Early History of Aspinwall
The majority of the newcomers settled near the railroad lines; the area around what was to become Aspinwall was at least 10 miles from a rail line and grew at a much smaller pace.
Thomas Hayes, who broke the first prairie in what was later named Hayes Township, settled there in 1869; Marcus Kuhl, who was among the first three settlers of Iowa Township, arrived in 1872.
Among the early settlers of the eastern part of Crawford County was William Jahn, who came directly from Germany as a representative of a syndicate which purchased land near the Five Mile House in Hayes Township for incoming settlers. This was the forerunner of the large Germany population of Hayes and Iowa Townships.
The Naming of Aspinwall
One of the questions we had hoped to answer before the publishing of this book was how the town of Aspinwall got its name. Although we received several likely suggestions, we never learned which--if any--was correct.
In an interview with Lucille Lamp Boell shortly before his death in 1981, Orren Schroeder related the following story: "While standing approximately where Main Street is today, the early settlers could look north and view a mile-long stretch of aspen trees which extended westward from the Frank Meggers' farm. This view reflected a "wall" of aspen trees thereby giving the pioneers the idea to call their new town Aspinwall."
Ida Koester Wunder, who was born in 1902 and raised north of town, said she does not remember ever seeing a lot of trees along that road. However, early farmers often used young or small trees to make their fences, and sometimes the stumps would start to grow, producing a nearly straight line of trees. It is entirely possible that such a row of trees had begun to grow in 1882, but did not thrive and the stumps later dug out and a new fence put in.
Another question remains: the aspen tree is not native to our area, although it closely resembles the cottonwood tree, which is commonly found in this region. Could our ancestors not only have identified the tree incorrectly, but misspelled it as well?
Many of the towns which erupted from the prairie soil with the arrival of the railroad were named in honor of a railroad official or local people working closely with the railroad companies. Since Aspinwall was founded through the arrival of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, it is possible the town was named for a person.
Henry R. McMahon, Manilla, a former employee of the Milwaukee Railroad, told Dallas Lile that the dining cars on their trains were named for early Milwaukee Road officials. While working in Portage, Wisconsin and Stoughton, Wisconsin, Harry often saw an "Aspinwall" dining car. Harry also recalls his fellow employees speaking of a Mr. Aspinwall as an early top official in the Milwaukee Company or as a civil engineer who helped build the Canadian Pacific Railroad over the Rocky Mountains in 1882.
While working on this book, Jean Voege, a nurse at Clarkson Hospital in Omaha, met a patient there by the name of Aspinwall. Mr. Aspinwall said that the Aspinwall name was common in the Madison, Wisconsin area, so Jean wrote a "Letter to the Editor" there asking whether anyone knew of a railroad worker or other person by that name who may have been working in western Iowa in 1882. She received the following reply from William H. Aspinwall of 886 Woodrow, Madison, Wisconsin: "I have no definite knowledge of who founded Aspinwall, Iowa, as my father came from England in 1896 and finally settled in Wisconsin. However, he had an uncle who came to the United States twenty years before him and was lost track of."
People and Businesses in Aspinwall's Early History
The town of Aspinwall was platted August 21, 1882, and within two years this was a flourishing community of 300, bustling with activity. At least 18 businesses, including a hotel and three general stores, had been opened. Before the town's fourth birthday, in August, 1886, the list of business firms had grown to more than 20. Within the next year, Aspinwall was said to have lost 75% of her businesses, and the population began to move downward.
The Influence of Railroads
The severe--but not nearly fatal--blow came with a simple enough decision by the officials of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. In April, 1886, the railroad officials announced that a branch line would definitely be built to Sioux City, and that the junction would "either by at Astor or at a point further to the west." For a brief time, Aspinwall residents had hoped the junction would be made in their town, but they quickly abandoned the idea.
At Astor, however, the excitement rose as railroad officials came there by the droves, filling both hotels there while plans were made for the new tracks. The junction would give the town excellent rail connections--to the west, north and to the east--plus offering jobs at the proposed roundhouse, division station, and other buildings planned. Business had never looked better, and the Astor Tribune predicted in May that brakemen would be singing "Change cars for Sioux City and all points in the northwest" before snow flies!
