Clay County South Dakota



HISTORY OF Southeastern Dakota, Its Settlement and Growth,
Sioux City Iowa: Western Publishing Company, 1881


The new "Vermillion-on-the-Hill," which has sprung up Phoenix-like, from what was left of the old town by the terrible ice-gorge of 1881, is located in town 92, range 52, in the southern part of Clay County. It is one of the oldest settled places in the Territory, having been occupied by the whites as soon as the Indians were removed after the treaty. Jas. H. McHenry, George Brown, L. E. Phelps, Miner Robinson and P. H. Jewell located here in 1859. Mr. McHenry opened a store in the spring of 1860. The U.S. Land Office was opened here in 1862, where it still remains. The U. S. District Court for the 1st Judicial District also holds its sessions at Vermillion. The county offices are also kept at the County Seat. It is surrounded by an excellent agricultural country, the trade of which centers at Vermillion. During the darkest days that Dakota ever saw in 1864-5 good crops were raised on the uplands near Vermillion. The farmers on the bench land near Vermillion have as fine farms, and under as good cultivation, those of any other section. Vermillion has now about 900 inhabitants.

The town organization was perfected in 1873, and in 1877, it was incorporated by special act of the Legislative Assembly. Otto Vottolfson entered the land which is now the townsite of Vermillion, in 1869.

The first city officers were: Mayor - John L. Jolley. Clerk - C. C. Bridgman. Treas., C. Prentis. Marshal - A. M. Anderson. Aldermen - H. E. Hanson, 1st Ward; H. C. Jensen, 2d Ward; L. H. Barron, 3d Ward; A. E. Lee, 4th Ward; Nick Hansen, 5th Ward; W. E. Hodgin, 6th Ward.

The first hotel in Vermillion was opened by Samuel Mulholland in 1860; the first bank, by Prentis & Newton, in October, 1871; the first mill was started by Snyder & Maynard about the year, 1872. This mill has two run of stone, and is now owned by Stanley & Lowrie.

The first birth at Vermillion was that of Miss Viola Van Meter; the first death, Judge Denton, in the winter of 1859. A. A. Partridge and Miss Seiner were the contracting parties to the first marriage ceremony at Vermillion, which took place in November, 1860.

Vermillion was on the high tide to prosperity, when the terribly disastrous


Obliterated at one stroke nearly all the accumulations of years of energetic effort. From The Vermillion Standard's series of graphic accounts of the disaster, the following particulars are gleaned. Sunday, March 27th, 1880, was the warmest day since the previous autumn. The snow melted rapidly, but nobody supposed the ice would move that night. About 11:30 p. m., the ice began to break and move down stream. In a few moments it gorged below the island, and the rapidly accumulating water began to run through the streets. The Baptist Church bell was immediately rung to alarm the people, and in a very short time, the streets were full of men, women and children, hurrying to the bluffs, some leading horses and cattle, and others carrying whatever clothing they could lay their hands on during their hurried exit. Before all could escape, the water on the north side of the city, along the bluffs, had risen to the depth of three feet, and covered the railroad track, giving many of the fugitives an ice-water bath.

Boats were brought into requisition, and those who had heard the alarm too late to escape, were taken off to a place of safety. Some, however, believing, like the sinners in Noah's time, that it "wasn't going to be much of a shower, after all," walked upstairs and remained in their residences the remainder of the night. By morning, the water had gone down, so that all that part of the city east of a line drawn from the east end of the depot, to Reeve's corner, and from thence to Carr's residence on the bank of the river, was clear of water, except for some distance along the railroad track. All of the city west of that line, was, however, under water to the depth of from three or four inches, to three feet. This situation was maintained until in the afternoon, when the water raised, west of the above line, about a foot, but did not cover the rest of the city. By Tuesday morning the water had subsided to about the same depth as Monday morning, but raised again in the afternoon, a little over a foot, and continued to gain slowly, until Wednesday evening, when it began to rise more rapidly, and Thursday morning it had covered the depot platform to the depth of several inches.

Thursday morning, March 31st, the river rose rapidly, until it covered the highest point, by the Bank block, to the depth of from four to five feet. The ice in the river also commenced moving, and by 10 o'clock a.m., as far as the eye could reach, in every direction (except in the bend fronting the city), nothing could be seen but floating ice. The timber in Van Meter's grove kept most of the ice out of the city, so that but little damage was done by it during the day.

