Family Group Sheet data from: Pat O'Dell -
Leonadus "Lon" Fitch O'Dell
birthdate and birthplace
06 Jan 1864 Mason Twp, Taylor Co, Iowa
death date, place
21 Sep 1922 Helena, Lewis & Clark Co, Montana
Lewis & Clark County Cemetery, Helena, Montana
1st marriage
1893 Leona
Clark Odell
Mary Nichols
birthdate and place
deathdate and place
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1885 Letter from Lon O'Dell to his father Clark O'Dell
Big Horn, Wyo
Jan, the 9th 1885

Father Dear Sir, I thought I would try and write you a few lines, as I have neglected to write for so long. I have been so busy and so lazy that I dident take time to write to any body. I had a tolable cool trip up after ponies this last trip. It was 57 degrees below zero, and snow 2 feet deep on the level. It kept that way for a week.

we had to lay up for about 3 weeks, we learned lots about Indians, had lots of fun holding squaws on our laps and they would kiss us and make a fellow think of home tell mother they dont all look like them that was at the clerinda [Clarinda, Iowa] fair. I have seen squaws that lays 3/4 of the Iowa girls in the shade not saying but what there is some prety girls there.

one old Indian chief told me he would make me present 100 head of horses if I would marry his girl, she is a nice little girl 14 yrs old, but I guess I want do it, the first trip I made after ponies there was 2 other men buying and they got 32 head and started for home, and one night after they had camped the Indians dashed in on them and stole all but 1 pony that was picketed and they never got any of them back, and the last trip there was 2 other men buying and they stole all but five head, the first trip there was a white man hunting horses that had strayed up there and he undertook to take them without explaining the matter and they flocked in around him and about 50 of them went after him with theyr quirts and whipped him all over, his face was all welted up some of them waved theyr tomy hawks over his head while the rest whipped him. I seen him 2 days after they had whipped him and his face was marked bad, but if a man uses them well they use him the same way. I will start back in a few days we got 43 head of ponies, I now [know] them is big money in them, some of the ponies that was bought for $8 was sold for 30 here in bighorn. 1 that was bought for 10 sold for 50, well I guess I will send you a fine picture. it is the picture of a pagan Indian, it hante my girl, but she is a dandy girl well you must write and tell all the rest to write.

well I must close for this time now you dont wand to destroy that picter write soon Lon


1889 - Clarinda Herald, Clarinda, Iowa, Jan 16, 1889
Lon O'Dell of Big Horn, Wyo is visiting his parents in New Market.
1894 - Clarinda Herald, Clarinda, Iowa, Jan 22, 1894
Lon N. O'Dell well known around New Market, where he resided for some years fell from a balloon at Atlanta, Ga., was instantly killed.
1898 - Clarinda Herald, Clarinda, Iowa, Mar 22, 1898
Lon Odell, the New Market aeronaut, is constructing a monster hot air balloon in a hall in New Market. The balloon will be ninety feet high and will carry three people.
1899 - Bedford Free-Press, Bedford, Iowa, Apr 27, 1899
New Market is now the permanent home of the celebrated skyscraper Lon O'Dell. He is ready to make contracts with anyone that wants his services.
1899 - Bedford Free-Press, Bedford, Iowa, May 4, 1899
Last Saturday night as Lon O'Dell was attempting to make a balloon ascension with an illunimated attachment, he struck one of the gables of the Menonite church and cut a gash in his face and had a foot broken. The ascension was a failure but O'Dell is ready to try it again. This accident occurred at New Market.
1899 - Clarinda Herald, Clarinda, Iowa, May 5, 1899
Prof O'Dell finally made his balloon ascension on last Saturday evening just at dark, though under very unfavorable circumstances. Owing to the high wind the balloon could not be properly filled and when cut loose the wind blew it so that the aeronaut was dashed against the side of the church and one of the cords that held the flaming torch was broken, causing the torch to soon burn off and drop. The balloon did not rise high but floated over the tops of the houses and dropped in the first pasture south west of town. Professor had his ankle severely sprained and a gash cut in his forehead from striking the church, but is getting along nicely and will be around again soon.
1899 - Clarinda Herald, Clarinda, Iowa, May 12, 1899
We are glad to know that Prof O'Dell is able to be on the streets again. Professor says he knew it was dangerous to make the ascension but was driven to do it by the jeers and remarks, accusing him of being afraid, of some people that have more tongue than brains.
1899 - Clarinda Herald, Clarinda, Iowa, May 19, 1899
A paper is being circulated to raise funds necessary to hire Prof Odell to make a balloon ascension on Decoration Day.
1899 - Clarinda Herald, Clarinda, Iowa, May 26, 1899
Prof Odell will make his balloon ascension on Decoration Day from the same place as last time and at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, so that all can get home after it is over in time for choring on the farm.
1899 - Clarinda Herald, Clarinda, Iowa, Jun 2, 1899
Prof Odell on Wednesday afternoon about 5:00 o'clock made one of the most successful balloon ascensions ever made anywhere. It is estimated the balloon went up three fourths of a mile. He cut his parachute loose with his dog suspended when about 2500 feet high. He himself cut loose before the dog reached the gound, his parachute soon filled and he came slowly down. The immense balloon soon collapsed and weighing over 500 pounds came down much more rapidly that the Prof and it was only by great skill and exertions that Mr Odell with his parachute got out from under the descending balloon. He reached the goround about three fourths of a mile southeast of town.
1899 - Clarinda Herald, Clarinda, Iowa, Jul 7, 1899
The Fourth of July

