Winona County, Minnesota
A BLOODY CONFLICT
From the book
"History of Wabasha County"
Published in 1884
Concerning Wabasha and Winona Counties in Minnesota
During the winter and spring Johnson had made his headquarters at the house he had built on
Front street for the use of Andrew Cole, which he afterward sold to him. He, however, made his
home with John Evans, whose daughter, Abigal M. Evans, he married later in the season. He
usually spent his evenings at Evans' when on the prairie. Johnson became impatient at the delay in
the trial of his suit against Simonds, and while at supper one evening he remarked that he would
have to go down to the lower claim and "clean them out" himself if he ever expected to get
possession. He soon after started for the village. This indicated another claim-fight. Johnson
"cleaned them out" that night. The particulars of this fight were related to the writer by Royal B.
Evans, a son of John Evans, who took part in the affray. Mr. Evans says: "It was about the middle
of May or a little after that Johnson shot Simonds. I came home rather late that day and found that
the rest of the family had been to supper; they were talking about Johnson, who had just gone down
to the village. Father said Johnson would get into trouble if he attempted to drive Simonds and
Charlie Hamilton off from the lower claim without he had some help. My sister wanted I should
find him and tell him that father wished to see him.
"After supper I went down to the landing; a steamboat had just come up and almost
everybody living on the prairie was on the levee. Simonds and Charlie Hamilton were
conspicuous, but Johnson was not there. John McDermott told me he saw him going back on the
prairie just after the boat landed. It was then dark. I expected I should find him at the lower claim,
and went down there in search of him. As I approached the Simonds shanty Johnson hailed me and
ordered me to halt. I answered him and he told me to come in. Johnson said he expected to have a
fight and was ready for them. He had a Colt's rifle and an old "pepper box' pistol. I had brought
nothing with me, not even a club. He said that when he saw Simonds and Hamilton up at the
village he went and got his gun and pistol and started. We sat down in front of the shanty and
examined them; they had not been used in a long time. The rifle was out of repair and would not
work. Finding it was of no use, he took the barrel off and stood it beside the door, saying, 'That
will do to use as a club.'
"About ten o'clock we heard some one coming down the prairie, and knew that it was
Simonds by his loud voice. Johnson hailed them to stop, and threatened them if they advanced. He
then snapped two caps on the pistol without a discharge. They came on to where we were
standing, near the shanty, when Simonds pitched at Johnson and they two had a regular fist-fight,
which lasted some time. Charlie and I looked on without doing anything. We were about the same
age and size. Simonds was much the larger and stronger man, and was too much for Johnson.
They clinched, and Johnson, finding that Simonds had the advantage, drew his pistol and shot him.
The ball passed through the muscles of the forearm and broke the bone above the elbow. They
continued clinched for awhile after, when Simonds called for Hamilton to take him off. Hamilton
caught Johnson by the throat and tried to choke him. I then attacked Charlie with my fists and
knocked him down.
"It was a still, clear, starlight night, and the noise made while the fight was going on was
heard at Hamilton's house, where some one halloed in return. Simonds called to them to bring his
shotgun. Elder Hamilton and Jake McDermott came up just after Charlie and I had had our set-to;
Johnson kept back out of sight. Simonds complained of being faint, and asked the elder to take him
over to his house. I had not received any very hard blows, but Johnson, as well as the other two,
had been severely pounded.
"Elder Hamilton took hold of Simonds and supported his wounded arm, while I took
hold of him on the other site to help take him to Hamilton's house. Just as we started, Charlie
Hamilton attacked me from behind with a club ~ one of the oak stakes used in surveying the plot.
He hit me once before I turned, and then struck me once or twice across the face, cutting me
severely before McDermott separated us. McDermott then helped the elder take Simonds home.
Not hearing anything of Johnson I went over to Hamilton's to see what was going on there. A
steamboat chanced to be coming down and the elder signaled them with his lantern to stop at his
landing, intending to send Simonds to La Crosse. A doctor on board examined and dressed the
wounded arm, and word was sent by the boat to La Crosse to have a surgeon come up from there.
