Early History and Settlements of Cass County

The early history of Cass County is intricately tied to the indigenous Chippewa and Sioux tribes, the fur traders, and the Catholic missionaries who played a pivotal role in the region before 1862. The area, marked by violent conflicts between these tribes, witnessed significant cultural interactions and territorial struggles, particularly near the confluence of the Wild Rice and Red Rivers. Fort Abercrombie, established in 1858, and the presence of the Hudson Bay Company’s southernmost outpost at Georgetown highlighted the military and trade activities that followed the indigenous era. The early settlement efforts, despite facing severe challenges such as the Indian Massacre of 1862, gradually paved the way for the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the founding of Fargo, which became a gateway for further development. The subsequent growth of towns, institutions, and agricultural prosperity in Cass County underscored the transformative impact of railroads and the resilience of its early settlers.

By William H. White

The history of Cass County, in common with other portions of the Red River Valley, prior to 1862, is a history of the Chippewa and Sioux Indians, the fur traders, hunters and trappers, and of the noble and self-sacrificing missionaries of the Catholic Church. Long before the dawn of civilization, in that section of the country which is now designated as Cass County, the savage tribes that traversed the great forests of Minnesota, and the horse-riding nomads of the prairies of Dakota, met here in deadly struggle for supremacy, giving up their lives in bloody conflict, as their, now almost destroyed, remains, deposited in the Indian graves, a few miles south of Fargo, will attest. That section of Cass County adjacent to the point where the Wild Rice River empties into the Red River was the center of the arena of the struggles between these Indian tribes. An important factor in the settlement of these deadly feuds has been the harmonizing influence of the Catholic Church, which stood as a bulwark between the Chippewa and the Sioux, and in evidence of its influence, a great cross was erected not far from the present site of the village of Wild Rice, which, for many years, could be seen by the advancing pioneer. This cross stood out like a sentinel, the only object on a vast expanse of country, giving notice to the coming settler, that through its influence for peace, the country was made ready for the incoming of the white race. It was the only object to guide the wanderer, as many living today will remember with gratitude.

Closely following upon the vanishing trail of the Indians came the United States troops from the south, and the fur traders, trappers, and hunters, from the north, taking possession of the country, unwillingly relinquished by the aboriginal savage.

As early as 1858, Fort Abercrombie was established on the west bank of the Red River, a few miles below and guarding the southern boundary of Cass County, and was rebuilt and strengthened in 1860, as a protection against the aggressions of those Indians whose final struggle for supremacy culminated in the massacre of 1862.

The Hudson Bay Company established its southernmost outpost near the northern boundary of Cass County, at Georgetown, and, co-operating with the United States troops at Fort Abercrombie, became a military post, for the protection of its French voyageurs, fur traders, half-breed hunters and trappers, and was maintained until the company was forced, temporarily, to withdraw, by the Indian aggressions of 1862. It was, however, again established in 1864, and became the gateway through which the early white settlers came into the northern portion of Cass County.

As early as 1859 a small steamboat called the “Anson Northrup,” was put together, at the mouth of the Cheyenne River, and was run between Fort Abercrombie and Fort Garry. The speculative element of the early white arrivals made itself felt in Cass County, also, as early as 1859, for during the construction of the steamer “Anson Northrup,” at the mouth of the Cheyenne, a townsite was laid out by Mr. Peter Bottineau and Mr. Russell, of Minneapolis, and was called Dakota City. A German by the name of Henry Block, and two Frenchmen, by name Frank Durand and David Auge, were employed by Messrs. Bottineau and Russell, to hold this townsite, which they did, until they were driven away by the Indians, in the outbreak of 1862.

The element of chivalry, and bravery also, was not lacking in those early days. This was amply exemplified in the wonderful character and exploits of one who should have a larger place in history than is accorded to him. Mr. George Northrup, a young man of fine education, and a refined nature; but also, a nature longing to accomplish great and unique deeds, in Indian warfare, traversed this Indian country alone, unguarded and unprotected, save by the curious habit of drawing after him a small cart, containing articles of barter for the Indians. So strange seemed this action to the Indians, that he became noted throughout the Indian country by the name of the “Man-that-draws-the-handcart.” Mr. Northrup, by his brave and startling plans of defense and caution, succeeded in saving the lives of a large party of English gentlemen of science, sent to the Red River Valley in 1861 by a scientific society for research. Two Scotch ladies, one of them betrothed to an officer of the Hudson Bay Company, owed their safety, if not their lives, to his gallant and venturesome plans for their safe deliverance at the Hudson Bay Company’s post at Georgetown. An English baronet owes to Mr. Northrup his safe conduct through the Indian country, between Fort Abercrombie and Georgetown, at a time when only the superstition of the Indians, growing out of his unique habit of drawing the little handcart, saved them both from massacre.

