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CAUSES DELAYING EMIGRATION—A PERIOD OF DULLNESS—THE EARLY WORK OF THE METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH—THE EARLY PREACHERS—THE FIRST CAMP MEETING—THE FIRST RELIGIOUS REVIVAL—THE FEARFUL STORMS—BLIZZARDS—WHO COINED THE WORD—A DESCRIPTION FROM THE “GREAT DIVIDE”—A FEW EXPERIENCES—A ROMANTIC WEDDING TRIP.
ASIDE FROM MATTERS connected with the operation of troops along the border for the prevention of further outrages, matters on the frontier were very quiet during the remainder of the war. The county organization was kept up, but people paid but little attention to local matters. Here as elsewhere the war was the all-absorbing topic. There was hardly a family but had its representative in the army. The population of frontier counties either remained stationary or diminished. There was hardly any emigration except the few who struck for the frontier to avoid the draft. No improvements were made and many that were in course of construction and others that were projected were abandoned. Fields were allowed to grow up with weeds, and fences were used for fuel. The population of the county diminished materially, and although the first settlement was in 1856 the population in the spring of 1865 was but a little in excess of two hundred. With the exception of a little stock raising, farming was almost entirely neglected. The settlements were confined to the immediate neighborhood of the groves, the prairies being as yet untouched. Since the crash of 1857 there had been but little or no demand for government land.
Everybody imagined that after the close of the war there would be an unprecedented rush for the frontier, and that event was looked forward to with a great deal of anxiety. The ample provision made by the government for the defense of the frontier quieted the apprehensions of the settlers, and but little more occurred worthy of record as a matter of history during the period under consideration. The years dragged themselves slowly along until the collapse of the rebellion and the return of peace. The expectation that the return of peace would give a new impetus to emigration and that our prairies would commence filling up at once were but partially realized at this time so far as this county was concerned. That came later.
The rare chances offered at the South attracted attention in that direction at the expense of the West, and many who had severed their business connection at the North in answer to the call for troops now thought they saw openings in that direction to commence business again superior to those of the undeveloped regions of the West. Again, the building of the Pacific Railroad commenced about that time and as it opened up a large and romantic region to settlement, it drew the larger part of western emigration to points along its line, and more especially that class of emigration who could command capital.
Another agency that had been depended upon to stimulate emigration to this region was the passage by Congress of the homestead law. But the situation of affairs here at that time was not favorable to the complete success of its operation. While it was unquestionably a great benefit to many, it did not have a tendency to bring capital into the country, but, if anything, the tendency was in the opposite direction. A great many who depended upon their labor for a living imagined that if they could only get a piece of government land their fortunes would be made, and the immediate results of that law as demonstrated in this and adjoining counties was that many who had no idea of the hardships and privations of a new country, and who had always spent their money as soon as earned, spent their last dollar in squatting upon a piece of government land and then found themselves perfectly helpless. Not having been in the habit of laying their plans beforehand, but of spending their money as fast as they earned it, they were illy prepared to surmount the difficulties which fall to the lot of all new countries.
The inevitable result of this state of affairs was that the country developed more slowly than would have been the case with a more wealthy and energetic class of settlers. Again, it is a well-known fact that army life is not conducive to economical or regular habits, and many carried the easy-going "devil-may-care habits" of camp life with them to their claims and the result was, although they might have been eminently successful as soldiers, they were hardly so as farmers.
As yet the only religious denomination that had made any attempt to maintain regular services in the county, or in this part of the state in fact, were the Methodists. The names of their preachers up to 1876 has already been given, but possibly they should receive a rather more extended notice. As has been before noted Mr. McLean, the pioneer Methodist preacher of this county, was sent here by the Conference in the fall of 1859. He was an ideal representative of that class of educated, conscientious young men who have, in all periods of our country's history, struck for the frontier and labored honestly and earnestly to do what good they could, and exert what influence they might in forming public opinion and directing public sentiment along the lines of mental and moral advancement. He was a young man and this was his first charge, and as before stated he was the first preacher on this charge. He was followed by Rev. J. A. Van Anda, who was the opposite of McLean in every particular. He was trifling, flippant and insincere, to say nothing of the more serious charges afterward brought against him. He was finally dismissed from the ministry for immoral conduct.
