Source: Early History of Lincoln County; Compiled by A. E. Tasker;
Lake Benton News Print (1936) by Arthur P. Rose (published in 1912)
transcribed by Susan Geist)
In his Foreword to the History of Lyon County (of which Lincoln County was
an integral part until the year 1873 when the present fifteen western
townships were set off by legislative act as an independent county), Mr.
Rose relates as follows: “While the history of the county covers only a
period of time represented by a span of years accorded a long-lived man, the
events which have occurred should be recorded while there are yet living
some who took part in the history marking.”
“The author has consulted and quoted from the writings of Hon. Warren Upham,
secretary of the Minnesota Historical Society, from C. F. Chase’s History of
Lyon County, from the History of the Minnesota Valley, from the publication
of the Minnesota Geographical Survey, from Minnesota in the Civil and Indian
Wars, and from other books of reference.” He also relates that “the files of
the local newspapers have been of inestimable value in supplying authentic
data.” Also that “Score of pioneer residents have interested themselves in
the work to the extent of devoting time to the detailing of early day
Mr. Rose also states: “In the work of gathering the data the author has been
ably assisted by Messrs. P. D. Moore, J. P. Nelson and William Larkin.”
“Probably no historical work was ever put to press which entirely satisfied
its author. There are so many pitfalls in the path of him who seeks to
record the events of the past, the human mind is so prone to err in
recalling names and dates of the former day. So it happens that the writer,
compiling his story from data of which only a part can be verified, knows
that there must be errors, albeit he may have exercised the greatest care.”
Mr. Rose admitted that he realized the work was not perfect.
Quotation from Rose’s History of Lyon County, 1912:
“The white Man’s history of Lyon county dates back to no great antiquity.
Nevertheless, during millions of years many interesting things happened in
the county—events which were not witnessed by mortal eye, events which the
most vivid imagination cannot conceive.
“From a part of the seething, molten mass that composed the earth during the
millions of years about which even the geologists hardly date venture a
guess, Lyon county was formed and became a part of the earth’s surface in
the process of cooling. Thereafter it was successively covered with waters
of the sea, was raised from the depths to a great altitude, and was crushed
back by the weight of the vast ice sheets during the Glacial Period.
“During those times Lyon county’s topographical features were formed, many
changes developing, resulting before Nature had them fashioned to her
liking. Soil was spread over the surface; ridges and hills were formed by
the action of the ice; depressions were left in which are now lakes; the
waters from the melting ice sought avenues of escape and formed rivers and
creeks; plant and animal life came into existence.
“When Lyon county was first inhabited by the human species is unknown. Even
when the North American continent was first peopled archaeologist’s can at
best only guess. There has been discovered evidence that man lived upon the
continent during the decline and closing day of the Ice Age, some 6,000 to
10,000 years ago, and probably had done so for a much longer period.
“When civilized man came to the New World he found it peopled with a savage
race which he called Indians. They had no knowledge of their own ancestry
nor of any people who may have preceded them. Whether or not this race
supplanted one of a higher civilization is a question upon which authorities
disagree. The only source of information concerning the early inhabitants
are the implements of warfare and domestic use they made, found in burial
places and elsewhere in the land. The Mississippi Valley is prolific in
mounds—the burial places of these ancient people,--many having been found
and excavated in Minnesota.
“While we have little knowledge of the very early peoples who inhabited
Minnesota, from the middle of the seventeenth century, when white men first
penetrated to the Northwest, we can trace the history of the Indian tribes
more or less accurately. At the coming of the white men nearly the whole
state was occupied by the Dakota, or Sioux Indians. The only exception was
in the extreme northern part, where the Kilistino (or Crees) and the Mosoni
of the Algonquin tribes had their habitat. The Sioux, with whom alone Lyon
county has to do, had their favorite hunting grounds on the prairies, and
although they were usually domiciled in a portion of the timbered lands
bordering the prairies, they were strictly Indians of the prairie.
“About the middle of the eighteenth century the aggressive Ojibways, or
Chippewas, made successful war on the Sioux and the Crees, driving the Sioux
to the south and the Crees to the north. Thenceforth until the white man
supplanted the red these two tribes occupied all the area of Minnesota, the
Ojibways occupying all the northeastern wooded half and the Sioux the
prairie half o the southwest.
“The Sioux nation was divided into several different tribes, each of which
laid claim to certain tracts. The southwestern part of Minnesota, including
the present county of Lyon, was claimed by the Sisseton tribe. The location
of the several bands inhabiting Southern Minnesota in 1834 has been told by
the missionary, S. W. Pond, who came to Minnesota that year. He has written:
“The villages of the M’dewakantonwan were on the Minnesota and Mississippi
rivers, extending from Winona to Shakopee. Most of the Indians living on the
Minnesota river above Shakopee were Warpetowan. At Big Stone lake there were
both Warpetonwan and Sissetonwan, and at Lake Travers, Ihanktonwan
(Yankton), Sissetonwan and Warpetonwan. Part of the Warpekute lived on
Cannon river and part at Traverse des Sioux. There were frequent
intermarriages between these divisions of the Dakotas, and they were more or
less intermingled at all their villages. Though the manners, language and
dress of the different divisions were not all precisely alike, they were
essentially one people.”
“As has been mentioned before, the southwestern part of Minnesota was the
country of the Sisseton branch of the Sioux nation from the time white men
first visited it. The timber land along the Redwood river in Lyon county was
a paradise for these Indians of the prairie and some of the band had their
homes there; others frequented it on trapping and hunting expeditions and to
gather the syrup from the maple trees.
