An Early Day View of Cooperstown

By Mrs. Myrtle Porterville

The English speaking settlers of Griggs County have left a personal and rather intimate account of their personalities and activities in the pages of the Cooperstown Courier. Its Volume I, No. 1 of January 26; 1883 was printed only two months after the plat of the town had been filed at Valley City. Editor E. D. Stair, twenty three, fresh out of the University of Michigan and financially backed by R. C. Cooper, found news in the doings of everybody and everything, and reported it exhaustively in a style of journalism that made the reader a member of the community. The "boom" atmosphere, and the enthusiasm of young, living people fills its issues. Illustrate quotations will be given. The land and personal property holdings in the county as first assessed in 1883 and following, complete to date are also there. W. H. Carleton, P. A. Melgard, Claus Jackson, and Bertha Langford Houghton, all pioneers, and others, verified and added details to information from other sources. The writer, herself a pioneer's daughter, and a resident of the Cooperstown area since 1888, personally knew many of the leading settlers and their children. Through biographies written by children and grandchildren of the pioneers, from facts furnished by the pioneers in the 1920's more details were verified.

The largest and wealthiest group of settlers of Griggs County has been called the "St. Clair" settlement. Of these former Michigan people, T. J. Cooper and his brother, R. C. Cooper - Cooper Brothers - had the largest investment of capital in railroad lands, buildings, machinery, and horses and mules. In the first assessment of personal property in 1883 there were only six assessments of one thousand dollars. All were in the "St. Clair" group. R. C. Cooper, Cooper Bros. and Washburn and Cooper together were assessed $15,580.00. The other three were George Barnard, George Bathey, and J. N. Brown. The average assessment of the county settlers was $75.00 to $200.00. The Coopers alone, besides property, owned or paid taxes on about a township of land.

Just when R. C. Cooper first visited Griggs County is not a matter of record. "Bonanza" farms had started in the Red River Valley in the late 1870's and it is said he visited some of them in 1879 or spring of 1880. He may have been in Griggs County too.

In 1880, R. C. Cooper made preparations for large scale farming operations in 1881. He located His land by starting at the farthest north surveyed and, then, with a marker on a wheel, and a compass, drove to where he wished to stop. Charles L. Cooper, son of T. J. Cooper, rode and counted turns of the wheel. Upon being surveyed it was found o be only a few rods from the surveyor's line.

Mr. Cooper got mules from Missouri. Five carloads arrived in 1881. Then, using fifty to sixty mules, he started an overland mule team freight line to bring lumber and other supplies from Sanborn or Valley City. He built a warehouse at Sanborn and a halfway house near the present town of Dazey where changes of teams were made, and drivers rested and got food. Later on two four-horse teams were added to bring passengers. Through the influence of the large Cooper Bros. investments, and the general land boom, large numbers left St. Clair, Michigan, and nearby St. Mary's in Canada to take homesteads, tree claims, and preemptions. Mr. Cooper and his relatives, Mrs. Cooper and her relatives, their friends and former neighbors from Michigan, New York, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Colorado, such was the composition of this settlement. To illustrate: Mrs. George Bernard was Mr. Cooper's sister, Mrs. J. N. Brown was Mrs. Cooper's sister, Mrs. M. Zimmerman was a sister of J. N. Brown, B. B. Brown was a brother of J. N. Brown, Rev. Rockwell was Mr. Cooper's cousin, and Dr. G. F. Newell was related to Rev. Rockwell, Charles L. Cooper was son of T. J. Cooper, Mrs. Charles Cooper was a Husel, etc. A similar chain of relationships exists of other early families as Langford, Houghton, Sansburn, Davis, McCulloch, Glass, Rankin, Gimbelt, Haskell, Moffatt, Church Detwiller, Sinclair. To mention some occupations represented other than farming there were land attorneys, a minister, a printer, a blacksmith, machine experts, and carpenters when Cooperstown was founded. These settlers had enough money to build frame houses and barns. They had horses and carriages, cutters, and sleighs. Mrs. B. B. Brown brought her grand piano, and the Carletons an organ. Mrs. Zimmerman was the first music teacher.

A few settlers brought families of children, others were young married couples. But the big majority were single. Many were recent college graduates, or had more than grade school training. There were enough of them to bring to life here their social customs, church, recreation and educational activities. The school house was started before a child of school age lived in town. Material '~or it was hauled from Sanborn by Mr. Cooper's mule freight. The building was used for church services, Sunday School, community gatherings such as "sociables," oyster suppers, a concert, or a temperance rally. However, by June, 1883, enough children were in town to start a school. Z. A. Clough, a graduate of the University of Michigan, was the teacher.

Rumors of the Cooper Brothers' big farming interests were spread by the newspapers of Fargo, Valley City, Sanborn, and Cooperstown, and letters to newspapers in their old home towns, brought another wave of immigration. And the general land "boom" brought other settlers not connected with the Michigan-Canadian group.

