Peeking Into Lake City's Past

Episode #5

In past episodes, readers were invited to enter a time capsule and become the pioneer person telling this story. You Were There. You came to what is now Lake City, Calhoun County with a hunting party organized by your friends Peter Smith to hunt big game along the north Raccoon River and Lake Creek. You were welcomed by Calhoun's first white settlers, the Ebenezer Comstock family. Most of your Party originated in Cass County, Michigan, having located temporarily in Polk County near Fort Des Moines. Impressed by our rich soil, abundant supply of trees, wild game and fresh water, most of your party filed land claims in and near what is now Lake City.

You and your friends were responsible for the founding of Lake City as the seat to Government for Calhoun County. You were only 20 years old when you arrived in 1854. The Fifth Episode Begins on November 20th, 1868, you are now 34 years old.

As I begin episode number five, I must remind you that I have been a Calhoun County resident fourteen years and very proud of the progress we have made. A lot of fine people have come to make this their permanent home and out civic and fraternal establishment are increasing. We now have a Masonic Fraternity, Zerubbel Lodge which I understand numerous citizens are interested in joining. We also have another new minister Rev. George Moody who will lead the congregation of the newly established Christian disciples Church. More folds continue to arrive. A few weeks ago, a string of covered wagons transporting livestock, tools and two families. The Tillman Gregg's and the Henry Hutchinson's arrived. They are the first to settle between Lake City and Twin Lakes. They came from Ohio and their wives are sisters.

The Great Locust Invasion

Now, I must tell you our bad news. This year, 1868 will be remembered as a tragically severe one for most of us. It was especially hard for new settlers like our neighbors, Bill and Prudence Fickle who came last February with nine children to settle here in Jackson Township. They arrived to become victims of the most devastating locust plague in our 14 years history. Most settlers preserve and store large quantities of food in bountiful years for such emergencies, whereas new arrivals must depend on a crop the first year to supplement what they brought along with them.

When the flying grass hoppers came, the sky went dark like a bad storm was brewing. We could hear a low hum in the distance that changed to a loud roar that sounded like a tornado in the next township as the destructive insects bore down on us. At first, a light spray of hoppers landed reminding one of sprinkles of rain that precedes a thunder storm, and moments later huge black clouds of insects that blacked out the sun, poured down on our grain fields, lawns, and gardens devouring everything green leaving the land black. They ate our wheat, corn, gardens and stripped our hay fields. When they left, the raped earth was lightly covered by green locusts. The attack caused a change in atmospheric conditions that made us fee we were in the middle of a bad dream and would soon awaken. After such a devastating shock, like this, some folks become discouraged and returned back east, leaving their homestead up for grabs. We are praying that Fickles, Hutchinsons and Greggs will be able to stick it out. They are rugged, Christian folds and heaven knows Calhoun County need such people to tame our wilderness. Now, one would think a locust plague would be enough trouble for one year. However, our year started with a severe blizzard that forced most of us to hole up for nearly three weeks. It began by snowing and blowing without a let-up for five days and nights fifty to seventy mile per hour winds piled snow so deep many single story homes and log cabins were completely buried, forcing occupants to dig their way out. Farmers strung ropes between their house and barn to prevent getting lost while tending their livestock. During the month of January, a flu epidemic broke out, striking several families. We farmers suffered most because there was no way a doctor could get outside the village. However, the Lord was with us, only two people died and both were in their sixties. As a prelude to the locust invasion, our spring weather was dryer than usual. Later in the year, because we have so many acres of slough land with dead grass a foot deep, Calhoun County had a bad prairie fire. The fire which started in the north central section of the county, was driven south by a strong wind. The community quickly joined forces to keep the fire away from what crops we were growing by re-planting and from our homes and farm buildings. We hastily plowed furrows around fields and buildings and started back fires wherever possible. Many of us are deeply grateful to our friends in the village who not only worked to save the town but helped farmers where ever possible.

The fire terminated at the Raccoon River. Yes, we can say we are a close knit community willing to help each other to survive.

November, 1869

On the brighter side, Sweet Nellie and I have some more new neighbors. Last spring, Sanford and William (Billy) Townsend arrived with their families. Sanford, a painter and musician is settling in the village while Bill, age 35 and his wife Sarah filed a land claim in Elk Run township in Carroll County about five miles south of our farm in Jackson township. Billy tells me he is a blacksmith and will be available to help neighbors on a help-exchange basis. Billy also told me he expects to expand his business activities as time goes on. I am looking for the Townsends' to become leading citizens of our community.

In case you are interested, life is never dull in our wilderness. I have another story that encompasses both good and bad news. When a farmer looses livestock on which he depends to feed and support his family. That is bad news. Last month, five of we Jackson Township farmers were loosing pigs, poultry and lambs. First we thought someone was rustling our stock. Then someone reported seeing a strange, wild animal roaming through our Lake Creek groves. Someone reported hearing weird sounds in the night that resembled that of a hysterical woman crying for help. It was further reported that the animal's lair must be in the Lake Creek timber in the area of our farms. With this information, we five farmers formed a hunting party to go after the thief. The hunters surrounded the grove in question and worked inward until predatory animal was brought to bay by a well placed rifle bullet fired by James B. Scott. When the animal dropped, it was a full grown male lynx. W were so proud of our kill that we had him mounted and put on display in the window of John Lumpkin's store for all citizens to inspect. The lynx was an unusually large animal, who had apparently been stealing our means of livelihood for quite sometime.

My, my the years fly bye so fast it's now 1870. I have been a resident of Calhoun County for sixteen years, sweet Nellie Skinner has been my wife for eleven years and at long last, she is in the family way. We have hoped and prayed for this to happen since we were married and last, the Lord is answering our prayers. We are hoping the first child will be a boy to help me develop and expand our land holdings. We also hope that the next one will be a girl to assist her mother in the many hard duties of today's pioneer homemaker.

I am proud to say that our small community is receiving more settlers every year making it possible for our county seat village to offer more services and perhaps a larger selection of manufactured goods. The population of our county has increased from the Comstock family to a total of 1,602 men, women and children.

Nellie and I have a beautiful farm home and are blessed with sincere, friendly and compassionate neighbors who are willing to help a neighbor when help is needed. In spite of hardships caused by locust invasions, prairie fires, drought, crop failures and reduced yields because of cutworms and insects, epidemics of flu, small pox, measles and a bloody Civil War, Nellie and I are happy and looking forward to raising a family which we hope to start this year, 1870 which I will report to you in episode number six. To Be Continued. Note: Tillman Gregg, who with his sister and brother-in-law Henry Hutchinson, were the first settlers between Lake City and Twin Lakes. The Greggs came to Lake City and Calhoun county in 1868. He was the first treasurer for Calhoun county when the courthouse was in Lake City. William Billy Townsend, (1834-1902), early Lake City business entrepreneur. William A Townsend arrived in March 1869 with his brother and their families. Billy and wife Sarah filed a land claim in Elk Run Township, Carroll County, about 5 miles south of the Aurthor's farm. Billy, a blacksmith said he would exchange work with neighbors.