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Column: Beautiful horses at Worthington’s depot would still bring a crowd

The Worthington intersection of Third Avenue and Eighth Street is shown at left on the occasion of the May 1898 visit of Col. Melvin Grigsby and his “Dakota cowboy regiment.” At right is the same site in the present day. (Special to The Globe)

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen. The following column first appeared March 27, 2004.

WORTHINGTON — Six years ago, I wrote a letter to the president of the Union Pacific Railroad. I know this does not seem remarkable, but it was remarkable for me. First off, I almost never write letters. I do not like writing letters. More to the point, I wrote a letter to a railroad president just one time in my life.

Six years ago — 1998 — the railroad depot at Worthington was 100 years old. I wondered if Union Pacific knew this; I wondered if they had records of the depot. I also wondered if the railroad appreciated that it owned a historic building which would qualify for the National Register of Historic Places.

Deep inside, I was fearful one day the railroad might decide to level the depot. The old freight house went down with no one locally knowing anything about it until the destruction began.

I received a very prompt and polite letter in return. I think I still have that letter, but I can’t find it. UP’s president said he was interested to learn of the depot, and he said he was sending the information to the UP engineering department. I was satisfied. I knew then that the railroad knew about its depot at Worthington.

The thing that got me thinking of this was the departure of Worthington’s Army Reserve unit, the 452nd Quartermaster Unit, to the war in Iraq, along with the tragedy of the terrorist explosions on the trains at Madrid, Spain.

The last time Spain was in Worthington’s thoughts and headlines day by day was in that year when the depot was being built and Nobles County’s young soldiers, Company H, boarded a train one morning to set off to fight Spanish soldiers in Cuba. Now, and at least until June, Worthington soldiers will be part of a military action with Spanish soldiers as their allies.

What is it they say — what goes around comes around?

Spain and Spaniards were much on everyone’s minds as the bricks in the local depot went in place.

Mrs. Michael of Bigelow would have noticed the depot when her train made a brief stop in September 1898. Mrs. Michael was enroute to St. Paul where her soldier son, Pvt. G.L. Michael, had died of typhoid fever, which he contracted at Camp Ramsey only a short while after Co. H left Worthington.

The first big stir at the depot came in May, before construction was completed. Col. Melvin Grigsby and his “Dakota cowboy regiment” stopped at Worthington on a train from Sioux Falls, S.D.

I suspect 115 sleek, spirited cavalry horses would attract 1,000 people to the Worthington depot even today. That is what happened on that afternoon in 1898. One thousand onlookers. More or less.

Col. M. Grigsby was perhaps as well known at Worthington as was Col. T. Roosevelt. Grigsby had been a law partner of Sen. R.F. Pettigrew, whose mansion still is open for tours at Sioux Falls. Grigsby came to the falls site in 1872, the year Worthington was founded, and he was one of the chief figures in the push to lay railroad tracks between Worthington and Sioux Falls.

Grigsby organized his cowboy cavalry, the 3rd U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, before Roosevelt organized his Rough Riders. T.R. may have got the idea from Grigsby.

Buffalo Bill Cody said he would send cowboys from his Wild West Show to “wipe the Spaniards off the face of the earth.” Col. Grigsby responded he believed “a regiment of Dakota cowboys” could do that job. Almost immediately he got letters from 100 cowboy volunteers.

Grigsby and his cowboys were famous across the nation and now, briefly, they were here at Worthington, exercising their horses, watering horses and showing off their uniforms — leather boots and spurs, broad-brimmed hats, flannel shirts, wide suspenders, gloves with gauntlets. There were 153 of the cowboy-cavalrymen.

Someone at Worthington ordered song sheets printed — some of the spirited, patriotic songs of the day. While the cowboys stretched and looked about, the Worthington assembly sang. Oakes, who had the Western Hotel, worked the crowd and collected 15 boxes of cigars which he presented to the young soldiers.

Col. Grigsby’s cowboys lit up and rolled away from the new Worthington depot in clouds of smoke. One history says the Dakota soldiers were cheered all along the way, “from station to station as their train carried them from Sioux Falls to Tennessee.”

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