"HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY"
Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell
Published Chicago by H. H. Hill, Publishers, 1884
Republished Currently by Higginson Books
The township of Highland is a regular township, being six miles square. It is known as T. 109 N., of R. 11 W., and is bounded on the north by Glasgow, on the east by Watopa, on the south by Winona county and Plainview township, and on the west by Oakwood. The township was organized in 1858, under the name of Smithfield, which cognomen was not long retained, the Smiths being at that time numerous, but not very popular, and the more euphonious title of Highland was substituted, which also truthfully implies the fact of its elevated surface.
The soil is a black loam with a clay subsoil, heavier in the northern and central portions, and lighter on the more open prairie-like portions in the south. The surface is undulating, and in the north and east broken by bluffs and high hills that hedge in more or less narrow valleys. Along these bluff ledges grow timber, chiefly oak. The entire surface was originally covered with short, stubby oaks and other woods, and more or less undergrowth. Through these valleys flow such streams as pay tribute to the Zumbro on the north. The largest of these is known as West Indian creek; it rises in the southern central part of the township and flows down a beautiful valley, from twenty to one hundred rods in width, to the northward, turning on its way one gristmill, and for several years two.
The first town meeting in Highland was held May 13, 1858, at the residence of I. Smith, in the southeast portion of the township, near where the Smithfield postoffice is located. W. L. Cleaveland presided over the meeting and was elected chairman of the board of supervisors, of which C. G. Dawley and R. M. Doane were also chosen members. The other officers elected at this meeting were as follows: J. R. Cleaveland, clerk; M. Baldwin, overseer of poor; Volney Crandall, assessor; James Felton and A. C. Smith, justices of the peace; George Begg and Oliver Nelson, constables; and George Begg, collector. The township expenses for that year were, all told, fifty dollars.
The first settlements were made in Highland early in the spring of 1835, by the Nelsons or Olsons, near the southern line, and Patrick McDonough in the very northeast corner, in Cook's valley. Oliver Nelson and Patrick McDonough both erected log houses very early in the spring of this year. The first birth of a white child in the township occurred some time in the spring or summer of 1855, the child being Maria Sullivan, daughter of Thomas and Mary Sullivan. The first deaths of settlers also occurred during this season, the victims being two men by the respective names of Pugh and Green, who had come on to build them homes in the western Eldorado. They had scarcely more than had time to rear a humble habitation when they were stricken down with cholera morbus and lived but a few hours. Fear of the disease seized the few neighbors that surrounded them, and they were buried by a few faithful friends at night in Cook's valley, near their deserted domicile, without funeral rites.
It was not until the opening of another season that the tide of immigration seemed to set in toward Highland; but in 1856 and 1857 there flocked in from the states a large number of Irish and Germans, and a fair sprinkling of Yankees.
The people who settled Highland were for the most part religiously inclined, and at an early day began to display their zeal in spiritual matters by organizing churches. The Catholic church undoubtedly was the first to occupy the field with a society. They held services first at the residence of Mr. Timothy Ryan, on whose premises the Catholic church of Highland was afterward erected, Father Tishcant officiating. This society early erected their first church edifice, a structure of no imposing exterior, but sufficient to satisfy the humble sons of toil who came with happy hearts to worthips there. It was 20x30 feet. A fine new building now occupies the site of this pioneer cathedral - a beautiful little white church, with green blinds, and a belfry. Across the street from the church stands the parsonage, which was erected at a cost of sixteen hundred dollars a few years since, and is a nice home for the priest whose good fortune it is to have charge of this rural society. Father Trobec and Rev. Peter Jeran are among the pastors who have done much for the building up of this little Catholic church of Highland, which is styled the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Its members are chiefly of Irish and German descent, of which the larger part of the inhabitants of northeast Highland is composed. Back of this church and in the same inclosure with it is the Catholic cemetery, which has received the remains of many worthy pioneers of Highland township, some of whose graves are marked by pretentious monuments. The church is located on section 10, and is at present presided over by the ages Father Murray. Everything in its surroundings and circumstances proclaims it to be in a highly prosperous condition.
