McCarty, Dwight D. History of Palo Alto
County. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Torch Press, 1910
A Decade of Growth- 1863-1872
During the Civil War, while the attention of
the whole nation was centered on the great question involved in the internecine
conflict, there was practically no movement toward western settlement.
Conditions were too unsettled and the young men of the country who were in the
army had little time to think of going west. Hardly had peace been declared
before the people of the eastern and central states began to follow Horace
Greely's advice to go west and grow up with the new country. From 1864 on,
settlers began to flock in great numbers into Iowa.
The Homestead Law, approved by President Lincoln May 20,
1862, was another incentive to settlement after the war. By this law the land
was given to the settler by the government at a nominal price in consideration
of settlement and cultivation. Later enactments made special concessions to
soldiers of the Civil War. Most of the homesteaders went to Fort Dodge to make
their proof, but the extreme western tier of townships in Palo Alto County
belonged to the Sioux land office.
Another fact of importance is that with the coming of the
homesteaders after the war the building out on the prairie began. Before this
the settlement had been along the lakes and rivers where timber was plenty. The
early settlers had thus abundant material from which to build their houses which
were always made of logs. As the desirable timbered locations were soon all
taken up, the homesteaders were compelled to locate out on the open prairie and
build homes of sod, thatched with hay, covered again with sod. To the early
settlers it seemed foolhardy to build out on the unprotected prairie without
shelter from the hot sun, the fierce winds and the terrible prairie fires. But
these hardy settlers had come west to build a home and make a farm, and the
broad and fertile plains offered the finest opportunity for the farmer settler.
Groves were soon planted around the little homes and before long the growing
trees formed a windbreak and furnished needed firewood. In a few years these
beautiful groves dotted the landscape, giving a finer appearance to teh county
and adding real value to the land.
During the early part of the war practically no settlers came
into Palo Alto County. The whole population in 1863 was only 142 people. In the
next two years the number had increased to 216. From then on an ever-increasing
tide of settlement flowed into the county until in 1870 the census showed a
population of 1,336 and in 1873 the number was about 2000, although no census
figures were taken that year. From 142 to 2000 represents a remarkable growth
for a single county in a single decade. It is the history of this period of
growth that is now to be considered in detail.
In 1863, on the last of July, Geo. J. Jacobs and family of
five children came to West Bend and settled three and a half miles west of where
the town of West Bend now is. Mr. William Carter was postmaster then, the
postoffice being located in his cabin and was known as "West Bend."
H.H. Jacobs, then a lad of ten years old, in telling their experiences says:
"We burned out the first fall we were here, '63. After we got our hay all
up and he sheds fixed, father was up helping Campbell put up his hay. It was
late in the fall and there was a big prairie fire started down toward
Pocahontas, on that side of the river. We could see smoke coming. The wind blew
terribly, and the grass on the river bottom was way up. Mother was scared with
no one but the children home. She put me on a horse to go after Father about two
miles away. I went after him but before we could get back the fire jumped
through the Des Moines River and came right through there. There was a colt in
the stable and a pig in the pen. Mother got the colt out but could not get the
pig out. The pig was in a rail pen and broke out somehow and did not burn. We
burned out slick and clean. Just the house was left. The grass was all tramped
off around the house and of course it was a log house with a sod roof and it
didn't burn, but the family nearly smothered from the smoke. We were left there
without any hay or anything. There was a place down on the river that had burned
in July and Father and John McCormick, who had a mower (the only one in the
county) went down and cut hay. Father and Campbell had to put up all their hay
with a scythe. McCormick went down there and cut part of it with a mower. Guess
we got 10 or 15 tons of hay. It helped out some that winter and and then we had
to haul hay from Mulroney's and Tobin's and we let out part of the stock. Let
Dawson have one yoke of oxen. Lost horses that winter and lost two or three head
of cattle. Did not have feed enough. That was one of the hardest winters here.
'63 and '64. Joe Mulroney froze his feet. I helped Bickle to put up hay once
after. We saw a fire way off miles away but never thought of it coming. Along in
the evening it kept coming. I don't know why he didn't know enough to back fire.
About midnight it got there and we had a hard time to get the wagon out with a
load on it. Just got it out and that was about all. His sheds and all went, hay
and everything. Fort Dodge was the nearest trading point and that was forty
miles from West Bend. I made several trips there with oxen. Never had money
enough to buy a meal on the road and have ground corn in a coffee mill for my
dinner. One spring, the time the water was so high, Father and two of the
neighbors got the seeding done and started to Estherville to mill with what
little wheat we had left. There came a freshet and they were gone eight days.
Before they got home we were planting corn. The last dinner we had we ground up
what little seed corn there was left, in the coffee mill. When we got home
Mother had biscuits and that is all the supper we had. The men got home before
morning. I broke prairie all one summer with a yoke of oxen. We lived on johnny
cake for a month there. The only time we got any wheat bread was when we went
home. Father could not stand johnny cake only a little while at a time." 1
In 1864 the Kirby family, Michael, Henry, Thomas, William,
and Lizzie, came and settled near the Tobin-Mulroney settlement at Soda Bar.
Jas. P. White was anther settler about this time who soon exerted an important
influence in the county. He was elected county treasurer in 1865 and held the
office three times.
After the war several new setters came into West Bend
township. Among them were C.G. Groves, John DeWitt, Jas. Johnson, Ira D. Stone,
Joseph Knapp, John P. Bickle, Dan Ditch, Jeremiah Kelley, and a man named
Herrick. About the same time Galbraith, B. Franklin, Dr. Underwood, Goldtrap,
and H.L. Joiner located on the west side of the river.
