There were 17 committees that worked in preparation for a three-day Houston County diamond anniversary (75 years) homecoming celebration in 1929. The Historical Booklet Committee produced a 48-page publication that included the information recounted here. Previously, there had been far more extensive county histories published in 1882 and 1919.
The land that became Houston County has been claimed by three different European nations – Spain, France and England – as well as several different tribes of native Americans. Most of these tribes, including the Wabashas and the Dakotas, were branches of what is called the Sioux tribe. However, there was bitter rivalry between these several branches before their issues were settled by a series of treaties between themselves and the United States.
Several tributaries of the Mississippi River run through the county, the largest being the Root River while Pine Creek Crooked Creek and Winnebago Creek also empty into the Mississippi. Money Creek, Silver Creek, Thompson’s Creek, South Fork and several smaller streams flow into the Root.
Along the Mississippi and other tributaries, “immense grandeur” included “irregular bluffs and oval hills with rock-capped summits” which offered a challenge to first river travelers and “hardy men and women who blazed trails over majestic precipices, through heavy forests and over rolling prairies.” The great spring of Beaver Creek is 230 feet below the tops of the surrounding bluffs. The bluffs at Sheldon are 420 feet high while the bluffs north of Houston rise 520 feet above the Root River. At Brownsville the bluff is 495 feet above the flood plain of the Mississippi. At Hokah, Mount Tom towers 530 feet above the Root River flood plain.
Houston County, being the first part of Minnesota Territory accessible by Mississippi River travel, was destined for early settlement by those of European heritage. Mexican War veteran Job Brown “took a steamboat trip up the Mississippi River to Lake Pepin. Here, he secured a canoe and quietly floated down the river looking for a town site on which to build the metropolis of the northwest.” Reaching what was then called the “Thousand Islands” opposite the mouth of the Root River, he found two trappers in a shanty who became involved with his quest. Brown decided to found his village at the foot of Wild Cat Bluff. The roof of the trappers’ shanty was improvised into a raft that would transport the three men and their household goods to Wild Cat Bluff. The raft again became part of a shanty at the first settlement in what is now southern Minnesota in June 1848, the year before Minnesota was organized as a territory.
Brown, after a visit back to family in White Pigeon, Mich., returned with his brother Charles and his brother-in-law James Hiner. In Milwaukee, they purchased supplies for the “then untried experiment of making a journey with horses and a wagon
across the state of Wisconsin.”
Accompanied by four hired men, they encountered a snowstorm near Baraboo Mountain. They abandoned the wagon and with an improvised sled, continued on through three feet of snow. “It took an enormous amount of labor to make five miles a day progress. To add to their misfortunes, one of the men cut his foot in a frightful manner, and they were obliged to carry him on their backs frequently up the steepest hills. Their provisions ran short and they had to subsist on parched corn. At their rate of travel, they feared even this food would give out.
“The party finally reached La Crosse, a woe-begone, cadaverous-looking set. After partaking of the hospitality of Mr. John M. Levy, they went down to Wild Cat Bluff between Christmas and New Year’s Day only to find that the parties they had left to hold the fort had disappeared!
“There was nothing in Minnesota except the intrinsic merit of the location to attract people from their more or less comfortable homes in the East. The hope as to the future was what lured them on. They were a sturdy race, who realized the inequality of the struggle in the old states or countries and resolved to plant themselves where merit would not be suppressed.”
“The county was named for General Sam Houston of Texas. When the name was suggested, it met with such general approval and acceptance that it is difficult to determine just who it was that first suggested the name. It is generally admitted that W. G. McSpadden, who laid out the present village of Houston in 1854, had selected that name for his village and at an informal meeting held for the purpose of considering names for the county, the name of Houston was again brought up. Job Brown of Brownsville, suggested the name of Rice in honor of his friend, H. M. Rice of St. Paul, and later presented that name to the authorities. But objection was made to this, and Mr. David House, who also was in St. Paul together with Sam McPhail and others suggested the name of Houston, and that was accepted.”
The birth of John. P. Lommen at Spring Grove was recorded to have been December 12, 1852, likely making him the first white baby born in what became Houston County. He was still a county resident (age 76) when the 1929 history was written.
Educating children often began at home, but as soon as there were enough children, there was community concern for their formal education. There would be a “bee” where each man contributed a few logs to construct a building for use as a school as well as religious and other
The first church service was likely in 1852 when a Baptist minister preached in a private residence. “When the hat was passed around, each man present (the number being 18) deposited a dollar. As an average, it is probable this exceeded any collection since taken up in the county.” A dollar in 1850 would have had the purchasing power of about $18 when this was written in 1929 and about $39 in 2023.
Source: Houston County Home-Coming and Diamond Anniversary, 1929