History of Oto Township, Woodbury County, IA
From: History of the Counties of Woodbury and Plymouth, Iowa
A Warner & Co., Publishers
Chicago Illinois, 1890-91

OTO TOWNSHIP, although the last to be constituted, was one of the first to be settled, it being a portion of Little Sioux township, and retaining that connection till the passage of the following order of the supervisors, November 12, 1884: "All of township eighty six, range forty three, be and is hereby formed into a new township, to be called Oto township."

The lay of the country in Oto is the same as in the parent township, Little Sioux. The surface is rolling and much broken, especially along the section bordering on the river, but the soil is rich and highly productive, corn, wheat, oats (and fruit in limited quantity) are easily and profitably raised. The three first products, as well as potatoes, are the principal crops. Cattle and hogs, also, form a great source of revenue, many being shipped from Oto and Smithland, the two railroad stations most convenient to the township. The scenery along the Little Sioux valley is, like that of the other townships which lie in that beautiful section, very fine. Hill and dale and stream unite to make a charming outlook. Many creeks and branches are scattered all over the township, furnishing water in abundance, whilst springs are to be found in numbers, some of them being large, especially one on the Grant. Timber is more plentiful here than in the eastern or western townships. There is red oak, burr oak, good walnut, elm, hackberry, box elder, maple and basswood. The streams are full of fish, and have always afforded fine sport. There are still many aquatic animals along the Little Sioux river and the larger creeks, but formerly, when the white men first came in, beaver, otter, mink and other game of value were to be had in abundance, and many a settler lived off of the proceeds of his sale of the pelts of these animals. There was one bird that was seen in the early days, and which remained for many years afterward, but which has now disappeared from northwestern Iowa, that was admired for it peculiarities. This was the American kite, or forked tail hawk. Very rarely is one now seen sailing along high in air in Woodbury county. He was in size about that of the common chicken hawk. The head white and wings glistening bluish, body black with white under the body. The tail is beautifully forked, and they sail in a peculiarly graceful manner moving the tail slowly and regularly. Skimming along with a curved motion, they would suddenly, without any apparent reason for it, tumble over and over, and then resume their flight. The larger animals have, of course, all disappeared, but as late as 1858, a moose track was seen by Wesley Turman and Alexander Elliott Elk were originally plentiful, and Turman and the other hunters brought down many of those graceful and powerful animals. Buffaloes were occasionally seen, a stray one or two that had wandered down the ravines and bottoms along the streams from the northward. There are good sand and gravel deposits at various points in the township, and fine deposits of clay, which is utilized in the manufacture of brick. Pottery clay can be obtained by going a little deeper than the brick clay, but it is not utilized to any extent as yet. There are indications of coal, especially along Fern creek. Oto is distinguished in having more surface outcropping of rock, or at least more drift rock, than any other section of the county. There is a true bowlder, one of the northern visitors brought down during the glacial epoch, one that became stranded, and could not get away when the ice melted and the waters subsided. It is on Fern creek and measures four feet across. It is not entirely rounded, showing that it did not come from more than a few hundred miles northward. Another rock, a drift specimen, projects from the side of a hill and is much larger than the bowlder mentioned.

Almost simultaneously with the settlement at Sergeant's Bluff and Smithland, settlers began coming into that portion of Little Sioux now comprised within the bounds of Oto township. In the spring of 1854 John McCauly came in and made a settlement, and in November of the same year, Samuel R. Day, Isaac Hall and Parley Morris came from Ohio, and took up claims. Mr. Day, who now lives comfortably in the village of Oto, in the enjoyment of good health and fine surroundings, lived, the first season be came, on "johnny cake and catfish," so he says. In 1855 came A. W. Livermore and Larson Livermore. Also in the same year arrived Thompson Mead, and shortly afterward Daniel Metcalf and Charles Parmelee, who settled in the southwestern portion of the township. In the fall of 1855 came Elijah Adams, and Minor and James Miller.

Jane Livermore, possibly, was the first white child born in Oto. She was a daughter of A. W. Livermore. Achilles Mead was the second child born. The first marriage was that of Parmer Hall, and Elizabeth Adams, daughter of Elijah Adams. The first death was an old gentleman, Mr. Parmelee, the father of Charles Parmelee, who came in 1855, the father coming to his son some little time thereafter. The first house erected in Oto township was built, on section six, by John McCauly. It was a log structure, and was considered a great improvement in that primitive day, 1854. As timber was plentiful in this section of the county, no dugouts were used. The first store was opened by Daniel Koons, on the spot where now is Oto village, in 1868. First tavern, or hotel as we now call them, was built by W. W. Squires and kept by him in 1877, in Oto village, and the first physician to locate here was Dr. E. M. Blachley, who came in 1878. The first mill was started about 1861-62, in Oto, by Edwin Hall. It is now owned by J. S. Horton. It was at first only a saw mill. Then a set of corn burrs were put in, but afterward the property was greatly improved by putting in the roller process. The first county road laid out, that ran through the township, was from Reel's mill, near Council Bluffs, to Correctionville. The first postoffice established, and the only one in the township at present, was created in 1862, and Samuel R. Day was the postmaster.

