The Buena Vista County story is one of great variety and change since its organization in November 1858. Buena Vista County, which was named after the final victory field of General Taylor in the Mexican War and when translated from its Spanish origin means “beautiful view”, is located in northwest Iowa. The county is primarily a farming and agricultural county and has some of the most fertile soil anywhere in the world. Buena Vista was originally settled by foreign born, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, and Germans, One third of the original population was made up of a few Welsh, Irish, Scandinavian and the Teuton.
For many years, it was thought that the first white men in the county were two United States surveyors by the name of Lane and Ray. They visited the county in the early to middle part of the 1850s. However, there is thought to have been many adventurers who came out into the wild western Indian country as trappers and traders before 1800. Among them was a young Scotsman by the name of Dickson who established a trading post in the northeast end of Lake Traverse, in the territory that is now Minnesota.
In order to shorten the distance to St. Louis, where a large amount of his furs were disposed of, Mr. Dickson, together with his St. Louis connections the McKnights, established before 1820 on the old Indian trail, a route which has been known thereafter as “The Dickson-McKnight Trail”. This old trail passed through what is now Buena Vista County and terminated at a point a few miles above the present town of Keosauqua on the Des Moines River, known then as “Pittsburg Landing”. It was evident to the early surveyors, who recorded their findings, that herds of cattle were driven along this trail. Many pioneers reported finding skeletons of cattle, which are now thought to be the remains of animals that died enroute to their Canadian market.
When one hears of the Native Americans living on the land prior to the coming of the white man, one generally thinks of the most recent tribes to inhabit the area: the Sioux, Cherokees, Sac, and Fox tribes. However, many people are unaware of the primitive Indian cultures that thrived here more than 800-1000 years ago. The Mill Creek culture was predominate in this area. They are related to Oneota and Woodland Indian cultures which could be found in the north central portion of the United States even before the year 1100 A,D. The Mill Creek Indian was the most common culture to locate along the Little and Big Sioux Rivers and their tributary streams. They made their villages on high plateaus surrounded on at least three sides by valleys, trees and or water. This served as a fortification for the tribe. Their homes were of a more permanent nature than were those of the more recent Native Americans.
They constructed rectangular shaped lodges made of poles, sticks and grass. The walls were often covered with a “plaster” made of a mixture of clay, grass and other materials. The roofs were thatched and the floor in each hut was dug out approximately two feet into the ground. This kept the lodge cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Additional pits in the floor served as storage compartments for food. The Mill Creek Native Americans had excellent skills for building and firing pottery as well as methods of preserving their food. Their most common food was called “jerky” — meat that had been mashed and ground using rocks. It was often mixed with corn and had a salty taste. They hunted and fished the variety of wildlife available in this area. Projectile points, or arrowheads as they are more often referred to as, can be found ranging in size from one to two inches in length.
Only one major site has ever been extensively dug in Buena Vista County; however, other sites may exist along the Little Sioux River. In 1937, Rev, Frank Van Voorhis excavated a site in section 26 of Brooke Township which was given the Sioux name “Chan-ya-Ta” meaning “in the woods”. The items found by Rev. Van Voorhis were given to the Storm Lake Community Schools in 1950, after being cleaned and classified. With the coming of the white man, the Native Americans were a more mobile group — camping for a few days in one spot, fishing and trapping, and then moving on. Early settlers in Buena Vista County found no permanent Native Americans living here, however they were in southern Minnesota and around Spirit Lake in great numbers. They frequently came down along the Little Sioux River to hunt and fish, camping in the county for days at a time. Trapping was good and quantities of mink, beaver, raccoons, an occasional otter and muskrat could be caught. A band of Native Americans also lived near what we now know as Sac City. They once told a white settler how foolish he was for working so hard for his food – breaking the sod, plowing, planting and harvesting. The Indian said, “At night, we set out traps and in the morning we see what we have caught — the next night we do the same thing.”
Buena Vista County was first indicated on maps in the year 1851, however, it was not organized until November 15, 1858. In 1855, two U.S. Government surveyors by the name of Lane and Ray entered the county. According to information available, surveyors were not allowed to lay claim on any of the land. However, we are told that when Lane and Ray reached the area of Sioux Rapids they found the land to be choice and the outlook so promising that they deviated from the rules and posted a sign that read, “This land is taken by Lane and Ray.” A cabin was constructed on section 12 of Barnes Township and it is here that they spent the winter of 1855-1856.
