Sioux County Families

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Submitted by Hugh Campbell, Ottawa ON

From 'A Brief History of David Beach and Phoebe Daniels Beach and their Descendants'
Compiled by Wilfred W. Beach, privately published, 1937

The Beaches in Alton, Iowa
[pp 403-409]

"Emulating the example of their forefathers of six generations before, and of their own grandfather's father, David Beach, we find again, in 1876, three Beach Brothers, Isaac William, Alexander and Albert, pioneering in the little town of East Orange in Sioux Co., Iowa. Only a brief four years had gone by since "Alex" and "Jennie", with their baby Edna,, had moved from Minnesota into one of the first homes built in the place, - the "depot cottage", located across the tracks from the combination freight and passenger depot. This cottage built of frame construction nearly sixty years ago, is still in good condition.

"The young couple had, indeed, "gone west to grow up with the country", pioneering in very fact, for this was only a short time after the infamous Spirit Lake Massacre, less than a hundred miles away, and the consequent hanging of the guilty redmen, - events that must have been all too fresh in the minds of the young Canadian school teacher and the minister's daughter who had cast her lot with his. Nor were the occurrences of that first winter calculated to make things easier for them. The cold settled down upon that bleak prairie before East Orange was yet a town, naught but a plot on the railroad company's map, intended to be a station to serve the Dutch Colony of Orange City, founded a year or two previous, two-and-a-half miles to the northwest, through the enterprise of one Henry Hospers, a promoter, we would call him today. He had brought a host of his countrymen up from the older Dutch settlement at Pella, Iowa, and had been joined by other families, fresh from Holland, the forebears of the present Sioux County Dutch.

"But, in 1872, there was no town at East Orange Station and but little at Orange City. A second baby, Wilfred came to Alex and Jennie that November, in a howling blizzard - and the nearest doctor sixteen miles distant at Lemars. But loyal Dr. De Lespanesse rode the distance through the storm on horseback to usher in the first white child to be born in the so-new town.

"In spite of Hospers' careful herding, all the Dutch did not adhere to the Orange City settlement, some sensing better commercial opportunities closer by the little railroad depot, over which Alex Beach presided in the combined capacity of station agent, telegraph operator, baggage smasher, express-agent and freight-handler. There was a midnight passenger in each direction, hence an assistant was given him, one Charlie Joy, afterwards general manager of the Hydraulic Press Brick Co. at Omaha and Kansas City.

"The town-site filled in rapidly. Frame stores and more cottages and de Kraay's Depot Hotel were built, for all of which Alex handled the incoming lumber and hardware and, presently, the stoves that were needed for them - and the coal also. Soon, he had a regular lumber-yard, then a hardware store, to which were added a farm-implement and grain and live-stock business. As he envisioned the rapidly-expanding endeavors, he realized the need of much help, if he were to successfully carry on, and sent back to Canada for his brothers. Albert came in '75, and worked as a railway mail-clerk for a time, and went back that winter to get married. He returned the following spring with his wife, parents and sister, followed by his brother Will and family. The firm of Beach Bros. was organized by the three and proceeded to carry on Alec's growing business.

"A grain elevator was built, to be operated by Will Beach, while Alex and Albert looked after the lumber, hardware and implement end. Alec turned the depot over to his assistant, Jim Wilson (Joy's successor), and devoted all his time to Beach Bros.' affairs, Albert attending to the bookkeeping, etc. The fourth brother, Andrew, came from Michigan in '77 and was given charge of the lumber yard and implements. The live-stock business increased, and Lyman, the boys' father, looked after that industry. Thus was the entire tribal unit transplanted from the conventional environment of their staid Canadian homes to the fresh rawness of this western village.

