Olmsted County Places - Oronoco Township


ORONOCO township, organized in 1858, was named for its village, founded in 1854, which Dr. Hector Galloway, one of its first settlers, named for the large Orinoco river (differently spelled) in South America, in allusion to the valuable water power of the Middle branch of Zumbro river at this village.


MINNESOTA GEOGRAPHIC NAMES Their Origin and Historic Significance
by Warren Upham, Archaeologist of the Society
Published by the Minnesota Historical Society
Saint Paul, 1920

The history of this township derives especial importance in relation to that of the whole county from the early date of its settlement, the intelligence and high moral character of its pioneers and present inhabitants, its very superior natural advantages, and the romantic beauty of its scenery. As the village of Oronoco was never incorporated, its history will not be separated from that of the whole township ; in fact, they are so closely interwoven as to be inseparable. The township of Oronoco lies on the extreme northern side of Olmsted county, being separated only by the township of New Haven from the western line. It is bounded on the north by Mazeppa township, Wabasha county, with whose history that of many Oronoco citizens is very closely connected; on the east by Farmington, and south by Cascade, and is described as T. 108 N., R 14 W., of the 5th P. M. The village is very near the western border of the town, and is the principal business point in the northwestern part of the county. Two principal branches of the Zumbro river unite in the eastern portion of the town, the south branch entering in the middle of section 36, and flowing northward, is joined by the middle or main branch, on section 14, and continuing northward, leaves the town on the northeast quarter of section 3. The main branch has two forks, each of which turns numerous mill-wheels at Mantorville, Pine Island, etc., that unite at the village ot Oronoco, on the west side of section 17. Here is a waterpower capable of grinding two hundred barrels of flour per day the year around. The same stream furnishes three other valuable water-powers within the township, all of them unimproved at present. The origin of the present name of the river is attributed to the attempts of modern settlers to pronounce the name given it by the early French explorers, who experienced a great deal of trouble in navigating its rapids and shoals, and christened it Les Ambras, which signifies, "the embarass "; this was rendered by the Indians and subsequent white residents as "Zumbro."

Although the contour of the land surface is a great deal broken in the neighborhood of the river, there is no "waste" land in this township, for the soil is everywhere rich, as well on top of the bluffs as in the ravines, or "runs," and the highest points are usually covered with timber, an essential element in the economy of a prairie region. About three-fourths of the surface of the town consists of prairie, and has a rich soil which has nearly all been broken up and subdued. The town, therefore, compares very favorably with others of the county in agricultural value and prosperity.

Oronoco took a very prominent position in the early history of the county. At the time of its settlement, on March 13, 1854, the nearest human habitation was twenty-five miles away, on the north branch of Root river, in the southern part of the county. At that time there was a settlement at Cannon Falls, thirty-five miles north-west; at Red Wing, forty miles north, and Faribault at the same distance west. The site of the present village of Oronoco was preempted by Leonard B. Hodges, John B. Clark and Ebenezer S. Collins, partners in the venture of starting a town in the then wilderness, who came hither from Allemakee [sic] county, Iowa, then but a new region in the annals of civilization. Messrs. Hodges, Clark and Collins were all bachelors, and proceeded to build a log hut for their common use and protection. This was placed on the left bank of the river, but a few feet above its surface, about on the spot now occupied by the abutment supporting the north end of the bridge. During the season of 1854 they broke and cropped forty acres, and raised good crops of corn, potatoes and garden stuff on the sod. They also staked out roads to Red Wing. St Paul, Wabasha and other points.

They spent much time and money in staking out and opening up a stage route from Dubuque, Iowa, to St Paul, bridging streams, cutting down river bauks for fording places, and making it possible for a four-horse coach to rattle through the then howling wilderness on good time; so that in the summer of 1854 M. O. Walker's stage line was in full blast, making daily trips from Dubuque to St Paul through the winter of 1854-5, with far more regularity than is now done by railroads.

Robert K. Whitely, of St Louis, Missouri, and John A. Moore, of New York, were the next permanent settlers. November 4, 1854, Capt James A. George, of Ohio, afterward Colonel of the 2d Minnesota reg., settled in Oronoco, and was accompanied by his brother-in-law, Michael Pearce. They returned to Ohio for the winter, and in the following spring returned with their families. E. C. Stevens moved to Oronoco from Red Wing in the summer of 1854; this was the first family that settled in Oronoco, the preceding settlers being all single men at that time.

In 1854 Hodges. Clark & Collins donated ten acres, including the mill-site and water-power, to Ezra Odell and James Holliston, who built the first mill—a sawmill—during the following winter. The first store was built and opened by John A. Moore. The first hotel was erected by S. P. Hicks in the fall of 1854, it was built of logs, 18 X 24, with a lean-to 12 X 24 in rear; and in this rude hostelry from sixty to one hundred men were sheltered and fed daily.