In the winter of 1860 George Northrup was engaged in the arduous task of carrying the mail from Fort Abercrombie to Pembina, a 200-mile land journey, over a country without habitation. The journey was made with dog sleds, along the western bank of the Red River, through Cass County, and other counties to the north, the thermometer often reaching 40° below, and sometimes touching 50° below zero, and, like other voyageurs, he sometimes had to lie down in the snow, with his sledge dogs close against his body, to gain from them the added warmth necessary to keep him from freezing, during the fearful blizzards which prevailed through this winter.

The State Historical Society of Minnesota has collected and preserved much historical data, relative to George Northrup, which portray his remarkable characteristics.

During 1864 settlements were made in what is now Wiser Township of Cass County, across the river from the Hudson Bay Company’s post, at Georgetown, by the fur traders, hunters and trappers, in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company at this point. Peter Russell erected substantial log buildings, as headquarters, for the purpose of trading with the Indians and trappers, along the Red River and its tributaries, the Cheyenne and Wild Rice rivers. He afterward sold these buildings, and the squatters’ right to the land upon which they were located, to a Frenchman named Marchaunt, who continued the trading post for three years, then selling it to a French half-breed designated by the title of “French Jake.” This French half-breed remained until 1870, thus forming a connecting link between the occupation by the trappers and hunters, and the first pioneers who came to Cass County for the purpose of establishing homes and tilling the soil. Other settlements were made by fur traders and trappers north of Peter Russell’s headquarters, extending to the mouth of Elm River, and to the south extending to the mouth of the Cheyenne River. The Hudson Bay Company abandoned the post at Georgetown during the Indian outbreak of 1862, but re-established the post, during 1864, and their business was placed in charge of R. M. Probsfield, who faithfully managed its affairs, between 1864 and 1868, trading with the Indians on both sides of the river. Mr. Probsfield is now living on his farm north of Moorhead, Minn., and is well known to the present generation.

Of the early permanent pioneers of Cass County can be classed as first, Mr. Martin Schow and Mr. Matt Hammes, who took up claims at the mouth of the Elm River early in 1870, Mr. Schow cultivating and remaining upon his claim until his death, two years ago. His descendants still own and occupy the homestead. Later in 1870, claims were made at the mouth of the Elm River by Mr. Jacob Lowell, Jr., who retained it as his home until he removed to the location south of Fargo in 1871. N. K. Hubbard, also, at Georgetown, in 1870, filed upon a claim near the mouth of the Elm River, but relinquished it before the close of the year, owing to his removal. Mr. D. P. Harris, Jacob Metz and Peter Goodman filed upon claims in 1870 near the mouth of the Cheyenne River. Ole Stranwell in 1870 took up a claim near the mouth of the Buffalo River in Cass County, and his descendants are living upon it today. Of the early settlers of the southern portion of Cass County, the names and dates of settlement are as follows:

  • Nils Arentson, Hickson, July 12, 1870.
  • C. O. Bye, Hickson, July 21, 1870.
  • John Rustad, Kindred, September 1, 1870.
  • The Hicks family at Hickson, early in 1870.
  • B. C. Anderson, Wild Rice, October 15, 1870.
  • Simon Hanson, Kindred, 1870.
View of Overland Limited, at N P Depot, Fargo, ND
View of Overland Limited, at N P Depot, Fargo, ND

The Arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the Founding of Fargo

Considering the fact that up to 1872, barely enough wheat was raised to make bread for the then thinly settled counties of Dakota, and that the Red River Valley was generally believed as late as 1868 to be a barren country, when we realize that the pioneers above mentioned, who first reached the western shores of the Red River, were menaced by Indians on a boundless prairie; that hardships and dangers surrounded them, by night and by day; when we think of these and other mighty obstacles that thwarted them in their labors to develop the country, their history and the record of their success, reads like fiction rather than actual experience. Yet, to tell of their experiences, their modes of living, their viewpoint of the Dakota of that early day, and their anticipation of the civilization which was to be brought into the country with the railroads, is to recount the courage and faith of the early settler, and the success which inevitably follows upon efforts, sacrifices and energies directed as were theirs.

