Another IAGenWeb Project





IT MAY BE WELL to remember at this time that during the winter of 1856 and 1857 Congress passed the Minnesota Railroad Bill or an act granting subsidies of land to all of the then projected railroads in Minnesota. Prominent among these was the St. Paul and Sioux City, or, as it was then called, the Minnesota Valley Railroad, which provided for the building of a railroad up the Minnesota Valley to the south line of the state in the direction of the mouth of the Big Sioux River. A direct line from the south bend of the Minnesota River to the month of the Big Sioux would run a little to the east and south of the center of our lakes. The idea that that road would be located and built as it was, over thirty miles west of here, was not thought of at that time.


It will be well to remember here also that this was during the fast times preceding the crash of 1857. During the preceding five years railroads had been built throughout the West at a rate and upon a scale unprecedented in the history of the world. The states of Illinois and Wisconsin were virtually covered with a network of railroads, all of them constructed within the brief period of six years. If Illinois could be covered with a network of railroads in six years, why not Iowa? As yet the only road built in Iowa was from Davenport to Iowa City, with a branch to Muscatine.


Innumerable towns had sprung up in every locality on these new roads and many men had made respectable fortunes in selling town lots, some of them in towns where improvements were actually being made, and many in towns that had no existence except on paper. Iowa lands were held at figures that would have delighted the real estate owners of twenty years later.


Taking the past as a criterion, however, men were not at that time to be considered as extravagant or unreasonable, who expected that the system of railroads for Iowa and Minnesota would have been completed in the next five years as those of Illinois and Wisconsin had been within the preceding five years.


Taking into consideration the natural advantages, and the unequaled beauty of the lake region, and, as was then supposed, the almost positive certainty that they would soon have railroad communication with the rest of the world, it is not strange that a different class of men were attracted here than the representative pioneers who had subdued the older portions of the country. People who leave the older states with the last magazine in their pockets and the last daily paper in their hands are very much the same people after landing in Iowa or Minnesota that they were before leaving New York or New England. The term "The Wild and Wooly West," with its peculiar significance, never was applicable to the pioneers of northwestern Iowa and more particularly to the first settlers of Dickinson County.


The several parties of which mention has heretofore been made, completed their .arrangements at Fort Dodge and started for the lakes again on Wednesday, the 30th day of April, 1857. The different parties were made up as follows: First, Doctor J. S. Prescott, W. B. Brown, Charles F. Hill, Moses Miller, Lawrence Furber and George Brockway; second, the Newton party, consisting of the Spencers and others whose names have been heretofore given; third, .a party consisting of B. F. Parmenter, R. U. Wheelock, William Lamont, Morris Markham, Alexander Irving, Lewis Hart and R. A. Smith.


These parties were mostly independent of each other but proposed keeping together as much as possible for the purposes of company and protection. It would require too much space to give the details .and incidents of travel along the road. Most persons can imagine what a trip of that kind would be in times of high water across an unsettled country without bridges, and without so much as a footpath for a guide. Add to this the ever-present danger that roving bands of Indians were hovering, along the border liable at any time to put in an appearance when least expected. From this combination of circumstances it will be readily seen that it was no May day picnic these hardy adventurers were planning for themselves.


After leaving Fort Dodge, which they did on the thirtieth of April, they followed up on the west side of the Des Moines River to a point about ten miles below where Emmetsburo now stands. At this point the Newton party parted company with the others and struck across the prairie to Clay County for the purpose of examining the land there and making arrangements for carrying out the scheme they had in contemplation relative to laying out the town of Spencer.


The main body followed up the river .a short distance farther and then struck across to Lost Island where they camped on the night of the sixth of May on the north east shore of Lost Island Lake. They arrived at Okoboji on the eighth, about noon. The Newton party which had been prospecting about Spencer and Gillett's Grove, arrived the same evening, the entire party going into camp at the Gardner place.


