Mower County History

Mower County-situated in the extreme south part of the state, sixty miles from the Mississippi River, and including towns 101, 102, 103, of ranges 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, towns 103 and 104 of ranges 16, 17 and 18, and all of towns 103 and 104 of ranges 14 and 15, except sections 1 to 6, inclusive, west of the 5th principal meridian-is bounded on the north by Olmsted and Dodge Counties, on the west by Freeborn County, on the south by Mitchell and Howard Counties (Iowa), and on the east by Fillmore County. Until the year 1853, the county was included within the limits of what was then Dakota and Wabasha Counties; these two counties embraced all the territory- lying south of town 115, and as far west as the Missouri River. The boundary line between the two counties runs about one mile west of where Austin now stands.

These counties were divided into twelve smaller ones, and Mower County was Included within the limits of Rice County.

In February 1855, the limits of Mower County were defined by the Legislature, and on the 1st of March 1856, the county was organized and named in honor of John E. Mower, an early settler.

May 22, 1857, through the machinations of J. M. Berry, member of the Legislature, sections 1 to 6, inclusive, in town 104, of ranges 14 and 15, were cut off from Mower County and annexed to Olmsted County.

In 1853, the county was laid out into townships, and sectionized.

The county has an area of 708 square miles, or 453,120 acres. The surface is a gently undulating broken prairie, with a soil of sand loam. Timber grows sparsely along the streams, the principal of which are, the Cedar River, Iowa River, and Root River. Into these rivers flow numerous smaller streams, so that the county is well watered. Perhaps there is no county in the state that has as much cultivable land in proportion to the size as Mower County. There are very few lakes-none of any size; and but very little swampland, so common to Minnesota.

Good building stone is found in different parts of the county in great abundance.

There are about eighty-six miles of railroad in the county. The Southern Minnesota Road runs through the central part, east and west; the Milwaukee and St. Paul Road enters the county- at the northwest corner, and runs S.S.E. to Austin, and thence E.S.E., leaving the county at Le Roy Station; and the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Road runs from Austin S.S.E., leaving the county at Lyle.

The early history of Mower County, like that of most other counties, is very uncertain in many particulars, from the fact that no record of many events was ever kept, the historian being obliged to trust to the (in many instances good) memory of the older settlers who are still living, in order to collect the facts.

The first permanent settlers in the county were: Hunter Clark, John Tiff, A. B. Vaughan, Chauncey Leverich, Austin Nichols, and others, in 1853. The first entries of land were made as follows: C. Leverich, the S. W. of the N. W. of Sec. 2, T. 103, R. 18, W. 5 P.M.; V. P. Lewis, Sec. 14, T. 103, R. 18; and J. B. Yates, the S. W. X of Sec. 11, T. 103, R. 18, W. all on the 14th day of September, 1855. In the fall of 1852, claims were taken by some hunters and trappers from Iowa; but they left in the winter. The first house built in the county was a log cabin, erected by Hunter Clarke, in the fall of 1853, on section 34, about 3/4 of a mile from where Austin now stands. In the autumn of 1853, many settlements were made on the Cedar River, Deer Creek, and on the Iowa River. At the close of the year 1853, there were less than twenty families, and less than 100 bushels of grain had been raised in the county. The settlers lived on wild game, with the exception of a few who had money, and got their supplies from Iowa, but the Winter of 1853-4 was very mild, and wild game, principally deer and elk, could be obtained in abundance without any effort.

In 1854, a few settlers came from Wisconsin; John Robinson settled where High Forest now stands; A. B. Vaughan at Lansing, and a Norwegian, whose name is not remembered, at Brownsdale.

John Robinson had built him a cabin, and into this building, probably not larger than 12x14 feet, four families moved and lived with him until they could build houses for themselves.

