editorials. The old jail used to sit west of the old Melvin Wilkins house, which is now occupied by Pete Kooistra, and it was seldom without an occupant for the night.
It was in 1887 that I first met Edith Burns, then Edith Walker, when I attended normal in the old frame school house, which later became Telkamp Hall, the building which burned out when occupied by Hap Andringa’s garage, south of the Methodist church. Dave Algyer was County Superintendent at the time, and Miss Walker was also attending normal at that time.
There used to be a well in the center of Main street at the intersection of Main and Second street, where water was secured for fire fighting prior to the laying of water mains and the construction of a water tower.
The police force at Sanborn have had the distinction of arresting some rather tough characters, such as Corky and Yellowhammer. Corky always carried a cane made of a hickory fork handle, and when in trouble wielded it viciously. He successfully eluded the police one year, but upon his return to Sanborn the next year, looking for trouble, threatening John Neese and his son for their failure to drink with him in a saloon, Hal Shirk was called in to make an arrest. He was a large man of some two hundred and fifty or sixty pounds in weight, but Corky broke away from him and shouted that there was “no d- -m man in Sanborn that could take him.” I was walking south along the west side of the street as he came running north, and I decided that I was just the man he was looking for. I reached out and grabbed him, hitting him as I did so. As his body came to the plank sidewalk his feet went through a store window. I pinned him down and held him until Hal Shirk arrived to put the hand cuffs on him. As Shirk was leaning over my shoulders to put the handcuffs on Corky, Maloney, the baker came along behind Shirk. began to yell: “I’ll go! I’ll go!. You Stooping down and grasping one of Shirk’s feet, he started to pull, throwing Hal Shirk down upon my back. Corky began to yell : “I’ll go! I’ll go! You’re killing me!” In the melee Shirk was jerking his leg and calling Maloney all sorts of names, none of which were of a complimentary nature. Maloney finally released Shirk’s leg and explained apologetically that he was just trying to help. When Hal and I removed ourselves from Corky’s carcass it was a rather mild mannered Corky that Hal led off to jail. It was a year or two later that Dave Palen arrested Yellowhammer and lodged him in jail. Yellowhammer pounded the handcuffs off from his wrists by beating them against the foot of the bed in the jail. Not being willing to let well enough alone, he wrote to Sheriff Carter that if he would go to Paullina and look under the big corn crib at the edge of town, he would find his keys. Sheriff Carter did not place much faith in the tip, but one day, while in Paullina, he waked over to the long corn crib and looked, and sure enough, there were his keys. Carter immediately got in touch with the police in Marshalltown, Yellowhammer’s headquarters, where the letter addressed to Sheriff Carter had been post marked. Yellowhammer served a stretch in the penitentiary for breaking jail. It was suspected that some members of the old Daly Gang used to make their headquarters in Sanborn, but the gang never pulled any robberies here.
I purchased the two lots upon which I built the house in which I now live in 1893 from Brady Brothers, who had purchased the entire Stocum Addition Number Three from the Stocum estate upon the death of Mr. Stocum, and built the following year. Our family has lived continuously in the house since that time. I have served as a member of the school board, the city council, the library board and as post master in this community, and have witnessed more than seventy years of progress in Sanborn. Paved streets have displaced the mud holes which used to be, electric lights have multiplied the illumination provided by the old kerosene lamp, concrete slabs have replaced the old wooden side walks, modern fire trucks provide the fire protection so inadequately furnished by the bucket brigade or the hand drawn hose cart, and we now have transcontinental telephone service with San Francisco but a few moments away from New York City, while news comes to us, even as it being made, by radio and television. As I lie on my bed listening to my radio the magnitude of progress made in the past three quarters of a century is often the subject of my thoughts, as in cogitation I reminisce on the events of the past and the acquaintances and friendships I have made. Few of those old friends remain. I greatly miss the visits which D.M. Norton used to make after my confinement to my home. Viewing all the progress that I have witnessed in the past, I have no doubt that future generations will witness even greater progress in the years to come.
Return to Table of Contents