William N. Buswell’s Pioneer Story

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Another story of an early pioneer was one written by W.N. Buswell for the Tower City Topic in 1901. His story went as follows:


.... "About the 23 of April, 1879, four persons, to wit Capt. L.J. Allred, Geo. Weimer, B.W. Marsh, and the writer stepped off the cars here at the siding, on a small platform, fore there were no depot yet. There were just three small buildings, then, that constituted the town of Tower City. A small hotel standing on the site of the present Tower City Hotel, a smaller building used as a store and dwelling house, and kept and used by Edgar Chapman and family, and located on the corner now used by Eben Young, as lumber office, directly west of this building was the real estate and land office of George H. Ellsbury. This building was about ten by twelve feet and seven feet high and a few emigrant wagons, comprised the town, but we were not discouraged.

It did not take a great while to look the town over. We made our way to the hotel which we found under the direction of Charles Haskell and wife, who had also come here from Winona, Minn., a few days before. After registering and securing shelter for the night, we felt relieved because we would not have to pass the night on the prairie with no shelter but the starry decked heavens and no bed but the soil with the grass all burned off. We took chairs or benches in the very small sitting room and made ourselves as possible to the few boarders such as the Rev. J.H. Baldwin, E. Young, P.N. Laird, George Ellsbury and others, who all seemed to vie with each other in giving glowing descriptions of the county and their imaginations all run in the same direction, but all seemed to give way to Ellsbury and Laird, as the ones best fitted to awe us tenderfeet, and it seemed to be a neck and neck heat between Ellsbury and Laird and if we remember aright it was voted by our crowd to declare it a draw. We however ate a good supper and went to bed (on the floor) with a blanket for covering and our own overcoats for pillows. I don't remember whether the rooms were numbered or not, but there was one door in front of the house and one at the back of the kitchen, which were generally closed at night.

Morning dawned in due time nice and bright, but soon the wind began to rise and some of our party made a remark that the wind was getting stronger. Laird said yes, we have a gentle zephyr once in a while, but not any bad wind, only a gentle zephyr. (Poor old man, the zephyrs must have been hard on him.) The next morning we made a compact with Laird to act as guide, while we traveled around looking for claims. He was called land locator. I afterwards found out that it meant to get all the money you could for showing a man some claim, right or wrong, and prevent you from getting what you wanted unless you paid dear for it. Well, we hired the only horse and buggy there was hereabouts from old man LeDuc, the horse was a poor cripple, the harness tied up with cords, and the buggy, well it had wheels and spring, one seat on top of a rickety box, but we were lucky to get that, so that two of us could take turns and ride awhile and then get out and let the other two try it.

We started in a northwest course and after traveling along about hour we came across some fellows trying to break a little prairie with some oxen and a plow. It was the Mayo boys, M.S .and Charlie, and two well disgusted fellows they were at that time, and no wonder, for this was all new to them. We had a long talk with them and pursued on northwest into township 141, Range 56.We were looking for tree claims then, and Laird assured us we could not get them any nearer the railroad then. We traveled on and were out about section 14, township 141, range 546, we came to the Stoney Cooley, the grass was all burned off and one could see every stone. Laird said they would be utilized some day in the near future for building purposes. Ben Marsh made a suggestion that they would make good manure, if they ever rotted, at which we all smiled and turned southwest, traveled a few miles and stopped to eat our lunch, which we had in our grips under the buggy seat. As we sat down on the dry burnt ground, and opened up our grip. I took out a quart bottle filled with cold tea, (each one of us had prepared one.) I took a swallow and handed to Brother Laird to take a drink, well you ought to have seen his face and the look he gave us all. He appeared to fell as though he had fell in among thieves, but I assured him it was harmless, only tea, which we had been advised to take along. We had been told the water was so bad, upon which he took some and said, it was good, but still assured us that the water in these parts was the best and purest in the known world. Of course we did not have any reason to doubt it, for we had not tasted of a drop in two days, and there was none to be sure on the prairie, and there were no wells yet, there was water at Spring Tank, a little less than one mile east of the hotel. We hitched the poor horse up again and all concluded we had better try and get back to shelter again, before dark, which we accomplished in due time and delivered our horse to its owner and paid him for its use, (enough if it was today to buy the whole rig,) but we were satisfied, had to be we stayed another night in the best hotel and the only one west of Casselton then, and were glad to get a chance to pay to sleep on the floor. The next day we left for the land office at Fargo to file on tree claims. We had settled on what quarters we would all file on as nearly contiguous as possible. We filed after having to almost fight our way into the U.S. Land Office. The genial Guptil was a clerk in the land office and I made his acquaintance at that time. He seemed to take an interest in our party, (probably because we came from Minnesota). Well we got a chance to file, in good shape, after Guptil had put one meddling private land agent out of the office and we were happy for we had got a tree claim of 160 acres of Dakota soil, at least we had the filing papers and receipt for our money in our pockets. By the way, only one of the four holds the original 160acres now in his own name - B.W. Marsh. We left Fargo for St. Paul and home the next day.