Early in the seventies, Cass County and the country surrounding it was still an Indian reservation, inhabited by the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of Sioux Indians. No title under these conditions could be acquired to any public lands, under United States laws. However, the enterprising and aggressive spirit of a people who have always gone to the fore in all work for the development and betterment of the race, imbued with the determination to crowd the red man farther west, and to demonstrate in the history of this new state, the survival of the fittest, unbaffled by conditions, took possession, and, succeeding the scattering settlements of the period intervening between the first arrivals and the year 1871, the first white settlers located where is now the city of Fargo, which claims the honor of thus serving as the gateway to permanent settlement in Cass County.

As the Northern Pacific Railroad was, of necessity, the primal force or agency in the development of this region, preparatory action on the part of its management necessarily superseded and influenced the incoming settler. In 1870, therefore, being extended west from Lake Superior, surveying parties brought the line of the road to and through the Red River Valley east of the Red River. Prospectors followed closely after, anxious to profit by what might be learned of the intentions of this corporation. The point at which the Northern Pacific Railroad should cross the river was to be the pivotal point in the fortunes of many. Among these prospectors came N. K. Hubbard and Frank Veits, the latter acquiring by purchase the log hotel at the old Hudson Bay post, at Georgetown, then occupied by Adam Stein. Considering indications favorable at Elm River at its mouth for the crossing of the Red River by the railroad, Messrs. Hubbard, Jacob Lowell, Jr., Andrew McHench, H. S. Back, George H. Sanborn and some others settled there, a part of them remaining during the winter of 1870 and 1871. A suspicious line, the following spring, running from Muskoda to a point a few miles north of Moorhead, excited the fears of the Elm River settlers, subsequently known as Bogusville, its name indicating the fact that this action on the part of the railroad management was meant to serve as simply a ruse to disguise their actual purpose. Still another line, with evidently the same intention, was run to the mouth of the Wild Rice River. These several surveys, and the uncertainty attending the ultimate use to which the company might decide to place them, was the occasion of much interest among those eager to profit by the action of the road. Thomas H. Canfield, president of the Puget Sound Land Company, had arrived for the purpose of locating the crossing, and the point at Elm River had primarily been the intentional one, had not factors arisen obliging a change. Deciding on the point eventually selected, Mr. Canfield took steps to make final proof and purchase the land. On the east side of the Red River, land was purchasable; on the west side, in Cass County, the odd sections were secured by land grant, but title to the even numbered sections could be obtained only by actual settlement, and the exercise of the homestead or pre-emption right, or by scrip location, and scrip could only be located on unoccupied lands. Opposed to the Puget Sound Land Company were the shrewd men, above mentioned, who had arrived in 1870, in advance of the land company.

1880 Bird's Eye View of Fargo Dakota
1880 Bird’s Eye View of Fargo Dakota

Growth, Development, and Key Institutions of Cass County

In June, 1871, Major G. G. Beardsley, accompanied by three Scandinavian settlers, located on the townsite of Fargo, having, it is reported, previously bought off a man, by the name of Mike Harburg, who had “squatted” on what is now the beautiful “Island Park” of Fargo, giving him in payment of his relinquishment a yoke of oxen, a cow and $100 in cash. Mr. Beardsley began making improvements, but did not announce his connection with the townsite company, indeed, endeavored to disguise the fact, but the prospectors, ever on the alert, being suspicious of him, decided to locate immediately in his vicinity, and Jacob Lowell, Jr., settled on a claim, becoming the first bona fide settler near Fargo. Mr. Back and Mr. McHench almost immediately did the same. By this time the identity of Major Beardsley, as representative of the townsite company, was fully established. The three accompanying him were hired to hold the land until scrip could be secured. The land proved to be covered by an old Indian title, and when that was satisfied, the claims of actual settlers were first recognized. The lands, however, did not become subject to entry until September, 1873. Ole Lee, among the earlier settlers, came in April, 1871, settling on what was later known as the Island Park addition to Fargo. When filings were made in and around Fargo, settlements, according to Colonel Lounsberry’s statistical report, were as follows:

Others followed closely after. Charles Roberts is the father of the first white child born in Cass County, Lee Roberts, now a resident of the county seat, Fargo. The Charles Roberts claim is now practically in the heart of the city of Fargo. Jacob Lowell’s adjoins the city. Fuller’s, later known as Eddy & Fuller’s Out-lots. Sanborn’s is one mile south of the city.