"To be sure, there was none of the wildness about this western Iowa prairie settlement that accompanied the "rushes" to the Black Hills and other camps further westward, though the German saloons appeared in East Orange about as early as the church and school. Nor were the Indians altogether absent. There was much land still unfenced and they pursued their nomadic life quite unhampered by reservation restrictions. They would appear suddenly, make camp at the edge of town, near the depot cottage, help themselves to anything that was ripe in the fields, and beg potatoes, sugar, flour and the like at the doors of the settlers who were still just a little afraid, remembering Spirit Lake. One recalls, too, that the Sioux to the west were on the warpath, culminating in the Custer disaster in '76, about six hundred miles away. Mock Indian warfare was a favorite pastime with the village children.

"There was, for the first few years, but little entertainment for these settlers, other than what they themselves provided. But the "Beach boys" and their wives were all musically inclined. It was said that, when additional help was needed in the store or lumberyard, the first question asked the itinerant job-seeker was, "What instrument do you play?" Will Beach performed on either base-horn, trombone or bull-fiddle, and Emily, his wife, did creditably on the organ and dulcimer, and both sang well. Alex led the orchestra with his fiddle, or the band with his cornet. Andrew likewise "fiddled". Albert and his wife, Rachel, both sang and were apt in promoting community concerts. Lyman had a fine baritone voice, and could also beat the bass-drum in the band. Jim Wilson was a fiddler, too, and presently, his cousin, Milo Gibbs, came along - with his splendid tenor voice, a slide-trombone and a cello. Albert took him into the store as an assistant bookkeeper and clerk. (He later became a banker in Alton and is the only character in this story who still resides in the place.) A little later, his brother, Milton, happened along, more musical talent.

"Jim Wilson, for many years a banker at Hull, Iowa, and now living the life of a retired Iowan in Hollywood, Calif. writes from there under date of Nov. 22nd, 1930:-

"'I went to Alton - I think it was in 1877 - and ran the depot for A. L. Beach who was agent and operator, while he attended to the hardware and elevator business. For a time I lived at the de Kraay Hotel where I had my meals and a room. I had to attend the night passenger trains which arrived at Alton about midnight from Soo City and about 2 A. M. from St. Paul. Any money express that came I had to put in my pocket at 2 A. M., walk up to the hotel and put it under my pillow. Wonder I never was held up. Used to play pool at Pfeffer's saloon most every eve till the midnight train came.

"'Think I left in the fall of 1877, and went back to Alton as bookkeeper in the hardware store and elevator in 1879. As that time Beach Bros. wanted another man to help in the elevator. Gibbs had written me about that time, asking if I knew of a job, so Alex said, "Tell him to come down here." He came, and is yet at Alton.

"'As I remember the band or orchestra, I fiddled the fiddle, Milo the cello and I think a man named Lang played second violin. We played for some country dances, but I think the most interesting event we had was when we played for a dance in Alton, one cold winter night. Alton had no hall, so Pfeffer, who owned the saloon, said they could have the dance there, and he would guarantee no liquor would be sold. They rigged up the counter with some boards, and we got up there and started the dance, and about midnight they could not hear the music. We could saw away on one string and the dancers would think it was Sousa's Band.

"'In the fall of 1880, Oct. 15th, we had the worst storm I have ever experienced, and the snow remained on the ground until next spring. Gibbs and I were in the hardware store; could get no coal so we had to burn ear-corn, - had a nice big crib between the depot and the store. The railroad was unable to get trains through, only as they would get the tracks cleared, and possibly run one train when the wind would come and fill up the cuts, and no more trains for a week. The snow-shovelers were thick and we had to fight to get in to dinner ahead of them. Travelling men had to haul their grips from one town to another on hand sleds.'

"Among the few other Americans to come in was Joseph Herbert, who started a general store, captured the heart of the boys' sister, Margaret, and married her in the fall of '77. These Beach families were dominant factors in the community for several years. Each family, the parents as well, built a comfortable home, each of which, at last report, is still standing, after more than fifty years of weathering.