“Parker I. Pierce, who passed through Lyon county in the early sixties and
quite well informed on Indian affairs, has given an interesting account of
Indian life in Lyon county before the coming of the white settlers. In the
Lyon County Reporter of December 26, 1896, he wrote:
“At Lynd there were about 1500 acres of timber (most of it later having been
cut by the settlers), consisting of oak, bass and sugar maple. This timber
was paradise for the Indians, furnishing shelter and fuel for winter and a
feeding ground for their ponies. In the summer they would hunt and kill
buffalo and dry the meat for winter. After the cold weather set in they
devoted their time to trapping the fur-bearing animals, such as otter, mink
and muskrats, which were abundant. In every slough one could count from
three to forty houses or dens, which were made of rushes and varied in
height. When there was to be high water in the spring there were built high,
and when low water they were built low. Now the rats have disappeared. The
otter were not very plentiful, as the Indians kept them well trapped out.
Their skins brought a fair price, probably two quarts of brown sugar. Wolves
were very plentiful before the winter trappers came among them. The Indian
was so superstitious that he would now kill any; he said they were his Great
Father’s dogs. The same with a snake.
“As I said before, there were plenty of sugar maples and the Indian women
made hundreds of pounds of sugar. In the spring the surplus would go to the
Indian trader and shortly would be traded back to them for furs and robes.
Each band of Indians had their allotment of trees. The troughs that were
made to catch the sap remained under the trees until the following spring;
then the same ones would go back to their camping ground.
“The Indians were happy and rich with ponies. Their burial places were the
oaks that stood on the bluffs. The ones that died were wrapped in a blanket
and put in a fork of a tree and left there until they crumbled to dust. The
old settlers can recollect seeing the burial places in Lyons township,
adjoining the town of Lynd.
“There is a mound the settlers call the knob, which is no doubt an ancient
burial place. This knob looks as though the dirt had been carried and laid
as systematically as for some observatory or lookout place; for one can
stand there and see for miles in each direction. It once faced a lovely
sheet of water which is now dry and is one of the best stock farms in the
Northwest, owned and occupied by Mr. Ruliffson and sons. This mound has been
nearly ruined by wolf hunters. There have been human bones found when
digging for wolves. Years ago there was a hard beaten trail leading to the
mound from the timber, thence towards Wood lake, passing a very high peak
where there was a large pile of rocks one could see for miles. No doubt this
mound and peak have been used for lookouts, as the enemy, another tribe, was
From this point Mr. Rose proceeds to relate as follows:
“Let us, in imagery, take a look at the Lyon county of years gone by, when
it was in primeval state, when it was as Nature had formed it. Its
topography was practically the same as we find it today. There were the same
broad, rolling prairies, stretching as far as the eye might reach,
presenting in summer a perfect paradise of verdure, with its variegated hues
of flowers and vegetation; in winter a dreary and snow mantled desert. The
rivers and creeks flowed in the same courses as now; the lakes occupied the
same banks as at the present day. But what a contrast!
“Wild beasts and birds and wilder red men then reigned supreme. Vast herds
of bison, elk and deer roamed the open prairies and reared their young in
the more sheltered places along the streams. With that wonderful
appreciation of the beautiful which Nature has made an instinct in the
savage, the untutored Sioux selected this country as his hunting ground and
roamed it all will. Such was the Lyon county before the march of
civilization brought the white man to supplant the red.”
At this point Mr. Rose relates of the early French explorers of Minnesota,
including the visit of Le Sueur in about the year 1700.
“The data secured by Le Sueur was used in the preparation of a map of the
Northwest country by William De L’isle, royal geographer of France, in 1703.
Several of the larger and more important physical features of Southwestern
Minnesota were more or less accurately located. For the first time the
Minnesota river appeared upon a map, being labeled R. St. Pierre, or Mini-Sota.
The Des Moines river also has a place on the map, being marked Des Moines,
or le Moingona R., and its source was definitely located. There is nothing
in the writings of Le Sueur, however, to lead to the belief that he extended
his exploration to any country except along the Minnesota river and not much
farther up that stream than the mouth of the Blue Earth.
“During the next sixty-six years after Le Sueur visited the Minnesota river
country, no white man was in Southwester Minnesota so far as we know. Then,
in 1766, Jonathan Carver ascended the Minnesota and spent several months
with the Indians at the mouth of the Cottonwood river, in the vicinity of
New Ulm. Undoubtedly white men engaged in trade with the natives or trapping
and hunting for the fur companies or for themselves, visited that part of
Minnesota which is now designated as Lyon county in the early part of the
nineteenth century. But such men left no records of their operations, and
our information concerning the exploration of the country is obtained almost
wholly from expeditions sent out by the government.”
Mr. Rose then relates of the exploration of Major Stephen H. Long, Prof.
William Keating in 1823, and G. W. Featherstonhaugh in 1835, to Southwestern
“A white man first established a home in Lyon county in 1835. He was Joseph
LaFramboise, a trader in the employ of the American Fur Company, and his
post was in the Lynd woods on the Redwood river. There for a period of two
years he lived with his family, engaged in trade with the Indians.