G. J. Keeney reached Fargo on July 5, 1871, and in March 1872, located his claim, which extended from Northern Pacific Avenue to Sixth Avenue, north of the Great Northern depot, and from Broadway to the river. Messrs. Keeney and Devitt afterward made a joint entry of this land.

Thus, in 1871, the foundation of the county seat of Cass County was laid, but the city of Fargo was not platted until October 1873. The survey was made by Joseph E. Turner, and the plat of Fargo was the first instrument filed for record in the office of the register of deeds of Cass County, January 2, 1874. The organization of Cass County was effected in the fall of 1873; Newton Whitman, W. H. Leverett, and Jacob Lowell, Sr., were the first county commissioners. Andrew McHench was the first county superintendent of schools, Terence Martin the first register of deeds, and H. S. Back county judge.

According to the best information obtainable, the following named settlers, now resident in Cass County, arrived within its borders upon the dates herein designated, and with present post-office address as follows:

  • Paul Mortinson, Harwood. August, 1870.
  • Andrew Anderson, “Wild Rice, October 15, 1870.
  • Ole Martinson, Hickson, 1870.
  • A. W. Blackburn, Fargo, January, 1871.
  • Hans Hoglund, Harwood, April 14, 1871.
  • August Landblom, Harwood, April 14, 1871.
  • Mrs. Andrew McHench, Fargo, April 30, 1871.
  • Knute Iverson, Kindred, April, 1871.
  • Peter Kyllo, Harwood, April, 1871.
  • N. B. Pinkham, Fargo, April, 1871.
  • J. M. Bender, Harwood, May 1, 1871.
  • S. V. Hoag, Fargo, May 14, 1871.
  • Henry Larson, Gardiner, May, 1871.
  • John Deacon, Fargo. May, 1871.
  • Peter Trana, Kindred, May, 1871.
  • George I. Foster, Fargo, May, 1871.
  • Hans Larson, Argusville, May, 1871.
  • Peter Cossette, Wild Rice, May, 1871.
  • C. C. Furnberg, Osgood, spring, 1871.
  • Mrs. A. K. Solberg, Wild Rice, June 1, 1871.
  • Mrs. J. E. Haggart, Fargo, June 2, 1871.
  • John E. Headland, Fargo, June 5, 1871.
  • T. P. Borderud, Kindred, June 20, 1871.
  • O. P. Borderud, Kindred, June 25, 1871.
  • A. P. Borderud, Davenport, June 25, 1871.
  • Thomas McKenzie, Wild Rice, June, 1871.
  • Amund Trangsrud, Kindred, June, 1871.
  • Axtel Trangsrud, Kindred, June, 1871.
  • Knute Hertzgard, Kindred, June, 1871.
  • C. L. Mattison, Fargo, July 1, 187.1.
  • Mrs. C. A. Roberts, Leonard, August 8, 1871.
  • William Roberts, Leonard, August 8, 1871.
  • Mrs. R. J. Wisnals, Hickson, August 10, 1871.
  • Hans Knudson, Harwood, August. 1871.
  • Cornelius Haley, Fargo, September 10, 1871.
  • T. J. Haley, Fargo,. September 30, 1871.
  • A. H. Clemenson, Horace, October 12, 1871.
  • G. H. Clemenson, Horace, October 12, 1871.
  • J. W. Hodges, Fargo, October 15, 1871.
  • J. O. Halsten, Harwood, October 24, 1871.
  • James S. Campbell, Fargo, October, 1871.
  • C. Fredrickson, Horace, October, 1871.
  • A. F. Pinkham, Casselton, October, 1871.
  • Arthur Sauvageau, Wild Rice, November 1, 1871.
  • Joseph Denis, Wild Rice, November 1, 1871.
  • John G. Nelson, Horace, November 1, 1871.
  • L. Beaton, Fargo, November, 1871.
  • P. O. Ingebriktson, Harwood, November, 1871.
  • Mrs. P. O. Ingebriktson, Harwood, November, 1871.
  • Frank Raspberry, Fargo, fall, 1871.
  • C. W. Darling, Fargo, fall, 1871.
  • Nels Olson, Harwood, fall, 1871.
  • Harry O’Neill, Fargo, December 25, 1871.
  • Charles Farrell, Fargo, 1871.
  • Martin E. Johnson, Horace, 1871.
  • C. L. Powers, Casselton, 1871.