The Fourth of July has come and gone, and the managers thereof in this city have the satisfaction of knowing that a better celebration was never held in Clarinda....Roman Standing Race, an exhibition by Lon O'Dell's horses. No prizes. ...This closed the contests for the afternoon, and the crowed next gathered around the place where Prof. O'Dell's balloon was being filled for the ascension.

After the usual hallooing and excitement, and threatening anyone who dared to touch any of the ropes, O'Dell fastened his parachute, with two dogs in little parachutes below himself, to the huge hot air bag, and gave the call to "Let go everybody." And as everybody let go the lithe athlete sailed away toward the heavens, kicking his heels toward the stars, with the little scared dogs dangling beneath him. First one dog and then another was let go, and then the man followed. He had gone up about a third of a mile, and came down only about two hundred yards from where he started. The ascension was perfect, and the descent was as good as has ever been seen in the city. It was pronounced so by everybody, and the immense crowd slowly dispersed, well pleased with the afternoon's program.

...The Roman standing race by O'Dell was more novel than exciting. At 5:30 came the balloon ascension by Prof O'Dell, and it was all one could wish, being the highest ever witnessed here, the two dogs being scarcely visible and the aeronant a mere speck. It was more pleasing to watch them float down than sail upward into dizzy space....

1899 New Market Herald, New Market, Iowa, Jul 27, 1899
L.N. O'Dell visited Villisca, Creston, Lenox, and Bedford last week for the purpose of arranging for balloon ascensions and Roman standing races during the fair at each place. Mr O'Dell's attractions are winners and those cities will do well to secure him.
1899 - Bedford Free-Press, Bedford, Iowa, Sep 7, 1899
Prof Odell has been secured to give an exhibition each day of Roman chariot races and make two balloon ascensions on last two days of the Taylor County fair Sept 20 & 21.
1899 - Bedford Free-Press, Bedford, Iowa, Sep 21, 1899
L.N. O'Dell of New Market has four handsome blooded horses being used in the hippodrome races each afternoon. Besides this, Mrs O'Dell is also an aeronaut and is making some good ascensions and parachute leaps.
1900 Census Taylor County, Mason Township, Iowa, #355.366
Leonodus N. O'Dell, head, white, male, born Jan 1864, 36, married 7 yrs, born Iowa, parents born Ohio; occupation aeronaut
Leona E. O'Dell, wife, white, female, born Aug 1877, 22, married 7 yrs, no children, born Tenn, parents born in Tenn
Cleveland Penn, ward, born Jul 1888, 11, born Tenn, parents born Tenn
Mamie Penn, ward, born Jun 1893, 6, born Tenn, parents born Tenn
1900 - New Market Herald, New Market, Iowa, Jun 28, 1900
L.N. O'Dell started on his trip to Sheridan, Wyo on Tues last, where he is billed for several ascensions. He could not say how long he would be gone further than he had to be back in time for the Shenandoah fair as he has a contract with that association for that time.
1900 - New Market Herald, New Market, Iowa, Jul 26, 1900
Prof L.N. O'Dell is busy this week making a new balloon. The work is being done in Mr Campbell's hall, Miss Grace Wilson and Miss Emma Maxwell doing the work necessary on a machine. It takes 1400 yards of cloth to make it.
1905 - New Market Herald, New Market, Iowa, Mar 24, 1905
While making a balloon ascension at Wallace, Idaho, Lon O'Dell and W.D. Middlekart met with a horrible accident. They were making a double balloon ascension and had ascended about 200 feet when the lower part of the balloon tore away. Both men were seated in parachutes but the distance to the ground was not sufficient to open them, consequently they fell the entire distance. Middlekart was instantly killed while O'Dell was internally injured but had no broken bones.
1905 - Bedford Free-Press, Bedford, Iowa April 20, 1905
Lon O'Dell Improving
