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Column: Civil War nurse living on Okabena’s shore was popular early-day figure

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 and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared June 3, 2006.

WORTHINGTON — Clara Barton, the woman who started the American Red Cross, was a Civil War nurse. Louisa May Alcott, author of “Little Women,” was a Civil War nurse. Walt Whitman.

There were not a lot of them. Civil War nurses had no medical training. Like Walt, they talked with wounded soldiers, went on errands for them, sat with them as they died, held a hand while limbs were amputated, wrote letters for them. Thousands of the Union Army soldiers could not read or write.

During Memorial Day weekend, one couple discovered that grave in Worthington Cemetery: Eloise Brant, Civil War Nurse. “Oh, yes,” I said. She is one of them.

Eloise Nicholson was a widow. She had one son. Sometime after the war, Eloise married a retired career soldier, George Brant. She was 40 years old and it is thought her groom was older when, in 1872, they rode into the Worthington settlement, side by side, on horseback. This was not the style of the pioneers. Most came by covered wagon, or by train. Most intended to homestead, or to establish a business. George and Eloise came only for a quiet life in retirement.

I think the full story of the Brants might wait for some patriotic holiday. One thing interesting: although they could have laid claim to a half-section of land under the Homestead Act, they chose only a small tract on the west shore of Lake Okabena, somewhere near the present-day home of the Daily Globe’s publisher, Dennis Hall. Near Pat and Bob Ludlow. The site is exactly opposite the town, as far as you can get from Worthington and still be on the lake. After you passed the Brants’ home, you were on your way back.

As Worthington focuses on Lake Okabena once again for biking and hiking and picnicking and splashing and boating and windsurfing, it seems rewarding to recall the pioneer couple making a lakeshore home on the west bank.

George and Eloise lived into a time when there was a steamboat on the lake. Perhaps often in summer — but surely one time, at least — they traveled to Worthington and home once again by boat. Otherwise, there was little alternative but to ride their horses to market. It would have been a rough ride with a buggy or a buckboard.

The horseback ride to Worthington would surely have been a half-hour trip. The grade on the west shore was not developed until Worthington was more than a half-century old. The Brants would have had to ride the full lake shore.

Did they swim? Through those many years before there was indoor plumbing, you could guess they might indeed have dipped in the water. The Brants’ beach is not one of Okabena’s great beaches. The lake bottom there is rocky. George might have recognized it is like the beach at Chautauqua Park. In the earliest years, Chautauqua Park was known as Lake Park. Civil War veterans had several encampments at Lake Park and neither of the Brants would miss those. They were proud Union Army veterans.

The first lake road, or trail, snaked along the north shore, the Minnesota West shore. The county road from the north (Fox Farm Road) comes out at the lake’s northwest corner and then follows the shoreline. The Brants might have picked up this trail a half-mile north of their home.

George died in 1901, Eloise in 1916. Through all their years, they never knew a time when there was traffic, or even a place for traffic. Many would envy the Brants’ life in isolation beside a placid lake.

It is only guessed they kept a garden — there was little other way for them to have potatoes or onions or green beans or carrots. They grew at least some of their own fruit, and this became the undoing of George Brant. He was picking apples when he fell from a ladder and broke his left leg, which bore a wound from the war that never healed. He did not survive his injury.

Eloise lived on in her lakeside home. The old veterans called her Mother Brant and Grandma Brant. Civil War nurse. In the fall they rode out to make her house secure for winter, and in the spring they made the trip to ready her house for summer.