Although the Indians relinquished all claim to their lands in Iowa in 1851, and stipulated to remove at once to their reservation on the Upper Missouri, they were loth to leave their favorite hunting grounds, and did not take their final departure until
1869. Some lingered around their old council fires, and others returned on frequent hunting excursions.
Index to Sections
With the exception of a few families at Sioux City, no settlement had yet been made in Northwestern Iowa, and the country was little known except to Indian traders, hunters and explorers, for many years. In 1854, Dr. John K. Cook began the Government surveys, and the same year laid out the town of Sioux City. In 1855, the United States Land Office was opened at Sioux City, and on the 11th of September of the same year, Alexander Anderson, United States Deputy Surveyor, completed the field surveys for the south tier of townships in Lyon County.
The remainder of the surveys were completed the two following years by different United States deputy surveyors.
The abundance of game and fur-bearing animals soon brought several parties of hunters to the Rock and Sioux rivers, who were joint occupants, with the Sioux, of Lyon County for several years.
An account, if possible, of the adventures and hair-breadth escapes of these hardy men would form an interesting chapter in the history of Lyon County. Among the most noted of these adventurers was Daniel McLaren. "uncle Dan" had his cabin at the mouth of a sparkling creek, which now bears his name, on the east bank of the Sioux. He was fortunate enough to keep his scalp from falling into possession of the Yanktons, and always had his storehouse well filled with buffalo, elk, deer and beaver skins. After the county began to settle, he concluded to take a homestead, and there are many now in Lyon County who have enjoyed his hospitalities. But Uncle Dan soon became restless, so he " went West" to find "elbow room."
"Old Tom" long had his cabin at the mouth of Tom Creek, near the present town of Rock Rapids. But with the advantage of the implements of the whites, and his great skill as a hunter, he could take more beaver than the Sioux. So they shot him through the heart with an arrow, one morning, while setting his traps.
But the tale which most excites our sympathy is that of three young men from Massachusetts--Roy McGregor, George Clark and Thomas Lockhart. As they were possessed of education, talent, and noble ambition, the tragic fate of two of this company is sad indeed. It must have been in the summer of 1862 that this party resolved to spend the winter in a hunting tour in this part of the West. Reaching the Rock river valley in October, and being elated with the prospect here for a successful winter's hunt, they built a cabin on an island in the river, at the forks of the Little Rock, West Branch and Rock river. Here they passed the autumn in rare sport, taking an abundance of game. But their happiness was not to continue long unbroken. One morning, after snow had covered the ground, while McGregor and Lockhart were attending to their beaver traps, a short distance above the "Loue Cottonwood," on the bank of the Little Rock, opposite the present residence of Jessie Monk, they saw a drove of elk bounding down the valley. Seizing their rifles and firing simultaneously, they brought down a large buck. They were preparing to carry the benison to camp, when they were suddenly attacked by a band of Santee Sioux from Minnesota, who had been following the elk. The Indians first fired upon them with bows and arrows, from which McGregor received a shot in the side, and then charged upon them with unearthly yells. McGregor and Lockhart returned the fire from their rifles, and then retreated a short distance down the river under cover of the overhanging bluffs on the south bank of the stream. Here the superiority of their breech loaders, and the advantage of their position, enabled them to keep the Indians at bay. As soon as possible, Lockhart extracted the arrow from poor McGregor's wound, and inquired if he was much hurt. He answered briskly, "Oh no," but soon began sinking and died in a few hours. When night came on, Lockhart escaped under cover of darkness and the thick underbrush, and joined Clark at their camp. They feared to move for several days, but finally returned to the scene of their encounter with the Indians, but could find no traces of poor McGregor.
Notwithstanding the shock produced by the loss of their companion, Lockhart and Clark decided to remain and contest with the savages the right to hunt on these grounds. They were not, however, molested again, and continued their hunting with great success until spring. Their cabin was fitted up with much tasks, being lined on the inside with wolf skins, and became a favorite resort for hunters throughout this region. The two companions had barely recovered from the gloom caused by the death of McGregor when another calamity befel them more crushing, if possible, than his tragical death.
