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One day in mid-winter two boys, members of a Bohemian family who had settled near Spillville, were dispatched to Waucoma to mill.
At the time they left their homes nothing betokened a storm. But on their return, when they were near the Van Dyke place, one of our much dreaded Iowa "blizzards” overtook them. The elements were convulsed, and emitted forth the blinding snow in voluminous quantities. The wind swept across the bare prairies a perfect tornado. Becoming enveloped in such a storm, they soon became confused and lost their way.
No one can describe what their feelings were when the certainty of their being lost on the wild prairie in such a storm dawned upon them. Conjectures only can be made. That they thought of their anxious parents and little brothers and sisters waiting patiently for their return, which, alas! would never be; that they at times gave way to grief as they speculated on their dreadful fate; or again at other times would become courageous when a ray of hope would break on their clouded way, or when despair would fill their hearts, that they sought the Giver of Life in fervent supplication to spare their lives and guide them safely to their homes. That they did all this would be but natural. The prayers of anxious parents availed nothing. God in His wisdom denied their petitions. The boys were frozen to death. A drift of driven snow was their last resting place, and the snow their winding sheet. It was twelve days thereafter before the bodies of the unfortunate boys were found. Both oxen were found to be alive. One had forced himself from the yoke, and was browsing near by, while the other was held an unwilling prisoner."
"Mr. Aaron Young tells the following 'story of the early discovery of coal deposits in the south part of Winneshiek county. Mr. Young was a soldier at the fort at the time of the reputed discovery. He says:
“The discovery was made by one of the regular soldiers, who used to go from the fort on horseback and return in less than an hours time, bringing with him a sack of coal. These trips were always made in the night, and alone. He allowed no one to accompany him, nor would he divulge his secret. Although the cfficers tried bribing him, punishing him, and finally got him drunk, in hopes he would be niore confiding; but all to no purpose. His time was nearly out, and he said he calculated to open the coal mine as soon as it expired. But before the time came his company was ordered to Florida, where he was shot, dying almost instantly. leaving no one in possession of his valuable secret.
"Another story is that the Indians used to bring coal in their blankets to sell to the blacksmith, or when they wanted a pony shod, and that an old Indian chief, by the name of Four-Eyes, offered to tell where the coal was, at one time, for two ponies. But as nobody had the ponies the bargain was not consummated and the old chieftain took his knowledge away with him to the Far
West. That coal was obtained in some mysterious way by the soldier there is no doubt; but to convince the scientific man that he obtained it from deposits in Winneshiek county will require stronger evidence than the above stories furnish. Every person familiar with the geological topography of the country well understands how unreasonable such an idea is.
"The first church erected in Winneshiek county, excepting the old Mission chapel, was built about the year 18–, in the vicinity of Twin Springs. It was Catholic. Father Leuvent officiated. The site was selected and the church directed to be built by Bishop Lovas, of Dubuque, who was the first ordained Bishop in Iowa.
"The first duly commissioned postmaster in Winneshiek county was James B. Cutler, of Osage, then a sterling pioneer of the county. He located on the Atkin Farm, Frankville township. The commission confers on James B. Cutler the appointment of postmaster of Jamestown, and bears the signature of Nathaniel K. Hall, Postmaster General under Millard Fillmore, and dated the 18th day of September, 1851. Judge J. T. Atkins served as assistant postmaster. The office was discontinued March 31, 1852. Mr. Leonard Cutler and family came to the county May 30, 1850, which places them among the early pioneers. The father of Mr. James B. Cutler is still living.'
[We are informed by Judge M. V. Burdick, one of the old settlers and a prominent man in pioneer life here, that there is a slight error in the above paragraph. Lewis Harkins, proprietor of Lewiston, was postmaster at Fort Atkinson certainly as early as 1850; and at an equally early date John L. Carson was postmaster at Old Mission.