“So early in 1826 Joseph LaFramboise was a trader, licensed by the Indian
agent at the agency established at the mouth of the Minnesota river. In the
late twenties he established a trading post on the headwaters of the Des
Moines river, probably in Murray county, where in 1829 a son, Joseph
LaFramboise, Jr., was born. In 1834 he moved the post to the “Great Oasis”
(Bear Lakes) at about the present location of Lowville, in Murray county,
remained there for one year, and in 1835 removed the post to the Lynd woods.
“For two years LaFramboise and his family were residents of the future Lyon
county, he acting as agent for the American Fur Company in bartering with
the Indians. In 1837 he moved to the mouth of the Cottonwood river and the
next year to a homestead in Ridgely township, Nicollet county, about eleven
miles above the present site of New Ulm, LaFramboise died in 1856.
Mr. Rose then relates the visit of George Catlin and Robert Serril Wood,
accompanied by an Indian guide whose name was O-kup-kee, to Lyon county and
their trip to the Pipestone quarries:
“The next white men to penetrate Lyon county were a party of explorers in
the government employ, who passed through in 1838. In the party were six men
under command of Joseph Nicholas Nicollet, with John C. Fremont, second in
command. Among the others were Charles A. Geyer, the botanist of the
expedition; J. Eugene Flandin and James Renville.
“Nicollet and Fremont traveled from Washington to St. Louis and thence up
the Mississippi river to H. H. Sibley’s trading post, near the mouth of the
Minnesota river (Mendota). Thence they journeyed over the general route of
travel up the south side of the Minnesota river, crossing at Travers des
Sioux (near St. Peter). They proceeded west across the “ox-bow,” stopping at
Big Swan lake in Nicollet county, and crossed the Minnesota again at the
mount of the Cottonwood. They proceeded up the valley of the Cottonwood, on
the north side of the river, to a point near the present site of Lamberton,
and then crossed to the south side of the river and then struck across
country to the west. They passed through the south east corner of Lyon
county, about where the city of Tracy now stands, and passed around the
north end of Lake Stetek. Thence, they proceeded southwestward, between Bear
Lakes, to the Pipestone quarries.
“After spending three days at the Pipestone quarries, where is now situated
the city of Pipestone, the Nicollet party visited and named Lake Benton (for
Mr. Fremont’s father-in-law, Senator Benton) and then proceeded westward
into Dakota, visiting and naming Lakes Preston (for Senator Preston),
Poinsett (for J. R. Poinsett, secretary of war), Albert, Thompson, Tetonkoha,
Kampeska and Hendricks (the latter an interstate lake, partly in Lincoln
county, Minn. and partly in South Dakota). Before returning, Nicollet
visited Big Stone lake and other places to the north. He returned to the
falls of St. Anthony by way of Joseph Renville’s camp on the Lac qui Parle.
“As a result of Nicollet’s exploration several physical features of Lyon
county and the immediate vicinity were given names and appeared on a map for
the first time, all quite accurately located. Among them are St. Peter or
Minisotah river (on which are shown Crooked rapids Rock Bar raids, and
Patterson’s rapids), Tchanshayapi or Redwood R., Waraju (Cottonwood R.),
Pejuta (Zizi R. of Yellow Medicine R.), Lake Shetek (designated as the head
of the Des Moines river), L. Benton and Red Pipestone quarry. On his map the
country along the Minnesota river is labeled Warpeton country and that
further on Sisseton country.
“The next recorded visit of white men was in 1844, when an expedition in
charge of Captain J. Allen came up the Des Moines river, operating chiefly
to chart that and other streams. He passed through Jackson, Cottonwood and
Murray counties and came to Lake Shetek, which he decided was the source of
the Des Moines river. He gave that body of water the name of Lake of the
Oaks and described it as remarkable for a singular arrangement of the
peninsulas running into it from all sides and for a heavy growth of timber
that covered the peninsulas and the borders of the lake.
“With Lake Shetek as temporary headquarters, Captain Allen extended his
explorations in several directions. He proceeded due north from the lake and
crossed the Cottonwood and later the Redwood near the present site of
Marshall. When thirty-seven miles north of Lake Shetek he turned east and
crossed the Redwood again near the site of Redwood Falls. From the mouth of
the Redwood he explored the south shore of the Minnesota river several miles
up and down and returned to Lake Shetek. The expedition set out for the west
and went down the Big Sioux river to its mouth.
“From events so far recorded it can be seen that up to the middle of the
nineteenth century the general knowledge of the country comprising
Southwestern Minnesota was extremely limited. For a decade after Captain
Allen passed through Lyon county in 1844 there are no records of the visits
of other white men, although undoubtedly some of the traders who had
headquarters on the Minnesota river trod its soil occasionally.
“Excepting what these nomadic people of the Indian country knew, we find
that when Minnesota Territory was created in 1849 the southwestern portion
was a veritable incognita. In fact, all the land west of the Mississippi
river was still in undisputed ownership of the Sioux bands, and white men
(expecting the licensed traders) had no rights whatever in the country. But
the tide of immigration to the West had set in and settlers were clamoring
for admission to the rich lands west of the river. In time the legal barrier
“In the spring of 1851 President Fillmore, at the solicitation of residents
of Minnesota Territory, directed that a treaty with the Sioux be made and
named as commissioners to conduct the negotiations, Governor Alexander
Ramsey, ex-officio commissioner for Minnesota, and Luke Lea, the national
commissioner of Indian affairs. These commissioners completed a treaty with
the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands—the upper bands, as they were usually
called—at Traverse des Sioux (near the present site of St. Peter) during the
latter part of July, 1851. Immediately thereafter the commissioners
proceeded to Mendota (near St. Paul) where they were successful in making a
treaty with the Wahpakoota and M’daywakanton bands.