On August 8, 1863, there was a terrific cloud burst near Oto village, which raised the Little Sioux fourteen feet in two hours. A singular phenomenon accompanied the downpour. A mill dam had just been constructed across the river, and when the water came down in such immense volumes it pushed the supports and timbers of the dam a mile and a half up stream. With such force and quantity did the rain fall at one point not far below the dam, that it spread the waters of the river out in both directions, up and down the natural current of the stream, and the extraordinary circumstance of the water flowing northward, was witnessed by a number of persons. The upward flow lasted some time, and when the return came, it swept everything before it. The gentleman from whom this account was obtained, was the first to notice the singular freak, and fearing that he might not be believed, ran and obtained other witnesses.

In 1857 there was a very heavy rainfall, and the season was very wet. There were ponds and puddles of water standing for months at places that usually were dry. These ponds gave great opportunities for the spawning of frogs; so the following year, 1858, in addition to the grasshoppers, a plague of frogs swept over a large portion of the township. These small amphibians were everywhere. The roads and fields were covered with them. They got into cellars, cupboards and cloughtrays, and one could scarcely walk without treading upon the slimy creatures.

There have been found a number of Mound Builders' or Indian implements of domestic use, as well as some axes and hatches and arrows, that bear evidence of great antiquity. Several Indian mounds are to be seen not far from Oto, between that place and Smithland, and a few graves of the aborignes have been opened. In 1855 a party of settlers dug a number of specimens of ancient pottery, among which was a jar, that originally would have held about three gallons. It contained the bones of an infant, which, upon being exposed to the air, crumbled and were entirely lost.

Oto was the scene of a great many of the depredations perpetrated upon the white settlers in 1856-57. The band of Indians composing the party, were mostly stragglers from other tribes. They were not recognized by the government at the time as a tribe, but attended the distributions with the Yankton Sioux, and drew annuities just the same. These stragglers were from the Sisseton and Yankton Sioux, with a slight mixture of low caste Winnebagoes. "They were originally known as the Two Finger tribe, having taken their name from its chief, Si-dom-i-na-do-tah (two fingers), who had lost two fingers in battle. After Si-dom-i-na-do-tah's death, his brother, Ink-pa-do-tah (red top), succeeded him as chief. It was then known as Ink-pa-do-tah's band. They spent much of their time hunting and fishing about the lakes and rivers of northwestern Iowa. There were among them several half breed whites."

One of the early settlers of Oto knew the party well, and informed the writer that there was a number of desperate villains among them, capable of committing any crime. He mentions Bohonica, the son of Inkpadotah, who was at once a fox, a wolf and a bull dog, and who scrupled at nothing, being strong, wiry and quick as lightning. Star Forehead was another powerful Indian, over six feet in height. Then there was Blue Coat, and Charley, and Long Tooth, and Supa, and many others who were terrors in their way. These were some of the leaders in the Spirit Lake massacre, which sent a thrill of horror throughout civilization, and which forever sealed the fate of the Indian in the United States.

In contrast to those outlawed savages, the kingly War Eagle, chief of the Sioux, seems to have been of a different race. An old time writer who saw the courtly savage said of him many years ago: "War Eagle was a rare specimen of his race, tall, athletic, muscular, with massive forehead, bespeaking an amount of intelligence seldom found among his race. A few words of his burning eloquence were sufficient to arouse his people to war and deeds of blood, or to bury the tomahawk and sheathe the scalping knife. He was zealous in the defense of the rights of his people, and against any encroachment upon that soil which nature and nature's god had given them an inalienable right to. The love of country and people is not confined to civilized man alone, but swells the heart and nerves, the arm of the untutored red man of the forest as well. War Eagle was emphatically one of nature's noblest children, upon whom she had bestowed much intellect and ability. In point of oratory be was excelled by but few of the leading orators of the age in which he lived. But, notwithstanding all his great natural abilities, like too many of our own great men, he yielded to that baneful monster, alcohol, who is daily fastening his poisonous fangs upon the vitals of thousands, and with his fiery tail sweeping countless numbers from the stage of action. It was when in a beastly state of intoxication, he laid out upon the cold ground, with no covering but the starry heavens, and, drenched with a heavy rain, he took a severe cold, from which he never recovered." At the confluence of the Big Sioux and Missouri rivers, on a high bluff, slumber the remains of the great Sioux chief, while his spirit, it is to be hoped, is in the happy hunting grounds.