The island upon which the cabin stood was very low, but as the river was also low at the time of building it, they had no thought of a flood. Early in March the weather became warm, the snow melted, and as the river began to rise, Lockhart and Clark felt some uneasiness lest the water should come into their cabin. A heavy rain came on, and the river continued to rise, until as they had prepared to retire, one evening, they found the water up to within a few inches of the door. Yet they concluded to wait until morning before making preparations to move.
During the night the ice broke up, and with the floating timber gorged the river above the head of the island, almost completely damming it. Behind this gorge the water continued to rise until it had covered the river bottom to great depth. Lockhart and Clark had arisen and begun to prepare their breakfast when this gorge broke, and the flood came down upon the island and cabin with terrific force. Hearing the rushing of the water and breaking of the timber, they ran out of the cabin just as the water came down upon them. Lockhart seized hold of a tree and succeeded in climbing out of the way of the flood. Clark jumped into the river and swam for the east bank. He succeeded in crossing the stream, and grasping some overhanging boughs, turned his head and exclaimed: "Tom, I'm all right," when the flood came upon him, and, overwhelmed in the torrent, he sank to rise no more.
Lockhart remained in the tree for several hours, when, by means of some floating logs, he reached the high bank and made his escape.
Gladly do we turn from the early footprints of white men in Lyon County, and relating these wild scenes, to record the first step made in its settlement.
To Lewis P. Hyde belongs the honor of making the first settlement in Lyon County, who, on the 23d of July, 1866, entered, as a homestead, lots 1 and 2, section 19 and lot 5, section 20, township 98, range 48, lying on the Sioux river, about two miles above what is now Beloit. Mr. Hyde formerly resided in Wisconsin. Being surrounded by a family of grown up sons, he decided to emigrate to the great West, where each could secure that birthright for every American citizen--a good home. He first emigrated to Minnesota, where he remained some time, but was never satisfied until reaching the beautiful undulating prairie near the east line of Lyon County. From here to the Big Sioux river he was delighted with the country. Ascending the high table land overlooking the present town of Beloit, he beheld in the broad and magnificent valley of the Sioux future wealth, population and prosperity. He accordingly settled here, on the tract of land where he now resides, while his sons settled across the river in Dakota.
Mr. Hyde and his sons immediately set to work and erected the little cabin which formed the first dwelling in Lyon County. Little did they dream, as the sound of their axes broke the solitude never before disturbed by the husbandman, that so soon should they be surrounded by a prosperous community, and all the blessings of civilization.
Mr. Hyde is now being rewarded for his hardship which he endured in leaving an old settled country to become the pioneer of Lyon County. His homestead is one of the most valuable in the county, containing a find body of black walnut, oak, ash, maple and other timber; and his two sons own good farms near him, and are prosperous and happy.
During this summer(1866) the preliminary survey of the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad was made, and their land grant located. This was the beginning of an enterprise which is now doing good work in helping to build up Northwestern Iowa and Lyon County.
It was also during this summer that the first land grant swindle was perpetrated upon Lyon County. This was done by the Des Moines Valley Railroad Company, under an indemnity land grant made by Congress. Through that grant this company secured 38,000 acres of the finest bottom lands in Lyon County, which would otherwise have passed into the hands of actual settlers, under the Homestead law, and the line of road which this company proposes to build for these lands does not run within eighty miles of Lyon County.
In the fall, Mr. Hyde and his sons returned to Minnesota to pass the winter, and make preparations to remove their families to the county in the spring. And Lyon County was left to trappers, Indians and wild beasts, with no record of its history for the winter of 1866-7.
In the spring of 1867, this little band returned with their families to the scene of their former labor and commenced work. With Sioux City, seventy miles distant, for their nearest market, and the treacherous Sioux Indians to keep them company, their advantages for a successful summer's work must have been anything but good.
During this summer, Cerro Gordo County located a tract of 30,000 acres of beautiful land in Lyon County, as indemnity for swamp land due it from Government. That county afterward transferred these lands to the McGregor and Missouri River Railroad Company, who will probably run their line of road through them, giving us an Eastern market. This will partly compensate for their loss to actual settlement.
In the fall of 1867, Halvor Nelson, of Clayton County, who is justly regarded as one of the fathers of Lyon County, accompanied by his brother, Ole Nelson, started West to prospect for a location to engage in the mill business and build up a town. Mr. Nelson followed up the Big Sioux to where now stands the flourishing town of Beloit. Here he found a splendid water power, situated in one of the most extensive and fertile valleys in the West.
