George Irvin Prettyman (or G.I. Prettyman, as my grandfather told me he liked to be called) was my grandfather’s uncle. I recently learned that a cousin was looking for some information on G.I. and his wife Frances, and I discovered that while I had some new information for him, a lot of what I had was contradictory and could use some dedicated research. For instance, my grandfather William Prettyman once told me that his uncle G. I. Prettyman didn’t make it past the fourth grade, as he was needed to help out at home on the farm. However, according to a contemporaneous biography (Minnesota and Its People, 1924, by Joseph Alfred Arner Burnquist),
[G.I.] “was reared and educated in Hewitt, attended the grade and high schools of the town, and then took a course in a commercial college at Little Falls, Minnesota. He was then sixteen years old and after completing his education entered the banking business and continued in it until 1911…”
I’m hoping that relatives reading this summary of what I’ve learned about G.I. Prettyman may be able to contribute considerably more than I’ve presented here. Please leave a comment below if you have additional information or stories about G.I. Prettyman or his family.
Let’s start with the most comprehensive single source of information that I’ve so far found. This biography of G.I. Prettyman can be found on page 119 of Minnesota and Its People (Burnquist, 1924):
GEORGE I. PRETTYMAN.
Banking, the mortgage loan business and service abroad during the World war have thoroughly filled the time of George I. Prettyman, mayor of Wadena, Minnesota, since he was a boy of sixteen. His business training has been a diversified and thorough one and has made him prominent in all the interests with which he has been connected. His war record was distinguished and has placed him in the highest position that his community has to offer to its worthy sons. He was born in Douglas county, Minnesota, on July 14, 1887, the son of Alfred M. and Mary A. (Horan) Prettyman. both his parents being natives of Minnesota. The father was a farmer for a number of years in Minnesota and now resides at Hewitt. Todd county. Minnesota. The mother died in June, 1905.
George I. Prettyman was reared and educated in Hewitt, attended the grade and high schools of the town, and then took a course in a commercial college at Little Falls, Minnesota. He was then sixteen years old and after completing his education entered the banking business and continued in it until 1911, when he joined the firm of Schanke & Co., of Mason City, Iowa, which conducted an extensive bond, mortgage and banking business. In 1914 he was made a vice president of the company and remained with it until 1920. Mr. Prettyman then sold out his interest, moved to Wadena and bought a one-third interest in the F. E. Gore’s Mortgage Company, of which he is now the vice president.
On August 8, 1917, Mr. Prettyman was married to Frances Essex, and of this marriage two children have been born: Mary Lorraine, born February 24, 1920; and Donna Maxine, born August 8, 1923. In July, 1918, Mr. Prettyman enlisted for service in the World war as a private and was afterward promoted to sergeant. He served in France until May, 1919, was in the Army of Occupation and was discharged on May 28, 1919. He then returned to Mason City, Iowa, where he continued until January, 1920, and then came to Wadena. In March he was elected mayor of the town. The Gores Mortgage Company, of which he is one of the proprietors, owns fifteen farms in the county of Wadena and operates some of them. Mr. Prettyman and his wife are Protestants in their religious belief, while in politics he is a member of the republican party. He belongs to the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, the American Legion, and the Lions Club, and was secretary of the latter organization for two years.
Setting this biography aside for now, let’s look at what other historical sources of information are available for G.I. Prettyman.
The first appearance of G.I. Prettyman in a historical document that I know of is his entry on the 1895 Minnesota state census for Woodside township, in Otter Tail county, Minnesota. He is 7 years old and is living at home on a farm with his father (32-year-old Alfred Minus [“Minos A.”] Prettyman), mother (28-year-old Mary A. Prettyman), his older brother (9-year-old Ray A. Prettyman), his two younger brothers (5-year-old Austin [“Ostin”] C. Prettyman and 9-month-old Clarence Prettyman), as well as three other people:
- 22-year-old John B. Horne
- 14-year-old Maud G. Horne
- 14-year-old Arthur Horne
These three additional people are almost certainly his mother’s siblings John Bernard Horan (1874–1942) and Arthur Wallace Horan (1881–1956), and John Bernard Horan’s young wife, Maude Grace Gonser Horan (1881–1948). George’s maternal grandparents had recently died (William Horan in 1891, and Anora J Lee Horan in 1892), so George’s family appear to have been doing their part to provide for some of Mary Ann’s younger siblings.
Both of the adult men in the household have their occupation listed as farmer.
