History of Crooked Creek, MN
From: The History of Houston County, Minnesota
Edited by: Franklyn Curtis-Wedge.
H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Co.
Winona, Minn. 1919


Town Histories

Crooked Creek is one of the eastern townships of Houston County and the second north of the Iowa line. It is somewhat smaller than a regular government township. Its eastern boundary line is formed by the western bank of the Mississippi River, while to the north lies the township of Brownsville, and a small part of Mayville; to the west Mayvile and a part of Winnebago, and to the south Jefferson and Winnebago. Along the river, as in the other eastern townships, may be seen a chain of rocky bluffs, partly covered with timber, and presenting a somewhat rugged and forbidding appearance. But this broken surface is characteristic of the entire township, which is made up chiefly of ridges with their intervening valleys. Both on the ridges and in the valleys the soil is good, and farming is extensively carried on. In the valleys are many springs of clear and wholesome water, and there are also many springs on the bluffs facing the river.

The land east of the Mississippi bluffs is marshy, and fit only for some varieties of timber and for hay. Oak, birch and maple are found throughout the greater part of the township.

Near the northwest corner of section 25, and opposite Fairy Rock, a branch of the Mississippi, known as Minnesota Slough, leaves the main stream, and flows south through sections 25, 35 and 2, and thence into Jefferson.

Entering the township from the west is Crooked Creek, which follows a tortuous easterly course until it empties into Minnesota Slough. This stream has several small affluents, one of which, flowing through a considerable valley, joins it from the southwest. Another starts from a spring in section 18, and flows in a general northeasterly directidn. A spring in section 21 gives rise to another, which enters the creek near the south line of the same section, while still another little rivulet originatei in a spring in section 29, and reaches the creek in the same section.

Clear Creek starts from a single spring on a farm in section 3, and runs northeast until it reaches Minnesota Slough, near the mouth of Crooked Creek. Since early days it has afforded excellent trout fishing.

On section 3 there was formerly a well defined mound, about 20 feet high and 150 feet long, but its cultivation, which began in the late seventies, has to a large extent obliterated its sharp outline.

Another natural curiosity in the township is that known as Fairy Rock, in section 23. This is a bluff in which is a cavern about 24 feet long. 10 feet wide and 7 feet high. The cavern is situated near the top of the bluff, 200 feet or so above the water. Its walls and ceiling are of sandstone, on which for the last 60 years or more visitors have inscribed their names. In pioneer days the place was used for a while as a residence by Charles Brown, of Brownsville.

The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway traverses the eastern part of the township, running north and south, and connecting at Reno with the Reno Preston branch of the same road, which runs westward, passing through the little village of Freeburg, thus affording good transportation facilities in various directions.

Reno, the junction point of the two branches, was formerly known as Caledonia Junction, and is situated on Minnesota Slough, in the eastern part of the town, 14 miles southeast of Caledonia and seven miles north of New Albin, Iowa. The western branch, which connects here, was constructed in 1879 as a narrow gauge road. Freight going west from the main line had to be transferred here, with much waste of time and labor. These inconveniences were obviated by the change to standard gauge, effected in 1901.

The first white settlement in Crooked Creek Township was made in June, 1852, by George Powlesland, who came up from Iowa, where he had been working on a farm, and made a claim in section 36. He made several trips back and forth, on his second arrival, in the fall, being accompanied by George Littlefield and William Oxford. Owing to the ravages or a prairie fire, he found difficulty in locating his claim, but finally found it and erected a small cabin with an earth floor and a single window, to which early in January of the following year, he brought his family. Mr. Littlefield and Mr. Oxford, who had gone back to Iowa after selecting claims, also returned in 1853, and in the spring the latter drove to and from Brownsville along an Indian trail, which he stopped to improve and which subsequently became the regular road between the two places. His first claim was in section 30, where the village of Freeburg is now located, and his first house was of logs with an elm bark roof, and the ground for a floor. Subsequently he entered a quarter of section 35, and also acquired other land.

When these pioneer settlers came, the nearest place for supplies was Lansing, 25 miles away, and the nearest mill was at Columbus, Iowa, about 40 miles distant. Mr. Oxford's first crop consisted of corn, turnips and buckwheat, to which he added pumpkins, exchanging his corn and pumpkins for venison, which he obtained from the Indians. Owing to the mill being so far away, the buckwheat was ground- in a coffee-mill and sifted through Mrs. Oxford's green veil, similar expedients being familiar to all the early settlers in this and other regions.