Lon O'Dell, the New Market aeronaut who was nearly killed in a balloon accident in Idaho several weeks ago, is rapidly recovering, and says he expects to be making ascensions and parachute leaps by July 4. One would naturally suppose that one experience of the kind would be sufficient for any ordinary man, but Lon seems to be cut out for a high flyer, and a broken bone or two will not frighten him.
1920 Census Lewis and Clark County, Montana
L.N. O'Dell, head, 56, single, born Iowa, father born Ohio mother born Ind; occupation snake charmer
F.J. Peck, partner, 58, single, born Pa, parents born NY; occupation snake charmer
From "An Old-Timer's Story of the Old Wild West. Being the recollections of Oliver Perry Hanna, pioneer, Indian fighter, Frontiersman, and first settler in Sheridan County [Wyoming]." Compiled: June, 1926 by his grandson Charles Hanna Carter [Book available from Sheridan Stationery, Book & Gallery, 206 North Main Street, Sheridan, Wy 82801. 307.674.8080]
page 86
The first prize fight was pulled off in Big Horn City. It was fight all right, and not a boxing match. The contestants were Jim Kemp, an Englishman, and Lon O'Dell. Neither one of them had a streak of yellow. They were both real fighters. So, when they had a falling out, every one looked for trouble. Jim Kemp, however, was of the "Old School" and thorough believer in the manly sport as a proper method of settling disputes between gentlemen. As a result, he challenged O'Dell to a fight, Marquis of Queenesbury rules. O'Dell accepted and the men came together in a saloon in Big Horn. Everything was done according to rule. There were seconds, referee, time-keeper, and bottle holders, but no gloves. When the gong sounded the men went at it hammer and tongs, and kept it up until the referee called "Time!". They then washed off the blood and went at it again. After the first round both men were covered with blood and half the time neither could see his opponent, but neither would say, "Enough!" Round followed round until both men were exhausted. The referee called it a draw. The next day Lon O'Dell was in the saloon when Kemp came in. The faces of both men were so swollen and disfigured their mothers would not have recognized either of them. Jim Kemp had a big piece of fresh meat bound over his eye and when someone told him that O'Dell was in the room, he raised the bandage and peeped at his late opponent; then walking up to O'Dell, he stuck out his nad and said, "It was some jolly sport we had yesterday, don't cher know?" O'Dell, ye're a chap after me own 'heart, so he are." They shook hands and from that time on they were the best of friends.
For a number of years Kemp lived in this country and was a good citizen. Later he went to Montana and was killed by a broncho. Lon O'Dell became a balloonist and one of the nerviest men I ever knew. One time at Miles City he made an ascension and in landing broke his leg. He was under contract to make another ascension and the company refused to pay him unless it was made. O'Dell had no assistant and he needed the money badly. All the company agreed to give him the money except one man, so after failing to talk him over, O'Dell had himself carried to the balloon and up he went. When he came down he broke his leg over again and, as the company came up to him, he demanded his money. When he got it in his hand, the first thing he did was to land on that committeeman square on the nose. Another time O'Dell made an ascension, he took up fireworks to shoot off and in some way the ropes leading from the balloon ring to the bar took fire. He finally made it, but by the time he reached the upper ring all the ropes but two had burned.
A number of years later I saw him in Hardin, Montana. I asked what business he was in. He said, "I have a tent down here and a side show, come and see my animals and reptiles." I went down to the tent. We went in. O'Dell took the cover off a big box and a big, long snake ran its head up about three feet high and stuck his black tongue about six inches long out at me. I fell over backwards and crawled out of the tent. Lon tried to get me to come back in. He assured me the snakes wouldn't bite. I told him to go to the devil with his show and snakes, I had seen all I wanted to. That was the last time I ever saw Lon O'Dell.