Chapter 22
OAKWOOD TOWNSHIP
Pages 767-777

From the book about Wabasha Co. Minnesota
"HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY"
Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell
Published Chicago by H. H. Hill, Publishers, 1884
Republished Currently by Higginson Books


"I cannot but remember such things were,
And were most dear to me."

Lying in the south part of the county, surrounded by West Albany, Highland, Plainview, Elgin, Zumbro and Hyde Park townships, is a township which, on account of the necessity for a name rather than to show some prominent feature, has been called Oakwood. A rolling prairie, bordering on Greenwood's prairie, it is cut by the rocky Zumbro valley, separating the several northwestern sections from the main part; by the Middle Creek ravine, separating the several northeastern sections; and lastly, by the Long Creek ravine, which winds through the center from south to north, and opens into the Zumbro valley not far from the opening of Middle creek. Along their route smaller valleys and ravines open into these. The Zumbro valley, with its rocky cliffs varying from two hundred to three hundred and seventy feet in height, overhanging and winding its rocky and wooded sides about in a bewildering manner, affords some very picturesque and romantic scenery. The rocky headlands protrude as if the elements in their attempt to cover the once limestone surface of this region with clay, sand and loam, had failed to bring enough. While the northern part of the township is chiefly clay, the southern is more black loam and clay mixed, making a fine soil. The oak, hazel, etc., underbrush that once covered the prairie more or less, is now confined to the bluffs, valleys and ravines. In the northern part of the township, in the coolies, there is more timber-oak, elm, cottonwood and maple. Along the Zumbro River valley are river-terraces about half way up the bluffs, some of the larger of which are of sufficient size for a village. The valleys and ravines on quiet days are cooler than the prairies above, but in winter the valleys are much warmer than the uplands, making fine places to winter stock. The limestone cliffs furnish material for limekilns, a few ruins of which ornament the sides of the valley, but are seldom worked at present. The large fall of the Zumbro River, with its narrowness, makes many fine sites for water- power, which, so far, have not been occupied. With the excellent facilities for water in the township, Oakwood makes a fine place for stock. Some excellent springs burst out along the base of the cliffs, one of which, near Ole Fremo's, is said to be among the best.

Let Father Time tell us how Oakwood fared before civilization began to rear it the kidnaped child of barbarism. Here was the underbrush on the prairie, through which the cunning fox and the lank, grey wolf prowled. Wigwams dotted the valley. Numerous fleet deer roamed the gorges and prairies, ever wary, often in vain, of the stealthy Sioux Indians of Wa-pa-shaw's band, who came to camp and hunt in Zumbro's beautiful valley. The beaver made his home in these waters. The snow, wind and rain were as wild as the country and its dusky sons. Over the encrusted snow, four feet a not uncommon depth, the Keoxa braves chased on snowshoes the deer until the breaking crust exhausted it. The heavy rains, falling on the tough, unbroken soil, quickly reached the Zumbro, swelling its floods to heights unknown at present. The annual rise of the river, not noticed now, was called the "June race."

But Father Time points to 1856, and now comes the ox-team and white-covered wagon the advance-guard of civilization to startle this wild scene, and fight, if necessary, with the elements, Indians and animals, for a home such as his prospective eyes selected. He lives in his wagon until he can make a hut. These first settlers were: Mathew Kinsella and his son Mathew, David and James Foley, Patrick and Lawrence Tracey, the latter now in West Albany township, and William Tope, who came in June. Henry Powell, it appears, came in 1855, but whether he was the first settler is not quite definite. It is said Lyman Gregg visited the township earlier, but did not settle. Also came Barnard McNulty, James McPike, Michael Campbell, Patrick McQuigan, Henry Martin and Patrick Fleming. Many of these came prospecting, selected homes and built huts, then in the fall returned to Wisconsin, Lake Superior, and a few other parts, to get their families. A Mr. Crozier was also here, living in his wagon. The bachelor life led by many of these in their wagon or hut was not enviable. Patrick McGuigan brought for his winter supply seven barrels of flour; the Indians were difficult to convince that his house was not an agency. One of the heaviest snows fell that winter, about four feet on a level. The Indians, with snow-shoes, killed deer extravagantly; finding them in the valley in an open place corralled by the deep snow, they would kill them merely for the skin, so, it was said, that the whites might not get them. About seven hundred were camping in the valley that winter; they were not troublesome, and not many months later left. It is said they used to get whisky at Mr. Tope's.

