Glowing reports about a beautiful lake, where fish and fowl abounded, brought the first white settlers to this area. The stories reached the ears of two men, Joseph Hewitt and James Dickirson, living in Clayton County, Iowa. Hewitt, known to trade with Indians, spoke the Winnebago tongue fluently. James Dickirson was a farmer. What they heard sounded so good that together with their wives, one child each, and two young men whom they recruited to go along to help, headed west over the wide prairie in May of 1851 to find that beautiful lake. Their train of three prairie schooners, were pulled by oxen.
The two families chose a camping site on the east side of the lake. In later years, Dickirson told stories about that first camp, built under a large tree nearly covered with a wild grapevine. Dickirson killed his first buffalo the day they arrived and he planted the first crop of corn in Cerro Gordo County. By the summer of 1853, other white settlers began arriving.
Though the Winnebago Indians were helpful and friendly, it was Joseph Hewitt’s friendship with them that set the stage for the only real Indian scare the settlers suffered. Sioux Indians that roamed the area were jealous of that friendship, and several times caused disturbances. The most memorable incident happened in 1855. Dickinson rode up to his cabin one day to discover Sioux braves dressed in war regalia, chasing after his chickens. This came to be referred to as the “Grindstone War”. The Indians, who used grindstones to sharpen their tomahawks, broke one apart to take. To convince the Indians to leave Dickirson gave them money, blankets, etc.
News of the incident, spread to neighboring Mason City and the next morning, about twenty-five men from the two settlements gathered together, organized, and rode north until they found the Sioux camp. The white men, though greatly outnumbered, marched to meet the Sioux. Almost within gunshot, the chief raised a white flag and produced a peace pipe, saying they wanted no trouble with white men. Hewitt reminded them that the settlers always fed passing Indians, had treated them kindly and wanted no trouble, either. The “Grindstone Incident” marked the end of serious Indian, confrontations in Clear Lake.
During these years the first Clear Lake school was built and the first steam saw mill. The mill commenced sawing lumber of excellent native black walnut, butternut, and oak timber, so settlers were able to build sturdy homes.
The first hotel was built by James Crow.
All were invited to attend the Fourth of July Ball at the Dickerson House Hotel in Clear Lake. Tickets were $1.50.
1868 John Phillips traveled from Wisconsin to Clear Lake with his parents. He recalled the trip in 1921 saying they came by prairie schooner, or a covered wagon drawn by horses. They arrived May 28 after their month long journey.