On the east of West Bend in 1865 the Dorweiler family settled
in what is now Garfield township, Kossuth County, there being no settlers nearer
than seven or eight miles.
John M. Hefley, who had been one of the pioneer settlers of
Fort Dodge and a valiant soldier in both the Mexican and Civil Wars, brought his
family to Palo Alto County in 1865.
Among the other settlers that year were Robt. Carney Sr.,
John, W.T. and Robert Carney, Jr., Dennis Carroll and wife and son Patrick,
James F. Nolan and Lawrence Burns.
John Doran came to Palo Alto County in 1865 and settled in
Great Oak township. Only four families were living there then, Jas. P. White,
Michael Kirby, Robert Carney and Lawrence Burns. There were no other settlers on
the west as far as the Little Sioux River. 2
Mr. Doran, telling about the early settlers' experiences
in the county says: "Sometimes the winters were very severe. The winter of
'66-7 was the longest, coldest and hardest that I can remember. It set in very
cold early in December and as there was no snow on the ground until about the
first of January, the ground was then frozen about four feet and the ice in the
river about three feet. About the first of January, the ground was then frozen
about four feet and the ice in the river about three feet. About the first of
January it began snowing heavily and drifting for three months there were two
blizzards a week of three days each and all the change was from cold to colder.
On the 10th of April there was an average of three feet of hard snow on
the ground and more coming. About April 12th it commenced raining hard and heavy
and kept at it for about two weeks. On the 15th the river broke up and there was
some water on the bottoms about that time." 3 The
severity of these winters out on the open plain can hardly be imagined by people
of the present day. With no groves or wind breaks, the snow drifting and blowing
for miles over the level plains made nearly every snow storm a virtual blizzard,
dangerous to any person caught away from habitation and a serious menace to the
live stock driven helplessly about in the storm. The severe weather and terrific
storms were among the real dangers that the pioneers had to contend with.
In 1866 J.G. Crowder, with his wife and four
children together with John McCoy, came and settled in Great Oak township and
Patrick Lynch returned to his place.
In June of the same year Orrin Sloan, wife and two sons, W.S.
and David, settled on a homestead on section 34, Fern Valley township.
Shippey and the McCormicks were the only other settlers in that township and the
West Bend settlers were the nearest neighbors on the south and a man by the name
of Hatch over in Kossuth County was the nearest settler on the northeast. To the
northwest was Bill Crook's claim and then Neary's on the way to the old town in
Other settlers in 1866 were Michael Martin, his wife, three
sons, Jerry, John and Tom, and six daughters, the Moncrief family, Henry Grace
and W.H. Grace, William, Robert and Thomas Shea, T.J. Lyon and wife, Andrew
Lynch, D.H. Halstead, T.C. Wilson, Chas. Nolan, C.S. Warren, Chas. Hastings,
Isaac Stewart, Levi Ashley, James Brennan, Wm. E. Cullen, Thomas Walsh, Thomas
Laughlin, Myles Ryan, and Patrick Neary.
When Mr. Stockdale was building the old court house at Paoli
he brought up from Border Plain, near Fort Dodge, a steam saw-mill, and used it
to saw lumber to use in the construction of the old court house and school
house. The setters used to get most of their lumber there. During he war the old
saw-mill lay unused and neglected but some time after the close of he war a man
named Martin bought the saw-mill and took it down to Tobin's and Mulroney's and
did a lot of sawing for the people of that neighborhood. Later the old mill was
taken up to Spirit Lake and afterwards bought by Fort Dodge parties and taken
down there. 4 This old mill was of great service to the
settlers and many still recall the hardships and difficulties they encountered
in getting logs to this mill and hauling back the lumber to their homes.
It was some time in the later sixties that the first
threshing machine was brought into the county by a man named Peterson. It was
one of the old-fashioned horse-power machines, but it was considered a great
thing in those days, and it saved a great deal of work and time over the old
methods of threshing out with a flail or stamping out the grain with horses.
The old court house at Paoli was another source of trouble
during these years. The county judge had in 1859 made a contract with Wm. E.
Clark to build a brick court house and school house at Paoli, the then county
seat, and this contract had been assigned to John M. Stockdale. The work had
been commenced but lagged along and had finally been abandoned with the
At an adjourned meeting of the board of supervisors, held on
Monday, the 5th day of January, 1865, the Paoli court house contract came up
again. It appearing that John M. Stockdale, who had bought the rights and title
of Wm. E. Clark, the original contractor, in the contract and the swamp and
overflowed lands, had failed entirely to carry the work to completion within the
required time, the damages to the county were fixed by the board at $1800 and
John F. Duncombe was employed by them to bring suit against Stockdale and his
bondholders. Any moneys the aforesaid court house or erecting another as the
board might direct. 5 Suit was commenced and judgment secured
by the county against the contractor. A special meeting of the board of
supervisors was held at the office of the county clerk on the 14th day of
August, 1866 (James H. Underwood, Joseph T. Mulroney, and John Nolan,
supervisors, and James Hickey, clerk, being present), for the purpose of making
settlement between the county of Palo Alto and John M. Stockdale and others
about the judgment against said Stockdale and others for $9,750 in favor of said
county for damages for the non-completion of the Paoli court house. After due
deliberation of the board in regard to said matter, said judgment and all
matters and disputes between Stockdale and others and the county of Palo Alto
were settled and compromised. 6 The terms of this
compromise are set out in full in the legal document printed in Appendix B to
this book. 7 Thus ended a long controversy and a rather
expensive and unfortunate experience for the county. The supervisors advertised
for bids and completed the court house for $1,060.