In early June, W.L. Paup was offered $35 an acre for his farm for use by the railroad Paup refused the sum, but by mid-June he accepted $40 an acre. Surveyors were "Making their last survey through this area, and construction will begin in six weeks," the newspaper said. "The rail line will go through section 23 of Nishnabotna Township, through farms of John Bayles and Henry Walker, and it will connect with the main line at the Paup farm." All but six to eight miles of the new tracks had been contracted out; suddenly, Astor began questioning what was happening.
As reported in the 1911 History of Crawford County, a Denison man had come to watch the survey crews, met a railroad official, and mentioned that less hilly route could be found by moving the junction two miles to the northeast. The engineers surveyed the suggestion, found it to be true, and switched the junction site.
Although the Astor Tribune reported in July that "Astor still stand a chance of getting the railroad and the Division Station," the newspaper added, "Astor people are hoping for the best and prepared for the worst--that a new town will be created at the junction."
The mood of the people was reflected in newspaper announcements that fall; at first reporting that the railroaders were "all gentlemen and there have been no fights," as the decision to move the junction became final the newspaper reported that fires, vandalisms, and disorderly conduct were the work of the unrowdy railroad men. "Astor is lively, too lively," the paper said in late August. "There are more black eyes and stumbling steps than ever seen in this vicinity."
By mid-September, it was said there would be a new town called Astor. In early November, two announcements were made: the town would be called Manilla, and the Astor Tribune was moving there. Other businesses were quick to follow; lots started selling November 5, 1886, and before the end of the day, $10,000 worth had been purchased, Among those buying the lots, which ranged from $150 to $320 each, were businessmen from Astor, Herndon, Manning, Harlan, Vail . . . and Aspinwall.
The list of buyers of the first 34 Manilla businesses includes six from Aspinwall: J.G. O'Malley, who apparently planned both a restaurant and a hardware store; Meves Schacht, who bought a lot and may have opened a store there, but who did not move his general store out of Aspinwall; T.S. Dutt, who had been a lumber, grain, and livestock dealer with his brother E.R. Dutt, who also evidently did not move the business out of Aspinwall; A.J. Packard, who had dealt in grain and coal with a partner, Mr. Arnold; D.F. Wegner, who had the furniture store; and Paul J.F. Wegner, who had the wagon shop.
We have found a report in the November 12, 1886, Manning Monitor that "Many of our citizens are tearing down their business houses preparatory to moving them over to the new town of Manilla," and we assume some businesses from Aspinwall may have been moved as well. However, not one of the "old-timers" we visited with for the book remembers hearing any stories about how businesses were moved, so our guess is that the migration to Manilla was not as severe as sometimes reported.
Astor is now mostly a memory, with even the post office moving to the new community by January 1, 1887. Aspinwall, however, has continued to thrive proudly through the past 100 years.
Legends About Our Community!
We could not prove all the stories we were told about Aspinwall, but then again, we couldn't disprove several stories, either. We will let the readers decide for themselves.
The 20 Saloon Story
When Clara Ehrichs moved to Aspinwall in 1913, she was told that her new home had once had 20 saloons. Yes, she was repeatedly told, all 20 were in operation at the same time.
Many of our older people remember the days when Aspinwall had two taverns, and we have some evidence of three or four. By 1886, Aspinwall had probably reached its peak in population; there were 300 people and about 20 businesses. The August 16, 1886, issue of the Manning Monitor reported that Aspinwall businesses included a "refreshment stand," two hotels with refreshment stands, and a billiard parlor which we assume could have served drinks.
Were there other places not reported in the newspaper? Consider these two facts: Iowa was still under a state Prohibition Law passed in 1882, and Aspinwall was being flooded by railroad workers in 1886 and 1887 as the new track was under construction from Manilla to Sioux City.
The Jesse James Story
Mabel Guth Ohde, who was raised on the farm now owned by Frank Kasparbauer one mile west of Aspinwall, wrote that her mother often told her children stories about a visit by the James Gang to this area. The stories were not only told by Dora Wiecks Guth, according to Mrs. Ohde; Dora's sisters Lena Bloom and Anna Will and their brother Fred Wiecks affirmed the incidents as being true.