Regarding these as the sure foundation of a city, he proceeded at once to Sioux City and entered a large tract of land embracing what is now Beloit. He then returned to Clayton County, to prepare to bring out a colony of Norwegians in the spring.
During the winter of 1867-8, L.P. Hyde and family, and "Uncle Dan," who, during the summer, had taken a homestead at "Uncle Dan's Ford," were the only inhabitants of Lyon County, and we are able to glean little concerning the events or character of this winter.
Early in the spring of 1868, Mr. Nelson, with his colony, consisting of thirty wagons, took up their journey for Lyon County. The last hundred miles of their journey lay across an open prairie, without bridges, or even a trail to guide their course. The water being high, they encountered many difficulties in crossing streams and keeping their route.
Reaching Beloit, part of the colony settled in Dakota, and James Paulson, Chris. H. Sogn, A.K. Lee, Arne Helgerson, Gano Gunderson and Morton Hanson settled near Beloit, where, amid many difficulties, they began opening farms.
Mr. Nelson immediately commenced work on his sawmill, and, although obliged to freight machinery and supplies from Sioux City, had it running before winter. A good quality of oak, black walnut, ash, and cottonwood lumber was turned out, which greatly aided in the settlement of the Sioux Valley.
In the month of May of this season, H.D. Rice, then of Clay County, Iowa, encouraged by tales of the wonderful beauty of Lyon County, proceeded to explore the Rock river. Mr. Rice was much impressed with the extent and richness of this valley. But it was while standing on the highland above the now rising town of Doon that nature, in all its romantic beauty, seems to have burst upon his view. Before him, the broad and fertile valley of the Rock, with its sparkling waterfalls and groves of timber, wound away to the southwest until lost in the blue horizon of Dakota. The meandering Little Rock, its bright waters shimmering in the sunlight; the West Branch, with its delicate fringe of willow, and the green plateaus of these limitless prairies lay, as yet untouched by the hand of civilization, before him. Who shall tell what were his feelings as he stood thus transfixed? Suffice for us to say, that he resolved here to build his permanent home. And from that time until the present, Mr. Rice has never lost faith in the ultimate prosperity of this country, and his voice and hand have ever been given in aiding the development of Lyon County.
In July, Mr. Rice, accompanied by L.F. Knight, reached the forks of the Rock a second time, where they built a cabin, and began the first settlement on Rock river. In August, Mr. Rice returned to Clay County for his family, leaving Mr. Knight alone at the forks of the Rock. This circumstance gave rise to the name of Doon, which this place now bears. Sitting in solitude on the bank of this beautiful stream, far removed from all humanity, with naught but the songs of the birds or the murmur of the waterfall to break the silence of the wild, Mr. Knight recalled those touching lines of Burns', beginning:
"Ye banks and braes o' Bonnie Doon,
How can ye bloom sac fresh and fair;
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sac weary, fu' o' care!"
Which suggested the name which he gave to this place, and which it will ever retain. In August, Emerick Erwin and H.W. Reves built a cabin near the forks, where they spent the following winter. Mrs. Rice reached Doon in September, and moving into their little cabin, was the first white woman to settle on the Rock river. J.B. Hartson, of Wisconsin, arrived at Doon the latter part of December, and selected the tract of land where he now resides.
These persons and the little colony at Beloit comprised the population of Lyon County for the winter of 1868-9. This winter was very mild, with little snow. Mr. Rice turned his stock out on the river bottoms early in March, where they subsisted in good order without feed.
The various bands of Yankton Indians hunting through this region seem to have been peaceable, and although almost cut off from the world, these little settlements passed the winter in comparative comfort.
In May, 1869, Charles H. Johnson, of Wisconsin, one of the hard-working pioneers of Lyon County, explored the valley of the Little Rock river. Mr. Johnson was highly pleased with the great natural beauty and fertility of this valley. He accordingly selected a homestead at the junction of the Little Rock river and Otter Creek, and began the settlement of the Little Rock valley, now one of the best settled in Lyon County.
