About 1895 to 1897 in Cass County the subject of organization of the county of Cass came up. It was a political hot potato and my great-grandfather. George, joined the fight!
Cass County had gone through a great many changes over the years and now the real fight was taking place.
The photograph above is of George A. Barclay. It was given to the Pine River Visitor Center by the Silbaugh’s who own a store there and I bought some T-Shirts and a hoodie. It is also featured in the Logsleds to Snowmobile book written by Pine River that has given me a starting point for my research. The picture was taken sometime in the mid 1890’s.
This particular photo of the picture hanging on the wall of the visitor center, was taken by me his great-granddaughter when visiting in 2001. The visitor center was not open the first trip to Minnesota in 2000. If you get a chance stop by the Pine River Visitor Center which is out on the highway #371 and take quick tour inside there are lots of treasures there and this photo on the wall. Say “Hello” to John, the man at the counter. He is a good friend. If the Train Depot museum is open stop in and look for the plaque I prepared as a tribute to George and Amarilla and their descendants.
Meanwhile, back in 1895 George wrote two letters to the Weekly Journal in Brainerd, MN. They were featured on the front page of the newspaper.
Jan 24, 1895, Weekly Journal, Front Page, column 3, Brainerd, MN
“Cass County Organization” “A number of people in Cass county are again agitating the question of organization that counts in George A. Barclay one of the oldest residents and largest property owners of that county, is not in favor of organization which would benefit only a few office holders and other beneficiaries. He writes to the Journal as follows:
Pine River, Mnn. Jan 21, 1895
Editor of the Journal
“I notice there is a sober agitation over the question. “Shall Cass County Organize!” and I would like to venture a few remarks. “Silks and satins, scarlet and velvets, put out the kitchen fire.” I say “No Cass needs no organization.” We have all the liberty and protection guaranteed to us by the Constitution of the United States. What more do we need, unless it be for show? I have lived in Cass county since 18___ (big black mark covers the date) and my experience proves that we are far better off today than when the county was organized, as it was at one time. My tax receipts show that taxes were at least ten times as high proportionally when we were organized as they are today. Have we any guarantee that organization will not restore the same rates formerly? It is true we are greatly in need of a poor fund, but do we have to organize the county to get it? Do we have to buy all the luxuries of modern life in order that we may get the necessaries? If so, I fear the poor fund will suffer while we are spending our money for a court house and jail, and paying a horde of officers to look after our business, and when we get through there will be nothing left for the poor. We get just as fair assessments as when the county was organized. I have property in both Crow Wing and Cass, and my taxes are only a very small fraction higher than in organized Cass, and in one instance, when the assessor was from the southwestern part of the county they were even higher here than in Crow Wing. What would they be if we should organize? If the western portion of the county wants organization, we will readily grant it, but we will struggle just as hard to join ourselves to Crow Wing as they do to organize Cass. As I said before, we have all the government we need. Our commissioners have always treated one in a gentlemanly manner when I have had business before them. In what way will we be better by organization. We have not the population to maintain a separate organization, even if we do have plenty of pride and manly independence to induce us to do so. There would a court house and jail to build, and a multitude of officers to pay, and the result would be enormous taxation and a heavy bonded indebtedness at a high rate of interest, and we would have no better government than we have now. The men holding office would be benefited, and property in the immediate vicinity of the county seat would be enhanced in value, but all the rest of the county would suffer for it. What we want is a thrifty population , a development of our agricultural resources, and more wealth to support a county government, and we may be assured that organization will naturally follow. Let us not fly until we have few feathers on our wings. We should not jump out of the nest for a hundred foot fall, as we did a few years ago. Respectfully, G.A. Barclay.”
