A Pioneer History of Becker County

Chapter LII.

The History of Savannah.

by Penn. W. Martin

As a political organization, Town 142, Range 36, began to breathe conjointly with Town 141 of the same range, on the 20th day of September, 1898. The whole was called Two Inlets, on account of the fine lake within its boundaries having two inlets.

In the spring of 1901, A. T. Brennig, George Schmit, Fred Imhoff, C. E. Smith, P. W. Martin, Henry Kalthoff, Mike Dirkes, Peter Dirkes, Andrew Gangl, Herman Schubert, Joseph Kruse, George Lang, M. J. Smith, W. F. Kelsey, George Kelsey, A. C. Burlingame, Peter Moos, Frank Pfeifer, Edward Pfetse, August Dickmann, Chas. Bollenbaugh, E. N. Youmans and M. D. McNulty prepared a petition, which, after some alterations and corrections, was presented to the board of county commissioners requesting that the Siamese arrangement of Towns 141 and 142 be discontinued, and that Town 142, Range 36 be detached and set up in business for itself.

On September 26th, 1901, the commissioners took final action upon the petition making of the congressional Town 142, Range 36, the organized town of Savannah and ordered notices posted calling for the first election of “said town to be held upon the 12th day of the succeeding October at the residence of Peter Dirkes."

The first officers were: Chairman of supervisors, Peter Dirkes; supervisors, E. E. Smith and Willard Worden; clerk, Henry Kalthoff; treasurer, Mike Dirkes; justices of the peace, C. E. Smith and P. W. Martin; constables Henry Schubert and Lon. Burlingame.

On March 22nd, 1902, School District No. 91 was organized, comprising the whole town, and a few months later school began in a frame schoolhouse with Town Clerk Henry Kalthoff as teacher. Mr. Kalthoff came to this town with the Stearns County contingent. He had taught in that county some time and is now in Canada where he and two sons own land. Two more schoolhouses have been built and a fourth will be required in a short time.

Long before all this, however, residences were established here by John Dines and on McIntyre. They came from Canada and each located on a fine pine claim, proving up in six months or so and very soon thereafter returning to their native land. At least so tradition runs. Not one of the present settlers ever saw them, and as a settled community they made no impression upon the town.

Ten years later came Dickmann, the first bona fide settler in the town. John August Diekmann was born in Aldenburg, Germany, soon after the middle of the 19th century, and has not yet forgotten the German tongue. He lived for a time in Stearns County, Minnesota, and in the fall of 1895 he came to Park Rapids and from there to Mr. Bittman’s in Two Inlets. He took a great fancy to this section of country because of he fine hunting and fishing, and finally concluded to buy some tracts of meadow land and make a home here. During the summer of ‘96 two families settled in the woods at the south angle of Boot Lake and began the erection of homes. Herman Lashwoski and Louis Strouve worked hard and skillfully, but gave up the struggle and with their families and some chattels moved away in the fall or winter succeeding. Mr. Diekmann bought the improvements of these gentlemen on Section 32, and somewhat later filed on one of the claims and established a very pleasant home there. Bachelor that he is, he has no notion of abandoning his “Cottage by Boot Lake."

Between the advent of “August,” as Mr. Diekmann is commonly called, and the arrival of Lashwoski, came the writer with a crew of men, and a claim shanty was erected on a homestead adjoining Mr. Diekmann’s tracts, which also consisted mostly of meadow land, made in an early day by the backwater from the dams of the beavers. There are still other meadows on Beaver Creek and elsewhere in the town, and it was these beautifully grassy reaches that furnished the suggestion for a name for the town which should have been spelled “Savanna” instead of like the city in Georgia.

It must not be inferred from the foregoing that this is a low country, mostly meadow and swamp. There are numerous swamps of spruce and tamarack, but there are also some long ridges and high hills and poplar flats.

Almost every species of wood or shrub know to the Minnesota flora is found here, including the tree cranberries, blueberry, trailing myrtle and arbutus, on up through the various deciduous trees to the stately white pine and beautiful yellow Norway.

Leaving out of account the millions of “Jack” or black pine there were perhaps originally in the town, five or ten millions of white pine and twenty or thirty millions of Norway pine. Nearly four million feet were cut last winter. The timber being a fair indication of the soil, you will see that we have a great variety.

The timber attracted some young men to the neighborhood and at irregular intervals during the nineties, claims were located and built upon by John O’Neil, Frank Pfeifer, A. T. Brennig, Messrs.. Mansfield, Youmans, Lievi, Johnson and others. At the dawn of the twentieth century the town received an infusion of new blood. The Iowa colony in 1894 with E. E. Smith as patriarch, took possession of a large amount of land in the Boot Lake region. The Gaylords settled among them in 1901. The center of the town was settled by a number of German Americans from Stearns County, and the Wisconsin group settled to the east with Mr. Worden from South Dakota.

A few parcels of land had been bought outright, but without exception the settlers are living upon government homesteads.

