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Biography of Kate Morton Amsden

By her granddaughter, Gladys Hedman Keller

When the thirteenth child was born to Reuben Morton and Lois Sophronia Crowley Morton on February 10, 1864, of Crain Creek Township, Steele County, near Owatonna, Minnesota, they were at a loss for a name for the new arrival. In desperation, a neighboring bachelor was called on to suggest a name.

So it was that Mrs. Lee Amsden was christened just plain "Kate" with no middle name or initial. She was to have many names in her fifty-three years of life: wife, mother, aunt, grandmother, but the one her neighbors gave her, "Angel of Poverty Hill", was the most descriptive of her character.

When Kate was twenty-one, on November 26, 1884, she married Lee Amsden at Montevideo, Minnesota. Lee with his brother Cassius had homesteaded in South Dakota Territory in the spring of 1878. They had made the trip by oxcart from Cannon Falls, Minnesota, to what was to be section 10, Madison Township, Grant County, a distance of 240 miles in twelve days.

Lee had been crippled by inflammatory rheumatism as a child but in spite of his twisted legs, he was a man of physical stamina and extraordinary will power.

Before Kate's marriage, her older sister, Mrs. Cassius Amsden, died leaving twins, a boy Ralph and a girl Ruth. Shortly after Kate's marriage, another sister died, leaving two small boys. The older, Homer, was reared by his paternal grandparents and Merton, then three, was welcomed and reared in the Lee Amsden family.

The home to which Lee brought his bride was unpretentious. Part of it was his original claim shanty. In this house, Kate's six children were born, two of whom died in infancy. Those who grew to maturity are Mrs. A.W. Hedman (Mamie Anita), Milbank, Mrs. W.B. Donohue (Abbie Saphronia), Mobridge, Mrs. Cecil Clemens (Alice Martha>/a>), Vermillion, and Lester Lee of Savage, Minnesota.

Abbie and Alice were twins. Alice was a scrawny mite who seemed not to be long in this world. Well meaning neighbors advised Kate to concentrate on raising "The big one" as there was small chance of "the little one" living. She paid no heed to neighbors and both "the little one" and "the big one" have lived past the half-century mark.

Lee, through his own diligent efforts and study, became a licensed veterinarian. In 1902, the increased demands for his services as a veterinarian, the desire for a less strenuous life and for the advantages of further schooling for their children, led Lee and Kate to leave the farm.

They bought a house and several lots in the northeast part of Millbank, jokingly known to its residents as "Poverty Hill". The family cow, a flock of hens, a driving team and the ladies' single driving horse "Old Headlight" made the move to town with the family. Such a layout would nowadays be called a ranch in many states. Then it was the accepted manner in which to retire from the farm.

Lee's veterinary work kept him traveling, for it was his policy to answer any call, day or night, regardless of weather or roads. Kate spent many hours at the telephone to locate him and relay calls, in the same neighborhood, to him. Her faithfulness saved him and his horses many long unnecessary miles.

Probably Kate's greatest gift to the future generations of Grant County was her interest in preserving historical landmarks. She helped to awaken interest in saving the Old Indian Church, five miles southwest of her farm home. She had a gift for story telling in rhyme and a poem of the history of the church helped to publicize the cause.

She had poetry and music in her soul -- while she washed clothes or scrubbed the kitchen floor, one of the twins sat in "the corner that's clean" and kept score on a brown paper bag of the dozens of songs she sang, one after the other. She "composed" some as she went along.

Later another poem was written as a plea for saving the Old Holland Windmill of Milbank. She and other public-spirited women secured the title to the mill for the town. In 1927, when the mill was moved to its present site, her poem was again used to promote interest in the moving project.

After the Amsdens moved to town, their home became a "nooning" place for many of their relatives and old neighbors. This sometimes irked the daughters of the family, particularly on "celebration" days. After a hearty meal, the young people went merrily on their way while they were left to cope with mountains of unwashed dishes.

Kate earned her title of "Angel of Poverty Hill" from her faithful visits to the sick and aged and from her willing hand when help was needed.

She died on January 22, 1917 after two week's illness of erysipelas. The church was jammed to capacity as the city of Milbank paid its last respects to the "Angel of Poverty Hill".

