The News From Dysart & North Central Iowa – First Two Weeks of April 1914

State News

Is There A Body in that Trunk?
Dysart Reporter April 19, 1914

This article and articles like it ran in several papers in Iowa during the first week of April, 1914. What the people of Dysart did not know is that the killer they were looking for, “James Nolan”, had strong ties to Tama County and only a year earlier had lived among them. Authorities in Montana had wired Waterloo to be on the lookout for Nolan who they believed had killed a homesteader in Montana on March 9. Authorities in Osage determined that he had arrived there by train but left almost immediately on another train, believed to be bound for Frankfort, Michigan, where the search for him continued.

Neighbors had reported the homesteader, Arthur E. Kerry, of Woodmountain near Regina, Canada, missing. The police had trailed the suspect, James Nolan to Glasgow, Montana, but the trail had been lost there. Sheriff Nacey found that the wagon and team had been disposed of at Nashua and the person had taken the train for Williston. From Williston he was traced to Minneapolis, going from there to Iowa.

On April 17, Nolan was arrested in Eagle Grove, Iowa, by Marshal Fisher and charged with Kerry’s murder. It turned out that his name was actually James Knowlen, not Nolan. He was arrested on a train headed for Fort Dodge along with his wife and young daughter.

The following day, he confessed to the murder . He stated that he went to the home of an Englishman named “Cary” one evening to get him to drive the Knowlen family some distance overland. “Cary” lived alone in a cabin. Knowlen admitted to striking Cary with a club or sandbag inside the cabin. He took the body of the dead man as well as his valuable team. The woman and child joined him and for three days and nights they continued on their way. The body was removed from the wagon at 4 a.m. the first day and hidden in some brush. The Knowlens reached Montana before the crime was discovered by neighbors who reported him missing to the Canadian Mounted Police. He disposed of the team for $60 although it was worth much more. Knowlen jumped from place to place to shake off any pursuit. He sold a watch belonging to the victim about two weeks before his arrest in Eagle Grove, Iowa. After his confession, Knowlen broke down completely and agreed to return to Canada to face trial. He was described as being about 35 years old and of small stature. The victim was about 25 years old and had staked his claim in Canada some time before his death. Based on Knowlen’s confession, the body was found in the brush on Porcupine Creek on Friday, April 17.

The papers reported that Knowlen previously lived near Toledo in Tama County and left for Canada about one year before this event. The Traer Star Clipper in August of 1913 had reported that he had moved from the Henry Taylor Place (west of Toledo) to the Hibbs property near Monticello. The Eagle Grove Gazette reported him as a former resident of that place and this seems to have been true. Both papers stated he had left their communities to go to Canada.

“Nolan was reported as rather a suspicious character while here, and at the time of his departure left quite a number of bills unpaid.”

toledo chronicle aPRIL 23, 1914
Canadian Authorities Declared Him Insane
Traer Star Clipper May 22, 1914

Knowlen was tried in Canada. The Canadian government paid for Marshal Fisher to come and testify at the trial. It was revealed during the the trial that Knowlen was caught because he was recognized on a train between Livermore and Humboldt by a local doctor, Dr. Bowes, who knew him from when he had lived in Eagle Grove. The trial only took one day and the jury voted 9-3 for first degree murder. He was sentenced to fifteen years and went directly from the trial to prison.

Spring City – Colfax

Mr. & Mrs. Ed Gleim and Mrs. W. A. Lincoln of Dysart returned recently from Colfax, Iowa, where they had been for treatment of rheumatism.

Hotel Colfax – Colfax, Iowa

The History of Colfax

Mineral Water

Nestled along the bluffs of the Skunk River of Central Iowa, the small town of Colfax boasts a big and surprising history. Originally platted in 1866 as a stagecoach and railroad stop, Colfax rocketed to world prominence with the discovery of artesian mineral water springs in 1875. News of the mineral water attracted several doctors, pharmacists, hoteliers, and other enterprising business people to move to the community to capitalize on the ‘life giving properties’ of mineral water.  The mineral water industry soon brought in thousands of visitors a year for about a forty year period, who came to bathe and drink the medical properties of the water and enjoy the clear air of a rural setting.

