A Pioneer History of Becker County
Minnesota

Chapter XXI.

History of Detroit Township.


By Henry Way

The following interesting account of the first settlement of Detroit Township is from the pen of Henry Way, now of Osage, who was one of the pioneer party:

In 1865 a colony composed of sixteen families left Iowa and arrived in Otter Tail County, July 31, 1865. There were no white settlements in that county as that time. We settled on Battle Lake, remaining there three years. From Otter Tail Lake to Dayton, over that vast expanse of country now covered with cities and town and past were Fergus Falls now stands, there was not a white settler nor a house. As I was a farmer by occupation I desired to find a good range for stock where there was an abundance of grass, good water and some timber. Having been informed by the Indians and half-breeds of the immense cattle range north, five of us strarted out in search of it. We came past what became Otter Tail City, then occupied by some mixed bloods. We forded the Otter Tail River three times, which brought us to the present location of Frazee City, where we found a man named Butler, who claimed that the land was all taken by script, and who told us it was still fourteen miles to the "land of promise.

We camped there that night, he promising to go with us the next day and show us the land, rich with strawberries, and only waiting for the cows to come to have them with cream. We reached Oak Lake, June 28, 1868, and were so well pleased with the country that we took our claims without getting of the wagon. L. D. Sperry, A. W. Sherman and myself each took a claim at Oak Lake, Mr. Sherman taking the one which was since the county poor farm. We at once commenced improvements - that is, we started foundations for our houses and left then for the buzzards to roost on and hold our claims until we returned. We then returned to our families in Otter Tail County. Mr. Sherman came back and built a house and put up hay; I also built my house and the next spring came with my family. When we were at Battle Lake we had to go to Cold Springs, nine miles this side of St. Cloud, for our flour, and to Sauk Center for our groceries and all things used by farmers. This was 108 miles, and took us from eight to ten days to make the trip. After we started in Becker County we did all our trading and miling at Alexandria, distant 100 miles. My friends, think of it; what would you think of starting out with an ox team, 100 miles, for a box of matches or a pound of tea? Why, I think you would say, "Give me the Northern Pacific Railroad to make the trip with.

Mr. Sherman was on his farm during the winter of '68 and during my absence they got out of provisions; Paul Beaulieu, of White Earth, called, and, learning of their sutuation and sympathyzing with them, promised tham a sack of flour before the setting of another sun; and he was as good as his word. All traffic was carried on then with dog sleds, and our mail (what we had), was sent from Otter Tail City by the hand of some Indian.

In the spring of 1869 a party of men in the employ of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company came through from St. Cloud. They came with supplies, and made my place their headquarters. At that time it seemed almost impossible for a railroad to be build through a country without inhabitants. During the summer of 1870 we were surprised to see a train of buggies and wagons coming into our neighborhood. There were fifteen of them and they called at my place and wanted to buy a sheep. We sold them one, and one of the men informed me they were looking for a place to locate a railroad. This man was Mr. Eugene Wilson, of Minneapolis. There was also Rev. Mr. Lord, of New York City, who invited us to come to thir camp at 10 o'clock a.m., was he would hold a meeting. We went, and listened to a good sermon. Then we had dinner with them, it being Sunday they did not travel. Gov Smith, of Vermont, was then president of the company; there were senators and ex-senators from other states, and physicians for sould and body, and also Carleton Coffin, the great newspaper correspondent, who justly entitled this the Park Region.

Henry Way


The place that Mr. Way selected for his homestead was at the north end of Oak Lake, on the southeast quarter of Section 7. In 1870 he sold his improvements to Mrs. Barbara Stillman, after which he located on Section 20 in what is now Audubon Township. L. D. Sperry lived there much of he time during the early seventies, and Elias Nason lived there in 1885. It now belongs to J. Isaacson.

Almon W. Sherman located on the west shore of Oak Lake on the place that afterwards became the poor farm, and is now (1905), the residence of L. O. Ramsted.

L. D. Sperry selected for his homestead, a place on the west shore of the lake in the northwest quarter of Section 7. After living there for a year or two he rented his house to a man by the name of Sterling, and the forst store ever opening in Becker County, to trade with white people was begun in this house, Sperry living in the meantime on his mother-in-law's place (Mrs. Stillman's), at Oak Lake.

The old White Earth and Red River trail plassed close to both of these houses. Byron Wheeler since owned this place, and lived there for several years, in the same house where the store was kept.

About the middle of December, 1970, Jedediah Anderson started a small store in a vacant house belonging to Mrs. Sherman on Section 18, close to the west shore of Oak Lake, in Detroit Township, and two or three days later another store was opened by S. B. Pinney, with Ole A. Boe for clerk, in another vacant house belonging to Mrs. Sherman, so by the beginning of the year 1871 there were three full fledged stores running full blast, in what is now Detroit Township.

C. A. Sherman or Alma Sherman as he was usually called, took for his claim the east half of the northwest quarter, and the west half of the northeast quarter of Section 19.

Samuel J. Fox located on Section 15 where John O. French now resides, but the time of his location is uncertain. French ways that he was living there when the Northern Pacific Railroad surveyors camped at Floyd Lake in August, 1869, but he is not sure whether he had a house or not. He also says that he saw Max Vannose and Leon Vannose there at Floyd Lake also, but saw no houses. As all three of these men were living with Chippawa womoen, the probablity is that they were all living in wigwams, prior to the summer of 1870. The Vannoses both built their houses near the southwest corner of Floyd Lake on Section Sixteen.

Melvin M. Tyler located on the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 34 on the 28th day of July, 1870, and built the first section of what was afterwards enlarged and became the Tyler Hotel, that stood for so many ears on the north side of the railroad, near the Pelican River.

About the first of September Archibald McArthur took a claim on the north shore of Detroit Lake, on Section 35, where the little praries comes down to the lake a little east of the Pelican River.

The next settle was Deacon Samuel B. Childs, who came from Alexandria and selected the southwest quarter of Section 28, on the 30th day of September, 1870. Mrs. Child and the rest of the family came on the 22nd of May, 1871.

William W. Rossman located on the east half of the northwest quarter of Section 34, which afterwards became the Holmes Addition of Detroit, sometime in October 1870. He had been living for several months in Lake Eunice, being one of the three first settlers in that township. This land is now right in the midst of the village, and takes in the Holmes school building.

Many of the early settlers will probably remember Michael Dalton, who lived for several years on what was since the C. P.Bailey farm; the northeast quarter of Section 32. Dalton located on this place in October, 1870, and Clarence McCarthy settled on the southeast quarter of Section 32 at the same time. Late in the fall of this year, Samuel J. Fox took the west half of the southeast quarter and the west half of the northeast quarter of Section 34, and built a house on what is since known as the Fox Hill. A large part of the village of Detroit is now built on the old Fox property, including the Frazee and Holmes Addition and the Holmes Second Addition, taking in the Hotel Minnesota and the court house.

In November, 1870, I selected the northwesst quarter of Section 6, for a homestead, but did not make any improvements until late in January, 1871, at which time I built a log house, and Andrew Tong built a house on the northeast quarter of Section 6 that same winter.

Josiah Richardson took the nortwest quarter of Section 22, some time in the summer or fall of 1870.

Charles Tyler I think located on the south tier of forties of Section 26, since known as the Brook's farm, in the fall of 1870.

These were about all the settlers in Detroit Township before the advent of the New England Colony in the spring of 1871.


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Last updated: October 20, 1997