[Mr. James B. Cutler is now (1882) over one hundred years of age. The one hundredth anniversary of his birthday was celebrated at Frankville last year, and was a notable event. It will be referred to elsewhere.]
Among the various souvenirs seen by the author, retained as meinentoes of olden times, is a shipping-bill of certain mill irons brought from Galena to Lansing by "the good steamboat called the Nominee," consigned to Messrs. Beard & Cutler, and dated the 29th of March 1852. These mill irons were used by Beard & Cutler in what was in 1860 known as the Rogers Mill, on the Canoe, and now known as Springwater Mill, now owned by Mr. A. Bradish. The erection of the mill began in the fall of 1851, and it was running July 8, 1852. Probably it was the first saw-mill north of the Iowa river.
"In 1850 a young man came from Norway to Iowa and found a spot of ground that suited him in what is now known as Madison township, Winneshiek County. So far as ascertained, he was its first settler. In the year following an older man followed him, who was the father of at least one girl. As young men and maidens will, this young man and this maiden agreed to wed.
These parties were Johannes Evenson and Catherine Helen Anderson. At that time, as now, the law required the parties to have a license. In order to obtain this a visit to the Judge was necessary. Rev. N. Brandt, then a wandering missionary, was in the county, and would perform the ceremony. And if this chance escaped them, no knowing when another opportunity would be afforded them. Mr. Evenson straightway started for Bloomfield Township to see the Judge and get a permit to enter into a matrimonial alliance. The missionary had promised to await his return. Mr. E. found the Judge absent. He had gone to Dubuque on official business. Imagine the sensations of that waiting bridegroom! Again the question: Would that minister tarry? After three days Judge Reed returned, and with his license in his pocket, John turned his footsteps homeward a happier man. No grass grew under his feet on that trip. The minister had remainded, and the marriage ceremony was performed—the first, as the records show, to have been performed in the county. The license for this marriage was granted on the 5th day of October, 1851. The second marriage license was granted on the 3d of November, 1851. The contracting parties were Erick Anderson and Miss Ann Soles.
"The first death to occur in the county was that of a Government teamster named Howard. He was engaged in the transportation of material from Fort Crawford to Fort Atkinson, to be used in the construction of the latter. On the 3d of October, 1840, a heavy snow had fallen, and on the next day Mr. Howard started from Joel Post's place, or Postville, to go to Fort Atkinson. A party following in his wake the next day were surprised to find his loaded wagon in the road and team and driver gone. They followed his track up to near the present site of Castalia, where they found him frozen stiff in death. The same day his remains were brought to the Fort, and on the next day, or 5th of October, 1840, he was buried. This information is authenticated, and shows that the date of the first death and graveyard preceded the first birth by one year, and the first marriage by eleven years. In fact, the graveyard had quite an encouraging start over the marriage era. However much consolation this may have afforded the departed, they may be assured, that in after years, the matrimonial fever swept the county like an epidemic, finding victims on every side.
"It is worthy of note that the first public school building was built at the corners of the following townships, Decorah, Springfield, Glenwood and Frankville, in the center of a Norweigian settlement. This event is worthy of record, as it serves to illustrate the strong desire the Norwegian people have to advance their mental condition. Even here, inhabitants of a wild country, and isolated from the world as they were, they found means of encouraging education. In 1852, principally through their ef
forts, a small, unpretentious log school-house was built at the corners, and in it the late Mrs. Erick Anderson, then a young womman, taught the first school.
"The previous portions show, with considerable accuracy, who were the residents previous to 1851. The following portion of this chapter, perhaps the most valuable in the entire book for the historical information it contains—is in a great measure the work of Mr. A. K. Bailey, editor of the Decorah Republican.