The first preaching in Oto was, of course, by Rev. Mr. Black, the presiding elder Rev. Landon Taylor, and Rev. Mr. Havens, who were here quite early. Rev. Mr. Snyder, also was an early preacher. The first church was erected in 1882, and Rev. Mr. Fish was the first preacher in this church. The Roman Catholics have a very nice church on section five, with a cemetery near by. The church is served by Father Meagher, of St. Patrick's church in Danbury. The Congregationalists are (in 1890) about building a church in Oto village. There is a cemetery on the division line between Little Sioux and Oto townships that is a partnership affair between the two townships. It is on a portion of section seven of Oto and the same proportion of section twelve of Little Sioux.

In addition to a good school in the village of Oto, there are three others in the township. The first school opened in the township was taught by Miss Kate Rachford in 1864. Mrs. S. R. Day taught the next season. The difficulties under which the primitive school teacher labored were many, in the matter of getting suitable books, in the inconveniences of getting to school in winter and in keeping the little log huts comfortable. Even in summer they had their trials. Snakes were very abundant thirty years ago, and it is related that while a young lady was sitting in her seat teaching, she happened to look up to the ceiling, or rather where the ceiling ought to have been, for it was simply some poles and a lot of grass or hay piled on them, when she saw five snakes hanging down above her head with their wicked eyes glistening upon her, and their forked tongues running in and out of their wide open mouths. She did not scream as our modern lady school teacher would do, but she calmly got up and walked toward the cabin door, when to her horror, there were a couple more of the reptiles hanging down from the upper part of the door frame. But she made a quick dart, followed by her scholars, and resumed her teaching on a log near by, the children standing in a semi circle about her.

Oto. - This a station, formerly called Annetta, on the Cherokee and Dakota branch of the Illinois Central railway, and is a point where considerable business is transacted. Large shipments of corn, wheat, oats, hogs, cattle and potatoes are made here. The village is beautifully located on the Little Sioux river, and a portion of the town slopes back on to the ridge that runs for some distance through the township. The town has always been noted for its fun and innocent frolic, and if there is to be a dance anywhere in the surrounding country, Oto is always relied upon to furnish the best of it, music and all, for they have a fine band. The village was incorporated in 1888, and the first mayor was F. M. Smith; the second, C. P. Bowman, and the present (1890), E. H. Brooks. The business interests, firms, organizations, economical and social, are as follows:

Elevator, Walter Bros., proprietors, deal in grain, live stock and coal; lumber, G. Garner; dealer in grain, E. M. Dickey & Co.; butter factory, Welch & Smith, who use an improved process for restoring old butter, making it over, etc., have what is known as a "cold cellar;" general merchants, Welch & Smith, Charles N. Martin; clothing, boots and shoes, Miles & Co.; harness, F. M. Selvy, hardware, J. W. Russell; drugs, W. R. Brooks; new roller mill, J. S. Horton & Co.; farm machinery, J. M. Hodges; jewelry, A. Buser; insurance, C. P. Bowman, E. H. Brooks, B. F. Bellows, F. H. Cutting; lawyer, C. P. Bowman; physicians, Dr. G. A. Dillon, Dr. G. F. Waterman; furniture, Brooks & Thomas; contractor and builder, W. W. Squires; architect, B. F. Bellows; barber, J. M. Hodges; wagon repairer, R. H. McKown; painter, C. H. Rogers; blacksmiths, R. H. Duffuld, W. A. Welch; hotel, W. W. Squires; builder, L. W. Haley; wind mills, etc., R. T. Arnold; meat market, H. A. Cutting; grocer, H. Martin; livery stable, N. C. Wilson; mantua makers, Misses Ells & Kirkland; millinery, Mrs. M. E. Smith; music teacher, Etta M. Russell, Oto Brass Band, L. Gerner, leader; postmaster, Wesley Davis.

The "Oto Leader" is published every Saturday, by F. H. Cutting. Oto Lodge, No. 343, I. O. O. F., was organized in April, 1889; its membership was forty five, and its officers were first noble grand, W. Welch; second, N. C. Wilson; third, Charles N. Martin. Of Sidney Fuller Post, No. 458, G. A. R., F. H. Cotton is commander, and F. Bellows, adjutant.

There is also a Farmers' Alliance, with a membership of thirty six.


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