Yellow Medicine County and surrounding townships celebrate 150th anniversary

From Staff Reports

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the conception of Yellow Medicine County, Yellow Medicine City, Minnesota Falls, Granite Falls, and the 25 townships. In 1803, Minnesota became part of what was then the Louisiana Purchase. By spring of 1849, what would be called the Minnesota Territory (including the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana) was formed from what was then Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. That summer, the northern tier of townships in Yellow Medicine County was a part of what was then “Dahkota” County and the southern tier of townships in Yellow Medicine County were a part of what was them “Waubashaw” County. These were two of nine counties forming what was then Minnesota Territory. The western boundary of the State of Minnesota was set at the Red River of the North, Lake Travers, Big Stone Lake, and the Corteau des Prairie boundary between Minnesota and South Dakota. Everything to the east of this boundary was in the state of Minnesota and everything to the west was in the newly formed “Dakota Territory.”

What would become Yellow Medicine County was included in an area that formed in Spring of 1853 as Blue Earth County, including what is today Brown, Nicollet, Sibley, Renville, Mcleod, Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Swift, Big Stone, Lac Qui Parle, Yellow Medicine, Redwood, Lyon, Lincoln, Pipestone, Rock, Nobles, Martin, Watonwan, Cottonwood, Murray and Jackson counties in South and South-Central Minnesota. It also included Dakota Territory, Montana, and Wyoming. Soon after, in the summer of 1855, that area transformed again and Kandiyohi, Brown, and Martin counties were formed from Blue Earth County. Kandiyohi County included the counties of Meeker, Mcleod, Renville, Chippewa, Swift, and Big Stone. Brown County included Lac Qui Parle, Yellow Medicine, Redwood, Lincoln, and Lyon Counties. Martin County included: Pipestone, Rock, Nobles, Murray, Cottonwood, Watonwan, and Jackson counties.

Yellow Medicine County employees: (Row 1) Angie Steinbach, Administrator, Ashley Soine, HR Manager, Commissioner Gary Johnson, Commissioner Greg Renneke, Commissioner Glen Kack, Dana Homan, Finance Manager (Row 2) Rick Wandersee, Facilities Manager, Janel Timm, Property and Public Services Director, Andy Sander, County Engineer, Kris Holien, Veterans Service Officer, Alex Estum, Information Technology, Bill Flaten, County Sheriff, Commissioner John Berends, Commissioner Ron Antony, County Attorney Mark Gruenes, Chris Balfany, Planning and Zoning Administrator/Ditch Inspector, Rae Ann Keeler-Aus, Family Services Director, Connie Erickson, County Assessor

Missing from Photo: Sharon Hendrichs, Restorative Justice Coordinator & Denny Pederson, Information Technology Coordinator

Minnesota was admitted to the Union on March 16, 1858, and the boundaries of Minnesota noted above were finalized by the State Legislature. From March to December of 1862, a war happened between the Indigenous residents and the United States Army. The deciding battle of the Uprising and was the battle of Wood Lake which was the second battle held in Yellow Medicine County after the attack on the Upper Sioux Agency, Granite Falls, Minnesota Falls, and Yellow Medicine City.

In the summer of 1865, Redwood County was formed from Brown County. Redwood County included what is now Yellow Medicine, Lac Qui Parle, Lyon, Lincoln, and Redwood Counties. By the next summer, Twenty men and their small families lived in what is now Yellow Medicine County. All were clustered around the rebuilt Upper Sioux Agency State Park and Williamson Mission in what is now Stony Run, Minnesota Falls, Sandness, and Sioux Agency Townships.  Redwood County set apart the settled portion of the future Yellow Medicine County and called it Yellow Medicine Township. This occurred because there were so many English, Swedish, Norwegian, Irish, and German settlers rushing into the area to stake housing claims.

In 1867, Minnesota Falls and Granite Falls were both laid out and were competitors with Yellow Medicine City for the County Seat. By then next summer, settlers rushed into what is now  Minnesota Falls, Sioux Agency, Posen, Echo, Wood Lake, Friendship, Sandness, Hazel Run, Norman, and Hammer Townships.

John Winter rebuilt and platted Yellow Medicine City in the Minnesota and Yellow Medicine River Valleys in the summer of 1869. Yellow Medicine City was founded just south of the confluence of the above two rivers. Just south of the present Highway 67 Hill where it is now washed out. Yellow Medicine City soon became the largest village in the county with 100 buildings built in just the first two years.

