By Deborah Banish
Tragedy befell Rutland on the evening of Friday, June 14, 2019, when one of the City’s oldest residents was struck and killed by lightning. The disaster occurred at 9:45 p.m. when a bolt of lightning struck the huge cottonwood tree at 217 First Street, The Old Parsonage, splitting the tree from top to bottom, and blowing chunks of wood and tree bark for over 100 feet. The death of the tree created a hazard requiring its removal before it fell into the street, or onto the adjacent house. The magnificent cottonwood, over 70 feet in height and over 20 feet in circumference 3 feet above the ground, had been a mute witness to the history of the Rutland community for 117 years. It was planted as a sapling at 217 First Street when the house at that location was built by pioneer Rutland businessman C. E. Johnson in 1902. A photo taken of the Rutland Community Band in front of the house in 1910 includes the cottonwood, then already as tall as the house behind it. Originally, another cottonwood tree had been planted on the south side of the sidewalk leading up to the house, and the branches of the two trees arching across the sidewalk made for a dramatic entrance into the house, the first two-story house built in the community. In 1938 the house became the parsonage for the Rutland Baptist Church, and one of the first Baptist ministers to reside there was the Rev. Seaquist who was the father of a lovely daughter, Norma. Two teenage boys in the community, Raymond Erickson and Milton McLaen, had taken a shine to Miss Seaquist, but she had not returned their interest. One summer Saturday night, when Miss Seaquist was shopping on Main Street, the two boys climbed up the trees flanking the sidewalk and hid among the branches. When Miss Seaquist walked up the sidewalk to the house, the 2 boys dropped out of the trees, kissed her and ran away. Miss Seaquist was shocked, but not unimpressed. The story must be true, because both Raymond and Milton related it in later years at different times, each without prompting from the other. For the past 117 years the cottonwood tree, a majestic prairie patriarch, has been a silent witness to the life of the Rutland Community: Through good times and hard times; through World Wars and other military actions; through epidemics and the efforts to halt them; through drought, depression and recovery; from the days when the only vehicles on Main Street were pulled by horses to today when huge trucks and mammoth farm tractors powered by engines of several hundred horsepower pass by on a regular basis. When Rutland School Alumni arrive for the Reunion on July 5 & 6, they will see a sight that no one now living has seen: Main Street without the big cottonwood in front of the Baptist Parsonage. Schumacher Tree Service of Oakes has equipment large enough to handle the job of removing the carcass of the tree, and plans to be in town on Saturday, June 22, to accomplish the task. The current owners of the property, Bill Anderson & Kathy Brakke, intend to plant another tree to replace the cottonwood, but only those living 117 years from now will be able to tell if it matches its predecessor in size and grandeur. All things pass, and nothing is forever, not even huge and stately trees that have been there for as long as anyone can remember.
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