Griggs County Historic Sites

Among the earliest travelers in Griggs County were the Hudson Bay fur traders who came in from the northeast comer of the state at Pembina and traveled many different directions.  In Griggs County they primarily came down the Sheyenne river valley, where old timers saw many trails and fur trading camps along the river.  In Pilot Mound Township there are known places although nothing was built up there.  One site plowed up in the last ten years was located in Section 24 in Pilot Mound Township.  There was a road that led from this fur trading post to one within Barnes County, just over the line from Griggs County on Ball Hill creek.  There used to be a road going between these fur trading posts that went right east of Cooperstown where the Airport is now located.  It was visible to old timers but that has also disappeared.

Next in history would be the Nicollet and Fremont explorers.  They came through here in 1839 and camped on Section 14 in Addie Township.  This site is known but unmarked and no traces remain of it, but they were early explorers who went through here.  Lieutenant Fremont named the lake, Jessie, for his wife-to-be, Jessie Benton.

The next explorers who went through here were Governor I. I. Stevens and his men in 1853 and they also camped on the same spot in Section 14 in Addie Township.  General Stevens had been appointed Governor of the Territory of Washington and hired by the government to survey a place across the United States where the railroad could be built to the west coast.  This site is also unmarked but its location is known.  Governor Stevens' guide was a half-breed named Pierre Bottineau.

The next oldest site is where Captain J. L. Fisk camped in 1862 and 1863.  That site is on Section 22 in Addie Township and there the state has put up an impressive marker and owns the plot of land on which the marker was erected.  Captain Fisk of the quartermaster corps was guiding a party of gold miners who wanted to go to the newly opened mines in Idaho and western Montana.  They started out from Fort Abercrombie.  Captain William Twining also camped there in 1866.

At the same time that Captain Fisk camped here General Sibley came through with his large army to drive the Indians back after the 1862 massacre in Minnesota.  He camped on Section 28 in Addie Township and the state has also put up an impressive marker there.  It also shows a small comer of the large camp they had there from July 18 to August 10, 1863.  Here they threw up breastworks, stored surplus supplies, and left a detachment of soldiers to guard sick men and beasts.  There are two soldier graves in the vicinity. 

One grave is marked on this site although the grave isn't located exactly there but a little further north and west.  This is the grave of Samuel Wannamaker, age 42, a soldier in Sibley's army. 

The other grave is located south and west of the site on the highest hill on Section 29.  This grave is marked and is the grave of George E. Brent, who accidentally shot himself.

There is also a grave of Kristian Petterson, located in Ball Hill Township in Section 35.  He was a young soldier in the Sibley forces who died on the way back.  He also had three brothers in the army and they buried him there.  A Memorial Day dedication was held here in 1929.  There is a marker at this gravesite.

Ball Hill Township in Section 23 of a soldier who drowned that was on the Sully expedition in 1865.  He was George T. Johnson of Company G. , 3 111.  Cav.

A couple of years after General Sibley went through here and drove the Indians back across the Missouri river, General Alfred Terry, Commander of the Northwest Territory at that time, thought it was necessary to put up a little more protection for the settlers pushing north and west from Fort Abercrombie.  He with some army help established some Forts to protect the settlers.  One was established at Fort Ransom and then he traveled north and practically followed the Sibley trail but he cut off south of Lake Jessie and built a log shelter dugout for a stop over for people traveling from Fort Abercrombie through Fort Ransom.  He also went north and built Fort Totten.  The mail, medicine and supplies to Fort Totten came across country from Fort Abercrombie and there are trails, which show several different places, very visible in Addie Township in Section 2 and several other places.

The shelter that was built on Section 14 of Addie Township was a dugout, very plainly seen but unmarked.  This shelter was locally known as the Watne dugout.  It was Erick Watne's first home in 1886, but the Army had used it from 1867 until 1872 when the railroad came as far as Jamestown and they established Fort Seward.  They then hauled supplies from Fort Seward to Fort Totten and this trail and shelter were no longer used by the Army.  After the Army quit using this route, they abandoned the shelter and a post office was established at a pioneer farmer, W. T. McCulloch, and he had a post office and was the postmaster with the United States Postal department from 1881-1899.  The site of this post office on Section 14 of Addie Township is known but it is not marked.  We have in the Museum in Cooperstown part of the desk and part of the mail cubbyholes he used at the time he had the post office.