During the winter of 1854-5, Reuben Ottman, a lawyer who made numerous pecuniary investments in the town, and J. D. Terry, a farmer, arrived; and during the following season the arrivals were very brisk, both of farmers and business men. During the latter part of this season and the winter following, D. J. Bascomb, T. A. Olmsted and H. D. Evans built a gristmill, and in 1856 Messrs. Allott and Wilcox built a sash, door and planing-mill; so that by the summer of 1856 the village of Oronoco presented a lively appearance. With the manufactures carried on and the trade in supplies for the settlers pouring in to all parts of this region, business was very brisk, and more money changed hands at Oronoco in one weekat that time than in a month now. Daring the rammer of 1859 the manufacture of chairs was added to that of sash and doors, but the "great freshet" in June of that year swept away the whole machinery, and it was never replaced. There are still used in the town chairs made in this mill, and perhaps all along the lower Zumbro, as they were scattered by the waters all the way to the Mississippi.  The flouring-mill changed hands several times, and was several times remodeled and added to; in 1873, the property having fallen into the hands of A. D. Allis, who sold a part-interest to A. Gooding and D. S. Hebbard, of Rochester, a large merchant mill was erected, in which were placed eight runs of stone, and shortly after three sets of rolls. Three years later high water carried away the flume, and with it the millstones, one set being recovered two miles down stream, and one was never found. These damages were repaired, and the mill continued to turn out its 200 barrels of flour per day till November 25, 1879, when it was entirely consumed by fire, with a storehouse containing 30,000 bushels of wheat, and inflicting a loss of $90,000. This was a sad blow to Oronoco, as the operation of the mill gave employment to a large number of coopers, millers and other laborers, and furnished a first-class home market for the grain of the farmers. A small grist-mill with three sets of stones is now operated on the power by A. D. Allis, who hopes to be able soon to enlarge its capacity and engage again in merchant milling. Could capital be induced to improve the power now daily wasted in this town by the erection of cotton, paper or other mills, this town would soon become a center to surpass any other in the county or immediate vicinity. Its water-powers far exceed those of Rochester in value, and with their improvement railroad advantages could be readily secured.


During the season of 1878 the Rochester and Northern Minnesota Railway was built frpm Rochester to Zumbrota. It enters this township on the southwest quarter of section 36, and running in a general northwesterly direction leaves on section 5. One station is located on section 14, called Oronoco Switch. A depot and small grain warehouse constitute the buildings at this station. Douglass Station, in the town of Kalmar, is but a few rods from the town line, and Pine Island, a lively rural village, at which is a station, adjoins the township on the north. Two mixed trains pass each way daily over this line, and the people of the town are thus accommodated with quick and easy communication with the county's business center, and the world generally.

It was generally believed at first that Oronoco was destined to be the leading town in this portion of the state, and capital and farmers began to concentrate in the neighborhood. The first meeting of the county commissioners was held here August 27, 1855, and it was confidently believed that the county seat was to be permanently located here. The boundaries of the county had not then been mapped out, but at the next meeting of the territorial legislature the present boundaries were established and Rochester became the natural center of the county. The commissioners were Col. James George, Brigham Barrows and James Rutan, and held their second meeting in September following the first at Rochester. Up to 1858 there was no organization of townships, the citizens voting by precincts. The whole vote of this precinct in 1857 was 154, of which the republican candidates received 92 and the democratic 62. The precinct embraced, besides this town, Farmington, Cascade and New Haven. At present the town of Oronoco casts a very small republican majority on a party vote, but during most of the time in its history there has been a democratic majority of ten to fifteen. A very large proportion of the original settlers have died or moved away, and the few remaining ones treasure the memory of early days and relate many incidents and hardships attendant on their settlemetnt here.

After the first settlers had staked out their claims, on section 17, and erected a log hut thereon, Messrs. Hodges and Clark returned to Iowa after supplies and left Collins to hold the claim, surrounded by Winnebago and Sioux Indians, who were very friendly at that time. In the latter part of April the absentees returned and brought provisions, farming implements, a small blacksmithing outfit and five yoke of oxen. Clark was fond of female society, and soon began to pine for the sight of calico; he remarked to a prospector who visited .the trio that he would make a present of a town lot to the first white woman who visited them. About this time a family named Sackett had settled at Pine Island, and a daughter of the family hearing of this offer came down one Sunday, accompanied by her brother, and was duly awarded a deed of a lot .