About nine in the morning, (he buildings commenced moving, Butler's photograph gallery moving first, and going to pieces in the rapids, which extended from Depot street to the river. Others followed in quick succession during the day and night, until forty buildings had been carried down and smashed to pieces against the ice. During Thursday night, the water rose three feet higher than during the day previous, and the Dakota Republican printing office was taken down stream. This additional rise subsided before morning. The water tank from the railroad crossing of the Vermillion River, above the city, came down in the moving ice, and in the afternoon, Mr. Pinkham's house, from near Meckling, moved off. To add to the horrors of the situation, a terrible blizzard prevailed during the day, making it almost impossible to row a boat against the fierce, howling, northwest wind. About a dozen persons, including a woman and two children, slept in Bank block Wednesday night, and were caught there by the rising waters. They were
subsequently rescued.

Towards night, the solid ice in front of the city moved out, and gorged down below the island, und in an incredibly short space of time, the ice had packed the river channel full, back to the ferry lauding at Douglas - Mill.

Friday, April 1st, the water remained about the same as on Thursday, except that it rose a few inches during the day, and carried away several buildings. The inhabitants busied themselves, meanwhile, saving all the property that could possibly be rescued from the general destruction.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the water lowered a few inches, and from Depot street east to the gorged ice in the bed of the river, ran like a mill-race. The work of saving property continued, and hundreds gathered on the bluffs, and watched the whirling, eddying waters. Wednesday, April 6th, the water commenced rising, about ten o'clock, and by eleven, the ice commenced moving. The alarm was given, and the boats engaged in saving
property pulled speedily to the shore. By 12 o'clock, the buildings commenced moving out, mostly to the current in the Vermillion, some six or seven being in the stream at the same time. The water continued rising, until it was at least a foot higher than the highest point previously reached. Fifty-six buildings were carried down, and smashed to pieces against the gorged ice below - among them being the St. Nicholas Hotel, the railroad depot, the Congregational Church, Shafer's, large store building, and other large buildings. The water carried the Chandler House about fifteen feet, the north end was knocked out, and the building was badly wrecked. Masonic and Odd Fellows' Hall building was carried off its foundation, and the lower story smashed. Carr's buildings, south of Masonic Hall, were also badly wrenched. Every residence on the bottom, except a half-dozen, was either carried away or badly damaged, while many of the wooden business buildings were greatly damaged, or moved from their foundations. When the water was at the highest, at least twenty buildings were floating off at the same time.

During the rise, the channel was constantly filled with great bodies of floating ice, which broke down everything it came in contact with. It packed up against the gorged ice in the channel of the river, and by the time the water went down, had filled the entire space below Depot street; and west of the railroad track, it had packed the entire distance to Van Meter's grove; so that people could walk upon it without difficulty.

Thursday morning, April 5th, the Vermillion River had again cut a channel through the gorged ice to the center of the Missouri, and a strong current carried away the back-water which had run up to Vermillion. At the place where the Vermillion enters the Missouri, a large bole was worn in the ice. and an eddy formed, in which large quantities of broken timbers and immense cakes of ice were constantly floating around. The main channel of the Missouri, together with the sand bar, and the channel south of the island, packed full of huge cakes of ice from the bend, Ave and one-half miles below the city, up to Douglas' Landing, and the water that came through the Vermillion, ran over the bank east of Judge Kidder's residence, passing along the bluff to the Big Sioux River - the water, at one time, on the track north of Elk Point, being three or four feet deep.

The river, above Douglas' Landing, as far as could be seen with a field-glass, was clear of ice. The bottom between Vermillion and Meckling was covered with ice from six to twenty feet thick. The city bridge, at the mouth of the Vermillion, the Government bridge at Miles Russell's, the railroad bridge, Lee & Prentis' bridge, and Bond's bridge were swept away.

April 14th, the snow commenced thawing, and weakened the ice in the river in front of the city, so that the Vermillion broke through the icy barrier to the narrow, open channel along the north of the island. This allowed the water, which covered the city to the depth of from three to ten feet, to drain off, leaving the ice from one to six feet in the streets. By Saturday morning, the water had all drained off from that part of the city south of the railroad track, and east of Depot street.

