Reminiscences of Sac County, IA
From: History of Sac County, Iowa
By: William H. Hart
B. F. Bowen & Company, Inc.
Indianapolis, Indiana 1914


By C. Everett Lee.

During the fall of 1868 two men, whose names we cannot now recall, came to Sac City from Illinois and put up at a hotel operated by C. E. Read and located on the ground now occupied by the Fox hardware store. They had left their home state with a view of putting in the winter trapping and after looking over the ground decided to locate on the Maple, nearly due west of where Alta now stands. They proceeded to buy lumber, provisions and traps and hired a party to take them to the place where they had decided to locate for the winter.

After getting their "dug out" about completed and needing more material and provisions, they decided to pull out on foot for Sac City with a view of buying enough of the necessaries to do them until spring, their only companion being a large black and white spotted dog which they had brought with them from Illinois. The morning they started out the weather was beautiful and gave promise of a pleasant trip for them, but, after passing over the dividing ridge, a blizzard, such as was seldom seen even in those days, came sweeping down from the northwest and before they hardly had time to realize what had happened they were completely bewildered, and wanderers on a bleak prairie. They continued to travel until some time in the night when, for protection, they dug a deep hole in the snow and, with the dog, crawled inside and let the snow drift over them. Some time next morning the one who owned the dog shook the other and told him to get up and try and find a place of safety. He, not crawling out at once, suddenly awoke with a start to find himself alone, the partner and the dog evidently having crawled out when he spoke to him. He immediately crawled out and, after calling for his partner several times and getting no answer, pulled out alone. He traveled all day and when darkness set in discovered a light in the distance and started for it as best he could, but before reaching the place he fell down and was compelled to crawl on his hands and knees for nearly a mile before he got near enough for his call to be heard by John T. Alexander, who had settled on the prairie about nine miles north of Sac City the year before. He was carried in and cared for by Mr. Alexander, but was quite badly frozen and eventually lost several of his fingers and toes.

The second day after the blizzard had cleared up, several men were sitting in the hotel in Sac City when someone opened the door and in bounced the dog belonging to the man who had a short time before gone to the Maple to trap. He rushed up to Mr. Read and getting him by the coat, commenced to whine and pull towards the door. Mr. Read, not at first realizing what dog it was, went to the door and kicked the animal out in the street. The conversation then turned upon the dog and as soon as those present realized what dog it was, they were sure something had happened his master and that he had come for assistance. Mr. Read then put on his coat and, starting out, followed the dog until he came to the home of Addison Lee, the farm where Frank Howard now lives, when he saw Mr. Lee in his barnyard doing his chores. Mr. Read called him out to the road and informed him what the dog had done and to whom he belonged. Mr. Lee saddled one of his best saddle horses and as soon as he rode out in the road, the dog, which had been trying to get Mr. Read along with him by pulling on his coat, immediately started north with Mr. Lee after him. At this time there was but one trail leading from Sac City to Storm Lake and that went north on the east side of the river until it reached what is now known as the Low farm, where it crossed the river and took a northwest direction to the west end of the lake where the inlet came in and where all the camping and fishing was done. When the dog came to the river he crossed and struck the trail at a pretty swift gait. Mr. Lee, who was a brother of the writer, not knowing how far he would be compelled to go with the dog, slackened his pace after crossing the river and when the dog would go down in a hollow out of sight he would turn back and run to the top of a knoll and jump up to see if he was still being followed. This gait was kept up until the west end of Storm lake was reached and the man found lying in the snow, frozen to death, and with a path beaten around him where the faithful friend had probably walked around the body a thousand or more times before giving up and going to Sac City, twenty eight miles for assistance.

Parties were sent out froth Sac City who brought the body there and buried it, Mr. Lee retaining possession of the dog, which he kept until he died from old age.


[The following is from the pen of a Methodist minister, Rev. H. P. Dudley. who at the time was living in Carroll and whose father was one of the pioneer ministers in Sac county, residing at Grant City. This article was published in the Suit in 1913 and is full of enough interest and merit to be preserved in the annals of the county.]