Designated by the name of Centralia, the first post office was established in Cass County in September 1871, G. J. Keeney being appointed postmaster. Two years later, in 1873, the name of the post office was changed to Fargo. Mr. George I. Foster, about the same date, was appointed court commissioner.

The central figure in the county seat — Fargo — and, until recent years, an ancient landmark, the Headquarters Hotel, was begun in 1871, completed in 1872, and opened in the spring of 1873 by J. B. Chapin. This building was burned in October 1874, being rebuilt in a very short time after the fire by N. K. Hubbard. The opening was the occasion of great festivity. This hotel was, as its name implies, “headquarters” for the settlers of the county. A sentiment of friendliness and good fellowship existed, at this early date, among all within the borders of the state, and the friendships formed in this epoch-making period of its history have continued to the present time, a bond to unite all who have together borne the hardship and reaped the rewards of their labors.

Near the site of the present water-works plant still stands the first house built in Fargo. It was constructed of logs by A. H. Moore in 1871. It was intended for a home but served, for a time, the purposes of a hotel until the opening of the Headquarters in 1873. The formal establishment of the land office was effected in 1874, with Thomas L. Pugh, receiver, and C. B. Jordan, registrar. At this time the settlers who had made formal entry of claims were allowed to “prove up” on their lands without further interference on the part of the Puget Sound Land Company. In, at the beginning, making the first plat of Fargo, what is now known as Island Park was, with the rest, divided into lots. Mr. J. B. Power, then general agent of the Northern Pacific land department, was approached by Jacob Lowell, Jr., with the suggestion that the portion of Island Park addition lying south of Second Avenue be deeded to the county seat by the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, for park purposes, and it is to the interest and effort of these gentlemen that the city of Fargo is indebted for the attractive vacation grounds so appreciated by its citizens.

The first school in Fargo held its session in the winter of 1873 and 1874. It was a private enterprise, taught by A. F. Pinkham. Following this, the first school board was elected in the spring of 1874, comprising three officers, namely, those of director, treasurer, and clerk, filled by S. G. Roberts, Patrick Devitt, and A. A. Plummer, respectively. A building was purchased, then located on a lot which was donated for the purpose by the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, on the land where the Unitarian Church of Fargo now stands.

Advancing by degrees in the progress toward civic growth, in the spring of 1875, in the office of S. G. Roberts, a meeting of the citizens was called to organize a city government, in accordance with the legal requirements of the legislature of the state. The estimated population of the county seat at this date, 1875, was 600, and elected to administer its government were a mayor, Mr. George Egbert; treasurer, W. A. Yerxa; and city clerk, Terence Martin.