Both of George’s parents are noted as having moved to their current residence in that census enumeration district 14 months prior to the census. The 1895 census was enumerated on June 13, 1895, so the Prettyman family appears to have moved to Woodside in about April, 1894.
George’s father was living in Spruce Hill township in Douglas County, Minnesota, from at least 1875 until at least 1885, and Spruce Hill is where G.I. was born (as you’ll see on a couple of the documents further down the page), so it would seem that the family lived in Spruce Hill from at least the time of George’s birth (July 14, 1887) until they moved to Woodside around April, 1894.
Five years later, at the time of the enumeration of the 1900 census on June 12, 1900, George is 12 years old and is still living with his parents and his three brothers. George, his older brother Roy (14 years old), and his younger brother Charles (10) are all in school, while youngest brother Clarence (almost 6 years old) has not yet started to attend school.
On August 1, 1901, George’s father Alfred Minos Prettyman purchased three adjoining parcels of land in Woodside township, totaling 160 acres. The BLM’s General Land Office Records are offline right now, but I’ll post the patent as soon as they’re back online.
••• Coming soon: 1901 land patent •••
According to George’s biography in Minnesota and Its People, by the time George was 16 years old (circa 1904), he had finished his schooling, which included taking a course at a commercial college in Little Falls, Morrison county, Minnesota.
What college did George attend? There were at least two colleges in Little Falls at the time. According to a small blurb in the July 8, 1904, edition of the Little Falls Herald newspaper, a college called Browns Business School was to resume classes in September, 1904:
According to a biography written by the Morrison County Historical Society, there was also a Little Falls Business College:
Ralph B. Millard established the Little Falls Business College in Little Falls during the summer of 1904. Millard was the principal and proprietor of the school. The Little Falls Business College offered a practical business education for those students who wanted to continue their education but did not want to teach. Courses that were offered by the college included business, shorthand, salesmanship, and civil service. The college also had an employment department that assisted students with finding jobs. By the time the 1928 Morrison County Directory was published, the school was no longer in operation.
Both of these were small schools. According to the December 7, 1907, edition of the Little Falls Herald, the enrollment in the Little Falls Business College around 1904 would have been less than 100 students:
By the time of the enumeration of the 1905 census on June 12, 1905, George is 17 years old and is back living at home with his parents and siblings in Hewitt village. His occupation (and that of all of his siblings) is listed as laborer. It appears that his family just moved to Hewitt village at the beginning of 1905 or the end of 1904, as the census taker wrote that they had only been residents of the enumeration district for 6 months prior to June 12, 1905.
George’s mother Mary Ann Horan Prettyman died on June 17, 1906 (not 1905 as stated in his biography), leaving his father alone with four sons.
By the time of the 1910 census, George has left his parents’ home and is living with his older brother Roy Alfred Prettyman (1885–1971) and Roy’s wife Jennie B. Matson Prettyman (1884–1926) on West Front Street in Hewitt village, Todd county, Minnesota. His brother Roy is working as a barber in a barbershop, and George is working as a cashier in a bank.
At some point between 1910 and 1913, George moved to Mason City, Iowa. He rented rooms at 421 East 4th Street and worked as a cashier for Schanke & Co. It is around this time that he appears to have consciously worked to change his image to be more in line with that of a successful businessman. He stopped going by George I. Prettyman and started calling himself G. Irvin Prettyman. He also payed a premium to have his name set in bold in the city directory:
Here is a modern photo of the house in which he rented rooms at 421 East 4th Street in Mason City:
His entry in the 1914 and 1915 directories are nearly identical to that of the 1913 directory:
Later in 1915, the Iowa census records a 28-year-old George still living in Mason City, Iowa, but he’s continuing to improve his image. He now refers to himself as “G.I. Prettyman,” and he’s listed as an investment banker who earned $1500 in 1914 from that occupation. He told the census taker that his education consisted of 8 years of grammar school, 4 years of high school, and 4 years of college:
On June 5, 1915, George registered for the draft in Mason City, Iowa. He’s 29 years old and lists his occupation as a banker with Schanke & Co.
George has also moved into a beautiful, large, riverside home in Mason City at 321 2nd St. SE:
On August 9, 1917, George was issued a marriage license in Cerro Gordo county, Iowa, and on August 10, 1917, he was married to Frances Essex, a native of Iowa. His name was listed as Geo. I. Prettyman, and his occupation was listed as banker.
George served for over a year in the Army as part of the occupying forces in France, but I have not yet been able to locate any documents to fill in details of this period of his life. He enlisted as a Private, but was discharged as a Sergeant.