Mat. Kinsellas, Sr. and Jr., Charles and Patrick Fleming, Richard Leighart and James Perkins kept bachelor's hall on Mr. (no name given) place for nearly three years. They had five yoke of oxen, and all worked together, each helping the other. Mr. Kinsella, Sr., relates that the arrival of the first woman caused the oxen to take to the woods in flight.

When John H. Pell first drove his cattle before him into these wilds to seek a home, before he ever imagined he would represent his district as senator, he turned his cattle loose in the valley, and sought rest for the night in one of the caves that are found in the face of the bluffs.

The township had been surveyed and named Pell, in honor of John Pell of this township, who was a state senator. The way neighboring townships taunted them with the similarity of Pell and another word ending in "ell" was too much for the sensitive settler. In 1868 the legislature gave it the honorable name of Sherman.

Among the oldest houses in Mr. Tope's, now standing, and Mr. Foley's. Mr. Langer also has a very old one. The first roads were across the prairie toward Plainview, the nearest way. The first bluff-road was worked by a Wabasha landowner, between Millville site and P. G. Dickman's. The first surveyed road was laid out about 1859, along the south side of section 25, and south and west sides of section 26, north, entering the Long Creek ravine. It was known as the Long Creek road. The second laid out was probably that from Bremen, passing Messrs. Quisel's, Grove's and Pratt's, about 1860. On account of ravines few of the roads follow section lines. The Zumbro Valley Railway Company organized and prospected some in the township, but failed to do anything. James Chapman, on northeast part of section 22, built the first and only sawmill of the township, about 1860, but soon sold it to Abner Tibbets, who continued it for but a few years. The first and only gristmill was built on Middle creek in 1868 by Samuel Irish. The first blacksmith-shop was built by Henry Powell, probably in 1856; the only one until Peter Hostein built his in Millville a number of years later. The first store was started in 1864 by John Behrns, at Bremen, continuing a few years. The first birth was Patrick Tracy's daughter, Elizabeth Tracy, in February, 1857; and Anna Tracy, daughter of Mr. Lawrence Tracy, was born in March following. The first marriage ceremony was performed by Father Tissot, a Catholic missionary, when he gave Mathew Kinsella, Jr., a wife. Henry Powell was married quite early, too, and in a romantic manner. It is said he and his intended stood on one bank of Long creek, while the justice stood on the opposite shore and performed the ceremony. Death made his first visit in the spring of 1858, taking a babe of William Tope, and one of George martin. The first (private) school was taught either by Mrs. Louis Evans or Mrs. J. H. Bernard, at their homes, in the winter of 1859- 60 probably the former. Mr. Evans also taught. The first schoolhouse is No. 24, near Patrick McGuigan's, built in about 1861. The old log house, now used for storing hay, still stands near the new one. Mr. McGuigan says they carried logs on their shoulders from the ravine to make it. Dr. James Chapman, the builder of the first sawmill, was the first "healer of the sick" in the winter of 1858 and after. He also preached some, holding services now and then at his home and Mr. Powell's.

In 1858 Father Tissot first held mass in Mr. David Foley's house. From Then until 1867 it was held about five times per year at Mr. Kinsella's. During 1866 the church now known as Oakwood church, a frame building 20x60 feet, with an addition built in 1878, was built. It was started by Father Tissot and finished by father Trobec, who followed him. The priests since Father Trobec are Fathers Jeram, from 1880-2; Beinhardt, to April, 1883, and Murray at present, who live in Highland township. The church is well furnished, and mass is held once a month. A cemetery lies near the church. Since the organization children have been confirmed once, in 1881, by Bishop Ireland.

The first postoffice, called Millville, was located on Ole Christopher's place, about 1869, with Charles Flemming as postmaster. After its removal to the present site of Millville, in 1870, John Huny was made postmaster, and held it until his death, since which his widow has officiated, keeping it in the same house ever since. When first started its income was but about eight dollars per quarter; now it is two hundred.

The first hotel began with the birth of Bremen, in connection with the store in 1864. This was the founding of Bremen, the first village in the township, by John Behrns.

