County Seat Controversy

Griggs County was created by an Act of the Territorial Legislature in session at Yankton, Dakota Territory in the year 1881 out of parts of Traill and Foster Counties.  It included the area of thirty townships from R56 to RQ west and from T144 to T148 north, inclusive.  In the summer of 1882, Gov. Nehemiah G. Ordway designated Hope as the county seat and appointed Allen Breed, R. C. Cooper and William A. Glines as county commissioners.  They held their first meeting June 16, 1882, in Hope House Parlor.  Allen Breed was elected chairman of the commissioners, and the board then proceeded to appoint county officers and organize the business of the county.

The commissioners met again July 3, August 9, September 28, and October 2.  At the October meeting a call for an election of county officials and county seat was made.  Election date was set at November 7, 1882.

R. C. Cooper, meanwhile, had registered the plat of the newly surveyed town of Cooperstown, October 26, 1882.

P.A. Melgard, deputy county treasurer in 1883, and later county auditor, afterward recalled the county seat election and subsequent events as told to him, and the county division election as he remembered it.

Mr. Melgard mentions John Steele of Minneapolis.  Other accounts say that E.H. Steele, a partner with S. S. Small in the Red River Land Company, the number one landlord in the vicinity of Hope, was the person who negotiated with Cooper.

It should also be noted that the new Steele County was created by taking the ten townships in ranges 54 and 55 from Traill County and combining them with the ten in ranges 56 and 57 from Griggs County and designating them a new county.

It was said that the Hope faction kept the records in a bin of oats temporarily, later sending them to Minneapolis for safekeeping.  In January of 1883, they were returned, by mail, from Minneapolis.

Mr. Melgard's comments in 1935:


Well, the election was held and I will give you the results as made plain by a resolution passed by the Board of County Commissioners on the 11th day of November 1882, that will explain all acts taking place subsequent thereto:

The Board of County Commissioners adopted the following resolution:

Whereas, By a vote of the electors of Griggs County, D.T., on the 7th day of November 1882, the County Seat of said County was and is located at Cooperstown in said County, Now therefore, be it

Resolved, That the officials of said County are hereby required immediately to convey the County Records and all property belonging to said County to a certain building erected on Block 79 in said town of Cooperstown which is hereby adopted by the County Board as the County Building for the use of the Register of Deeds, County Commissioner, Judge of Probate, County Clerk, County Treasurer, County Surveyor, Clerk of the District Court and Assessor. 

This building at that time was a granary and located on the block where the residence of Mr. R.C. Cooper is now located.

This first election is no doubt the one your writer refers to in the article published in the Hope newspaper.  It is the understanding I have, and from information from an outsider who voted at the election, it was a lively one.  My informant told me that he was paid $15.00 and told to get out of the Territory at once so as to avoid being arrested for illegal voting.  He left at once.  This information I got on a visit to Minneapolis 12 years later, and he told me that he did not dare go there anymore.  He was informed that it was forgotten long ago and that he could go anywhere in the Dakotas that he care to.

The citizens in Hope were laying wires to blockade the removal of the records and other property belonging to the County of Griggs, but were outmanuevered as the next meeting of the Board was held in Cooperstown the l8th day of November of 1882, with all records at that time present.  But the County Commissioners, no doubt, the probable attempts on the part of Hope to recover the records adopted precautionary measures for their safekeeping by appointing three guardsmen, all armed to occupy the building day and night.  The three appointees were William Glass, Allen Pinkerton and John Houghton.  Everything went on very nicely until one evening late, (close to Christmas.)  Everyone in Cooperstown had gone to bed, sleeping the sleep of the just, our guardsmen included, when with a crash the light door to the granary was broken in, followed by a plank catapulted by a mob.   In an instant two of the sleepers, Mr. Glass and Mr. Houghton, were covered, each by a person with a gun, the muzzle of which pointed in their face, with the order to keep quiet for a little while.  Mr. Pinkerton somehow managed to get outside and started on a run as fast as he could two and one-half miles to the ranch for assistance, but of course, they were too late.  Therefore on January of 1, 1883, conditions were as follows:

Cooperstown as the County Seat had the building and Hope had the records.

The Territorial Legislature in session from January 9th to March 9th, 1883 passed an act creating the County of Steele with boundaries as they are now fixed, as provided in Section 1; but Section 2 provided for an election for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of Section I by voting for division, Yes against No.  Now this enactment provided for a political horse trade.  It shows the result of conflicting interest; it shows the interest of Mr. John Steele, after whom the county is named and the interest of the Cooper Bros., whose interest centered around Cooperstown.  Whether the Cooper Bros. had any knowledge of the enactment or not, I do not know, but presumably they did judging by the addition of Section 2.  At any rate, the enactment of the law furnished both parties with a foundation for a political trade.

Such were the political conditions upon my arrival in Cooperstown, D.T., the 31st day of March of 1883 in employment with Stevens & Enger in the hardware business.  Mr. Barnard resigning as County Treasurer, Mr. Enger received the appointment, and I became his deputy at the start.

But I am going to close by telling you about how things were accomplished.  In the early part of May the store building was up with a swell front and one day in stepped Mr. R.C. Cooper and another gentleman, whom I afterwards found out was Mr. John Steele of Minneapolis, and asked if they could have the use of one side of the store front for conversational purposes, which of course was granted.  The conversation lasted three hours and in that time they fixed things which showed itself at the election the 2nd day of June of 1883, to-wit: Steele County was a fact, and Griggs County was bonded for $30,000 for a Courthouse.

Let me tell you that was some election day!  About all the male population of Hope was at the Cooper ranch, where the voting took place for this district, each with nothing less than a gallon, but some with 2-gallon jugs, contents unknown to the writer, except for the fact that some of the boys did not come home for a couple of days.  Then the whole railroad crew that was working on the Sanborn-Cooperstown Turtle and Turtle Mountain R.R. came up from Barnes County and voted right.  Now, this was at the Cooperstown polling place, but we could not come up with the number cast in Hope, 535 votes cast, more than one-half tissue ballots.  There was no contest; the results were just as wanted.



About 16 years later Mr. William Glass and the writer were in Fargo attending a Scottish Rite reunion.  While in the lobby of the Waldorf Hotel in the afternoon one-day, we sat down for a rest, watching who was going and who was coming.  While so doing a person with a grip in his hand entered, walked up to the clerk’s desk, and registered.  After having gone through the performance, he turned around for a survey of the lobby and its contents.  His eyes finally rested on us; when with a smile approached us and holding out his hand to Mr. Glass, said: I believe I have met you before."  “You bet you have," was the quick response, "I happened to be on my back in the granary, and you were standing by with a muzzle of a revolver pointed in my face."

The gentleman's smile became sickly as he turned away from us and went out into the city.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 13

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