Naturally the first business to be disposed of after arriving there was the taking of claims and adjusting their boundaries. One word in reference to the claims of those who had settled here previous to the massacre is iii place now. It will be remembered that the land was unsurveyed and all that any one could do was to "squat" on a piece of land and defend possession of it under the laws of the state. Measures were taken as far as possible to settle with the heirs of those holding. bona fide claims, .and in every instance they were paid a valuable consideration therefor. There was no instance of any person settling upon any bona fide claim that had been improved previous to the massacre without an equitable settlement having been made with those entitled to receive it.


The impression has gone abroad and is pretty generally believed that Doctor Prescott took possession of the Gardner place without making any settlement therefor. This is a mistake. It will be remembered that Eliza Gardner was at Springfield at the time of the massacre, and, that in company with the other refugees there, went down to Fort Dodge with the return to that place of Major Williams' command, ,and was in Fort Dodge when Doctor Prescott came back from his first trip to the lakes. William Wilson, who had spent a portion of the winter at the lakes and who, afterwards married Miss Eliza Gardner, was with the burial party acting as guide. It was through him and Thatcher that the victims of the massacre were identified. The burial party, which was the last of Major Williams' command to report at Fort Dodge, arrived a few days before Prescott and his party.


Wilson and Eliza Gardner were married the day following their arrival in Fort Dodge. Immediately upon Prescott's return, they sought him out and proposed selling out their claims to him, as they had no intention of returning to the lakes. The land being as yet unsurveyed, the boundaries were indefinite. Gardner's claim was along the shore of West Okoboji Lake, to the south and west of the Gardner cabin. Next came his son-in-law, Harvey Luce, whose claim adjoined Gardner's on the east. Luce had rolled up the body of a log house but had not finished it. East of that was Wilson's claim, which embraced the site of Arnold Park and the land east of it. These were the claims that Wilson and his wife proposed to sell to Prescott. They made a proposition to him which he accepted, paying them down in gold the amount of eleven hundred ($1,100) dollars. In the arrangement they were to settle with Abbie (Mrs. Sharp) if she ever returned. She was then a prisoner with the Indians. When she was there the following season, he made another settlement with her, though not so liberal a one as he had formerly made with the Wilsons, upon her representation that she had received no part of the money paid to Wilson and his wife for the claim.


Some of Joel Howe's heirs came as far as Fort Dodge on their way to the lakes to look up Mr. Howe's matters, but upon meeting Prescott proposed to sell to him. He accepted their terms, paying there down a good round sum. He also purchased Thatcher's claim of him, paying liberally for it. In every instance the parties expressed themselves as well pleased with the amounts they received and with the manner in which they were treated.


So far as the Harriott claim is concerned, Harriott had made no improvement whatever. He had not resided on the claim at all, neither had he done any of the acts which were even then considered necessary to give validity to a claim on the public land. He simply expressed his intention of doing so at some future period, yet his claim was respected for a year. His father was here the summer following the massacre, but made no attempt to either secure or dispose of it, and it lay vacant until the following year. The Granger place was also unoccupied for about a year. The impression that the early settlers took possession of the homes of the victims of the massacre, without compensation to those rightfully entitled to receive it, is an erroneous one, and it is only justice to them that it be corrected. So far as Prescott's operations were concerned, his wrong consisted not in wrongfully getting possession of the claims, but in attempting to hold four or five when the law allowed him to defend his possession to but one.


Mention has heretofore been made of a party from Red Wing, Minnesota, consisting of the Granger brothers, Harriott and Snyder, who occupied a cabin on a point a little northeast of the Okoboji bridge. All of this party were killed by the Indians excepting William Granger, or "Bill" Granger, as he was for years known along the border. For some time previous to the massacre it was more than intimated that a band of horse thieves and counterfeiters had their headquarters somewhere in the northwest and the Grangers were to some extent connected with it. It was reported that counterfeit money had been put into circulation at different times which had been traced back to them and other little irregularities and crookednesses were attributed to them. Whatever proof there ever was in existence to substantiate these charges is not now known, but it is true that such charges were outspoken among the settlers all along the Des Moines River.