Millville, probably so named from the postoffice, began with one store and postoffice combined, John Huny's, and a blacksmith- shop, by Peter Holtein, about 1870. The narrow-gauge railway, in 1878, gave it new life, and soon there was two stores, J. B. Miller and Mullen & Leonard (now Mullen); next two hotels, J. Behrns and Mr. Plath; the John Behrns ran a store for a time; a wagon-shop; a small grainhouse, in which was the warehouse and telegraph office; next year the depot and addition to the grainhouse; then a fancy-store; shoeshop. In 1880 McGuigan Bros., dry-goods and groceries, and J. S. Bisby, hardware, was started, and in 1881 the first permanent physician, Dr. Gove. From about 1879 to 1881 Claus Behrns run the Midland brewery, but it was accidentally burned, and its ruins still remain. Millville controls the trade for a radius of several miles. It has splendid water-power waiting to be occupied.

Kegan, named from the owner of the land, J. Kegan, was started in 1879 as a station. A saloon, blacksmith-shop and store, the last mentioned kept by J. Judge, comprised its business until 1880, when the depot and grainhouse was added. The following year Mr. Judge was made postmaster of the new postoffice. A fine bridge crosses the Zumbro here, which, with the Millville bridge, includes all Zumbro bridges in the township.

After the organization in 1859 down to the present there has been a slow and varied growth. Many of the records are destroyed, so that the chief resource is the old settler's memory. The first election was held at the residence of Patrick McGuigan, by order of the commissioners. The first clerk was Dr. James Chapman; supervisors, James Foley and John Behrens. Mr. Pratt thinks J. K. Smith was chairman. They held their first meeting in Chapman's sawmill. Claus Behrens was probably the first assessor. One of the early assessors, who had acquired but little English, misused the word piano for plow, in his report of assessment, so that from the number of pianos listed in Pell township, the county officers thought it a remarkably musical region.

The township clerks after Dr. Chapman were: John Behrns, J. C. Rand, George Bairey, William Harlan, M. A. Grove, Collins Pratt, M. Bailey and James McGuigan. The first justices were: J. Evans and John Behrns. Mr. Behrns says his first legal operation was to marry Orson Veon and Ann Winter, in 1859. Louis Steinborn, William Harlan, E. Polson and J. Bisby have been justices since. Before organization they voted in Zumbro township (now Hyde Park).

Mr. Lawrence Tracy was the first representative of the township in the county board of supervisors. The population of the township at this time was probably between twenty and fifty. There was found to be another township of the same name, so the name Sherman was replaced in 1879 by the present name, Oakwood.

Lyman Gregg was the first county commissioner and sheriff from Oakwood. M. A. Grove, of this township, is at present a county commissioner.

The present township officers are P. G. Dickman, chairman; M. McGillion and Emric Polson, supervisors; James McGuigan, town clerk; Ole Christopher, assessor; J. Behrns, treasurer; justices, J. S. Bisby and E. Polson; constables, Nels Christopher and R. H. Anderson.

In the winter of 1858-9 the several northwest sections cut off by the Zumbro were joined to West Albany; but in 1867 the legislature, at the request of the people, made a part of Pell again. The "Half-Breed Treaty" tract, elsewhere explained, includes all of Oakwood north of a straight line running from the southeast corner of section 18 to near the same corner of section 26. The land scrip that was given each Indian, deeding him a certain amount of this land, has caused the settlers a little trouble and some probably unfounded anxiety. The "adult scrip" was sold to settlers along with minor scrip. The point seems to be that the minors' scrip may have been unlawfully sold. The Oakwood church land was paid for twice on account of this trouble. The trouble continued during about fifteen years. There has been none lately.

The township feeling the great need of an outlet for its produce, encouraged the Minnesota Midland railroad by giving twenty- two thousand dollars in bonds, which were placed in the New York Trust company's hands to await the completion of the road. During the war the records show numerous special town meetings, held for obtaining money for volunteers.

It is related of a certain "copperhead," who chanced to have his leg broken in an affray, that the physician compelled him to take the oath of allegiance before he would set his leg.