The court house and school house were poorly located and so
bleak and dreary that they could not be used in inclement weather and the county
officers preferred to have offices in a more thickly settled region. At a
meeting of the board in June, 1866, all county officers were ordered to move to
the court house at Paoli, but in November of he same year the board recognized
the necessity of finding more comfortable quarters on account of "no
provision for heating." 8
Some light is cast on the interior and furnishings of this
old Paoli court house in the report of a meeting of the board held on November
10, 1868. At one end was a platform 6 x 8 feet and 18 inches high. The seating
consisted of 12 benches and 24 arm chairs. It was heated by two box stoves. The
desks were two in number, of black walnut. The specifications call for "2
desks and cabinets made in the same style as the one now in Jas. P. White's
house except they shall be 1/4 larger in all dimensions." 9
The stage that made regular trips
was the principal means of communication and transportation. It was the main
artery that supplied the life blood to the frontier settlements. H.H. Jacobs,
who drove the stage for years through the county, says: "I started to stage
it in '70 or '71. I ran seven years out of about nine or ten years. Between '71
and '73 ran pretty much all the time. The postoffice at the Tobin place was
established when we came here in 1863. Called Soda Bar. Think it was Tom Tobin
that was the postmaster. Alice Tobin, Tom Kirby's wife, was postmaster all the
time I ran stage. Most of the postoffices were established in '70 or '71 or
along there, because they were there when I commenced. Jos. Mulroney run stage
on the west side of the river up to the beginning of the seventies. Man by the
name of Fisher run on the east side, Humboldt to Estherville. Was running four
or five years. Both carried mail. Two different routes. In '70 and '71 the
horses got sick and sometimes I would come horseback with one horse, and at last
they all got sick and I had a pair of three year old steers and I made four
trips with them. Came up one day and back the next. That as along in the early
seventies. Another fellow drove from Humboldt to West Bend with a pair of
steers. Hickey's postoffice was established about the same time.
"My stage route was across the river from West Bend to
Fiddlers' Green, where Franklins and all those people lived; there was a
postoffice there. Then from there to Rolfe, then to near Bradgate, then from
there to Ruthven and from there to Humboldt and Dakotah City. I would make a
trip on the west side of the river, start Monday for Emmetsburg and go down to
Hickey's, across to West Bend to change horses. Cross at West Bend bridge. The
bridge was built some time in the seventies. From there down to Rolfe, then the
next trip on this side of the river. From Emmetsburg to Fern Valley and then
West Bend, McKnight's Point, Waucosta, Tueland, then Humboldt and Dakotah City.
That would be in the last part of the seventies. Say from '75 to about '81 that
we would run that way. Before that it was just one mail a week.
"I remember when I was staging, Bill Roper, White, and
some one else had been to Fort Dodge and a blizzard came and they got storm
bound. They stayed at our house tow days. Chas. Ballard was driving stage for
me. Think he made the south trip and I was at home. They wanted me to dive team
for them, thinking I knew the road better. We started from home in the morning
and got eight miles in the forenoon by working hard. Bill would take butter and
put in his coffee, saying that it was as near cream as he could get. We got into
Emmetsburg that night, just as it was getting dark. We worked hard all day,
shoveling to get through.
"Another time I was driving from Hickey's. Had a little
French mare on the stage that day. The roads were full of water, thawed all day.
Just before I got to Hickey's there was a cloud came up and it started to snow.
While they were changing the mail there at Hickey's it was just one sheet of
snow coming down, big flakes. I started for town, had three miles up that bottom
and I drove, and if it had not been that that mare would just stick to the
track, I would never have reached Emmetsburg. That was the night so many got
lost. Lots of farmers started west and had to come back. I could not look up.
Could watch down beside the cutter and see that we were in the track. If I had
had another mile I know the horses could not have stood it. Their eyes were
covered with snow when I got in." 10
In the early seventies the principal trading point was Algona
where the railroad ended. J.J. Wilson had a freight line from Algona to
Emmetsburg and also from Algona to Dakotah City in Humboldt County and another
line to Estherville. There was no regular roads then and the hauling was done by
ox teams which went overland, hauling loads of lumber, hardware, goods and
supplies of all kinds which were in great demand. James A. Keeler, who came to
this county in 1871, drove a wagon on this freight line. He kept a dairy and it
is an interesting record of the early days. At places where the road was
especially bad they would double up and put all the oxen on one wagon, and often
had twelve yokes to one wagon to get a load through Cylinder Creek. In June of
1873, the freighters spent several days helping a circus over Cylinder Creek.
This was the first show that ever came to the county. John Donovan and Thos.
Slater were among those who freighted from Algona at this time. 11
The journalistic spirit early
made its appearance in Palo Alto County. The first newspaper was the Democrat,
the first issue of which appeared December 4, 1869. The editor-owner was James
P. White and the paper was published at Soda Bar. The prospectus issued by the
publisher is printed in full in the Appendix to this book. This paper flourished
some time in spite of the difficulty of having printing done at Estherville,
Algona or other place where they could get the work done. The paper continued
staunchly Democratic and when the Palo Alto Advance was published by
McCarty & Hartshorn and Harrison & Burnell, June, 1870, there were many
lively political contests waged in the columns of the two papers. When the copy
was prepared the editors of the Advance would hitch up and drive to
Humboldt or Algona, where the paper was printed, wait for the printed copies,
and bring them back and distribute them throughout the county. The Advance
was a Republican paper.