“The treaties were ratified, with important amendments, by Congress in 1852.
The amended articles were signed by the Indians in September, 1852, and in
February of the next year President Fillmore proclaimed the treaties in
force. By this important proceeding the future Lyon county passed from the
ownership of the Sioux to the United States. By the two treaties there were
transferred about 30,000,000 acres from 8,000 Indians, the greater portion
of the land lying in Minnesota. The price paid was about twenty and one-half
cents per acre.
“After the lands were ceded, settlers poured into the country west of the
Mississippi river and settlements were founded at numerous places in the
eastern part of the territory. But for some year they did not extend so far
west as Lyon county, and until after the Sioux was the territory that
comprises the county was largely the same virgin country it has always been.
“During the year 1855 white people for the first time resided in Lyon
county, if we except Joseph LaFramboise, who for a short time had a trading
post within its boundaries. In the year mentioned James W. Lynd established
a trading post in the Lynd woods on the Redwood, and Aaron Myers and family
located on the Cottonwood, in the present township of Amiret.” Note: During
a part of the time Mr. Lynd conducted his trading post at Lynd he employed a
half-breed by the name of John Moore, presumably the same person that later
resided at Indian Grove, Lincoln county, about half way between Lake Benton
“During 1856 and 1857 a wagon road was constructed across Southern Lyon
county, being a part of the road between Fort Ridgley and the Missouri
river, known as the “Fort Ridgley and South Pass Road.” It was constructed
by the United States government under the direction of Albert H. Campbell,
who bore the title of General Superintendent Pacific Wagon Roads, but the
field work was in charge of Colonel William H. Nobles.
“The course of the road as described by Albert Campbell in his report to the
Secretary of the Interior February 19, 1859, was as follows: This road was
completed only as far as the Missouri river, 254 miles, sometime in the fall
of 1857, in consequence of insufficiency of appropriation and of alleged
Indian hostilities. The general location of this road was as follows:
Beginning at the ferry on the Minnesota river, which is 15 feet wide at this
place, opposite Fort Ridgley. The general course of the road is
southwesterly, passing through a marshy region a few miles south of Limping
Devil’s lake to the north fork of the Cottonwood, a distance of about
seventeen miles, thence to the Cottonwood river, over a rolling country,
with lakes and marshes, about one and one-half miles below the mouth of Plum
creek and three good watering places to the crossing of Cottonwood at Big
Wood, about eighteen and one-half miles. Thence the road continues to
Hole-in-the-Mountain, near Lake Benton, a distance of about thirty-two miles
passing through a region abounding in lake and an abundance of wood, water
and grass. From Lake Benton the road passes for the most part over a high
prairie to the Big Sioux river, about twenty-three and one-half miles. This
road, as far as built, is remarkably direct and is believed, from the
description of the country through which it passes, to be the best location
which could have been made, securing a plentiful supply of water, grass and
“The road was intended as a highway for immigrant trains to the Pacific
coast, but the eastern end of the road, at least, was never so used.
“Lyon county was left destitute after the departure of Lynd and Myers and
remained so for several years after the Sioux war. During these years white
men had established home almost to the border of the county, but none had
had the hardihood to venture quite so far from the more populous
communities. On Lake Benton in later years were found ruins of the homes of
people who had lived there before the massacre, but nothing is known of them
or their fate.
“A write in the Lake Benton News of January 27, 1881, said: “There is
evidence that the country around Lake Benton in March, 1869, has said that
when he arrived there were only two other settlers in the vicinity—William
Taylor and Charles Shindle. He reported that there were several vacant
houses scattered around the lake—six of them—partly burned. There were also
several large pieces of breaking done. On one place there were a large
number of rails and posts split in the timber and logs cut but not split.
The writer asked several of the Indians about this, but they knew nothing.
His opinion was that they fell victim of the 1862 massacre. The writer found
the skeletons of two persons about where the Lake Benton depot now stands.
“Fortunate was it for Lyon county that settlements were not located within
its boundaries when the terrible Sioux massacre came upon the exposed
frontier in the awful days of August, 1862. For the fair soil of
Southwestern Minnesota was crimsoned with the blood of many innocent men,
women and children. Fiendish atrocity, blood-curdling cruelty and red-handed
murder ran riot. The murder-crazed redskins piled the rife and tomahawk
until now less than eight hundred victims had paid the penalty of trying to
extend the limits of civilization. The massacre was the most stupendous one
in the annals of Indian warfare, and only for the fact that it contained no
settlers did Lyon county escape the awful calamity.
Omitting Mr. Rose’s description of how Minnesota was at different times
attached to the state of Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, and how in 1849
Minnesota Territory was established, also how the territory was at that time
divided into nine counties, Lyon county being successively a part of
Waubashaw, Blue Earth, Faribault, Brown, Redwood until in 1869 the present
Lyon and Lincoln counties were embraced as a distinct county, namely, Lyon
county. Mr. Rose then continues to relate as follows:
“There were only a handful of residents in the proposed county in the early
days of 1869, but they were an ambitious lot. They maintained that they had
brought the star of empire west with them and that they ought to have the
handling of its destinies. They asked the legislature to take the necessary
action to set off the western part of Redwood county into a new political
“The bill for the creation of Lyon county embracing the counties of Lyon and
Lincoln, was introduced by Senator Charles T. Brown, passed the Legislature,
and was approved by Governor William R. Marshall on March 2, 1869. The
county was named in honor of General Nathaniel Lyon, of the United States
army. The several townships were officially created in the following order,
but the organization in all cases did not immediately follow: Lake Marshall,
Lynd, Lyons, Fairview, Nordland, Grandview, Lucas, Eidsvold, Monroe, Amiret,
Westerheim, Vallers, Custer, Clifton, Stanley, Sodus, Rock Lake, Island
Lake, Shelbourne and Coon Creek.