After getting home and having had time to reflect on Tower City, I became dissatisfied to think I had not taken more time and looked the country over more thoroughly. I made up my mind to return and started back for Dakota with a four horse team and covered wagon, with all necessary outfit for camping out, Mr. C.H. Oakes, a brother in law came with me, we left Winona County, Minnesota, about the 16th of May came by way of St. Paul. St. Cloud, Sauk Centre, and across to Breckenridge and down the Red River to Moorhead where we crossed into Fargo and came right on to Tower City, reaching here about the 5th of June, where we camped for a rest. The town was then more active, more people had got here while I had been away, more improvements going on.

John Schmitz had up and enclosed a building for blacksmith shop on Main Street, the same buildings now used by Fred Daniels. Ellsbury had built a small stable on the ground where Frank O'Brights barn now stands. Fred Fonda had a very small building built west of Ellsbury's office used then as a feed store. He kept a few sacks of feed to sell. There were a few horses coming in to help break up the prairie. Capt. Allred had taken a homestead where Ben Hood now lives and had let a contract to Pt. M. Buckley and his brother Barney to break one hundred acres on his homestead and the Buckley’s were then at it of course I went out to see the outfit and was introduced to the genial Pat and his brother. The Capt. had built a small shack for the boys to camp in, by the way Eb. Young had got a little lumber here to sell to all that had to have it to use, and claim shanties were going up in every direction. Charlie Hascall had taken two claims on the creek where John Greeno and Albert Ramer now live, Byron Hascall had one near by, and Morgon Thomas had built a shack on his claim on what is now known as the Orendorf farm. H. Frazier had his claim with a small shack, J.M. Hill was here and busy at work with square, saw and hammer. Geo. Griffin, Fred Maxim, Con. McDevitt, C.W. Barrett was here on his claim. E. Wood and wife got here about this time. O.B. Pickett had located his claim northwest five miles and had teams breaking. In fact the country seemed to be alive. August Krusel was breaking, I think, for Ellsbury, just north of town, about were the fairgrounds were afterwards located.

Well, I had of course, provided myself with a compass, and one day after resting my team for a few days we started out to locate the tree claims we had filed on, and after working nearly all day hunting for corners I got my claim located. There had been a little rain before this and we got plenty more the rest of the month. Every slough was filled with water. I bought a plow from Hascall; he was the first implement dealer in Tower City. Some fellow at Fargo had sent him a few breaking plows to sell. I started out to break the required five acres on my claim. I had also agreed to do the same for the other three of our party.

As we were passing the Pickett place, about the 16th of June, we were compelled to turn in to try and get shelter from one of the worst rain storms I had ever experienced. We found O.B. in the act of making coffee, and getting supper and you may be assured we were welcomed in royal style, he had eight horses in one shack and a cook stove, table and bed in the other and a jolly Pickett he was then.

We left after supper and came to town to get our meal; Ted Chapman was postmaster, the office located in his little store. The next day as we were going back to the claim we passed Pickett holding a breaking plow, and wading through his sloughs. Never turned out for water he had prepared himself for it evidently for he was dressed only in a straw hat and a shirt, but he seemed to be happy. (He had a claim in Dakota, we had one too,) well in due time we got twenty-five acres broken on the four claims. We had lots of experience looking up corners and fighting mosquitoes.