The first family to settle here was that of E. C. Stevens, who made the second claim in town about the first of August, 1854; and shortly after S. P. Hicks arrived with his family, and built the hotel as above noted. The following year he built the wing of the present hotel, to which was shortly added the main portion. This property has changed hands many times, and is now owned by H. Broekett, of Rochester, and occupied by James Hellenbolt.

The birth of the first white child in Oronoco occurred in January, 1855, and was that of a Swede child, whose paternity is unknown; its mother was employed as a servant in the hotel.

In September, 1855, occurred the first wedding in town, at the residence of John B. Clark, who had in the meantime returned to "the settlements," secured a bride, and set up housekeeping. The principals in this wedding were James Holliston and Mary Stephenson, and the ceremony was performed by Frank Kimmerly, Esq., the first judicial officer of the place.

The first birth in town of which any record is made was that of Ida, daughter of J. B. Clark, who is now married and residing in Kansas.

It was often said in the early days of Oronoco that the place was so healthy as to make it necessary to kill a man in order to start a cemetery. This grew out of the accidental death of a young man named Stukeley, who was buried here in the fall of 1855. This youth, in company with a friend, was riding with L. B. Hodges and Captain Letts, from Red Wing to Oronoco. Young Stukeley and companion rode on a trunk, while Hodges and Letts sat in the seat of the wagon. The young men had a shotgun which they frequently used in tiring at prairie-chickens, those birds being very numerous at the time. Each time after firing, the gun was placed across the seat between its occupants with the muzzle pointing back. Despite the caution of Mr. Hodges, Stukeley persisted in drawing the gun toward himself by the muzzle, and when about half-way through the trip he thus caused the discharge of the weapon by catching the hammer on the seat, and received the charge, without any scattering, in his head, entering at the chin and making no larger wound than a bullet would have made. He sank without a quiver. His body was brought by his companions to this place and interred next day. One corpse had been previously buried here, that of William McVeigh, a millwright, who died of fever at the hotel in May, 1855. The nearest physician at that time was at Mantorville, seventeen miles distant, and he could not be summoned in time to be of any benefit to poor McVeigh. The first physician in town, and probably in the county, was Dr. H. Galloway, who settled here in 1856.


Religious services were early held here, although the first was some three months subsequent to the first in the county. In September, 1855, Rev. Norris Hobart, presiding elder of the Winona district of the Methodist Episcopal church, held a quarterly meeting in the store building of Evans & Withrow, which is still standing on the east side of Center street, on the south side of the river. At this service there were twenty-five or thirty persons present, all males, and when the preacher requested that a collection be taken up, one of "the boys " passed a hat, securing nearly $100. On counting the money, the elder was very much astonished, and casting his eyes first on the cash and then around over the little group, he remarked that it was the largest he ever saw taken up in a crowd of such size. In 1857 a society of Episcopal Methodists was organized here, in what was then known as the Pine Island Circuit, over which Rev. J. M. Rogers presided as pastor. This society did not exist very long.

The Protestant Methodists soon after began to hold services here, but we can learn of no permanent organization under its jurisdiction.

The next society organized was that known as the "Disciples " or "Believers." In 1863 Noah Wirt, a miller, who also preached the doctrines of this sect, settled here; several families of similar faith settled here about the same time, services were soon held according to its teachings. The first preaching was in November of that year, at the schoolhouse, by Rev. Charles Rowe, of Iowa, and, in December following, a society was organized, with Noah Wirt and Levi P. Hill as elders. George W. Wirt, E. C. Stevens and Charles Whitney were the trustees, the latter being also clerk of the society; the deacons were Solomon Wise and G. W. Wirt. Services were continued in the schoolhouse until 1865, when a building was bought and fitted up as a church. A Sunday school was organized at this time, with Thomas Lindsay as superintendent. Regular church services were held for some time after this, but on account of the death or removal of many members, they soon ceased, although irregular services occurred for some years. The church hnildinc still stands at the corner of Minnesota and Walnut streets,but in a neglected and dilapidated condition.

In the summer of 1861 a series of tent meetings were held at Oronoco, under the auspices of the Advent church authorities, at Battle Creek, Michigan. A society of this faith was organized, and
continued eight or ten years. Rev. John W. Bostick was the first pastor, and Thomas Harlow, elder. The people composing this church were largely residents of New Haven, and the society being weakened by removals, they joined the church at Pine Island, which is now the center in this region.

