29 July 2010

mom always said it was nice to share.

A new found friend of mine borrowed me some books containing the history of Windom and Cottonwood County that he thought I could use in my efforts to restore this historic community.  I'd have to say I've never really been interested in history maybe because it seemed so overwhelming? And let's face it, when I was formally taught history at Windom Area Schools, my concept of time didn't really exist except for watching the clock hit 3:04pm (the minute the last bell of the day rang).  Sometimes I wish I could go back to school and really listen this time, instead of just doing enough to make the grade.  As I opened the borrowed book The First Methodist Church of Windom, Minnesota (A History) by Edward Ellsworth Gillam, I wasn't expecting to find what was written.  I was curious as to how the information in this book would help me based on the title.  Well someone very wise once said "never judge a book by it's cover," and I'm glad I didn't.  Last night I read the preface, personal tribute and first chapter of this book at least five times.  I had to keep reading it because every time I read it I would find something new and feel something new. Quite frankly, I could actually see in my mind the very things this author was describing.  His words were like music--notes filling the air with sweet sounds of sentiment, passion and appreciation.  Just read it for yourselves:

"Our small log cabin was built on the hillside of Cottonwood Lake.  On one hill overlooking the lake was an Indian mound where we found many relics of bygone days.  The Des Moines River, which flows through our fair city, was lined with beautiful trees...We saw Indians now and then.  Some were camped on an island in the lake near our cabin.
Father, my brother Henry, and I lived alone in our log cabin in the summer of 1870, and often in the evening we sat in front of the cabin with a smudge of fire to keep off the mosquitoes.  The scene late in the evening was beautiful.  I could look toward the west as the sun set behind the Blue Mounds, beyond the Des Moines River, and see the sky ablaze with its glorious color.  I could look toward the east over the lake and see the full moon rising and shining through the beautiful trees out upon the water.  I could see the most graceful of all birds, the white swan, floating peacefully over the silvery ripples, and stately white pelicans with their long red bills and the pouches under them.  I could hear the weird cry of the loon.  In the deepening twilight I could turn my eyes toward the island where the Indian teepees were.  The smoke of their campfires rose through the treetops.  A little farther on I could see the old eagle tree, one of the largest trees in Southern Minnesota.  Its top was the home of that noble bird, the American Eagle, with the young eaglets on the nest and the huge birds, father and mother eagles, watching over them.  In the quietness I could hear the pleasant music of the insects in the grass around us.  It was God's handiwork.  Man had not disturbed it.  It was God's work just as He left it for us to enjoy...These scenes left an impression upon the mind and heart of the writer, a boy of only six years, which will never be erased.  I only wish that all who have not experienced the thrill of virgin country could experience it as I did."

You see, Mr. Gilliam's father, Samuel Sloane Gillam, came to Cottonwood County in 1869 a few years after serving in the Civil War.  It was the next year that Samuel Gilliam moved his family from Wisconsin to Cottonwood Lake to settle and in a few short years began to be a part of the creation of what I now call home: Windom. This author, Mr. Gillam, literally witnessed Windom become a city from the ground, from the dust and from mere ideas of men and women. What I wouldn't give to go back and spend just one day with Edward Ellsworth Gillam. He published this book in 1949, so he was I figured over 80 years old when he published this book.  The next chapters of this well written history describe the building of a city and of course, the Methodist Church, but I won't continue to write all the beautiful words of this book, you and I would be here for too long...let's just say it makes me quite interested in history (probably because I can still see this history he describes when I drive around Windom). 

I think the reason this book hit so close to home (no pun intended) was that while growing up here in Windom, I've played and splashed in Cottonwood Lake.  The really funny thing is that I have always enjoyed writing and used to sit under a generous shady tree in front of that somehow inspirational lake and, well, write.  But it never dawned on me until after reading these words in this book that this lake's waves and rocks, surrounding trees and sand had such history and served to be inspirational for someone else well over a hundred years ago.  All of a sudden, my ignorant, selfish idea of Cottonwood Lake changed.  I instantly felt pride and felt this need to share it in this post.  Why don't we share Cottonwood Lake's history with more people?

Well, I want to genuinely thank my new found friend for helping me by sharing this book, for helping me find an interest in history, and helping me in this quest to find Windom.

Happy times,

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