The principal natural event in the western hemisphere during the year 1869 was the total eclipse of the sun in the month of August. I saw width my own eyes for one awe inspiring moment the polar streams and the magnificent corona of the sun. This seems to fix in mind the date of more local and less important natural phenomena of the memorable year. It was in Grant City, the little inland village that nestled beneath the great oaks and elms on the banks of the Coon, in the southern part of Big Grove, Sac county, Iowa. Here, as a child we listened to the mournful mourning of the woods, or the deep diapason of the ceaseless roar which betokens a tempest. The rush of the waters over the rapids, the liquid notes of bobolink and meadow lark, the evening call of the sad noted whippoorwill, the rain crow and turtle dove, the drumming of the large flocks of prairie chickens, the pounding of the swift winged pheasant and the pilating call of flocks of wild geese and other birds of passage were all familiar sounds. Yes, the place had its own peculiar music. For Big Grove, composed of some thousand acres of fine forest, was surrounded on all sides by a wide stretch of unoccupied prairie. A few small farms skirted the timber, but settlements were few and far between. In all directions one could drive for many miles over virgin soil and not meet a human being, or pass the habitation of a fellow man.

Grant City was at this time, relatively speaking, quite a city. The population were mostly tradesmen, woodsmen, hunters and trappers. Elk. deer, otter, beaver, mink and muskrats were so plentiful as to make hunting and trapping a very profitable, as well as an exciting occupation. The river abounded in a fine quality of fish. There was no doubt as to the fisherman's luck, for fine pickerel could be taken at any time with hook and line, weighing from three to fifteen pounds. Wright's mill dam had raised the water and set it back many miles, and it furnished a place for splendid boating, and here, too, in winter time, the sturdy pioneer boys and girls met in coasting and skating parties, that still make those sparkling winters memorable for mirthful joy.

In the month of August, following the opening of this narrative, I was sent as a lad not yet in my teens, with Hugh Traner, as a counciling companion, to freight some machinery and provisions to my father's ranch, thirty miles west of Grant City, at Badgertown, on the Boyer river, in Crawford county. Mr. Traner was a small, nervous, little man, a fluent talker, in knowing relationship to all the life of those early days. He had a good work team and hauled the heavier load.

My team consisted of a bay mare and a black horse of the Mohawk family, known as "Dick," a notable, noble animal. He was purchased in Ohio by my father, after a Jong search for the best known horse he could find, irrespective of price. He was game, fast and fearless as a roadster and came to have a reputation among prime horsemen from the foot hills of the Alleghany mountains to the shifting sands of the Missouri river. He brought our family from West Virginia to Iowa in 1856, and had served my father as an essential adjunct on several circuits, besides conveying him many miles each year to attend annual conferences, where he was greatly admired. I see him now with his glossy coat, silken mane, arched neck, fine head, large full eves, graceful outline of body, splendid limbs, high, proud carriage, tremendous energy and noiseless feet of frictionless action.

The afternoon was an ideal one for our long drive, and as I had the fastest team it was thought best for me to lead off. Mr. Traner's dog. "Shep," a mongrel collie, ran ahead of my team and searched the roadside along the way for game. In the early part of the afternoon he encountered a badger, an animal of little value, but cunning and treacherous in fighting. When attacked, a badger invariably turns upon his back. A dog will usually nab him by the back of the neck, while the badger proceeds with his long, knife like claws of his fore feet to almost cut the dog into shoestrings! A terrible conflict ensued, but the dog conquered. * * *

By this time we had reached the divide, the crown of the great watershed of Iowa. As we looked over the undulating prairies, the sun was sinking, large and red behind the hills and, fortunately for us, the moon came up full and round in the east. "Mr. Traner," I called back, "I am hungry." "We will stop for supper," he replied. While we ate our supper he told me this tragic story:


"At this place the road divides; just ahead of us; on that fearful December night, five years ago, this coming winter, the Golden boys unhitched their oxen and left their wagon. They had gone from their home, southwest of here. to Grant City, for a load of corn. The day was deceitfully warm and tranquil for the time of the year. Jo Williams, the postmaster at Grant City, told them they had better stay all night; as the afternoon was fast slipping away and they seemed in no hurry to start for home. It was as late as three o'clock when they finally started and they had not been gone two hours when a blinding blizzard struck them. They evidently fought their way in the teeth of the storm to this point, within six miles of their home. They turned their cattle loose, and took down the ravine, running off to the southwest, seeking shelter from the blinding storm. Nothing living and unprotected could survive the days that followed. The third day was New Year's day, 1864, the coldest the state of Iowa has ever experienced. When the storm had somewhat spent its fury, the scattered neighbors organized to make a diligent search for the missing boys, with little hope of finding them alive. Their bodies were not recovered until the following spring. They were found seated in a somewhat sheltered place almost completely covered by a drift of melting snow. The older boy had taken off his coat and put it on his brother and died with the little fellow in his arms."

