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"East Chain Township, Martin County, Minnesota,
Historical Narrative covering the period from 1856 - 1929"

by Timothy Rowley

Chapter I

One morning in June 1854, a company of surveyors, Oswald Brunius in charge, left Blue Earth, Minn., enroute for the Chain Lake country, a few miles to the west. They were sent out by the United States government for the purpose of surveying and numbering the Congressional townships and dividing them into sections and quarter sections. This was done to enable the government to throw this part of the country open to settlement.

This was before the Homestead Law had been enacted, but Congress had previously passed an act called the Preemption Law whereby a settler could, by paying a small fee, preempt a quarter section, live upon it six months, and receive a patent from the government by paying the sum of one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre.

In accordance to their instructions Mr. Brunius and his party surveyed and numbered Township One Hundred and One, North of Range Twenty-Nine, west of the Fifth Principal Meridian. At this time Minnesota was a territory. Range Twenty-Nine extending twenty-four miles from the Iowa line north, Minnesota, but when Martin County was organized a little later these four townships were detached from Brown County and made a part of the new county.

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At the first meeting of the Martin County board of county commissioners they divided the county into three voting precincts. The first district, a strip eight miles wide and extending the entire length of the county east and west on the county's southern boundary, was called Nevada. The next similar division to the north of this was likewise eight miles wide and was named Fairmont. The third division embraced the remaining portion of the county and received the name of Waverly. The last two named were approved by the state officials but the name "Nevada" was rejected on the ground that there was another town of the same name in the state.

Rev. J. H. Hudson and others sent in a petition to have the precinct called Silver Lake, which was granted.

Since this is to be township narrative the writer must not encroach upon the rights of the Silver Lake historian but it will be difficult to do this as the first three log houses, the first post office and the first store were located on the west side of the lake in what is now our sister township on the west.

In 1857 Alfred Wilbur came and built a log house on the site where N. W. Mart now lives, which is located in Silver Lake. He also acquired title to the south-west quarter of the south-west quarter of Section Seven, in what is now East Chain township. It was a very desirable forty, since it had ten or fifteen acres of very valuable timber. There were giant oaks, three feet in diameter, also a great many large walnut trees. It also contained a very good mill site, seven acres which had been designated by the government surveyors as "Mill Lot," situated in the south-west corner of the tract.

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And now we come to the beginning of the settlement of our township. In the summer of 1858 two families came and built log houses on the east side of the lake. Mosier was the name of one, who located as his claim the place now owned by Timothy and Oliver Rowley. During the summer Mr. Mosier broke about six acres and in the spring of 1859 sowed it to wheat. He also planted a very good garden, wherein he planted potatoes, Hubbard squash, onions and sweet corn, the latter being confiscated by the blackbirds. He did not stay to harvest his crop.

The other log house was built by Mr. White, now the premise owned by L. W. Holcomb. He also did some breaking and planted a crop. In July, 1859, both Mr. Mosier and Mr. White became disheartened, abandoned their claims and both families went back east.

This left the township for a time without a white settler, but not for long. On October 8, 1859, a prairie schooner, drawn by a yoke of oxen, arrived. In the wagon were Darius Rowley and their child, the latter a little, white-headed urchin, scarcely three years old. By the way that little chap is still on the job in East Chain township.

The Rowleys immediately took possession of the claim vacated by Mr. Mosier. L. B. Rowley, a brother of Darius, had located a claim on the east bank of Rose Lake the previous spring and, with a cradle, had harvested the wheat planted by Mr. Mosier. L. B. Rowley lived with the family of his brother during the winter of 1859. The nearest trading post and post office was at Blue Earth.

The wheat grown on the place was threshed by clearing off a space on the ground, spreading out the sheaves, and then driving the oxen over them until the grain was separated from the straw. Then the first windy day the straw was pitched away and the chaff winnowed out. This was the first threshing machine to be operated here.

The winter of 1859-60 was a very mild one and Darius Rowley and his brother trapped all winter. They caught seven beavers, a few mink and a great number of muskrats. A band of eight Indians camped and spent the winter near the place that we now call Anderson Oaks.