The first permanent settler in the county was a bachelor by the name of Abner Bell. He came west from New Jersey with his sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. William R. Weaver. Another man by the name of Totten, of whom little is known, also accompanied them to the Sioux Rapids area. Lane and Ray stayed, but a short time later leaving, never to return. These two men laid out the old Fort Dodge trail, later known as the Sioux City Road. For many years, Sioux Rapids was the only town of any consequence between these two points. Thus, the first settlement in the county dates from the spring of 1856. Travelers from Fort Dodge would travel to Sioux Rapids on day, rest there for the night, and then travel on to Sioux City the next day,
The county’s first settler was Abner Bell. Bell was described as a man with a swarthy complexion; a born hunter and trapper. Of New Jersey stock, restless and turbulent by nature, unlettered and uncouth, but with a shrewd native humor, he found his birthplace too small for a roan of his disposition and came west. At the age of thirty-two, he found himself in Buena Vista County, a bachelor, with not a care on his mind and with no intention to take and hold land to improve it. Bell disliked Native Americans especially after hearing of the Spirit Lake Massacre. He was honest, in his way, and stood for what he thought was right. We are told that he lacked education and was easily influenced by men with a ready command of language and who could present a questionable proposition in a plausible manner. Bell lived in a small cabin and operated a store. His stock in trade consisted of groceries, traps, gun powder and anything else a hunter might need. Being a bachelor he lived like one, clothing himself in nondescript garments fashioned from the skins of animals he shot. He wore his hair long, had a beard and had shrewd blue eyes that sparkled when he told of past hunting experiences. With the advancement of civilization, he gave up some of his frontier mannerisms and dressed as other people. In the early years, Bell was active in the affairs of the county and was elected to a number of county offices.
The spring of 1857 is famous for the massacre that took place at Spirit Lake. Some of the events leading up to the massacre took place in Buena Vista County along the Little Sioux River. The small lot of Native Americans remaining in northwest Iowa in 1857 was under the chieftainship of Inkpadutah.
The winter of 1856-1857 was severe causing many persons to leave the land returning east for the winter, for some they would never return. For those remaining, they faced food and fuel shortages. The early spring of 1857 found Inkpadutah and his band at Smithland, Iowa, in Woodbury County. During the winter, they had had several violent clashes with the white men in that area. In March, 1857, while the Native Americans were in pursuit of elk, they had an open conflict with the settlers. The Native Americans claimed that the settlers intercepted the chase. Others state that a mongrel dog belonging to one of the settlers had bitten a Native American child. This provoked bitter feelings and the Native Americans retaliated by shooting the dog. Just exactly what happened that day is not known for sure, one thing remains certain, however, the Native Americans left the area that night going up the Little Sioux River on the war path. They committed depredations as they went–taking guns, ammunition, eatables, and stock from the settlers, who became more and more defenseless the farther up the river they went. When they arrived at the Kirtner cabin at Peterson, little harm was done all though a dog and an ox were shot and taken for food. The Kirtner’s had hosted the Native Americans on other occasions at their table and had been on somewhat friendly terms with them, so that might account for their being spared on this occasion. Two or three miles east at the Mead cabin, they were not so fortunate. There the Native Americans were much more violent. The Mead boy was kicked into the fireplace and rather badly burned. They also took two of the women from the cabin and kept them all night at their tents. Mr. Mead’s cattle and ponies were all turned loose. After being in the county two or three days, the Native Americans moved on up to Spirit Lake to massacre.
As was common for anyone settling in western Iowa, the pioneers of Buena Vista County had to endure and overcome many a hardship. Among them were fuel shortages, lack of wood, blizzards, prairie fires, grasshopper plagues, drought, floods, fog, and mosquitos. The early settlers made homes of sod and logs. Later, frame homes were built when lumber was milled along the Little Sioux River. The first bridges in the county were constructed over the Little Sioux River. One in Sioux Rapids was built in the later part of the 1860’s and another near Linn Grove constructed in 1870. The Sioux Rapids bridge was known for years as “Hollingsworth Ford Bridge”,
The first death in the county was in the spring of 1858. James Merit, a comrade of Abner Bell’s father in the War of 1812, came to visit Abner in the fall of 1856. He was 77 years old and had no home, so remained in the Sioux Rapids area until his death. Some claim this to be the first burial in the Lone Tree Cemetery. Other deaths may have taken place earlier but this remains the first one on record.
