Finding Ancestors 

wherever their trails led with Genealogy Trails History Group

Lyon County, Minnesota

 


History of Lyon County


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 events.”

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 very troublesome.”

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 Minnesota:

“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 was removed.

“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 and Tyler.

“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 timber.

“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 division.

“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 present area”

“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 joke.

“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 death.

“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 evening.

“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 narrative.

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.


Lyon County Home Page

Visit our National Site:
Genealogy Trails
© Copyright by GenealogyTrails