As you stand amid this vast sea of grass, your heels sinking into the rich loess; a soft, scented breeze brushing your face; the scudding clouds overhead, visualize for a moment a dark speck on the far horizon to the east.
As it moves nearer, you can make out a lone horseman cantering toward you.
1878-1881 A century ago, and more, when some of our grandparents and great-grandparents were but teenagers and the land lay open and free, men and women, most of whom were married, and a few singles, settled the Coteaudes Prairies of Minnesota's far southwest corner.
Where small towns, farmsteads, and decimated tree claims now make up this landscape, the settlers of the 1870's experienced an undulating prairie of little definition, save for the silhouette of the hills, the meandering streams, and the occasional slash of a ravine.
Father Koberl ministered to numerous settlers in his extensive parish of Avoca, which stretched from Fairmont, Minn., to Flandreau, S. Some could be reached by rail line, the others, preferably by horseback, buggy being more tiring. Because the village of Woodstock had been only recently platted and yet without any buildings, Mass had to be offered elsewhere, hence the celebration of it in late October, 1879, at the Post Office Hall, Pipestone. When Daniel Duggan moved to his farm southwest of Woodstock in April, he brought with him from St. Father Koberl offered Mass in Pipestone for the Catholics of the county on May 14th and again on June 20th, and didn't return until early October. October 14th saw the beginning of the terrible winter which lasted until April 18, 1881. His last years were at Sacred Heart parish which he established, going to his Maker on February 20, 1899. 1881-1883 Father William John Keul was an Easterner, ordained at the early age of 28.
In this age of no roads, the priests preferred to baptize the very young in their homes, and take Holy Communion to those too aged or infirm to get to church. The year 1880 was a mix of parish activity, joy and sorrow, and some spiritual growth. Shoveled out of one blizzard, another was in its wake. Moriaritys lost another infant, their second in as many years. His bishop evidently gave him permission to go west, where he was incardinated into the St. He had had previous assignments at Currie and Avoca before coming to Woodstock about October 1, 1881. Moriarty family lost three children in three years. O'Mahoney home was probably the single, greatest tragedy to have happened to a family in the history of the parish: over a 10-day period in early September, 1883, they lost four children to the scourge of diphtheria. Yet, the grief of the family must have been profound beyond telling.
Concomitant with the arrival of Father Koberl was that of the settlers themselves. The temperatures dropped, trains did not run for weeks at a time (which meant no mail), fuel and food became scarce, and farmers did their chores by going through tunnels, some even entering through the roofs of their barns. Hartigan lost an arm in a threshing accident in late November and died a few days later. Catholicism was taking a sense of permanence and official status in Pipestone County in this era. There were the joys of births, contrasted by tragic deaths. The names of those four children are uniquely engraved on the O'Mahoney tombstone in St. In mid October, the Catholic community of Woodstock, Pipestone, and Edgerton bid adieu to Father Keul, who, from an article in the Star, April 11, 1890, had some sort of serious problem, for it said: 'Fr. Keul, whom many of our older residents will remember as once having charge of the Catholic flock throughout this section, and who went to the bad and was fired by the church, is now said to be an Episcopal clergyman in Milwaukee'.
Bishop John Ireland made a wise choice when, in 1878, he appointed this strong, dedicated, practical priest to Avoca. Hartigan, John and Walter Mc Nallan (distant relatives of Father Hilary Mc Nallan), and William Ryan all drove from Wabasha County. Worthy of mention here, was the terrible misfortune of John Wingle's loss of two horses within a week to lung fever.
He had all the necessary ingredients for success on a new frontier, being a superb horseman and a gifted linguist. The first baptism in Burke Township was that of Briget O'Mahoney, September 9th. An item in the Pipestone County Star* mentioned that M. O'Mahoney was preparing to prove-up his government claim, one of the first in the county to do so.