Friday, March 25, 2011

Post Cards From Sleepy Eye

James Gang Believed To Have Been In Sleepy Eye

(Picture of Jesse and Frank James in 1872)

In the year 1876, on July 7th, Frank and Jesse James, Cole, Jim, and Bob Younger, Charlie Pitts, Bill Chadwell, and Hobbs Kerry robbed the Missouri Pacific Railroad at what is known as the "Rocky Cut" near Otterville, Missouri. Kerry, known as their raw recruit, was arrested soon after and he willingly identified his accomplices.

The Rocky Cut raid set off for stage of the final act in the history of the James-Younger Gang; for what is to be known as the famous Northfield, Minnesota raid. The target was to be the First National Bank of Northfield, located far outside of the gang's usual territory, which had  previously only included the South and the Border States. The bank of Northfield itself was not unusually rich. According to public reports, required of all national banks, it was a perfectly ordinary rural bank. Bob Younger had stated (once caught) declared that they had selected the bank because of its connection to two Union generals and Radical Republican politicians: Benjamin Butler and Adelbert Ames. Ames had just stepped down as governor of Mississippi, where he had been strongly identified with civil rights for freedmen, and had recently moved to Northfield, where his family owned a mill and a large amount of stock in the bank. One of the outlaws "had a spite" against Ames, Bob said. Cole Younger said much the same thing years later.

Frank and Jesse James, Cole, Jim and Bob Younger, Charlie Pitts, Clell Miller, and Bill Chadwell took the train to St. Paul and Minneapolis at the beginning of September 1876. They divided into two groups, one group going to Mankato, Minnesota and the other group going to Red Wing, on either side of Northfield. They purchased horses and scouted the terrain around Northfield once they got there. On September 7, 1876, around 2 p.m., they attempted to rob the bank. Three outlaws entered the bank, and the other five stood guard outside. The citizens of Northfield realized a robbery was in progress and took up arms. Shooting from behind cover, they discharged a deadly fire onto the outlaws, killing Miller and Chadwell, and wounding the Youngers (particularly Bob, who suffered a shattered elbow). They also shot Bob Younger's horse. One of the outlaws shot Nicholas Gustafson, a bystander, dead in the street. Inside the bank, cashier Joseph Lee Heywood refused to open the safe and was murdered in cold blood for his resistance. 

The surviving outlaws rode out of town and took to the woods. After several days of dodging the pursuing Minnesotans, who had joined posses and picket lines by the hundreds, the gang had only reached the western outskirts of Mankato. They decided to split up. (Despite persistent stories to the contrary, Cole Younger told interviewers that they all agreed to the decision.) The Youngers and Pitts remained on foot, moving west, until finally they were cornered in a swamp called Hanska Slough, just south of LaSalle, Minnesota and west of Madelia, Minnesota. In the gunfight that followed, Pitts was killed and the Youngers wounded further. The Youngers surrendered, and pleaded guilty to murder in order to avoid execution.

The James brothers, on the other hand, secured horses and fled west across southern Minnesota, turning south just inside the border of the Dakota Territory. In the teeth of hundreds of pursuers and a nationwide alarm, they successfully returned to Missouri. The James-Younger Gang, however, was no more.
Somewhere in the town of little 'ol Sleepy Eye someone may own the gun which once belonged to Jesse James or to his brother Frank James.  As I stated in the tale of the James brothers, they did survive the Northfield Bank robbery and were fleeing toward westward towards the  Dakota Territory.  The tale on Sleepy Eye however, cannot be proven, but it is a tail worth repeating;

Following the attack by the James and Younger gang on the Northfield Bank on September 7th, 1876, the outlaws fled through Mankato, most of them then going toward Hanska and Madelia where they were captured in a few days. Frank and Jesse James continued on westward from Mankato, apparently aiming for the Pipestone area.  That escape route lends credence to stories told by local residents.

The one tale worth repeating is when a man stopped in Sleepy Eye at Carl Berg’s Hotel (SE corner of Main and Sixth, now Second Avenue W.) and asked for food for himself and for his horse.  He offered to pay by offering to giving Berg his gun.  Barter was common and because news traveled slowly the village of Sleepy Eye had not yet heard about the Northfield robbery the man was safe with this bartering act.

