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IN THE SPRING of 1859, a company, consisting of A. D. Arthur, John P. Gilbert and Spencer Humphrey, erected a shingle mill at Spirit Lake. It was kept there about a year and a half, when it was removed to some other locality.


The government surveys were completed in 1859, and the settlers were enabled to establish the boundaries to their claims, and take the necessary steps toward eventually securing the title. The first government survey was made in 1857 by a surveyor from Van Buren County by the name of Wilkins, but was rejected by the government inspector as defective, when a second survey was made by C. L. Estes, which was commenced in 1858 and finished in 1859. In the light of subsequent developments it is more than probable that the first survey was the more accurate of the two. It certainly was made with far more care than the second.


It will be remembered as a historical fact than Congress in the spring of 1860 passed the first bill granting homesteads to actual settlers, but that the bill was vetoed by President Buchanan. This created much disappointment, and not a little indignation, among the frontier settlers, as every one then imagined that the passage of the homestead law would give a new impetus to emigration and impart new life and energy to the frontier settlements. The bill was again introduced in the succeeding session of Congress and passed, and was approved by President Lincoln, and became the law of the land in 1862. Whatever stimulating effect this law might have had it passed at an earlier date, it was of but little advantage now.


At this time the Civil War had assumed such gigantic proportions that every man that could be spared was required by the army. The soldier and the pioneer are both made of the same material, and that element all through the country which usually strikes for the frontier for change, adventure or excitement, went into the army. These facts will be noticed more in detail in their proper place.


The first physician in this county was Dr. James Ball, from Newton, Jasper County, who settled here in 1858, and remained here until after the breaking out of the war, when he went into government employ as a surgeon, first at Sioux City, and from there he was transferred to some of the up-river posts.


The first marriage solemnized in Dickinson County was in the spring of 1859, the contracting parties being William E. Root and Addie Ring, both of Okoboji. Doctor Prescott performed the ceremony. The second was in the summer of 1860, at the residence of W. B. Brown, when Abel Keene of Mankato was married to Miss Carrie Doughty of Center Grove, P. Kingman, Esq., officiating.


The first regularly established religious services in north-western Iowa were under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which established a circuit here in 1859. This circuit was put in charge of Rev. Cornelius McLean with head-quarters at Okoboji. While there had been no regular appointments up to that time, services had been held by Doctor Prescott and such other ministers as had happened to be traveling through the country. Among the first settlers of those who professed any particular religious belief, a decided majority were Congregationalists, but of those who came later more were Methodists. It was through the efforts of Doctor Prescott that the Methodist Conference of 1859 decided to send a minister to the frontier. This circuit at that time comprised Emmet, Dickinson, Clay and O'Brien Counties. Services were held once in three weeks as follows: In Emmet County, at Estherville in the morning, and at Emmet in the afternoon; in Dickinson County the next Sunday, at Spirit Lake in the morning, and at Okoboji in the afternoon; and on the Sunday following that at Peterson in the morning, and at Waterman, in O'Brien County, in the afternoon. This round had to be made every three weeks.


Mr. McLean was among the best educated and most talented men sent into this county by the Methodist Church, and far superior to many who were afterwards sent in that early day. Up to 1876 the ministers who were sent to this circuit by the Methodist Episcopal Church since Mr. McLean's time, were as follows: J. A. Van Andor, J. W. Jones, W. Hyde, Seymour Snyder, W. A. Richards, W. W. Mallory, G. Brown, William Preston and J. E. Cohenone. While preachers of other denominations occasionally held services in the county, there was no other society organized than the Methodists until 1870, when, a society was organized by the Congregationalists which will be noticed in its proper place.


In February of 1859 the question of disposing of the swamp lands for public improvements was submitted to a vote of the electors and carried almost unanimously. It would have been far better for the county had the project been defeated. Those residing in the central and southern portions of the county were at first inclined to oppose the scheme, but after a little campaigning they ascertained that they would probably be in the minority any way and so concluded that they had had quarreling and trouble enough where there was nothing to be gained by it, and stayed away from the polls altogether. Consequently the vote on the question was very light and all one way.


The parties to the contract as originally made were Hon. Leonidas Congleton, county judge, on the part of the county, and J. D. Howe, A. D. Arthur and B. F. Parmenter, as contractors. According to the terms of that agreement the contractors were to take the swamp lands of the county (which, by the way, were not then selected), be the same more or less, and pay all of the expenses for selecting them, and in consideration for them erect a courthouse upon a site, and according to plans and specifications furnished by the county; and three bridges, one across East Okoboji Lake east of the town of Spirit Lake, one across the straits between East and vest Okoboji Lakes, and one across the Little Sioux. The original contractors disposed of their interest in the contract to if. S. Prescott and Henry Barkman, receiving as a consideration there-for several thousand acres of the swamp land.