Thus far, everything had moved along without accident or incident worthy of note. In July of this year, there was a heavy rainstorm, and Root River, swollen by the rain, overflowed its' banks and deluged the surrounding country. It came about three o'clock in the morning, and so suddenly that the settlers had barely time to save their lives, which they did by wading through the water, in many places up to their waists, and carrying their children to dry land. They lost nearly all their household goods, which, at that time, it was almost an impossibility to replace. At the end of a few days, the settlers, who had been living in a cellar, returned to their desolated cabins. As an evidence of the suddenness of the storm, it may be in taste to remark that C. F. Johnson, afterwards proprietor of the Johnson House, did not have time to secure his pantaloons, and they were born away by the turbulent flood-the only pair he possessed at the time.

During this year (1854), the government made a land grant of six townships, lying in the central part of the county, to the Northwestern Railroad Company; but they did not fulfil the conditions of the grant, and the title reverted to the government, and the land passed into the hands of private speculators. As late as 1856, there was but one settler in the six townships A. D. Frayer.

It was not until 1855, that the population of the county began to assume proportions of any magnitude. During this year, emigrants poured in so rapidly from the other states that, by the beginning of the next year, the county contained about 500 inhabitants; and at the end of another year, there were 600. With this great influx of settlers, towns became necessary, and Austin, High Forest, Frankford, LeRoy, Hamilton and Brownsdale sprang into existence in rapid succession. Many of the lots were sold before the towns were platted, thus laying the vendors liable to a fine of $25.

Mower, Fillmore and Rice Counties had been united, for convenience, into one council district. Many of the settlers, supposing them to constitute a judicial district, had their deeds recorded in Houston County instead of at Red Wing, in Goodhue County, as they should have done. The first deed for the conveyance of real estate is still on file at the Register's office in Red Wing.

In June 1856, as shown by the first assessor's report, there was $538,000 worth of taxable property in the county. The tax amounted to $4,032. Over half of this amount was returned as delinquent, and from $400 to $600 could not be accounted for by the sheriff, Mr. Sherman, who acted as collector. One hundred and twenty-seven miles of county roads established, together with other expenditures, left the young county involved in debt., and unable to meet her liabilities. The next year, however, a larger tax was levied and collected, all the debts were paid, all the former records of taxes were cancelled by the new board of commissioners-Bemis, Blodgett and Spencer and the county- began her financial career again. In 1857, there was more than $1,000,000 worth of taxable property- in the county, and in 1859, it amounted to $3,000,000. The assessment for 1874 is: real estate, $3,936,030; personal property, $1,012,277.

The Winter of 1856-7 was long and very cold, with frequent storms and heavy- falls of snow. Two persons-a Mr. Taylor, of Brownsdale, and a man from Indiana whose name is not known-were frozen to death, and found by A. E. Howard, of Brownsdale. Mr. Taylor, when last seen alive, was about a quarter of a mile from his house, and when found, was about fifteen miles distant, standing erect in a snowdrift, with his cane in his hand-a frozen corpse!

Politically, Mower County has not been behind her sister counties in the amount of enthusiasm and interest taken in politics, and so great was the excitement at one time that it was feared by many- that it would result in the shedding of blood. Ever since the organization the county has been divided into two factions, the East Side, with Frankford for its center, and the West Side, with Austin for its center. This division was caused by a strip of bare prairie running north and south through the central part of the county, separating the timbered portions of the county, where the settlements were, from each other.

Ever since the organization of the county the "bone of contention" had been the county seat. The county was entitled to one member of the Legislature, and his election took place in October 1855, the first that was held in the county. The polls at High Forest were located under an oak tree; a board with the ends placed on two barrels served the judge for a desk. The East Side nominated W. B. Covell, a Democrat, and the West Side A. B. Vaughan, a Republican; 97 votes were polled; Vaughan received a majority, and obtained a certificate of election from the judges, and applied at the House for his seat. In the meantime Covell had made the returns of the elections to the register of deeds, In Houston County, and from him received his certificate of election, preceded at once to the House, and was duly installed as the first member of the Legislature from Mower.