“The winter following the eyar of rapid settlement—the winter of 1872-3—must
go down in history as a most severe one. It brought the most terrible
blizzard in the country’s history, before or since, in which the settlers
received their first experience of real hardships.
“Winter began November 12. The day had been fine, but toward nightfall,
those who knew the Northwest saw indication of a blizzard. At dark a gale
from the northwest struck the houses with a whack as distinct as if it had
been a board in the hands of Old Boreas. One of the famous northern
blizzards was on, and there was a serious storm until the afternoon of the
third day. Thenceforth it was winter. Snow fell to a great depth, probably
not less than two feet, but it was so blown about and drifted by the wind
that in some places there were drifts of twenty feet or more.
“From the time winter so set in there was little let-up in the severity of
the weather. One storm followed another, and when not storming the weather
was cold and severe, while the deep snows, almost constantly drifting, made
travel difficult and sometimes dangerous. During that long winter the
inhabitants of this part of the state were practically shut out from the
world. For weeks at a time there were no mails. Many people were
inconvenienced for want of necessary food, fuel and clothing. The sufferings
and horror of that long and dreadful winter will never be effaced from the
memories of those who experienced them.
“The ill-fated year of 1873 began with the most violent storm in the history
of the state from the time of its first settlement to the present date. For
three days, beginning January 7, the blizzard raged, extending over the
whole Northwest. The temperature was from eighteen to forty degrees below
zero during the whole period of the storm. The air was filled with snow as
fine as flour. Through every crevice, keyhole and nailhole the fine snow
penetrated, puffing into the house like steam. Seventy human lives were lost
in the storm in Minnesota, and eight of this number were people who resided
in Lyon county as then constituted.
“The forenoon of Tuesday, January 7, was mild and pleasant; the sky was
clear and there was no wind. It seemed as though as “January thaw” was
imminent. The pleasant weather had induced many farmers to go to the woods
for a supply of fuel or with their families to the neighbors for a visit.
“About eleven o’clock a change was apparent. The sky lost its crystal
clearness and became a trifle hazy. Just about noon a white wall was seen
bearing down from the northwest. The front of the storm was distanced and
almost as clearly defined as a great sheet. In a few minutes a gale, moving
at a rate of thirty or forty miles an hour, was sweeping the country; a
full-fledged blizzard had supplanted the bright sunshine in a few minutes.
The air was so completely filled with flying snow that it was impossible to
see objects a short distance away.
“One who witnessed the storm said: “The air was filled with whirling frost,
fine as flour, so thick that it was impossible to see into it more than a
rod or so, and no idea of direction could be kept. The snow would blow right
through ordinary clothing, and it was impossible to face the wind because of
intense cold.” Another declared that there were twenty-four different
currents of air to the cubic foot, each travelling in a different direction
and each moving with a velocity of electricity.
“All Tuesday night, Wednesday and Wednesday night the storm raged with
unabated fury. Not until Thursday was there any let-up, and not until Friday
was the storm over. Very few who were in places of safety when the storm
struck braved the dangers of getting anywhere else. The hotel at Marshall
was filled with people as securely fastened within door as though they had
been in jail, and at Kiel’s hotel in Lynd were other wayfarers awaiting the
opportunity to get home. Besides those who perished, several Lyon county
residents were caught on the prairie in the storm, and some were obliged to
spend two or three days in deserted claim shanties or hay stacks.
“Three of those who perished in the storm were residents of that part of the
county which a year later was organized into Lincoln county. They were
William (Charles) Taylor, who had settled at Lake Benton in 1868, James
Robinson and a Mr. Ebersold.
“William (Charles) Taylor had started from Lake Benton to the mill at
Redwood Falls with a load of grain. The storm came upon him when he had
reached a point where the village of Russel now stands. There he unhitched
his team, overturned the sleigh box, and spent the night and part of the
next day. Realizing that he must freeze if he remained where he was, Mr.
Taylor turned loose one of the horses and, mounting the other, set out in an
attempt to find a place of safety.
“After the storm a searching party found the trail of the unfortunate man.
The horse he had ridden was found on the Redwood river in Lyons township,
from which place Mr. Taylor had traveled afoot with the storm in a
southeasterly direction about forty miles. The searching party lost the
trail about twenty miles from where he had left the Redwood. At one other
place he passed within ten feet of a claim shanty and at another he passed
between a shanty and a hay stack, but owning to the dense snow, and possibly
to the fact at that time he was blinded, he passed them by. The body was
found the following spring by settlers from near Worthington at a point in
northern Nobles county not far from the present village of Fulda.
“With the new order of things came two important changes in Lyon county; the
creation of Lincoln county from the fifteen western townships and the
removal of the county seat from Lynd to Marshall. The settlement of western
Lyon county had been quite rapid and the people there demanded a county of
their own. Marshall, the only railroad town in the county, became ambitious
and demanded the county seat.