The only society at present in existence here is the Presbyterian. This was organized in October, 1870, by Rev. Thomas Burnett, who continued as its pastor for ten years, and through whose untiring efforts a neat church and parsonage were built at a total cost of over $4,000, of which $3,500 is invested in the church building; this is a very neat structure, with handsome steeple, classroom, and comfortable seating capacity for 130 persons. The society has never been very strong, and its services are largely supported by non-communicants. This speaks highly for the character of Oronoco people, who are willing to support the gospel, even though it be not interpreted according to their individual beliefs. At the organization of the Presbyterian society it numbered but four members, three being ladies. The trustees of its property were S. R. Terwilliger, L. B. Hodges and Leonard Jenne, who had contributed liberally toward securing it. The church edifice was begun in May, 1871, and completed in March of the following year. The society now numbers fifteen communicants, of whom but two are males. The Sunday school in connection includes sixty members, with L. A. Dudley as superintendent, L. Huntsinger, secretary and treasurer, and Volney Reifsneider, librarian. Mr. Burnett, the first pastor, was succeeded by Rev. W. C. Beebe, and the latter by Rev. E. B. Linn. Services are now conducted by Rev. E. C. Haines, a Congregationalist, in the absence of a settled pastor.


Oronoco Lodge, No. 52, I.O.O.F., was organized February 28, 1876, with the following officers: T. F. Clark, N.G.; S. R. Terwilliger, V.G.; P. W. Ware, R.S.; M. W. Clay, P.S.; G. W. Wirt, Treas. The lodge has prospered, and now has a membership of thirty, with over $300 in its treasury. The meetings are held every Saturday evening at its hall in the second story of the schoolhouse, and are a means of profit and interest to its members. The present officers are: Joseph McLane, N.G.; L. A. Dudley, V.G.; M. W. Clay, R.S.; S. R. Terwilliger, P.S.; Moses Richardson, Treas.

The good people of Oronoco have always been active in temperance work, and organized a lodge of the Independent Order of Good Templars June 30, 1875, which is known as Oronoco Lodge, No. 110, with the following list of charter members: Misses Maggie Hill, Nellie Clay, Sarah Hill, T. C. Campbell, May Wirt, Ida A. Clay, Messrs. M. W. Clay, M. A. Beebe, L. G. Hannon, H. G. McMaster, Eugene Hubert, George Brooks, Augustus Clay, J. W. Hill, B. F. Hill, and John Isabell. Like all similar organizations, this lodge has seen periods of great prosperity and of depression. It now numbers twenty-five active members, and is a means of much good in the community. The first officers were as follows: M. W. Clay, W.C.T.; Maggie Hill, W.V.T.; J. W. Hill, W.R.S.; L. G. Hannon, W.F.S.; May Wirt, Treas. ; Eugene Hubert, W.M.; Sarah J. Hill, I.G.; M. A. Beebe, O.G.; L. G. Hannon, W.C.; The meetings of this lodge are held every Friday evening in its hall in the second story of the schoolhouse. It is officered at present as follows: M. W. Clay, L.D.; Isaac Eeifsneider, P.W.C.T.; B. F. Hill, W.C.T.; Mrs. L. A. Dudley, W.V.T.; Volney Reifeneider, W.R.S.; Miss Nellie Clay, W.T.; Miss Millie Bascomb, W.F.S.; H. H. McCray, W.M.


To Oronoco belongs the honor of publishing the first newspaper in the county. It was originated by the town proprietors with whom were associated Reuben Ottman and E. Allen Power. This company was organized in the fall of 1856, and the first issue of the ''Oronoco Courier" appeared in December of that year. Dr. Hector Galloway was employed as editorial writer and the bulk of editorial labor devolved on "Ned" Power. John R. Flynn superintended the mechanical department. The paper, of which several copies are still preserved, presented a very neat typographical appearance and was ably conducted, comparing with the modern journal of much older and more pretentious communities to the disadvantage of the latter. Its inception and continuance in a settlement but three years old is a fitting testimonial to the enterprise and public spirit of its originators. After just one year of profitless publication its continuance was abandoned, the last number exhibiting the same vim and editorial spirit which characterized its whole existence.

During the winter of 1879-80 M. W. Clay, an enterprising and public-spirited citizen, constructed a printing press of his own invention, never having examined any press, using one of the patent rolls of the lately destroyed flourmill for a cylinder. Having completedthis press he purchased an outfit of type and engaging a compositor began the publication of the "Oronoco Journal" May 21, 1880, which he continued until June 10, 1881. The second impression of this press is still preserved in his files, the first having been retained by the compositor, and would put a Bullock perfecting press to the blush for nearness and clearness of impression. The roller, or cylinder, was made to travel over the forms, which remained stationary, and it was found an easy matter for two persons to print 500 impressions per hour. The "Journal" was not issued as a financial venture, but its character was quite superior to the demands of the community and it paid its way. The whole outfit was sold on the discontinuance of the paper and is now doing service in the West.