Soon after this, T.W. Johnson, A.A. Johnson, Emerick Erwin, and Messrs. McGuire, also settled near the forks of these streams, and the settlement of the Little Rock was fairly begun.
Prior to this, no settlement had been made in what is now Rock township, and the Rock River valley on the north part of the county had never been visited with a view to settlement. In the month of June, D.C. Whitehead, of Webster County, a live man, who has ever been foremost in the development of Lyon County, proceeded to explore the resources of this region. On his route he was joined by Matthias Sweesy and Dolos Towsley. On the 22nd of June this party reached the rapids at the junction of the Rock and Kanaranzi rivers, and here stood enchanted by the sound of the waterfall, which for ages had wasted its power and lavished its beauty upon the wilderness. They were at once filled with enthusiasm and high hopes of the future greatness of the place. Mr. Whitehead here gave it the name of Rock Rapids, which will ever remain unchanged.
The party then selected homesteads, Mr. Whitehead nearly adjoining the present town plat, and Messrs. Sweesy and Towsley, a short distance above, and then left to return with their families. Thus was begun the now thriving town of Rock Rapids and the settlement of Rock Township.
In June, Geo W. McQueen and John A. Wagner, of Lynn County, reached the county. Mr. McQueen entered several fine tracts of Government land, and settled permanently at Doon. Mr. Wagner selected a homestead on Burr Oak Creek, beginning the settlement on that stream.
In July, S.G. Martin and Justice Martin and family, settled a short distance above Rock Rapids, Mrs. Justice Martin being the first white woman to settle in Rock township, and they were the only family residing in that township during the winter of 1869-70.
While this progress was being made on the Rock, the Sioux valley was not at a stand-still. In July, Amos Severson, Thorsten Korsted, Ole Sorenson, Hans J. Oleson, Simon Tobiason, and others, settled on the Big Sioux in Township 99, and began what is now one of the most prosperous settlements in the county. And John Albertson started the settlement between Doon and Beloit. In November, E.W. Lewis, of Pennsylvania, selected a tract of land on the Big Sioux, in what is now the township of Larchwood, where he settled the following spring.
The colony at Beloit had received considerable additions to its numbers, and this season raised the first crop, of any importance, in the county, which was a good one. The dam at Nelson's mill, which had been carried off by the high water in the spring, was replaced, and Beloit wore a lively appearance.
During this summer, H.D. Rice built a large frame house on his place at Doon, which was the first frame building built at Doon, or on Rock river. A large share of the lumber for this building was hauled from Sioux City seventy miles. But the protection which it afterward afforded settlers as they reached the county, amply repaid for the great labor in its construction.
During this summer, large tracts of Government land in Lyon County were entered by speculators, which is much to be regretted, as these lands would have soon passed into the hands of actual settlers, under the Homestead law.
In the fall of 1869, the Dubuque and Sioux City Railroad was completed to LeMars. This brought markets and mail thirty miles nearer; but it can hardly be said that crossing a prairie forty miles in width, for a sack of flour or a letter, are "excellent facilities."
At the close of the year 1869, the population of Lyon County probably did not number more than a hundred souls. This may seem strange, as the first settlement in the county had been made three years before. But this region of country had as yet scarcely been heard of, and the few settlers who were there came almost by accident, or were brought in by the exertions of those who had settled first. The country, for a hundred miles to the east and south, was unsettled, and received the heavy immigration then passing westward, or it passed on to the extensively advertised regions to the south and west.
The winter of 1869-70 was mild, with the exception of two or three storms, which were of the severest kind. This and the preceding winter having been pleasant, these storms came unexpectedly, and in many cases caused extreme suffering. Some incidents of this kind are worthy of mention.