The first Board of Commissioners appointed were Phillip Howell, George White and William Russell. The first Monday In April, 1856, the commissioners, with the exception of Russell who could not attend, his place being filled by T. H. Armstrong, met at the log store of David Frazier, in Frankford, and located the county seat at that town, although no record was ever made of their action. They appointed Timothy B. Chapman register of deeds; G. D. Sherman, sheriff; S. Patchin, treasurer; M. K. Armstrong, county surveyor; C. J. Feleb, judge of probate; and Sylvester Smith, T. H. Armstrong, and D. Frazier, justices of the peace. They also divided the county into three precincts, as follows: Austin included ranges 17 and 18, towns 101, 102, 103, and 104, with Mr. Mason as assessor; High Forest included ranges 14, 15, and 16, of town 104, with Mr. Robinson as assessor; and Frankford the remainder of the county, with Mr. Hunt for assessor. Each precinct had one constable, and all the officers were to hold their positions until January- of the next year-1857. The first general election held in the county occurred October 14, 1856. Two local tickets, without regard to party, were put in nomination. On the West Side the People's Ticket, with J. TH. Berry for representative; R. L. Kimball, register of deeds; J. B. Yates, sheriff; S. P. Bacon, treasurer; N. P. Todd, surveyor; W. B. Spencer, of Le Roy-, G. H. Bemis, and H. C. Blodgett, county- commissioners; A. B. Vaughan, judge of probate, and Dr. O. Allen, for coroner.

On the East Side the Union Ticket was nominated, with T. H. Armstrong for representative; W. B. Covell, for register of deeds; J. S. Pierson, sheriff; G. P. Covell, treasurer; M. K. Armstrong, surveyor; William Spencer, of Le Roy, C. F. Hardy, and N. Goodsell, county commissioners; C. J. Fetch, judge of probate, and J. Pierce, coroner.

The People's Ticket was elected with a majority- of 46 votes out of 374 votes polled, with the exception of Mr. Todd, who was defeated by 71 votes. Heretofore the East Side had had all except three minor officers, but in this election the West Side gained the balance of power.

The first question of any importance that came before the newly elected board of commissioners was the question of the removal of the County Seat from Frankford to Austin. The one argument in favor of the proposed change was, that it would be easier to remove the County Seat to Austin than it would be for the newly elected officers to go to Frankford every time they wished to transact any business.

When it was located at Frankford by the first board of commissioners it was declared by them that it could be removed only by a vote of the people. Two of the commissioners favored the proposed change, but Spencer opposed it. The two that favored it finally resolved to take the responsibility upon themselves and move the County Seat to Austin. As the county had erected no buildings, the records and little tin box that contained them, constituted the County Seat, and wherever these were there it was also.

About noon Sheriff Yates and Vaughan, with the little tin box on which the future of Frankford and Austin so largely depended, in their sleigh, drove for Austin. That night they stopped at the Tattersall House in High Forest. The landlord took the box and hid it, with instructions to deliver it to no one but Yates or Vaughan. In a short time Sheriff Sherman (Yates was not yet qualified) with a posse of men from Frankford, arrived and arrested Yates, Vaughan, and Bemis for grand larceny. He then posted guards around the hotel and went to obtain a search warrant, as the landlord would not give up the box. While he was gone Yates made a bargain with a man that for $20, $5 cash, he was to get the box from under the landlord's bed, where it had been hidden, and at a signal from Yates (he was to pass out of the front door) the man was to take it out of doors and hide it. The evening being chilly, Yates soon induced the guards to come in and take a drink. After a short time they got convivial, and thinking that as long as they- kept their eye on Yates the box was safe, they did not go out again. Yates then passed out of the front door (the signal agreed upon) and down into the timber; the guards followed him, but he eluded them and soon returned and saw his man just hiding the box. Yates then took the box and hid it under the snow and threw some rails over it, where it remained three or four days. It was then secreted in Kimball's hardware store, and while the officers were searching the building with a warrant, the box was covered with a shawl and carried through the crowd and hid out of doors.

In the meantime the trial was proceeding at Frankford. Armstrong, Morse and Willis appeared for the prosecution, and Jones and Ripley for the defense.