Well on the 5th day of July after dinner, I started back to Minnesota. I had looked over a good deal of country had traveled the old Fort Totten trail at least fifty miles northwest of Tower and had been north from Casselton for about thirty miles and not yet made up my mind to take another claim and as I had a crop in Minnesota. I must hurry home very well satisfied with my second trip to Dakota, and at least thought my time and money well invested.

About the 16th of May 1880, B.W. Marsh and myself arrived at Tower City with a car loaded with emigrant goods, six horses, harness wagon, stove, a couple of old chairs and about three hundred bushels of oats and some eatables for ourselves. We unloaded and after paying our freight bill had about fifty dollars in money left. The town was all bustle and lots of people were here, no room for horses or men, so I took my horses out to Capt. Allred. He had put up quite a house and stable and had a shed that I put my stock into. He had put in one hundred acres of wheat.

There were a good many who had got here from different states and Michigan Avenue was quite a lively place just then Henry J. Miller and sons, E.L. Bickford and sons, A.M. Allyn, A. Poe, E.J. Whittlesey, Stearn Bros., and George Earl were on Broadway, J. Wagar was here and had begun to open up the farm Geo. Weimer and Jim Greeno had preceded me, Weimer had built a shed on the lots where he afterwards built the barn now owned by Hobe Smith, and I stored my oats in the shed and slept there for sometime. In a couple of days, Wagar wanted to buy some horses so I sold him my big team, of course they were good ones, I don't think Wagar asked me about their age but I remember one nineteen and the other eleven years old, but I sold them cheap, two hundred and seventy-five dollars cash and he was satisfied and always has been. I found by the plats from the private land office of Ellsbury that the SE 1/4 of sec. 30, township 141 and range 56 was vacant. So I filed a pre-emption on that and bought about thirty-five dollars worth of lumber and hauled it out there to build me a claim shanty. My wife’s Father Geo. Pogue, came on then and filed on the NE 1/4 of the same section. Doc. Humphrey was here and had put up a small dwelling on lots where Young’s feed mill now stands, Well, I said, I hauled out my lumber, Marsh and Pogue went along as it was short time it took us to put up the shack. With four horses in one end and stove, bed tables and chairs in the other, we were prepared to live in royal style. After staying on the claim a few days I had to come to town to get my mail. I got Jim Greeno to seed the six acres of breaking I had on my tree claim, to wheat, he did it the 28th of May, and the next day I came to the metropolis, Tower City for my mail.

H.W. Gilman had a shack built near where Ben Marsh now lives, it was fourteen by thirty-two and he called it a livery stable. He had one pair of horses and harness and an old two seated buggy, he wanted to sell out to me that day and I offered him two hundred and twenty-five dollars and after about five minutes of talk I bought him out at two hundred and thirty dollars and took possession that same evening and took Marsh with me. We were the proprietors of the Tower City Livery Stable. The next day I took out a party of four from Lake City, Minn. (Patton and three others) we drove north to near where Hope is now located and turned west for several miles and camped for the night on a coulee. The party had a small tent which they pitched and after supper retired for the night or the rest did, but I had to sit in my wagon all night and hold my horses to prevent them from breaking loose for they were uneasy all night, probably on account of wolves and other animals being around. It was a beautiful night with cloudless sky. Morning dawned at last and after a good breakfast we started in a southwest course and traveled for some miles veered around to the SE and finally made our way back to Tower City and were welcomed by the denizens of the place who seemed pleased to think we hadn't got lost.

John Charles was here and had taken a claim ten miles north, George Kelley had also taken a claim, W.C. Gray was living on his claim that summer, Stouffer and Keller came, I think, and took claims that summer. George Earl built and ran a saloon where Kiffs store now is, Poe built the building now used by McCollough and two houses, Geo. Hunt also built the house King lives in. There was quite an addition built to the hotel, Eb Young had built an office on the corner where the Park Hotel now stands. Stearns had built and was operating a store where the post office now stands. Chapman had taken a partner H.V. Smith, and they had enlarged their building and business was good and people were coming in nearly every day. About the 10th of June I took a trip with a Northern Pacific civil engineer up to where Hope now stands, I was gone six days out of sight of civilization, slept under my wagon nights, but found our way back all right, in fact I was driving nearly all the time and never got lost. Well about this time I made the first trip to Lisbon or to where Lisbon now is, owned by Jo Colton, who was working hard and finally succeeded in getting the county seat of Ransom County located on his land. He looked on the map and found this town to be directly south of here so we took the county line between Cass and Barnes as our guide. The mounds and stakes were all up on this line and we could keep our course by the compass and these stakes every half mile or more.

