The Rogue and the Runaway
Copyright© 2014 – Nicholas Hall
Bubbling, seeping, springing from the earth in ages long ago in what is now known as Mower County, Minnesota, the spring became a brook babbling into a creek. This small, shallow creek cascaded into a larger stream until it too wedded itself into river, fed by other smaller streams and creeks; all one body of water on a downward journey toward the sea. Lessor Rivers of varying widths, depths, and clarity, each distinguished from the other by names chosen by man, conjoined with this one increasing its volume and watershed, draining a larger and larger portion of the land. The river’s name, Wapsipinicon, was derived, as legends would say, from the unrequited love of a young Indian maid and stalwart warrior, who in death joined their names, giving birth to the river.
Flowing out of the prairie-pothole country of Minnesota into Mitchell County, Iowa, the Wapsi, as it is off-times called, meanders and twists a path through flatlands, rugged bluffs, low and high hills through the Hawkeye State of Iowa. It’s not a particularly wide river at any point in its journey but, as a tributary of the Mississippi River, does increase in depth and width as it flows closer to its destination. Three hundred miles long, more or less, flowing through and around farms, towns, and cities of Iowa, carving its path through flat farmlands, limestone bluffs, and low hills of the driftless area as it slips toward the southeast, the Wapsi provides not only the moisture needed by adjacent cropland, but sustenance and shelter to the abundant fish in its depths, but to a myriad of wild beasties sheltered along its banks in the wooded bottomland and uplands lining its length. The fish, game, and timber of the forested areas and the rich alluvial soils on its floodplains, have provided succor and shelter to man for many ages.
The Wapsi meets the Mississippi River just south of the small hamlets of Follets and Shafton, Iowa, merging its flow with the Big River and becoming part of it. At the Wapsi’s mouth and for some distance upstream, the wooded bottomland, the ridges, valleys, and rich black soil of the flatlands provided opportunity for those who would seek it out.
It was a place not too far distant from this confluence, in 1875, Hiram Burridge, newly arrived from the State of Pennsylvania, with a new bride at his side and gold coin and greenbacks in his pockets, decided to seek his fortune and home. Flush with his own entrepreneurship in land speculation, oil well leases, and well-healed with a substantial inheritance from his now deceased father, Hiram noted the richness of the farm land, the availability of game and lumber in the forested bottoms, the relative inexpensiveness of the land, and saw opportunity for growth, wealth, and a place to settle down and perhaps raise a family.
His first purchase consisted of mixed farm and bottomland along the river. As his family grew and his successes at farming and land speculation, so did his property holdings, until, at his death in 1931, he owned over seven hundred acres along the Wapsi, consisting of prime farmland, and forested land, in addition to several large holdings in Canada. The Iowa land was left to his oldest son while the Canadian land was granted, in equal shares to the two younger boys, all except two very large portions of land, one each in British Columbia and in Alberta, Canada. Those two parcels he left in trust, although why is not quite clear since he was not known to be an overly generous man, to future generations of grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc., for their general welfare.
But it was here, along this river, in this rich, alluvial soil and semi-wilderness of the timberland along its banks that the “Rogue Riverman” lived and thrived.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.