“It is doubtful if either of these changes, singly, would have been
authorized by vote of the people, but together, they were put through
without great difficulty. The electors of the future Lincoln county agreed
to vote for Marshall for the county seat if the people of Marshall and
vicinity would vote for the new county, and vice versa. The coalition was a
strong one and the returns shoe that each party fulfilled its promises.
“The bill for the creation of Lincoln county passed the Legislature in the
spring of 1873. According to its provisions the fifteen western townships of
Lyon county were set off and formed into Lincoln county, the county seat of
which should be Marshfield, but the act should not become operative unless a
majority of the voters of the whole of Lyon county should ratify the act at
the general election in November, 1873. Considering the important of the
question, the campaign was not an exceptionally hard fought one. Those
favoring the creation of the new county won at the polls but a vote of 254
to 214. The vote by precincts was as follows:
“Canton (Lucas), 20 for, 1 against; Northeast District, none for and none
against; Upper Yellow Medicine, none for, 18 against; Nordland, none for, 38
against; Grandview, 18 for, 3 against; Fairview, 26 for, 1 against; East
Precinct, 18 for, none against; Lyons, 6 for, 27 against; Saratoga, 14 for,
52 against; Yellow Bluff, none for, 15 against; Marshfield, 18 for, none
against. Total: 254 for, 214 against.
(Lake Benton precinct as it existed while Lincoln county was a part of Lyon
county, consisted of two townships in southern Lincoln county; Yellow Bluff
consisted of the three northern township, Hansonville, Alta Vista and
Marble; Marshfield, ten townships in central and southern Lincoln county,
supposedly, Hendricks, Royal, Limestone, Shaokatan, Ash Lake, Lake Stay,
Drammen, Diamond Lake, Marshfield and Verdi, or perhaps Hope.)
“On December 5, 1873, Governor Horace Austin issued a proclamation declaring
the county of Lincoln formed and on that day Lyon county was reduced to its
“The first meeting of the Board of County Commissioners of Lincoln county
was held at the home of M .S. Phillips in Marshfield in January, 1874, the
commissioners being N. F. Berry, A C. Burdick, and Henry Bagley. They
appointed the following first officers: Charles Marsh, auditor: John Jones,
treasurer and superintendent of schools; William Ross, sheriff; M. L. Wood,
register of deeds; John Snyder, judge of probate; A. C. Leach, county
attorney; M. S. Phillips, clerk of court; James Berry, court commissioner;
John Cooley, coroner; Mr. Taylor, surveyor; Ole Swenson and J. W. Lawton,
justice of the peace; Benjamin Sampson, and Frank Applebee, constables.
“Prosperous as Lyon county is today, one can imagine the suffering a serious
of almost total crop failures would bring. Picture, then, a settlement of
almost two thousand people with practically no means—people who had come
because they were poor and because they believed the new country offered
opportunities for securing a home and a competence—devastated by a scourge
which took away the only means of earning a living. Such were the conditions
in the times about which we are now to tell.
“The people who had come the preceding year set to work with a will to break
out the prairie land, and great were the expectations for the crop of 1873,
the first crop of any size planted in the county. The grain grew beautifully
during the spring months; the faith in the soil was justified. Everybody was
enthusiastic over the prospects. Then came the plague.
“The grasshoppers first made their appearance in the Lyon county about the
seventeenth of June, 1873, and the county was not entirely free from them
during the remainder of the season. Their arrival was first made known by
the appearance of the sky, the sun seemed to have lost some of its
brilliance, as though darkened by clouds of fine specks floating high in the
air. Some believed that the specks were the fluff from cottonwood seeds.
They kept increasing in number, and after awhile a few scattering ones began
falling to the earth, where they were found to be grasshoppers, or Rocky
Mountain locusts—forerunners of an army that devastated this part of the
country and resulted in the retardation of its settlement for many years.
“If there had been a belief that the grasshopper scourge was to be only a
temporary blight on the prospects of Lyon county, it was rudely dispelled.
From Manitoba to Texas the grasshoppers brought desolation and suffering in
1874, the visitation being general throughout the whole frontier. Especially
destructive were they in Southwestern Minnesota and in Kansas and Nebraska.”
(Mr. Rose recounts that in 1874 native hoppers did much damage, but this
crop disappeared in June, only to be succeeded by a ‘foreign’ crop in July.
The devastation done by the pests in 1874 was complete. So thick were the
hoppers that when on the wing they obscured the sun at times, and when they
settled upon the ground they piles upon places to the depth of one or two
feet. The scourge ended in 1876. So great was the devastation that it became
necessary for the state to supply grain to this section of the country that
the settlers might have seed and flour.)
“In the summer of 1874 came an Indian scare that created some little
excitement in western Lyon county—the result, doubtless, of a practical
“On Saturday, July 18, three Norwegian families who lived on the Sioux river
near Medary arrived in the Lake Benton settlement, driving their flocks and
heads with them. They brought the alarming intelligence that Fort Wadsworth,
Dakota, had been captured by Indians, who had massacred two hundred whites;
that the village of Flandreau was in flames, that the people of Medary and
Flandreau and elsewhere along the Sioux were fleeing the country, and that
the redskins were on their way to Lake Benton, where they expected to arrive
the next night.
“The report created consternation in the isolated settlement at Lake Benton.
The news flew from house to house and there was great commotion. Some of the
settlers gathered at the place where now the village of Lake Benton is
situated and held a council of war. The majority favored investigating the
report before deserting their homes, but six families hastily packed a few
things, set out in hasty retreat for the east, alarmed all the people along
the route, and reached Lynd before their fears were calmed.