The Palo Alto Patriot was published at Emmetsburg in
1873. And the Monthly Enterprise, a small paper, was circulated for a
short time during the same year. The Palo Alto Pilot was started during
the last days of the Old Town of Emmetsburg in 1874 and moved with the town. The
Palo Alto Reporter was started by Henry Jenkins in 1876. Of these early
newspaper ventures the Reporter alone has survived and is still being
published in Emmetsburg. The present Democrat, now published in
Emmetsburg, was a later paper started in 1884 by P.H. Ryan.
The board of supervisors, at their meeting in January, 1870,
for the first time authorized the publication of the proceedings of the board
and designated the Palo Alto Democrat as the first official newspaper.
The following year the Palo Alto Democrat and the Palo Alto Advance
were named as the official newspapers. 12
In 1870 Pat Connors and J.B. Guerdett brought a threshing
machine into the county. This was not the first one, however, but there had been
no machine threshing done for several years, and the advent of this threshing
machine was hailed with delight by the farmers. The next spring Pat Connors sold
his interest to C.T. Allen, who owned the machine until it was worn out. C.H.
Giggings worked on this outfit, driving the horse power for five straight years.
Mr. Giddings relates some interesting experiences of those days spent with the
threshing gang and it is through his kindness that the picture of this outfit at
work threshing for Martin Coonan in 1871 is given on another page, Mr. Giddings
having the original picture in his possession.
In the early seventies the county officers had difficulty in
finding suitable offices. The old court house at Paoli was untenantable and so
the county offices were scattered around at whatever places they could find
accommodations. The board of supervisors at their January 1, 1872, meeting made
the following record: "Ordered by the board that the back room and the east
middle room of White & Shea's office be rented by the board for holding
court, meetings of the board and county officers for six months from January 1,
1872, paying therefor for the sum of fifty dollars cash, and that M.L. Brown,
treasurer, has permission to hold his office at the office of McCarty &
Hartshorn in Emmetsburg, and Wm. H.H. Booth, auditor has permission to hold his
office at the office of T.W. Harrison in Emmetsburg. M.D. Daniels, sheriff, has
permission to hold his office at the office of T.W. Harrison in Emmetsburg. That
no office rent by the county shall be paid for the last named officers." 13
During this period there were
several interesting political campaigns. The Democrats were in the majority in
the county and had complete control of the offices. In the election of 1870 only
the clerk and recorder were to be elected and the Republicans then for the first
time perfected their organization and put a ticket in the field. The Republican
candidates made such surprising gains that with more confidence in 1871 the
Republicans again put up a full ticket and entered upon a vigorous campaign.
Geo. B. McCarty describes the issues and the contest as follows: "In 1870
all county officers were Democrats except one or two members of the board of
supervisors. The board was at that time composed of a member from each township.
In the fall of 1870 the Republicans had formed an organization and put a printed
ticket in the field, appointed a central committee, etc., but did not elect any
officers. The county had been run very loosely financially and otherwise, the
county warrants were selling at $.25 on the dollar in 1859 and no buyers. During
the spring of 1870 John A Elliott, land commissioner for the Des Moines Valley
Railroad Company, which company had a large grant of land in this county which
had become taxable, authorized the writer to buy up from $3,000 to $5,000 in
county warrants to be used by the company in paying the county part of its
taxes. I bought nearly $3,000 worth of these warrants at $.25 on the dollar,
then another party through Jas. P. White commenced buying up warrants and the
price advanced to $.30, and finally to %.33 1-3 and a few to $.35, when I,
having bought up the required amount, stopped buying and there was no further
market for them. Prior to my buying, warrants had been issued by the board at
$.25 on the dollar; that is the county would buy a bill of stationery amounting
to $25. They would then issue county warrants to the amount of $100 to pay for
it. In the spring of 1870 while I was still buying warrants, I went before the
board and explained that it was ruinous to issue so many warrants. They said
they could do nothing else as they received no money, the county treasurer
always turning in warrants for all county taxes. But they finally agreed to
issue no warrants for less than $.35 on the dollar, but this did not help the
matter materially, as there was a large amount of railroad and other lands
unpatented and not taxable, so that the county was each year issuing warrants
far in excess of revenue. In 1871 there was a county treasurer, auditor, and
other officers to elect, and the Republicans, then fully organized, held a
convention and nominated a full ticket at an early date, and the contest at once
became spirited. The Advance, a Republican paper, was started by E.J.
Hartshorn, H.L. Burnell and myself. It was a patent inside and the local pages
were printed first at Humboldt and later at Algona in the Upper Des Moines
office. We would write up our local and editorial matter, ads, etc., hitch a
team and carry it over and have it set up and the papers run off bring them back
and mail to every one in the county. In the meantime James P. White and W.H.
Shea started the Democrat, which was printed at Fort Dodge. The campaign
became very warm. M.L. Brown was the Republican candidate for county treasurer
and James P. White the Democratic and the battle waged hottest in this office,
but the others were not neglected. The last five weeks a house to house canvass
was made by both sides and not only the candidates but several others
participated- on the Republican side, E.J. Hartshorn, T.W. Harrison, H.L.