There are a number of unmarked graves in the county. At least one belonged to a soldier who died of exposure one winter; another in Albert City belongs to an outlaw who was killed in a gun battle; and others belonged to early pioneers who had husbands, wives, and/or children die of disease enroute to their western destination. Among the early cemeteries in the county are ones located in section 12 of Barnes Township and another in section 32 of Lincoln.
The first children born in the county were twins, George and Augusta Weaver, born to Mr. and Mrs. William Weaver. They arrived on October 9th, 1859.
With the coming of the mid-to-late 1860s came the covered wagon trains of immigrants. One particular group of immigrants is of great interest today. One member of a group of 35 wrote down his recollections of that early day journey. Mr. Nelson Suckow tells of a caravan of wagons that arrived in Buena Vista County in 1866, coming from Decorah, Iowa. It was made of several prairie schooners drawn by two yoke of oxen on each wagon. The party consisted of L.J. Suckow and his family of eleven; Halvor Ellerton Dahl and his family of two; Henry Steen and his family of two; Theodore Steen, single; and Ole Johnson, single, all of whom were Norwegians. Their wagon train forded the Des Moines River at Fort Dodge and came by way of Twin Lakes and Sac City, where there was said to have been a blacksmith shop operated by a man by the name of Cobb. That night they camped on the shores of Storm Lake. At that time, they reported that no one was living in this area yet.
The next stop was Barnes Grove, the general area where the members of the group took up homesteads. Clearly, this was a place where water and fuel were readily at hand. Then they would lift their covered wagon boxes from the wagons settling them permanently on the ground. Now, they were ready to look for good homestead land. In this case, Abner Bell and Torkel Torkelson, both of the Sioux Rapids area, were consulted since they had been over a good deal of the county and knew the lay of the land. They were also familiar with the government stakes and knew where to find most of them. At each section corner there were four holes about one foot deep. The dirt was thrown into a small hole in the center and beneath the dirt could be found the corner stake with markings showing the four sections. The stakes measured approximately three inches square by four feet in length. Every odd numbered section was railroad land and the even numbered sections were available to homesteaders. When they had decided upon the land they wanted, it was necessary for them to file a claim. The United States Government land office was then located at Sioux City, which was nothing more than a river village and steamboat landing at that time. It was a two-day journey by wagon over a trail that was so poorly marked it was almost invisible in places. Nevertheless, the land office was located and all returned safely.
The pioneers proceeded at once to prepare permanent homes. Typical of the period was the log house, which was larger and more permanent than a log cabin a trapper might build. The Buena Vista County Historical Society is preserving a good example of a log house. The house originally was located on the southwest quarter of section 36 of Barnes Township, about a mile north of Rembrandt. In 1963, the log house was moved to Storm Lake’s Sunrise Park, and again in the early 2000s to its current location on the corner of Railroad Street and Genesco Street. Halvor Ellerton Dahl, who received his title on September 14, 1871, built it. The log house was probably constructed before that date as it took from three to five years to prove a homestead. The house was constructed of oak logs cut from the timbered areas along the Little Sioux River. The logs were “dovetailed” at the corners and all the work was done by ax, which meant long hours of painstaking labor. This house is an excellent example of Scandinavian type construction. Mr. and Mrs. O.G. (Ossie) Anderson, who gave it to the Buena Vista County Historical Society in 1962, last owned the log house. The house has been restored and furnished with great care and thorough study of that early period. It is open during the summer on Sundays and holidays. It is not meant to be a museum, but is to look as though the owner still lived there. Visitors are welcome at no charge.
Other immigrants, because of the distance to travel for timber, decided to construct houses made of prairie sod the nearest ready lumber for many years was at Fort Dodge. Each “soddy,” as they were often called, required not less than six heavy poles, one at each corner and two for use in the center to hold up the roof. Then, a slender pole, called a ridgepole, was necessary to lay lengthwise along the top. In cutting sod for the walls, three yoke of oxen were hitched to a breaking plow and driven to a low place in the prairie where the sod was thick and tough. Strips of sod about two feet wide were then cut out of the prairie, later to be chopped into two foot lengths, leaving them almost square. These sod “bricks” were hauled to the location and the work of building the house began. Most of the houses were about 14 feet square and 7 feet high. Holes were left for one window and one door, which were covered with carpets until the men could get away to Fort Dodge where they could buy doors and windows. The floors were dirt and the walls had no special covering.
