Ice storm is reminder of difficult times for pioneers
Tuesday, February 26, 2013 5:47 AM
The recent ice storm was a reminder of how blessed most folks are with comfortable homes, efficient automobiles for travel, warm clothing and the availability of doctors and nurses as needed. While perusing a file on bios of early Spring Valley pioneers, it was truly awesome to ponder the difficult times they endured. Husbands died in accidents, women died in childbirth, diseases and terrible tragedies caused young and old to perish "before their time."
The ice storm of 2-22-22; electric service was out all over town for 12 days. The house shown was on a large lot on the corner of North Section and Farmer Street known in the early years as the Warren home; later the Bremseth family lived here. It was burned down and now two homes occupy that corner — one on Section Avenue and one on Farmer Street.
A common story is that of Charles Cornwell. His parents lived on a farm in New York when he was born in 1852. At the beginning of the Civil War, 1861, the family with six children migrated west by covered wagon drawn by oxen, eventually settling near Hamilton, the village north of Spring Valley. Charles' oldest brother contracted the dreaded smallpox at age 22 and was isolated in a poorly heated building. He died, maybe not from the smallpox, but from exposure to below zero temps. During epidemics like this, volunteers often helped care for victims, and a neighbor offered his help. After the brother died, the neighbor and his wife both were stricken with smallpox.
To compound tragedy, Charles' youngest sister died of "spotted fever" and then a runaway team of horses dragged their father to death. The two older boys were left to care for their mother and sisters. Charles and brother Cyrus married two sisters, Lucette and Vina Thayer, daughters of Thomas J. Thayer, who operated a hardware store in town. T.J. Thayer's second wife was Eliza Jane Wilder, sister-in-law of Laura Ingalls Wilder. A successful farmer, Charles died at age 87 at the home of his son, Bob, in Louisiana. Louisiana was also the home of T.J. Thayer and where some of the Wilder family is buried.
Another sad story occurred in the history of Elezer Root. Born in 1834 in Illinois, he came to Minnesota by ox-drawn covered wagon with his parents, wife and sons. They settled on a farm only one mile north of town. While his father, Zenas Root, and his 12 year old son were driving by a sinkhole, the ox team was being harassed by flies; they ran away to the sinkhole, and both Mr. Root and the boy were drowned. Elezer Root lived to 82 on his farm near town.
Connor Gahagen was another pioneer businessman, born in Ireland in 1837. On the death of his mother when he was only 10, his father brought him and his sister to America by sailing ship. His father worked "at the pineries" in Maine till he, too, died, and Connor and sister Mary came to Minnesota. During the Civil War he earned money by hauling soldiers from Rochester to Fort Snelling. In the early 1870s, he came to Spring Valley and opened the Pioneer Meat Market, a successful business until his death in 1901. He married Julia Fay in 1875 and they had two children, but she died within six years. He then married Mary Fay, and seven children were born to this union. He built the brick house on South Hudson Avenue near the Catholic church. One of his daughters was Mrs. Byron (Bessie) Lyke.
These second marriages were typical - when spouses died, the survivor often soon married again to merge families. Widows needed a father and wage earner, widowers needed a mother and housekeeper, and together they raised their combined families. Of course that still happens today, and many of those unions bring happiness to all concerned.
Even doctors were not immune to tragedies in their own lives. Dr. Cyrus B. Eby (1872-1934), a native of Canada, had a notable career before coming to Spring Valley in 1903. He was assistant superintendent at the Rochester State Hospital and then practiced at a mining town for a year. He was chiefly remembered because of his devotion to needy folks and his love of children. However, Dr. Eby's devotion to work led to his early demise. Not feeling well himself, he answered a call some 10 miles out in the country. The road was blocked with snow; he had to shovel and apply chains to his vehicle and exerted great effort to get to his destination. Upon sitting at his patient's bedside, he remarked he had some heart trouble, and fell over dead. It was told that all the businesses in town closed for the funeral of this beloved physician.
Coming to an untimely end in 1891 was a young man who had come from England, Henry Dunn, who was working on the farm of Joseph Tait. He was trying to bury a large boulder by digging a deep hole beside it, thereby toppling the boulder into the excavation. Unfortunately, he misjudged the procedure, carelessly undermining the boulder, which fell on him, crushing out his life. The brief article that noted this event ended, "He was buried on Wednesday."
May our days be brighter as we look ahead to spring, just around the corner!