The elder washed the blood off from my head and face and bandaged up my wounds. The
scalp-cut on the back of my head was the worst, but my face was badly cut and bruised. I then
went back down the prairie in search of Johnson. While I was up at Hamilton's he had torn the
shanty down, and thrown it and everything belonging to it into the river. We then went up home;
Johnson was living with us. The next morning we were both arrested by McDermott, the
constable. After we had had our breakfast he took us down to Squire Gere's office, where we
were detained some time, when the justice decided that the examination could not go on without
the testimony of Simonds, and adjourned the court to H. S. Hamilton's house. Johnson refused to
walk down there. Squire Gere then sent the constable to find a conveyance. We walked down
toward the river, when the justice called to us not to go away, but stay around where we could be
found when McDermott came back. Johnson made no reply ~ I told him I was not going very far
away. Johnson went over to Andrew Cole's house to change his clothes. Mr. Cole was then
absent. I went home, had my wounds dressed and went to bed, where I slept until the next
morning. I then came down to the justice's office and was discharged from custody."
Considerable excitement was aroused over the matter by the new town site company, and
when Johnson failed to make his appearance Sheriff Iams was sent to find him and bring him
before the court. The sheriff got trace of him at Minnesota City, and overtook him at Hall's
landing, below the mouth of the White Water, where he was waiting for a steamboat to come
along. Johnson left the river and went up the bluff with the sheriff after him. Johnson could outrun
and out climb the sheriff, and when beyond reach he stopped and told Iams if he came any farther
he would send some loose rocks down on him. The sheriff went back to the trail and watched for
Johnson to again make his appearance. He was compelled to return without his prisoner. Johnson
succeeded in reaching the river without being observed. The steamboats at that time would land
anywhere if hailed by a passenger. Johnson went to St. Paul, where he secured counsel and
returned to have the case disposed of and settled in some manner. He delivered himself up, and no
one appearing against him he was discharged from custody. Simonds had been detained on the
prairie to await the examination, but sent to La Crosse two or three days before Johnson's return,
which was on June 3.
As soon as Captain Smith learned of the shooting of Simonds by Johnson he sent his son
S. J. Smith here to take charge of matters. By the advice of John Evans it was deemed necessary to
put ups a shanty on the lower claim to hold possession. Mr. Smith secured the services of Mr.
Evans and his son Royal, and took a load of lumber down to build a cabin. He was met there by
Mr. Stevens from La Crosse, one of the proprietors of the new town, who warned him not to
attempt to occupy it, for they should defend their rights to the claim. Mr. Smith decided not to have
any more fighting, but trust to the law for redress. He ordered the lumber taken back to the upper
landing, notwithstanding the protests of Mr. Evans, who asserted that he could stand as much
shooting as they could. Mr. Smith then remained quiet at the hotel where he was stopping.
As soon as Stevens returned to La Crosse he sent Asa Hedge up, who built a shanty and
took possession of the claim. The next day after he was discharged from custody Johnson went
down and put up a shanty about where the one stood which Augustus Pentler once occupied. This
was held by John Evans and Johnson. No collisions occurred between the occupants of the two
About a week afterward Captain Smith brought up from Galena a house ready made for
claim No. 1. It was put up a few rods above where the house of Mrs. Keys now stands. The same
day Mr. Hedge went to La Crosse and his shanty was torn down. It was done by the consent of Mr.
Hedge, who sold the possession of the claim to Captain Smith for one or two lots on Front street,
fronting on the levee.
Mr. Hedge at once built a small house on lot 1, block 11 ~ brought his family from La
Crosse and made it his home for many years. He here opened a restaurant and saloon ~ the first
saloon or place where intoxicating drinks were sold in the city of Winona. His liquors were
bought up by the citizens and destroyed. The ladies were the movers in this transaction. He
afterward opened his saloon with a new stock, when they were again destroyed or seized by the
sheriff. He afterward put up a better building and opened a grocery store, where he carried on
quite a trade for two or three years. Frank D. Sloan was his clerk and salesman in the grocery
As an illustration of valuation of real estate and manner of doing business, the following
incident is noted relative to this property. In about 1856 or 1857 Mr. Hedge found it necessary to
secure a loan to carry on his business. Gable & Werst, money loaners and dealers in real estate,
advanced him $5,000 and took a mortgage on the lot and store to secure the payment of his notes
drawing two per cent per month. As a matter of course Mr. Hedge failed in business and the
property was sold under the mortgage. How much Gable and Werst posted to profit and loss in
this transaction is unknown. They held the property for many years.
Among the early arrivals this season were Ithael Hamilton, the father, and Enoch C.