“Another council was held at Marshfield, where it was decided to investigate
the rumor. John Snyder and William Taylor rode to Flandreau twenty-five
miles distant and found all quiet along the Sioux. Upon their return the
alarmed people declared the war over.”
“One of the dates from which time is reckoned in Lyon county is the winter
of 1880-81—the season of Siberian frigidity. There have been worse storms
than any that occurred that winter; for short periods of time there has been
colder weather. But there never was a winter to compare with this one in
duration, continued severity, depth of snow and damage to property.
“Blizzard followed blizzard. The railroads were blocked for weeks and months
at a time. Fuel and food were nearly exhausted. People burned green wood,
fences, lumber, hay and grain and went without lights. In some places there
was suffering for lack of food. Roads remained unbroken all winter and the
farmers obtained their supplies from the villages by means of handsleds. Two
lives were lost in Lyon county in the storms of that winter and several
others were so badly frozen that amputation of limbs was necessary; many
others became lost in the storms and had thrilling experiences. The long,
cold, boisterous, blizzardous, wearisome winter will never be forgotten by
those who were then living in Lyon county.
“Before the farmers had barely started their fall work, while the grass was
yet green and the insect world active, winter set in. Toward evening on
Friday, October 15, the wind, which had been blowing north all day, brought
with it an occasional flake of snow. When darkness came, the wind and snow
increased, and before midnight the elements were thoroughly aroused.
Throughout the night the storm steadily increased, and when morning came its
fury was such as had seldom been witnessed in the middle of the severest
winters. Saturday forenoon the wind continued to blow with terrific
violence, driving before it the rapidly falling snow with such force that
few dared to venture out of doors. All day the blizzard rages, not calming
down until nightfall. Saturday night the raging elements ceased their
tempestuous frolic. Sunday the weather was calm, but cold and wintery. The
fall of snow was great and the violent winds piled it in great mounds.
“So badly drifted was the snow that the railroad was completely blockaded,
and from Friday, the fifteenth, until Saturday, the twenty-second, no trains
were able to get through, although large forces of men were at work clearing
the track. Even this short blockade resulted in a shortage of fuel. In the
country damage because of the storm was great. It was the first and only
blizzard experienced in the county in October, and, of course, the farmers
were unprepared for it. The loss of stock throughout the county was
considerable, many hogs and sheep, particularly, having been frozen to
“For a time after the initial storm the weather was clam but wintery. About
the middle of November storms began to rage again, and wintery blasts
continued from that time until late in April.
“In the history of the Northwest there have been a few winter storms of such
unnatural severity that they stand out as events of historical importance.
The most severe of these awful storms undoubtedly was the blizzard of
January 7, 8 and 9, 1873, an account of which has been given. Ranking second
was the terrible blizzard of January 12, 1888, when over two hundred lost
their lives in different sections of the Northwest. By a miraculous turn of
fate none of these were in Lyon county, although many were caught in the
storm and some severely frozen.
“The conditions essential to such a disastrous storm as this proved to be
had been filled by the weather during the week previous. On January 5 a
storm of sleet had froze on the surface of the deep snow to an icy
smoothness. The day before the storm the intense cold that had prevailed
moderated, the wind shifted to the southwest, and there was a heavy
snowfall, which continued until the blizzard started the next day.
“On Thursday morning, the twelfth, the weather was mild and by noon it was
thawing. A damp snow was falling and there was scarcely any wind. At a
little before four o’clock in the afternoon what little wind there was
subsided and there was a dead calm. At five minutes past four o’clock came
the storm, with absolutely no warning. It has been described as coming ‘as
quickly as one could look to the window’. In a moment a howling, shrieking
blizzard was raging with blinding fury, rendering it hazardous to undertake
a journey of even a few blocks in town and making it equivalent to almost
certain death to be caught away from shelter on the prairie.
“The terrors of the storm were augmented by a rapidly falling mercury, which
soon reached the region of the thirties and rendered infinitely small the
chance that any unfortunate being could survive who might be exposed to its
perils. The storm rapidly increased in fury and continued unabated until
eight o’clock Friday morning; then it lost much of its violence but
continued until Saturday night. Not until Tuesday did the conditions of the
weather and roads enable snow-bound people to reach their homes.
“The storm came at a time when many were exposed to it .The mildness of the
temperatures that characterized the early part of the day resulted in
farmers, who had long been weather-bound, going to the towns to trade, and a
number of them were returning home; it came at an hour when schools all over
the county were being dismissed, and children were obliged to make their way
home in the storm; it came also at the time of day when farmers were in the
habit of driving their stock to water, and they and their herds became lost
in its blinding fury. A great many head of stock were frozen to death. A
number of Lyon county people had narrow escapes from death. A few were
obliged to spend the night in snowdrifts and haystacks, and there were
several severe cases of freezing. In the vicinity of Garvin a whole train
load of people was imperiled.