At the present time this swamp land question is not understood by most people, and as it has occupied so prominent a place in our county history a short explanation and review of the question is in order here. It is a historical fact that the states along the Mississippi River had long been importuning Congress for the passage of a law making an appropriation for the purpose of reclaiming the swamp and overflowed lands along that river and its tributaries, and urging various reasons for the necessity of such action. This Congress persistently refused to do. Finally, however, a law was passed turning the whole matter over to the states in which these lands were located, and granting the swamp and overflowed lands to them, and making it incumbent on them to have the lands reclaimed as far as possible.


The state of Iowa, instead of doing anything towards reclaiming these lands, granted them in turn to the several counties in which they were situated upon the same terms she received them from the general government, at the same time authorizing the county authorities to apply the proceeds arising from the sale of any such lands as could not be drained or otherwise reclaimed by ordinary methods, to be used for the purposes of education or applied to the building of county buildings and roads and bridges. There is no question that Congress in passing such an act never intended it to apply to the uplands, or the small sloughs and marshes which are common in this section of the country, and it is only by a forced construction of the law that any of these northwestern counties secured a title to any swamp land whatever.


Again, the laws of the state and the general government were somewhat conflicting as to the manner of making the selections and obtaining the title to the lands. All of the laws relating to the subject were carelessly drawn and were differently construed by the officers whose duty it was to execute them and carry their provisions into effect. The commissioners for selecting the swamp lands in this county were Andy Hood and B. F. Parmenter, and the amount selected and returned by them aggregated nearly sixty thousand acres. This amount was ridiculously large and was branded as fraudulent at once. Had a smaller amount been selected and returned, it is possible the title would have been confirmed without delay. Had matters remained as they were in the good old days of Buchanan's administration, doubtless the entire selection would have been approved and no questions asked, but a change of administration occurring about the time of the selection, the entire business of the Interior Department received an overhauling, the swamp land business among the rest, and the consequence was a halt was ordered and the burden of proof thrown upon the claimants of the lands to show that they were in truth swamp and overflowed lands as contemplated by the act granting them. With this explanation the reader will be better able to understand the swamp land question and the difficulties growing out of it.


The contractors, acting on the supposition that the title to the land would be perfected in the same manner that it had been done in the older counties, obtained quit-claim deeds from the county and then sold it for the purpose of raising means to go on with their improvements, giving warranty deeds for the same. It was not until about a year and a half that they began to have any fears that their title would not be good. As soon as it became evident that the title to the swamp land was likely to fail, Mr. Barkman set to work to compromise and settle with those to whom he had sold this land, and in many cases succeeded in doing so, but Prescott had carried it on on so large a scale that any attempt to compromise was hopeless. In most instances he had sold the land in large quantities to parties who understood the question of the title as well as he did himself, and at prices varying from twenty-five to fifty cents per acre, thus proving conclusively that they were perfectly aware of the defect in the title.


As before stated, the amount selected in this county and returned as swamp land aggregated nearly sixty thousand acres. These were quit-claimed by the county to the contractors and in turn sold by them for a mere nominal sum, they giving warranty deeds therefor. Many of these lands have changed hands repeatedly, and the matters growing out of these bogus titles and conflicting claims have been a source of great annoyance to the county authorities since that time. The amount of land that was finally certified to the county was something over three thousand acres. This had been quit-claimed with the rest to the original contractors, but afterwards it was understood that the manner in which the question was submitted to the vote of the electors and the transfer made was not strictly in accordance with the provisions of the statute. Suit was brought in equity on behalf of the county against the original contractors and their assignees for the abrogation of the contract.


Messrs. Wilson and Dye, a law firm in Sioux City, were retained by the county authorities to manage this suit on behalf of the county. The contractors made no defense. In fact, they had all left the county except Mr. Barkman, and he was interested in having the old transfers set aside, consequently the conveyances were declared void.


In the meantime another contract had been entered into by the county authorities with Mr. Barkman alone by which he was to receive the entire amount of the swamp land certified to the county; hence his interest in having the old deeds canceled. It was the understanding when Wilson and Dye were employed to bring this suit, that it was to be without expense to the county, or rather, that as the lands were really bargained away at that time that those interested in getting the old transfers canceled should stand the expense of the suit. Be this as it may, no sooner was the decree rendered abrogating the old contract than Wilson and Dye filed their claim against the county for attorney fees to the amount of four thousand dollars. They emphatically denied ever having agreed to accept anybody else as responsible for the pay for their services but the county, and there was no evidence to the contrary. The minutes showed that they had been regularly employed, and there was no way out of it but to settle. The amount was finally compromised and they were allowed twenty-five hundred dollars.