Hamilton, the brother, of H. S. Hamilton, and Erastus H. Murray, a brother-in-law. Harvey
Hubbard and John I. Hubbard were also relatives of the Hamiltons.
Enoch C. Hamilton made a claim where the city hospital is now located. His claim
shanty stood twenty or thirty rods south of the building now used as a hospital. While living here
the house was struck by lightning, during a severe thunderstorm on Sunday, June 19, 1853, and his
wife instantly killed.
Mr. Hamilton opened a select school, which she had been teaching for a week or two
previous to her death. This may with a great deal of propriety be called the first school on the
prairie. The school opened in Mrs. Goddard's shanty, in 1852, by Miss Gere, then a girl of
fourteen or fifteen, was hardly entitled to mention as an institution for instruction. Mrs. Hamilton
was an experienced school-teacher. She left three children, Alvin, Alice and Julia. Previous to
her marriage Miss Alice Hamilton was for many years a well known teacher in the public schools
of the city of Winona.
Mr. Hamilton married again and pre-empted his claim as a homestead. It is now known
as E. C. Hamilton's addition. Mr. Hamilton, with his second family, is now living at Minnesota
Ithael Hamilton and his son Otis Hamilton made claims on the lower end of the prairie.
They have been dead many years.
Harvey and John I. Hubbard built two large dwelling-houses on what is now block 5,
Hamilton's addition, which they occupied for several years. None of their families are now
residents of this county.
Erastus H. Murray bought the Viets House, and improved it by putting on additions in the
rear, finishing off the second story, and building a good frame barn on the rear of the lot. He made
it a comfortable hotel, although limited in capacity, to accommodate the traveling public. He gave
it the name of "Winona House," and kept it until early in the spring of 1854, when he wold it to
Charles Eaton, who came here at that time. The following June Mr. Easton sold out his interest in
the Winona House to S. H. Lombard, a recent arrival, and moved upon his claim, where George I.
Parsons now lives. He is now a citizen of St. Paul. S. H. Lombard kept the Winona House a year
or two, when he lease or sold it. The building was burned in the big fire of 1862. Mr. Lombard is
yet a resident of Winona.
Mr. Murray built a dwelling on Fourth street, which is yet standing and is part of the
New England House. In 1854 he built a dwelling on lot 4, block 14, and also a building for a boot
and shoe shop on lot 5 of the same block, on the corner of Second and Lafayette streets, where
"Mues' Block" now stands. He carried on business here for two or three years with his brother,
W. H. Murray. His shoe-shop was afterward used for the post-office. None of Mr. Murray's
family are now residents of this part of the state.
Warren Rowell became a resident of this county in April, 1853. He landed on Wabasha
prairie and stayed there with his family for about a month. During that time he occupied a part of
the shanty built by Mr. Stevens the year before for Mr. Goddard. Late in the fall Mrs. Goddard
had built a house on the southeast corner of Franklin and Front streets, where she lived during the
Finding no better accommodations, Mr. Rowell fixed up a part of the Stevens shanty as a
place for his family to stay in for a few weeks, until he could select a location suitable for a farm.
The other end of the shanty (a long building) was used as a barn, or place for the storage of hay
and corn. This building was afterward burned by a prairie fire.
Mr. Rowell selected a claim next above Gorr's, in what is now Pleasant Valley, built a
log house, and moved there about the first of June. Some of the settlers from the prairie went out
and helped raise his cabin. The claim he made in the spring of 1853 he still occupies; it is the
farm where he now resides, and has been his home about thirty years. The claim shanty ~ the log
cabin of early days ~ has been superseded by more modern buildings. Large barns and
outbuildings have taken the place of the pole sheds covered with wild grass.
Mr. Rowell was among the earlier settlers in this county to locate on farming lands as a
home. By attentively minding his own business he has made farming a profitable business in the
valley where he lives.
In May, 1853, Dr. John L. Balcombe returned to Wabasha prairie from Illinois, where he
had spent the winter. When he left, in the fall previous, he sold out his interest here, including his
houses, to Edwin Hamilton, retaining his shanty on the acre given him by Johnson. During the
winter Ed. Hamilton had used his dwelling as a stable. When the doctor resumed possession he
found it more economical and agreeable to move the cabin to a new locality rather than attempt to
remove the refuse and renovate the building as it stood. He occupied this temporarily.
Not liking his location on the acre he had first selected, he abandoned it, and purchased
lot 3 in block 9 of Smith and Johnson, for which he paid twenty dollars.