There was one danger that faced every sod dweller however, that being the possibility of getting lost on the prairie and not being able to distinguish one’s home from the rest of the prairie. This problem was acute during blizzards or in the fog. With few trees and no roads to mark the way, it is easy to imagine the difficulties the pioneers experienced.
Among the hardships faced during those first few years were the grasshoppers. There were “hopper” plagues for two or three years in the mid 1870’s. One settler said, “I have seen the hoppers so thick for several days, that one could hardly see the sun and I have seen them so thick on the ground that the wagon tracks in the hard road would leave two streaks of grease”. He continued, “We managed to save about half of our crops by using long ropes, dragging them crossways, always going with the wind, until we got the hoppers out into the prairie. They would never face the wind to go back but of course more would come with the wind”. According to another source, swarms of grasshoppers darkened the sun from one to four p.m. On August 6, 1876, they were so thick it was like a cloud passing overhead. One person claims he counted as many as 84 grasshoppers in one square foot of area. Most of the crops were destroyed, as there was little anyone could do, even though some tried. Many a person lived on a single food diet for a year during these plagues; corn meal bread, corn meal mush, etc. There is at least one report that a settler devised a “hopper catcher.” It was made of stovepipe iron with a hack 16 or 18 inches tall and a tight pan bottom, which held a mixture of water and kerosene. How this machine worked is not clear, but one reports that it was used to protect 180 acres of small grains and that as fast as the pan filled up with the grasshoppers they would dig holes to bury them. Other hardships they to endure and overcome included blizzards, prairie fires, wolves, gophers and the millions of blackbirds and other creatures that presented problems for planting and harvesting crops.
The first doctor to begin the practice of his profession in Buena Vista County was Dr. Stephen Olney, who settled in or near the present site of Sioux Rapids in 1869. Dr. Olney was fresh out of medical school, being at that time 23 years of age. Settlers were rare at that early year. His field of practice stretched far in all directions. The first doctor in Storm Lake to open his office was Dr. L.J. Harvey on May 18, 1871. Dr. H.F. Parks came in 1872 and Dr. H,T, Kerr in 1873, both opened offices in Storm Lake. The first doctor in Alta came in 1873 and Newell had Dr. J.M. Brookes who arrived in 1881. Early doctors in other Buena Vista towns were Dr. Van Ness of Linn Grove, Dr. J.H. Delahunt of Marathon, and Dr. B.B. Bridge of Albert City. In 1899, the Buena Vista County Medical Society was organized. Most, if not all, of the doctors were active members.
The first county seat was located near Sioux Rapids. A committee made up of D.C. Early, John Kindelspeyer, and Mr. Sauter was appointed to select the site for the county seat in 1856. They selected the NW1/4 of the NE1/4 section 18 of Lee Township. The 10 acres of land was nicknamed “Prairieville”. No buildings were ever built there. A little more than ten years after the county was organized in 1858, it was decided that the county seat should be relocated in the area which is now block 12 of Sioux Rapids. A small temporary structure was built there but was burned to the ground in 1877. It is believed that duplicate copies of the county records were kept in the safe of the Storm Lake Bank. Others maintain that most of the early records were lost in the fire. The fire took place at the time of the county seat battle. In fact, some go so far as to blame the cause of the fire on the controversy.
Settlers in the southern part of the county wanted the courthouse located more centrally located. At one time, four county towns battled for the county seat. They were Alta, Storm Lake, Newell and Sioux Rapids. Newell was so sure that they would get the courthouse that they went ahead and built a building for that purpose. It still stands, but has never been used for county business. In 1877, an election was held and it was decided to move the courthouse to Storm Lake.
It is interesting to note the origin of township names. For instance, Barnes Township is named after Luther H. Barnes, an early settler who laid out Sioux Rapids. Brooke came from Haram and William Brooke, first permanent settlers of that township. Coon takes its name from the Raccoon River, which flowed thru this township. The reason for Elk Township is unknown, although herds of elk roaming the prairies in this area. Fairfield is a name given by one of the settlers when the region first opened up. Grant is in honor of the Civil War General U.S. Grant. Hayes traces its name from the General Rutherford B. Hayes, who was president when the county was young.