Burnell, J.L. Martin, and myself. While the contest was very spirited, very
little or no personal abuse was indulged in and the workers and candidates on
the different sides would meet and recite incidents of the campaign in the most
friendly manner. The whole Republican ticket was elected, and, as promised
during the campaign, they entered upon a policy of retrenchment of the finances
of the county. First, they carried a proposition for a mill cash county tax and
paid only cash for supplies bought; caused every bill to be paid at 100 cents on
the dollar; refused to permit county treasurer to turn in county warrants in
lieu of cash collected on county tax from non-residents and others paying in
cash, but only accepted county warrants when brought to the office by the
taxpayer, for the county part of his taxes, and not for the special county tax.
This brought the credit of the county up and warrants were worth their face. The
old warrants outstanding were bonded and the finances of the county placed on a
firm financial basis. While Clay, O'Brien, Lyon, and other counties in Northwest
Iowa repudiated their indebtedness, Palo Alto County paid hers dollar for
dollar, notwithstanding the fact that most of them had been issued at $.25 and
quite a large amount of them had been issued to hire substitutes during the
From that time on the county was close on county elections
for many years. Sometimes the Democrats and sometimes the Republicans would
prevail and often party success would be divided. These campaigns were generally
animated and usually fought along the lines of national issues or individual
qualifications. Space forbids any further consideration of this interesting
subject. A complete list of all county officers elected in the county will be
found in the Appendix.
The tide of homesteaders that flowed into the
county continued steadily on the increase. During the years 1869-70-71-72 not
only homesteaders, but also the homseekers who bought their land came in great
numbers to find locations on Palo Alto County farms. These newcomers, mostly
with large families, seemed to settle in clusters, forming a sort of
community with opportunities for social intercourse and neighborhood
friendships. The day of the isolated settler had passed and the community period
was taking its place. For convenience as well as the historical accuracy the
remaining part of this decade (from 1868 to 1872 inclusive) will be described by
West Bend township was fairly well settled and most of the
new settlers chose locations in the newer and less settled parts of the county.
W.G. Henry was one who came to West Bend township in April, 1870, together with
his brothers. His brothers, however, returned after the first season and did not
come back until 1890. W.G. stayed on his land in section 20 until 1875 when he
moved to Emmetsburg where he still resides. Among the other early settlers in
West Bend township in 1868 were E.P. Vance, John F. Little, and Frank Little; in
1869, Geo. Brown, J.E. Stone, and J.C. Fehlhauer; in 1870 W.H. Booth and Sam
Post; in 1871 Julius Thatcher, Sol Huntley, F. Dudgeon and S.W. Ballard.
The first settlers in Ellington township were Ezekiel
Randall, his wife, six boys and one girl. That fall James Clemens and John Acker
and their families moved in. In the following years Hud Acker, the Moffit
family, Jacob Harrington, M. Wening, John Truog, Sr., Adam Rund, John Krieg,
Frank Bursell, Nicholas Steil, Anton Seasnbaumer, Mike Schneider, J. Bart, G.
Swessinger, John Rupert, Adam Kress, August Kunz, John Moffit, Wm. Buchacher, E.
Goodlaxon, F. Comer, Henry Munch, John Rogers, H. C. Booth, and John Leuer
became residents of the township. In the spring of 1870 Peter Grethen and wife,
came in company with John Wagner and his wife and two children. As they drove
by, a school house was being built for the township. From that time on a great
many settlers located on the fertile plains of Ellington township.
Rush Lake township was a mecca for newcomers in 1869. A.
Griley, D.G. Grier, A.J. Scofield, H.C. Obert, X.S. Loomis, Philo Sanford, Ed
and H. Sanders, M. Reed, W.H. Cammick, Mike Schuler, Geo. Fries, Linn Loughridge,
E. Peterson, Peter Hartley, M.W. Barker, Isaac Perry, and others came that year.
The next spring B. Vanderryt, R.T. Barnard, S.W. Tressler, and A.V. Lacy joined
them. In 1871 J.P. Stebbins, D.C. Gross, A. Elson, Geo. M. White, Joseph Fish,
and O.O. Williams came. Fred Cross and D.M. Wilcox located in the township the
next year, and from that time on the settlers came in great numbers.
The first settlers in Silver Lake township were C.A. Hoffman,
O.A. Sterner, John Mills, and Joseph Marsh, who moved into the county in the
spring of 1869. Patrick Sherlock selected a location in the fall of 1869, and in
the following April his father, Jas. Sherlock, his mother, and three boys, Dan,
John and Joe joined him and together took a homestead on section 12. That year
quite a number of prairie schooners moved into the township. E.D. Treat, Hiram
Kittlewell, Seymour Morrison, T.D. Collins, John and Dan Collins, J.R. Phoenix,
John Hill, Chas. Willis, Wm. Wiley, L.B. Colburn, Ovid Hare, Myron Hare, Peter
Olesen, Ole Williamson, G.M. Hamilton, G.L. Dickerman, J.C. Richards, C.L.