The deed, a
quit-claim, was made September 29, 1853, and filed for record January 25, 1854. He had had
possession of the lot for two or three months previous, and built a house on it. This building
fronted toward the river, and was designed for a store. It was about 20 x 40, two stories high.
The front of the lower story was finished with large windows and folding doors. On the east side
of the building a lean-to was attached, about 12 x 24. Before it was completed Dr. Balcombe sold
this structure to Horace Ranney, but did not deliver possession of it until the spring of 1854. It
was afterward known as the "Ranney Building," and was used for quite a variety of purposes ~ as
a private dwelling, for offices, as a hotel, and lastly as a tenement house for several families. It
was burned in the fire of 1862.
Early in the summer of 1853 (July 11) Dr. Balcombe bought an undivided half of twenty
acres of the Beecher Gere claim, east of the eighty sold to A. M. Fridley, and of twenty acres west
of the Fridley claim. The other half of these two lots was purchased by Sanborn and Colburn. He
also made a claim on the upper prairie, where Charles Riley now lives. This he afterward
improved, and built the farmhouse now standing, which he occupied at the time of his death,
September 24, 1856. Although poor health prevented Dr. Balcombe from being prominent, he took
an active interest in the development of this part of the territory and in the political questions of his
day. M. Wheeler Sargent says, in his historical address, "Dr. John L. Balcombe was a man of the
most extended information of any among the early settlers, * * * one of the first
of our early citizens."
George H. Sanborn came into the county early in the spring of 1853 and settled on
Wabasha prairie. Soon after Wm. H. Colborn came on and joined him here. About the middle of
June these two young men opened the first store in the county, with a general assortment of goods.
For temporary occupancy, the "car-house" of Denman was moved to lot 5, block 10, and covered
with a shingled roof. They here commenced business as Sanborn & Colborn. During the summer
they built a store on the corner of the same lot, about 20 x 40, two stories high, and continued in
business until the spring of 1854, when Mr. Colborn withdrew and a new firm was formed,
consisting of G. H. Sanborn and M. K. Drew. E. L. King became a partner the same spring. They
carried on the business during that season and then sold their stock of goods to Dr. Childs, who
continued business for a short time in the same location. In 1855 Sanborn & King started in the
forwarding and commission and wholesale and retail grocery business at the foot of Johnson
Mr. Sanborn in 1856 built a very large three-story building on the river, at the foot of
Washington street, which was known as Sanborn's warehouse. The third story of this building was
used as a hall for public meetings. It was fitted up with a stage and scenery by the Philharmonic
Society soon after it was first organized, and used by them until they moved to their present
location. The building was torn down many years ago by the railroad company, into whose
possession the property passed.
Soon after he came here in 1853 Mr. Sanborn purchased the Viets claim and
subsequently had it surveyed and plotted. It is now known as Sanborn's addition. He built his first
residence on this claim in 1855, a small story-and-a-half house, on the corner of Lafayette and
Wabasha streets. It is yet standing, and forms a part of the present residence of J. L. Brink. Mr.
Sanborn was engaged in business for several years in Winona. About 1859 he closed up his
affairs here and went east to live. He is now in Northern Dakota, where it is reported that he has
made some fortunate speculations as a pioneer in that locality.
As an incident of early days, an adventure of Mr. Sanborn's, brought to the mind of the
writer, is thought worthy of notice. Mr. Sanborn was the owner of a pair of fine driving-horses.
One of those was a valuable horse, which he used as a saddle-horse. Although broken to harness,
he had nothing that he considered suitable to drive him in during the winter. Having business in St.
Paul; he adopted the idea of taking his horse with him and bringing back a stylish cutter. There
was not sufficient snow to drive up, and he proposed to ride his horse to St. Paul.
On the first of January, 1855, he started on his trip, taking along a new single-harness,
with blankets and a buffalo-skin, on which he proposed to ride, instead of a saddle, expecting to
reach Wabasha that day. He went up Straight slough on the ice. When he reached Haddock
slough, about where S. M. Burns lost his horses two years before, his horse broke through the ice,
which was thin at that place, and too Mr. Sanborn into the water with him. With some difficulty he
crawled out on the ice, which was brittle and gave way to his weight. He was within about twenty
rods of the shore, for which he was headed when the accident occurred.