Two men were with me from Kenosha Wisconsin, named Marsh and Holt; they were the first land hunters that went over that line and mine the first team that there is any record of. This was about the fifteenth of June 1880, but in less than thirty days there was a good track made, so no one need go astray, many were looking for the New Eldorado and by this time some were going north to what is now called Hope. Wm. Town and sons Frank and Will had taken some claims also Frank Sherman in 142-56 now Minnie Lake town ship. They were the first settlers in that township. Wallace Humphrey and George Tower had now settled in Ellsbury Township 143-56.

J.F. Wilcox had come in the fall of 79 and stayed all winter, he built the west part of the hardware store, now owned by Heffron and Voorhees in the spring of 80, and put in a stock of hardware; the depot was also built in the early spring of 80. Fred Klinger also came in the fall of 79 and took his claim and lived here ever since. The old school house was built in the spring of 1880. W.A. Matson was the first operator and agent of the Northern Pacific Railway Company, here in the early '80. About this time the late Benjamin Outram came with his family (he had taken a claim in 76) I remember taking the family out from the depot to the claim. Ole Hustad came in the summer of 80.

George Kenward put in the first meat market kept in a dry goods box on lot about where the present market is now. About this time I made a second trip to Lisbon with R.B. Chapin then of Fargo (since dead) and W.W. Moore who soon settled eight miles north of Lisbon and opened up a large farm. On this trip we saw a fine pair of large elk, only a short distance from us, I drove towards them and soon found the cause of their not being in a hurry, for as I drove away from the track across the prairie. I came upon a fine pair of fawn elk, my horses almost stepped on one and the front wheel of my buggy almost hit the other but they took fright and lit out before I could get out of the buggy, but it was a pretty sight. It was not uncommon those days to see a herd of antelope on the prairie away from the railroad. We left the elk to look after the fawns and made our way to Lisbon and the next day returned, business was getting lively in Tower City, Chapman and Smith were doing a great business, goods and feed coming in by the carload. Marsh stayed by the barn and did the draying and I done the driving and land looking. Ellsbury was as busy as a man could be. L.H. Green was also locating parties. T. Cornell and family were here and T. Messenger and family were on their claims. Messenger soon made a few brick for an experiment on his claim.

The great desideratum business, had improved and we must have a barn I then went to Ellsbury and bought one hundred by one hundred and forty feet of the corner where the livery barn now stands and commenced to build after laying out my own plan. J.M. Hill and Mr. Pogue had the west half of the present barn completed and Marsh and I moved in. We had a small office in the corner and slept there but took our meals at the hotel.

About the 20th of July I left for Minnesota. I had a crop in there which I had to harvest, so I left Marsh to look after business here while I was gone, well I harvested and threshed my crop and got eight bushels to the acre and you better believe I was disgusted. I got ready as soon as possible and loaded a car with more horses, three cows and a lot of household goods and took my family and headed for Dakota again, and I will say right here I have never regretted that step.

I got here with my family about the last of September and my car came in due time in charge of the never to be forgotten Rafe Rigdon. All the old settlers will remember him he worked for me a long time, he is now dead, was killed at Staples, Minnesota on the railroad about two years ago.

While I had been gone Ben Marsh had sold one team to Laird, but I brought five horses with me. So we had plenty for business and business kept up very good all the fall, and the road to Lisbon was well traveled by this time. There was a store put up there by Harry Moore, lumber and goods were being hauled across the prairie and we were making trips with passengers very often.

The ground froze up in November but no snow and the wheeling was good, Colton, the Lisbon town site man had done a good deal of missionary work for Ransom County and its effects were bearing fruit, every week brought settlers and land seekers bound for Lisbon the beautiful little town of the Sheyenne, and we were getting some of their good coin for taking them overland and we were well pleased and paid.