The town meetings, before held in sawmills, shops and residences, were after about 1875 held in the new town-hall on section 15. The hall was sold in 1880 to G. D. Allen for one hundred and ten dollars, and the Millville schoolhouse was chartered for the next twenty years for town purposes. The effect of the cattle law of 1873 has been to remove nearly all the fence except that enclosing pasture. However the increased raising of stock will probably soon make a barbed-wire network of fences over the township. One of Oakwood's citizens, John K. Smith, was representative in 1873. After the new school law of 1862, abolishing the township superintendent, James Hayes, of Oakwood, was the first county superintendent through election by the people. The state change of text- books in the schools, adopting Appleton's publication, was effected quite speedily in this township. The schools have increased until there are now seven, numbered apparently in the order of their age, with county numbers, namely, No. 75 on section 23, No. 24 on section 5, No. 41 on section 1, No. 43 on section 26, No. 44 on section 28, No. 78 on section 16 and No. 89 in Millville. The teachers of No. 24 have been Michael McGillion, M. Redmond, Mary Hayes, Hugh Galliger, Mary Harlan, Miss York, and, beginning with 1872, James Hayes; 1873, Mrs. Galliger; then James Hayes until 1875; John Quin, 1876; Bridget McCullough, 1877; Mary A. Keliber, 1878; Hannah Sweeney, 1879; Scott Foster, Sophia McGillion, 1880; Michael Powers, 1881; Charles Disney, Maggie Ryan, 1882; James Kating, Maggie Kating, and in 1883, Mary Galliger. Mr. Hayes says the largest attendance has been about seventy-seven, but is quite small now.

Mrs. Bernard held private school, in 1858-9, in school district No. 41. They then sent to Highland township until 1871. Annie Mullen, the first teacher, was followed by Fannie Calvin, 1872; Bridget Costello, 1873-4; Annie Calhoun, 1875; Michael Powers, 1876; Katie Baker, 1877; M. Powers, 1878; Hannah Sweeney, 1879; Bridget Costello, 1880-1, and Thos. H. Lutz, 1882-3.

In school district No. 43, Mrs. Rand taught an early school. Mrs. Susan Carpenter was probably the first teacher. She held a term in an old blacksmith-shop, in 1867. The teachers since then have been Mrs. M. E. Cooper, R. N. Smith and Ella Rising, 1869; G. C. French, Miss Sprague, Mrs. Lucy French, 1870-72; Lavina Smith, 1873 (no school in part of 1874, when the new schoolhouse was building. The old house was moved from Highland township); Lavina Smith, 1874-5; Lucy J. Smith and Frank Fowler, 1876; Ellen McClaren, 1877; Matt Haney, 1878; Nettie Goss, 1879; J. M. Bates and Miss Goss, 1880; Eliza DePuy and Mattie Darrow, 1881; Hanora Sheids and Mary Huntoon, 1882 (no school in winter of 1882-3, as they could get no teacher); and Teresa B. Hall in the summer of 1883. School district No. 78 lies near the center of the township.

The records of school district No. 75 furnish the following teachers: R. N. Smith and Pat. Hagerty, 1869; Annie Mullen, 1870; Meril A. Robeson, 1875; Mary McClernan, 1877-8; Henry McClernan, 1879; Hellen Slattery, 1880; Margaret Ryan, 1881; Teressa Hall, 1882; L. M. Kimball, 1883.

The school in district No. 44 was organized by Geo. Bairy in 1869, and the first teacher was probably Miss Taylor. The present building is an enlargement of the first one, a small frame which has been moved about considerably. The teachers beginning with Christina Mitchell in 1869-70; Frank Langer, 1873-4; and William Bairey and Olive R. Taylor, 1875; C. A. Pheifer, Mary C. Christopher and Francis Fomler (?), 1876; Miss French, 1877; Bertha French, 1878-9-80; Geo. French and Anna French, 1881; John M. Bates and Mary Behrns, 1882; Maggie Potor and Mattie Darrow, and in 1883 Mariah Paine. The Millville school was at first private, taught by S. E. Thoresen, in 1878, and in 1879 organized as No. 89, with a good frame building. The teachers have been, beginning in 1880, A. Darrow and Lizzie Leonard, 1881; C. L. Woodworth, Mattie Darrow, L. Leonard and Sadie Cathown, 1882; Mattie Darrow, 1883; Minnie Gibbons and Rosa Dickman.

The physicians located here have been Drs. Beaufort and Boyd, who remained but a short time, and Dr. Gove, who is at present the only doctor of medicine in the township.