On February 5, 1895 the Cass County Pioneer has an article refuting George’s first letter, pg. 108 2nd column Logsleds to Snowmobiles:
“An article in the Brainerd Journal signed by Mr. Barclay of Pine River would lead one to think that Cass County had not improved any since the time of that “premature organization.” And Mr. Barclay also seems to think that if a county is organized it naturally follows she must follow in the footsteps of Crow Wing County and bond herself for four times what she is worth to build elaborate buildings for which they have but little use. Now we have a great deal of respect for Mr. Barclay and consider him one of the shrewdest businessmen within our borders, one whose farsightedness has gained for himself much wealth as well as much notoriety whose attendance to business is akin to self-slavery and a lumberman. This last is sufficient to explain why he desired Cass County to remain unorganized. It is to his business interests to oppose any such measure and we do not doubt but what he will be a formidable foe to the movement.”
George’s Letter No. #2
Thursday, March 7, 1895, A Letter from Geo. A. Barclay, PINE RIVER, Minn., Feb 28, 1805
Editor of Journal: We notice our organization friends are still having their say, one of them intimating that I do not believe what I say, but am simply trying to deceive others. I suspect it is the deceiver that is throwing stones, but don’t intend to enter into a personal wrangle, and will leave it to the people to decide who is trying to mislead them.
Of course, I am working for my “business interests,” and I believe for the business interests of every man in the county who does not seek office, or expect to live at the county seat. Increased taxation means increased burdens on the people, and very man should ask himself the questions, “How much will I and my family be benefitted by organization. What are you going to give me for the increase in my expenses.” Will it make my farm more fertile, or the rain more sure, or me more economical. My prosperity depends on these.”
Of course there is good argument in favor of organization. A home market is a great advantage to farmers. Judges, lawyers and county officials are proverbial eaters. If we should organize, the judge, half a dozen lawyers and a few county officers with one editor would require an enormous quantity of food, probably as much as 13 cabbages and a bushel of potatoes every day more than are used at present. Just think of it! 4.745 cabbages every year, one more on leap years, or one for every person in the county! Farmers near Brainerd and other markets would not be benefitted, however, because very few of them are foolish enough to walk twenty-five miles with a cabbage when they could step out of their doors and sell it for a better price.
And those cheap(?) county buildings? Every one knows it costs something to build a court house and jail, even if it is a log shack, as our friends propose. Add to this the little (*) more that our officials would cost thousand costs to have our business done in Brainerd, and the $12,000 that Cass already owes, and then the on that “sinking fund” and it would sink Cass so deep that it would be several generations before the neighboring counties could inspect our worthy editor’s tombstone.
What the people of the county want is not to bond themselves for these luxuries, but to be a little patient, and our natural advantages are such that we will have neighbors to help share the expense and build something that we can be proud of without having to tag ourselves with a sinking fund.
In conclusion, let the people watch the way one of our fellow citizens striketh right and left at other editors and county officials, and ceaselessly hunteth for county advertising, and they will call to mind a warning from Scriptures, “The devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
The book about the history of Pine River gives quite an account of this process of the organization of Cass County starting on about page 108 and going through to page 110. On page 109 this paragraph appears:
“Under this act, in the fall of 1895, petitions were circulated in the lower half of Cass County for the annexation to Crow Wing County of the 16 townships west of Crow Wing County. The Brainerd Dispatch reported that “the idea originated with citizens of Cass County. Fully two-thirds of the actual bona fide citizens have already (by October 1) signed the petition.”
George Barclay apparently at first was not actively involved in the petition movement as he was opposed to any form of organization of Cass County. ”
On page 110:
Meanwhile on February 23, 1897, Cass County was officially organized and in the organization the disputed portion annexed to Crow Wing County was, by design, included as part of Cass County. The lumber interests as well as George Barclay by this time were concerned over the possibility that the 1895 annexation law might be employed to divide up Cass County altogether (Hubbard County already had annexed part of Cass County). Pat McGarry, an anti-lumbering “progressive” who was just beginning what was to be a long and colorful political career, lead the fight against the organization plan calling it “A trick of the Walker-Pillsbury forces.”
This fight was carried to the state legislature and was finally resolved. A person could spend a great deal of time learning about the organization of Cass County, Minnesota but I really don’t have time and there are those who are more informed than myself.
However, the next fight was where would the county seat be?