Nothing more of importance took place until July, 1860, when Christian Schultz and his wife arrived from Wisconsin, accompanied by the wife and daughter of L. B. Rowley. Mr. Schultz took the claim and moved into the log house vacated by Mr. White.

***

In the spring of 1860 J. H. Johnson, wife and three daughters, located a claim just across the lake in Silver Lake township. We now had a few neighbors and things looked brighter. But the winter of 1860-61 was very severe with deep snow and very cold weather. The settlers were snow bound and had a strenuous time. The menu for breakfast, dinner and supper was corn bread, fish and potatoes.

In the spring of 1861 Mr. A. Wilbur began the building of a dam across the outlet of East Chain Lake, about where the present cement dam is. In this year the first white child was born. The new settler was Oliver C. Rowley, born October 25, 1861. This year was also the beginning of the Civil War but it did not affect East Chain much as there were in the township but two men of draft age.

There were no more new settlers during 1862 and nothing occurred out of the ordinary until August when news of the New Ulm Indian massacre reached the little settlement along the lake. It caused a panic and when a rumor came that the Indians had reached Jackson we all bundled into our wagons and fled to Blue Earth in the night. After remaining there three weeks it was found to be a false alarm, so we all returned.

***

In the latter part of 1862 a Mr. Chatfield came and filed on the land now occupied by Stanley Korolewski. In 1863 he started a store which stood just south of where Mr. Korolewski has his farm buildings. He also acquired the mill property and began the erection of a mill. It was to be two stories high, the lower floor for a saw mill, the upper for a grist mill. In this year William Piper and family came and built the log house now used by John Madsen for a wood shed. With Mr. Piper came Daniel Love, a single man, who bought the claim of Christian Schultz, who went to the western part of the county and took a homestead. In November of this year D. P. Calkins came with his two sons, Amos and Judson, daughters Olive and Eva and his wife. That winter little Eva fell a victim of that dreaded disease, diphtheria, which was epidemic at that time. This was the first death to be recorded in the township.

In the spring of 1864 Mr. Calkins homesteaded the place now owned by his children and grandchildren. The building of the mill was halted by the accidental death of Mr. Chatfield who received a gun shot wound while with a party scouting for Indians. He died of lockjaw and his grave was the beginning of the present Oakwood Cemetery.

A. Clendenning, a millwright from Estherville, came and completed the mill begun by Mr. Chatfield. Joseph Mixter, who had homesteaded over in the other township, built and operated a blacksmith shop just north of the mill. It was here that A. L. Ward with two plows lays in a sack over his shoulder used to walk from Fairmont to East Chain to have Uncle John sharpen the lays for him.

A few new settlers came in 1864. A Mr. Powell and Daniel Thompson settled on a claim south of D. P. Calkins. It is now owned by Peterson and Porter. Powell and Thompson did not stay long. Mr. Thompson lost his life in a blizzard in the winter of 1864-65. He was attempting to cross the prairie from Blue Earth in a sleigh drawn by oxen. After Thompson's death Mr. Powell moved to Sioux Falls. H. A. Billows located the claim that is now the farm of G. W. Jones. George Baker filed on the quarter section now owned by N. C. Dahl, C. R. Boynton and Gus Johnson. Jerome Sheppard took the place owned by the Doyle brothers, and George Scott homesteaded the place now owned by John Madsen and occupied until recently by Chas. Buchan.

In 1865 S. D. Wells came and bought the premises part of which are now owned by N. W. Mart, D. L. Owens and the present site of the village of East Chain. This year the settlers did considerable breaking and tried to raise some wheat and corn but it was discouraging work for blackbirds got the corn and transportation got the wheat. The nearest wheat market was Mankato. It took nearly all the growers got to take the trip. When the mill, operated by D. B. Rice and Sons began to grind wheat, the situation improved and white bread was added to the menu, and occasionally when the preacher came we had fired chicken.

This year marked the closing of the Civil War and Jerome Shepherd, who had enlisted the fall before, came home and married Dustin Rowley, moving onto his claim. But Christian Schultz never came home. He was mustered into the service in time to take part in the battle of Nashville, was wounded and died a month later.

Go to Chapter II


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