"Mr. Traner," said I, "my father was out in that storm on the wide stretch of prairie between Jefferson and Lake City. He had crossed the river at Horseshoe Bend. 'I saw,' he said, 'an ominous cloud in the west stretching along the entire horizon and advancing rapidly.' Dick seemed to have a premonition of danger, and father said 'I could hardly hold him; he flew across the prairie at a fearful gait. Soon the storm swept down on us like a desert sirocco, which checked my horse. I could not see the road and was afraid Dick would turn around and drift with the wind storm - I simply had to trust in him. I knew it was getting late in the afternoon and I had no means of telling exactly where I was, but my brave horse kept facing the storm, which swept by us like an avalanche, with the muffled roar of Niagara. I protected myself as best I could with my robes. We kept on in the increasing, terrible storm with laborious toil. At last Dick stopped and I imagined I saw a light. I called and called again and again; my horse moved on impatiently, stopping again presently. Mr. Bishop, living three miles west of Lake City, came to the fence and said, 'Why, Mr. Dudley, I am so glad you reached us. Where were you and how did it all happen?' Father replied, `Dick saved me; isn't he splendid?' and this was the verdict around the warm hearthstone that night."

Mr. Bishop's home was a favorite stopping place for the itinerant ministers and Dick, having frequently been there before, knew the way through the storm. The sagacious and courageous old hero had struck the trail and never left it, though in the face of a merciless storm, and finally landed at the right place. I think the bonds of enduring affection closed a little closer between the old itinerant minister and his horse that night; for father always spoke of Dick with kindness in his tone and apologized for all his freaks, for he had some, as most good animals have.

Supper over, we moved on, I thinking of blizzards, flooded with moonlight and fighting with mosquitoes. We reached the ranch about ten o'clock and turned in for the night. The next morning when we went to the stable Dick was gone, and it was a serious question whether he had been stolen or had untied his hitching strap. He had to be tied with great care, and he could draw bars and open gates with a marvelous skill. We spent the forenoon in searching for him and inquired of all the passers by, but no trace of him could he found. The day following was consumed in setting up the machinery and starting to make hay. Mr. Traner returned to Grant City with a promise to send the horse back if he had reached home; but as he did not return for several days we were still apprehensive that some one had stolen him. Fortunately, we did not really need the horse in hay making. In a short time we had several fine stacks of excellent blue joint hay put up in fine shape, then it began to rain and rained incessantly for days. The river spread all over the bottom, and we had to flee from the ranch house to the hills, where we improvised a booth for a residence. We made a boat out of a wagon box with which to transport our effects to higher ground. The eatables were getting alarmingly low - a few days with half rations, then bran, bread and potatoes, ihen only potatoes. We boys dug them from under four feet of water. It was less monotonous to dig them than to eat them. Potatoes are not especially inviting when served alone. They tend to become decidedly solitary when limited to only two methods of cooking - baked and boiled, boiled and baked! This was our variety.

Provisionless, water bound, discouraged and hungry, I determined to go home. The only way I could possibly accomplish this journey was on foot. The ranch man, Mr. Church, was going in the direction of home, where it was reported there was some field corn, some of which we hoped to secure to lend a variety to the potatoes, so he hitched up the oxen to help me along on my long journey. We soon came to a bridgeless stream, which he could not cross with the oxen. I climbed over on a few standing timbers of the structure and, with a promise to send supplies as soon as possible, I bade him good bye and pushed on my journey. It was a hard tramp. I had to make a long detour, wade the deep sloughs and freshet currents of water. I was so tired, weak and footsore that at times I thought I would be compelled to stop and rest, but I dare not, as night was coming on and it began to grow very dark. The pillar of fire that cheered that darkness was "home, sweet home," a place where the sky is bluer, the water clearer. and bread and butter sweeter, and the pillows softer than any other place on earth. The halo of a light and sympathy I anticipated in the dream of that dreary night was a veritable shekinah that spurred my weary feet to reach the encampment of hallowed ground.