The day was intensely cold, with a piercing wind, and a cold bath was far from
agreeable with the thermometer showing zero. His horse remained afloat and broke the ice in his
efforts to climb out after his master. Mr. Sanborn hastened to the shore and procured some logs of
wood and rocks, with which he broke the ice and opened a channel to where the water was less
than two feet deep. The intelligent animal followed him closely, but was unable to climb out on
the ice. He was chilled through by the length of time he had been in the water. Mr. Sanborn was
completely exhausted from the fatigue and cold, he having slipped in several times while breaking
Feeling benumbed and unable to do more for his horse, he started off for help. When he
reached Mr. Burley's, nearly a mile below, he was almost unconscious. His clothing was frozen
still and solid, and he was compelled to crawl on his hands and knees to reach the house. He was
taken care of, and men went up to help the horse, if he was not beyond help. They found him dead.
Mr. Sanborn had loosened the harness and blankets while the horse was in the deep water, and
they had floated away under the ice.
Mr. Sanborn recovered from his exposure with some frost-bites, but without any serious
illness following. He returned to Winona as soon as he was able to be moved, which was in a day
or two after, and sent to St. Paul for his cutter, which was brought down by the mail-carrier. His
second-best horse was promoted and became the pet.
William Davidson came into this county April 6, 1853. After Some time spent in
prospecting and explorations in the western part of the county, he selected a claim at the head of a
small branch of the White Water, in what is now the town of St. Charles, on Sec. 10, T. 106, R. 10.
He returned to Clayton county, Iowa, where his family were then living, and made his arrangement
to transport them with his household goods, farming implements and live stock, up through the
country to the location he had selected in Minnesota as his future home.
Mr. Davidson started with four yoke of oxen and three wagons; these, with his cows and
young stock, and a saddle-pony used to collect the cattle, made up quite an immigrant train. They
came into this county on the "old government trail," ~ the trail over which the Winnebagoes were
taken when removed from Iowa to Long Prairie in 1848, up through Money Creek valley and out
on the ridge near the head of Burns valley. They then went west, keeping on the high land to avoid
the ravines leading into the Rolling Stone, to Bentleya, now Utica, and reached their destination
about the first of June. They were eleven days making this trip of about 125 miles.
Mr. Davidson was the first settler to come into the county by the "overland route." He
immediately set his breaking team to work and put in a field of seed-corn and planted a garden.
He built a commodious log house, making a trip to Winona in the latter part of June for lumber to
complete it. Until their log house was ready for occupancy they lived in camp with but temporary
shelter. He raised a good crop of corn and vegetables the first season, sufficient for his own use.
The cornmeal used in his family was ground by hand in a large coffee-mill.
Mr. Davidson here opened up a large farm, and in early days was prominently active in
public affairs relative to the development of the county. He was county commissioner and held
other official positions. He is now a resident of the city of St. Charles.
L. H. Springer and Benjamin Langworthy landed on Wabasha prairie on May 31, 1853.
They brought with them their families and four yoke of oxen, three horses, eight cows and other
animals, and also two wagons. Mr. Laird gave them the use of his shanty for temporary occupancy
until they found satisfactory locations. They made claims on the White Water, and mover there
with their families about the middle of June.
L. H. Springer settled at what is now the village of St. Charles. He built a large,
substantial log house and comfortable stables, and opened up a farm in this locality. This log
house was used as a hotel for two or three years. "Springer's" was a favorite stopping place for
all who had business in that vicinity. These were the only settlers in the west part of the county in
In the fall of 1854 L. H. Springer, George H. Sanborn and M. Wheeler Sargent, laid out
the land claimed by Springer as a town site, and gave it the name of St. Charles. It was advertised
as being "on the N. E. 1/4 of Sec. 19, T. 106, R. 10, twenty-five miles west from Winona on the
south fork of the Meniska or White Water river in the midst of as good farming lands as can be
found anywhere." Mr. Springer was prominently active in all measures to promote the general
good. He, with William Davidson, was the first to open a wagon trail from St. Charles to Winona.
Mr. Springer lived at St. Charles for several years and then removed to Olmsted county, where he
Alexander McClintock came into the county this season and settled on a claim in the
south Rolling Stone valley, above Putnams. He built a log house, and pre-empted this as a
homestead after, and lived here with his family for several years, until his death. None of his
family are now residents of the county.