About the 20th of November, Marsh left for Iowa on a visit and to winter there, but we got along all right, made a good many trips across the country that winter, no snow up to the 2nd of February 1881, wed had a storm lasted six days with southeast wind and snow, well we had enough then to last till April. H.B. Knowles and son Fred took possession of the Tower City Hotel the 30th day of November 1880and they ran the hotel for over a year and Fred will remember what crowds there were here. At times it was almost impossible to care for the large crowds that came.

About the 1st of January ... H.J. Wisner, Maj. Engle, and Harvey Oliver appeared on the scene, they were bound for New Eldorado, Lisbon and Ransom County as the objective point and this was the best and only direct route for them to take. After staying here a day or two looking over the prospects and finding they would have no chance here to get on the ground floor, they concluded to go on to Lisbon and look over the chances for getting large tracts of land. Of course I sent them over with Rufe Rigdon for driver that was probably one of the greatest events in Lisbon's history. The party purchased large tracts of land and made by their future action, Lisbon, the county seat. It was a very severe cold spell, but the trip was made in safety in spite of the cold weather and the fire water carried by the party (they had disposed of a lot of it in some way).

There were a number of buildings built in Lisbon by this time and a hotel was built by Pat Hennessey. Bass Nichols was running a saloon, and it was getting to be known all over the east as a prominent point, no doubt due to Joe Colton's persistent advertising.

About this time Geo. Earl had sold out his saloon building and of course had to quit business. M.H. Kiff appeared on the scene and bought the Earl building and returned to Maine for a stock of general merchandise.

The Red River Land Company, located in Minneapolis composed of E.H. Steel, Dr. Steel, S.S. Small and Young of Boston, Mass. had bought six townships of railroad land north of here and were making preparations to sell the same to settlers, they had built a home just north of where the town of Hope now stands, and had sent a man with a team to stay all winter and hold the fort. H.B. Smart was his name, a bright young fellow. He had plenty of feed and provisions and two ladies as house keepers. This is thirty miles from Tower City, the nearest railroad or railroad point. Small had not been down since the first part of January and about the first of March I received a letter from Steel inquiring for Smart, as they had not heard from him for two months and were very anxious as to his welfare. I wrote by return mail that Smart had not been seen or heard from since the 1st of January, and that the snow was very deep and drifted badly and it would be almost impossible for anyone to get to him or for him to get out. The next morning I got a telegram from Steel, it read like this: Dig Smart out at our expense, well we concluded the only way to get there would be on snow shoes. Rufus Ridgon and Billie Pole proposed to go to Smarts relief. So I got Irvin Hill to make two pairs of snow shoes for the boys and the next morning each being prepared with a compass and a little grub tied up, the two brave boys started after a hearty handshake by nearly all the town with a particular injunction to keep together in case of accident or a blizzard. I have often thought of that bold act of those two boys, facing a cold north wind with nothing to guide them but a compass and no shelter, with the exception of two shacks in the whole distance, if that was not an act of heroism, then I don't know the meaning of the word, and all to see whether this stranger was alive or not. His house might have been burnt or something else equally unfortunate has happened to the party. Well the boys spared to return they were three days in getting there and rested one and returned two days. They found the party all right and so I reported by telegraph to Steel.

About this time parties began to arrive from the east and were unloading cars of movables and stock. I had a telegram from a Mr. Ross at St. Paul that he would be at Tower City with two cars of horses for sale at once. We must have more room, I at once secured I.M. Hill with his force of carpenters and the same day I received the telegram from Ross. We had the foundation laid and part of the farm up for an extension of thirty feet more to the main barn and the next evening it was all enclosed, floored, stall, managers, feed boxes and full of horses. We had laid the upper floor and all complete before a rafter was put up. We then put a shed on both sides of the building with stalls all complete and before the 15th of March had over one hundred head of horses for sale by different parties, mostly from Minnesota. About this time Earl having sold his saloon buildings, he at once bought the corner lots and at once erected the hotel now called the Park. He put a large force of men at work under the direction of the late Wm Calley and James Muir, who soon had the building enclosed and as fast as it could be lathed, the plasterers followed up so that one force crowded the other and it was only a few days before guests were being accommodated and the house was filled to overflowing. Those were days when everybody moved quickly in this country, and having once put their hand to the plow, there was no turning back.