In noting the inauguration and growth of Cass County in the beginning of its history, special note is, of necessity, made of its county seat, as the point at which or through which permanent entrance was effected into the county, bringing civilizing influences into the state and making possible the growth and development of the county. As the beneficial effects have broadened, other towns and villages have sprung up, developed, and have become in themselves live factors in the advancement of the interests of Cass County. Without the railroads, this expansion would have been impossible. Crossing the Red River of the North at Fargo, the progress of the Northern Pacific Railroad, considering the obstacles encountered, was rapidly made, and as its track marked the undeviating line of advancement westward, new villages and towns speedily dotted the prairies in its immediate vicinity, bringing life and activity to a region before untrodden by the foot of civilized man. Mr. Jay Cooke’s financial embarrassments in 1873 temporarily retarded the progress of the railroad, and it was ultimately carried on to completion by Mr. Villard. The opening up of the country, its development agriculturally, commercially, financially and numerically, indeed, Cass County itself, with all that it represents, stands today a most gratifying evidence of the civilizing and expanding power of the railroads. Besides the development growing out of the agency above mentioned, traffic, in the early days, with no railroads, was by way of navigation on the Red River. The river, navigable to Fort Garry, furnished the one means of transportation. It suggested a novel sight to see, at the levee at Fargo, at a time when the Indian still held legal possession and the buffalo roamed the prairies, several steamers with their barges, loaded with freight, with many immigrants, too, accompanying them. Lumber and necessities generally were transported in this way. The spirit which led men to meet such hardships, and to so indefatigably labor to overcome them, has evolved character, such as the pioneers of Cass County embody and represent, and has brought to the county the enviable reputation it today so justly merits. The history of this county, in its inception, is dependent upon and is the outgrowth of events, as herein noted, and centers about Fargo, and the adjacent settlements on the river. As the Northern Pacific Railroad, carrying civilization in its progress, wakened the echoes westward, other towns (as we have said) sprung up, and in Cass County alone over twenty towns and villages show the result of this agency of development. Some of these are: Casselton, with in 1886 a population of 1,365; Tower City, 763; Wheatland, 370; Buffalo, 319; Mapleton, 210; Wild Rice, Everett, Argusville, Harwood, Gardner, Durbin, Grandin, Leonard, Horace, Hunter, Page, Davenport, Kindred, Hickson, Arthur, and Ripon had, at this date, a prosperous beginning. Other towns have since come into existence, and these mentioned above have achieved substantial growth, having in many instances become metropolitan in commercial and financial importance, second only to the county seat.

Multiplied influences and interests have united as agencies in the continued growth of this favored section of North Dakota. Where only the barest necessities of life were available, now, not only in the chief city of the county, but in all the others within its bounds, all the appliances which the most recent developments of science have made possible — electric lights, waterworks, city railways, good roads, and the most approved methods of sanitation and heating — are present. The presence and necessity of its many banking institutions, and wide commercial interests, also attest its enlargement. Complex conditions, growing out of insistent need, have brought about this development in a comparatively short period of time. A period which less aggressive and more deliberate peoples would have considered inconceivable. But a matter of a few years has intervened between the period of utter desolation and the present, when throughout this section waving grain fields, in billowy undulations, extend on and on until their limits are lost in the horizon, and, as they become ready for the harvest, empty their golden grain into the bread-basket which feeds the world.

Religious and Civic Institutions in Early Cass County

First Lutheran Church, Fargo, ND

Close following upon the incoming of the first settlers came Christianizing influences, a much-needed instrumentality in a period of disorganized social conditions. True to his principles, and imbued with the spirit of his master, the Christian minister came, at this early date, meeting, right nobly, the needs of the times, and with tact, judgment, and unwavering energy, counting no hardships too great, in the fulfillment of his mission. In these early times, society was complex, and while many upright and able men led in the van, others with less fixed standards of morality were largely represented, and these, in many instances, were keen of intellect and aggressive in action, creating the need of an intellectual as well as a moral force in those who should endeavor to instill principles of Christianity and Christian methods of living in a mixed community such as any new civilization creates. The intellectual ability of the pioneers in Christian work in Cass County, combined with their active Christian warfare against the vices incident to the period, was second to none who have since come to forward, develop and bring to a harvest of large results this great factor in the development of any country. The Catholic Church, always an early, able, and aggressive force, was represented in its work at the river points of this county in the earliest period of its history. The growth of the work is apparent throughout its boundaries. An imposing cathedral is located at the county seat, and, leading and directing the work of Catholicism in the county and throughout the entire state, Bishop Shanley wields today an influence far-reaching in its results. For the accomplishments achieved by this agency for the uplift of mankind, in the interval between the early history of the county and the present time, you are referred to the able and explanatory articles on this subject written and published from time to time by Bishop Shanley, a man not only a capable exponent of the doctrine but a practical demonstrator of its benefits to his fellowman.

