Another IAGenWeb Project





THE MASSACRE at Spirit Lake created great excitement and consternation along the entire frontier. Nearly the whole line of frontier settlements were abandoned and in some instances the excitement and .alarm extended far into the interior. Indeed, in many cases where there was no possibility of danger the alarm was wildest. Military companies were formed, home guards were organized and other measures taken for defense hundreds of miles from where any Indians had been seen for years. The alarm spread to adjoining states. The wildest accounts of the number and force of the savages was given currency and credence. Had all of the Indians of the Northwest been united in one band they would not have formed a force so formidable as was supposed to exist at, that time along the western border of Iowa and Minnesota. Doubtless there are at this time many who were then residing in the central portion of this state, and some even in some parts of Wisconsin, who remember the wild excitement and the needless and unreasonable alarm following these events as above related.


One of the results of the Spirit Lake Massacre and the excitement following it was to attract the attention of settlers, emigrants and adventurers in that direction. The party from Jasper County, to which allusion has formerly been made, consisting of O. C. Howe, R. U. Wheelock and B. F. Parmenter still persisted in their determination of making a permanent settlement at the lakes. It will be remembered that this was the party that explored the lake region the fall before and passed Inkpadutah's camp near Loon Lake. They were also the first to discover and give an intelligent account of the massacre and it was on the strength of their representations that the relief force under Major Williams was raised. They returned to Fort Dodge with Major Williams' command, after which Mr. Howe went on to Newton, while Parmenter and Wheelock remained in Fort Dodge to procure a new lot of supplies and await his return.


Just previous to this time a party, consisting of J. S. Prescott, W. B. Brown and a man whom they employed as guide by the name of Overacker, started on an exploring trip to the lakes, passing up the Des Moines on the west side, while Major Williams' command on their return trip were coming down on the east side and thus avoiding them. Prescott and Brown reached the lakes about the fifteenth of April, and after spending a few days in exploring the country they returned again to Fort Dodge, where they purchased supplies .and made other necessary preparations for their return to the lakes for permanent settlement.


Mr. Howe upon his arrival at Newton succeeded in raising a party to accompany him on his return trip to the lakes. This party consisted of Hon. George E. Spencer, since United States Senator from Alabama ; his brother, Gustave Spencer, M. A. Blanchard, S. W. Foreman, Thomas Arthur, Doctor Hunter and Samuel Thornton, all of Newton, Jasper County. Mr. Howe was detained at home by sickness in his family and could not accompany the balance of the party at the time. They came on to Fort Dodge, where they found Wheelock and Parmenter, who were waiting for them. There were some others who had decided upon making a trip to the lakes, some from a desire for adventure and others for the purpose of settlement.


Perhaps a short notice of some of the more prominent characters that took part in making the first settlement of the county, subsequent to the massacre, would not be wholly devoid of interest. J. S. Prescott, one of the most active of the early settlers here, was one of the original projectors and founders of the college at Appleton, Wisconsin. He had also been partially successful in starting an institution at Point Bluff, Wisconsin. He, having heard of the romantic beauty of the lake region, made his first trip to this locality with the idea of establishing here some time in the future an institution of learning similar in its provisions to that at Appleton. Visionary, as such a scheme must seem at this time in the light of subsequent events, it was not at that time regarded as an impossible undertaking.


For this project he had associated with him several gentlemen in Ohio and Wisconsin who had advanced him considerable sums of money for that purpose. Prescott was a man of great energy and ability, a college graduate and a fine scholar, but he was .a poor judge of human nature. He lacked discretion, was impatient, impetuous and excitable, and while he was very enthusiastic in everything he undertook, he was, at the same time, visionary and often unpractical and impracticable.


He was educated by his parents for a physician, but disliking the profession went into the practice of law in Ohio, in which he was very successful. After following that for a while he joined the Methodist Church and commenced preaching. As a speaker he possessed extraordinary ability and power. It is no disparagement to the ministers who have represented the different denominations here since that time to say that his pulpit oratory has seldom if ever been equaled by any other man in northwestern Iowa. His sermons were of that rare character which church members and men of the world alike regard as moral and intellectual treats. At the same time, his visionary and impractical ideas rendered his selection for the position, to which he was assigned and for the work laid out for him to do, a most unfortunate one. As might be expected his scheme was a failure.


Prominent among the others who assisted in making the first settlement subsequent to the massacre were O. C. Howe, B. F. Parmenter, R. U. Wheelock, W. B. Brown, C. F. Hill, R. A. Smith and Henry Backman. Messrs. Howe and Parmenter were attorneys, formerly from Erie County, New York, but had been stopping for a short time at Newton, in this state. Their object in coming here at that time was to select a location for a town site, secure the location of the county seat, and secure claims on the adjoining land for themselves. Their scheme was a feasible one, and had times remained as they had been for a few years previous, would doubtless have been successful. They succeeded in securing the county seat all right but after the financial crash of 1857 values became so unsettled that the whole scheme was worthless. Mr. Howe was chosen district attorney at the general election in the fall of 1858 for the Fourth Judicial District, which then comprised nearly one-fourth of the state. This office he held four years after which he enlisted in the Ninth Iowa Cavalry and was promoted to the rank of captain, which position he held at the close of the war.


One of the most unique .and remarkable characters that came into prominence in the settlement of northwestern Iowa was George E. Spencer, for whom the town of Spencer, Clay County, was named. It was a part of the original arrangement that he should be associated with Messrs. Howe, Wheelock and Parmenter in the town of Spirit Lake, while in his operations in Clay County he was associated with other parties. For two or three years he divided his time between the two counties. In one of his trips to Sioux City he succeeded in trading for a tract of land some four or five miles southeast of the present town of Spencer. This he had surveyed and had an elaborate plat made, naming the town after himself.


He succeeded in getting commissioners appointed and having the county seat located there, while the county records were kept at Peterson. He had a postoffice established there which was also kept at Peterson. Indeed, the two postoffices, Peterson and Spencer, were for a time kept in the same house. All of this when there was not a house within fifteen miles of Spencer. Then he issued circulars and commenced selling lots, representing that they had an eighty thousand dollar courthouse, a fine public schoolhouse, stores, hotels, mills and all of the material advantages of a prosperous western town. This was probably the most conspicuous instance of working a paper town that ever occurred in northwestern Iowa.


Spencer was chosen Chief Clerk of the Senate for the Eighth General Assembly, which position he filled with ability. But inasmuch as his operations were carried on far more extensively in Clay County than in Dickinson it is hardly profitable to follow his career farther. After two or three years he abandoned his, schemes in Dickinson County and his interests fell into other hands.


The balance of the party whose names have been given were younger men, most of them well educated and just starting out in the world, and were ready to engage in anything that might afford a chance for speculation or a spice of adventure or excitement.