In January, S.G. Martin, with his daughter Lilly and son Clay, were crossing the prairie, from LeMars to Lyon County, with horses and wagon. While out on the open prairie, miles from the timber, a house, or shelter of any kind, they were overtaken by the terrible storm of that month. The snow, driven by a high wind, came so thick and with such force as to completely blind man or beast, making it impossible for them to keep their course or to proceed against the storm. The thermometer sank rapidly, the cold became extreme, and they seemed likely to all soon perish. With great presence of mind, Mr. Martin, assisted by his son, unloaded some sacks of flour and grain which he had with him, and stood them up in circular form, covering the top with blankets. He then unhitched the team and tied them to the wagon, and, with his son and daughter, crawled into the slight shelter they had so hastily prepared. Here they lay for two days and three nights, the wind howling, the snow blowing through the crevices, and packing around them so closely that they were unable to move. Who can comprehend the anguish of that father, when, during the third night, after lying in that terrible situation for nearly sixty hours, without having tasted food and suffering unutterable anguish from the cold, his daughter exclaimed: "Father, I am freezing!" Happily they lived through the night, and the next morning, the storm having ceased, succeeded in making their way to Doon. Here they were kindly cared for in the family of H.D. Rice, where, although badly frozen, they finally recovered.
During the month of February of this winter, H.T. Helgerson selected a homestead at Beloit, where he now resides. C.H. Moon also selected a homestead adjoining the present town plat of Rock Rapids, where he settled the following spring, and D.C. Whitehead moved to Rock Rapids with his family, enduring great hardship and suffering from a terrible storm which came on at the time of their arrival.
The spring of 1870 opened with brighter prospects for Lyon County. The settlers put forth exertions to secure a share of the immigration of the season, and a much larger population was added than on any previous year. Large additions were made to the settlements in the west part of the county, and the good work of opening new farms was carried vigorously on.
Early in the spring, James H. Wagner, Wm. Wagner, Jas. I. Taylor and Robert Parks settled on Burr Oak creek and J.S. Smith, Christian Larson, Isaac Kester, John Monlux, Abram J. Hamlin and Wm. Hamlin, near Rock Rapids.
While the settlement of the central and western part of the county was now fairly begun, the eastern part was entirely vacant. This is embraced with the limits of the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad, and the even numbered sections were held by the Government, for actual settlement only, at $2.50 per acre, or homesteads of eighty acres each.
In June, S.C. Hyde, of Wisconsin, settled on Otter Creek in the southeast corner of the county, making efforts to secure immigration for that region. The Soldiers Homestead Act, approved in July, added a strong stimulus to the settlement of these lands. In July, Messrs. Schultz and others settled near the mouth of Otter creek. Later, John F. Thompson, Eli Baker, John Thompson and William Mead, with a number of families from their respective neighborhoods in Illinois and Wisconsin, made selections further east on Otter creek. In November, Jacob Hinshaw, Harmon Cook and Isaac Lawrence, made the first selections for the Quaker settlement on Otter creek, and the foundations for the settlement of the east part of the county were now laid.
In July, G.R. Badgerow, of Toronto, Ont., located at Doon, engaging in the real estate business, and buying several tracts of land on Rock river. In September, J.A. Carpenter and sons, of Beloit, Wisconsin, bought a half interest in Halvor Nelson's mill and real property on the Big Sioux. The name of Beloit was then given to the town, and the building of a first-class flouring mill begun.
Later in the fall, J.S. Howell, of Cherokee County, selected his present location at Rock Rapids, and became interested in that town.
During the summer of 1870, Lyon County shared with the whole West in a severe drought, lasting from the first of July until the close of the season. For a time the settlers were almost discouraged, yet where land was fairly under cultivation, crops were excellent.
In the fall, the citizens of Lyon petitioned the Board of Supervisors of Woodbury County for a county organization. This was refused, but a township organization granted, and two townships, Lyon and Rock, embracing the whole of Lyon County, were organized January 1st, 1871.
In September, the Federal census was taken in Lyon, giving a population of 221 persons, probably about the actual number.
On the 28th of May, 1871, was born the first child in Lyon County, Odena Lee, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A.K. Lee, of Lyon township.
The first sermon preached in Lyon County was delivered by Rev. Ellef Oleson, of Dakota, on the 6th of September, 1870, at Mr. Nelson's residence in Beloit.
At the same time and place were married, by Mr. Oleson, Ole Torberson and Petrina Peterson, the first marriage in Lyon County.
As winter closed upon the inhabitants of Lyon, they were called upon to record the first death in the county, being that of Lyman A. Wagner, son of Mr. and Mrs. John A. Wagner, who died on the 26th of December, 1870, aged 4 years and 20 days. This event cast a gloom over the little community in Lyon, and reminded them that as with individuals, so it is with a community, a county, or a nation, no sooner do we begin to live than we begin to die.
