Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sioux County History I--The Heist


Okay, call me prejudice, but I tend to side with the Hollanders--for more than one reason, too.  First, good night, it was cold--it was January 22, for pity's sake.  "Sioux County was under two to three feet of snow on the level," says Charlie Dyke, Sioux County's grand old chronicler, "and the weather was cold."  They had to have been mad, and they certainly were righteous.

And they didn't leave well-heated homes either.  In 1872, most of the men who showed up came from dugouts and grass huts, which, mid-winter, could hardly have been pleasant.  The place was just being settled by white folks.  Here or there, some Yankton Sioux might stroll through once in a while, enough to scare the bejeebees out of the wooden-shoed immigrants; but the Dutch had just arrived in Sioux County, Iowa, but you can hardly get comfortable on a mud floor, even a frozen mud floor. 

And another thing.  The Dutch Calvinists of northwest Iowa were not rebels or rabble-rousers, not given to pick a fight with the political powers that be.  They'd just as soon operate under the radar, after all.  Sure, they'd left Holland for taking on the liberals of the State Church, but that was different.  That was religion, a whole different state of affairs.  You don't mess with God, after all--at least not their version of him.

So while I'm Dutch and capable of prejudice, it's 140 years later now, and I think I'm capable of some objectivity here.  And what I'm saying is this:  I'm quite sure those shysters at Calliope--at what became Hawarden--were dastardly crooks and deserved what the rebellion the hearty Hollanders brought to them on that fateful day in January, 1872, when, that morning, the lot of them left from Mrs. Rowenhorst's Orange City tavern.  Think of it--55 sleighs altogether--out front, their leader Mr. Van der Waa and his mule team. 

No roads to speak of yet.  No fur coats either, those sleighs packed with straw for warmth.  Thank goodness for wooden shoes. 

Their mission--wrestle the government of this new county--Sioux County--out of the hands of the Calliope crooks and bring it into the bosom of newly-founded Dutch Calvinist righteousness.  Like I said, I still side with the Dutch.  But then, I am one.

The Calliope crooks were all of that and more.  It's a story oft repeated throughout the white settlement of the Plains--the very first adventurers in a place like Sioux County were pioneers all right, hungry entrepreneurs who realized early on that there was gold in them thar' hills, even if they were made of Loess and not stone.  All you had to do is own 'em.  And all you had to do to own 'em was claim 'em. 

The Calliope crooks were real estate people who came up the river from Sioux City, crowned each other with political titles like Judge and Register of Deeds, and proceeded to divvy up the land--which, of course, they'd taken from the Sioux--and sell it to intrepid settlers like this hearty band of Dutch Reformed folks. 

But you don't mess with their the Dutch when it comes to righteousness.  It didn't take long and the Hollanders had had enough.  There'd been an election, after all, fair and square--and they'd won.  They decided as long as the government was in Calliope--early Hawarden--they were going to continue to get the shaft. 

Wasn't good.  Wasn't right.  So off they went that morning, 55 sleighs over the snow, west on not much more than footpath, to Hawarden, to take the government away from the evil-doers, the criminals.

Sheriff Tom Dunham met them and said they'd get the goods they were after only over his dead body, or words to that effect.  The Hollanders told him they hadn't come all this way to be bested by some tin horn.  Furthermore, they said if he really wanted to fight, he'd likely end up taking a bath in the frigid waters of the Big Sioux, less than a mile west. 

The Hollanders, that morning, were no church choir.  Dunham tossed in his hand when he saw clearly what he was doing was little more than a bluff.

I don't know how they did it really, but the huge safe that kept all the records of early Sioux County, their main concern, was hoisted somehow onto one of those sleighs for the long ride back to Orange City, or what there was of it in 1872.  Those Hollanders--my own great-grandfather could well have been among them--wanted the government they thought they'd earned by an election the Calliope crooks ruled invalid, and the safe was all they needed.

Somehow, that safe made it to Orange City, and Orange City became the county seat, as it is today. 

But these days if you want to see that huge thing--52 inches high, 45 inches wide, and all rolled steel--you have to go back to Calliope, where it stands proudly in the historic village.  Hawarden politely got it back in 1976, during the American Bicentennial. 

What they didn't get, however, was the county seat.  There's a highway between 'em now--Hawarden and Orange City--but it's not big enough to lug back the Courthouse. 

And there remains to this day, some smoldering prejudice from the Dutch masters of Sioux County toward their Hawarden neighbors to the west, some sense that if those river rats would live like the descendants of those Calvinist pioneers instead of the children of the Calliope crooks, life would be sweeter at the western edge of the county. 

Of course, I could be wrong.  I'm one of 'em myself, a fifth-generation Dutch Calvinist.  And I know my people could be--and still are--more than a little self-righteous now and then.  Sure. 

But I do think those "Americans" down there along the Big Sioux were shysters, crooks, even criminals. 

But then, it's also a great story--55 sleighs, in January, a bunch of pissed-off Hollanders leaving the tavern early in the morning, then strong-arming the bad guys and hauling this monster safe, the symbol of political power, off to Orange City--of the House of Orange, of course. 

I wonder what the preachers said.
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I'm quite sure my historian friends wouldn't consider Charley Dyke, newspaperman in early Sioux County, anything close to a real historian.  No matter.  His is the only book about the pioneer era here, and that's where this grand story originates:  Charles L. Dyke, The Story of Sioux County (1942).  More, occasionally.

1 comment:

Dutchoven said...

Knowing Dutch preachers, rather practical bunch more or less in their Calvinistic manner- and also where to stand in a fight that goes the way they think things should go- their answer to this riotous adventure, perhaps rather "Haan-ish": God moves in mysterious ways, next verse...