Peeking Into Lake City's Past

Episode #6

Let's pretend that you the reader are in a Time Capsule.

The year is 1870, You Are the Author of This Historic Story AS The Events Take Place.

You were born in Cass county, Michigan in 1834. When you were 19 years old, you and a group of adventurous neighbors migrated to Fort Des Moines, Iowa. When you were 20 years old, you went on a Big Game Hunt with Peter Smith and several friends, up the north Raccoon River over 100 miles S.W. to the delta of Lake Creek.

Your Party turned north-east up Lake Creek about three miles where you came upon a newly built log cabin occupied by Calhoun County's first white settlers, the Ebenezer Comstock family. Your party was so impressed by the rich soil, abundant timber, wild game and fresh water, that several members of your group filed homestead claims making Calhoun and Jackson townships their permanent home. At this writing, you have been here 16 years, you are now 36 years old, married to Nellie Skinner and after 11 years of marriage expecting your first child.

Dear Readers, as I communicate with you through these letters I would like to make some positive comments about our newly established schools. People back east know that Iowa is a wilderness state so I am sure they are surprised to learn that we rate fifth in the entire nation for academic achievements. The rating is stated by a Government Agency on education who gave achievement tests to students in all schools nation wide. We have cause to be proud of our excellent teachers and our children. We must respect our teachers who are so very capable, when it comes to teaching readin, written and rithmetic to the tune of the well known Hickory Stick, or perhaps in our case a native walnut stick. Yes, our teachers are doing their job well teaching wilderness bred children who realize that the more they learn, the easier life will become for them. I remember Calhoun County's first school before it was abandoned. It was located about five blocks west of the border of the original town plat. The tiny school was a log structure with shingle siding. (Note: in 1986, the location would be near the Swimming pool.) Needless to say we love our dedicated teachers, but unfortunately some of them pay a high price in their effort to improve teaching skills.

It grieves me to report that last year, 1869, our Lake City teacher, Mr. Michael O'Donoghue lost his life trying to improve his teaching ability. The Lake City School Board hired Mr. O'Donoghue from a High School in Rockford, Illinois. Mike, as we affectionately called him was a college man with a degree in Civil Engineering. It seems that Mike and John Fickle, who teaches the Wild Cat school north west of Lake City planned to attend a Teachers Institute to be held in Manson. Since coming here, Mike has filed a homestead claim of farm one mile south of south Twin Lake.

On the fateful day, February 26, 1890 Mike dismissed his pupils at 2 p.m. in preparation for his journey on foot. When his companion, John Fickle, arrived about 2:30 the two men took off across the prairie, planning to spend the night in Mike's sod house near the lake. Neither man give a thought to the danger of such a journey in mid-February as both were in prime physical condition and the weather had been mild most of the winter. About dusk they passed through the Gregg settlement having made good time their first miles.

While the boys were enjoying a lunch served by Mrs. Gregg, it began to look like a storm was coming the sky was spitting light snow. The remaining twelve miles to Mike's cabin was over unbroken slough prairie, solidly frozen, without a single habitation. Tillmann Gregg warned the boys of possible danger and invited them to stay at the settlement until the weather clears. The dedicated teachers were anxious to complete their plan so they started the 12 mile track across the trackless prairie. About an hour later, the storm moved in, becoming so severe that snow blinded them from seeing three feet ahead. Somehow, according to Mr. Fickle, they got separated in the blinding, howling blizzard and were not able to find each other.

John estimated the wind velocity to be in excess of 60 miles per hour, creating a roar that made it impossible for either man to hear human call. The storm continued it's violent blasts for three days and nights. John Fickle, stumbling through the storm finally found primitive shelter in the wooded area near south Twin Lake.

When the terrible storm abated, John Fickle was able to make his way back to the Gregg Settlement. Searching parties were organized to include every able bodied man in the Settlement, hoping that Mike too, had contrived to reach some kind of shelter and be found alive.

However, the killing storm with wind velocity estimated to exceed 70 miles per hour at times obliterated every trace of Mike's trail, making it useless to continue the search. All searchers knew that if he fell, he would soon be buried in deep snow.

The following month, on March 20th, 1869, Ronaldo Grey a hunter found our Teacher's body within a mile of Mike O'Donohue's homestead cabin. He had walked 19 miles, only to perish when he was nearly in sight of his home.

Mike's body was brought to Lake City and laid to rest on the Bank of the Raccoon River, southwest of newly established village. Thus, the blizzard of 1869 was an event in Calhoun County's history, never to be forgotten.

Now, for more pleasant news, our famous citizen, the Honorable Captain William (Bill) Fitch will soon be up for re-election to the State Senate. Most folks feel certain of his election victory.

Our county's population has now reached 1,602 from point zero when our first Settler arrived in 1854, just 15 years ago and folks are still coming. Our neighbors and the Writer's family are proud to welcome two fine families from Switzerland. The Binkerts and Volkmans arrived a short time ago to farm in Jackson Township. They appear to be honest, hard working Christian folks, the kind our wilderness Community needs.

We in Jackson also extend a special welcome to James and Mary Kilgore Blanchfield who originated in Ireland, through Canada to Iowa. The Blanchfields migrated to the USA to find economic opportunity and freedom from oppression that was not available to them in Ireland.