Steven Wagner (relation unknown) left the following synopsis of George’s World War I service record on George’s findagrave.com entry:
George Irwin Prettyman was born on July 14, 1887 at Spruce Hill, Minnesota to Alfred and Mary Prettyman. During World War 1, George was inducted into the Army at Mason City, Iowa on July 25, 1918 and was sent to Camp Gordon, Georgia for training. He was assigned to the Medical Corps and sailed for France on September 13, 1918. While in France, George was assigned to the Medical Replacement Unit #35; Medical Supply Depot #3; Base Hospital #105; and lastly Base Hospital #65. He returned to the States on May 22, 1919 and was discharged at Camp Dix, NJ on May 27, 1919 as a Sergeant. His serial # was 4002162. Thank you for your service to our nation.
For his entry in the 1919 Mason City directory (almost certainly prepared in his absence during the Great War), George was listed as G. Irwin Prettyman, Secretary of Schanke & Co. He and his wife Frances had moved to a new home at 217 N. Pennsylvania Avenue in Mason City. That address is now a parking lot, so I have no photos to show you of their new home.
By the time of the 1920 census, enumerated on January 6, 1920, George was back from the Great War and he and Frances were living in another new home, this time renting at 722½ N. Federal Avenue in Mason City. The house or apartment that once stood at that address is now gone, replaced by two modern apartment buildings at 720 and 724 N. Federal Avenue. George is once again calling himself G.I. Prettyman. Living with George and Frances is Frances’ younger sister Kathryn Essex.
Jerry Prettyman states on his website that “G.I. moved to Wadena in 1920. He had shipped his belongings there, and in trying to move them to a team of horses, the horses got mired in the rain-soaked mud. G.I. was mayor of Wadena from 1923 to 1931.”
Shortly after becoming mayor of Wadena, George’s biography was published in 1924 volume, Minnesota and Its People by Joseph Alfred Arner Burnquist.
As George was now an accomplished and respected businessman and civic leader, he no longer needed to try so hard to embellish his past. He did gloss over the extent of his education by stating that he “attended the grade and high schools of the town,” but this may also have been a lapse on the part of the author of the biography. One other mistake that I assume was made by the author of the biography was the misstatement of George’s wedding date as August 8 instead of August 10.
By the time of the 1930 census, enumerated on April 11, 1930, George and his family had lived in Wadena for a decade, and George has served as mayor of that city for the last 7 years. He (identifying himself as George I. Prettyman), his wife, their three daughters, and a servant named Minnie Jasmer lived in a stately home at 206 Bryant Ave. S.W. in Wadena, Minnesota.
When I saw a photo of George’s Wadena house (below), I immediately recognized it as the house of my great-great-grandfather Judge F.E. Gores, the father of George’s sister-in-law, Rose Gores Prettyman (1892–1945). Judge F.E. Gores was also George’s business partner in the F.E. Gores Mortgage Company. Looking more closely at the 1930 census, I realized that this wasn’t Judge F.E. Gores’ house, as I long thought. Judge Gores was actually just renting rooms for $45 per month from George for himself and his second wife, Gertrude Schabert Gores.
According to the 1940 census, on April 1, 1935, George was living without his family at 1842 Goodrich Ave., St. Paul, MN. His wife and children were still living back in Wadena, presumably at the same address.
By April 12, 1940, George’s family had left Wadena and joined him in his house in St. Paul. His children were now 9 (Donald), 12 (Patricia), 17 (Donna), and 20 (Mary). George listed his occupation as “Salesman, Gen. Insurance.”
Although he was 54 years old at the time, George signed up for the World War II draft registration in 1942. After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. began what was dubbed the “Old Man’s Draft.” These men, born between April 28, 1877, and February 16, 1897, were not intended for military conscription; rather, the draft was intended to help assess the nation’s manpower resources.
George gave his full name (although the form required this), and it appears he had moved to yet another new home, this time at 1815 Summit Avenue, in St. Paul. This house still stands and is a 2,390 ft² house built in 1938 on a 9,583 ft² lot. The photo below doesn’t really do it justice, but there’s a nice set of photos on Zillow of this home.
One of the last historical mentions I’ve found of G.I. is this excerpt from the December 30, 1948, Wadena Pioneer Journal:
Fergus men buy interest in the Gores Company
A change in one of Wadena’s pioneer firms — the F.E. Gores Mortgage Company — is announced this week by its president, G.I. Prettyman. An interest has been purchased by Olson-Enstad-Larson investment firm of Fergus Falls.
In the following sections I’d like to address (or at least list) some of the inconsistencies I found during this research.