“The most thrilling experiences of the storm came to the fifty or more
passengers on the east-bound North Western train, which for nearly six days
was stalled in a cut one miles east of the siding then known as Kent, now
the village of Garvin. The train was making its regular run from Huron to
Tracy, due at the latter place about seven o’clock on Wednesday evening, the
eleventh. There was a southwest wind and a light fall of snow during the
day, with increasing wind toward evening. A snow-plow was running ahead, and
the train following as the plow reached the station ahead. At Lake Benton
the wind had so increased that the freight train was abandoned, its engine
added to the passenger train, with its caboose in the rear, and the train
ran on double-headed. Al Balatan the passenger started east, on arrival of
the plow at Tracy. When between four and five miles from Balaton, near Kent,
the train became stalled in a deep cut. This was at ten o’clock in the
“The engines, being unable to pull the train out, loosened from it and from
each other and for two hours the trainmen made desperate efforts to break
out the cut. This was finally accomplished, but at about the same time a
south blizzard of great force struck, whirled and piled the snow up in every
direction, and filled the track between the engines and the cars faster than
the trainmen could remove it. Finding all efforts to connect with the care
hopeless, and water and fuel fast being reduced, with the storm increasing,
both engines pulled out and made the run to Tracy, arriving safely.
“Then commenced in earnest the long siege of the passengers. Fortunately
there was a good supply of coal in the cars, enough for nearly two day’s
use. The besieged train comprised the mail and express cars, smoking and
passenger coaches and caboose. These were between fifty and sixty
passengers, enough to make crowded coaches when sleeping accommodations were
provided. But little sleep was had that night. The storm increased in fury
and no passenger ventured outside, even while the trainmen were making
efforts to release the train. Thursday morning broke upon a doleful
appearing set of snow-bound passengers. With two or three cranky exceptions,
the passengers were cheerful. The storm showed no abatement until ten
o’clock, when it gradually lessened in force until noon.
“The telegraph from Tracy made known at Balaton that the train was stalled.
The section men at the last named place loaded handsleds with provisions,
hauled them out to the train, and a cold meal was eaten. During the
afternoon a telegram was received at Balaton announcing the approaching
blizzard. Realizing the dangers to which the people on the train would be
subjected in one of the dreaded winter storms, the people at Balaton sent
out seven teams hauling sleds to bring in the passengers.
“Twenty-three persons were hastily loaded into the sleds and at three
o’clock the start for Balaton was made. The rest of the passengers remained
on the train. When the parties in the sleds had proceeded about half way to
Balaton and were still about two and one-half miles from the village, the
memorable blizzard struck. At the time they were about twenty rods from the
railroad track. The ladies were turned with their backs to the storm and
covered with wraps and robes. In a moment the road was obscured from view.
The men dismounted and bending to the ground sought for the road, knowing
that to get out of it was most dangerous. It was found and a council of
drivers and male passengers was held.
“It was decided to keep the teams close together and make a break from the
road to the railroad and keep close to it for the remaining two miles to
town. Although only twenty rods away, it required a full twenty minutes to
reach the railroad, which was struck at a point recognized as Ham’s
Crossing. Some of the drivers gave the lines to the passengers and walked,
encouraging their restless and confused horses, leading them and breaking
drifts in front. In this manner slow and tedious progress was made toward
the village by the little caravan.
“The roaring blizzard, the dense atmosphere, the cutting, freezing, damp
snow, the fast falling temperature, the anxiety of the drivers and the
uneasiness of the horses all combined to create anxiety in the minds of the
party. To add to the evils, one of the loads was overturned, two or three of
the party lost their heads, and one man became partially deranged, crying
and howling, and in his wildness, pulling the robes and wraps from the
ladies in front of him, saying that he had but a few minutes to live and
that he must get warm before he died. The people from the overturned sled
attempted to walk, but with one exception, soon found places in other
vehicles. The exception in fur coat and silk hat, stumbled through the snow,
and, becoming exhausted, sank upon the roadside to die. He was seen by
occupants of the last sled, who stopped and pulled him into their sleigh.
His ears and face were frozen terribly.
“At half past six, after a ride of three and one-half hours—two and a half
hours in the blizzard—the last load reached the village and put up at its
one hotel. Citizens were at their doors discharging guns and the school bell
was incessantly clanging its alarm to guide the storm-bound procession into
the village, but these sounds could not be heard beyond the village in the
direction of the travelers. Everything possible was done for the relief of
the passengers, nearly all of whom had frozen faces and chilled limbs.
“Some of the trainmen started to walk to Tracy from the stalled train
Thursday afternoon and were caught in the storm. They sought shelter in a
grove and later found their way to a farm house. The next day they succeeded
in reaching Tracy.
“Those who remained on the train also had their troubles. A few of the
passengers did a lot of grumbling, made no effort to take care of
themselves, and made life miserable for everybody. Three nights were spent
on the stalled train. Saturday the railroad officials at Tracy secured teams
and sent a relief party, which brought off the imprisoned passengers. It
took all day to drive from Tracy to the train and most of the next day to
make the return trip. The baggageman, L. S. Tyler, remained on the train
until it was released on Tuesday. That day Dr. H. M. Workman headed a party
which brought to Tracy in sleds those of the passengers who had made the
trip to Balaton.”
Inasmuch as late in 1873 Lincoln county ceased to be an integral part of
Lyon county, and its historical events from then on became more or less
individual, at this point we will close the narrative chronicled by Mr.
Rose. If the reader has enjoyed perusing these most interesting events, and
the pleasing manner in which they have been recorded, as much as we have, we
shall feel justified in having taken the liberty to quote from his estimable
Although the period in which occurred the memorable grasshopper scourge and
the terrible blizzard reached beyond the time in which Lincoln and Lyon
counties ceased to remain a single political unit, we have quoted from Mr.
Rose’s graphic descriptions of same, as we believe their perusal will prove
of much interest to many readers.—A. E. T.