And now for the greatest news, My dearly beloved wife whom I call Sweet Nellie, has at last, given me a bouncing baby boy. We are so happy, I can hardly think. Our friendly neighbors not only celebrate with us, but some helped us handle the event.

Mrs. Bill Frickle asked me to call her at the very sign and she would leave her large family in Bill's care and take care of Nellie. I called her last Monday and Wednesday at about 9 a.m. she instructed me to go fetch Dr. Hollenbeck. When I arrive at the Doctor's home in Lake City, Mrs. Hollenbeck informed me the Doctor was attending a sick child at the Christy Smith home south of Town. I quickly kicked old Dobbin in the flanks, rushed to the Smith Homestead to find the good Doctor. My only thoughts at this time was of Nellie. I knew the Smith child needed the Doctor, but so did my Nellie, she was giving birth to the most important child in our community. Upon notification Dr. Hollenbeck quickly got into his buggy to follow me through the shortest route to my home.

When we arrived, Nellie was in full labor and my little angel was soon to be born. Like most fathers, I paced the floor in the dining room and kitchen waiting for the Doc to call me. The baby was crying so I knew it wouldn't be long. About a half hour later, Mrs. Frickle asked me to see my wife and son. Nellie was so happy that her first born was a boy. She had some trouble delivering which Dr. Hollenbeck said might have been because of her age. He said the first ones come easier when mothers are in their late teens or early twenties. However, both Nellie and the baby seem to be healthy for which I am truly thankful. Before the Doctor left, he, Mrs. fickle, Nellie and the proud father had a 20 minute prayer service. We read scripture and gave thanks to God for watching over and guiding us during this emotional event, for protecting us against the ravages of disease, for physical strength to live a happy and spiritually rewarding life. After the prayers were ended, my Sweet Nellie said: "Now my dear husband, you have a son to share your joys, to improve our home and to extend our land holdings for his future benefit and hopefully for his brothers and sisters yet unborn. Such is God's gift to American pioneers who are willing to give more to the land than they receive". Today, by the grace of God we have an heir named George Edwin Rogan.

With everything that is good and bad in this world, time marches on. It is now 1871, and we began this year with a modern Newspaper to stimulate personal and economic interest in our community. The new Enterprise is established by Mr. B. F. Gue and Mrs. E. W. Wood and is named "The Calhoun County Pioneer", the first newspaper in Calhoun County.

Now for more good news, we have another new Medical Doctor named Dr. F. C. Stewart. He is a graduate of the highly reputed College of Physicians and Surgeons for maximum convenience to patients. He is the first Physician to come to us with a scientific medical degree. Dr. Stewart is a Civil War Veteran, and has spent most of his time since the war studying for the practice he will operate in Lake City. During the War, Dr. Stewart was decorated for his loyalty and valor while serving the Union Army. Having such a fine Doctor and dedicated person practicing here is a blessing to our small community especially when the terrible disease epidemic strike.

As more settlers come, Calhoun County is becoming better organized. We are now collecting enough Tax revenue to establish a County Poor Farm for those persons who can't care for themselves. The program calls for those who are physically able to work the land, to raise crops, milk cows, raise poultry, hogs, horses and perhaps sheep. Such income producing activities shall be under the direction of a competent farmer and hopefully will produce enough food and income to maintain the facility. The seriously ill residents will receive care from female attendants, trained and supervised by local Physicians.

It seems that the desire for Christian influence in the Lake City area is steadily growing. Our prominent pioneer family, the Peter Smiths, their relatives and friends are organizing another Church in Lake City. It is called the New Lights Christian Church and will be built on a corner lot one block north of the N.W. corner of the square, on a northwest corner of said intersection. We hope the new Christian Church will attract folks who have not been worshiping God in the other churches.

Among the numerous things happening in this year 1872 is the arrival of another Union Soldier to make his home in our wilderness. His name is L. F. Danforth and he plans to go into a partnership with a fellow Union Soldier, Mr. H. H. Hutchinson. The partners have purchased the 22 ft. x 41 ft. frame store building erected by Peter Smith and Sons located at 101 N. Center St. The partners say they will continue to deal in general merchandise as the Smiths have since the store was built.

Lest I forget important events, last year, 1871, a highly reputed newspaper man named Mr. T. B. Hotchkiss arrived in Lake City with the first minister of the New Lights Christian Church. His name is Reverend Burch. It seems the newsman and the preacher were close friends back east where they grew up. The Reverend Burch will be a popular leader of the church established by the Peter Smith family and it is a foregone conclusion that when the young Mr. Hotchkiss decides to marry, Reverend Burch will perform the ceremony.

As I said before, time seems to pass more quickly every year. Cash money is scarce on the Iowa frontier but our community enjoys a slow but steady growth. Our settlers are gaining wealth by draining and developing Calhoun County's rich land. More wealth is created by building new homes, businesses, blacksmith manufacturing of needed tools and farm equipment, professional establishments and farm buildings. Such activities increase production and valuable inventories of grain, livestock, and poultry that can be exchanged for foreign commodities or US money. Our economy is secured by settlers coming from the east to establish a farmstead or business who bring money with them that will recirculate within our community. Most of our settlers will say they are poor because they don't have much cash but mostly are wealthy or soon will be with assets in Real Estate and Agriculture Commodities. But even, so their greatest wealth is the freedom and independence they can find only in the great USA. May it always be so.

To be continued.