In 1856 the Oronoco Literary Association erected a bnilding on the site of .the present schoolhouse, and donated its use to the public for school aud religious purposes. During this year school was maintained in this building, taught by Miss Sarah Pearce, who subsequently married Capt. William Dennison and now survives him, dwelling at Acton, Dakota. The district was organized at the first meeting of the county commissioners and was the second in the county. In 1857 the building was purchased from the literary society and was used for school and religious meetings until the erection of the present building in 1875. Under the act of March 1, 1866, the district was reorganized as an independent one. After several ineffectual efforts a vote of sufficient tax for the erection of a suitable building was secured and the present edifice was erected. It is of brick, two stories high, and contains four large schoolrooms, with halls, etc. Its cost with furniture was $4,000, and it is probably the best building for its cost in the state, and is a credit to the town and county. D. J. Bascombe was the contractor; the school board consisting of Messrs. S. R. Terwilliger, William Phelps, T. B. Lindsay, W. C. Buttles and James Barnett, the latter being clerk. The school now consists of two departments, taught by L. A. Dudley and wife, and is attended by many outside the district, on account of its superior standing.


The political town of Oronoco was organized in 1858, with L. B. Hodges as chairman of town board and John McMaster town clerk. The first census of which any record can be found was takenin 1870, when the population was found to number 753 souls. In 1875 the number was 881, and the last census in 1880 shows a total population of 914.

The valuation of taxable property in 1863—the first year of which the county auditor's office contains a record—was as follows: Real estate, 20,702 acres, $71,312, an average of $3,445 per acre; personal property, $13,602; total. $84,914. The last valuation, nineteen years later, shows a large increase with a slight addition to the number of acres assessed, as below: Real estate, 22,618 acres, $241,922.12, an average of $10.01 per acre, town lots being valued at $15,425; personal property, $48,610; total, $290,532.12.

The number of voters enrolled according to law in 1882 was 221, although but 143 votes were cast at the fall election. The vote of 1881 for governor is the best index attainable to the present political
status of the voting population. The result showed as follows: Republican 82, democratic 65, greenback 6.

The destruction of the town records by fire in 1864, along with the residence of the clerk, Charles Whitney, renders any knowledge of public officers and acts previous to that time somewhat uncertain. It is however certain that the town did its full share in sustaining the expenses of the late war and in carrying forward all necessary public works. In 1857 a wooden bridge was placed across the Zumbro at the village of Oronoco, which fell through the undermining caused by heavy rains in 1866. The present handsome iron structure was then erected and bids fair to do service a great many years.
In 1874 a wooden bridge was built over the main river near the northeast corner of section 11, and still does service. To Mitchell's history of Olmsted county, issued in 1866, we are indebted for a record of the principal town officers previous to 1865, as well as for numerous other valuable hints in the prosecution of this work. From the organization of the town in 1858 to 1864 inclusive the following gentlemen served as chairman of the town board of supervisors and town clerk respectively: 1858—L. B. Hodges, John McMaster; 1859 —William M. Pearce, A. G. Lawyer; 1860—J. A. Frank, A. G. Lawyer; 1861—William M. Pearce, E. Odell; 1862-3—E. C. Stevens,Eli D. Hewitt; 186^-John McMaster, Charles H. Whitney.

From and including the year 1865, the following served as town officers, the first being chairman of the town board, the next two his associate supervisors, and the fourth town clerk : 1865—William M. Pearce, J. F. Ruber, J. G. Burch, G. S. Barnes; 1866—WilliamLindsay, Elvin Clason, J. C. Fifield, Charles H. Whitney; 1867— G. W. Wirt, D. J. Bascomb, J. C. Fifield, C. H. Whitney; 1868— John McMaster, E. J. Rice, E. Hubbard, Russell Williams; 1869— D. J. Bascomb, W. B. Webster, H. I. Wood, C. H. Whitney; 1870 —A. D. Allis, Abel Hannon, W. B. Webster, M. W. Clay; 1871— M. M. Clark, J. F. Ruber, L. G. Hannon, M. W. Clay; 1872— S. R. Terwilliger, L. G. Hannon, W. B. Webster, M. W. Clay; 1873—S. R. Terwilliger, J. F. Ruber, W. C. Buttles, P. W. Ware; 1874—S. R. Terwilliger, Henry Moulton, A. Hantsinger, P. W. Ware; 1875—S. R. Terwilliger, A. Huntsinger, L. G. Hannon, P. W. Ware; 1876—G. W. Wirt, A. Huntsinger, Amos Moulton, P. W. Ware, the latter having been elected at every eleection held since; 1877—S. R. Terwilliger, Amos Moulton, Arthur Huntsinger; 1878—M. W. Clay, Daniel Webster, Amos Moulton ; 1879—G. W. Wirt, Fred. Rucker, Jr., L. G. Hannon: 1880—the same; 1881— S. R. Terwilliger, balance the same ; 1882—S. R. Terwilliger, Levi L. Herrick, Avery Brockway.