Granger made up a small party at Red Wing and started from there about the same time that the others started from Fort Dodge, and arrived at the lakes about two days later. He assumed to represent the heirs of the different parties who had been killed by the Indians, and with great flourish and bravado he forbade the settling upon or occupying any parcel or tract of land that had been settled upon previous to the massacre, and even went so far as to make his boast of the number of blankets he had put under the sod, and to intimate that unless those who were there left at once, they would be disposed of in the same summary manner. But he soon found out that he had misjudged his men, and that while they made no exhibitions of bravado or braggadocio, they were not at all inclined to pay any attention to his absurd pretensions.


It will be noticed that Granger's claim, which is now known as Smith's Point, and Harriott's, which is now known as Dixon's Beach, were respected and were not disturbed until a year after this time, which was after Granger had abandoned all attempts to maintain his footing there.


It has been before stated that Prescott's project was the establishment of an institution of learning. His plan was to secure as desirable a location as possible, lay out a town, and then secure the most desirable tracts of land adjoining and hold them as a permanent endowment for the institution. For that purpose he selected as a site for his town the tract upon the east side of East Okoboji Lake, now known as Tusculum Grove. As before stated, he bought the claim of Mr. Thatcher and settled with the heirs of Mr. Howe in order that there might be no conflicting claims. He then proceeded to lay out his town, which he named Tusculum, after the country residence of the great Roman orator. That he had undertaken more than he could accomplish soon became evident, but the failure of his scheme will be noted further on.


The plan of Howe, Wheelock and Parmenter was to hit upon some locality most likely to become the county seat and center of business for the county, and lay out a town which was to be owned in common, and then take the land adjoining as their individual claims. For this purpose they made the selection of the site where the town of Spirit Lake now stands, and took their claims adjoining. The parties known as the original proprietors of Spirit Lake City, as it was then called, were O. C. Howe, B. F. Parmenter, R. U. Wheelock and George E. Spencer. Dr. J. S. Prescott afterwards bought an undivided one-fifth interest in it, giving one thousand dollars for it. The county seat was located there in 1858, James Hickey of Palo Alto County, C. C. Smeltzer of Clay County and S. W. Foreman of O'Brien County acting as commissioners. It is understood that the proceedings of that commission are lost and that no minutes of their action have been preserved.


The others who came in at the same time scattered around upon their claims in different localities about the groves and lakes. It is impossible here to give anything like a connected account of all of the different transactions that transpired at the time, but simply to give a passing notice of the most important incidents and those that had the most to do in shaping the course of future events. Other persons came in at different times during the spring and summer of 1851. Henry Barkman with a small party from Newton came in some time in June. A party from Sparta, Wisconsin, consisting of Rosalvo Kingman, William Carsley, J. D. Hawkins and G. W. Rogers, put in an appearance on the fourth of July. Jareb Palmer was another of the settlers of that summer. He had previously determined to settle on the Des Moines, but for some reason changed his mind. He was at the house of Mr. Thomas at the time of the attack on Springfield, and rendered valuable assistance in the defense of that place. He was with the refugees when they started down the river, but on meeting Major Williams' forces joined them for the balance of the expedition. From this time on different parties continued to arrive, most of whom were on exploring expeditions, with occasionally one for settlement, but they cannot be noticed in detail.


The fact of the land being unsurveyed and the boundaries of the different claims being but imperfectly defined, there was at different times considerable trouble in regard to conflicting claims. It has been the lot of all new countries to have more or less claim quarrels, and while those of this locality were not as sanguinary as many that have transpired in other places, it was by no means free from them, but they were not carried to the extent this season that they were afterwards. They were confined mostly to Granger's attempt to enforce respect for his bogus pretensions that he was acting as agent or representative of the heirs of the victims of the massacre. Finding his authority disregarded and his pretensions unheeded, he, as a last resort, endeavored to frighten the inhabitants away by reporting that the Indians were about to make another raid on the settlement. Failing in this, he and his party gathered up their effects and left. While the settlers were somewhat apprehensive of danger from the Indians and were on the alert as much as possible to guard against surprise, yet they were too much in earnest to be frightened away without good cause. Reports of Indians hovering along the border were occasionally put into circulation, but there were no depredations or outbreaks during the summer.


