Early Sargent County History

By H. A. Soule in Sargent County Fair Book
Contributed by Jerry McQuay.
Source: Sargent County News newspaper, August 28, 1924.
  In the spring of 1879, Mr. E. H. Antwerp received a contract from the government to survey a number of townships that were situated along the extreme south side of what is now known as Ransom County. We left Yankton in the latter part of May. Mr. Antwerp left on the train and I was to take the outfit overland and meet him at Lake Kampeski, now Watertown. We went up the James River to about where Huron now stands, then we went a northeasterly direction to Lake Kampeski, which had been for some time the terminus of the old Winona and St. Peters railroad. This road had been built some years before but was little used. I think they ran a train over it but once a week. The end of the road was the lake. Watertown was about two miles east. It started that spring and was a very small village containing about 40 or 50 inhabitants. Here we met Mr. Van Antwerp.

  There was an old military trail that left the lake and ran north to Fort Wadsworth. About two years after this time the name of this fort was changed to Fort Sisseton. The trail ran close to a large lone tree, that was the extreme southern point of the Sisseton Indian Reservation which is wedge shaped with a sharp point to the south.

  We soon found rougher country and between the hills were many lakes. We were now in the coteaus so named by the French explorers, meaning hills. The trail led us between many of these lakes and became so split up that it was extremely hard to follow and we soon lost it and got tangled up in so many lakes and sloughs that we thought we never would get out.

  We finally found a place where some one had been cutting cord wood and from there a road leading north which we followed and about sundown drove into Fort Wadsworth. I think there were three companies of soldiers stationed here at that time, and it was large enough to accommodate many more. It was here that Yellowstone Kelly, the noted scout and guide, first struck Dakota. He came at the close of the Civil war and afterwards helped build Fort Ransom on the Sheyenne river, where he was discharged. The next morning we left Fort Wadsworth on the old military trail that led to Fort Benson. This road was well defined. It had been made by large military wagons that were wider than common ones and had in former years been much used, as over this trail were hauled supplies to Fort Ransom, Fort Seward and Fort Totten. On every high point of the road large mounds were thrown up for guides. At about five o’clock we crossed the Seventh standard parallel which in now the line that divides North and South Dakota.

  At that time there were no whites in what is now Sargent county. There was a half breed by the name of John Longie who had a log house on the west end of Lake Tewaukon. I think that he raised a crop of wheat that year. I think that Ezra Post settled in the latter part of the summer in the extreme eastern part of the county on the Wild Rice river. The Harringtons, the Hermans and the Williams may have come this year but I think not until the year following when I think James Davis and Goolsby and perhaps Magnus Nelson came. All of these people settled on the Wild Rice and held their land under what is known as squatter’s rights.

  After crossing the Seventh parallel we soon began to descend the coteaus and passed down the ridge just west of the gulch where Dan Lynch used to live and reached the level prairie. Passing over level prairies we soon came to a lake and as it was near night we decided to camp and after setting up our tent we went to the lake for water. After wading out for several rods we could only find about an inch of water so we had to dig a (missing text).

  This is now called Sprague’s lake, so named from the first settler on the east end. The next morning we did not drive more than a quarter of a mile when we came to a smaller lake with good deep water now called Silver lake. We passed to the east of this and soon passed a little east of where Pete Narum now lives, then north and a little west we must have passed close to where Rutland school now stands. John Nockleby’s house which is just two miles east of Forman, stands on the old trail.

  In the spring of 1881 Gen. W. H. H. Beadle received a contract to survey what is now Hall and Herman townships, Sargent county, North Dakota. Upon inquiring we were informed that a man by the name of Ezra Post lived on the land where we were to survey. We managed to get over almost impassable roads and reached Mr. Post, who lived in the extreme eastern part of what is now Sargent county on the Wild Rice river, in the first grove in the sand hills along the river. Mr. Ezra Post and family, Mr. Hiram Harrington and family, Mr. Jas. Davis and Mr. Frank Strong came here to what is called Hamlin, June 20, 1879. Mr. Harrington built his home of logs. His was the first white man’s house in Sargent county. Mr. Post hauled lumber from Wahpeton for his house. Mr. Davis went back east and moved his family out here in the summer of 1880. Mr. John Goolsby and John Herman came in 1880. Mr. Daniel Thornton and family also came this spring.

  On the third day of July a stranger appeared in camp and invited us to a Fourth of July celebration that was to be held in Jim Davis grove the next day. We went to the celebration which was certainly the first Fourth of July celebration held in Sargent county. There was a big feed and a dance both which every one enjoyed.