In 1868 the Norwegian Methodist Episcopal church, on section 20, was organized by A. B. Burtch, of Grand Meadows, Minnesota, who had preached here previous to this. With few at first, the largest membership reached thirty-five, in 1871, and has fallen off since, on account of many Norwegians going to Dakota. A good frame church, 32x24 feet, was built in 1873. It is valued at nine hundred dollars. The Norwegian Lutherans since 1874 have used this building more or less, also, but have had no services for a few years past. The ministers, since 1869, have been: Rev. Olson; Rev. Knudson, 1872-4; Rev. A. Johnson to 1877, Rev. E. Arveson to 1879, Rev. J. Peterson to 1882, when Rev. S. Knudson became the first resident minister of the township. Services are held regularly on Sunday at 10:30 A.M., with a sabbath school at 12 M. The sabbath school, Supt. M. A. Grove, was organized some years ago. The church belongs to the Plainview circuit. The trustees are E. Polson and M. A. Grove. A cemetery for Scandinavians lies near the church. The Swedes, in 1874, organized and built a church in Millville. The building is of limestone from the bluffs and about 30x40 feet in size. At first there were about thirty families, with a minister from Lake City, but Dakota's rising wealth has reduced the number to but five families, who have had no services for several years. The Norwegian Lutherans, not organized, used this building some also. Near the building is Millville cemetery. Services in these churches are occasionally held in English. M. A. Grove has preached some in the Norwegian church, filling the place of the regular minister in his absence.

On account of the peculiar characteristics of the Scandinavian, German and Irish churches, and their different languages, there has never been any revivals in the township. Some temperance work has been done, however, and with such effect that in attempts to abolish liquor license, about 1876, they came within four and six votes of having her territory unspotted by saloons. The temperance sentiment is not that high at present, as four patronized bars within her borders would indicate.

The Grange society organized in about 1872 on Lyman Gregg's farm, and continued in their hall there for about one year and a half, then with a few meetings at schoolhouse No. 43, they sold their effects and disbanded with an oyster supper and dance. Lyman Gregg was worthy master. Clark Champine, Eben Farnsworth and A. Darrow were among their officers.

About 1880 the Good Templars were organized at the Norwegian Methodist Episcopal church. It continued actively about one year. The first, second and third worthy chiefs were, E. Polson, C. Christopher and M. A. Grove, respectively. They talk of reviving it again.

Debating clubs were quite numerous from 1879-81, and attended by old and young.

In the eastern part of the township, in 1874, was organized Father Matthew's Total Abstinence Society, which has held meetings once per month since. John Harlan was its first president, and the office has since been held by either Matthew Kinsella or him. Mr. Kinsella occupies it at present. In 1878 about fifty members started by subscription a temperance library, and now have over one hundred volumes. J. Powers is librarian, and the books are kept in the church.

There are but five events in the history of the township that may be called tragic. Three men were drowned: one at Millville, while swimming; Mr. McBride, some distance below this, while crossing this river on the ice in 1880; and a miller from Potsdam who drove in the river at high water. Two suicides have occurred. The causes were probably monomania caused by sickness. Both were Germans. One hung himself by a suspender, and the other choked himself with a bag string.

The immense crops of wheat in early days caused an extravagance in trading, that resulted in a reaction a few years later, that, combined with the overworking of the land, caused many failures. Men traded on credit for years, and when a settlement was necessary, a mortgage was necessary, and finally they had to give up their homes. So extensive was this trouble that the population was very materially decreased. The settlement of the Wilcox estate was the occasion of one severe blow to the township. Buying extravagantly in machinery was one cause of these troubles.

The wheat crop for four or five years, beginning with 1877, has nearly failed, so that many farmers contemplate making stock a specialty. It may be a question whether stock as a specialty will be a success any more than wheat. Those who have tried a rotation of crops with a fair amount of stock find but little to complain of.

In 1869 there was 17,599 acres of farm land. The value of the improvements, $63,199, and the personal property, $26,041. The number of acres cultivated was 4,862, from which 60,693 bushels of wheat was raised, beside other grains.

In 1880 the number of acres under cultivation was 7,598. The population, 946. The productions were as follows: Bushels of wheat, 30,755; oats, 30,470; corn, 33,800; barley, 22,281; potatoes, 5,755; and apples, 1,961. There were 500 tons of hay, 200 pounds of wool, 189 cows, 5,415 pounds of butter and 200 pounds of honey.

Stating them in the order of their number beginning with the largest, the population is composed of Irish, Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, American, and Austrians. The mass are German and Irish.

End of Chapter