One of the results of these periodical Indian scares was the building of the old fort at Spirit Lake, which, as one of the oldest landmarks, deserves a passing notice. The town site as selected before the United States survey was made, was nearly half a mile north of its present location. After the site had been decided upon, a building was erected which was intended to be a kind of general headquarters, all contributing towards its erection. It was a log building about 24x30 feet with a shake roof and puncheon floor and doors. Not a foot of lumber was used in its construction. Around the outside of the building, at a distance of from six to ten feet, a stockade was erected, which was formed of logs cut ten feet long .and about eight inches in thickness. These were set on end in a trench from two and a half to three feet deep. A well was dug inside of the stockade. This building was erected in June and July, 1857, and stood there about two years, when it was torn down and the hotel then known as the Lake View House was erected on or near the same spot. During its short existence it had rather an eventful history and will be referred to again.


As would be natural under the circumstances, the settlers scattered around the lakes in different localities and had two or three places as their general rendezvous, or headquarters. The largest number gathered at Spirit Lake, and several small cabins were built in the immediate vicinity of the old fort. It was the intention, in case of an outbreak or attack by the Indians, for all parties to gather at the fort and make such defense as they were able. A second party, including W. B. Brown, C. F. Hill, William Lamont and one or two others, had their headquarters in Center Grove. A third, consisting of Prescott and his hired men, was at Okoboji, at the old "Gardner Place."


The first religious services in the county were held at the Gardner place, on Sunday, May 11, 1857, and conducted by Rev. J. S. Prescott, and deserve more than a passing mention. As has been heretofore mentioned, Prescott was a speaker of extraordinary ability and one to whom it was a pleasure to listen, no matter what a person's particular religious ideas might be. But that fact was not known then. It became patent later on. On the evening preceding that Sunday morning, word was sent around to the different cabins that there would be religious services at the Gardner place, the following day. Accordingly at the appointed hour the crowd assembled to the number of from fifteen to twenty. It was a unique sight, especially to those who had just come from the East, to see those rough looking, hardy pioneers on their way to church, come filing along, either singly or in parties of two or three, dressed in their red shirts, without coats or vests and with their rifles in their hands, their ammunition slung from their shoulders, and leather belts about their waists, from most of which dangled revolvers. Singular as such a spectacle would be at the present time, it was strictly in keeping with the surroundings of that occasion. As the parties arrived they disposed of their arms by standing them in the most convenient corner and then arranged themselves about the room on stools and benches or any thing else that would do duty as a seat. The parties were mostly strangers to each other at that time, and whether they were about to listen to the wild harangues of a professional "Bible whanger," as a certain type of frontier preachers were then designated, or to be treated to an interesting and intelligent discourse on some live topic, they did not know, nor did they much care. It was a change, and the novelty was enough to bring them out. Promptly at the appointed hour the exercises were opened by Prescott reading the hymn,


"A charge to keep I have,

A God to glorify

A never dying soul to save

And fit it for the sky."


Wheelock led the singing, assisted by C. F. Hill and Lawrence Furber. Next was prayer by Doctor Prescott. And such a prayer. After the dangers, hardships and privations that little party had endured for the last month, it certainly was a spiritual and intellectual treat not soon to be forgotten. He made a fervent appeal that the divine blessing be vouchsafed there and then on this first attempt to establish and foster the growth of a true and genuine religious sentiment, that should broaden and deepen as the settlement that was then being founded should grow older and stronger.


