Sunday, May 6, 2012

Snapshot: George L. Wright

Our thanks to Harry Wright for providing this snapshot of his grandfather, George Wright.

“Grandfather George L. Wright born in Scotland  IN 1852, came with his parents in 1854, and grew up in Wisconsin  and worked around Southern Minnesota near Taopi, MN. I can’t document this accurately but it was understood he worked with the railroad as a depot agent as a young man or as a farm hand. It does appear that other members of his family were making their roots in southern MN near Austin and West Concord, MN. While working in the area of Taopi, in southern MN, he met my Grandmother. My Grandmother, Ida Allman, was a school teacher in the area. Later she taught in Owatonna and Le Sueur. Her Father was a merchant in Taopi, MN and Cresco, IA His name was Christian Allman and is buried in the New Organ Cemetery South of Cresco. Her mother’s name was Elizabeth Ann (Lowry) Alleman

In the mid 1880’s my grandfather and two other gentlemen, Ed Bradbury and Theo Davis continued West to South Dakota where he developed a Horse Ranch called the “La Belle Ranch Horse Import Co”, or La Belle Ranch. The Ranch was located 3 miles north of Winfred, SD, in Lake County, West of Madison, SD. He acquired the first 160 acres as homestead, and then through land grants acquired over 1600 acres that he managed. Because of friends and associates in England and Scotland, he had contacts. Remember the West was being settled by immigrants moving west to acquire new land. There was a need for good registered work horses to do farm work as the immigration westward of ranchers was growing. My grandfather imported those horses from Scotland and sold them at their ranch. The ranch was successful from the late 1880 to the late 1890’s. My grandfather also started a bank in Winfred, SD and donated land for a Church.

During this time he continued his relationship with my Grandmother. They were married later on September 30, 1886. They went back to Scotland for their honeymoon and then continued to live on the La Belle Ranch. During their trip back to Scotland they contacted Scottish Farmers willing to export their work horses for sale at LaBelle Ranch in SD. They incorporated with Bradbury as president, Davis as Vice President and my Grandfather as Secretary. Because of their contacts in Scotland and England, they were able to import registered work horses from Scotland & England and have them shipped to Chicago where other associates would bring the horses by train to Winfred for sale on their ranch. It was a big business at that time as the west was being settled and good horses were needed to work the land. While those associates waited for the sale date, they would hunt and fish on the acreage.  Prior to that, oxen or wild horses would be used for working the land. The imported horses were already trained for the work that they would do and farmers paid good money for good work horses.

Building the extensive horse importing and breeding ranch was not an easy task. Lumber for the four large barns, a large frame house, a bunkhouse, a granary with a windmill on top, and out buildings were hauled by wagons and teams from Luverne and Pipestone, Minnesota, the nearest railroad centers. A second house was built for my Grandfather and his family on top of the hill southeast of the ranch.  The main barn was put up in and is still standing. The stone masons were paid $2.25 a day, and the carpenters were paid $2.00 a day. The common laborers who hauled the rocks really did all the heavy labor were paid $.25 a day.

At one time there were four long horse barns with round windows and cupolas. It was the showplace of Lake County, Dakota Territory. At one time 22 hired men and two cooks worked on the ranch. A large square show ring was located near the barns where horsemen from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Iowa Minnesota and Yorkshire England viewed the imported mares and sires.  Names like Voltaire, Blue Bell, Lady Ebony, Sir Williford, and Crausford Duke made up the inventory. At one time $30,400 was the listed value of horses and mares and $9000 in grade horses and colts. Business was good with the influx of homesteaders and their need of horses.

The story goes that due to good living, hard times, poor management, and low market for horses in the late 1890’s, they were forced to sell.  They gave the hired men horses of their choice and thanked them for their faithfulness. Richard Westall from Minnesota purchased the ranch and stocked it with cattle instead of horses. As the years slipped by, most of the homesteads had been sold and the farmers needed more and better machinery.  My father Leslie’s brother, George and Sisters Jean and Elizabeth were born in South Dakota and my father was born on the farm in West Concord. They also lost an infant son at birth while at the ranch. 

In 1901 the family moved to West Concord, MN and purchased a 280 acre farm 2 miles east of town. West Concord as many small towns at that time was beginning to grow as an agricultural area.  Immigrants were being drawn to the mid-west as new farm land was being developed. The early years were hard as they settled into new areas. Merchants were starting new businesses to furnish settlers with the necessary needs. When the railroad came through, the route they selected was two miles west of Concord. As the area became progressive merchants realized that they needed the railroad to access excellent draining during other growing communities.  The year was 1885 when merchants decided to move their stores to the west and a new community was known as West Concord was developed. Our farm was located half way between Concord and West Concord. The original road was an unimproved trail that ran through the farm between the house and barn.  Silver Creek ran through the farm which made for wet seasons. Grandfather grew sugar beets at that time and Mexican migrants worked for him in the farming program. 

My Grandfather’s life is somewhat clouded with stories of good and not so good. My Grandfather was accustomed to good living and always had the best of the best in spite of the lack of finances. Bad times were not mentioned during my growing up on the farm. The farm at that time was known as the “Walnut Park Farm”, as a grove of Walnut Trees graced the homestead. My Grandfather also planted a row of Maple trees on the east side of the house. Those trees were nearly destroyed in the early 1920’s when the advent of automobiles required that a road be built between Concord and West Concord. The road construction engineer wanted to remove the trees for a right of way for the road. My Grandfather refused and stood in the front lawn with a shot gun to prevent any removal of the trees. The engineer told my Grandfather that they wouldn’t take the trees, but they would need to remove the dirt next to the trees to create a ditch, and told my Grandfather that nature would take the trees anyway due to the lack of root development on one side. It would be another 40 years before the road would be changed again and the dirt replaced. My father wished his father would have been alive to see this.   It was a show place that my Grandfather was proud of wanting the best of the best and made sure that when modern convenience came about like electricity, he wired the house, put in running water and indoor facilities.“

Harry has written more about his family, and has family photos to share that we will try to find a way to make it available to the clan. Once more thank you Harry for this great snapshot. Next week is William Wright.

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