Rev. J. W. Jones, his successor, was an honest, earnest man and a hard worker, but he was homesick. He had left his wife and two small children somewhere in Wisconsin when he came here. He stood it just as long as he could and then went back to his family, which he never should have left. He was a Welchman and could talk the "Gaelic" fluently. The charge was without a pastor until the ensuing Conference met, when Rev. William Hyde was appointed to the circuit. He was simply an ignoramus, not capable of doing much of either good or harm. It cannot be said that he had phenomenal success in expounding the word to the soldier boys stationed here at that time, but it was fun for the boys all the same, and they attended services regularly and were generous in their treatment of "Brother Hyde," who remained here during the conference year.
The circuit had by this time grown to such proportions that the people thought they were entitled to more recognition by the Conference by having a more able and experienced man sent among them. In answer to this demand Rev. Seymour Snyder was assigned to the circuit. His appointment proved eminently satisfactory: He was able, honest, earnest and genial, and had the happy faculty of adapting himself to his surroundings without friction, and if he could not strictly be termed a genius in its expressive sense he evinced a good degree of sound sense and capacity for hard work. It was during his ministry and under his direction that the first camp meeting was held in northwestern Iowa.
This was in the summer of 1864. Rev. Mr. Lamont of Fort Dodge was presiding elder. He was an able preacher and an indefatigable worker, and being ably seconded by Mr. Snyder, the result of their united labors was a pronounced success. This camp meeting was held in the grove at what is now known as Fort Dodge Point, and was attended by persons living in the four counties forming the circuit. These annual camp meetings were kept up and grew annually in attendance and importance as the country increased in population. The following year and possibly one or two years more the meeting was held in the grove at Dixon's Beach. One year it was held near Omaha Beach, and one at Gilley's Beach, after which the yearly camp meetings were held on Pillsbury's Point until about the year 1878 or 1879, when they were removed to the grove adjoining the town of Spirit Lake. They were kept up for a few years longer, and were finally discontinued altogether.
Mr. Snyder's appointment terminated with the close of the conference year, and he was succeeded by Rev. W. A. Richards. It was not far from this time, it might have been a year or two later, that the circuit was divided, Dickinson and Emmet Counties forming one circuit and Clay and O'Brien another. Under this arrangement the preacher in charge here gave one Sunday to each county alternately. While this reduced the amount of travel materially, their work still was no picnic, especially in times of high water and swollen streams.
The first winter of Mr. Richards' work here was marked by the first religious revival in Dickinson County and probably the first in this portion of the state. A series of revival meetings was held in the Center Grove schoolhouse, commencing some time in January and continuing about six weeks, during which time an intense interest was manifested and large accessions to the church was the result. The schoolhouse where the meetings were held was a low log affair, about fourteen by twenty feet in size, but somehow it was made to accommodate large congregations. Mr. Richards was kept on this circuit for three years, the utmost limit that a preacher was then allowed to stay on one circuit at a time. The names of his successors up to 1876 have already been given. It would require too much space to treat of the work of each in detail. It is the first, the commencement, the pioneer work in any particular line that always interests the reader.
While but little occurred at this time worthy of record as historic events, the ordinary experiences of the average settler were such as were calculated to test to the utmost their courage, energy, hardihood and perseverance. The dangers they braved and the hardships they endured can be better understood by giving a few personal adventures and experiences than by whole pages of dry descriptions.