On January 1, 1882, the Hayes Township Farmers Club was organized and was the oldest known club in Iowa. The group of friends gathered on New Year’s Day for a surprise party and dinner at the home of Q.A. Barber. They had such a good time that it was suggested they meet each month. They drew up a constitution and continued to meet for more than fifty or sixty years on a regular basis. They featured topics of discussion at each meeting. Among them were the best type of fence for hogs (wire or boards); the best breed of chickens (Plymouth Rock or Brown Leghorns); will it pay off for farmers to combine in shipping their livestock and grains; plus others. The organization also held hog shows, awarding prizes to the best.
Lee honors the name of William S. Lee, an early settler and county official. Early settlers, who chose the name in honor of Abraham Lincoln, named Lincoln. Newell was named after the vice president of the Illinois Central Railroad, to which this particular region owes so much. Maple Valley gets its name from the river flowing through the southwest corner of the township. Nokomis refers to a Native American name and to Nokomis, Illinois where some of the first settlers came. The origin of Providence is unknown, but may be named for an eastern city by that name. Poland refers to Poland, Ohio, the eastern home of the Olney family, early settlers near Pickerel Lake. Washington is named for the first president of the United States. Scott was for General Winfield S. Scott, famous during the Mexican War. Originally, this township was called Emma.
The origin of town names is equally interesting. The C&NW (Chicago and Northwestern) Railway named Marathon, using the old Greek battleground as a base. Geo R. Anderson was the owner of the land where Albert City now stands. The little community was first called Manthrop, the name of Mr. Anderson’s home in Sweden. However, the names of Marathon and Manthrop were so much alike that it was advisable to make a change in the name. The new name selected was Albert City, taken from Mrs. George Anderson’s name, Albertina. Truesdale was named for an M&STL (Minneapolis and St. Louis) Railroad official, W.H. Truesdale. Rembrandt was first called Orsland from its original site, the farm of Barney Orsland. Later, the post office department changed it to Rembrandt. Alta is named for its high altitude. It is said to be one of the highest points on the Illinois Central Railroad.
Sioux Rapids, originally Holingsworthford, gives credit to Luther H. Barnes for its name taken from the Little Sioux River. However, since there are no rapids in this part of the river, the last part of this name had never been explained. The town of Juniata was once called Northan, but, again, the post office stepped in and rename it because of the similarity to Marathon. Linn Grove received its name from the Linden trees that lined the banks of the Little Sioux River in that area. It was the site of an early water mill, operated by George Sweet. In fact, the first settlers referred to the area as “Sweet’s Mill”. It was the C&NW Railway that made the name Linn Grove official.
There are several legends regarding the naming of Storm Lake. Which story, if any, is true has never been verified. Some stories claim that surveyors in the area pitched their tents on the shores of Storm Lake. During the night, a storm arose that was so severe it blew down their tents and washed their equipment into the lake. They left the area telling others that this was the stormiest lake they had ever seen.
Another legend revolves around an epic love story of a beautiful Native American princess of the north tribe and the stalwart young brave, whom was the son of the south tribe’s chief. The tribes had been at war with one another for years, but somehow these two young people managed to meet, fall in love, and decide to elope. They were to meet in the center of the lake on a certain date. A storm came up and capsized the canoes. Both were drowned. The chiefs held a burial ceremony that lasted three days. They decided to call off the war and to call this the “Lake of Storms.” No matter how it received its name, it stuck. Since that time, the city that grew up on its shores has been called by the same name.
Buena Vista University has grown up with the city. It was organized when the city was less than 20 years old. The college was established in Storm Lake on Thursday, July 9, 1891, by a commission from the joint presbyteries of Fort Dodge and Sioux City.
The first newspaper ever printed in the county was The Pilot on October 26, 1870. Publishers were men by the name Vestal and Young, both of Storm Lake.
The first car in the county was owned by Bert Lewis of Storm Lake. It was a one seat Oldsmobile and arrived in 1902. It was capable of speeds up to 20 MPH going downhill.
