In October of 18S0, 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. And 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 is the story still told of Mr. Cooper’s first trip into Griggs County.
Cooper- was a rich man. He had no need to settle In the timber of the Sheyenne River Valley for protection. He could build protection for both his men and his teams. He wanted to farm on a large scale—the "bonanza" way. This meant the prairie where those before him dared not locate, but where all the elements of Cooper's plan lay waiting.
Mr. Cooper was different in several ways from the other land seekers of that time. Although he was the richest man to look for investment in Griggs County, he had experience elsewhere in pioneer undertakings.
When he was fourteen to seventeen years of age he had farmed near Red Wing, Minnesota with his father and brothers. After that he had done overland mule-freight hauling from St. Joe, Missouri, to Colorado. As a partner of his brother Thomas J. Cooper In Colorado he had first hand knowledge of mining, ore hauling and mule teams and railroading in connection with their own railroad to their mine. Then in another Colorado venture they had herds of cattle where they found good pasture. Mr. Cooper knew from his own experience the value of grass, water, fuel and protection.
Before the surveying of section lines in a township, a land seeker, as a "squatter" could select, his land, do some breaking and build a house, then file when the survey was completed. This offered the chance Mr. Cooper was looking for, for himself, and his relatives and friends of Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado, New York and Pennsylvania.
He wished to locate within the land grant limit. Here he could buy from the Northern Pacific Railway any of the odd numbered sections of land at less than pre-emption costs, then increase these holdings by buying pre - emptions or "additional homesteads" adjoining his other land, after their final proof by others. This he did.
Mr. Cooper had found the land he liked best near the geographical center of Griggs County. At the southeastern part where it had entered the county, the Sheyenne River had high deep, rocky hills and a narrow valley with a thin stand of timber. The prairie soil on both sides of the river is thickly studied with rocks for several miles back from its course.
About fifteen miles north of the southern boundary of the county the rocks became few in the Sheyenne Valley, the hills, or the prairie and the valley itself became wide and had a heavy stand of timber. Here on t:he prairie, he found good farm and stretching in every direction, numerous meadows for hay or mules and cattle, and water to be had from ponds or shallow wells. Here also was a glacial hill, high enough that its southern slope offered a protected building place for the "Boarding louse" for his men and for the barn for his mules. (Perhaps he thought of his mules first!)
In finding the location of this land he had started at the land farthest north that had been surveyed. Then with a marker on a wheel, and using a compass he drove to where he wished to locate. Charles L. Cooper, son of T. J. Cooper and nephew of Rollin C. Cooper, rode the buggy and counted the turns of the marked wheel. Upon being surveyed, it was found to be only a few rods from the surveyor's line.
Getting The Land
Cooper knew exactly where he was going when he set out that fall day to see his land and build his barn. He had talked with the surveyors of the township lines, (only township lines had been run before 1881) and knew exactly what he was getting . He located his own homestead and his brother's tree claim, on homestead lands which his brother was to buy for cash at $2.05 per acre. The deed to these lands was issued November 27, 1880, only a month after R C. Cooper came to his farm and began building his barn and his "boarding house" for his men. He located them on the land taken by Thomas J. Cooper as his tree claim. He owned all the railroad land surrounding the ranch buildings and his own homestead. This Land was selected by someone who knew the district well. Those who were mere land speculators bought whole sections. Cooper did not buy the less desirable of the railway lands. He selected an East half, or a south half, etc., that was best suited to farming, and also some railway lands among the Sheyenne Valley timber. He needed fuel. Several of the young men who came with Cooper took preemptions on good land on even numbered sections adjoining Cooper's railroad lands. They worked for Cooper. For these Mr. Cooper paid from $500 to $800 and their pre-emption cost, of $400 per 160 acres.
Another way was also used to, get good homestead land which alternated with his railroad sections. Thomas J. Cooper's son, Charles L. Cooper, had secured power of attorney to obtain "additional homesteads" for a veteran, or his widow, all duly described in the document, issued before the townships were sectionalized. One was dated August 24. 1878, and five in 1880 from January 21 to September 14, all before Cooper had seen the land.
The buildings of the Cooper Brothers differed from those of the average homesteader. Until the Coopers came the only settlers' buildings in Griggs County were in the valley of the Sheyenne River, because it was a common belief that no one could live on the open prairie. Their houses were of log, or sod, or were "dug outs"—a part basement or cave, the rest being of logs or sod, or a combination of both.
But Cooper had planned to farm on a large scale, on the prairie, and he had the money with which to buy and build. His first need on the prairie was for proper buildings”.
"Cooper Brothers loaded today and started for their ranch thirty-five miles due north of Sanborn. Seventy - five teams with lumber, general supplies, merchandise and so on, and they have fifteen carloads of lumber shipped to that point, and daily expect six carloads of oats from Minnesota. They are enterprising, energetic and thorough business men, and they are doing a great deal for the prosperity and development of this part of Dakota.
"They pay forty cents per hundred pounds for hauling to their ranch, which the farmers' nearby all improve the opportunity to earn a few dollars, by making a few trips north before the winter sets in. Cooper Brothers have just finished their building 20x40 on Main Street." (From the Daily Argus of Fargo, Dakota Territory of Nov. 11, 1880, quoting Sanborn Progress of Nov. 8, 1880).
"They have about finished the hauling of a hundred and fifty thousand feet of lumber for building." (Daily Argus, quoting Sanborn Progress of Nov. 15, 1880).
"This same fall Cooper bought 1000 bushels of oats from Ole J. Moe who lived thirteen and a half miles east of Sanborn. Mr. Cooper's freight line came and took it all up in one trip." (told by I. J. Moe, son of Ole J. Moe.)
Mr. Cooper outfitted first at Fargo, for his earliest freighting, with tents for protection of his men and mules. As Mr. Cooper's big shipment of Missouri mules did not come until the spring of 1881, there seems little question but that part of his lumber and supplies of 1880 were hauled for him by the early settlers near Sanborn and Valley City.
"At the same time they built a long shed stable (30x100 feet) in the vicinity of the present town of Dazey. It might have been on the townsite itself, but I would not say positively. It was not far from a frame house that was called the 'Mack Place' at that time. This house was there the first I saw the place in 1881. I was one of about a dozen young men who came from Michigan with a view of homesteading, and we went to work for Cooper Brothers to begin with.
"We landed in Sanborn during a fierce blizzard. There was no place for us to stay except in the schoolhouse, a new building, nearly completed, but not plastered, none too warm, and no conveniences whatever. Several carloads of farm implements and other equipment arrived in a few days and also about eighty mules from Missouri. Freighting this stuff to Cooperstown (to the Cooper farm - there was no Cooperstown in 1881) began at once. You may judge as to the climate when I tell you that sleighs loaded with this heavy material passed over drifts several feet high, leaving only the smallest trace of a mark where the sleigh runners went.
"On the 23rd of April we got a "chinook" wind that took the drifts very fast and flooded the prairie with water. For the four weeks previous I had the honor to be the watchman at the "halfway house," as it was called. I kept the fires going and made coffee and fried bacon and eggs when the freighters put in an appearance. The bread was bought at Sanborn and brought by the freighters. It was a day's trip from Sanborn to the 'halfway house,' when loaded, but if the teams had no load they went through to the Cooper farm in one day.
"This 'half-way house' was used until the railroad reached Dazey, and for some time afterwards. I occupied the place only during the spring freighting the First year." (William Glass, told to Clair Jackson.)
It has been said that the foundation stones of this "Halfway house" have been located in a field south of Dazey where Highway No. 1 turned east on the north side to go around a large slough which held water the year around.