In those early days it was no uncommon experience for the country to be swept by storms of terrific violence. These storms have since been denominated "blizzards." There has been considerable controversy among Iowa newspapers regarding the origin of the term. It was claimed at one time that it originated with O. C. Bates, the founder of the Northern Vindicator, in Emmet County. Now, while there is no doubt that Mr. Bates was the first to use the term in a newspaper article, thus being the first to launch it on the sea of newspaper nomenclature, it did not originate with him. As near as can be traced it was brought here from southern Ohio by William Jenkins, one of the early settlers living east of Spirit Lake. It used to be a common byword among the boys when the conditions of the atmosphere indicated an approaching storm, "Well, boys, I guess we are going to have one of Uncle Billy's blizzards." This was some years before the founding of the Vindicator by Mr. Bates. There is no question the term "blizzard," as designating a storm of peculiar force and violence, was given to the world by the early settlers of this county. A late writer in the Great Divide uses the following language in describing them:
"Cruel and relentless are the blizzards and to be much dreaded. The settler away from his farm house in endeavoring to return while the blizzard is raging is lost and frozen to death. He cannot see ten feet ahead of him, for the blizzard has grasped the fine hard snow resembling sand in its icy fingers and flings it onward with a blinding force that cuts the skin of any one facing the storm.
"The cold is intense, and hardly any amount of clothing suffices to protect one so piercing is the blast. Lucky is the wanderer who, under such circumstances, can find a river bluff on which may be growing a few clamps of poplars to serve as a protecting shield. The speed of the wind is often sixty and seventy miles an hour, and when an effort is made to progress against it, unconsciously one turns sidewise to it and the liability to proceed in a wrong direction is thus increased. Fortunately the blizzard blows in one direction, being a straight current of wind, and differing in this respect from the cyclone, which has a rotary as well as forward motion, and which is of unequal violence, varying as is the distance from the center of the cyclone current or circle of wind. The small, dry, hard particles of snow are hurried on in blinding sheets by the wind, so that nothing is seen except a dull grayness and the seemingly ceaseless drifting walls of snow particles.
"The outbuildings in Manitoba and Dakota are in close proximity to the settlers' houses as might be expected, and yet during a blizzard that means business the outbuildings are not visible from the house. The farmer who has to go to the shed for fuel or to feed his stock attaches around his waist a cord, the end of which remains in the house, so as to guide him on his return. Many lives have been lost in these cold blizzards.
"Sometimes the blizzard blows so hard that some have imagined the treeless wastes to be due to this devastating force, and the theory is fully as plausible as the one that the absence of trees is due to prairie fires. What becomes of the blizzard, this lusty and violent son of the North? It. would appear that his force is somewhat dissipated as lie spreads himself over Nebraska, Iowa and the Mississippi Valley, where the south and west winds are met. Locking arms with these it may be that the circling is produced resulting in the cyclone which journeys on usually in a brief course as if anxious to separate, but these are studies for the weather bureau."
While these terrific storms were altogether too frequent for comfort in an early day, they have of late years been far less frequent and far less violent. What effect the cultivation and development of the country may have in modifying them cannot be known, but we do know that the blizzard of those early days is a thing of the past. The last storm having all of the attributes of the early blizzard was that of January 7, 1873. Storms and heavy snows and violent winds we have had since then, but they weren't blizzards. They lacked the blinding, stifling, choking, bewildering effect of the earlier storms. The dates of a few of the more remarkable blizzards .are given as follows: December 1, 1856; January 1, 1864; February 14, 1865; March 5, 1870; January 7, 1873. There were many others during that period, but the dates cannot be definitely fixed. Much suffering and a considerable loss of life resulted front exposure to these terrific storms. The following instances are given to illustrate the experiences of the early settlers along this line. Many more incidents of the same general character as the following might be given to illustrate the nature of the obstacles with which the early pioneer had to contend, but these are deemed sufficient. These are not given for their historic value, or because they are more important than many others that night be given, but are taken at random from many of the thrilling experiences so common at that time on the northwestern frontier.
