The Cooper Family

The Cooper brothers, Thomas J. and Rollin C., played an important role in the early settlement of the county and in the building of the town in the center of their large land holdings.  T. J. was 50-years-old when they came here in the fall of 1880, while his brother Rollin was 35.  T. J.'s son, Charles, was 22 and also involved in the ranch operation.

The Coopers came here well prepared to begin large-scale farming and the timing was also in their favor with homesteads, pre-emptions, tree claims and railroad land awaiting settlers.  They came here with finances from success in Colorado mining.  They had experience in farming and also in managing a large force of men required in their operation.

In October of 1880 Rollin C. Cooper had followed the Sibley Trail across Barnes County to the year-old sod house of Ed.  Ladbury near Sibley's old Camp Corning.  As there was no room for him in the house that night he slept in the haystack.  In the morning he brushed the frost off that he had slept in and was ready for another day.  No one suspected that this large, genial, bearded man of thirty-five carried with him, or on his person, $25,000 to invest in the new land.  Such was the story told of Mr. Cooper's first trip into what was to become Griggs County.

In the fall of 1880 they began building their barn and "boarding house" for the men.  These buildings were located on the SW of Section 26 in Cooperstown Township, land taken by Thomas J. Cooper as his tree claim.  Rollin's homestead was on the NE'A of Section 34.  He also had a tree claim on the same Section.  T.J. bought 10,000 acres directly from the railroad in 1880 surrounding the ranch buildings and Rollin's homestead.  As the Cooper Ranch was located 35 miles from the railroad at Sanborn they built a "halfway place" with a barn 30 x 100 feet in the vicinity of the present town of Dazey.  As the Cooper's shipment of five carloads of mules did not come until 1881 when T.J., R.C., and Charles went to St. Louis for them there seems little question that part of his lumber and supplies of 1880 were hauled for them by early settlers near Sanborn and Valley City.

About 65 friends and acquaintances of the Coopers from St. Clair County in Michigan came in 1881 and 1882 and formed the Cooper settlement.  Several of the young men took pre-emptions on good land on even numbered sections adjoining Cooper's railroad land.  These men worked for the Coopers.  For these it has been stated that Cooper paid from $500 to $800 and their pre-emption costs of $400 per 160 acres.

None of Mr. Cooper's books or ledgers are known to exist. In 1957 Mrs. Myrtle Porterville had weekly installments in the Sentinel - Courier about the Cooper family and the Cooper Ranch.  Much of her material came from interviews of the people who had worked for the Coopers or knew them personally.  Mrs. Porterville also did considerable research in the Courier and Sentinel of the early years.  Most of the figures we have on the Cooper operation are from news items in those newspapers.  Being used for promotional purposes they may be exaggerated.  It was mentioned they had 18,000 acres of railroad land and some government land, in all 25,000 acres.  One item in 1883 stated they owned 23,620 acres of land, of which 7,140 were improved.

The Cooper's first breaking of 7,000 acres was in 1881 when their only crop was oats.  They had their first wheat crop in 1882 when they also had some oats.  That year they had 150,000 bushels of grain waiting for the completion of the railroad to Cooperstown.  Rollin Cooper played an important role in having the railroad extended to Cooperstown in 1883, where he was a member of the Townsite Company promoting the building of the town.

T.J. and R.C. Cooper's partnership was dissolved in 1886 when R.C. bought out his brother's share in the landholdings and also Townsite Company.  R.C. operated the ranch for many years but gradually land was sold to relatives and friends.  In 1908 Mr. Cooper had about 5000 acres remaining in his name.  By 1916 the original Cooper farms were split up and sold to local people.  At one time the Cooper farm consisted of three ranches.  The home ranch was on Section 26 in Cooperstown Township, Ranch 5 was on Section 5 in Cooperstown Township and Ranch 7 was on Section 7 in Washburn Township.  Ranch 7 became a year-around headquarters after Mr. Cooper had bought it in his own name and was maintained longer than Ranch 5.

Rollin C. Cooper had been appointed county commissioner during territorial days by Governor Ordway and continued to serve by successive re-elections until 1868.  In politics Mr. Cooper represented his district in the House of Representatives in 1895 and in the State Senate from 1899-1901.

Three fine buildings In Cooperstown remind us of the Cooper family.  The courthouse built in 1884 was located on land donated by the Cooper Brothers and they also donated $1000. towards the construction.  The Masonic Temple is located on lots donated by R.C. Cooper.  He also donated a Section of land (9-144-58) towards the building.  This land had an $8000. mortgage on it.  The third building reminding us of the Coopers is the fine home, across the street from the courthouse, which R.C. Cooper built in 1906.  It is now owned and occupied by the Willis Nilsons.

At the present time (1981) there are no descendants of the Cooper family living in Griggs County.  The last one to live here was Charles Cooper who had inherited the tree claim of his father, T.J. Cooper, which was the original ranch site.  Mr. Charles Cooper resided here at the time of his death in 1947.

Other Cooper family descendants living of which we have a record of are: Patricia Cooper Champion of Gate, Ga., a great-great granddaughter of James Burnett Cooper; Robert L. Cooper living in Japan who is a grandson of Henry Cooper; John M. Merriell, of Campbell, California, wrote that Wallace A. Merriell was an uncle of his father and that Wallace had married Julia Cooper, a daughter of Thomas J. Cooper.  She was a sister of Charles Cooper.

Mrs. Rollin Cooper died in 1929 and Rollin in 1938.  They are buried in the Cooperstown cemetery.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 42

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