Griggs County

It was a broad expense of buffalo grass prairie, totally devoid of trees except a fringe along the Sheyenne River, that greeted the early day pioneer as he came to the area that is now known as Griggs County. And it was not until the time of the ill-fated expedition of General Sibley against the Sioux Indians in 1862 that definite knowledge of this territory became known. Sibley's army traveled across what is now known as Griggs County, and camped briefly within its present confines. Prior to that time, the Hudson Bay Company had established a fur trading post in the vicinity and the main Ft. Totten trail crossed the county, although few traces of it remain today. The energies of the traders and trappers, however, were bents on pelt gathering, and no attention was given to the agricultural capabilities of the county. It was several years later that an attempt was made to till the soil, and its development agriculturally may be said to date from the establishment in 1881 of the bonanza Cooper farm. From that time on progress has been rapid.

It might be noted that the land where Griggs County is now located has been under four national flags; Spanish, French, British and, of course, United states.

Since water and trees were in big demand by the initial settlers, it was logical that the first pioneers would locate near the river. In the wooded area bordering the Sheyenne river, Omund Nelson Opheim became Griggs County's first settler. This was in the year of 1879. Opheim's first home was a log cabin which has been preserved and moved to the County Courthouse grounds. Other settlers soon followed even before the land had been surveyed. Opheim's old neighbors from Iowa came in April of 1880 and settled mainly on the wide bend of the Sheyenne River.

Griggs County was named in honor of Captain Alexander Griggs, founder of Grand Forks, and closely identified with the earliest navigation on the Red River of the North. The county was formed from parts of Traill and Foster Counties on February 18, 1881. On June 10, 1882, the governor of the Territory appointed Allen Breed, Rollin Cooper and William A. Glines commissioners for the purpose of perfecting the organization of the county. The county seat was at first located at Hope, but later moved to Cooperstown. When the county was divided, Hope automatically came within the borders of Steele County.

The fight for the county seat was nothing short of sensational, being fraught with charges of armed robbery, assault, attempted kidnapping, ballot box stuffing, injunctions, court trials and numerous legal and, perhaps, illegal maneuverings. This colorful inter-county struggle is treated in another portion of this book.

Early settlements in Griggs County were located at Mardell, a once-promising town, which was the first to be platted and was located on the Sheyenne about four miles north of No. 7. What early day residents believed it would become - the Valley City of Griggs County - soon disappeared when railroad surveys failed to include it in their routes.

At Mardell a hotel was constructed known by the swanky name of the Park Avenue Hotel. There was a store and also other buildings. To the north of Mardell another neighborhood grew up. It was known as Romness. John Hogenson and Peter Mathison were among the first to come in 1880. A post office was established there in 1883 with Mathison as postmaster. Still another neighborhood group had their homesteads on the northern part of the Sheyenne Valley. This was known as the Ottowa community. Among them were N. C. Rukke, one of the first county commissioners. Their post office was established in 1882 with Isaac E. Mills, postmaster. West Prairie was another pioneer group which settled in Northern Griggs. Their West Prairie Church marks their location on the prairie west of the Sheyenne. East of Red Willow Lake a settlement grew up known as the Willow settlement.

As early as 1882 and 1883 Griggs County had many. These hardy, industrious people were divided into two groups: one Lutheran, and the other one Catholic. Members of each group evidently came from widely separated parts of Germany. These hardly, industrious people were scattered quite generally over the center of Griggs County, in three or more townships. In the southern portion and, particularly in Sverdrup, were several Norwegian settlements. There were also a few scattered pioneer families of Swedes as well as Danes, Irish, Scotch and Canadians. But on the whole the Norwegian element predominated throughout the county.

With the establishment of Cooperstown in the early '80's this central Griggs County town was a source of supplies for the widely scattered settlers. Later on such towns as Hannaford, Walum, Revere, Sutton, Jessie, Mose and Binford developed their individual communities. These towns boomed shortly after the turn of the century and flourished for many years until periods of depression, better roads and transportation seemed to hasten the decline of some.

Construction of the Griggs County Court House was begun in late 1883 and the structure was completed early in 1884. Its complete cost was less than $30,000. The first officers of this county as named by the first election were: Andrew Johnson, Sheriff; Byron Andrus, Judge of Probate; E. W. McCrae, Assessor; George W. Virgo, coroner. The rest of the old officers were retained with the exception of constables and justices. George W. Barnard was named Treasurer; Herbert P. Smart, Register of Deeds and County Clerk; John N. Jorgenson, Clerk of Court; Dr. Theo. Kerr, Superintendent of Schools, and also Coroner; Fred B. Edwards, surveyor.

Many and varied have been the tales which related the theft of the county records from Cooperstown in 1882 by parties from the rival town of Hope. For many years there was much rivalry, and, we are sorry to state, much bitterness between the two towns. Time, however, has erased the hard feelings which once existed and a friendly spirit now prevails. We can now look back on this bit of history with the smile and appreciation of its comedy relief.

Griggs County's Present Board of Commissioners

Left to right:  Al Peterson, Hannaford Perry Haaland, Cooperstown, Earny Ronningen, Binford C. O. Johnson, Hannaford. Benjamin Hanson, Aneta

As first organized Griggs county included the western portion of the present Steele county. The county seat contest was caused by rivalry between the two largest financial interests - the Red River Land company, headed by Mr. Steele, founder of Hope, and the Cooper brothers.

After the election which named Cooperstown as the county seat Cooper deemed it wise to get the records to Cooperstown as soon as possible before the opposition could get an injunction and prevent moving of the books. Accordingly the records were moved to Cooperstown and kept in charge of William Glass, deputy register of deeds, whose €œoffice" consisted of 16 feet partitioned off of one end of Cooper's granary. Besides Glass, two carpenters, John Houghton and Allan Pinkerton, stayed in the granary at night to guard the records until a court house was built.

Because of the election and the turmoil which resulted from transfer of the records Glass felt apprehensive about the situation when scouts with no apparent business came over a day or two before the theft and sized up the situation. Glass' fears were substantiated when late one night the door was forced open and several men with drawn guns entered and over-powered the occupants. The records were carried to the sleighs outside and the men ordered to dress and accompany the raiders.  Upon their refusal to do so an attempt was made to force them but giving this up the raiders departed. By the time Glass and the carpenters were able to get to the Cooper ranch and sound the alarm the records were well on their way to Hope.

The trial of the alleged raiders was halted when Cooper and Steele agreed to a compromise which eventually established the two counties as separate entities.

Source:  Cooperstown Diamond Jubilee 1882-1957 Page 15

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