The Protestant societies organized in this township have been many. But they were less prosperous than that hardier religious plant Catholicism, and too numerous for so meager a population to sufficiently nourish. And today the remnants of the once thriving Baptist, Methodist, Congregationalist and Lutheran societies are scattered, and have been gathered into other Christian folds, principally located in the neighboring village of Plainview. Preaching is occasionally held in the Highland schoolhouse, in southeast Highland, and the Methodist Episcopal society (chiefly Norwegians) have a parsonage and sustain regular services in the southwest part of the township; while at Hamps' Mill there still stands the old log church erected by the German Reform or Evangelical congregation in 1866, and still supplied with a pastor, who resides in West Albany, but holds services here biweekly. The Presbyterians in an early day were also suffici3ntly strong to sustain preaching at the Appel Mills schoolhouse, but have not been able to keep up their organization of late years. Each society of three Baptist, Methodist and Congregationalist has taken its turn at conducting revivals in the Highland schoolhouse, and much vigorous religious work has been done within its walls.
The first preaching in the Highland district was done by the Rev. Mr. Dyer in the fall of 1859, at the residence of Mr. Stillman Hathaway; and the following year the Methodist and Baptist societies were organized. A Sunday school was also established about this time, with A. T. James as the first superintendent, which has since continued to exist.
The Methodist society have continued to monopolize most of the preaching up to the present time. The Baptist society numbered at one time some seventy members, but has been practically inefficient since 1872. The pastors of the Plainview Congregational church have had, during a portion of the time, regular services in this district. Of late years the community have been more united, and have given a cordial support, regardless of denominational views, to that sect, whichever it might be, so fortunate as to be able to have a pastor to fill their pulpit, and a greater degree of harmony is noticeable.
Highland is justly proud of her common schools, of which there are at present seven. The first teaching was done by Miss Ursula Metcalf, now Mrs. Levi Emery, in district 39, known as the Rich district, in the southwestern portion of the township. In district 37, or the Stanfield Spring school, the first teaching was in a log house near the site of the present building, in the spring of 1860, by Miss Aurora Albertson. In the Highland district, No. 40, Ann Robbins taught a school in the summer of 1859. The schoolhouse was an octagonal structure, provided by Wm. T. James, then a prominent man in that part of the township. It was framed in Wabasha and drawn to the place of erection in sections, and for years did duty as both church and schoolhouse. In the year 1869 this district erected a large and handsome substitute, for the better accommodation of their many scholars. This new building stands near the center of the district, which is three miles square, and cost fifteen hundred dollars. The Hampe Mill district, No. 64, and the Appel's Mill district, No. 66, both located in West Indian Creek valley, were also pioneer districts. These last-named districts have since been somewhat weakened by the establishment of two new districts, the one in the Grarey neighborhood, and the other in the McNallan neighborhood. Without exception, the schoolhouses in Highland are in excellent condition, and are in marked contrast with the rude log huts that only a few years ago attested the high regard which the poor but intelligent pioneers of this township had for education in early days.
The entire tract, since embraced by this township, was included in the Sioux half-breed Indian reservation that stretched for some thirty miles along the general course of the Mississippi river, from a point in the township of Greenfield, section 18, east, northward, and it was due to this fact that the first white settlers in Highland for several years made only moderate progress in the improvement of the claims. Fearing that the "half-breed script" would be successfully "laid upon" their new possessions by the land-sharks that infested the country, it was but natural for them to delay their work of clearing the land and making the more permanent improvements, until the validity of their titles should be declared and peaceable possession of their new homes be vouchsafed them. Some of them finally bought up scrip and "laid it" themselves, thereby securing an unquestionable title, but the majority of the new-comers were too poor to solve the problem so easily, and were occasionally induced by those holding this scrip to surrender one half of their quarter-sections in order to have the title to the remaining half perfected. Here and there a settler more gullible than the others was induced by threats and false representations to abandon his claim and go elsewhere. In this way many of the best claims were temporarily controlled by speculators, to whom tribute was sometimes paid.
In 1858 the first road in the township was laid out and worked; the same being the road that connects Appel's (then Watkins') Mill with Canfield Springs. It is now well provided with suitable highways leading out in all directions; many of them following the course of ravines.
