Church History of Northwestern Iowa

The Coming of the Methodists to Sibley

The first settlers began coming to Osceola County in the spring of 1871. Slight improvements were made during the summer and most of the settlers returned to their former homes in the fall to avoid the long winter under poorly prepared conditions.

The first preaching service was held at the house of Elbridge Morrison, one and a half miles west of Sibley, by Rev. S. Aldrich, who was making Osceola County his home at this time. Rev. Ira Brashears, a one-armed soldier of the Civil war, was assigned to the missionary field of O'Brien, Sioux, Lyon and Osceola counties. Rev. John Webb, who was in charge of the work at Spirit Lake, was directed to divide his time with Sibley. Accordingly on the 19th of April, 1872, the Rev. Messrs. Webb and Aldrich met about a score of good Methodists at the house of A.M. Culver, one and a half miles south of Sibley, and there organized a class -the first religious organization in Osceola County.

At the first session of the Northwest Iowa Conference, held at Fort Dodge, in September, 1872, Rev. John Webb was assigned to the Sibley mission, which embraced Osceola County. In the following year, a substantial frame meeting house was completed. Twenty years afterward, then living in Des Moines, Rev. Mr. Webb had this to say of his early experiences in Osceola County: "In June, 1872, in company with Mr. James Block, I left Fayette County, this State, to visit my son and others, who had gone to Osceola County to locate claims. I was directed from Lakeville to go to Ocheyedan Mound, and was told that when on the mound I could in all probability see the tents in which McCausland, Brooks and W.W. Webb were living. I went to the mound and on top of it, but could see no signs of life in any direction. Mr. Block and myself then went down to the banks of the Ocheyedan and camped for the night. The next morning we started in search of the boys, and about noon found them one mile east of where Sibley now is. We spent a few days with them and our horses were picketed out by the foreleg. While the horses were thus secured, something gave them a fright, when they ran the full length of the rope and brought up so suddenly that both turned somersaults and one of them was killed. I liked the country and that fall took charge of the Spirit Lake circuit; the next year took charge of the Sibley circuit, and formed the first class ever formed in Osceola County at the house of A.M. Culver. I built the first Methodist Episcopal church, or enclosed it, and Rev. Mr. Brashears finished it.

"While I was living at Sibley that early day a young lawyer came to town, who was not very scrupulous, and he persuaded the Board of Supervisors to pay him $20,000 to recover certain monies due from Woodbury County to Osceola. I heard of it and going to the courthouse where the board was in session, requested them to hear me and they consented. I told them they would regret the day that they issued the warrant and gave the general reasons why such an official act should not be done; and ever as an outsider I made a motion to the board and the crowd that Blackmer be allowed $500 retainer and a per cent afterwards; and I added to the motion that the hiring include all the lawyers, or the remainder would be coming in for a share. J. T. Barclay, Esq., who was standing close by me, moved an amendment that the preachers also be added, but they were not. This was the last ever heard of the suit against Woodbury County.

"When our Methodist church at Sibley was ready for dedication, we met Sabbath morning, and just before the time to commence public worship and while some of us were standing on the steps of the church, it was discovered that something was coming from the Northwest, which looked like a cloud; but still it could be seen that it was not a cloud, and upon its nearer approach we could then see that it was a swarm of grasshoppers. This so disconcerted and discouraged the people that it was impossible to hold them for the purposes of dedication that day, and it was deferred. The ravages of these pests which followed are known to old settlers."

In 1896, the original church of the Sibley Methodists was sold to the German Presbyterians, and a new building was erected on the old site.


Osceola is one of the counties of Northwestern Iowa in which the Catholics obtained a strong foothold at an early day. In Osceola County they were the first of the religionists to organize. The centers of their activities were at Ashton and Sibley. The German Catholic families settled at and near Ashton, and the Irish Catholic families in the Sibley neighborhood.

The first Catholic settlers in Osceola County were Nicholas Boor and John Streit, who came on the 19th of June, 1871, and filed an claims in Gilman Township. The first mass celebrated was in May,1873, on the southwest quarter of section 16, Holman Township, at the home of Patrick Larkin, by an assistant priest of Rev. Father Lenehan, of Sioux City. This was the commencement of the Sibley parish and the St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church. The parish was first served by priests from Sioux City, Le Mars and Sheldon. In 1883, the congregation bought the old Sibley schoolhouse for church purposes, but in 1897 erected a house of worship and purchased cemetery grounds.

In 1880, the part of the congregation residing in the Ashton neighborhood consisting of German Catholic families had greatly increased in numbers, and decided to form a separate organization. In September of that year a meeting was held to decide upon a location for a church building. The Sioux City & St. Paul Railroad Company had offered to donate five acres of land if the Catholics would build the church near the Ashton station, but John Streit donated the same amount of land from his farm, two and a half miles from the station, but nearer to the center of the settlement. Mr. Streit's offer was accepted, and in September, 1880, Rev. Father Lynch, resident priest at Sheldon, celebrated mass in Mr. Streit's house. In March of the following year, Rev. Father Lynch said mass for the first time in the new but un-plastered little church, representing the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The congregation did not grow much until church was moved to the railroad station in 1885. Land was then bought for a parish cemetery. The first resident priest was Rev. James McCormack, who came in June, 1888, and in the following spring erected a substantial building for a parochial school, which he placed in charge of the Sisters of St. Francis. In October, 1893, a new and worthy house of worship was erected, and five years later the growth of the parish and consequent increase of child population made it necessary to have a larger and more complete school building and an enlarged Sisters' residence. These expansions and accommodations have made the Sibley congregations secondary to the church in Ashton.


In the fall of the year that the Methodists organized their first class at Sibley (1872) the Congregationalists organized a society in the public schoolhouse. Most of its members lived east of Ocheyedan Creek. The home missionary on the field and first pastor on the new church was Rev. Benjamin A. Dean. In the year following the organization of the church it was admitted to membership in the Sioux Association of Congregational Churches, a district association of the State body. In 1875, the first meeting house of the society was erected opposite the northeast corner of the courthouse square - the building which was purchased by the German Lutheran Church in 1896. In the latter year, the Congregationalists built their larger church, one of the features of which is a fine memorial window placed in honor of Mrs. Ellen P. Dean, wife of the first pastor, both of whom did so much to establish the organization. The first Congregational Church of Sibley is one of the strongest religious bodies in Osceola County.

The German Lutheran Church of Sibley is a flourishing organization and its pastor also serves congregations at Harris and in Viols Township. The Baptists have also supported a church since 1974; and there is a German Presbyterian Church, which dates fro 1895.

Besides the Catholic Church of Ashton, the Methodists have been well organized since 1882. Ocheyedan, in the northern part of the county, is the center of quite a religious field, represented by the Methodist Episcopal Church, which has been in existence since 1872 and owes it to Rev. John Webb, the first Methodist minister of Sibley; the Congregational Church, organized in 1888, and the St. Peters Evangelical Lutheran Church, established in 1901.

The first German Lutherans of Horton Township came into Osceola County from Will County, Illinois, in 1883, and in 1887 organized a church known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church. About 1896, some Presbyterian Germans in West Holman Township, a few miles west of Sibley, organized Hope Church, and in 1899 the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Harris was dedicated by Rev. Dr. Wilson S. Lewis (afterward Bishop Lewis). These are three representative churches of rural districts.

Source: History of Northwestern Iowa, Its History and Traditions 1804--1926 by Arthur F. Allen; Volume I; Chapter 16; Pages 553-557

Transcribed by Kevin Tadd

Osceola County Iowa Genealogy - The IAGenWeb Project