After prayer a second hymn was sung, and then the text announced, "Be strong and show thyself a man." The sermon was one long to be remembered by every one who heard it. It was a plain, simple and direct appeal to every one present to realize the position which he at that moment occupied. They were reminded of the importance of asserting there and then the principles and practices which should govern them in the future, They were reminded that "like seeks like" in emigration as in other things, and that in the moral, intellectual and religious tone of the society which they then inaugurated they would see the counterpart of the emigration they would attract. If the first settlers adopted a high plane of moral and intellectual development, the emigration that would follow would be of the same high character. On the other hand, if the standard were made low, it would be the low and depraved class that would be attracted by it. In conclusion he appealed to all present to use their best endeavors to build up in this frontier country such moral and social conditions as they would wish to have their names associated with by future generations. The entire discourse was delivered in that plain, simple, and yet dignified and scholarly manner that always commands respect and .admiration. After the close of the services the parties all filed out as they came, and it is not recorded whether any luckless ducks or chickens fell victims to their marksmanship on their return to their cabins, but considering the scarcity of provisions at that time, such a violation of the Sabbath would have been deemed excusable if not justifiable.


The manner and style of living in those early days was decidedly primitive. If a person now wishes to ascertain how few of the comforts of life are really necessary and how many of them can be dispensed with, he can gain a vast amount of such instruction by a few years of pioneering. Perhaps it would not be out of place to give iii this connection some kind of an idea of the manner of living here in those early times. "Keeping bach," as it was termed by the boys, is particularly and peculiarly a pioneer institution. Men don't know what they can do until they are tested. They don't know their own capacities or capabilities until circumstances bring them out. Now it will be remembered that there were no women in the settlement, and most of the men were of that class who give the least attention to household affairs, many of them hailing direct from stores and offices, and of the class usually designated by the phrase "fine haired," and while possessed of a goodly share of intelligence and general information, were wholly ignorant of the mysteries connected with the art of keeping shirts and pants in repair and converting bacon and flour into edibles. Could all of the ludicrous incidents and ridiculous experiences of those times be properly written up they world, by no means, form an uninteresting chapter.


The settlers, a majority of whom were young men, were scattered in their little cabins in the neighborhood of the several groves where they commenced, for the first time, the solution of the great problem of what it takes to make up the measure of human happiness. There was nothing very peculiar about the cabins themselves. In short they could not very well have been much different from what they were without being peculiar. They were usually small and low and covered with either shakes or sods. A board and shingle roof was an extravagance not to be thought of. The door and window, or more commonly a half window, were set in one side, while a large stone fireplace was at the end, with a chimney made of clay and sticks up the outside. But it is in the internal arrangement and fixtures that the greater peculiarities are noticeable.


In one corner stands the bunk, which is one, two or three tiers high, according to the number that are expected to occupy it. These bunks, which were filled with prairie hay and covered with a few blankets thrown over them, composed the sleeping accommodations. A shelf running along the back wall of the cabin and resting upon several huge pins is indespensable in every well regulated establishment. Its contents are worthy a moment's notice. First, and in the most convenient place, is a pipe and tobacco, next a copy of Shakespeare, then a Bible and a pack of cards lie as peacefully together as members of Barman's "Happy Family," while Scott's poems, Waverly novels, "Pilgrim's Progress" and Davies' Mathematics swell the list.


Mixed up among the literary treasures are boxes of ammunition, fishing tackle and, as the Yankee peddlers say, "other articles too numerous to mention," while scattered, about in curious confusion are various articles of household use, which usually consisted of a sheet iron coffee pot, a frying pan, or skillet, as the boys usually called it, a few in tin plates and cups, and possibly the luxury of knives and forks.


The mystery of bread making was usually a stumper, or, as Barnum, in his molasses candy experience, expresses it, the rock on which they split, and many and varied were the ridiculous experiences of the pioneer's first bread making. Washing was another obstacle that required all of their patience and philosophy to overcome.