The winter of 1870-1 was the most remarkable for its mildness of any within the memory of men in the west. There was not more than three inches of snow on the ground during the winter. Men worked out of doors in their shirt-sleeves, and stock could have wintered without shelter or feeding. A peculiarity of the weather was the preval3ence of northwest winds, accompanied by warm, thawing weather, a feature peculiar to Northwestern Iowa.
During the latter part of the winter of 1870-1 the first school was taught in Lyon County by Mrs. D.C. Whitehead, at Rock Rapids.
With the opening of the spring of 1871, Northwestern Iowa received the largest immigration in its history, and Lyon County received its full share. This was greatly owing to the construction of the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad, then begun. Settlers crowded in and took the last of the vacant Government lands. One company from Appleton, Wisconsin, under the leadership of W.B. May and Anson Tolman, numbering twenty-five families, settled upon a fine body of land on the Little Rock river. This spring a mail route was opened from LeMars, via Doon and Rock Rapids, to Luverne, Minn., which event was hailed with joy by the inhabitants of this so long isolated region. During this spring a fine frame school building, the first in Lyon County, was built at Rock Rapids.
At Beloit, Messrs. Nelson and Carpenter erected several fine buildings, and continued the work on their flouring mill. Messrs. Goetz & Thorson engaged in the mercantile and real estate business, opening the first merchandising establishment in Lyon County.
During the summer, J.W. Fell, of Bloomington, Ill., commenced improvements at the present town of Larchwood, which had been laid out in 1870, and planted over 100,000 fruit and forest trees on his lands adjoining the town.
On the 25th of July, at Rock Rapids, was commenced the publication of the Rock Rapids Journal, C.E. Bristol, editor. This was the first issue of a newspaper in Lyon County, and although the publishers were, for the time, obliged to procure their printing from outside the county, it performed a good work in making known the superior inducements which this region offered to immigration.
During the fall a large settlement was made throughout the county, especially in the eastern part, and by the beginning of the winter of 1871-2 the population of the county was probably one thousand.
On the 10th of October, 1871, was held the first election in the county. Ninety-seven votes were polled at this election, all of which were given for the Republican ticket.
On the 1st of January, Lyon severed its connection with Woodbury County, and was organized as an independent County, and the county officers elected at the preceding election, whose names are given elsewhere, entered upon the discharge of their duties.
Lyon County shared with the whole West in the extremely hard winter of 1871-2, and the record of that period would form a painful chapter in its history. A large share of the settlers had but just reached their claims, were unprepared for winter, and many of them were obliged to haul their fuel a long distance from the timber. In this condition winter set in upon them very early, was uncommonly cold, accompanied by severe storms, and caused much hardship and suffering.
With the spring of 1872 came the beginning of a new era in the history of Lyon County. A large amount of land was broken the year previous, the season has been an exceedingly fruitful one, and a bountiful harvest, with health and prosperity, has rewarded the pioneer for his toil. The Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad has been completed, opening up the great lumber markets of Minnesota and Wisconsin and the coal fields of Iowa. With the railroad have come the telegraph and the printing press, and noble men and women to build happy homes and people our lands. Capital has begun to join hands with the labor of the pioneer in developing our natural resources, and the sunshine of prosperity has beamed upon us. We are no longer contending with savages and wild beasts for the land we occupy. The blessings of art and science, the school and the church, society and fraternity, and all that contributes to the usefulness and happiness of man we now enjoy.
Thus have a band of hardy pioneers, enduring the perils and privations of frontier life, laid the foundations of Lyon County. They have organized society in the wilderness; first the cabin, the field, and then a neighborhood; then a school, a village, a church and a county.
They have erased the landmarks of the red man, and made the plow to take the place of the bow and arrow in obtaining a livelihood, and intelligence and humanity to supersede barbarism and war.
Standing at the front in an age of progress, through energy, endurance, and a strong faith in the future, they have paved the way and created a heritage of wealth, prosperity and happiness for those who are to come after them.
Happy that their perils, their hardships and sufferings have not been in vain.
"They crossed the prairies as of old the pilgrims crossed the sea, To make West as they the East, the homestead of the free."
Webization by Kermit Kittleson - Aug. 2006