Pursuant to agreement, the commissioners of Fillmore county, Minnesota Territory, on December 19, A.D. 1853, at the residence of Mr. Case, in Root River precinct, in the town of Chatfield ~ present Henry C. Gere and Myron Toms. The object of said meeting was to locate the county seat of said Fillmore county, pursuant to the statute in such case made and provided. It was then and there resolved that the county seat should be located at Chatfield, in the center of section 6, town 104 north, of range 11 west. Then the commissioners adjourned, to meet at the residence of W. B. Bunnell, in Minneowah, on Tuesday, December 17, A.D., 1853.
G. W. Willis,
Clerk County Commissioners, pro tem.
The commissioners Gere and Toms met at Bunnell's on the 27th of December, 1853, and appointed C. F. Buck clerk of the board. They here audited the accounts of county officers presented, and issued county orders to the amount of $411.47. This was the last meeting of this board of commissioners.
At the time, the county seat of Fillmore county was located at what is now Chatfield. The nearest settler was at Springer's, now St. Charles. There was not even a claim shanty within ten miles of the log pen designated as "the residence of Mr. Case." It was then considered uncertain whether the county seat was located whithin the western boundary of Fillmore county.
It was estimated that on January 1, 1854, there were about 800 inhabitants within the present boundaries of Winona county. This is thought to be a liveral estimate and probably a large excess over actual numbers.
The board of county commissioners of Fillmore county elected October 11, 1853, met at the house of Robert Pike, Jr., in Minnesota City January 2, 1854. Robert Pike, Jr., John C. Laird, and W. B. Bunnell were present. The register of deeds, W. B. Gere, clerk of the board, was also present. The board was organized by electing W. B. Bunnell chairman. This session of the board continued two days. It is evident from the records that considerable business was done.
The following extract was copied from the record: "The board then proceeded to ballot for the location of the county seat, which resulted in one vote for Winona, one vote for Chatfield and one vote for Minnesota City. As the board could not agree upon the location, they decided that the locating should be postponed until a future meeting."
Aside from the stock company, the shareholders, there was not a settler in the county that favored the location of the county seat at Chatfield. Meetings were held at Minnesota City, Winona and Minneowah condemning the action of the appointed board, but each locality instructed its representative commissioner to locate the county seat at his own home or place, and under no circumstances to give it to a rival town.
Mr. Sinclair says in his historical sketch in 1876: "At these meetings the commissioner from Minnesota City, Mr. Pike, was instructed by his constituents to vote for the location of the county seat at that place, and in no event at Winona; but if it became necessary for him to exercise discretionary power in making a second choice, to vote in favor of Chatfield. The reason is obvious: the location at Chatfield, upon the division of the county, would give Minnesota City another chance, whereas locating the county seat at Winona would forever debar Minnesota City from securing the coveted prize. The same reasoning led Bunnell, from his standpoint, to operate in like manner in favor of that other rival of Winona, the much-vaunted Minneowah."
While each of the rival localities was clamorous for the county seat, without a prospect of either securing it, there were conservative men in each locality who favored a division of the county rather than have the county seat located at Chatfield, as indications showed it would be. This was most strongly advocated at Winona. H. D. Huff assumed the leadership of this scheme for the purpose of securing the county seat at his town. It was found that Mr. Lord, the representative in the territorial legislature from this district, although a resident of Minnesota City, was in favor of a division of Fillmore county, and promised his aid. He gave Hr. Huff what he considered the proper boundaries for a new county ~ the same that are now the boundaries of Winona county.
Every means available was brought to bear to induce commissioners Bunnell and Pike to cast their vote for Winona. Friendship and diplomacy failed to win the desired vote. There was no compromise with Bunnell. It was said that a bribe of a block of land was offered to Robert Pike, Jr., from two prominent citizens of Winona, in consideration of his vote, which he indignantly refused to accept.
On January 7 the board met at the office of John C. Laird and accomplished considerable business, but failed to settle the county seat question. The following extract from record shows the financial condition of the county: "There being no receipts, the liabilities of the county at this date, by reference to the bills on file, is $536.86."
M. Wheeler Sargent says in his address: "L. H. Springer and myself met H. D. Huff at his residence, where we agreed upon the outlines of a new county, to be called Winona, with exactly its present boundaries. Huff, having the most time and money, agreed to engineer it through the legislature. Upon this mission, armed with a petition having as many names as we thought the population would justify, and the other documents adapted to various supposable emergencies, he started for St. Paul.
On January 30, 1854, the board of county commissioners, pursuant to adjournment, met at the house of Robert Pike, Jr., in Minnesota City, at which meeting Robert Pike, Jr., John C. Laird and W. B. Bunnel, the chairman, were present. The register of deeds, W. B. Gere, was clerk of the board. At this meeting vacancies were filled by the following appointments: M. Wheeler Sargent, district attorney, and C. F. Buck, judge of probate. The clerk was ordered to notify them of their appointments. Robert Pike, Jr., had been appointed county surveyor at a previous meeting.
The all-absorbing topic of conversation, the vexed question of location of the county seat, was settled at this meeting. The following copy of the record of their proceedings shows their action in the matter: "In pursuance of and in accordance with the eighteenth section of the eleventh chapter of the session laws of Minnesota Territory, passed by the legislative assembly at the session commencing January 5, A.D. 1853, the county commissioners proceeded to locate the county seat of Fillmore county. It was decided by the board of commissioners that the county seat of said Fillmore county should be at Chatfield, in said county, on section 6, township 104 north, of range 11 west."
It was charged by some of the disappointed Winonians that John C. Laird sold out his constituents for a share in Chatfield. G. W. Willis, now living in the city of Winona, says this was not so; that Mr. Laird never held a share in the Chatfield Land Company. Although Mr. Twiford was the originator, Mr. Willis was the leader and manager, of the scheme to locate the county seat at Chatfield. He says: "Bunnell and Pike located the county seat ~ a majority of the board could do it. I never knew that Laird voted for it, and doubt that he did so, for he always opposed us. None of the commissioners were bribed to vote for it, although everything else was done to influence them. Bunnell and Pike would have voted for Tophet rather than have given it to Winona."
Mr. G. W. Willis went to St. Paul to procure a charter for the Chatfield Land Company, and to defeat the proposed division of the county. He was successful in securing the charter for the company from the legislature, then in session, but his influence there was insufficient to prevent the passage of the act creating Winona county.
The bill for the division of Fillmore county and forming of the present county of Winona was introduced and supported by Hon. O. M. Lord, in the house. He was strongly backed by H. D. Huff as a lobby member and general manager. Winona county was created by act of the territorial legislature February 23, 1854.
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