Opheim Family

The first permanent settler of Griggs County was Omund Nelson Opheim, who was also known as "Pioneer Nelson" by the other early settlers.

Mr. Opheim had been farming in Iowa for several years, but in the spring of 1879, he, together with his neighbors, Lars Brekke, Hans Seim, C. C. Grindeland, and his wife's brother, Lars Solberg, came to Dakota Territory to look for land for homesteads.  They came by way of Valley City.  Finding the surveyed Sheyenne River Valley settled for fifteen miles to the south, they returned and then followed it upstream to the north into the unsurveyed part of the territory.  Near the Fort Totten crossing of the river, he decided to locate.  Good Sheyenne River crossings were few.  The party stopped and built Mr. Opheim's log house.  They burned limestone rocks they found there, to use for the plaster between the logs.  Logs were notched and fitted and no nails were used.  This is the first house in Griggs County known to have been built by a permanent settler.  In 1932, it was placed beside the courthouse in Cooperstown.  It was raised and moved without being taken down.  Inside are the original pieces of furniture they brought in 1879.  The Opheim homestead was in Section 12 of present Washburn Township.

After the house was built, the party returned to Iowa, by way of Mayville where the brother-in-law located.

Mr. Opheim then had a sale in Iowa and returned to his log house.

Mr. Omund Nelson Opheim, together with his wife, his son, Nels, his daughter, Martha, (Mrs. Gustav Olson) and their sons, Martin and Oscar, left Iowa in a covered wagon drawn by horses.  At Fargo their horses were sold and oxen bought, as more suitable for Dakota conditions.  They reached their log house September 20, 1879.  "Pioneer Nelson" was known for his hospitality to other settlers before they had located their homesteads and built their houses.

It is hard to determine the date in 1880 of the arrival of the next settlers after Mr. Opheim's family.  As far as can be learned "Pioneer Nelson" and his family were the only people living in Griggs County the winter of 1879-1880.  But a party of several families from Mr. Opheim's old Iowa home neighborhood came in April.  These included the Ole Olson Bjornstad family of grown sons, Nelsons, and Torfins.  In the same year Alex Saunder, C. P. Bolkan, A. C. Knutson, George Gullickson, Elisha Fitch and Mathew Davidson had settled along the river, W. T. McCullough near Lake Jessie, Joseph Buchheit near Red Willow Lake, and Cooper brothers on the prairie.

Mr. Alexander Saunders walked alone through the Pembina settlement from Canada until he found a place along the Sheyenne River where wild peas grew.  To him this meant good land, a fertile soil.  At this place (Section 24-145-58), he spent the winter of 1880-1881 in a hillside dugout.  The next summer he built a log house, in which he lived for over fifty years.

Within two years after the arrival of Mr. Opheim, settlers were on most of the good locations the length of the Sheyenne river valley in Griggs County, and large numbers on the prairie.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 8

News & Events