The 1870 census was released and Yellow Medicine County had 88 families and a total count of 588 people including 385 persons of European descent, 203 people were native-born and 182 people were foreign-born. 

On March 6th, 1871, Governor Horace Austin and the Minnesota State Legislature approved a petition from Yellow Medicine County Voters to establish Yellow Medicine County. However, county status had to be approved by a majority of Redwood County voters in November of 1871.

By the summer of 1871, Yellow Medicine County had a population of 800 people. The cemetery was located on the hill to the south of the newly formed city. The first Lutheran church was also built at that location marking where the cemetery now is located. On November 3rd, 1871, the voters of Redwood County unanimously approved Governor Austin’s edict that Yellow Medicine County be formed. The vote was 492 Yes and 5 no. The boundaries would be the northwestern corner of Redwood County, the southwestern boundary of Renville County, the Southwestern border of Chippewa County, the southern border of Lac Qui Parle County, the western border of Minnesota with South Dakota, and the northern borders of Lyon and Lincoln counties. Therefore. Yellow Medicine County bordered six other counties and South Dakota. The eastern border of Yellow Medicine County was the Minnesota River between Chippewa, Renville, and Redwood Counties.

On January 3rd, 1872, the first County Commissioners meeting was held in a small brick building owned by George Carey at Yellow Medicine City then the home of the new county courthouse. The men present at the meeting were John Winter, Ole O. Lende, and Leonard Hazelden.

On May 7th, 1872, the Granite Falls Townsite was officially platted and founded by three gentlemen from the Twin cities namely Henry J. Hill, Theodore P. Prentice, and Robert H. Miller. Henry Hill established the first Grist Mill on the natural falls to the Minnesota River. This was located across the river from the current baseball park on the north side in what is now Granite Falls Township, Chippewa County.

The first school in Granite Falls was taught by Adeline Regester, grandmother of Hubert Humphery In a log house north of the village. This preceded the organization of District 21 in 1873 after the townsite was platted. The school served both sides of the river. The first schoolhouse was a 20 by 30-foot frame building with two rooms, set amongst the rocks at the east end of the present footbridge. The building was later moved a block east and became a dwelling of Mrs. Braasch. C.E. Clark was the first teacher.

2022 Yellow Medicine County Commissioners pictured: (Row 1) Commissioner Gary Johnson, Commissioner Greg Renneke, Commissioner Glen Kack (Row 2) Commissioner John Berends, Commissioner Ron Antony.

In 1879, District 21 which lay west of the river was organized into an independent district. The Congregation Church started in Granite Falls on October 20, 1872, and was the second congregation after the Norwegians founded Granite Falls Lutheran in 1871. J.D. Todd and E.N. Raymond were the first pastors of the church.

The Methodist Church was founded in Granite Falls in 1880 and 1881 and was called Faith Lutheran Church. The congregations died and the church was subsequently occupied by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church when they were founded in 1899 on the west side of Granite Falls. The Baptist Church was bounded in 1870 by a group of Methodists who did not like the teachings of the Methodist Church at the time. The Piney and Powers families were the first Members of this church. Rev. S. Adams was the first pastor.

A post office was established at both Granite Falls and Minnesota Falls which soon became the Lorne Townsite. Granite Falls was named after the waterfalls located today where the Dam is in downtown Granite Falls. This was a natural waterfall before the dam was installed in the 1930s.

Granite Falls was also named after the first Lutheran church which was established in November 1871 and called the Granite Falls Lutheran Church founded in November 1871.

Townships in 1881 and down to 21 Townships today:

Yellow Medicine Township: September 04, 1866

Normania (Ree) Township: May 18, 1871

Sandness Township: May 18, 1871

Stony Run Township: September 05, 1871

Minnesota Falls Township: September 03, 1872

Otis Township (village of Granite Falls): October 16, 1873

Norman Township: March 17, 1874

Echo Township: March 17, 1874

Sioux Agency Township: March 16, 1877

Hazel Run Township: June 19, 1877

Hammer Township: July 02, 1877

Swede Prairie Township: November 24, 1877

Friendship Township: January 11, 1879

Florida Township: January 27, 1879

Wergeland Township: March 18, 1879

Burton Township: May 01, 1879

Posen Township: May 02, 1879

Oshkosh Township: July 01, 1879

Tyro Township: October 06, 1879

Omro Township: January 09, 1880

Fortier Township: May 12, 1881