Henry D. Huff landed on Wabasha prairie Sunday, June 26, 1853. He stopped at the
Winona House, then kept by E. H. Murray. It was supposed at the time that he came to assume
charge of Capt. Smith's interest in the town, which his son, S. J. Smith, was then here looking after.
He purchased an undivided interest in the original town plot of Smith and Johnson, and later in the
season also purchased the claim of Ed. Hamilton ~ claim No. 5. Hamilton had previously sold
undivided interests to others; Mark Howard held a third; David Olmsted and Orlando Stevens held
an interest. Through an arrangement with Hamilton and the others the whole claim was transferred
to Mr. Huff, who at once had it surveyed and plotted, and recorded with the plot of Smith and
Johnson's claim as the "original plot" of the city of Winona.
Mr. Huff built the cottage now occupied by Lafayett Stout, near the corner of Fourth and
Huff streets, and brought his family here. He lived in this cottage for several years, when he built
the house on the same corner now owned and occupied by Hon. H. W. Lamberton, in which he
resided until he left Minnesota. From the first of his coming here he was prominently active in all
Mr. Huff had been in mercantile business in Kenosha, and a dealer in real estate, before coming
here. He had prior to that passed some years of pioneer life in Wisconsin and Illinois, and was
familiar with early settlements in towns and country. His experience, with his natural sagacity and
enterprise and his indomitable will power, made him a leader in all public matters or affairs in
which others were associated with him. His interests were intimately connected with the
development and prosperity of the county and city of Winona. There was no one among the
pioneer settlers who accomplished so much by his individual efforts to build up the city of Winona
as Henry D. Huff. To him more than to any other person this city is justly indebted for its early
prosperity and many of its present advantages. It was by him that the name of Winona was
substituted for that of Montezuma. It was through his efforts that Fillmore county was divided and
Winona county created with the county seat at the village of Winona.
Mr. Huff started the second newspaper in Winona ~ the first was the "Winona Argus," edited by
Wm. Ashley Jones. The first issue was September 20, 1854. In April, 1855, Mr. Huff issued the
first number of the "Winona Express," edited by W. Creek. In November, 1855, Mr. Huff sold the
establishment to W. G. Dye & Co., who started the "Winona Republican." Soon after D. Sinclair
became connected with it, and the paper has since been continuously issued under that name by D.
Sinclair & Co. with the addition of a daily paper.
Huff's Hotel was built by Mr. Huff in 1855. In 1857 he built a large flouring-mill near Youmans
Bros. & Hodgins' sawmill. It was built at a cost of about $25,000, and was burned a few years
after. He was one of the stockholders in the original Transit Railroad Company.
Mr. Huff sold out the most of his property here about ten years ago and went to Chicago.
The time set by Judge A. G. Chatfield for holding the first session of a district court in what was
then Fillmore county was at Wabasha prairie, on Monday, June 27, 1853, but the judge failed to
reach Winona on that day. On Tuesday, June 28, he arrived with quite a large party of ladies and
gentlemen from St. Paul, among whom were two attorneys, L. A. Babcock and H. L. Moss. He
opened court in the Winona House. Wm. B. Gere was appointed clerk of the court. The petit jury
was dismissed. The grand jury was organized and held a sitting on that day. On Wednesday, June
29, the grand jury made a presentment in the case of Erwin H. Johnson, for the shooting of Isaac W.
Simonds, and indicted S. M. Burns, of Mt. Vernon (Hall's landing) for selling liquor to the Indians.
They were dismissed at noon on that day and the court adjourned. This was the first district court
held in southern Minnesota. In the afternoon Judge Chatfield, with the party from St. Paul, visited
Minnesota City and the valley of the Rolling Stone.
John Iams was the sheriff in attendance on the court. It is said that the sheriff brought his dinner
with him from home each day. On the first day, as he approached the crowd assembled around the
Winona House, he was greeted by W. T. Luark, who, with a laugh of ridicule, cried out, "Here
comes the great high sheriff of Fillmore county with his dinner pail on his arm!" At noon the same
crowd saw the sheriff and Mr. Luark sitting on the bank of the river eating their dinner from the
dinner-bucket of the sheriff, and washing it down with river water.
Grove W. Willis came to Wabasha prairie about the first of July of this year. Before coming here
he had been promised the position of clerk of the court by Judge Chatfield, but on account of his
failure to arrive in time to attend to the duties of the office, the Judge was compelled to appoint
Wm. B. Gere to the place. When Judge Chatfield was notified that Mr. Willis was at Winona
awaiting his order, he revoked the appointment of Gere and gave the position to Mr. Willis, who
was appointed clerk of the district court about the 7th of July.
