Thursday, April 13, 2017

Around Sutton History in 80 Months

People are still surprised to learn that the Round Baler was invented in Sutton.
The Sutton Historical Society’s first article in Sutton Life Magazine appeared in the second issue of the magazine in August 2009. We’re well into our eighth year of this endeavor with 80 different articles published that are somehow related to the history of Sutton. Are there really 80 topics about Sutton history worthy of such consideration? Don’t answer that.

Recently, an interesting topic for an article came to mind. We were well into putting it together when a feeling of déjà vu set in, full stop. A look at our list of past articles confirmed that it was a topic interesting enough to have already been written about, by us. Embarrassing, but increasingly common.

So, when the author can’t remember what articles are included in this collection, it’s about time to remind the readers.

Our first articles and several since have examined those first years after the founding of our town. The first two articles were titled, “Sutton, Small Town, Large Story” and “Sutton, the Sudden Settlement.” These were short articles by our standards and habits today, that described how the town came to be here and to get started at the time it did.

We’ve often returned to that first decade of Sutton’s story, the 1870’s, because Sutton’s founders left several contemporary accounts of what was here, who was here and what they were doing. Later periods aren’t that clearly described but usually require plowing through old newspapers and other general sources. Conveniently, our weekly newspaper column in The Clay County News requires exactly that kind of research enabling us to stumble onto stories of Sutton’s past.

Minnie (Rowe) Crabb, Sutton High Class of 1886, was another obscure product
of our town whose story was well worth telling on our pages.
It is a concern that these stories we’ve uncovered would sink deeper into stacks of old magazines and newspapers and again slip in to the fog of history. Our answer has been to post almost all of the Sutton Life articles on the historical society’s blog at There are more than 400 postings on the blog of which about 80 are these Sutton Life articles.

The blog format does not lend itself to a quick route to a post but there are multiple ways to find locate what you’re looking for.

A brute force method is to employ the “Labels” tag in the right column of the blog. Clicking on the “Sutton Life Magazine” label will bring up the entire set. Blog postings appear in reverse chronological order so the first post will be the most recent, previous posts follow and the earliest ones are deepest in the pile. Scroll through to visit them all. “Brute force” as I said.

There are almost 20 different labels identifying the posts that fit that category. A post likely has more than one label and the labels are intended to be logical groupings and accurately labeled. We try.

Another directory into the post is the Blog Archive a bit lower on the right side of the blog. There are headings for each year since 2008 when the blog started and entries for each month in that a post was published. If you know about when a specific article appeared in Sutton Life Magazine the archive can get you close and you can zero in to the right one.

Near the top of the right side, about next to the Labels is a “gadget” “Search This Blog” with a small box to type in a search argument or “key word.” The searcher will then list articles where that key word appears. There could be several. A search for “Maltby” will find about 40 postings containing the name of that Sutton pioneer. It’s not a perfect method but it does narrow the 400+ postings by 90%. Titles of individual postings will help locate specific topics and posts.

Dr. Martin Clark and his brother Isaac were
instrumental in the early development of our town,
both as community leaders and real estate agents.
Our third article in the magazine was a brief biography of Isaac N. Clark, one of our important town founded. It introduced one of the common categories of our articles as we told the stories of several important early Sutton residents. We recently did a bio on Isaac Clark’s brother, Martin Clark. There are biographies of John Maltby, F. M. Brown, Madeleine Leininger, Ted Wenzlaff, the doctors Nuss, Ochsner and Pope and others. In the September, 2015 article we posted bios of several Sutton men that appeared in The Sutton Register in early 1894. Those biographies and others made it to the blog in several separate postings.

There are posts that speak about pioneer families rather than individuals, the French family, Bemis family, the Gray’s, Sheridan’s and a few others.

Even more fun has been finding more obscure Sutton residents who are worthy of mention. We did an early article about Betsy Swanson who immigrated at age 10 with her family from Sweden to Utah as part of the Latter-Day Saints. She was a seamstress as a young girl before her family left Utah and came east to Council Bluffs. She was a veteran of the ox-cart walk to Utah and an Indian attack in Colorado before becoming the lady of the first lumber house in Sutton Township.

It is rewarding to see the reactions of Sutton residents when they learn anew about the exploits of past Sutton residents such as the two Medal of Honor soldiers with Sutton connections: Jacob Volz and Orion P. Howe.

