The Floyd River Flood of 1892 and the Financial Panic of 1893 left Sioux City a ravaged community. Many of Sioux City’s largest businesses collapsed and the town’s great promoters were left bankrupt. Eastern investors, who had invested heavily in Sioux City businesses, were left trying to salvage what they could from the shambles. Creditors of some of Sioux City’s failed companies organized the Credits Commutation Company to try and recover some of their losses. They hired Fred L. Eaton, a banker from Vermont, to come to Sioux City and supervise that recovery.
When Fred Eaton arrived in Sioux City, the boom days were over and many businesses were in ruins. The stockyards, elevated railway, Combination Bridge and many other businesses were bankrupt. Eaton convinced a majority of the eastern investors that restoring economic health to Sioux City would be of financial benefit to them. Under his direction, the Credits Commutation Company voted to support the completion of the Combination Bridge and Eaton became the secretary/treasurer of the new combination bridge company.
Eaton helped organize the Sioux City Stock Yards Company, becoming its secretary and treasurer in 1894, general manager in 1901 and president in 1903. Under his guidance, the stockyards area began to revive and even flourish. He was one of the organizers of the Livestock National Bank, sponsored by the Credit Commutation Company to provide financing in the area. By 1901 two major meatpackers, Armour and Cudahy were located in the stockyards area.
In 1903, Eaton “revived the corn palace spirit with the Livestock Interstate Fair”. The fair brought farmers, ranchers and their families from throughout the three-state area for livestock and crop exhibits, competitions, and attractions. Thousands of farmers and city folks flocked to the auto races, fire horse races, contests and midway activities near what is now Riverside Park. The fair brought visibility and recognition to the community. Eaton was known across the country as the father of the boys’ and girls’ club movement at the fair. He served as president of the Interstate Fair Association for twenty-one years.
Soon after arriving in Sioux City, Eaton became very involved in the community and one of Sioux City’s most influential men. He was also president of the Sioux Falls Stockyard Company, Sioux City Terminal Railway Company, and Iowa Rendering Company. He was chairman of the board of the Livestock National Bank and vice president of the Sioux City Telephone Company. He helped organize the Hawkeye Land Company, an organization that helped packing plant and stockyards workers own their own homes. He organized the Equestrian Club, which later developed into the Shrine White Horse Mounted Patrol.
At the same time, Eaton was known as a kind and friendly man who was as thoroughly at home chatting with a stockyards laborer as a bank president. He came to Sioux City from Montpelier, Vermont, where he was born in 1859. His father died when he was just three years old and his family moved in with his maternal grandfather. Eaton shoveled snow and carried newspapers to help support his family. He attended school in Montpelier until he was fifteen years old. His family could not afford college, so he went to work as a clerk in a bookstore. After two years, he became a teller at the First National Bank in Montpelier.
When Eaton turned twenty-one, he became cashier of the National Bank of Barre, Vermont. After four years in that position, he returned to Montpelier as cashier at First National. Nine years later, Eaton was hired by the Credits Commutation Company and sent to Sioux City. He remained in Sioux City until his death in 1925.
Eaton is credited, more than any other person, with helping restore Sioux City’s economy after the ravages of the Panic of 1893.
After his death, the officers and directors of the Sioux City Stockyards passed the following resolution of tribute: “His every act, whether in business, civic or social life was characterized by kindness, consideration, fairness and justice.”
Fred L. Eaton biography file, Sioux City Public Museum Research Center
Sioux City Journal, July 21, 1925, August 19, 1940;
Sorensen, Scott and Chicoine, B. Paul, Sioux City, A Pictorial History, The Donning
Company, Publishers, 1982, Norfolk, Virginia