Mr. Barkman had been a heavy loser in the original contract, and the county now entered into a new agreement with him whereby they transferred to him all of the land they had received or might receive in the future. Taking all things into consideration this whole swamp land question and the manner in which it was managed has been a most intolerable nuisance. In the first place, the expense to the county has been heavy. They made repeated endeavors to get the question settled, each of which was attended with great expense, but without success, the general government steadily refusing to take .any action whatever upon the question, either to approve or reject the selection, and it was not until after a delay of nearly twenty years that the matter was closed up by the county getting the amount heretofore mentioned.


On the part of the contractors the matter was still worse. They had sold the lands in good faith and given warranty deeds for them. It is true they had sold them cheaply. The amount they realized from the proceeds was small and they could ill afford to subject themselves to the outlay necessary for the perfection of the title. They put forth every effort to have the matter disposed of, keeping agents in Washington at a heavy expense, but finally were obliged to give it up as a hopeless job.


Nor are these the only ones who have been injuriously affected by this vexed question. Many of these defective titles were finally purchased by parties who thought they saw an opportunity to secure homes for themselves upon uncommonly easy terms. These were mostly poor men and they expended what little property they had in trading for these bogus titles, and then removing from their eastern homes came here with the intention of settling, when they found the title to their land not worth the paper it was written upon.


These matters have also been a source of great vexation to our county officers. The difficulty of making abstracts and giving satisfactory information in regard to lands affected by these conflicting claims has been great indeed. Even at this time our county officers are repeatedly importuned by parties holding these defective titles, wanting to know the reason why their titles are not good and will be satisfied with nothing less than full explanation of the whole matter.







In giving this review of the swamp land question, the details of the building of the courthouse and bridges have been overlooked. Of the work to be done by the contractors, the two bridges across the lake were finished in 1860. The one at Spirit Lake, east of town, was three hundred feet long, and the one at Okoboji was two hundred and ten feet long. They were built on bents, or trestles, set sixteen feet apart, with a main span over the principal channel thirty feet in the clear. This span was strongly trussed with heavy braces, king-posts and needle beams. The bridge at Spirit Lake was built by the contractors themselves, employing and paying their help by the day. Harvey Abbott, a brother-in-law of Howe and Wheelock, furnished the plan and acted as foreman. The bridge at Okoboji was built by John Loomis, he having a contracted for it from Howe and Arthur before the main contract was turned over to Barkman and Prescott.







Since they were first erected these bridges have been rebuilt four times. The first time was in 1874 or 1875. At this time the trestles were all taken out and at each side of the main channel were erected log cribs and these cribs filled with rock to hold them to their places. Grades were put in in lieu of the portions of the bridge taken out. These bridges were built by contract and were to be at least four feet above the water level. After being completed the distance was carefully measured and it was found to be four feet and two inches to the top of the planking, and yet, such was the rise of the lakes that spring that on the first of July the planking was under water. As the bridges rested on piers it was an easy matter to raise them and block them at any point desired. They were strongly built and would have answered all purposes for many years, but for the fact that the question of the navigation of the lakes began to be agitated about this time and the necessity for swing bridges discussed.


Mr. L. W. Waugh, then a member of the Board of Supervisors, claimed that a light, strong bridge could be so constructed that it could be raised by tackle and blocks to an upright position, so that boats might pass through. His scheme looked so plausible that the board adopted it and he went to work and built new bridges on the old piers, erected derricks and procured ropes and pulleys and rigged everything to his satisfaction. But his plan was defective. It didn't work. He raised the bridges once or twice, but it took so much time and required so much power that the attempt to raise them was abandoned. The bridges were used in the shape they were until about 1883, when they were taken out and swing bridges erected instead. The first swing bridges were set on piles, but when they were rebuilt in the winter of 1897 and 1898, the piles were taken out and solid stone piers laid in cement were substituted in their place.


At the time the bridges were first built, the sand bars reaching to them from the further side were well out of water and from three to four rods wide. They were covered with vegetation, the one at the south end of the Okoboji bridge being covered with a growth of trees and bushes, some of which showed evidences of being forty or fifty years old. The idea that the approaches over those sand bars would eventually have to be graded up at a heavy expense to the county was not then thought of. But the heavy rains of the next two decades raised the water to such a height that it became necessary to build a grade four or five feet high over the sand bars at the end of each bridge. At the Okoboji bridge the sides of the embankment were riprapped with boulders floated in from along the lake shore on flat boats. This work was done piecemeal, but was finally finished in 1882.