During the war of the rebellion Oronoco furnished its rail quota of men for the United States service without resort to a draft. A number of her sons fell at the front and in hospitals where they had been placed by the hardships endured in defending their country. Some died at home from disease contracted in the south. Many still survive, but few have escaped the inevitable injury to constitution which array life entails. Some are receiving pensions which were earned, while many deserving ones continue the weary journey of life unrewarded, and sometimes unappreciated. The following is a complete list, as near as can be learned, of those who enlisted from this town to put down the rebellion: George Atkinson, D. W. Allen, Manning Buley, Orlan Bascomb, Mark W. Clay, Jacob E. Cutshall, John B. Clark, William Carley, George Campbell, Alexander Cregg, Andrew J. M. Chase, John Campbell, Alfred Clark, William Durand, Samuel S. Everson, A. Ellithorpe, Caleb C. Emery, Perry Ellet, Samuel Furman, Jediah Furman, Daniel Fetterman, Anson A. Ferguson, John A. Frank, Levi L. Herrick, L. J. Hanson, Leander G. Hannon, Clarke L. Hubbs, Ira B. Hewitt, Lewis L. Herrick, Alexander M. Johnson, Augustas Kellogg, George S. Keelar, Ozias D. Keelar, H. J. Kirkham, James P. Kirkham, Joshua M. Kirkham, Alfred G. Lawyer, H. Moulton, John Oakins, Hiram C. Owen, George W. Prettyman, Francis Robson, William S. Robinson, Aaron Rutledge, William A. Stebbins, Roswell Stanton, E. Q. Stoddard, J. O. Stoddard, B. F. Stocking, W. A. Stevens, Fletcher A. Sheldon, Charles H. Turnley, Peter M. Thompson, George Terry, Henry W. Webster, Francis W. Waldron, Hiram B. Wilcox, Louis Zirn.

Of those above named, Amos Keelar died from the effects of a gunshot wound received at the battle of Fredericksburgh; Lieut. Alex. Cregg died in hospital at Gallatin, Tennessee; Daniel Fetterman died in hospital at Louisville, Kentucky ; George Atkinson died in Andersonville prison ; H. J. Kirkham died in Libby prison; Roswell Stanton died of disease ; Orlan Bascomb, in hospital at Gallatin; John Campbell in Arkansas; Ebenezer S. Collins, one of the town founders, enlisted in St Louis, and was mortally wounded while serving on board the gunboat Essex, at the capture of Fort Donelson.

Immediately following the Indian outbreak in the fall of 1862, steps were taken for the organization of a state militia for the defense of the frontier and the reduction of the murdering redskins. Oronoco raised a company of sixty-five men, of which M. W. Clay was made captain; S. R. Terwilliger, first lieutenant; David Hannon, second lieutenant This company was mustered in the state service September 5, 1863, at which time Capt Clay was made colonel of the regiment, and Lieut Terwilliger adjutant. This regiment, the 13th, was composed of the following companies: Salem, 82 men, Capt Sanford Niles; High Forest, 37, Capt T. H. Armstrong; Rock Dell, 68, Capt S. H. Humason ; Kalraar, 90, Capt. George Sinclair; High Forest independent Co., 55, Capt. Edward Buck ; Oronoco, 65. The regiment mustered for drill at Rochester on Saturday, September 28, 1864, and this was the end of its service. The following is the list of those enlisted from Oronoco,— the first being lieutenant, the following four sergeants, and next six corporals: E. Cregg, L. D. Hannon, Anson Wilson, Joseph D. Wiles, Caleb C. Emery, Joslin G. Burtch, Henry Moulton, Warren H. Stone, George Barnes, Charles B. Carley, Edward S. Stodart, D. J. Bascomb, John Atkinson, W. C. Buttles, Avery Brockway, W. S. Bush, Alfred Clark, Erastus Crowfoot, George Clark, Jr., Nelson Cary, John Clark, W. H. Dean, Lewis Eaton, Elnathan J. Gates, Elisha A. Hoyt, Wallace Harlow, S. F. Helle, James Newton, Amos Moulton. Almond Moulton, S. Mosher, Michael Pearce, Frederick Ruber, A. K. Stone. William Stebbins, O. Stodart, E. Stodart, M. C. Van Horn, Rudolph Vroman, ChauncyVroman, Seth Wilson, Lyman Wilson, George W. Wirt, Alvin Wirt, James White.