When the news did arrive, with a description of the robbers, it was clear to Berg that he probably had been host to one of the James brothers.  He had the gun for a long time, according to his son Alvin, and eventually sold it.  Who bought it?  Where is it now?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Story of the Corn Palace

One of the most famous tourist attractions in the Midwest, if not the country, is the Mitchell Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Any trip to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills is not complete without the requisite stop in Mitchell. But few people know that Sleepy Eye was home to our own Corn Palace. 

The Mitchell Corn Palace, according to the official Mitchell Corn Palace web site, was originally called 'The Corn Belt Exposition' and was "established in 1892. Early settlers displayed the fruits of their harvest on the building exterior in order to prove the fertility of South Dakota sil. The third and present building was completed for [the] first festival at the present location in 1921. The exterior decorations are completely stripped down and new murals are created each year."

In 1922, the town fathers were looking for a way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the City of Sleepy Eye. Like thousands of other small towns throughout the Midwest, the Sleepy Eye area was a major producer of corn. Corn was such a significant part of the local economy that the townspeople came up with the idea to build a palace to celebrate the historic milestone of the city's birth. Several men had gone to Mitchell, South Dakota to visit the ornate corn palace.  Once seeing this structure they made up their minds that this would be the ideal structure to be placed in the middle of the town.  They made up blueplrints on how the Mitchell palace was built and brought home a smaller version of one for the one to be constructed at home in Sleepy Eye. 

The men came back home and recommended a modest replica to be built in the middle of town.  It was modestly enveloped by corn to exhibit the season's harvest. A sign draped the palace proclaiming: “Welcome 50 Years King Corn”.  This corn palace was placed at the intersection of Main and what is now First Avenue (Today that address is occupied by Riverside Interiors). The townspeople wanted the palace to be completed by September 18th because that was the official date the town became
a Village in 1872.

When the festival ended, all of the corn was removed and the palace structure was moved to the northwest corner of Allison Park. At the time, Allison Park was considered a State Park and was
much larger than what the present park is now. Workers next coated the now former Sleepy Eye Corn Palace with stucco siding to prepare the building for its new purpose as the city's new concert hall.

About a generation before, the City of Sleepy Eye had constructed a bandstand in Allison Park in 1894 but that building had, by 1922, fallen into disrepair.  In 1894 Allison Park was considered a State Park.  It was called Sleepy Eye Lake State Park.  From there it was named Lakeside Park, then onto the name City Park finally ending with well known name of Allison Park as we know it today.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sleepy Eye in 1890

Located on the main line of the Great Northwestern railroad, 418 miles westward from Chicago and 133 miles from Minneapolis and the state capital, we feel ourselves right in the center of the most magnificent civilization the world has yet known and fully in touch with and abreast of the spirit of the times. The desire to keep at the head of the procession is what has made Brown County, in which Sleepy Eye is the most centrally located town, one of the wealthiest and most progressive of the many counties in a state noted for its enterprise and progress and of these people we wish to say a passing word. The bulk of our population trace their descent from the sturdy German emigrant, to whose frugality and industry this land of the free is indebted for its rapid strides in the past century. The remainder of the population consists of a nearly even combination of Danes, Americans and Irish and representatives of other people across the big pond, just the proper constituency for a first class and enterprising community.

The splendid country tributary to Sleepy Eye is not excelled by any region under the sun. No more fertile fields can be found anywhere and no better class of people than those who own and till those fields have yet been born. The inexorable law of supply and demand has caused the town to grow with the country. Substantial business houses are found here because the trade demands large stocks of goods and comfortable and commodious quarters in which to store and show the stock. Those long lines of large wheat warehouses were erected to make it possible to handle the crops. Banks were built and capitalized to enable the movement of produce. Our large mill is also in answer to a demand and the product of the mill is superlative because its proprietors saw that nothing less would be satisfactory. Churches were built because the community demands places in which to gather and worship. Our magnificent schoolhouse, rich and ornate in appearance, and almost lavishly supplied with the most approved apparatus was also demanded and the same may be said of all improvements both public and private. Each of these features will be separately treated and we will close our reference to the village by giving a little statistical information, which we do not tabulate, to add to its interest.