Harrington, S. Harrington. G.V. Whitman, J.W. Shepard, and Michael Whelan. The
next year John Boddy, Robt. C. Owens and H.A. Webster located there; and the
next year H.I. Snow, Rufus A Hartungs, John Sawyer, and T.W. Lehane, and a large
number of others joined the Silver Lake settlement. A postoffice called
"Sherlock P.O." was established at Mr. Sherlock's house in 1874 and
remained there until Ayrshire was founded in 1882. 15
In addition to the settlers already mentioned in Fern Valley
there were many homesteaders in Fern Valley and Fairfield townships during this
period. Dr. A.C. Young and Mrs. Young and son Jerry (J.C.) came to Palo Alto
County in 1869 and settled on the northwest quarter of section 6-95-31, the
father taking the north half and the son the south half. The father died in '73
and the mother and Jerry sold out in '76 the latter moving to Emmetsburg, the
mother returning to Michigan where she still lives. 16 Some of
the other settlers in these two townships during the early seventies were the
following: J.M. Thompson, Rufus Miller, Kelly Bros., Geo. Pugsley, J.R. Frame,
J.P. Davidson, Wesley Davidson, John Schneider, Thos. Cullen, Thos. Richardson,
Andrew Satter, Wm. Richardson, Ralph Richardson, John and Steve Hoskins, T.J.
Cates, F.E. Walker, W.H. Melon, Simpson L Bar, Fred Falb, Wm. R. Acres, John E.
Martin, and Wm. T. Drennen.
With the great tide of settlers that came into the county in
1869, the best lands were early picked out. A few of the best locations in
Independence and Fairfield townships were thus selected. Some of the settlers of
that year may be mentioned. C.O. Erstad, A.C. Erstad, L. Seely, James B.
Elliott, John Jenswold, Fred Wagener, and Henry Hullen. During the next two
years a large number found homes there. John Higley, Jacob Mathieson, Julius
Mathieson, Peter O. Peterson, Paul T. Hougstein, A.A. Rustabakke, C.P. yeager,
Freeman Woodin, Hans Hansen, Adam Domek, Mat Gappa, Geo. Kleigle, and many
Aside from the very early settlers who had selected good
river locations, there were not many people in Nevada township. John McCormick,
E.J. King, A.L. Sprout, L.N. Sprout, C.N. Sprout, settled there in the early
'70s and made their permanent home on the broad prairies.
In Emmetsburg township David and J.H. Millea were the hardy
pioneers of 1868 and settlement was slow there until 1870 when J.J. Kane and
1871 when Myles McNally and their families were the forerunners of the extensive
settlement of later years.
In Great Oak township, in addition to those already mentioned
several families came in 1868- Terrence Robt. and John Walsh, Thomas Egan, and a
large number in the next few years, John Wooley, Sam Dyer, James Brennan, Thomas
Martin, John S. Martin, John Groff, Milo Gardner, Edward Kelley, Philip Wessar,
Theo. Wessar, G. Wessar, B. Quigley, Peter Quigley, Thos. Conlon, Martin
McCarty, Geo. H. Beach, and John Jennings. In October, 1872, Peter Jones, James
Keenan and John Hand with their families moved in. Peter Jones, in describing
the condition of the country at that time said: "Thee was high water from
within a mile of my house, up to the Cullen's corner, when I came here and from
the foot of Burn's hill up to Coonan's corner before the town was moved up here
and even after it was moved. The wagon boxes would be down in the water and the
water up to the horses' sides. One year a man stayed there as a guide. He was
one of the old man Owen's sons. When he would come into the water at Cullen's
with the team, he would take care of the team until he put us on the bridge. He
was a sort of pilot. That was before they got the grade in." 17
In 1869 Hiram Millerke built a house on a claim in Freedom
township. It was then the only house east of the lake except Michael Jackman's
on the east shore. Later John Donovan settled on section 26 and became a
prominent figure in the life of the township and the town of Emmetsburg. In 1870
John and Pat Galleger settled on section 28 and later John Lane, Terence Cullen,
Orin and Wm. Ryder, Patrick C. Nolan, John Nolan, Wm. Harrison, Albert Harrison,
Amos Letson, Tom Prouty, Chester Prouty, and others came to that neighborhood.
T.W. Harrison bought a farm in section 28-96-32, and J.N. Prouty homesteaded an
eighty near by, but as his wife objected to living in a sod house, he sold out
and moved back to Humboldt.
In the fall of 1869 several homesteaders met at Fort Dodge
while selecting land, became acquainted and together came out to Palo Alto
County and settled in the northwest part of the county. These were L.C.
Christensen, James Olsen, L.P. Duhn, John Nelson, J.J. Skow, P.C. Adamson and
Lars Olsen. The next year they were joined by J.S. Duhn, Thos. Peterson, Nels
Jensen, Peter Andreson, Lars Thoreson and Simon Thoreson came. This was the
beginning of the Scandinavian settlement in the north part of the county and
from this sturdy stock has come some of our very best citizens, and this
community has been a power for good in the affairs of the county.
C.S. Duncan, in the spring of 1871, drove through from
Wisconsin to Palo Alto County and located a homestead on the land which is now a
part of the north side of Graettinger. After building a shack he sent for his
wife and children. They struck Iowa at a very inopportune time, even the hardest
kind of work failed to accomplish much against such a serious handicap. Mr.
Duncan, telling of his experiences soon after they arrived in Palo Alto County,
says: "I had saved up ten dollars and I hitched up and drove to Fort Dodge,
bought potatoes at $.45 a bushel and brought them to Emmetsburg near the river,
and peddled them off at $1 about as fast as I could pour them out of a sack. I
made three trips." 18. By teaching, as both Mr .and Mrs.