About this time R.P. Sherman appeared and at once built the building he now uses, and established the Tower City Bank and has continued for twenty years in the same building and business. M.H. Kiff had by this time returned and opened up a general store in the building he had bought of Earl. "The State of Maine Store" it was then called, there was at that time six stores doing a good business on the south side of the railroad on Broadway, one on the north side, two good hotels.

Every day bought new settlers with car loads of stock and eatables and it was not uncommon to have four or five cars left at this point from one train and numerous single men came to take claims without stock.

Spring opened about the first of April the heavy body of snow melting in a very few days left all the coulees full of water, and making it inconvenient if not dangerous to try to cross these natural water courses as there were no bridges at this time. S.S. Small of the Red River Land Company came here with a customer to sell land to, wanted to go to Hope. I remonstrated with Small about going and told him it would be impossible to reach Hope until after the water had run off, but to no purpose; he must go so I took the best team we had and after loading in a sack of coffee between the seats of our spring wagon and twenty pounds of hams under the back seat, we started to make our way to Hope, well we got along all right until we got north of W.C. Grays place we came to a regular river the water spread out for nearly one half a mile. We wandered west up the stream to find the place to cross the main stream, which one could tell by the current. I got up on the front seat and told my men to look out, and started my team in to cross; well the faithful team took us through all right although they went out of sight only their heads. After getting on land once more I looked back and saw the two hams floating downstream with one of my halters in tow, but we could not stop for anything like that in those days. Small had a man he expected to sell a section of land to that was of more consequence than hams and halters.

We reached Humphrey's place at Ellsbury before night and put up for the night, the next morning we started for Hope, I was well satisfied we would be back to Humphrey's for dinner. On coming up to the big coulee about five miles south of Hope, I stopped and looked the matter over; there was a stream of water eighty rods wide and deep enough to run a good sized steamboat. Small concluded he did not want to go to Hope, that way, so we turned around and started for Tower City and after a good dinner at Ellsbury, we got home that night all right, I speak of some of these things to show what experiences we had here in the early days with no roads or bridges and many times hairbreadth escapes but we thought nothing of those trials then, no one did.

About the 1st of May 1881, I took contract to carry the mail to Lisbon, one trip a week, it was one of those star routes and was bid off to a man living in the state of Mo., he had many more such routes.

There was a post office established at Lisbon, Joe Colton, post master, one at Kibbyville with Mrs. Kibby as post mistress, I think well - we used to carry the mail regular once a week and oftener when we were going with passengers, and before the summer was near out we had orders from the Post Office dept. at Washington to increase the service to three trips a week. Well the town was growing out of sight and left. H.J. Miller and E.J. Bickford had laid out additions to the original town site and Ellsbury also added more to his plat, and some of us expected to see a young Chicago here in a short time. This was then distributing point for Ransom County south and Steel County, north and the freight and transfer business in both directions was of no small dimensions. Hope had a post office established and we were running a regular stage line three trips a week to Hope. There was quite a large quantity of wheat sown around here the spring seed was all raised here the preceding year, as there were several pieces of one hundred acre lots raised in thirty. This really being the second season for raising wheat, farmers had gotten a lot of ground ready. Ellsbury planted a small patch of corn and there had been a nice lot of potatoes raised in 1880 and it was well demonstrated that roots would grow well so everybody planted and general farming progressed firmly, the Ferguson family had come on here and soon took claim in Minnie Lake township, also Ed Priest, Schuler and a number of others so there was quite a settlement tributary to Tower City, also the Montgomery's on the south, Frost, Webster, Bullamore, Earl and lot as far south as Kibby, so that this was getting to be a very prominent town on the line of the .Northern Pacific Road.

At one time Tower City had fifty business houses and was the outfitting point for Ellsbury, Hope and other points south and all kinds of business was well represented here in this flourishing village, of course there was talk of more railroads and everybody expected that they would get run over with a new road especially if they got out a few miles from the main line of the great trans-continental line, the Northern Pacific who build castles in the air, especially in regard to railroads. "


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