Plans for an early narrow gauge railroad through the northeast part of the county were responsible for the founding of the town of Marathon. Surveyors marked off the right of way for this early day fad, but the narrow gauge road failed to materialize. However, the same year that the C&NW Railway made plans for construction of a line thru the area, thus the town became a reality. C.A. Carlburg built the first building in the town in 1882. It was a blacksmith shop, standing on the location of one of the main corners of the present business section. Other buildings were constructed that same year. Stephen Olney Sr, was the towns first businessman having opened a merchandising store. Mr. Olney’s son, Richard, was the first postmaster of the town in 1882. J.E. Dutton established the first lumberyard and the Wells brothers the first elevator and coal yard. The town had remarkable growth over the years with the Milwaukee Road building a line thru the area later. The years between 1900 and 1905 were important for the growth of the towns municipal industries. With the aid of businessmen, Marathon soon had a gas plant to heat and light the town. Gas streetlights were also used. In 1902, the city water plant was put into operation. Two years later, an efficient sewer system began operation to improve the sanitary conditions of the town.
Albert City has had some exciting events since its beginning in 1899. Geo R. Anderson was the original owner of the land where the town now stands and was active in its development. He was the community’s first postmaster; first mayor; secretary of the first school board; and, in 1900 when the Albert City Improvement Association was formed, he was elected president. The first store in Albert City was Scandia Trading Company, whose manager was A.J. Ryden. The store held its grand opening on January 2, 1900.
On March 29, 1900, the first newspaper, The Albert City Pioneer, was printed. Advertised in this paper was a variety of business places, which had sprung up rapidly. One of the first buildings to be built in Albert City was the Milwaukee RR Depot. The building contained an agent’s apartment on the second floor. It was here that the first church services in the town were held. The Lutherans were the first to organize a church in the area. They got a head start by forming a group in 1887. It was at this depot that one of Iowa’s greatest gun battles took place in 1901.
On the night of Friday, November 15, 1901, the Greenville Bank in Greenville, Iowa was robbed. Upon the discovery of the break in, the Spencer, Iowa police sent out notices to all the surrounding communities to be on the lookout for suspicious looking characters. Albert City was the last to be notified, Chas. J. Lodine was marshal of Albert City. He was told that the three men described had been seen eating dinner in the town. Marshall Lodine organized a posse and found the men in the depot waiting room. The outlaws had purchased tickets on the three o’clock freight train to Fonda. When the marshal informed them that they were under arrest, they opened fire. The battle lasted for nearly one half hour. One outlaw was fatally wounded in the battle, but the other two were able to escape northeast of town. The bandits robbed horses from several area people with the posse in hot pursuit. The two bank robbers were caught in a cornfield northeast of town and were tried in the Buena Vista County courthouse in Storm Lake. They were sentenced to hang but they appealed and were given life in the state penitentiary. Also, killed in the battle were the marshal, Chas Lodine; a posse member; and Albert City businessman, John Sunblad. The dead outlaw is buried in an unmarked grave in the Albert City cemetery. The true identity of the outlaws has never been known as they used fictitious names. Don Buchan of Marathon, a freelance writer, has studied and written a book on the subject. The book entitled The Albert City Caper, gives all the details of the events surrounding the gun battle.
In June of 1970, another major tragedy struck hard at this community, that being one of the worst construction accidents in Iowa’s history. Seven men were killed when the roof of a new elevator, which was being poured, collapsed. In less than 15 minutes, the entire project would have been completed.
Truesdale begins dating its history from 1900, the year the M&STL Railway began operations thru that town. Besides being the usual business center of the territory, Truesdale also had the reputation of being the social center. Dances were held every week in the Woodman Hall, a building which was moved in from a farm. They featured an orchestra made up of local talent. The group included Ernest Waterman, a blind fiddler.
Truesdale’s history includes the story of the mysterious “Whistling Well”. Dug in 1901 to furnish water for the creamery owned by Henry Husted, it was the sight of a tragedy. The work had gone well until workers reached the 100-foot level. Then one evening, after all the workers had gone, the entire community was awakened by a loud dull whistling sound. Investigation determined that the well was responsible for the noise. Gas was escaping from some unseen vent, rising in the well and coming to the top. The sounds continued, with intervals of silence, for three days. The well has never uttered a sound since then. Sounds were not uncommon in the digging of a new well but soon workers would resume digging which would lead to the final tragedy. George Cattermole was in charge of the digging. One of his assistances was O.G. McBride, a long time Truesdale resident. The day that the work reached the 120-foot level was the last day any work was done on the well. At about midafternoon, some of the equipment became stuck and nothing would free it. Cattermole chose to go down to untangle the lines himself. He was lowered on a rope to the 100-foot level, below which the well was so narrow that no person could squeeze in. All the way down he called out his progress, but the instant he reached the 100-foot mark he grew silent. Wondering at the silence, McBride leaned over the edge calling to Cattermole to no answer. Special help arrived from Storm Lake to help free Cattermole’s body from the well, which had almost turned black. The gas lingering in the well killed him. The well was abandoned, never to be used.