"Eventually, the jealousies between our growing town and the older and larger Orange City grew to where it was odious for our community to be known as "East Orange", as the railroad company had named it, hence a change was decided upon, promoted largely, no doubt, by the German Catholic element to whom the name of William of Orange had never a pleasing sound. The Beaches combined with them to prevent the Dutch calling the place Delfth, and "Alton" was adopted as a compromise. Thus it was incorporated in 1882, and Alex Beach was elected the first Mayor.

"The chief sport of the men was hunting. Game was more than abundant, especially prairie-chickens. Through summer and autumn, these flew in flocks of thousands. Ducks and geese were likewise plentiful in the spring and fall, as they migrated north or south. There were no game laws to restrain the hunters and they shot enough for their families and friends, as and when they could take the time. An occasional deer was also brought home, but bear and buffalo had long before been driven westward. Buffalo-robes and buffalo-coats were in every home, however. Coyotes, which we called "prairie-wolves", were numerous and were hunted with dogs and killed by some hunters with knives in close encounters.

"Storms of all sorts are of frequent occurrence in Northwestern Iowa, though we never knew a devastating cyclone. We were, however, always in fear of one and built our houses in such fashion that, if they were blown away, the lower floor would remain as a covering for the cellar, which was thus a safe cyclone retreat; though many constructed regular cyclone cellars outside. Into these cellars, be they indoors or out, the scared citizens rushed when the skies turned a frightful greenish yellow, forecast of the terrific wind that was almost upon us. It came, with but brief warning, any time of the day or night. (There were no official weather forecasts.) Roofs were torn off, chimneys blown down and buildings sometimes overturned.

"Once, in the early morning, as Alec was herding his brood down to safety, he looked out a window and saw his new barn sailing end-over-end toward the house, against which it crashed, breaking every window on that side, and reducing the barn to a year's supply of fire-wood - and leaving the forlorn horses and cow standing where their stalls had been.

"In the late spring of 1880, Alec and Jennie took their family of six children to Canada to visit her people, the Bonham's, most of whom were then living in or near Ridgetown, Ontario, a few miles from Lake Erie. In Ridgetown, for the first time, these Beach children encountered a centenarian, a lady 102 years old, born about 1778. They marveled greatly when she told of Washington's farewell to official life, celebrated by a procession in Philadelphia when she was 18 years old. She had tendered the President a bouquet, and he had responded by lifting her up on his stirrup and kissing her. Hitherto, historical characters had been mere figures in books, but, meeting someone who knew the "Father of our Country" made him something of flesh and blood - real.

"The winter of 1880-81 saw the heaviest and hardest-packed snows that we ever witnessed in Northwestern Iowa. The path from the road to "the house on the hill" led over the front gate, which was entirely concealed. The side of this snow-bank was chosen by the children as the site for a cave and they excavated accordingly. Presently, they discovered that they had undermined the path. Alarmed, they consulted their mother as to what should be done. Her advice was to "wait and see", which we did, assembled in the bay-window at the dinner-hour, expecting father's arrival. He came swinging along - until he reached a certain spot, when he quite vanished from sight.

"But fun and foolery were not dominant in this busy colony. In '77 came the terrible grasshopper scourge, spelling disaster for all Sioux County crops, that year and next, and bringing in its wake the financial doom of Beach Brothers.

"'They lit on the wheat stalks till their heft bent the wheat to the ground. When the sun was hot, it glistened on 'em till you'd 'a' thought the field was a sheet of water; and they eat the crops to the ground.' That was the first year, 'when the grasshoppers came in clouds that obscured the sun.' The devastation was complete - and no discoverable remedy. 'They filled the ground with their aigs till it was a regular honeycomb. I've seen so many hoppers on the railroad tracks that they stopped trains by mashin' to grease on the rails. I saw a red barn so covered with 'em that in the sunshine you'd 'a' thought it was new painted with isinglass stuck on it.' Then, the following year, the young came out and 'eat up everything green as soon as it was up in the spring exceptin' the prairie grass,' and the second year was as bad as the first. (Herbert Quick in 'The Hawkeye'.)