According to Mrs. Ohde: The James Gang had a hide-out on the John Wieble place eight miles south of Manning, a convenient location for planned robberies north of Missouri about 1880. One summer day before noon a band of about 12 horsemen rode up to the farm home of the White family, who lived on the old Bill Wegner place north of Aspinwall.
How frightened Mrs. White and her daughter were as the men alighted! The leader walked up to them and politely asked if they could be served a dinner. The young girl was sent out to the field to get her father to help prepare the meal, for the men said they were in a hurry.
Mr. White was ordered to kill and dress the chickens and to peel potatoes. The daughter ran to get fresh vegetables from the garden and prepare them for the table. Two men chopped wood. Mrs. White fried the chicken. One of the gang brought in a bag of lemons and asked that she make lemon pies with meringue.
Dinner was served in grand style on a linen tablecloth with cloth napkins. The gang feasted but the men were orderly. As each one rose from the table, he left a silver dollar at his plate.
The White family was amazed, but was grateful that the outlaws left without harmful incident. They heeded the strict warnings given not to divulge the whereabouts of the group, which had become widely known as the Jesse James gang. It was some time before the affair was thus told to the neighbors of the Aspinwall community.
Jesse James, his brother Frank, and other members of the gang hailed from western Missouri. Although most of their robberies took place in Missouri, Kansas, Tennessee, and other southern states, the gang did come into Iowa for a bank robbery at Corydon in 1871 and its first train robbery at Adair in 1873. In mid-1876, the gang traveled through Iowa to Minnesota, where their raid on a Northfield bank proved unsuccessful and only two of the eight robbers escaped.
Although no one has ever been 100% certain, it was believed that the two who escaped were Jesse and Frank James. The men and their wives supposedly spent from 1876 until 1881 in Tennessee, posing as J.D. Howard and B.J. Woodson. Jesse was killed by a member of his own gang April 3, 1882; Frank surrendered to the Missouri governor October 5, 1882. He was later released and spent the rest of his life on the right side of the law.
However, by 1948, at least 26 men had claimed that they were the real Jesse James, and that an impostor was killed in 1882 to allow Jesse to re-enter life as a free man.
Historians agree to only one thing: descriptions of the two men have varied so much that even Pinkerton detectives were not completely certain as to who they were tracking; Jesse and Frank James were therefore able to elude the law for at least 16 years.
The Cole Younger Story
Jacob Wiecks, father of Dora Guth and grandfather of Mabel Ohde, was a principal figure in a second story sent by Mrs. Ohde, who now lives in Spokane, Washington. The story was handed down from Jacob to Dora and then to her children.
Mrs. Ohde said: Jacob Wiecks, father of the family, lived on the farm later known as the Guth farm west of Aspinwall; he was renting the land. In the spring of 1881, he needed to pay taxes and rent at Denison, the county seat. He loaded a flock of turkeys, which had been wintered-through, on his spring-board wagon, which was pulled by his two fastest horses. It was about a 20-mile trip along the Ridge Road to Denison, so he left early in the morning.
After transacting his business, Jacob headed back on the long trip to Aspinwall. Just as his team and wagon passed under the NorthWestern Railroad overhead bridge east of Denison, a man jumped from the bridge onto his wagon seat, sitting at Jacob's side. The man pulled out a revolver, pointed it at my grandfather, and ordered him to drive at a fast clip up the hill and along the Ridgeway toward Aspinwall and Botna.
Jacob Wiecks was a powerful man, having been a soldier and fencer in the Danish Army. With a sure quick motion, he grabbed the stranger's wrist of the revolver-holding hand. He held that position; the men sat side-by-side for the rest of the trip to Aspinwall.
Finally, when they reached the crossroads of the old Milwaukee right-of-way just west of the Marvin Lamp place (now the Herb Witt farm), the stranger spied a beautiful black riding stallion tethered near a barn belonging to a Jones family. Since my grandfather's horses were fatigued, the stranger released him without further harassment; the man asked about the Chicago Great Western Railroad connections at Botna.
