RECOLLECTIONS OF EARLY OKOBOJO
    
By S. A. Travis, Pierre,  S. D. in  1923 and  1938

The first settler in the locality of Okobojo was Peter Brennan, who was a squatter on a tract of land which surrounded the town-site on two sides, his building being near a little plum grove about where the new residence of George Bunch now situated. He "squatted" on that location early in 1882 and remained in that part of the country for five or six years and finally vanished, and as he was an old man at that time it is not likely that he is now living.

The town was laid out in the spring of '83, before the county was organized. The first settlers to locate were Merit Sweney, town site agent, and part owner of the same, and A. C. Parsons, who started the first store near where the present McGannon store is located, and ran it through the first year of the town's history, selling it in the spring of '84 to Captain Bliss Sutherland, who operated it for several years before turning it over to his son, Frank, both of whom are now dead. This store passed through several hands as the years went along, finally getting into the possession of Alex McGannon, who now operates it

.From 1939 edition of "History of Sully County"
Alex McGannon store and post office approximately 1939.

The next store was a hardware store, opened the summer of 84 by Captain W. W. Stewart, who with H. R. Mills, of Port Huron had been induced   by   A. C.  Parsons to   take an interest in the place.   Later this store was sold  to William Brownlee and  a general stock of  goods was carried.

Other early mercantile ventures were in the way of a shoe store put in by John Bradley, and when the town of Clifton finally vanished from the map, Norm Willits, who had been operating a store at Clifton moved his building to Okobojo and operated there for several years.

The first "hotel" accommodations were by the Bunch family. E. P. Bunch filed on a tract of land adjoining the town and built a two-story building which was used for that purpose. But before that his son, Charlie, had put up a shack and was feeding the land prospectors who came out in the early spring of 1883, but the new building was soon put up and different members of the Bunch family operated it as a hotel for several years. This building was later moved to the farm of James Bagby in Grandview township, and later moved back to Okobojo, and is now on the farm of Hal Glessner, just south of town.  

Photo by Scott Green - March 2001

Okobojo Hotel March 17, 2001

The next move in that direction was that of George Henderson, who lost his life on the prairie while returning from Pierre with a load of lumber and fuel when an early storm caught him. His team was found in the brush along the creek the next morning and a party started out to hunt for him, but the day was cold and stormy and the body was not found. The next day about twenty horsemen spread out across the prairie and the body was found about two miles south of town. This was the first tragic death in that locality.

D. F. Sweetland was the first loan agent, locating in 1883. He remained for seven or eight years.

The first newspaper was printed in May, '84, by Frankhauser-and Travis. Frankhauser soon drifted back to Michigan and A. C. Parsons joined in the business which was later taken over by Travis; alone, who maintained it until 1892 when he sold it to John Glessner. After Mr. Glessner's death this paper was sold to John Livingstone and by him to Will Green. After his death Mrs. Green sold it to John and William Crawford who published it for several years. In 1928 it was purchased by G. J. Zimmer, who published it for a year from the office of the Onida Watchman at Onida, at which time it died a natural death for lack of patronage.

When Captain W. W. Stewart and H. R. Mills took a share in the townsite they secured the erection of a flouring mill in the fall of 1884. This was put up by T. J. Brownlee, a young man from southern Illinois. He kept it in operation for several years, but the fuel problem was too expensive, and this along with the dry years and the failure of the wheat crop put an end to the attempt, and the building was torn down.

In the beginning of settlement, Okobojo was the central point of gathering for the southwestern part of the county, and the celebrations of various kinds were held there, the first of importance being a Fourth of July opening in 1884. Others followed, along with, literary society meetings and other gatherings in the little old schoolhouse, which was built in the fall of '83. But it was a small affair and something more fitting to the needs of such gatherings was wanted and while often discussed nothing was definitely done until the spring of 1890, when a town hall association was organized, and stock enough sold to secure lumber to start the structure which has been the general meeting place for western Sully residents

.From 1939 edition of "History of Sully County"
The Town Hall 
is one of the last buildings left standing in Okobojo.  More about the Hall

Officers and soldiers from Fort Sully were frequent visitors, and were generally present whenever any entertainments were pulled off. Soldiers were prone to sell extra uniforms when short of cash, and many parts of such uniforms were owned by settlers. Knowing that a delegation from Fort Sully would be over to one of the Fourth of July celebrations, a "company" of infantry was put on as part of the parade. The "company" was more or less uniformed, and was headed by a captain, two lieutenants, two sergeants and four corporals, followed by the "ranks", consisting of one small boy, who managed to carry the weight of his old musket past the crowd, and then let it fall, to be carried by stronger hands from that time on.

The literary society meetings in the old schoolhouse drew large crowds as there was good vocal music available and the Bruner orchestra occasionally came down from Carson to assist. The director of the little plays put on at each meeting was Miss Cora Spurling, who afterwards traveled for several years with a stock company in the east, and made a record for herself as an emotional actress. With her assistance some entertaining programs were presented.

One if the tragic events of early day settlement in that section was the death, by lightning, of Thomas Porter, who lived about a mile north of town. A terrific electrical storm was in progress, and he rose from his bed for some purpose. Being a man over six feet tall his head was near the ceiling, and a bolt which struck the corner of the house evidently struck his head. He fell; apparently his wife was also stunned for when she recovered consciousness she found her husband dead on the floor. While the storm was still raging and in the darkness she made her way to the nearest neighbor for assistance.

The old boxing gloves which had hard usage for several years will be recalled by the male portion of the town when thinking of early days, as very few escaped entirely from the effect of that old pair of gloves in the time they did duty for all the populace.

One of the forms of amusement was in the way of country dances. These were held at the smell homes in Okobojo or that vicinity and meant generally moving out the furniture to get room for the old square dances of that day. And the country schoolhouses had to accept their share of moving desks about to accommodate the many dances held within their walls.

Pioneer life is generally pictured as one of hardships. Compared with the present days of living, it was probably just that. But most who came to the prairies in early days came from communities which did not know of the things considered as necessary in these times, and those who settled thought that they were having rather a good time in their venture into a new country, and while it was not all roses, most of those who went through it praise that experience, even though they would not care to go through it again.

Many incidents, some pleasing and humorous, and others not so lined up, occurred to keep the settlers interested. One of these was when in the fall of 1890, one afternoon four wagons all loaded



with people came into Okobojo, with their horses being urged to high speed, and carrying the information that Indians had crossed the river at some unknown place to the north and were coming south killing and burning. All residents of the place were urged to join them, but none appeared to be worried. Fort Sully was a few miles to the west and was in telegraphic communication with points as far north as Bismarck. Okobojo people felt that if there had been any disturbance the fort would have had knowledge of it and sent out warnings, and none had been sent out. That was presented to. the visitors but had no effect and they went on to Pierre, returning in a couple of days.

The first few years in Sully county were blessed with plenty of rainfall and the prairie was covered with a heavy carpet of grass. Crops put in yielded bountifully and it was a land of great expectations. But about 1886 was the first awakening to different conditions, and for several years crop returns were light and settlers began to leave for new locations and by 1890 the prairie population was very much reduced. It has "come back" several times since that, to again be followed by dry years, and just at this time is certainly not a fairyland by any means.