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The History of Renville County, Volume 2
Compiled by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge
Doubtless there are among the younger generations of the present day many who have little realization of the trials, dangers and privations endured by the early pioneers who hewed their way through the primeval forests, tilled the soil with their crude home-made implements, organized townships and counties, and by their sacrifices and denial made possible the enjoyment of the many advantages to be found in these modern times. It is the old settlers who are still with us who can realize fully the great contrast between the early days when the people were jolted over scarcely defined trails seated on a plank placed across the sides of a rough cart drawn by oxen, and the present day when the people in palatial automobiles traverse smoothly kept roads, surrouded by the lavish beauties that Nature has spread in the Minnesota valley and the comforts and luxuries of one of the best agricultural counties in the whole state.
I was born in Brown county, this state, April 5, 1859. Looking back over the years since my father and brother Fred were hauling freight with ox teams in 1859 between Ft. Ridgely and Ft. Abercrombie over a blazed trail, the changes which have taken place seem truly marvelous. In that year on one of their trips they came upon a party of government surveyors who had pitched their tents on the bank of Beaver creek on the site of what is now known as the John Storch farm, and learned they were making a survey of Beaver Falls township. In the fall of the year 1860 my parents moved to that township and settled in section 14, in the locality at that time known as Beaver Creek settlement. At this time our family consisted of my father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Diedrich Wichmann, and for sons, Cosmos Fred, Diedrich H., Henry J. and William, and two daughters, Dorothy and Fredericke. On arriving at the homestead a rude house was erected and a barn put up with poles and a thatched roof made of wild hay. These buildings came near being destroyed the following year by prairie fire, but an old Indian known as "Schimmel Father" (from the fact of his old age and habit of riding a white horse) came along on horseback, and dipping his blanket in a tub of water mother had at the house, fought the fire, saved the house as well as a hay stack near by and the straw barn.
My brother, John C. Wichman, born here August 14, 1861, was probably the first white child born in the county. Little did the family think that day that soon we must fly to save our lives from massacre and pillage and from fires set to destroy settlers' homes. The Indians had, during the previous winter, camped in the woods back of our home, and during the periods when heavy snows covered the ground came to the house for such supplies as we could furnish them. That the snowfalls there were heavy was for years proven by a large oak stump, the dead trunk from which father had cut for wood. The stump was cut off even with the top of the snow and stood about five feet above the ground. Through this snow it was necessary for the ox team to wallow to drag the log out.
In the summer of 1862, after the rye had been cut and shocked, father went to the agency and was employed by the government putting up hay. After having spent Sunday at home he was returning Monday, August 18, to work, and had reached the ferry and was waiting to be taken across the river when he heard shooting on the hills on the opposite bank of the river. Learning of the outbreak of the Indians he pulled off his boots on a pile of lumber nearby, and with his boots in his hand started back across the prairie to the bluffs, thence home to warn his family and the settlers. On the way home father met one of the Earle boys, who was riding a horse. Upon being informed of the outbreak the latter spurred his horse and at once notified several neighbors. A little farther on father met Mr. and Mrs. F. W. Schmidt, who were hauling hay, and they, too, prepared at once to get away. Arriving home father found mother and Diedrich hauling hay. They threw off the greater part of the load, leaving just enough for a cushion on the rack and hastily reached the house. Father tore down the hog pen and rounded up the cattle, while Henry notified the Judge Henry Ahrens' family (who then resided on the place still known as the Judge Ahrens homestead, occupied at present by the Frank Ahrens family), and Brother Diedrich notified the Shepherd family on the farm now occupied by Schafer brothers, and soon, the Ahrens and Schmidt families having arrived, all started for Fort Ridgely, each driving an ox team and taking with them their stock. On the way to Ft. Ridgely the writer fell through the bottom of the hay rack and, not being missed by the other members of the party, would have been lost had the Ahrens family not discovered him when they came along and Judge Ahrens picked him up. Arriving at Ft. Ridgely we found my brother Fred, who had been employed there by a butcher named Nix, afterward Captain Nix, of New Ulm, and he joined us on our trip thereafter. The party drove on through Ft. Ridgely in order to save their cattle and camped that night at Cummins Grove, near the present town of Henderson. The Schmidt and Ahrens family took another route from here, while we went on to Illinois. We drove as far as Harton with the ox team and there father traded for a team of horses, with which the trip resumed. At McGregor we crossed the river on a ferry, and having no money father gave the ferryman a two-year-old heifer in payment. For about two years, or until after harvest in 1864, the family resided in Illinois. We then moved back as far as Redstone, this state, near New Ulm, and then resided there until the spring of 1865, when we returned to the homestead at Beaver creek. Upon arriving there the house was found to have been burned, but the hay stable [was] still standing. The family occupied that until a new house could be erected. (The cellar of the first house has always been preserved and may still be seen at the old homestead.) Shortly after erecting our house my brothers, Fred and Diedrich, while on one of the trips to New Ulm for provisions, were notified of another Indian uprising near Hutchinson, and hastened home, and we again started on a hasty trip for protection. One of our horses had a small colt and this was loaded into the wagon with us and a hasty trip started. Arriving at Fort Ridgely Colonel William Pfaender, then in command, offered to furnish father all needed arms and ammunition if we would return. Together with the three older boys and Judge Ahrens' father returned, and for a long time our house was a signal tower beyond which settlers would not venture until receiving a safety signal shot therefrom. After being unmolested for several months the other members of our family and that of Judge Ahrens, accompanied by the Schafer family, who thereafter occupied the Shepherd homestead, returned to once more peacefully occupy homes in beloved Beaver.
During those early years of residence at Beaver all mail and supplies must be transported from New Ulm over a mere blazed trail without bridges of any kind.
For a period of four years a plague of grasshoppers overtook the pioneers, they arriving first on July 4. Several methods were devised to destroy the pest, but the two most successful apparently were by the use of a clothes line rope tied to the collars of two horses and the rope dragging between the horses kept the hoppers on the jump and relieved growing crops. The other method was to suspend a tin pan filled with tar under a cart and as the cart was drawn through a field great masses of grasshoppers would be caught. So well did the tar preserve them that these piles of hoppers could be seen for months. The only thing which seemed to thrive that year were the chickens and they were exceedingly fat.
The Wichman house was for years the place used as a church for our neighborhood, until a log church was later erected on the farm.
The first school held at Beaver in which our young folks were educated was at Elmus Bush's claim shanty, taught by Mrs. Bush. It had a thatched hay roof with a dirt floor and the seats were made by placing blocks on the floor and on top of these laying planks. The shack was lighted by only one full and one half size window. The year's school in those days consisted of three months each spring.
The memory of the days of trial and pioneer adversity undoubtedly have added much to the enjoyment in later years of the many advantages in the way of excellent school and church facilities, county and state organizations, spendid railway accommodations and state highways which have proven so pleasant to a life-long resident of Renville county. -- By William Wichman.
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