The citizens of the West Side having heard of the arrest, proceeded at once to Frankford to liberate the prisoners. Those from the East Side came into town in large numbers to prevent any trouble, and ready for war if necessary. Nearly all were armed; some with knives and revolvers, and a few with guns. For a long time a collision was feared; at night guards were placed over the prisoners to prevent their liberation. But all passed over without the shedding of blood, and with the exception of a false alarm that caused no little consternation among about fifteen persons that were sleeping in Levi Patchin's old log hotel, the examination proceeded without further trouble. Yates and Bemis were bound over in the sum of $3,000 to appear at the next term of the Fillmore County Court.

The plea on which the taking of the records was based was the fact the first board had made no record of the act locating the County- Seat at Frankford, as was required by law.

During the trial the defendants offered to return the County Seat and pay all the costs if their accusers would release them; but like Shylock, the accusers would not do that, they must have their "pound of flesh," and like him, they lost their "pound of flesh" and the terms that were offered to compromise the matter, for before the next session of court convened in Fillmore County, before which Yates and Bemis were to appear, the location of the County Seat at Austin was decided by a vote of the people June 1, 1857. So Frankford lost the County Seat for all time to come, and the prosecution gave up their case.

In 1857 there were 755 votes polled, not including High Forest, which had been removed to Olmsted County. In 1859 there were but 670 polled.

In 1859 the population of the county, numbered 3,700, 400 of whom were Norwegians, 200 Irish, and 50 Germans. At the present writing the population is about 14,000, about one-fourth of whom are Scandinavians.

The County Poor House and Farm is located at Le Roy.

The first school in the county was taught by Sarah Bemis, in a board shanty at Austin, in 1856. The first lawsuit was between M. McCarthy and William Tubbs, before Esquire Armstrong, to settle a claim dispute. The first marriage was that of Caleb Stock to a Miss Watkins, by Sylvester Smith, in 1856. The first birth was that of Austin Bemis, son of George Bemis, in 1855. The first death was that of Mary Robinson, aged two years, in 1855. The first person murdered was Chauncy Leverich, of Austin, by two men by the names of Silvers and Oliver, in 1856. Leverich had just opened a saloon, and Silvers and Oliver becoming intoxicated and noisy, were ordered out. They went into the street and dared him to come out; just as he stepped out of the door Silvers struck him with a steel wagon spring, and he died about one week after that time. Silvers and Oliver were arrested, the former fined $2,000, and the latter $1,000 and costs. The first suicide committed was by a German blacksmith, in Le Roy, in 1856; his Intended wife married another man and he shot himself with a rifle. The first church in the county was built at Frankford. The first sermon preached was by the Rev. Stephen Cook, in the bar-room of Leverich's Hotel at Austin. The first county superintendent of schools was Mr. Tollman.

AUSTIN. On the 17th day- of April, 1856, at 5 o'clock P.M,, J. B. Yates and V. Y. Lewis appeared at the office of the Register of Deeds, and had a plat of Austin, Mower County, Minnesota, recorded. At 7 o'clock P.M., on the same day, W. Mason, C. Leverich, and A. B. Vaughan, also appeared, and had a plat of Austin, Mower County, Minnesota, recorded, both of which are on record now, and both of which are on section 3, 7, 102, range 18, west of the 5th principal meridian. The original claim on which the city is located belonged to Austin Nichols, after whom the town was named. He entered the claim in 1853, and in 1855 sold it to Chauncey Leverich.

At the time these plats were recorded there were thirteen houses in Austin. The first frame house was erected by C. Leverich in 1855. He built a saw-mill and sawed his own lumber, with which to erect the building. The first store was built by A. B. Vaughan.

The location of the county seat at this place, early gave it a decided advantage over the other towns in the county, and since that time it has grown rapidly until it has reached a population of about 3,5001nhabitants.

There are now in the town nine churches, as follows: Methodist, Baptist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Universalist, Catholic. Scandinavian, and Mission Church. An excellent brick school building has been erected by the city at a cost of $40,000. Seven teachers are employed, with an average daily attendance of about 300 pupils. A public reading room and library has been established.