  In the spring of 1882 we started work in Milnor township and worked westward through what is now Willey township and then through White Stone Hill and Vivian township. In Milnor township we found many shacks belonging to people who had come to take up claims. All these settlers were there as squatters and made claim upon unsurveyed land. If the settler didn’t happen to be home we could usually find his name written some where on his shack and could thereby attach his name to the land surveyed. In some cases a shack was found, but no person or no name. We found it difficult to make out our full report of surveyed land with its owners name. There was usually a piece of breaking on the land near the shack. We were instructed by the Department of Interior to take note of this and all other improvements on the land. Many of the shacks were made with sod walls and perhaps a lumber roof and door. They seemed hardly habitable and were put up usually as a sign of a claim that had been made. However, some of these shacks were made into homes as the greater part of the early settlers were young people who felt they could put up with a great deal if they could only cinch the land. The shacks ranged in size from 8x8 feet to 12x14 feet. The latter size was usual. Willey township was named after a man by the name of A. B. Willey with whom we became quite well acquainted in after years. We ran across some hills in what is now called White Stone Hill township. These hills were erroneously named supposing that these hills were the White Stone Hills of Sully’s battlefield . We found traces of a camping ground and upon investigation found a spring. The old military road had followed Indian trails to this spring. It was very hard to get water on the prairie and the whites usually followed Indian trails that frequently led to springs.

  Back in 1862 over this Indian trail leading to the spring, before the trail was made a military road there passed a band of Indians under a chief named White Lodge, who was carrying away from a settlement on Shetak lake in southeastern Minnesota, two white women, Mrs. Wright and Mrs. Daly and seven white children. This band passed up to Big Stone lake, on to Skunk lake and up through Sargent county over the old Indian trail that led to White Stone Hill springs, then on up to where Fort Ransom was afterwards build on the bluff of the Sheyenne river, then onto the northeast to the head water of Bear creek. They had drifted over to the Missouri river at the mouth of Beaver creek where they were discovered by Major G. E. Golpin, who when reaching Fort Pierre informed a band of mixed blood Indians under the leadership of Martin Charge, grandson of Captain Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition, that he had seen the captives there. Martin Charger and his band were successful freeing these women and children and sent them home to southern Minnesota.

  In White Stone Hill and Bowen township I found O. F. Johnson, Nils Patterson, I. G. Carlbloom, J. F. Carlbloom, C. O. Jorganson, Nels P. Lund, Erick Backlund, John Swanson, Nels Bjork, Magnus Bjork, A. G. Anderson. Erick Anderson, Oluf Melroe, L. E.Halin, Hans Serverson and A. E. Stevens. Later we moved our outfit to Vivian township where we became acquainted with Messrs Smith, Barton and Stewart. In the southwest part of Vivian township there is a slough now known as the Crete Slough. Around this slough there were some trees growing which were the only scattering trees in Sargent county except to the eastern part of the Wild Rice river.

  From here we passed south into Harlem township. The only men with whom I remember coming in contact with was Homer Mills, his brother Simeon and a brother of A. M. Cook. From here we went into Bowen township. After reaching about the center we met Mr. Ed Bowen after whom the township was named. Mr. Bowen informed us that it would be useless to survey east in Bowen because the country was so stony that it would never be settled. With in a year the township was settled and every quarter was filed on. From Bowen we went into Kingston. While in Kingston there was more standing water in Sargent county than has been since, except in the summer of 1916. This made it extremely hard to survey because we found it difficult to distinguish between a lake and slough. We met John Devlin, Austin Cryan and his brothers, Michael and Joseph, two King brothers and Mr. W. E. Dada, whom I believed lived just across in Ransom. From here we went west into Ransom where we ran across Randolpf Holding living where the town of Ransom now stands. We moved on to Rutland township. In this township we were camped about two miles of where Rutland now stands.

  We moved into Forman township where we found the low places filled with water. As usual this situation made survey very difficult. John Miller and many others had claims in this township. We entered Sargent township at the northeast corner of section 24 where W. W. Lamb now lives. We drove two miles west and camped in what is now Mr. Pieper’s pasture. In this township we became acquainted with Geo. S. Montgomery and Pat Rourke. These men later started a village called Blackstone which was later called Sargent. I recall that Richard McCarten, Henry McCarten, John McGraw and Frank McGraw, O. B. Blanchard, and many more had laid claim to land around here. Some of these men we did not see, but obtained their names from their shanty doors, and recorded their names along with a description of the land to our field notes.

  Just across in Brampton township we found Henry Ashley’s shanty. We also found Oka Ashley’s not far from his father’s. When we were surveying the line between section 1 and 2, I little thought that in four years a railroad would be running right over this line and that in 1890 a village would spring up here at the junction of the Milwaukee & St Paul and the Soo line that would eventually be named Cogswell, nor did I foresee that eleven years later I would move here and live until the present date.

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