The railroad, the Winona & St. Peter, now a link in one of the greatest railway systems known, was completed to this point in 1873 and for a number of years Sleepy Eye was the end of both the freight and passenger divisions. A branch of the Northwestern leaves the main line here and taps the rich and populous country to the northwest adding considerably to the importance of the town. We have a population today of upwards 2500 and this number is increasing quite rapidly. We have a splendid electric light system; the plant being the property of the city and has been operated for a number of years at a net profit aside from furnishing our streetlights without a penny of expense. An excellent system of water works, a paid fire department, and electric fire alarm have proven wise precautions to guard against loss of fire. Well kept streets, broad sidewalks, cut stone crosswalks and careful oversight are all advantages of which we may speak.

Two beautiful public parks, one containing eleven acres of natural grove on the lakeshore, are beauty spots quite noticeably a matter of local congratulation. Two Banks, two newspapers, two lawyers and two doctors, look out for the money, the news, the trouble and the health of the people. Two drug stores, three hardware stores, four general merchants, three exclusive boot and shoe dealers, two jewelers, three lumber yards, two livery feed and sale stables, two harness shops, two grocers, two furniture dealers, four agricultural implement houses, three meat markets, three wagon and wood repair shops, four hotels, two cigar factories, twelve saloons, three millinery establishments, two firms of painters and decorators, two merchant tailoring establishments, a 500 barrel flouring mill, five grain warehouses and elevators, two barber shops, two fine clothing houses, and a score or so of other and different trades and business interests and well-stocked, carefully kept restaurants and bakeries and saloons all add their share to the importance and the comfort of the people.

All lines represented are well handled and it is seldom that so complete and well equipped a community is met with. We are essentially an agricultural community and as such desire to be considered. Our hundreds of thousands of fertile acres teem with the wealth which skillful husbandry has but to develop. At this point each year $600,000.00 is paid out for grain; $250,000.00 for cattle, sheep and hogs; $50,000.00 for barley, rye, corn and oats; $50,000.00 for eggs, and poultry; $150,000.00 for butter and dairy products and probably $200,000.00 is earned in the raising of horses and the production of other things essential to the comfort of the people. In round numbers Sleepy Eye's business men distribute through the various channels upwards of $2,400,000.00 in cash every year for the product of the mill, farm, garden, dairy, and poultry house.

This $2,400,000.00 is natural wealth and the constant and every increasing volume of these sources of wealth is what places our entire community in that condition in life called commonly, comfortable circumstances. We do not think the limit has been reached in the production. The straw, now wasted, which is grown with our grain, could be made into paper and the profits of the work added; vegetable, which now go to waste, could be profitably canned or preserved and marketed at a figure which would pay well; more corn and potatoes could be produced for the manufacture of starch; a tannery might do well and the same might be said of oat meal mills, pork packing houses, plow factories and a dozen other lines. To sum all: Sleepy Eye is a good place, a pleasant place, a prosperous place, and could be made better, pleasanter and more profitable by a fuller development of our natural resources.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Windsor Hotel

The Windsor Hotel, North Fifth, was a busy place when this picture was taken in 1901.  It occupied the site of Berdan Plumbing.  The boys sitting on the sidewalk from left to right are: Stub Schmelz, August Schwieger, a Casserly boy, Ralph Reed, Rave Webber, and Harry Anderson.  There are only a few known among the men.  From left to right are: Max Drusch and Sy Conrad: sixth from the left was Hands Handson and number 11 was Martin Casperson.  Those on the balcony from left to right were Mrs. Wheeler and son.  Next is Lena Schavesdick, now Mrs. Fred Krambeer, living on a farm southeast of town.  Next is Mrs. Ole Sundt, Mrs. Frank Koehere, next unknown, Mrs. Emil Krueger, Theresa Schavesdick, now Mrs. William Walters and the other lady unknown.