|Image from "Family Search" site|
You'll see a big rock at East Side Park in Morris commemorating those rough-hewn days. It tells us about the Wadsworth Trail. Named for a U.S. Civil War general, the trail was an artery west. It was an artery into a world that would have captivated Eastwood and novelist Louis L'Amour. It brought people to the Morris area before the railroad. "Morris" hadn't been coined.
The Wadsworth Trail served its purpose fine during its relatively brief time. Are there any traces still evident around Stevens County? In the mid-20th Century, there were.
The commemorative rock with plaque might be better positioned out where the trail was located. I don't think there's any commemorative marking out there. The trail passed by Wintermute Lake. The lake cannot be seen from North Hwy. 59. Some very narrow roads snake out toward this lake which still has a pretty pristine atmosphere. It's not a recreational lake. But the setting is quiet, removed and pleasant for people who have built out there like the McCannons.
"Sunday drivers" might find themselves at the McCannons' simply because it's "the end of the road," a dead end. I'm told the McCannons occasionally expect such an "accidental visitor," so you needn't be apologetic if you encounter the genial Roger out in his yard. He tells me snow isn't a problem for travel in the winter, because of the preponderance of trees. There's little drifting. This area is about four miles north of Morris.
The commemorative marker at East Side Park was erected in 1929 by the Wadsworth Trail Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Grace Hall helped keep alive the history of the trail. This she did with a paper she presented at the time the DAR received its charter. Hall's father often traveled the trail.
Grace shared the background of how, after the U.S. Civil War, two companies of soldiers were stationed at Fort Wadsworth, on the Sisseton Reservation, in what was then the Territory of Dakota. I wonder why we couldn't have ended up with one U.S. state named Dakota instead of "North" and "South." A comedian impersonating George W. Bush once commented on the continued schism involving the Koreas, and said "we haven't even been able to unify North and South Dakota." Rimshot.
Fort Wadsworth would later be re-named Fort Sisseton. Soldiers were sent to the fort to prevent the Sioux Indians from leaving their reservation and joining the Indians farther west. (A family joke of ours is to say "furthermore we shall go farther.")
These Native Americans were the same ones who joined in the Sioux massacre in Minnesota during the Civil War. What a decade: the 1860s. Was God calling for some grand punishment of our people? For slavery?
The soldiers also positioned themselves at the fort to prevent trouble among the Indians themselves, to protect them from molestation.
Grace Hall shared how, in order to supply the soldiers, the U.S. government laid out a route from St. Cloud to Fort Wadsworth. This "Wadsworth Trail" was traveled alike by government officials and traders. The government and traders sent supplies up the Mississippi River to St. Cloud. There the goods were loaded on wagons or sleds and transported by teams of horses or oxen to the distant fort. The route passed through Sauk Centre and then to Lake Osakis, Osakis being the name of an Indian chief in the vicinity.
Travelers continued toward the area we call today Stevens County and Morris. Here, respite and relief was afforded by Gager's Station. I hope Gager's Station gets ample attention when the time comes for our Morris Sesquicentennial in 2021. We ought to start planning for that. How about a skit or song recognizing this chapter of area history, involving such intrepid souls, who we can visualize so easy sitting around their campfires. Eating baked beans?
Going beyond Gager's, the intrepid folks arrived at Frisby's Grove. Here is where traces of the trail could still be found in the mid-20th Century. Travelers continued west as if captivated by a spell, and then came upon a temperamental stream called "Big Muddy." It was sluggish in dry times but a torrent of muddy water after heavy rains in that bygone time when there were no fields to absorb the water.
Big Muddy had muddy banks and "a well-nigh bottomless bed," Ms. Hall reported. "Travelers would go as far as their struggling teams could take them, perhaps through the stream, perhaps only to mid-stream where the drivers would have to get out, unhitch the teams and let them get to more solid footing, leaving the wagons mired. Then perhaps they carried the loads to firmer ground and by means of ropes and chains, manpower, horse or ox power, finally pulled the wagons from their muddy resting place."
"Toqua" synonymous with "Graceville"
Onward west. The travelers of all stripes, adventurous souls all, finally got to Lake Toqua. We hear "Toqua" and think of Graceville. It's a Sioux word meaning "fight." The placid lake was actually the site of many battles between the Sioux and their Indian foes. Grace informed us that "the name of the town on the shore of the lake was changed from Toqua to Graceville when His Grace, Bishop Ireland, brought his colony of settlers from Connemara, Ireland, and located them near this lake."