The stranger ran up to the gentle black stallion, mounted him, and galloped away south down to Botna, where the stranger watched and waited for the advancing train. He slid from the gentle stallion's back, pulled out a sharp knife and cut the tendons at the horse's hocks. The poor animal fell; the stranger had guaranteed that no one would use the horse to follow him as he jumped on the passing train. We were sad to find out that the poor animal had to be shot.
About a week passed. Grandfather went to Aspinwall to buy groceries and pipe tobacco. Here he saw 'Wanted Posters' of the Jesse James gang. Who was this cruel outlaw? It was none other than Cole Younger who had forced this harrowing ride upon my grandfather. The James Gang had disbanded after an unsuccessful bank robbery at Austin, Minnesota.
Cole Younger, along with his brothers Jim and Bob, were indeed members of the Jesse James Gang. The three Youngers, William Stiles, Samuel Wells, Clell Miller, and two others--believed to be Frank and Jesse James--went to Minnesota in the summer of 1876 with the intentions of scouting out a bank to rob. They selected Northfield, a town of about 3000 people; the Northfield residents got wind of the robbery, began shooting back, and killed Miller and Stiles. Bob Younger was badly hurt; the men believed to be the James brothers are said to have wanted to leave Bob behind, which Cole and Jim refused to do. Wells decided to stay with the three Youngers; he was killed in a shoot-out with Minnesota authorities less than two weeks later as the Youngers were arrested and subsequently sent to prison.
Bob Younger died in prison; in 1901, Cole and Jim Younger were paroled. They had been model prisoners for 25 years.
During the days of the James and Younger raids, it was generally believed that any bank robbery, train hold-up, or other misdeed from Mexico to Canada was the work of America's most famous outlaws. It is possible, therefore, that a "wanted" poster seen in 1881 or 1182 would carry the name of an outlaw who had been a prisoner since 1876. Posters of the day did not contain pictures, only a written description of the person wanted and, occasionally, a line drawing of the criminal.
Pat Crowe Residence Now Brus Home
Pat Crowe, a famous bandit of the Jesse James era, lived north of Aspinwall as a youth. The farm is now owned by Ida and Vertus Brus. Crowe gained national notoriety in 1900 when 15 year old Edward Cudahy Jr. was kidnapped a half block from the 22-room Cudahy mansion in Omaha. A ransom of $25,000 in gold was paid, and young Cudahy was released. Five years later Crowe was arrested and tried, but he was acquitted. The next day, Crowe confessed and then made a living from his notoriety by appearing in vaudeville acts. He was reported to be the first to collect a ransom for kidnapping.
Crowe was also known for his jail breaks. He was jailed in Crawford County after he held up Frank Evans in the Denison depot; Crowe was wanted at the same time for stealing diamonds in Denver, Colorado. The night before authorities arrived in Denison to pick up Crowe, he escaped from jail. He had also escaped from jails in St. Louis, Omaha, and other cities earlier.
The farm, located nine miles north of Aspinwall, was sold from the railroad to Samuel Miller in 1871, then to Patrick Crowe in 1881 and to Peter J. Martens of Westside in 1884. Ed and Matie Martens lived on the farm 10 years, then Louis W. and Mayme Martens, and now Peter's granddaughter Ida Martens Brus and her husband Vertus.
The front enclosure of the house still has a piece of tin nailed over a hole where Pat Crowe had used a gun, shooting through the floor; l inoleum now covers the spot. Pat's sisters Lillie, Lida and Ellen also lived there, and from time to time members of the family have stopped at the farm to visit.
Ida said her father, Louis Martens, often talked about Pat Crowe and the James Brothers. Although not certain whether or not Crowe was in the gang, he was an outlaw at the same time that the James Brothers were said to be hanging out in Cherokee, Sac, and even Crawford County.
Read about the 1944 train wreck in Aspinwall.
Read about The Five Mile House and the annual Schuetzen Verein in Aspinwall.
Source: This history of Aspinwall in Iowa Township was extracted from their centennial book A Little Bit of Paradise. Aspinwall, Iowa. published in 1992.
The history includes a variety of stories about how Aspinwall may have received its name, the influence of railroads on the establishment of towns in Crawford county, and some legends about notorious individuals who may have visited the community including the James brothers and the Youngers.
We thank Holly Ehlers for submitting this material.