Protestant Christianity, ever a power in a new community, came with the earliest arriving settlers. The first Protestant religious service was held in a tent in Fargo, as early as 1871, for Fargo, at this time, was but a city of tents. This service was conducted by the Rev. O. H. Elmer, resident Presbyterian missionary, on the east side of the Red River, at Moorhead. Very soon after, the Rev. Father Gurley and Rev. Mr. Webb, of the Methodist Church, arrived for missionary work, and with peculiar adaptability for the work, laid, at that time, the foundation of Methodism in the new state. Mr. Webb held services regularly in Pinkham’s Hall in 1873, and his congregations included many not supposed to frequent places of divine worship. These, however, were generous in furnishing financial aid, and, in these early days, the problems growing out of the use of “tainted money” had not come to vex the early settlers. Aggressive and progressive work left no time for introspective deliberations, and the faro dealer’s money was received and applied with no special thought as to the source from which it came. The Episcopal denomination began the first church building in 1873, but it was some time later in reaching completion. It has since been replaced by a commodious cathedral. In 1874 the first Methodist church was built, and under the ministrations of its pioneer ministry, and the devoted aid of the laity, became, from the first, a force in the community, until, today, the third structure, on the original site, is among the most attractive edifices in the state, with a membership numerically and financially strong enough to ably carry on the work so auspiciously begun. This church proved to be the mother church of its denomination in the county and state, and from it have gone out, to the surrounding towns, those who have advanced the cause throughout the state. Affiliated with this denomination, in the early history of the county were other orthodox denominations, and, as numerically and financially they were able, the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists erected houses of worship. As the population increased, especially at the county seat, and foreign nationalities came to Cass County in large numbers, various Lutheran, German, Norwegian, and Swedish churches were in demand and sprung up on every hand. Today the county seat of this flourishing section is a city of churches, and its neighboring towns, in comparison of population, in no way behind in this particular.

That the press has been a developing force in the county, all who have followed its history must recognize. The vicissitudes attending the beginnings, growth, and influence of the newspapers have been varied, but they have molded public opinion, and, (if success be measured by results), not unwisely. “The Fargo Express,” under the management of A. J. Harwood and G. J. Keeney, was the first newspaper printed in Fargo, January 1, 1874. The same year the “Fargo Mirror” was started by E. D. Barker. In 1876 these two papers consolidated, and under the caption of the “Fargo Times” was managed by E. B. Chambers, as editor and proprietor. The “Red River Independent,” established in 1878, was also taken by Mr. Chambers, who sold it two years later, and after six months by the new management, it was discontinued. The plant, however, was sold to the “Fargo Republican” which had been established by Major A. W. Edwards and J. B. Hall as a semi-weekly, in 1878. Very shortly after, Major Edwards, retiring from the management of the “Republican,” in November 1879, established the “Daily Argus,” a morning paper, the “Republican,” an evening daily paper, being then owned by A. C. and J. J. Jordon. After a lapse of years, in November 1891, Major A. W. Edwards, and with him H. C. Plumley, started the Fargo Forum, buying in 1894, and combining with it the “Republican.” The “Call” was established in 1898 by J. J. Jordon. The “Fargo Forum” is at this date a weekly as well as a daily publication, and the “Call” a daily publication. Their advertising columns are indicative of the enterprise and progressiveness of the business men of the county. Other newspapers of Cass County, identified with and contributing to its growth are the “Fargo Daily News,” “Fargo Journal,” “Fram,” “Searchlight,” “Die Staats Press.” These are published at Fargo. “The Reporter,” at Casselton; “The Express,” at Buffalo; “The Eagle,” at Wheatland; “Tower City Topics,” at Tower City; “Herald,” at Hunter; and “Record,” at Page. At no time, from its earliest history, has the county been without the representation which the press affords, and the wide and favorable reputation of this county has been largely advanced by the wide-awake newspaper men.

The early settlers of Cass County, men of brain as well as of brawn, placing high value on educational advantages necessary for those who were to be the coming citizens of this region, beginning with one small private school, have developed a system of public school education, not only at the county seat, but reaching out to towns and villages, and furnishing even in the farming districts, at convenient locations, a school properly equipped for all requirements. The advantages of a public school education are within the reach of all, and the system of instruction is not only the pride of the county, but has won an enviable reputation abroad. Representing and contributing to the needs of the county in this particular there is, in Fargo, a commodious and imposing high school building, equipped in every way with the latest and best appliances for effective and advanced work. Tributary to it are ten or more graded schools, housed in substantial brick structures, all presided over by able instructors. Besides this general system, there is the Fargo College, established in 1887, a Congregational institution; several business colleges; Sacred Heart Academy and Convent school; a flourishing high-grade school, under the auspices of the Lutheran Church; and the admirably conducted Agricultural College and Experimental Station.