The Indians above referred to belonged to the Winnebago tribe, and were probably straggling bands from the Turkey River reservation, where this tribe, or a part of it, had been sent after they had ceded their Wisconsin lands to the United States. They were always civil to the whites, who treated them with consideration. With the increase of the white population they became fewer, until they disappeared altogether, being unable to adopt civilized habits and hold their own in the presence of the superior race. One old Indian hunter used often to stop at Mr. Oxford's, and would quietly get up and go out at daybreak, and return with the steak of a deer to cook for breakfast.

The year 1854 witnessed the advent of several new settlers, including George F. Brenner, Thomas Filcher and Thomas Ryder. Mr. Brenner took a claim in section 32, and on August 6, the same year, the first wedding in the township ocdurred, that of George F. Brenner and Caroline B. Weideman. Mr. Ryder, who came here in August, afterwards lived for a while in Wisconsin and Iowa. He returned, however, to Crooked Creek, and became a prominent citizen here, at different times holding town office. The first birth in the township, however, was that of Mary Jane Oxford, which occurred May 24, 1854.

In 1855 John Palmer arrived and built a house on a ridge, where he made his permanent home. Two of the principal settlers in 1856 were John Muller and Patrick Graham, the former being accompanied by his sons. Mr. Muller started a homestead in section 3, while Mr. Graham located in section 18.

In the following year, 1857, George Schaller rendered a valuable public service by building the first grist mill in the township.

In 1858 occurred the first remembered death, that of a child of Mr. and Mrs. David Snyder.

Among the other pioneers who arrived during the flrst few years of settlement were Anthony Huyck, Thomas Bayne, Nicholas Roster and family, and Mr. Dean. Mr. Huyck showed his enterprise by acquiring land and making improvements, which he sold to actual settlers, including Mr. Roster, who secured a claim from him with a timber residence, 12 by 14 feet in size, and who also succeeded in obtaining 320 acres on or near the site of the present village of Freeburg. He died in 1872, while Mr. Dean, who went as a soldier in the Civil War, died in the army.

During the war a band of lawless characters, numbering some ten or twelve, established headquarters on the Mississippi lowlands, in section 36, and committed depredations up and down the river, and on both sides, living on their plunder. The place, which was known as Robbers' Roost, was finally raided, some of the men shot, some drowned, and others were sent to the Wisconsin state prison.

The organization of the township was effected on May 11, 1858, the officers chosen being as follows: George Powlesland, chairman; George Muller and Anthony Noel, supervisors; A. N. Pierce, clerk; William Powlesland, assessor; J. P. Schaller, treasurer; William Oxford, overseer of the poor; J. P. Schaller and Lawrence Duggan, justices of the peace; John Peryer and Nicholas Krauss, constables. At this meeting J. P. Sehaller was moderator, and L. D. Churchill was clerk of election. The election was held at the mill, the total number of votes cast being 43.

Probably the first manufacturing industry in Crooked Creek Township was a broom factory, established by John Muller in 1856, the year he arrived here. It was located in section 27, where he operated it for five years, and then removed to section 3, where he and his sons, under the firm name of John Muller and Sons, built a factory, 16 by 32 feet and two stories high, and continued the industry, turning out 4,000 brooms annually. The work was done during the winter season, the proprietors being engaged in farming during the summer.

The first grist mill was built, as elsewhere stated, by George Schaller, in the summer of 1857. Mr. Schaller operated the mill for eight or ten years, and then sold it to Nicholas Roster and J. P. Streif, who ran it for two years or more. It was then transferred to Michael Mander, who in turn disposed of it to Nicholas Roster, by whom it was operated until 1874, when he disposed of it to William Hill and J. M. Graf. The mill was burned in December, 1876, and rebuilt on the same site by Mr. Graf and Garret Hurley in the summer of 1877.

Freeburg is situated on the Reno-Preston division of the C., M. & St. P. Railway, in section 30 of the township. As elsewhere shown, some of the land forming its site, or in the immediate vicinity, was claimed by John Oxford, one of the earliest settlers in the township, and soon after Nicholas Roster, another pioneer, also located here.

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