"But the grasshoppers were not the only scourge. Both smallpox and diptheria took their deadly toll. The former the Beaches escaped, by dint of strict quarantine. The hero of that epidemic was good Dr. Ownes, the local physician and druggist, who fought almost constantly, day and night, until the plague had run its course. But the Beaches were not so fortunate when diptheria came, in the winter of 1882-'3, for it took Andrew and Clara's tow-year-old Willie, after a hard fight. This was but a short time after the Beach Brothers had lost their beloved sister, Margaret, who died three months after the birth of her second baby; the baby following three months later. Will and Emily had also suffered a loss, that of their second son, Milton, who died within a few months of the family's arrival at East Orange.

"All activities centering about Alton led up to the climax of harvest time. In this, the chief interest of the children lay in the excitement of the prairie-fires and in the luxury of sleeping on the newly-filled straw-ticks; for the old ticking had been ripped open and emptied and fresh oat-straw packed in, sweet-smelling and comfortable. The prairie-firs came as surely as autumn, - started, no one knew how; and the children were early taught to help control them. They learned the science of back-firing, and, familiarity breeding contempt, learned likewise to start such fires for their own amusement. If these got out of control, somebody suffered. Once, as a result of such mischief, when a wind came up most inopportunely, it drive the fire into high slough-grass, followed it into the village park and destroyed many valuable trees before being extinguished by grownups.

"As has been said, the grasshoppers sealed the fate of the Beaches Alton. Many of the farmers were broke and could not pay their bills, nor the installments on their machinery, and others who could have done so, took advantage of the condition and didn't; hence a receivership with the inevitable end. Albert and his family went to the newer town of Pattersonville in the same county, where he opened a hardware store in '79. Alec and Will closed out the business in '83 and Alec moved his family to Sioux City. Will, Andrew and their parents stayed on at Alton for a while, but before many years had passed, they, too, forsook the place - and no Beaches remained.

"Eventually, all but Will's family came together again in Sioux City, but none are to be found in either place. Several are living in and near Chicago, but the others are scattered from Seattle to Alberquerque.

"The following letter, written shortly before Lyman and his wife followed their son Albert to Pattersonville, was addressed to "Betty's" sister, Mrs. Gideon Huntington:

"'Alton, Iowa, May 2nd, 1884.

"'Dear Sister,

"'We received your verry welcome letter this morning after having been to Alton, Illinois.

"'We were verry glad to hear from you. Sorry your health is not better. We are not surprised that you found quinine doeing you no good. We would not take it for anything. It is like calomel, does more harm than good any time.

"'Our health is as good as can be expected at our age. We are managing to do all our own work, washing and ironing included Clara is close by and runs in often and is a great comfort to us.

"'I. W. [Isaac William Beach] lives a little further away but we see some of them every few days. He has a family of fine smart children. Lillian the oldest has been away at school all winter. She is at home now. I. W. and A. J. are just opening out a store of hardware stoves & tine ware and farm machinery.

"'Albert was here on the 25 April. He is doeing well in Pattersonville, has a large trade in hardware stoves and tinware and farming implements.

"'We all think it strange for you to be there alone worrying yourself to death and making verry little when you might be here among friends and near relations and those that would be very glad to have you with them. We all think if you were here you would never want to leave.

"'You mentioned some thing about people having money. Every boddy has money here. There does not seem to be much scarcity here. It was not scarcity of money caused the Boys to fail. It was handling to much and conducting their business on to extravagant a scale, for men that had nothing to begin with.

"'You may form some idea of their business when they paid from one thousand to twelve hundred dollars and sometimes more per week for freight alone, and that not including freight on grain shipped out.

"'We will be verry glad to hear from you again soon.

"'No more at present from your affectionate brother and sister

"'(Signed) Lyman & Betty'"


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