Mr. Willis brought his family here and rented the building on Front street built by Dr. Balcombe
(the Ranney building), where he lived during the winter. He used the lean-to of the building as his
office. The same room was also used as a schoolroom for a select school kept by his daughter,
now Mr. Gillett, living in the village of Chatfield. This school is really entitled to be called the
first fully established school taught in Winona. It was kept three or four months with about twenty-
Mr. Willis lived at Winona during the winter and moved to Chatfield in the spring of 1854. About
ten or twelve years ago he returned to Winona, and has since made it his home.
John Keyes came to Winona on September 12, 1853. He landed with his wife and two children at
Hamilton's, on the lower end of the prairie. He bought an undivided one-eighth of H. S.
Hamilton's claim, and lived in a part of his house during the winter and following summer. While
living here he procured timber and lumber to build a house on the upper part of the claim next
below where the Hubbards built their houses. The following season he became dissatisfied with
his investment with Mr. Hamilton, and having an opportunity purchased the interest of Captain
Smith in claim No. 1, the lower claim. The claim had been divided between Smith and Johnson,
Johnson taking the west part, leaving the eastern portion for Captain Smith.
Mr. Keyes at once put up a shanty and took possession. He moved his family there about
September 1, 1854, and the same fall built the house in which he lived nearly a score of years
before he built the brick house (to which the old one is attached) where his family now resides.
John Keyes died in November, 1877. Mr. Keyes was a lawyer by profession, and held his office
in his house when he commenced business here. In the fall of 1855 he was appointed clerk in the
United States land office by L. D. Smith, the receiver, and continued in that position until the spring
of 1857, after the land office was removed to Faribault. He then resumed the practice of law. His
office was in a small building on the levee near the Winona House, owned and occupied by John
A. Mathews as a real estate and loan office. In 1862 this office was burned. He was afterward
one of the firm of Sargent, Franklin & Keyes, and at the time of his death one of the law firm of
Keyes & Snow.
From an early day Mr. Keyes took a great interest in the public schools of the city of Winona. He
was a director and clerk of the board from the time the first district school was opened until long
after the present system was established. The city of Winona is more indebted to John Keyes for
its present system of graded schools than to any other one person among the pioneer settlers or
citizens of more modern days.
M. Wheeler Sargent came to Winona in this year. His arrival, given in his address, from which
quotations have been made, is mentioned as follows: "I first saw this county August 1, 1853,
carrying a chain northward between towns* 105 of ranges 8 and 9. The first house I saw was that
of Wm. Davidson, August 11. Town 105 of ranges 7, 8, 9 and 10 had no occupants. Town 106, of
the same ranges, had no inhabitants except L. H. Springer, Wm. Davidson and families, in 106,
range 10 and Hull and Bently in range 9.
"Town 107, range 9, had Wm. Sweet and family ~ 107, range 10, none ~ 108, range 10, had John
and David Cook. The other settlers of our county were on the Mississippi, or in the immediate
valleys of some of its tributaries.
"On the 19th of September of that year the speaker first saw this prairie, coming in from the
Gilmore valley. Fancy he made something of a spread that night, for, with a half-dozen others, he
slept at full length on the ground, between his present office and the Mississippi, with his hat for a
nightcap and boots for a pillow. His toilet* he prefers giving in an autobiography when called for;
it is not particularly allied to the history of this county."
*bath or grooming
When Mr. Sargent came into this county he was in the employ of Wm. Ashley Jones, who was
engaged in surveying the public lands in this part of the territory. On reaching Wabasha prairie he
decided to locate there and establish himself in the practice of his profession as a lawyer. He was
appointed district attorney before the county of Fillmore was divided, and after Winona county
was created he was elected register of deeds and appointed clerk of the district court. He was the
first mayor of the city of Winona; he was also a member of the legislature from this county. When
he first came here he began the practice of law by himself; in 1855 he was of the law firm of
Sargent, Wilson & Windom, and at the time of his death, which occurred in 1866, he was one of
the firm of Sargent, Franklin & Keyes.
More extended notices of these two prominent pioneer settlers (John Keyes and M. Wheeler
Sargent) would be made if it were not that their biographical sketches will be given under another
division of this history.
End of Chapter
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