The above list includes nearly every able-bodied man in the town who was not already serving in the United States army. A great many horses were also taken from this section for service against the Indians. It was no uncommon thing for a farmer to be stopped on the road by Uncle Sam's officers and deprived of his team, being given a receipt for the same, which enabled him to collect its value from the proper authorities. Sometimes during the war horses were so scarce that cows were used in plowing, and thousands of acres of grain were cut with a cradle, for want of teams to draw reaping machines, women and children taking an active part in the harvest.

One of the most interesting episodes in the history or Oronoco was the excitement incident to the discovery and search for gold in the vicinity in 1858-9. Daring the former year it was discovered that the soil along the banks of the Zumbro rivers was rich in minute particles of the precious metal, and that even in the village a careful washing would turn out "shot gold." The richest deposits were found below here in the edge of Wabasha county, four or five miles away. Oronoco, was, however, the base of operations, and large numbers of people flocked hither in the hope of attaining sudden wealth. A company called the " Oronoco Mining Co." was formed, and in the fall of 1858 sluices for washing gold were erected. The approach of winter prevented their operation, and the high water of the following spring carried them away. After some delay, more capital joined the enterprise, and more extensive preparations than those of the previous season were made for wringing from the auriferous earth its treasures. The works were finally completed on a certain Friday evening in June. It was generally agreed to return to Oronoco for a rest, and a vigorous mining campaign was planned to begin on the following Monday. A few of the more persevering ones set to work on Saturday, and on cleaning up at night took out a lump of gold which they subsequently sold for twenty dollars. On Monday morning, the memorable freshet of'59 was found to have swept away all traces of the raining materials, and with them the capital and courage of the company. Such veteran miners as D. J. Bascomb, and others, having steadily refused to invest in the scheme, confidence in it began to wane, and nothing of any account has ever been done in that line since. There are nu-merous citizens still resident here who have frequently taken as high as twenty "colors " from a single panful of dirt; and many assert that a small investment of capital in sluices, etc., would enable men to at least make good wages in washing gold. During the "boom " of '58-9, real estate took on very high values in this village and all along down the river in the vicinity of the " diggings."

The township of Oronoco was so named by Mr. Hodges, on account of his fancy for the name, with one letter different, as applied to one of the leading rivers of South America. Many incidents in the experience of its early settlers, both pathetic and amusing, might be related, and a few are here given.

The winters of 1855-6 and '56-7 were exceedingly severe, and the latter was also characterized by deep snows, with alternate crusts. At this time deer were very plenty here, and, being unable to run on account of breaking through the crusts, were often slain with axes, clubs, or other convenient weapons. The same teams that went to Galena after millstones this winter took loads of venison thus slaughtered.

W. B. Webster, the first settler on Greenwood Prairie, east of the river, brought in a large stock of cattle in the summer of 1855, and had much difficulty in finding grain for them during the following winter. He relates that on one occasion he set out for the village to buy corn, crossing the stream at what is still known as Webster's Ford, with two yoke of oxen. There being no roads, he was obliged to dig his way through the snow as best he could, consuming three days in making the round trip ; and he succeeded in procuring only six bushels of ears of corn!

At this time nearly all supplies were brought by team from Iowa. There were a number of families dwelling on the southern border of this town, and at one time there was not flour enough among them to make them a meal apiece. A half-dozen heads of families came over to Oronoco, where a load of flour was expected to arrive from the Mississippi, and although a large load came in, so great was the demand that the parties above alluded to secured but fifty pounds in all.

The Indians were very numerous in this locality during the early days, and often encamped in large numbers on the banks of the river a mile below the village. In the summer of 1854 a Sioux brave applied one evening to Messrs. Hodges, Clark and Collins for lodging in their hut, expressing by signs that he had been driven out of the camp of his companions. He was made comfortable on the
floor and all retired to rest In the morning Mr. Indian was missing and a little reconnoissance showed that their best horse, a handsome brown mare, had also disappeared. A short circuit made by the party discovered the trail of the mare—ridden of course by the culprit—leading in the direction of Faribault Pursuit was immediately made on the remaining horses and the missing animal was found in the afternoon, near Faribault, the chase having been so hot that the thief was obliged to abandon his booty and take to the cover of the timber. The pioneers were surrounded by Indians a good deal of the time, but never suffered any serious annoyance from them.

On one occasion while A. S. Gary was busy at work on his farm he was approached by a boy who assured him that a grove near by was full of Indians; although he could not see them he could plainly hear their conversation. To appease the boy Mr. Gary repaired to the grove, where he found two German women picking berries.