The valuation of property in Highland was in 1860 as follows: 12,027 acres, valued at $39,460; personal property, $2,479. In 1883, 22,702 acres, at $228,742; personal property, $32,519 and average of $10.03 per acre. At the fall election in 1883 the polling list shows 160 voters.
Besides the Catholic cemetery before mentioned there is another near the Lutheran or Reform church in West Indian Creek valley, and one grave is to be found marked by an unpretentious marble slab on ground that A. T. James once gave to the settlers for burial purposes, in southeast Highland, near Smithfield.
The only tragedy that has occurred within the township of Highland since its settlement, occurred in 1866, on the Canfield Spring road. A book agent was riding along this road when some one, secreted in the bushes that skirted the highway shot him and rifled his pockets. The author of this dastardly act was never discovered, but years afterward a rust rifle was found in the bushes on the top of a neighboring bluff, from which it is surmised the murderous bullet was fired.
In 1858 the inhabitants of Highland petitioned the postal authorities for the establishment of a postoffice in southeast Highland, along the Rochester and Wabasha stage route. The prayer of the petition was granted, a commission was issued to Israel Smith as postmaster, and the office was dubbed Smithfield; before the arrival of this commission Mr. Smith left the country. Soon after Mr. Thomas Smith opened a little store on section 24, and was about to be appointed to this office when his store burned down, and he also departed from the country. The third petition in the summer of 1859 resulted in James S. Felton becoming the first postmaster. This same summer the Dugans, of Wabasha, who had quite an extensive landed interest in this part of the county, erected a store and a hotel; a blacksmith-shop was also a feature of this pioneer hamlet. In 1862 the Jameses bought out the Dugans, and about three years later abandoned the store and closed up the hotel, thus terminating the business life of Smithfield. The postoffice is still retained, with C. G. Dawley as postmaster since 1865. Daily mail is received from Plainview in the morning and Wabasha in the afternoon.
In 1856 Daniel J. Watkins erected a sawmill on West Indian creek, on section 16, in Highland. Five years later Mr. Watkins found that the community had greater need for a gristmill than they had for a sawmill, and at once proceeded to remove the latter and erect in its stead the first gristmill of Highland. This same season Alfred Lathrop opened a store near by, and the following year, 1862, Lyons postoffice was established here, with Mr. Lathrop as postmaster. In 1965 Mr. Watkins sold his mill to John Yale, who continued to run it for nine years. The proprietorship was then transferred in rapid succession from Yale to Richard Ralf, and through C. W. Hackett's hands to Stephen Appel, its present proprietor. The store has continued to exist without interruption under various proprietors since it was first opened, and without local competition. E. W. Cleaveland is its present owner. The postoffice was discontinued in 1881.
In 1866 Henry Hampe erected a gristmill on Indian creek, about two miles below the Watkins mill. This mill was burned down in 1881, February 19, and has not been rebuilt.
The early settlers were not only annoyed by parties holding half-breed script, but by cliques of land-sharks who often sought by force to drive off those settlers who had come without an invitation from these would-be lords of all the rich and fertile lands in the county. They were sometimes successful, but not always. An incident illustrating their manner of proceeding is the case of John Redden. Mr. Redden had taken a claim near the McNallans in Highland, which was erected by certain Wabasha parties; and "Blind-Charley" Lessing and a man by the name of Harrecaine, with a posse of congenial spirits, called upon the intruder Redden, after first giving him due notice to quit, and were in the act of hanging him to a tree, when John McNallen and his father Thomas McNallan appeared upon the scene, and by a vigorous protest, backed by a threat to brain with axes which they carried the first man that laid a hand on their intended victim, succeeded in effecting Redden's release, though the cowardly gang of mobbers retired threatening to renew the attempt on Redden's life unless he should speedily leave the country, which he soon after did.
Though the Indians were numerous they were never guilty of committing depredations on the farmers of Highland, but annoyed them by incessant begging. The whites were afraid to deny their requests, and occasionally became the butt of the redskins' practical jokes. On one occasion an old squaw and two young bucks called on Mrs. Patrick McDonough during the absence of her husband, and by signs induced her to prepare them a meal of victuals, which she did with much trouble. As soon as it was ready they laughed at her and bolted out of the cabin, leaving the meal untouched.