Duncan were excellent teachers, they managed to get ahead and after having lived
on their homestead a year (Mr. Duncan having served in the army four years, and
Mrs. Duncan also having had experience as an army nurse), they proved up, raised
$500 on the place and built a very comfortable house. In 1876 he sold his place
in Walnut township and bought a place in Ellington township, in the south part
of the county where he lived until he moved to the city of Emmetsburg. 18
Lost Island township at first contained all that is now
Highland and Lost Island, as they were not divided until 1878. John A. Anthony,
who settled on the north side of Lost Island Lake, was the first settler in this
township. He used to keep a postoffice called Lost Island and it was
headquarters for the stage line from Algona to Spencer. James Freeman,
brother-in-law of Anthony, located on the eastern side of Lost Island Lake;
Cruikshank and Amos J. Miller settled there soon after. In 1870 McLaughlin came,
and in the fall of 1871 the Barringer boys, Emmet, Clayburn and Lyman, located
in the township. Dwight Goff also came that year. The Ruthvens homesteaded there
in 1870, but went back east and worked on the railroad all summer, coming back
to the homestead in the fall and resided here permanently from that on. 19
In Lost Island township in addition to those already named,
James Spaulding and John Cruikshank came in 1869.
Others coming to Lost Island in 1870-71 are as follows: Terry
Knutson, P.H. Funkley, Warren Goff, Halver Rierson, W.I. Perry, J.B. Fellows,
Anfin Rierson, Severt Johnson, A. Simonson, G. Gunderson, Torkel Larson, and
many others too numerous to mention in the brief space at our command.
In Highland township in addition to those already referred to
the following became residents in 1870: J.T. Soners, Chas. Harris, John Brennan,
Thos. Lee, Martin Doyle, P. Radigan, P. McAlhany, D. Foly, Michael Fleming, John
Fleming, James Lynch. In the following year many more came: Alex Ruthven, John
Ruthven, Robt. Ruthven, Joseph Damon, James Currans, J.M. Carpenter, James
McBride, Lars Bargstrom, Silas Ryder, F.O. Howe. In 1872 Peter Hanson and John
W. Hovey cast their lot with the people of this township and the settlers began
to come in great numbers. 19
Walnut township has already been referred to, but besides the
earlier settlers already mentioned, D.M. Leek and the Conway family settled in
Walnut township in 1870, and in the following year E.P. McEvoy, a well-known
settler, located near the present town site of Osgood. L.M. Cooley, a retired
Baptist minister, also came there to live. Thomas Moran, James and Thomas
O'Connor, made their home in that township that year. P.F. VanGorden and family
in the same year settled on a farm near the present site of Graettinger.
Vernon township with its fertile lands did not long evade the
homeseekers. In 1869 David G. Baker came from Wisconsin and in the early spring
settled in Vernon township. He has kept a careful diary throughout his life and
the little book that records the daily events of the trip to Palo Alto County
and their first experiences there is an interesting and valuable historical
record. J.C. Baker was another prominent settler of that township. Other
settlers there in 1869 were Chas. C. Gibbs, H.F. Boardman, S. Hammond and
Rev. B.C. Hammond, H.F. Giddings, U. Butler, H.T. Allen. In the following year
B. Bradley, C.T. Allen, and L.C. Barnum settled there and from that time on the
settlers came in ever increasing numbers.
Thos. Slater tells his story as follows: "In the year of
1871, the last of March, we moved from Wisconsin to Vernon township and took up
a homestead on section 30, five miles north of the present town. After having
gone to Algona to purchase lumber to build a house, I began its erection about
the seventh of April. It was not a mansion, however, the boards were set up end
ways, the roof was shingle and the one-story home was soon ready for its
occupants. On the ninth of April my family and I began life anew in this humble
hut, on a treeless prairie. The following morning we were welcomed to our new
dwelling place by a blinding blizzard that lasted three days. We awoke on the
first day of the sweeping storm to find the floor and bed covered with six
inches of snow that had made its way through the open cracks between the boards.
We had on hand only a half bunch of shingles for firewood so I was obliged to
walk a quarter of a mile to Rev. B.C. Hammond's to get wood to build a fire. At
first I lost my way in the raging blast, but finally succeeded in reaching Rev.