The scene from the bluffs presented a sickening spectacle. The remaining wooden buildings were, most of them, badly twisted and wrecked, and others carried off their foundations, while the streets were covered with the debris of the wrecked buildings, strewn around upon the slimy, muddy ice. In the upper part of the city, where the buildings were mostly swept away, nothing could be seen but water and ice, the latter being packed up to the roofs of some of the remaining buildings, and half-way up the windows of

The terrible calamity which drowned and crushed Vermillion seemed insufficient to satisfy the fates, and it was left to the Vermillion River, swollen to the proportions of the Missouri at high water, to complete the work of destruction. The deluge and ice left a good many buildings in Vermillion, but the river "stepped in" and took about sixteen of these. The first house to go was Col. Shaw's, on Sunday, April 17th. Others followed in succession, the water falling just in time to save the Chandler House, Col. Jolleys house and Copeland's house from a like fate. Vermillion and the farmers on the bottom lands in Clay County, were probably the greatest sufferers by the overflow in Dakota. The tract of country lying between Vermillion and Gayville, between the bluffs on each side of the river, was swept clean of everything, with an occasional exception. Houses, barns, fences, cattle, homes, hogs and sheep, were destroyed, leaving the farmers and their families little else than the clothes upon their backs, and the bare lands, without a team, a plow, or a grain of seed, to commence farming operations with. Their condition appealed loudly to the charitable in more favored parts of the country, and this appeal, happily, did not go unheeded, as is elsewhere duly recorded. Three-fourths of Vermillion was destroyed. One hundred and thirty-two buildings were totally destroyed, and many others wrecked. The total value of buildings and other property destroyed in Vermillion, as closely estimated by Mr. G. H. Wheeler, who devoted some time to obtaining the necessary information, was $142,260.

The rapidity with which Vermillion has recovered from this dreadful catastrophe; the astonishing spirit of enterprise manifested in immediately building anew - on higher land, beyond the reach of future depredations by floods - a city superior in all respects to the one destroyed - is in itself sufficient comment on the tireless energy and indomitable pluck of western communities.

Vermillion's business houses are of a substantial, thrifty character, and the large volume of trade which pours into the town from various quarters, is rapidly adding to the general prosperity. Its hotels are excellent, the Chandler House, particularly, having no superior in Southeastern Dakota. The Vermillion Republican, owned and edited by F. N. Burdick, is a newspaper with all that the term implies.


The Methodist Episcopal Society first met in the old log school house, and afterwards in the Adelphi Hall, as far back as 1871. The first minister was Rev. McEndrie Stewart, who was succeeded by Elder Kane, who died recently at Elk Point The Society built a church in 1873, at a cost of about $2,000. Rev. H. D. Brown was the pastor at the time. Mr. Brown was succeeded by Rev. H. T. Curl, after whom came S. T. Moore. T. W. Owen, H. W. Jones, John Webb, O. S. Bryan, D. W. Chamberlain and A. Amburn.
Aaron Carpenter, It. R. Briggs and A. Pickett were appointed Trustees at the time of the organization of the Society.

The Congregational Society was organized September 11th, 1870, at a meeting conducted by the Rev. Stewart Sheldon, of Yankton. The following named persons participated in the organization: C. E. Prentis, A. E. Lee, F. McKercher, Sarah J. McKercher. Hattie J. Ufford, E. Mathews, Pauline Mathews. C. E. Prentis was elected Deacon, F. McKercher, Clerk. The Society erected a church edifice in 1872, at a cost of $1,200, and a parsonage, at a cost of $1,000. Services were held, before the erection of the church, in Lee & Prentis' Hall. Rev. Mr. Sheldon was succeeded by Revs. J. N. McLoney, W. E. Walker and O. S. Bascom. The church was dedicated in 1873, the dedicatory sermon being preached by Rev. A. L. Briggs, of the Santee Agency Mission. The Society lost very heavily by reason of the floods of 1881. The organization of the Baptist Society dates from 1871, and
was effected under the leadership of Deacon T. K. Hovey, who was the General Missionary at that time. The church edifice erected by this Society was built at a cost of $2,500. A parsonage is now (1881) in process of erection. Rev. E. H. Hurlbutt, of Jefferson City, Mo., was the first pastor, and was succeeded by Rev. T. H. Judson, under whose pastorate the church membership largely increased. The Society was obliged by the flood to move the church building to the hill, which with other expenses consequently incurred, will involve an expenditure of $1,500. The church membership is large, and the attendance upon the Sabbath School is about one hundred pupils.

In 1874, the Scandinavian Lutheran Society was organized by Rev. G. L. Graven and George Norbeck. Their church building, which was erected at a cost of $1,000, was dedicated in the autumn of 1874. Rev. G. L. Graven preached the dedicatory sermon. Mr. Graven is still pastor of this Society. The use of the building has been freely granted to the Baptists, Methodists and other denominations. The Society will move its building back upon the bill.

An old log hut, which now stands in the hollow at Vermillion, was the first school building erected in the Territory. It was built by a military company in 1864 or '65, of logs, with a sod roof. The building was also used for church purposes, all denominations being privileged to enjoy its benefits. The first church building was also a log house, built before the old school house, Rev. Mr. Martin, whose memory is still green in the minds of old settlers, used to preach his characteristic sermons in this building. The first teachers, in the order named, were: Amos Shaw, Miss Josephine Moleaud and Hon. John L. Jolley.