There was also a post office near Red Willow Lake located on Section 16, Willow Township.  Although the site is not marked its location is known.  A man by the name of Ed Lohnes had a stagecoach and mail station there and he carried the mail between Willow and Fort Totten from 1870 to 1872.  There must have been a mail stop there because the records show it was from 1870-1872.  He had a store here too.

The mail to these pioneers was very important and the way of getting it was sometimes very difficult.  The mail that Mr. McCulloch handled to start with was brought up from Sanborn and after the train came to Cooperstown it was brought from there by team or dog sleigh or by whatever means possible by a man by the name of Knute Buxegaard.  He left the mail at McCullochs and he traveled north to a place they called Willow post office which was located on the old Alfson place.  That was another place the pioneers could get to and get their mail.  That man's name was Ole Alfson, an old pioneer.

Another historic spot was where there was a water-powered flourmill on the Sheyenne River on Section 1 in Pilot Mound Township.  This flourmill was in operation from 1887 until 1902.  This is not marked but its location is known.  We have pictures of it and old timers remember it very well.  This is also a place that should be marked.

Most of the earliest pioneers that came to Griggs County settled along the Sheyenne River where there was water, wood for fuel and logs for log houses.  The first of these was a man by the name of Omund Nelson Opheim, also called "pioneer Nelson, who came here in 1879.  He built a log house and lived there and the log cabin is preserved on the Griggs County courthouse lawn.  Other settlers that came at that time had log houses but few remain as most have been remodeled or destroyed.

When the settlers settled along the Sheyenne there was no railroad in the vicinity but they thought there was going to be a railroad from Breckenridge to Hope and from there on across to the Sheyenne river valley.  A town was started in the spring of 1882 on Section 13 in Washburn Township and given the name of Mardell.

Promoters had high hopes for the town and a large hotel was built with 30 rooms, a dry goods store and hardware store, a blacksmith shop, livery barn, office building and maybe more.  The town thrived for about two years but Mr. Jim Hill was not convinced that it was the best place to build a railroad.  After R. C. Cooper built a track from Sanborn to Cooperstown the town was abandoned and very little of it remains and it is not marked.  The old livery barn has been moved across the road and is still there.

The biggest bonanza farmer in this area was a man by the name of R. C. Cooper.  He came here and started things out in 1880.  He and his brother had quite a bit of capital and they came here in the spring of 1881 to begin farming.  They set up a large farming enterprise and we have many pictures of the mule and horse rigs with plows, seeders, binders and threshing operations.  They farmed a lot of land and covered a large area, hired many people.  probably 80% of the pioneers that came here worked for Mr. Cooper before they got started farming on their own.

One set of buildings on the home ranch is still intact, and were built by Mr. Cooper.  The barn was built in the winter of 1880-81.  The buildings were used until 1970 but are now vacant and they should absolutely be preserved.  They are just the way they were when constructed, never having been remodeled.  The home ranch was on Section 26, Cooperstown Township.  For a time he had his personal headquarters on Section 34.  He had two other ranches.  one was in Section 5 in Cooperstown Township and one was in Section 7 Washburn Township.

Griggs County has a museum located at Cooperstown.  A lot of antiques, tools and equipment used by the early pioneers are preserved here.  Some of these historic places that played such an important part in developing this community should absolutely be restored and marked so that future generations may see and remember them.

One of the landmarks that guided the early explorers and travelers that went west from the Red river and spread further west was Lake Jessie and this may account for the many camp sites around Lake Jessie that are known.  At Lake Jessie was a heavy growth of timber and a spring for water for man and beast.

Another landmark was Butte Michaud, a high hill, about a mile from the Sheyenne River.  As people traveled up the river they knew when they got there they could cut off to Lake Jessie and there were known trails that led from Butte Michaud to Lake Jessie.  This high hill, named for an Indian, is visible for miles and that is why travelers were guided by it.  Its elevation has been stated as being 1386 feet, 150-175 feet above the general land area east and north or nearly 350 feet above the Sheyenne River.

Source: Griggs County History 1879 - 1976 page 4

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