The first is an experience related by Zina Henderson, who has resided in this county for over thirty-five years, and who spent several winters trapping in the regions to the northwest of here, long before settlers had invaded that locality. Mr. Henderson says:
"In the month of February, 1865, a party consisting of E. V. Osborn, Clayton Tompkins, Richard Long, George Barr and myself, were trapping on the Rock River, our camp being situated at the forks of the Rock, near where the town of Doon has since been located. There was another party in camp on the Big Sioux some twenty miles to the northwest of us. We used to cross back and forth from one camp to the other as occasion might require. At this time there were a few soldiers stationed at Sioux Falls, but as yet there were no settlers there. Our camp at the forks of the Rock was a kind of general headquarters or supply station for the smaller trapping camps in that locality. The trappers used to have their supplies sent out there by the load, from which point they were distributed to the smaller camps as needed by such means as were available, the little handsled being the most common, although some of the trappers had Indian ponies with which they moved their camps.
"On the fourteenth of February, 1865, a party consisting of Osborn, Tompkins, Long and Barr, left the main camp on the Rock to take some supplies over to the camp on the Big Sioux. Barr was a member of the camp on the Big Sioux, although he had been with us at that time, waiting until some of our party could return with him. The party had a pair of ponies and a light wagon and were loaded with flour and provisions. I remained behind to look after the camp in their absence. They left camp not far from nine o'clock in the morning. The day was remarkably fine and pleasant, and the boys, seeing no occasion for hurrying, took things very leisurely, never doubting their ability to reach camp that afternoon, or at least, early in the evening.
"About four o'clock, or when the party were within three miles of their destination, the wind suddenly whipped around into the northwest and the most violent blizzard recorded in the annals of northwestern Iowa broke upon them in all its blinding, bewildering force and fury. Now many people seem to think that if it was to save their lives they could make their way for three miles against any storm that ever blew. Such people have not met the genuine blizzard. These trappers were experienced frontiersmen and they knew the country. They were not lost, but to make any head whatever against that terrific storm they found to be utterly impossible.
"What was to be done? This was a very pressing question. They were among the bluffs along the Big Sioux, and the snow was deep in the ravines. They went to work and dug a hole in the snow, packed up their flour on the windward side of it, and then taking their robes and blankets and huddling together so far succeeded in making themselves comfortable, that had they been contented to stay where they were, they would without doubt have been all right in the morning. But some of them conceived the idea that if they allowed the snow to drift in over them they would be smothered, and the balance gave in to this foolish notion, and so after remaining there between two and three hours, they determined to take their back track and if possible reach the camp they had left that morning. So digging out from under the snow they hitched one pony to the wagon and turned the other loose, and then placing the wind to their backs and with no other guide than the storm, started on their return trip.
"The wind howled so that it was impossible to hear each other talk at all, and it required the utmost care and skill on the part of' all to keep near each other. They formed in single file, with Barr in the rear, walking with their heads down, and before they were aware of the difficulties in the way of keeping together, Barr had fallen behind. How long he kept up with them or how far he traveled, they never knew. They only knew he perished in that fearful storm and his remains were never found. The balance of the party pressed on and reached the Rock several miles below the camp they left the morning before. Here they found timber and succeeded in getting a fire. The wind had abated somewhat, so as to make surrounding objects discernible. Two of the party had been there before and thought they knew the country pretty well. They knew there was another camp near where they were, but whether it was up or down the river, they did not know. Osborn insisted that it was down the river, while Tompkins was just as certain that it was up the river, and declared that he would not go down the river until he was more sure on this point. Accordingly he started out to look around and satisfy himself. Up to this time none of the party were frozen. They had stood their night tramp through the storm without suffering anything more serious than fatigue.
"Osborn was so sure that the camp they were seeking was down the river that he and Long started at once in that direction. They were right in their surmise, and struck the camp inside of an hour. After two or three hours the Quaker wandered into camp in a sad plight. Both of his feet were so badly frozen that eventually they had to be amputated. After remaining in camp here a couple of days, they brought him up to our camp at the forks of the Rock, where everything was done for him that could be done. It was about two weeks before he could be taken to Spirit Lake where the amputation was performed."