Rembrandt became a prosperous town about the same time. The M&STL Railway built from Truesdale to this town. Some of the earliest immigrants to settle in the county picked this beautiful area. During the early 1930s, this community’s bank fell victim to the daylight robbers that roamed the country during that time. On one occasion they took the bank’s president, Mr. L.H. Haroldson, as hostage. One gang is thought to have been the same one that robbed the Steele Bank in Cherokee.
The town of Alta is known for its being 1513 feet above sea level. Alta’s main street is on the divide between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Water running into the east curb eventually runs into the Mississippi River, while the water in the west gutter flows to the Missouri River. Alta sprung up about the same time as Storm Lake and Newell, in 1870. This is attributed to the IC (Illinois Central) Railroad which came thru at that time. In fact, a ceremony was held between Storm Lake and Alta when the line was completed. Rails were laid from Sioux City east and from Dubuque west until they met between these two Buena Vista County towns. The ceremony included the driving of the final spike.
A number of major fires highlight Alta’s early history. An entire block of business places burned to the ground in 1880. The 1880 fire took the east side of Main Street. However, in 1893, another fire destroyed the west side of the street.
Alta was among the first towns to develop municipal utilities. In fact, in a survey taken in 1928 by a national polling organization, Alta was rated among the highest in the United States. Even today, the community prospers and is known for the annual county fair. Weekly stock car races attract folks from all over the northwest part of the state.
The tract of swampy land where Newell now stands first belonged to Zaze Chandler who came here as a homesteader in 1869. Shortly thereafter, the Dubuque and Pacific Railroad traded Mr. Chandler for the land. The next year the line was laid and the railroad took the occasion to name the new town after a prominent railroad official, Mr. John Newell. On July 4, 1870, the first locomotive came thru Newell. Among the many important Newell citizens deserving credit is Jesse Allee who arrived in 1871. He was a self-made man and capable speaker and writer. He and his son, George, spent their lives in research and scientific study for a better strain of corn. What resulted was the first strains of corn to be developed and perfected. This has since benefited farmers across the nation and around the world. Jesse and George Allee, along with the farmers in the Newell area, worked together for years to produce the largest corn shows held in the state. Perhaps one of the best improvements made in the Newell area was the construction of a better drainage system. For years, this area was so swampy that old timers claimed that if one were to take a corn knife and cut around Newell it would float away.
In the early days of what is now Linn Grove, a dam and gristmill were built on the Little Sioux River. The mill did the grinding for virtually every farmer in the entire territory. For years, the area’s population was limited to the two or three people who operated the mill, It was the coming of the railroad in 1881 that brought plans for developing a village here. Business places sprung up in the years which followed. In 1890, Henry Ress constructed a cheese factory. The plant was highly successful and later was converted into a creamery. The area abounded in the lore of early county history. One of the oldest cemeteries, if not the oldest, is located northwest of the community. Even today, people travel to the dam which is known for excellent fishing.
Lakeside, Iowa has always been a tourist area. Many early cottages on the shores of Storm Lake were built there. In later years, modern year-round homes were constructed. The first landowners of the area were John Harris arriving in 1868, George Douglass coming in 1869, and James E. Armstrong settling in 1870.
Little is known of the history of the following towns; some were never more than a dream. None of these towns have ever been incorporated. Sulphur Springs is named for the mineral springs prominent in that area in the early days. The land in that area was first owned by the railroad and then sold in smaller tracts. Charles Keef and Eugene Criss, both of whom arrived in 1869, first settled Juniata. Nathan W. Condron came to that area in 1871. The first residents in the Hanover area were Robert Pierce and Ezra Baldwin who arrived in 1869 and 1868 respectively. William N. Cones arrived prior to 1870. George W. Witmore, Edwin A. Coltrin, Stephen H. McKillips, and Reuben H. Wheeler, all of whom arrived only months apart in 1869, first inhabited Leverette.