"In 1851 the county was organized. Its officers were elected, and we may presume regularly inducted into office. They needed money in compensation for their services, and then as now it had to be raised by taxes. Happily the first tax list of the county is preserved. The lists for 1853 and 1854 are gone, and this volume was rescued ten years ago by Mr. A. K. Bailey while serving the public as county treasurer, from a box of old papers that were stowed away in an unused closet of the Court House. It should be scrupulously kept as a relic. It is in a fair state of preservation. The contrast between this volume and that of 1862-ten years only—is a complete history in itself of the rapid growth of Winneshiek county. "That of 1862 is a volume of nearly a thousand pages of the largest ledger size. This of 1852 is but a small home-made book of 62 pages, composed of double blue foolscap, with its columns ruled off by hand, and bound in a beautiful sample of Indian-tanned buckskin. The warrant for collecting the taxes bears date September 15th, 1852; is addressed to Daniel Kuykendall, treasurer, and is signed by D. R. Reed, county judge. The title page bears the signature of "Morris B. Derrick, Clerk”—a man, who was for a time, at least, a partner of Aaron Newell, at the old Pioneer Store, of Decorah.
This volume, we believe, is really a complete list of the residents (who had any property) in the fall of 1851. Although dated many months later, the work of preparing the list was begun at a time when it would have been impossible to include the settlers who came in 1853. We learn from others that the assessment, which was preliminary, was made by A. H. Fannon, the jolly old constable, who still serves the public.
[Mr. Fannon has died since the publication of the above, being in good health to near the time of his death.]
Mr. Fannon says that the assessment was begun and made early in the spring, before the immigration of 1852 had set in, and he thinks all whose names are included in it had arrived in 1851 or before. Mr. F. made the assessment as sheriff; says he was really the first sheriff; and this was one of the first of his official acts. This claim is in collision with the records, and we cannot undertake to reconcile the discrepancy. In making the list, Mr. F. says he sometimes could not visit more than half a dozen families in a day, so widely were they scattered, particularly in the north half of the county, but he always found a welcome recep
tion, and a hearty invitation to "sit up to the table" when meal time brought him to one of their cabins. The residents in the northern tier of townships, however, strongly objected to being assessed; not that they wished to escape taxation, but because it was doubtful in their minds whether they dwelt in Iowa or Minnesota. Mr. E. E. Meader gives this information. He, personally, wished to be in Iowa, and had the happiness of finding, when the lines were run, that he had located his cabin just right in order to secure the land he wanted, and at the same time remain an Iowan. This much of outside history to the volume. Now for the stories its pages reveal. We find in it the names of 446 persons. Perhaps some of these were not residents, but the list contains many a known and familiar name. A large share are assessed with personality only; which means that they had not secured their lands, and had only the "improvements” or a little stock to pay tribute on. It will be impossible to locate most of these in making a list of settlers by townships, as we propose to do; but whenever lands are named, the townships and ranges will be an unerring guide. Preliminary to this, however, let us give a few general facts. Lands were assessed at the Government price, $1.25 per acre. As land was plenty at this price, it is fair to
presume that assessments were made at the full cash value. The taxes were only four in number besides the poll tax, viz.: county, state, school and road, and they summed fifteen mills. In these later days, when assessments are made at one-third of the cash value, taxation is high if it reaches twenty-five mills, with township school taxes included. There are no footings to show what the total value of the assessed property was, but the taxes themselves aggregate as follows: County tax..
$ 696 68 State tax.
175 08 School Tax.
115 42 Road Tax.
$1,217 93 besides $650 of poll taxes. This would make the total assessable property in the county at that time, worth $182,789.
The richest man in the county was John McKay, of Washington Prairie. He paid the enormous sum of $23.94 in taxes. Francis Teabout was close up to him, being down for $23.16. Benjamin Beard followed with $20.95. These three were the very rich men, for they were the only ones who paid more than $20; or, rather, were regularly assessed for sums that amounted to precisely that figure. The list of other persons who paid over $10 is so short that we give the names in full: Joseph Spillman, Calmar...
.$18 96 Levi Moore, Burr Oak..
17 68 Moses McSwain, Bloomfield.
16 83 James S. Ackerson, Burr Oak.