The brick for the courthouse were burned on the isthmus in the fall of 1859 by William Backman, a brother of Henry Barkman, the contractor. Mr. Barkman had formerly helped Peters on the old mill. While digging the race across the isthmus, the peculiar adhesive quality of the clay attracted his attention. He was a brickmaker by trade, and he soon became convinced that the material they were working in was the best brick clay he had ever seen.


After the contract for the courthouse was let he took the job of furnishing the brick. He burned two kilns. They were located on the ground afterward occupied by the Orleans Hotel. His experiment was a complete success. He succeeded in producing a brick that has never been equalled in quality in any other, either shipped in or produced here. They were hard as flint and absolutely fireproof.


Since that time other parties have tried their hand at making brick on the same ground, but none succeeded in producing an article that at all compared with those made by Mr. Parkman for the old courthouse. What the reason is, or what the secret of Mr. Barkman's success was is not known. Whether or not the industry can be revived on the old ground and made remunerative remains to be demonstrated.


The lime was burned from limestone boulders picked up on the bank of the lakes and boated to the kiln on flatboats.


Prescott being one of the contractors furnished the lumber from his mill in Okoboji Grove. The lumber was principally oak. The building was also covered with oak shingles sawed in the Okoboji Grove. What little pine lumber was used had to he hauled across the country by teams from Mankato, having been previously brought up the Minnesota River from St. Paul on flatboats.


The foundation for the courthouse was laid in 1859, and the walls put up and the roof put on in 1860. Harvey Abbott furnished the plan and superintended the carpenter work, while William Lamont, one of the party who originally came up with Wheelock and Tormenter, did the mason work. The house was in this partly finished condition when it was taken possession of for military headquarters in August, 1862, and used as barracks and head-quarters until 1865. The details connected with its occupancy as such will be given in another place. Of course, the building was subject to very hard usage during the time it was occupied as a military post, and it was impossible for the contractors to complete their contract while thus occupied.


During that time the fact became apparent that the title to the swamp land, which had been voted by the county .as a consideration for public improvements, would prove worthless, thus entailing great loss to the contractors. In consideration of this state of affairs, the Board of Supervisors passed a vote releasing the contractors from any liability for the noncompletion of the work and authorized the cancellation of the agreement under which the work had been carried forward thus far.


This action of the board was sharply criticised. It was considered on the one hand that the contractors understood upon the start what they were going into, that they had no reason to expect that all of the selections would be approved, and that had they been, the value of the land would have been very much in excess of a reasonable compensation for the amount of work contemplated in the contract, far more than the loss to the contractors would be if the work was completed and then the title to the land should fail. It was like a ticket in, a lottery. If they succeeded in getting the title perfected, they had a "big thing," but on the contrary, if they failed, they would lose the amount expended in making the improvements. They, therefore, advocated the policy of holding the contractors to the strict letter of their agreement.


On the other hand, it was urged by the contractors that their losses had already been very heavy, the cost of doing that kind of work being many times as great as it would be now. They contended that they had spent more than the entire value of the land which would probably be certified to them in endeavoring to get the swamp land question settled, and that it was as much to the interest of the county as themselves to have the matter closed up and that they had already lost more than the entire value of the work they had done. This was undoubtedly true, and the board took the responsibility of cancelling the contract and releasing the contractors and their sureties upon their turning over to them the bridges and courthouse in the condition they then were.


After it was vacated by the United States troops, and at the time it was turned over to the county in 1865, it was totally unfit for use as a public building, and inasmuch as the contractors had been released from any further work upon it, it became necessary for the county authorities to make some provisions for a county building. So it was finally decided to go on and complete the courthouse according to the original plan. This was accordingly done. County warrants were so depreciated at that time that they were worth but about twenty cents on the dollar, consequently this work proved expensive to the county. The work was done in detached portions, but was finally completed in 1868.


The offices in the lower story were occupied by the county officers in their several capacities. An arrangement had been made with the officers of the school district whereby the district bought seats and seated the court room in consideration of having it to use for school purposes, and as there was but two terms of court a year, they did not conflict much. The old courthouse was used for almost every imaginable purpose. Revival meetings, dances, traveling shows, political gatherings, in short, anything that would bring a crowd met there on equal terms. These conditions continued to the time of the burning of the courthouse in February, 1872.