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Recollections of Judge Murray of the early days in Wadena - Part One

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In September 1880, when I first arrived in Wadena, the Northern Pacific railroad main line had only been built as far west as Glendive, Mont. This road was the only access to Wadena by rail. It was long before the days of the Great Northern branch through Wadena, or the Northern Pacific branch to Fergus Falls. The public roads were few and not very good, being mostly trails through the woods and across the prairies. The railroad fare from St. Paul to Wadena was about $8. The fare was four cents per mile and the distance via Brainerd was about 200 miles. Wadena was then a frontier village and claimed to have a population of about 300.

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Wheat was practically the only farm product that could be sold for cash. Wheat was hauled by farmers to Wadena from many miles around. This made the village a very good trading center, even with a scanty farming population. During the winter season, farmers brought in large quantities of railroad ties which were bought by the merchants and paid for in goods out of the stores. In those days, the stores used to issue metal tokens payable in goods for ties and these tokens passed locally as money to some extent, as real money was very scarce.

The Wadena county treasury was short of money to pay county warrants and the usual discount on Wadena county warrants was 20 percent. School teachers were paid by warrants on the various school treasuries, which were seldom in funds, and the poor school teachers had to sell these warrants at 10 to 20 percent discount, and sometimes even more.

One of the principal articles sold by the Wadena merchants was barreled pork. It was shipped to town in carload lots and retailed out to farmers. Now (1927), many cars of live hogs are shipped from Wadena every year by our farmers. Back then (1880), butter often sold as low as seven or eight cents per pound and eggs as low as six or eight cents per dozen, mostly paid for in store trade.

Mr. Giles Peake was postmaster, and the post office was in the frame building later owned by Henry Burch, just east of the present Penney store. Charley Stuart was the Northern Pacific Railway Agent, and one of the leading citizens. Mr. E.S. Case was running the Bank of Wadena. Edward M. Cooper was operating the Merchants Hotel. Deacon H.W. Fuller owned a farm near town and also handled farm machinery. A.R. Wiswell was a prominent farmer in Leaf River township as was James Miller. James Ashburner and William Kissack had recently arrived from England and had located in England Prairie. Joseph Askew and family and A.J. Broadfoot were also recent arrivals from England, while James Robb, Thomas Robb, William Anderson, James Strang, John Steward and other Scotch families formed a "Scotch settlement" in Compton township. William Anderson was often called "Scotch Anderson" to distinguish him from "Swede Anderson", a neighboring farmer from Sweden.

Information from the Fiftieth Anniversary Number of the Pioneer Journal Dec. 13, 1927 compiled by Robert C. Zosel. Edited by Lina Belar, interim executive director of the Wadena County Historical Society.

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