In its heyday, Colfax became known as “Spring City,” “Little Carlsbad of the Midwest,” and the “Saratoga of the West” comparing the town to famous spa resorts of Europe and America. Colfax sported eighteen mineral springs, four bottling works, nine spa hotels, and other industries that sprang up around the burgeoning economy of the time. In 1900, Hotel Colfax, the largest hotel, registered 13,000 guests. In 1904, Hotel Colfax went through a $600,000 ($17M in today’s money) Spanish Mission style renovation making it one of the premier hotels in the nation. Hotel Colfax was so large that it had its own train station, trolley, power plant, and six-hole golf course. Colfax’s bottling works bottled plain, carbonated, and flavored water (with unique flavors such as ‘iron and celery’ and ‘sarsaparilla’) and shipped the water across the country to be sold as health tonics in pharmacies and hospitals.  The mineral water tourism industry created the need for public entertainment and a 2,000-seat outdoor auditorium, dining hall, and camping grounds were built to host The Chautauqua and Methodist Epworth League traveling entertainment circuits. Performers, singers, lecturers, orchestras, and religious speakers came from around the world to entertain and educate Colfax citizens and guests during the summer months.

Unfortunately, World War I, The Great Depression, and modern medicine brought about the end of the mineral water industry for Colfax.  Many of the great hotels fell into disrepair or were destroyed by fire. In 1933, the iconic gazebo at Mineral Springs Park was constructed by local volunteers and unskilled labor from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) to commemorate the once illustrious industry. Now, Colfax has memorialized its unique past by creating the Spring City Commercial Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and local volunteers are always looking for ways to preserve and celebrate Colfax’s past.

Copied from colfaxia.gov

Local News

DYSART REPORTER APRIL 2, 1914

During the 1910s the local papers occasionally ran stories of people either shooting or trapping wolves. Most of these appears to have occurred near the Wolf Creek area north of town. According to a report by David W.W. Aller and Paul L. Errington, the bounty system for the control of wildlife started in 1817. These laws in the United Stated were based on traditional laws in Europe. In 1840, the governor signed an “act to encourage the destruction of wolves” into law. Counties could offer 50c to $3 for wolves over 6 months old and 25c to $1.50 for younger animals. After statehood was achieved in 1846 these laws remained in effect with changes in pay amounts and rules being added or modified over the years. All of these programs were a strain on the state and county treasuries however, pressure from farmers, ranchers and hunters of small game and birds kept them going. In 1913 the legislature enacted a state -wide law increasing the bounty to $20 for adult wolves and $4 for whelps – the highest rates in Iowa’s history. This led to problems with “wolf farming” whereby individuals were keeping whelps or in some cases breeding whelps to adulthood in order to be paid the higher premium. By 1916, those individuals faced stiff fines if caught trying to breed wolves for profit. In 1923 the entire bounty system was revamped. New rates were set for wolf bounties in 1945 which remained in effect until at least 1961 although very few of these bounties were claimed during the years 930s-1960s. Today there are no breeding wolf packs in Iowa however, there are in surrounding states and the DNR states it is reasonable to assume that some of these will travel into and through the state. They are currently a protected species.

Throughout the history of Iowa, bounties have been offered for many different animals. Those of us who grew up with depression era parents may have heard stories of claiming bounties for gopher feet, crows and starlings from the county to supplement family incomes.

Waller and Errington: The Bounty System in IowalPublished by UNI ScholarWorks, 1961

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2 thoughts on “The News From Dysart & North Central Iowa – First Two Weeks of April 1914

  1. I enjoy these articles so much because my Grandparents talked of these things. Chad. Burmeister was my Great Grandfather. And Roy Waller was married to my Grandma before he died. So nice to hear things about that time.

    Like

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