Hammond's house. Loading myself with all the cordwood I could carry on my back,
I started for home. I arrived home about nine o'clock after having been gone an
hour. I immediately set about cleaning snow off the floor and made ready to
build a fire so that the rest of the family could get up and not perish from
cold. At the time of the storm the grain was nearly all sowed and up, and as the
snow melted away nature showed forth its beautiful garments. The fields were
turning green and bright blades of grass shone through in the sunshine. In 1871
I was able to secure work of John Robbins at $1.50 per day, walking five miles
morning and evening to and from the Old Town. In 1872 I worked for McKinley, who
ran an implement shop or hardware store. For two years I teamed it to Algona for
Mr. McKinley. In the winter of 1873 another severe storm swept the prairie, a
blizzard lasting the length of three days. During the afternoon of the first day
about four o'clock I started to the barn, hoping that I would be able to reach
it in safety as my stock was badly in need of attention. Having gone as I
thought in the direction of the barn and far enough as I supposed to have
reached it, the thought suddenly filed my mind that I had lost my way and I
began plodding back in the tracks I had already made in the snow to find myself
running against the barn which I had previously been within one foot of without
knowing it. I set about feeding my stock, but immediately the question arose,
how will I find my way back to the house? I called and my wife came at once to
the door and responded. So I asked her to keep up a yell until I reached the
house. I resolved, however, to not attempt another trip to the barn until the
storm had abated. After the storm the snow, being very deep, I could not reach
the river, the accustomed place for procuring my wood. Passing Pat Nolan's on
the way to the Old Town, I spied a half cord of rotten wood near the house. I
asked Pat what he would take for it. His reply was three dollars. I told him
that I thought that was pretty steep, but he assured me that it was very cheap
at that price. I purchased the wood, however, and on returning home from town
loaded it on my sled. Later on I found a job with Nolan hauling hay. I helped
him six days and was allowed three dollars for my work which exactly paid for my
half cord of wood. And by this time the wood had burned. For three successive
years the grasshoppers took the crops. After having sold the cows and calves to
get seed again, I lost all. After the grasshoppers had taken their flight,
naught remained but a wife, two children and a yoke of cattle. And so with my
small start I made my way for the Old Town to being life anew after many
hardships. And here I have remained until the present day." 20
Mrs. Slater writes as follows: " I too shared the
hardships of my husband in those early days when there was a constant struggle
with poverty. It was not an easy thing for me to see my husband, thinly clad,
wend his way across the bleak prairie in search of work. How often, lonely and
afraid, I sat by the roadside with my two children awaiting his return, when the
weather was such that we could wander out-doors. Sometimes we sat for hours
until far across the fields I heard a whistle that made my heart glad, for then
I knew that he was returning to his little flock at home. I wanted to do
something to help him in his struggle to earn a living, but I could think of
only a few ways that a woman with a family could earn a dollar. I asked him to
inquire of Mrs. McKinley, for whose husband he was working at the time, if there
was any work she could give me to do. She sent me a sack of carpet rags which I
sewed and was given a dollar in return. This dollar was not spent for luxuries I
assure you, but it was carefully invested in some of the common necessities of
life. After the grasshoppers had destroyed our crops and we had taken up our
residence in Old Town, I continued to earn a dollar at every opportunity. I was
ambitious and desired to work and save that in later years we might have a
comfortable living. I was also anxious for my children's welfare. I was willing
to toil if they, through my help, might be able to acquire an education. But I
realized that we were poor, very poor, and that only through hard work would we
be able to rear our family and keep back the wolf from the door." 21
"Perhaps it will be interesting to know
something of the prices in those times. In 1871 we paid five dollars and fifty
cents a hundred for flour and then could only get a few pounds apiece. This
being brought by a mail carrier, from Estherville. We paid one dollar per bushel
for corn, seventy-five cents per bushel for oats and a dollar and a half a
bushel for potatoes. In that year I paid one dollar and half per bushel for
potatoes and after they were raised I could only get ten cents a bushel if I
were able to sell them. But no one wanted them even at that. We had a larger
crop of potatoes that year than we have ever had since. There was also a large
crop of other kinds of grain." 22
The prairies were covered with a luxuriant growth of grass in
the early days. The surface water collected in ponds and grasses tended to
produce large and rank growths of grass and vegetation. The grass in turn
prevented rapid evaporation, so that the prevalence of tall grass and numerous
sloughs was one of the characteristic features of those periods. These numerous
ponds were prolific breeding places for mosquitoes. All the old settlers have
vivid remembrances of these pests, and they describe the monstrous size,
strenuous singing power, and keen penetration with with mixed feelings
intensified by years of experience on the frontier plains.
The pleasures of these people were very simple, and, their
gala days were few and far apart. The youth of those days, now at a ripe old
age, recall with smiles the frolics that lightened the long days of heavy toil
The women of these families were among the bravest and most
self-sacrificing in time of need or danger. It is no easy lot to be cast upon
the broad expanses of land and sky, with scarcely an object to break the
monotony of the prospect. Often the nearest neighbor was miles away and only at
long intervals came the news from the east that was so eagerly awaited.
Provisions and fuel were sometimes scarce and the good wives often had to work
and save to eke out the scanty living in times of scarcity. Content with little
of the material things of life, but possessed of boundless hope and courage, the
good women of pioneer days shared the dangers and hardships of the frontier and
thus contributed to the making of history on the western prairies.
This decade from 1863 to 1872 was indeed a period of growth
for Palo Alto County. In population, organization and material prosperity, the
advance had been substantial. The reverses and hard times of the year 1873
brought this growth to an abrupt stop. During the next few years everything was
at a standstill, and this interval was the time of quiet that preceded the next
period of development so soon to follow.
1. Interview with H.H. Jacobs.
2 Letter of John Doran
3 Letter of John Doran.
4 M.M. Crowley's statement.
5 Minutes and Supervisors' Record of Palo Alto County, no. 1,
6 Minutes and Supervisors' Record , Palo Alto County, no. 4,
7 See Appendix B for terms of settlement.
8 The records of the county are full of adjournments from the
cheerless old court house to the more comfortable cabins of the settlers.-
Minutes and Supervisors' Record, Palo Alto County, i, pp. 136 and 142.
9 Minutes and Supervisors' Record, Palo Alto County, i, p.
10. Interview with H.H. Jacobs.
11. Interview with James A. Keeler
12. Minutes and Supervisors' Record, Palo Alto County, vol. i,
pp. 175 and 205.
13. Minutes and Supervisors' Record, Palo Alto County, vol. i,
14. Recollections of Early Palo Alto County," Geo B.
15. Since the above was written a continued article, Some
Early History of Silver Lake Township," by an undisclosed author, has
appeared in the Ayrshire Chronicle, June 9 and 16, 1910.
16. Statement of J.C. Young.
17. Interview with Peter Jones.
18 Letter of C.S. Duncan.
19. Interviews with Amos Miller, E.P. Barringer, Alex Ruthven
20 Letter of Thomas Slater
21 Letter of Mrs. Thomas Slater
22 Statement of Thomas Slater