Benjamin Tufte

Benjamin Tufte was born on a farm among the mountains north and east of Bergen, Norway.  There was a waterfall just beside the house, and he grew up with the sound of it in his ears.  His birth date was August 23, 1861.

His father was both a farmer and a schoolteacher, and the boy got his first rudiments of education from him.  He had one brother, Christain, and one sister, Britha.

After completing grammar school and the gymnasium (a name given to what today corresponds to junior high school) Benjamin sought work in Bergen, and from Bergen he went to Oslo (then called Christiania) where he attended the University.  After finishing at the University he returned to Bergen, but employment was hard to find.  He put in a year in the Norwegian army, and while in the military service earned himself a marksmanship medal.  (Enlistments were normally for two years, but anyone displaying supreme skill with a rifle was allowed to leave after a year, if they so desired.)

Out of the army, he found himself a job as a harbor pilot.  He would go out in a small boat to meet the ocean liners coming in from all parts of the world, climb aboard, and direct the ship along the fjord and into a safe mooring.  How long he remained as a harbor pilot is not known, but from conversing with passengers and crews on the big ships, he found his interest in the United States of America steadily increasing.

At the University he had studied some English and he had also taken courses in American history.  Abraham Lincoln, the War Between the states, were recent episodes, and above all, there was Tom Jefferson and The Rights of Man, which had made a deep impression on him while a student at the University.  Eventually, he decided to bum all his bridges behind him and emigrate to the United States.  But before he left, he memorized the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: 

"We hold these truths --

The ship docked in New York in the summer of 1889.  Benjamin was already 28 years old, alone, and spoke English very poorly.  But he made his way from New York City to Minneapolis, Minnesota, because he had heard that many Scandinavian people lived in that area, and he would at least be able to communicate with them.

Minneapolis was then the largest lumber-milling center in the world.  A lot of men were needed to work in the North Woods, but that was about all.  Ben worked in the lumber camps for the next three years, trying to learn the language and save some money.  At the end of that time he presented himself in the office of John W. Arctander, an eminent Minneapolis lawyer, and asked for a job.  Arctander was impressed with the determination of the young man and hired him.  Ben's next move was to enroll in night school at the University of Minnesota's College of Law.

The next three years were a lot of work.  He worked from eight to five in Arctander's office, learning all he could there about the law in the process, and attended classes in the evening.  In 1895 he received his law degree from the University of Minnesota, went to Red Wing, Minnesota and set out his shingle.

However, it wasn't long until he realized that his Scandinavian accent was doing him no good in Red Wing.  There was too much competition from established lawyers.  So he packed up his few belongings and hitched rides, walked and drove teams of horses for others until he arrived in Cooperstown, North Dakota.

In Cooperstown, beginning in 1896, Benjamin Tufte practiced law for forty years.  During 24 years of that time, he served as states attorney of Griggs County.

In 1905 he went back to Norway to see his mother who was in poor health and died shortly after his visit.  On January 1, 1908, he was married to Clara Feiring, who had been the county superintendent of schools of Griggs County.  They had one son, Oswald, who was born October 23, 1909.

In 1928, the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Cooperstown failed, and because he felt that many people had placed their savings in the bank only because he was a director of it, Tufte felt obligated to pay off the depositors.  Three other directors agreed, and between them they succeeded in their task.  But the financial strain was so great that Tufte lost everything he owned (two farms, house in Cooperstown, stocks, bonds, insurance).  From a well-to-do status, he tumbled almost overnight into poverty.  this forced him eventually to seek the states attorney's office at the age of 71, an office he had given up voluntarily some years back, in order to earn a livelihood.  He was elected overwhelmingly but the next year his wife, who had been in poor health for many years, died December 1, 1933.

He went on doggedly, serving the people who had elected him, through the great depression until he died on October 25, 1936.

Source: Griggs County History 1879 - 1976  Page 85

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