Newspapers. -In the Autumn of 1858, the Mower County Mirror was established by David Blakely, now- editor of the St. Paul Pioneer. He continued its publication for about one year, and it then passed into the hands of R. K. Crum. At the end of another year Mr. Blakely again took the paper and removed it to Rochester. About four months later, B. F. Jones, assisted by the directors of what was then the McGregor and Mankato Railroad Company, (now the Iowa Division of the Milwaukee and St. Paul,) began the publication of the Minnesota Courier. The object of the paper was to attract settlers to Austin, and by so doing make it a central point. The publication of this paper was continued under the management of Mr. Jones the company having failed some time before-until January, 1862, when he raised a company and entered the army as captain. In July 1863, H. R. Davidson began the publication of the Mower County Register. He continued its publication until his death, which occurred about one year from the time of the first issue. The paper was then published by Charles H. Davidson; his brother. In 1869, August 7, H. O. Basford entered into partnership with Mr. Davidson, since which time it has been published by- them. June 29, 1871, the name was changed to Austin Register, and now, with a circulation of 1,000, it is the leading paper in the county.

The Mower County Transcript was established by the Colwell Brothers, with A. J. Burbank as editor, at Lansing, April 16, 1868. July 23, of the same year, Mr. Burbank retired from the editorial chair, and In 1868, December 17, the office was moved to Austin. April 1, 1869, A. N. Colwell, the senior brother, retired, and Henry R. Boardman became his successor. July 22, 1869, both Colwell and Boardman retired, and until September 30, 1869, the paper was managed by unseen forces, as no editor's, publisher's, or proprietor's name appears on the copies now on file. George W. Wright was the next to take control, and November 25, 1869, he sold out to George H. Otis. March 2, 1871, he took Col. C. A. Lounsbury, now editor of the Bismarck Tribune, into partnership with him; be remained with Mr. Otis until May 25, 1871; and September 14, of the same year, A. A. Harwood, the present editor, bought Otis out. It how has a circulation of about 625 copies.

August 26, 1874, The Independent, with B. F. Jones, formerly editor of the Minnesota Courier, as editor and publisher, and G. W. Haislet, proprietor, was commenced. Although only four numbers have been issued, yet it has a subscription list of fifty names.

BROWNSDALE. This place is situated on the Southern Minnesota Railroad, in township 103, range 16 west. It is a flourishing town, with a population of about 300. It was laid out in 1857 by A. D. Brown, H. A. Brown, and J. L. Johnson. It contains three churches.

GRAND MEADOW Is situated in township 103, range 15 west, on the Southern Minnesota Railroad. It was laid out in 1871 by C. G. Wyckoff, H. W. Holly, J. C. Easton, and J. H. Hall. It contains about 300 inhabitants.

FRANKFORD, Situated on the Southern Minnesota Railroad, township 103, range 14 west, was at one time the rival of Austin. It was laid out in 1856, by J. Oleson. It contains 100 inhabitants.

HAMILTON is situated in township 104, on the boundary line between Fillmore and Mower Counties. It was laid out in 1856 by William Camfield.

LANSING, situated on the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, in township 103, range 18 west. Was laid out in 1860 by Hepzibeth Vaughan.

RAMSEY is situated at the junction of the Milwaukee and St. Paul and Southern Minnesota Railroads.

LYLE, situated in the extreme south part of the county, on the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railroad. Was laid out in 1870 by S. Chamberlain and Mabella Chamberlain.

LE ROY was laid out in 1857, by D. Caswell, L. Matthews, and A. Palmer. It is situated about half a mile from the Milwaukee and St. Paul Road, in the southeast corner of the county.

LE ROY STATION is situated in the southeastern part of the county, on the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. It was laid out in 1887, by J. H. McAivin, P. M. Glathart, and Orlando McCraney.

DEXTER was laid out in 1864, by A. J. Fleck and Charles Perkins.

ADAMS, situated on the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, in the southern part of he county, was laid out in 1868 by S. Chamberlain.

Nevada, Troy City, Two Rivers, and Madison, were all laid out at an early day-, but were never settled.

From An Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Minnesota Published by A.T. Andreas 1874

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