I tugged on and on and at last came to the river, where I met dear old Tom Kirk. Tom was a river man, or rather a boy who took to the water as though it were the accompaniment of his life. I told him my mournful story. "Well, well, get into my boat, I'll soon have you across your folks have been worrying 'bout you, but I told 'em not to fret, as you would be coming home soon and all right. too." He said Mr. Traner had gotten back before the approaches of the bridge had been washed away, and do you know I was afraid to ask him about Dick for fear he would say he had not returned. We landed and I said "good night" to Tom. "So long, see you in the morning." I started to climb the hill up from the river. It was never so long before and so weary the way. When I reached the top of the hill I could see down the streets. I saw a light gleaming from our cottage window. I greatly surprised the folks. Father laughed his glad welcome. I saw tears in my mother's eyes, as she sat down in a chair and held me in her arms. "I was so anxious about you," she said. "Your father was going to try to go to the ranch tomorrow." You can hardly imagine the joy and rest that came to me when they told me that twenty four hours after I started from home. for the ranch, Dick came home and stood at the front gate and called to have us let him in. Father said: "I think Bobby had anticipated the freshet, for he is as cunning as he is good. I think you are both better roadsters than you are ranchmen." "I don't know about that, father; I didn't feel like a roadster yesterday." "Well," continued he, "I am sure you have broken the record. Now that I have you both at home I intend to keep you here, and you may take Dick and drive me over to Carroll, where I will take the train for Boonesboro where the conference meets. In the meantime, we must provision the ranch."

That fall Dick moved us again two hundred miles, and we left the wild woods and the little home where we had spent several happy years that had their own peculiar and primitive charms. The hands that lighted the lamps and spread the comforts, living in neighborly good will in the little hamlet under the great trees, are gone - all gone. A tired pilgrim may hope some day to come up from the river, up the long hill, after the weary journey to immortality, to see a gleaming light and find a glad welcome to the comforts and company for which I have longed at times with a lonely heart. I have greatly missed the sweet fellowship of the long ago, and if old Dick is there I shall be doubly glad. Why not ? It has always seemed to me that he should have a place "in the green pastures beside still waters."


Levi Davis (says the Sac Sun), then a practicing attorney, later cashier of the Sac County Bank, was married late in the summer of 1864, and during that autumn went with his bride to the eastern part of this state to visit relatives. Early in December they started out on their homeward journey, by way of Fort Dodge and Twin Lakes. At eight o'clock in the morning of December loth they left Fort Dodge for their home. There was a little snow on the ground and a moderate wind from the northeast. Their conveyance was an open two seated carriage and they had a driver. About the time they reached the great swamp known as "Purgatory," three miles east of the lakes, the wind changed to a terrible tempest from the northwest and the air was filled with flying snow. They were caught by a blizzard. The temperature fell rapidly and reached thirty degrees below zero. At two o'clock in the afternoon they reached the stage station at Twin Lakes and, as it was impossible to go further, they remained over until nine o'clock Monday, the 12th of the month, when they started on the last stretch of their journey. The snow had stopped blowing and the wind had moderated somewhat, though there was a stiff breeze from the northwest and the mercury stood at twenty below zero. They reached a high hill, halfway between Sac City and Twin Lakes, without accident, but at that point the hind axle broke on their buggy in such a manner that it could not be well repaired. It was decided that the driver should go on to Sac City and procure help, while Mr. and Mrs. Davis kept the robes and made themselves as comfortable as possible in the meantime. First they descended into "Hell Slough," Mr. Davis carrying a part of the lap robes with him. Mrs. Davis complained that her feet were freezing, and so they went down into a well five or six feet deep, where, sheltered from the raging wind, he took her shoes off and, after a vigorous rubbing, finally succeeded in getting up a circulation of blood. Reascending from the dry well, Mr. Davis took the several robes out into the cane grass some eight to ten feet in height and laid them down in such a shape as to make a good protection from the wind. After this Mr. Davis started hack to the hill top after more of the robes. After he had gone awhile the Rev. Lamont, presiding elder of the Methodist Episcopal district, came along in his buggy and chanced to see the buffalo robes in the cane grass and so deliberately drew forth his rifle from the back of his buggy and as he was about to aim ands fire, Mrs. Davis, hearing the rattle of his buggy upon coming along, rose up with her robe, thinking help had been sent from Sac City. She was just in time, as the presiding elder was going to shoot at what he supposed to be a live buffalo. Mr. Davis returned with the remaining covering and the preacher wanted them to go back with him to Twin Lakes, but they wanted to come on home to Sac City; so thanked him for the offer, and remained in all three or four hours, when a wagoner, moving some soldiers, picked them up and took them along west, reaching home before nightfall. They met their team coming out after them, but it was supposed they would find the man and his newly married wife frozen before they could reach them. "All is well that ends well!"

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