Three forces operated to lead trails to this direction at a very early period~the late seventies~the cranberries, the fish and game and the timber. The very earliest paths seemed to have been located by Indians. During the early eighties hunters from Osage and Linnell, worked roads in here from the south and west. The Moores, Witters and Stevens called it the Boot Lake country. Still others Long Lake. Roads were pushed further in during the early nineties by settlers from the south looking for hay privileges. It was while cruising for hay with C. W. Martin of Arago, Hubbard County, in 1895, that the writer’s present homestead was discovered. Ten years have witnessed a change from a desolated wilderness to a fairly populous township, having tow post-offices. Mrs. C. E. Smith was our first postmistress and she opened the Savannah post-office to the public at her home on the west shore of Boot Lake, September, 1902. In 1904 a post-office was established in the north central part of the town, John Schmit being postmaster. He also has a stock of groceries and settlers’ supplies.

Wild Animals.

Stories of adventure do not come readily to my pen. A buffalo head was found in the creek by Mr. Schubert this spring. Some years ago Mr. Diekmann shot a swan. Moose and the like are not so plentiful now as formerly, but we believe we are the only folk who boast of beaver, and this involves a technicality; there are some beaver on the Itasca State Park, and four sections of the Park are within the boundaries of our township. We have bears too. One Sunday morning a youth went out into the woods to avoid distraction until he could con his catechism lesson. For comfort he climbed a tree, and sat in the fork thereof. While thus engaged he was startled by a peculiar noise at the foot of the tree. It was nothing but a bear standing on his rear pins trying to make out what the boy was reading. Finally Bruin gave up, but the boy showed fight. At any rate the boy’s hair bristled up. A picture is inserted to take the place of our hunting story. Also our best fishing story will have to be told by P. O. Stevens as he got the nets.

Topographically we are if anything higher than Height of Land, being a part of the thirteenth or Itasca Moraine, and nearly 1,600 feet above sea level.

C. E. Smith was born in Washington County, New York, May 18th, 1843. When twelve years of age he with his parents moved to Kankakee, Ill. On June 11th, 1861, he enlisted in the 42nd Illinois Volunteers and served during the war. He was for five months in Andersonville prison where he was cruelly treated. He came to Savannah in 1889.

There is something that the word sadness does not express, but that rather borders on the tragic, in settling up a new country.

Come to stern and rock-bound New England with our forefathers, where at Plymouth, one-half of them were buried the first winter.

Come to Ohio and find Ridpath dedicating his universal history “to my father and mother, who upon the rough borders of civilization toiled."

Come to Savannah with the Stearns County Germans, and weep with them over the remains of their children, who were carried off by diphtheria the first summer.

We cannot begin to tell the hardships the people endured. Fortunately we are now too busy to repine over these things, and the prospects before are bright-even cheery.

The Lost Children.

It was the 4th of June, 1904, in the afternoon, that Annie Haider, nine years old, and her aunt, Lena Haider, aged thirteen, started for the cows. The girls with their folks lived on Section 10 in a very sparsely settled portion of the town. At no great distance on either side are dense swamps of tamarack, balsam and spruce.

By the time they found the cows they were turned half way round by the compass. The cows were not turned round, and refused to go in the direction the girls were trying to drive them.

At last they gave up and set out for home as they thought. At four o’clock Annie’s father heard of the errand the girls had gone on and set out at once to find the girls an cows. He found the cows. Becoming alarmed, he and six near neighbors began a search which they kept up past midnight, when they returned to the home of Andrew Haider, Lena’s father.

Annie’s mother had but a few weeks before been laid in the grave and now she and her aunt were expected to have been devoured by wolves in the mid-swamp. And thus were the relatives tortured till the morrow.

Early the next morning twenty men renewed the search. After beating along up the west side of the park, the teacher, Mr. Gaylord, went to the West Savannah settlement and recruited ten more volunteers for the hunt; all the men he saw~each man providing himself with a rifle, lantern and lunch. Just as the recruits arrived at the place to begin the search the children had been found.

Now to follow the children. Being afraid of Indians and Philistines they carefully avoided old shacks and even trails and struck for the deepest part of the forest. Fortunately, they had a hatchet with them and they thoughtfully marked a tree here and there, to be noticed later by the rescuers.

They also agreed to answer no calls except their own names. Shortly before nightfall a cold rain set it, which did not stop until daybreak. About this time the fugitives selected a large spruce with spreading branches and climbed up several branches and made themselves as comfortable as possible and remained till the Sabbath dawned. Their guardian angel sent two night-birds to the old spruce and their songs somewhat softened the dreariness of those hours.

Annie, by putting her head in Aunt Lena’ arms, slept a while, but poor Lena kept sleepless vigil till morning. They again began wandering around in quest of home. At noon they were heard by John Gangl, Michael Gartner and Jerry Breitback. They were on the west shore of Lake Itasca, eight miles from home. The children were bewildered and afraid, but when they recognized their neighbors, you can imagine their relief. And how they made away with that lunch. The a tramp of six miles to the nearest house. Here a rest and refreshment gave strength to finish the journey, and at four o’clock, tired and wet and almost divested of clothing, they were folded to the hearts of relatives and playmates who had gathered to receive them. A volley from the rifles brought in the rest of the party, who as they came trooping out of the woods, presented the appearance of a small army, and it was an army of friends.


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