In the summer of 1855 Newell Bascomb came here on a prospecting tour, and being pleased with the outlook he decided to stay. His family was still in Ohio, and he wrote to his wife to sell their house and lot, if possible, and join him. A purchaser was found for the property, but much time was consumed in sending on the deed for Mr. Bascomb's signature and in returning it.  About December 1, Mrs. B. started with her four children and succeeded in catching the last boat up the Mississippi at Galena. This was frozen in at La Crosse, and she was obliged to stay there two weeks before she could cross the river. Her husband being notified of her intention to start, had given her up for lost—as many people perished on the prairies that winter—when she arrived at Oronoco the last of December. The youngest two children had their feet frozen, and but for the large amount of bed-clothing in their baggage, which was used for wrappings, all would have perished.During the summer of 1855 there were several severe storms, and the squatters who dwelt in wagons suffered much inconvenience.  On two different occasions A. S. Gary's family was completely drenched during thunderstorms, the first time by the demolition of his wagon-cover, and the second tame by the roof of his cabin being blown away. An infant child thus baptized still lives at home to relate the experience. E. K. Dyer, a neighbor, who had been a sailor, said he was lost on the prairie. On the water he could tackhis ship and dodge the severity of a storm, but here there was no remedy. These remarks were caused by the blowing away of his house-roof.

In the spring of 1356, while Avery Brockway was absent securing his claim, a bear that was pursued by E. K. Dyer's dog jumped through the window of his cabin. Mrs. Brockway, who was alone, made all haste up the ladder into the garret and pulled the ladder up. Dyer procured a gun and shot the animal through the window, and Mrs. B. was released from her imprisonment. Mrs. Seth Wilson had a similar fright while her husband was pre-empting land at Winona. Their cabin had not been chinked, and a bear annoyed her all one night by walking around the house and frequently thrusting his nose in between the logs. With the advent of day he departed, but she was not partial to staying alone for some time after.

During the early days of the village, anyone who would settle and help on business was welcome, "and no questions asked." Among the early settlers was Frank Kimmerly, a native of Canada. He was shortly elected justice of the peace, and, although he was not naturalized as a citizen, continued to fill that office for several years. A laughable incident in his official career is thus related: In common with others, he spent much time in playing cards at a saloon then existing here. One day a general drunken row took place, and to sustain the dignity of the law, he caused the arrest of some of the participants. The justice having sobered off next morning, opened his court and proceeded to take evidence. The first witness called was directed to tell what he knew of the affair, and began in this way: "Yer honor and another drunken Irishman — " "Order!" called the court, "the witness must not implicate me. Now go on." "Well, yer honor, yerself and another drunken spalpeen—" "Silence !" yelled the court, and finding it impossible to prove anything without compromising "his honor," the case was dismissed.

E. Allen Power, or "Ned" as he was called, was another unnaturalized Canadian who took a prominent part in public affairs, being elected to the lower house of the legislature at the same time that his senior newspaper colleague was chosen as a senator. But then "Ned" was such a jolly good fellow, nobody thought to inquire whether he was a citizen.

The saloon business has never prospered much in Oronoco, to the credit of her citizens be it said. In early times, when the inhabitantswere largely transient, this business flourished. In the license year of 1871-2 a saloon was kept here, but never since, although liquor was sometimes sold in defiance of law by druggists. Public sentiment is very pronounced in opposition to liquor drinking at this time, and at the last vote on the license question, but two votes were cast in its favor! This surely supports the assertion in tbe opening of this chapter that Oronoco is peopled by a high class, morally and intelligently.

The Zumbro river, which contributes so much to the beauty and prosperity of this region, is a somewhat treacherous stream, making unexpected rises and containing many deep basins. The lives of many persons have been sacrificed to satisfy its greed for human life, no less than eight having been drowned in its waters within a radius of one mile from the mill, most of them at the dam, and some have had miraculous escapes. The first person drowned was Eddie, a young son of Alfred G. Lawyer, an early resident. A four-year-old son of John Irish was the next Soon after, two young men, John and Alden Hill, were drowned by venturing on weak ice over the pond. A son and daughter of Arthur Nichols and a young man named Rose, the latter in May, 1880, fed the insatiate waters. In June, 1880, Dr. Farrand, a valuable citizen, lost his life, as elsewhere related. At Webster's Ford, four miles down the river, two persons have been swept away by high water. In 1876, Miss Myra Wood attempted suicide by plunging into the mill-flume, and was rescued by an apparent miracle. On October 3,1881, while fishing below the dam, James Barnett and a companion were drawn under the fall and barely escaped death.

On the organization of the state in 1858 there was very little taxable property in the town, and much distress prevailed on account of the forcible collection of taxes. W. C. Buttles was the first town treasurer, and was required to make collections according to the law at that time. When he found that in some cases he was compelled to levy on the only cow of a family, or otherwise cause great hardship, he refused to do anything of the kind and proceeded to Rochester and resigned his office.

Source: The History of Winona and Olmsted Counties, 1883




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