Column: Where did Org come from? Origin Remains Guesswork

Ray Crippen

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 Dec.15, 2007.

WORTHINGTON — You know Org. No. Erase. Maybe you don’t know Org. Org is the community along the Union Pacific railroad tracks between Worthington and Bigelow. You barely can see Org for the trees any longer, but Org’s landmark grain elevator still lifts above the site. At least since 1920, when Warren Upham published his book tracing the sources of Minnesota’s place names, it has been a matter of record that Org was named by W.A. Scott. A few more blanks to this story have come to be filled in.

W.A. Scott was general manager of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad in a time when general managers of America’s railroads were business heroes. People stepped aside to let a railroad GM go by.

W.A. Scott began railroading almost before there were trains. Born in 1840, he went to work as a locomotive apprentice when he was 18, three years before the Civil War began. He was involved with four different railroads. Scott became a locomotive engineer, a foreman, a master mechanic, a superintendent and finally a general manager. He was a big shot. When W.A. Scott died (Oct, 1, 1896, age 56) his death was reported in The New York Times .

Org at first was named Iselin, for Adrian C. Iselin, a New York banker and a director of the original St. Paul & Sioux City Railroad. The first railroad track to Sioux Falls (1876) branched west to Dakota Territory from the site of Iselin. Iselin then became Sioux Falls Junction. (Locals sometimes called it The Summit because it is the highest point on the railroad between St. Paul and Omaha.)


A strange thing came to be — 1890.

On the site of Sioux Falls Junction, General Manager Scott made a note on a chart or map of his railroad. The note said, “Org.” There never was a letter or wire or communication that said, “I want this place called Org,” and this may not have been Scott’s intent. Maybe those three letters which he penned meant, “On Railroad Grade,” or, “Original Railroad Grade,” or, “Organize.” Or maybe Scott did intend to make a name; perhaps his wife’s maiden name was Olive Rachel Gardenhire, ORG, or maybe his daughter was Olivia Ruth Geopani, ORG.

Odd thing. No question was asked, no explanation given. The community became Org.

More dramatic is the story of N.A. Call, a farmer who harvested wild hay across several sections of unbroken land in west and northwest Nobles County. In 1886, N.A. Call erected a large hay barn or warehouse at the Sioux Falls Junction site. He became a major customer on the St. Paul line. Call’s intent, along with some neighbors, was to establish a rail station. That spring, the railroad built a Y and a depot with a telegraph office at Sioux Falls Junction. Soon there was a stockyard, then a general store and post office. N.A. Call might be named Org’s Founding Father.

A not-funny thing happened.

Ten years later (1896), gold was discovered along the Klondike River in Alaska. The next spring the great Klondike Gold Rush took shape. N.A. Call decided to give up the hay business at Org and fill a couple of bushel baskets with gold in Alaska. On Nov. 20, 1897, he sailed from Seattle on the steamship Wolcott, bound for Copper River, Alaska Territory.

N.A. Call fell in with some fellow prospectors. There was William Lee, Millard Fillmore Tanner (called Doc Tanner), Grant Hoag, F. Herbert Haines. A few more. Haines told a Seattle reporter, “We will dig gold or die.”

On their voyage north, the gold seekers organized themselves as the Witch City Mining Co. Then — very quickly — there was a falling out. The Witch City Mining Co. divided into a Hoag faction and a Haines faction.


Next thing: there was a showdown. Jan. 2, 1898, Doc Tanner shot and killed William Lee and N.A. Call. Org’s founding father fell dead on the frozen tundra.

Doc Tanner, once a Montana cowboy, was put on trial. A historian says, “… a few of the boys dug a trail through the deep snow to the base of a tall tree. …Tanner’s own rope was prepared for the occasion …” The murderer was hanged. The gold rush continued.

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