I found it odd that his 1924 biography stated that George was Protestant, as I had been under the impression that the Prettymans were devout Catholics. I could only find two historical documents mentioning his religion, but I feel confident that the Protestant identification is yet another mistake by the author of the biography.
|1917||Marriage record||married by P. Malloy, a Catholic priest|
|1924||Biography||“Mr. Prettyman and his wife are|
Protestants in their religious belief”
While my grandfather told me that George went by the name “G.I. Prettyman,” in truth he referred to himself in several different ways over his lifetime:
|1895||1895 census||George E. Prettyman|
|1900||1900 census||George E. Prettyman|
|1905||1905 census||George I. Prettyman|
|1910||1910 census||George R. Prettyman (misheard by census taker?)|
|1913||Mason City directory||G. Irvin Prettyman|
|1914||Mason City directory||G. Irvin Prettyman|
|1915||Mason City directory||G. Irvin Prettyman|
|1915||1915 census||G.I. Prettyman|
|1917||WWI draft card||George Irvin Prettyman (full name required)|
|1917||Marriage record||Geo. I. Prettyman|
|1919||Mason City directory||G. Irwin [sic] Prettyman|
|1920||1920 census||G.I. Prettyman|
|1930||1930 census||George I. Prettyman|
|1940||1940 census||George I. Prettyman|
|1942||WWII draft card||George Irvin Prettyman (full name required)|
|1900||1900 census||at school|
|1910||1910 census||Bank cashier|
|1913||Mason City directory||Cashier, Schanke & Co.|
|1914||Mason City directory||Cashier, Schanke & Co.|
|1915||Mason City directory||Cashier, Schanke & Co.|
|1915||1915 census||Investment banker|
|1917||WWI draft card||Banker, Schanke & Co.|
|1919||Mason City directory||Secretary of Schanke & Co. Bank|
|1920||1920 census||Bank clerk|
|1924||Biography||Vice President, F.E. Gores Mortgage Co.|
|1930||1930 census||Mayor, investment banker|
|1940||1940 census||Salesman, General Insurance|
|1942||WWII draft card||Manager, Merchants & Farmers Mutual Ca. Co.|
From what I can tell, it looks like G.I. was ashamed of his lack of education and tried to hide it. His agricultural background and grammar-school education would perhaps have been considered negative qualities for a young man getting started as an investment banker. As he grew older, his business experience could speak for itself and his educational background would be less important, and perhaps this is why his description of his level of education changed over time:
|Date||Source||level of education attained|
|1900||1900 census||is currently attending school|
|1915||1915 census||completed 8 years of grammar school,|
4 years of high school, and 4 years of college
|1924||Biography||attended grade and high school in Hewitt;|
took a course in a commercial college in Little Falls;
finished school by age 16
|1940||1940 census||Highest grade completed: 8th grade|
This is not a complete list of the places George lived; it is only a list of those places documented by the evidence presented above. I wouldn’t be surprised if he lived in twice as many places as identified below.
|July 14, 1887–April 1894||Spruce Hill township, Douglas co., MN (on farm)|
|April 1894–ca. 1903||Woodside township, Otter Tail co., MN (on farm)|
|ca. 1904||Little Falls, Morrison co., MN (taking college course)|
|1905||Hewitt village, Todd co., MN|
|1910||West Front Street, Hewitt village, Todd co., MN (with brother)|
|1913-1915||421 E. 4th St., Mason City, Iowa|
|1917||321 2nd St. SE, Mason City, Iowa|
|1919||217 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Mason City, IA|
(now a parking lot)
|1920||722 N. Federal Avenue, Mason City, Iowa|
(now modern apartment buildings)
|1930||206 Bryant Ave. S.W., Wadena, MN|
|1935-1940||1842 Goodrich Ave., St Paul, MN|
|1942||1815 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN|
Finally, another step in creating an image for oneself as a successful businessman and distancing oneself from a childhood deprived of a full education is to develop an elegant signature. I have only two examples so far of George’s signature (from his two draft registration cards), but the two are strikingly different. The first begins somewhat sloppily, as if he’s not used to writing out his first name—in fact, he misspells his first name as “Geroge.” It is written with what appears to be a ballpoint pen and gets more confident as he reaches his last name. The second example, from 1942, is an elegant and practiced signature, written with a fountain pen. He signs his name “G. Prettyman.”
Thank you for reading this long entry. If you have additional information or stories to share about George or his family, please leave a comment below. Comments can be private or public—I screen all comments before making them public.