Said the Courier: "To this varied list of seekers for new homes, investment, and information, the 'Courier' would say come on, and if your avocation is honorable and you have a spark of push in your composition success can hardly fail to crown your efforts. The man or woman desirous of a choice one hundred sixty or three hundred twenty acre slice of Uncle Sam's domain should be here this spring without fail. The capitalist can do as he pleases, but the longer he delays investing the more he must pay. Intelligent and vigorous people can elect themselves to perpetual prosperity, and snap their fingers at 'bosses' and oppressive employers, by driving stakes in Dakota, and we might include the information that Griggs County is the liveliest spot for a permanent camp in creation. The coming season will present the last opportunity to get soil as rich as Croesus for the mere asking. Delay not and an independent competence is yours. Come to the land of sunshine and promise; the home of the warm-hearted and free; the country where work and prosperity are catching like the itch. Come and dance with joy and gladness while your pockets fill with golden ducats, and your heart rejoices that you are a denizen of the great wonderland.

"Laboring men and machines have vast opportunities in Cooperstown. Common labor commands two to three dollars per day, while mechanics, especially carpenters, obtain three to four dollars per day. Plenty of work for all who will labor, and living not much higher than in the east, as the figures below will attest. Here the laboring man has an opportunity to get a piece of prime land, and he can soon become as independent as a lord, while in the East he can plod for generations and then not have enough left at death to pay for a respectable wooden overcoat. The man who has a will can do wonders in Dakota. Try it.

"The many inquiries as to the cost of living prompted the Courier scribe to investigate, which he did by pricing the following articles at Odegard and Thompson's Flour, per hundred pounds, $3.25; wheat, per bushel, 85 to 90 cents; oats, 60 cents; potatoes, 60 cents; hay, $5.00 to $8.00 per ton; 'C' sugar, 11 pounds for $1.00; coffee, six, eight, and ten pounds for $1.00; butter, 30 cents per pound; kerosene oil, 30 cents per gallon; canned fruit, 20 to 25 cents per three-pound cans; soap, twelve to fourteen bars for $1.00; best prints, 7 cents; muslins, 10 to 15 cents; Good four-foot wood is plenty at $6.00 per cord delivered. House rent is higher than dead towns of the east, but not extortionate at all, only good fair investment being demanded."

From Cedar County, Missouri: "The Courier has got in its work on me. I have disposed of my stock of goods; am making settlement, and hope to be able to emigrate to your land by the 20th instant."

From Stockton, Missouri: "For over eighteen months I have desired to visit the much talked about Dakota Wonderland, and since reading the first copy of your new paper have decided to be with you this spring or 'split a tug."

From a Stockton, Missouri real estate dealer: "The Dakota fever prevails in this vicinity to an alarming extent."

About the Cooper Brothers: "That Cooper Brothers are great benefactors of this county is evidenced in more ways than one. To farmers coming to Griggs with stock and desirous of quick returns, the Cooper Brothers furnish land already with seed; to those desirous of work for their teams the Coopers set them to breaking at $3.00 per acre; to the young man wanting a job they say, 'Pull off your coat and wade in'; to the man who wants land without investing a dollar, they tell him to give them the first crop of all the land he wishes and take a deed thereof. To those who desire to work land on shares Cooper Brothers will furnish seed, machinery to put it in the ground and to harvest the grain, pay half the thresh bill and take their half at the machine. They want several thousand acres of breaking and backsetting done, which with the wants of others in the same line ensures remunerative work for all the teams that can be brought into Griggs County.

"Nowhere in this or in any other country arc such liberal propositions to the honest yeoman made. Add to the splendid offer the extraordinary, never failing fertility of the soil, and you have a proposition from R. C. and T. J. Cooper that ought to make one's eyes bulge with eagerness to scan one of their leases and sign his name thereto. As leaders in the development of a new county the Cooper Brothers have no peers."

Of Griggs County population Dr. G. F. Newell wrote:

"The most of them are Americans. There is, however, a large class of Norwegians, but they are of the very best. Three of our four principal merchant firms are Norwegians, also the Clerk of Court, sheriff, county treasurer, and several of the lawyers, and more noble and industrious men never lived. There are a few Germans, and so far as I have seen, a good class of people. But what I never saw or heard of on God's green earth - not a Jew."

The young men of Cooperstown organized a ball club, an orchestra, a whist club, a shooting gallery and laid out a half-mile race track outside the limits of the plat of the town on section nineteen. Among those who owned pacers or trotting horses were Dr. G. F. Newell, Dr. T. F. Kerr, Knud Thompson, A. B. Cox and Nathan Sifton.

Game and fish were plentiful and most of the men hunted. Several owned blooded hunting dogs.

Besides the church and Sunday School; the ladies in town formed a Foreign Mission Society, a Ladies' Aid and a Study Club.

Source:  Cooperstown Diamond Jubilee 1882-1957 Page 12

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