The present public school building was erected in 1873, at a cost of about $3,000, which was paid by taxation, Capt. Miner donating the grounds. The schools have three departments, involving a twelve-years' course of study. Present corps of teachers: S. H. Seccombe, Principal, Mrs. Seccombe, Assistant; Miss Frederis Miner, Primary Department.

Incense Lodge No. 2, A. F. & A. M. - Charter granted in 1872 This Lodge was under the Iowa dispensation four or five year before the present charter was granted. Meetings were first held in Snyder & Bergman's building, which was destroyed by the flood. The Lodge had, however, previously moved to Macomber's building, which being destroyed by fire, occasioned the loss of a great portion of their paraphernalia. The Lodge next moved into Salmer's building, where the first session of the Grand Lodge of Dakota was held. Thence the Order moved to Odd Fellows' Hall, which was totally destroyed by the flood, the Lodge at this time losing all of its effects; since when it has had no place of meeting. Present officers: Judson Graves, W. M.; Andrew Amundson, S. W.; A. E. Lee, J. W.; H. B Chaffee, Secretary; W. D. Gould, Treasurer. Charter members: A. G. Fuller, W. M.; J. C. Duman, S. W.: H. J. Austin, J. W. - and others.

Vermillion Lodge No. 3, I. O. O. F., was instituted August, 21st, 1872. Meetings were first held in Snyder & Bergman's building; thence the Lodge moved to Macomber's building, losing all their effects when that property was destroyed by fire, in 1874. The Lodge then moved into Lewison s Hall, and in 1879 erected Odd Fellows' Hall at a cost of $1,200. As mentioned above, this hall was destroyed by the flood, and the Lodge again lost nearly all of its effects. They have at present no place of meeting. Charter members and first officers: Finlay McKercher, N. O.; C. B. Valentine, V.G. Jared Runyon, Sec'y; George L. Bellows, Treasurer. The Vermillion Cornet Band consists of the following officers and members: T. A. Robinson, President and Leader; C. F. Oakley. Secretary; G. W. Williams, Treasurer; L. W. Bell, G. W. Ashard, A. M. Anderson, E. J. Hoffman, W. A. Williams, Ed. Moulin,
G. L. Beckett, Frank Beckett.

Mayor - F. N. Burdick.
Aldermen - 1st Ward, S. J. Lewis.
2d Ward, W. W. Demming.
3d Ward, G. G. Porter.
4th Ward, A. E. Lee.
5th Ward, Nick Hansen.
6th Ward, W.G. Bower.
Clerk - C. F. Oakley.
Treasurer - Martin L. Lewis.
Marshal - Charles Mills.


Attorneys - J. L. Jolley, S. J. Lewis, H. A. Copeland, G. B. Bigelow.
Boots and Shoes - S. Hayward & Son, W. F. Earls.
Blacksmiths - H. T. Comes, Vaughn Brothers. A. J. Charrlin.
Bankers - D. N. Inman & Co.
Barber - G. H. Wheeler.
Butter and Egg Dealers^ Smith & Farr, Lee & Prentis.
Confectioners - W. A. Paul, J. T. White.
Druggists - A Helgeson, C. C. Eves, G. T. Salmer.
Dentists - C. A. Maxson.
Furniture - C. Snyder.
Flouring Mill - Stanley & Lowrie.
General Merchandise - Lee and Prentis, B. F. Reeve, H. J. H. Lunde, J. W.
Grocer - C. F. Miller.
Hardware - K. B. Finley, Barron and Ireeson, Quarnberg and Norelias.
Hotels - Chandler House. W. C. Chandler; Sylvan House, C. C. Bridgman.
Insurance - S. J. Lewis.
Jewelers - Bridgman & Lotze.
Livery - Hart Brothers, W. W. Demming.
Lumber - A. H. Lathrop, M. D. Thompson.
Milliners and Dress Makers - Mrs. A. S. Oakley, Miss M. Knight, Miss Emma Maxson.
Meat Markets - G. W. Bower, Hunn and Lowrie, E. Lackous.
Newspaper - Vermillion Republican, F. N. Burdick, Editor and Proprietor.
Photographer - Mr. Butler.
Physicians - F. N. Burdick, C. Call, G. S. Agersbery.
Postmaster - C. G. Shaw.
Stationery - Bridgman and Lotze.
Stock Dealers - Hansen & Dailey, M. D. Thompson, Lee & Prentis.