The rapid progress made along these lines in Cass County attests the breadth and foresight of those responsible for the early constructive work in the beginning. High schools with their tributaries are in all towns of any size in the county and, in the aggregate, number nearly, or quite, two hundred, with a total value of school property in the county of close on to two hundred and forty thousand dollars.

In noting the prosperity and phenomenal growth of Cass County, and the factors which have combined for its accomplishment, consideration must be given to the natural causes, which have been an underlying factor of its growth, making all other forms of development possible.

In this county is, perhaps, the richest area of wheat-growing soil to be found in this country, its grain being of the finest grade, and the yield, averaging from year to year, greater than is possible in less favored sections. While the seasons, embracing seed-time and harvest, are shorter than in more southern countries, soil and climate combine to bring about results which lighter soil fails to produce. Being about forty-two miles square, Cass County shows almost every acre tillable, aside from the timbered stretches along the rivers, and where tree claims have been planted. Up to twenty years ago, when the county was young, the yield of wheat was estimated as upwards of seven hundred eighty thousand bushels.

The county, named for General G. W. Cass of New York, an ex-president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, claims this gentleman among the first farmers, he being the principal owner of Cass Farm, which together with the Cheney Farm, comprised, in the earlier period, what was known as the Dalrymple Farm. This vast estate demonstrated, in results, what executive ability can produce, but, as the population of the agricultural districts increased, the benefit arising from smaller areas, and more diversified farming, was proven to the satisfaction of the many prosperous farmers, whose well-tilled farms make an agricultural garden of the county. The wealth of arable soil in this county was unknown to those of the east until after the arrival of the railroads. With a fear of the Indians, they were slow to investigate, and it was not until 1872 that news of the fertility of this region was spread abroad. Before this, however, the early settlers realized that wheat could be profitably raised in large quantities as soon as transportation facilities were afforded. The first wheat, sown by the acre, was harvested in 1872, by Jacob Lowell Sr. and N. Whitman, who came to Dakota in 1871.

Agricultural Significance and Continued Growth of Cass County

Jacob Lowell, Martin Schow, Ole Stranwell, Peter Goodman, and D. P. Harris were among the first white settlers to open up farms in Cass County. Mr. Goodman located three miles down the river from Fargo in 1870 and lived there for nearly three years. Harris located about four miles down the river a month or two later. Agricultural development marks, as has been shown, the beginnings of prosperity in the county, out of which has come all subsequent expansion and growth.

Farming has become almost an exact science. The richness of soil and its adaptability to variety in production, combined with a climate so well suited to the growth of grains generally, enables the progressive farmers to look, with a degree of certainty, to a harvest commensurate with efforts put forth. These facts, attracting the attention of people in all sections of the country, and in the lands beyond the seas, have contributed to the prosperity of Cass County, as we see it in evidence today. Thriving farms and homes form a continuous connection between its populous towns and villages, bringing to them the prosperity which has become not only permanent but progressive. If not the ideal realization of the “Promised Land,” it is to the sturdy and industrious Scandinavians, who have come to this region seeking homes, the embodiment of success, and for all effort put forth, abundant and gratifying returns have been the reward. Encouraged by this, their brothers and friends have followed them, and, today, in all branches of trade and labor they may be numbered among our useful and upright citizens.

History, strictly speaking, deals with the past, and this record recounts, more particularly, the earliest influences which have contributed to the substantial and gratifying growth of Cass County. But, in an age, strenuous in life and action, history of each day in the making, and the facts and accomplishments of the present, become of historical interest in the immediate future.

There are on record, at this date, in the office of the Secretary of the Old Settlers Society, of Cass County, of those now living in the county, tabulated lists of arrivals, as follows:

In 1872 — Forty-One.
In 1873 — Twelve.
In 1874 — Eleven.
In 1875 — Seventeen.
In 1876 — Twenty-Nine.
In 1877 — Thirty-Five.
In 1878 — One Hundred Twenty-Two.
In 1879 — One Hundred Thirty-One.
In 1880 — One Hundred Sixty-Three.
In 1881 — One Hundred Thirty-Nine.


C.F. Cooper & Company, History of the Red River Valley, Past And Present: Including an Account of the Counties, Cities, Towns And Villages of the Valley From the Time of Their First Settlement And Formation, volumes 1-2; Grand Forks: Herald printing company, 1909.

Scroll to Top