Uncle Tompkins, as he was familiarly called, was well known to all of the old settlers and was a special favorite with many of the summer tourists of the earlier days. Another victim of this same storm was a trapper familiarly known among the boys as "Uncle Toe." He was trapping at one of the camps out west and had come for provisions.
Hon. D. A. W. Perkins, in his history of Osceola County, relates several incidents of the storm of January, 1873, one or two of which are of local interest. Mr. Wheeler, a brother-in-law of Orson Rice, had lived in the town of Spirit Lake for a year or two and during the summer of 1872, took up a claim near the state line in Osceola County, south of Round Lake. "There was then a postoffice on the Spirit Lake and Worthington route, about a mile south of where the town of Round Lake now is. It was kept by William Mosier. Mr. Wheeler was at the postoffice in Mosier's house when the storm came. Wheeler started for home, and unable to find his house, he wandered with the storm and at last, exhausted and benumbed with cold, lay down and died. He got nearly to West Okoboji Lake in Dickinson County. He was found after the storm cleared up by Mr. Tuttle, whose home was not far from where Wheeler perished."
Another incident related by Mr. Perkins is of a Mr. Hamilton, a resident of Osceola County, who started that morning to go to Milford to mill.
One more incident in this connection must suffice, although many might be given. The following description of the wedding trip of NFL and Mrs. A. D. Arthur has been in print before, but it was published anonymously and fictitious names used and for that reason was regarded by many as a fancy sketch with some grains of truth in it. But the article is true in all its details. The intimate friends of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur have often heard them relate the story of their romantic wedding trip. They were married in February, 186--, and started at once on a visit to Mr. Arthur's old home in Wisconsin. The article referred to was written by Mrs. H. H. Kitts, Mrs. Arthur's younger sister, formerly of Lake Park, and was published with the "reminiscences of the early days" in the Lake Park News, and is in part, as follows:
"A single horse and cutter took them well on their way the first day. They stopped that night at the home of an acquaintance, starting out bright, and early the next morning, anxious to reach the river at La Crosse before it broke up, if possible. Early in the forenoon the sun clouded over, and soon the snow began to fall again very thickly, and the track, which was not plain, owing to the frequent storms and little travel, was entirely obliterated, and they could only judge by the direction which way to go. The snow continued falling through the day, but towards sunset cleared away, and at dusk they found they were not on their road, but near a small grove, with no sight of any habitation. They knew of no other way of doing but to get into the shelter of the grove and pass the night there, which they did, as they had plenty of robes and blankets and a bountiful lunch provided for them by their kind hostess of the previous night. The weather grew quite warm during the night, and when the morning dawned bright and clear, they could see a large grove which should have been their stopping place for the night, had they not lost their way.
"The sun very soon commenced so soften the crust on the snow and their horse could not be prevailed upon to go but a few steps, as its legs were cut by the sharp crust, and being without its noonday, night and morning feed made it stubborn, and go it either could not or would not. After consulting together for a time, the only thing to be done was for Mr. Arthur to go on foot to the grove, where he knew there were some settlers, and procure help. Imagine if you can the young wife watching her husband as far as she could see him, toiling along, breaking through crust and sinking in the snow over his boot tops at every step, and knowing that the best he could do it must be several hours she would be left alone, no human being in sight, no living thing but the horse near her.