Actually "Toqua" would have been a nice name, IMHO.
The next destination was Browns Valley. And after that, "The Agency," now Sisseton, where the Indian agent stayed, where the school and store were located, and where the "whites" on the reservation lived.
"On more than one occasion when the Indians threatened an outbreak, someone from the Agency crept through the dark to the fort to bring aid to the whites," Grace wrote. "The glitter of the soldiers' arms, the call of the bugle, the tramp of marching feet as the soldiers responded to the call, subdued the flame of battle in the breasts of the war-like young braves." Author Ethelyn Pearson has used the term "young bucks."
Finally the travelers got to their "Emerald City" destination: Fort Wadsworth. It was, as Grace described, "the end of many a journey to complete which called for every reserve of nerve and strength possessed by travelers as they battled with storm, flood, blizzard or cold to reach the shelter of the fort." Train travel rendered the trail unneeded.
For years the settlers could see signs of the old artery west, and they must have imagined all the travail and adventures those travelers experienced. Some children who were playing discovered a sword pushed into the ground which was determined to be a gravesite.
A stronger force: time itself
Ms. Hall wrote that the trail "has given way to the march of time, whose encroachments nothing can resist."
The Wadsworth Trail Chapter of the DAR had its officers published in the Diamond Jubilee publication for Morris. I see familiar names like "Mrs. J.M. Killoran, Mrs. Wm. Coombe and Mrs. J.C. Morrison." How quaint: women didn't have their first names published. They were like extensions of their husbands. Today we'd find this offensive. We must be cautious about judging the people and culture of that earlier time. People are always a product of the culture in which they're immersed.
I have even heard a historian warning about judging the white people of the Antebellum U.S. South. They are products of their culture, having had various notions firmly instilled in them. There's no point pressing any issues of the Civil War today. The Union won. The Union obliterated the contrary forces. We see a monument to that commitment at Summit Cemetery in Morris: the spellbinding Sam Smith statue, about which I have written three posts.
I am proud to write too about the Wadsworth Trail. A mere cursory history appears on that rock at East Side Park. Onlookers can hardly begin to imagine the panorama of wild and dangerous surroundings those travelers faced. It was the opening of a continent, a manifestation of man's unbridled, restless spirit - not to be contained.
Mrs. J.M. Killoran was Eleanor who inspired the bandshell at East Side Park. The charming Eleanor was bathing in nostalgia when she and her son Skip pushed for that. A bandshell had existed previously at the park. Her thoughts were commendable although I have always had reservations about the structure. It's too big and obtrusive for the amount of use it gets - negligible in the scheme of things. A park is supposed to be a "breath of fresh air" open space. Just leave it open, please.
Mark McCollar once suggested to me that a "food court" might have been a nicer thing than the bandshell. I agree.
How about a more ambitious band?
It would help if we had a super well-organized community band that played at the park regularly, taking advantage of the acoustic tiles. We have a much more modest community band than that - I might say "rag-tag." We should have something like the Eastern Iowa Brass Band. Look it up online. My friend Joan Force of Marion IA is a long-time member.
Mrs. J.C. Morrison was part of the newspaper family of Morris. It's too bad that family doesn't still have the reins of the paper.
Mrs. Wm. Coombe was the wife of the man for whom Coombe Field was named: "Bill." I had him for seventh grade history. He liked referring to himself in the third person. Coombe Field has been taken over by weeds. It was a fine traditional football field. Just close your eyes and remember the fans, cheerleaders, band and players, along with the P.A. voice of Duane Kindschi carried by wind to the outreaches of the town! It's Friday night in Morris!
Today we have the very fancy Big Cat Stadium. Football is on precarious footing today due to the horrible health dangers we are increasingly becoming aware of.
The "encroachments of time" that Grace referenced have eliminated the Wadsworth Trail Chapter of the DAR. But we still have that commemorative rock at East Side Park. Come review it during the 2014 Prairie Pioneer Days.
It would be nice to see the "mini" alfalfa arch resurrected for PPD. The original huge arch in 1913 represented a significant chapter in Motown history. Time marches on.