[The original copy of the biography and a printed copy of the following two pages is filed in the biography section of the files of Pioneer Daughter, in the State Historical Department in Pierre.]

Copied from the Grant County Review
November 30, 1950

Mrs. Henry Buri has produced an authentic bit of information about the Old Indian Church. She has a letter written by the late Senator C. S. Amsden in which he states that the church was built in the late summer of 1877. "That is the portion of the log construction which was done by the Indians. However, the belfry portion was constructed by Henry Harris who held the claim now owned by Oscar Scherff in Grant Center -- June 1878. At that time there were fifty-two families of Indians in the colony with Reverend Daniel Renville as pastor of the church."

Bill Ross also dug into his collection of clippings and mementos to bring forth a copy of the poem written about the church by the late Kate Amsden.

The following poem was dedicated to the Old Indian Church and written by the late Kate Amsden, wife of the late Lee Amsden. The men referred to as O. P. J. and H. S. V. are O.P. Johnson of Stockholm and Henry S. Volkmer, founder of the Review. They are both deceased.

The Old Indian Church
July 13, 1905

There stands a structure old and gray
Among the hills not far away;
'Twas built in eighteen seventy seven
And to the Wahpeton Indians given.

It was here the Rev. Renville preached,
And tried the dusky braves to teach
About our Father and his love,
And of his home in Heaven above.

On Sabbath mornings bright and clear,
The bell would wake the echoes near;
Then far away the sound would roll
And seem to reach one's very soul.

It was in the Spring of eighty-five
We to the Indian Church did drive,
To mingle with the Red Men there
And hear their voices raised in prayer.

Their usher met us at the door,
Conducted us across the floor,
And placed us in the foremost row
Where all the Whites were sure to go;

The organ pealed a low soft air
Played by an Indian lad whose hair
Was blacker than a raven's wing;
And then we heard the choir sing.

The words we could not understand,
But the melody was something grand;
If you've never heard an Indian sing
You can't appreciate the thing.

The sermon then we listened to,
And just before we rose to go
An Indian mother meek and mild
Stepped forward with her infant child.
And there beneath the morning sun,
The priest baptized the little one.

But this was in an early day,
The Indians all have moved away.
And left the building in decay;
Yet still it stands there as before
But rank grass grows around the door
Dust and cobwebs are on the floor.

Yet on it's doorstep, old and gray
You still may stand and look away
Across the valley rich and rare
Its groves of trees and grain fields fair.

You see afar the farmers' herds
And all those busy little burgs,
Revillo, Alby and LaBolt,
And far to the eastward you can see
Mount Tom stand out in majesty.

Among the hills to the northwest
The little town of Twin Brooks rests
And if the day is very clear,
Big Stone and Ortonville appear.

Nearer by so snug and neat,
You see Milbank the county seat.
And straight to the south not far away
You see the Indian Cemet'ry.

Preserve the Church, ah yes, why not
Old settlers love the dear old spot
'Tis known to all both far and wide
It's often served them as a guide.

So 'twas a happy thought you see
Of O.P.J. and H.S.V.
To save the church and cemet'ry
And so that all might come and see.

They planned a friendly meeting there,
July the ninth, the day proved fair,
And many people gathered 'round
And spread their lunch upon the ground.

They laughed and chatted and were gay,
And scarcely thought about the day
When on the hills wild Indians roamed,
And looked upon them as their home.

It was here beneath the noon-day sun
We met the Rev. Williamson,
The man who seventy years ago
Was born at La Que Parl you know.

And came among those Indians wild
As Minnesota's first white child,
He told us all about the spot,
And wakened memories long forgot;

Of what the Indian used to wear,
And how they dressed their jetty hair.
He told us of their wondrous deeds
Their superstitions and their creeds.

Then of their idols one by one
And of their worship of the sun.
And then he told in simple words
About the Indian's Thunder Bird.

And how men roamed the plain below
To hunt the Elk and Buffalo.
'Twas a tale not soon forgot,
We'll always love this dear old spot.

And now our day is almost done,
We're starting homeward one by one
Feeling happy and content,
And that our day has been well spent.

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