"The hours dragged wearily on, and at last the sun went down and no one in sight. The timid girl remembers yet the terrors of that day and night. Eye and ear were strained alike to catch some sight or sound of human aid until her senses were gone, when the hungry horse would look at her and give a pitiful neigh when she would get out of the sleigh, go to its head and putting her arms around its neck, let her feelings find vent in tears, until getting too weak and chilled to stand, she would climb back into the sleigh, wrap herself in the robes and through exhaustion lose herself in a few moments of unconscious sleep. At last, as the moon rose higher, making objects as visible as in the daylight, she thought she heard voices, and looked away off and saw outlined against the sky the forms of three persons, who seemed to her terrified sight to be clothed in blankets, and supposed them to be Indians who had perhaps murdered her husband and that she would soon share the same fate.
"She watched them as they drew near, and could distinguish voices, but they talked in an unknown tongue, which verified her fearful suspicions, and with a thought of the loved ones at home who would mourn her tragic death, she covered herself completely in the robes and waited for the final moment. Soon a hand was laid on her shoulder and a gruff but kindly voice said in broken speech, "Hello! You asleep?" She threw aside the robes and looked into the faces of three white men who could none of them, except one, speak a word of English. She was too weak and frightened to speak, but reached out her hand, which they took in kindly clasp, and the one who could speak so as to be understood told her of her husband's arrival at his house late in the afternoon, nearly exhausted. He told them where and how he had left his wife and begged them to go back with him for her. They promised speedy assistance, but the first man was obliged to go to his nearest neighbor, about a mile away, for snowshoes, as that was their only way of getting over the deep snow. They persuaded him to remove his boots, which were full of snow, and take a cup of coffee while they were getting things ready, which he did, begging them to be as speedy as possible, as he feared his wife would die of fright.
"After taking off his boots his limbs began to swell at a rapid rate, and when at last the men returned with the neighbor who had proffered his assistance, Mr. Arthur found himself unable to move his limbs without great pain, and to put his boots on was simply an impossibility. The Norwegians assured him they could find his wife and bring her to the house much quicker than if he were with them, as in his exhausted state he could not keep up with them. He bade them make haste, promising them a liberal reward when they had brought his wife safely to him. When they had found her and convinced her of her husband's safety, they drew the cutter farther into the shelter of the grove, built a huge fire and spread the robes on the snow around it, seated themselves near and ate a lunch, proffering her a share, which she was obliged to decline, as she was too weak and chilled to feel any desire for food. The reaction from the terrible strain proved too much for the slender frame and weak nerves, and a half hour of unconsciousness followed. When at last her senses returned she found herself lying on the robes close to the fire, with the kind and anxious faces of the three perplexed men around her, one clasping her hands, and another bathing her temples with water, and still another holding a cup of steaming coffee to her lips, which she was soon able to swallow.
"It revived her greatly and after a few moments she was able to sit up and thank them for their kindness. They waited for a time that she might get thoroughly warmed and rested, and then prepared to start for their home, knowing well the anxiety of the waiting ones there. Many efforts were made to induce the horse to lead, but he would not stir, and they found they must leave him. They placed Mrs. Arthur back in the sleigh, wrapping her warmly in the robes, and started back, two of them drawing the cutter by hand. At times when it would break through the drifts, they would lift her carefully out and on to where the crust was harder; and then pull the sleigh through to solid crust again, then replace her and make another start.
"At four o'clock in the morning they struck their own traveled road and hurried along home. * * * After two or three hours' sleep, they breakfasted and prepared to resume their journey, which they found they must do with a sled drawn by oxen, as that was the only mode of conveyance available. The horse was left on the prairie for ten days, the Norwegians taking out hay and grain each day until the snow had thawed enough that he was willing to fellow them home, where they kept him until called for.
"The remainder of the trip was made first in the ox sled, next in a sleigh drawn by a mule a peddler had been driving, which would persist in stopping at every house on the road for a short time, then a team of horses was procured, which took them to the river just as it was on the point of breaking up, making it unsafe for travel. Mrs. Arthur was drawn over on a handsled and at that point, La Crosse, they took the train and were soon at the end of their journey, and, I venture to say, there are but few young couples living who have tried as many different modes of locomotion as they did on that never-to-be-forgotten bridal trip."
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