Our list of stories about lesser known people with Sutton connections include the explorer Walter Wellman, political cartoonist Herbert Johnson, pioneer teacher and Sutton shopkeeper Nellie Stevens,
Several downtown buildings are decorated with the name of the builder
providing a topic to research. Ed Woodruff wasn't a well-known fellow.
early businessman and one-time mayor Ed Woodruff and many more.

Another category of magazine articles and blog posts have been detailed looks at specific dates in Sutton’s history. These normally come from either an analysis of the census or time spent deeply engrossed in the newspapers of a particular year or period. We examined 1880, 1890, 1923, 1940 and will likely take on some more of these.

We’ve done several articles on Sutton businesses over the years and have written about aspects and changes in farming since Sutton was founded in the early 1870’s in the era of homesteading. We’ve linked to, or published plat maps for the county from 1886, 1908, 1925 and 1937 among others. The railroad story is an important part of Sutton’s past and warranted coverage from multiple perspectives.

Veterans played a big role in Sutton’s settlement and Sutton contributed men, women and substantial support to the nation’s wars through the years. An article about the local GAR post pointed out more than 40 Civil War vets who contributed to Sutton’s start.

Our blog and the Sutton Life articles are products of the Sutton Historical Society and the Sutton Museum so we could hardly be expected to avoid some self-promotion during these seven years. The ulterior motive has been to attract more people to join us to support the museum and help in our work. That approach has fallen flat on its face but we continue and hope springs, or pushes on.

We’ve had at least three articles or posts about sports in Sutton’s story. The earliest one told the story of Johnny Bender, a 1900 Sutton High grad who starred on Nebraska’s football team for five years (can’t do that anymore) then went on to coach at several universities where he initiated homecoming and invented the nicknames for the Kansas State Wildcats, the St. Louis Billikens and the Washington State and Houston Cougars.

Sutton High sports programs collected about one-half of all championship banners on display in the auditorium during a single six-year stretch between 1986 and 1991 – good for a February, 2015 article.
The athletes of Sutton High School in the late 1980's and through 1991 set a high bar for all who will follow.

But the top Sutton sport story appeared in the February, 2013 issue where we related the story of Sutton’s 1922 Class A state championship basketball team that went on to play a three-game series in Yankton and went 1-1 in a 32-team national championship tournament in Chicago. Still our candidate for Sutton’s top all-time sports story.

And there have been some articles that are just miscellaneous, such as the Royal Highlanders (Oct, 2013), City park story (July, 2010), Round Barns (July, 2015), rural schools, genealogy, etc.

We’ve stretched our criteria for a Sutton connection a few times to include a bit about Key West, my 2nd great, grandfather’s abolition story in Indiana, Indians, book reviews and more.

Lodges played a big part in the lives of early folks in Sutton. The
Royal Highlanders was founded in Aurora and Sutton formed
Chapter #11. Insurance was the basis for the lodge; a Lincoln
insurance company traces its origins to this and two other
Nebraska-based lodges.
Putting together one of these articles each month is a challenge. Just coming up with 80 topics has been a tall order. But every now and then we encounter a story that makes it worthwhile. That happens when we uncover a piece of Sutton’s history that has been lost to most, sometimes it seems all of today’s residents. It came as a surprise to many that the round baler was invented in our community. That story has appeared in a couple of articles since 2008.

We’ve had visitors who are surprised that we’ve chronicled so many people and events that have made Sutton’s history interesting. On further consideration most agree that every community, even as small or smaller than Sutton has some similar collection of tales from the past. In too many cases, no one has expended the time and effort to uncover those stories. In each case, I assure you, there is “low-hanging fruit” – stories that are readily available with a minimum of effort to find them. Eighty topics worth writing about may take a while, but a few dozen should be easy to find in almost any community. It should be done.

Writing this article has pointed out the weakness of the blog format in finding specific posts in and among the 400+ postings. We’ve added a task to our TODO list to build a decent directory for the blog, likely to be published in the “Pages” section where permanent posts are maintained. Watch this space.

So, what do we think of as the #1 article in our collection? Easy.

We delayed writing this article for several months knowing we wanted it to properly honor our subject. There were several false starts and considerable editing before we were comfortable in submitting the article for the January, 2012 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. The title of this article was “SATCH” and it is the high point of this project. It can be seen at and we hope you enjoy it whether you knew this gentle man or not.

The Unforgettable Suttonite

 This article first appeared in the January 2017 issue of Sutton Life Magazine.

No comments: