A Pioneer History of Becker County
My First Three Years
in Becker County.
In the summer of 1870, I received an appointment as deputy United States surveyor from the surveyor general of Minnesota with instructions to survey thirteen townships of land in the Red River country, four of which were in Wilkin County, two in Clay and seven in Becker County. I did not receive my final instructions until late in the summer and consequently found that I would not be able to complete the work before midwinter, so I decided to leave the Becker County townships, some of which were heavily timbered, for the last, and began at the west end of my work. I accordingly began work on the Red River flats, in Wilkin County on the 16th of August, 1870, and finished in Clay County on the 5th of October. There was not a settler in Wilkin County at the time except at McCauleyville, and a ferry across the Otter Tail River kept by a man named Merry. There were no settlers in Clay County, except at Georgetown and a stage station or two along the Red River, and eight or ten families in the eastern towns along the border of Becker County.
*NOTE-After the organization of the townships whose history has just been presented there were none organized for seven or eight years, so here will be a good place to intoduce a few miscellaneous articles.
The last township I surveyed in Clay County was the one in which Barnesville is now situated. It was only twelve miles from there across to Becker County, but I was obliged to go back to McCauleyville for supplies and from there we drove across the Red River flats and over to Pelican Rapids. We crossed Whiskey Creek soon after leaving McCauleyville on a narrow, rickety pole bridge, about ten feet high. Our ox teamster who had been accustomed to using the whole Red River valley for a highway, allowed his load to tumble off over the bridge, and the weight of the wagon pulled the oxen over on top of the load. There was about a foot of water and two feet of black mud in the creek, and down went sacks of flour and barrels of pork, sugar, coffee, blankets, clothing and sujrveying instruments with the wagon on top, wheels up and the oxen on top of it all. It took us all the afternoon to get out of the muss and clean up and dry our outfit. At two different times, we were obliged to unload and carry everything across sloughs, on pond on Section 8 in Lake Park Township, which was on land since owned by John Lie. I was anxious to hire more men, and as I could see a house three or four miles east of us in a grove of which was nearly a fourth of a mile wide, before we reached Pelican Rapids. In consequence of these delays we were obliged to camp out on the prairie two nights more than we expected, and had to burn up an extra ox yoke and our tent poles for fuel. From Pelican Rapids we drove north up around the west end of Pelican Lake and from there in a nortwesterly direction around the west end of Big Cormorant Lake. There was a dim wagon road up as far as Section 20 in the town of Cormorant. The first person we met after passing into Becker County was Mark Warren, and old fur trader, who was hunting for his horse. Soon afterwards we came to where a man by the name of Wm. MCMartin was building a log house on Section 21, I believe. Several of his neighbors were helping him. These were all the people we saw in the township of Cormorant. From here there was no sign of a road until we came to Section 8, west of Big Cormorant Lake. Many times all hands had to hold onto the wagon to prevent it from tipping over, and some of the way we were obliged to cut a road though the timber. We finally found a dim road running north which brought us over a prairie and through brush to a beautiful little praitie which must be part of the nortwest quarter of Section 5. This prairie was surrounded by brush and timber, and was such a contrast to the country on the Red River flats where we had been surveying, and where we did not see a bush or a tree from two months that the boys in the party began giving cheers for Becker County, and some of them wanted to take a homestead right there.
My objective point was Township 140, Range 43, or what is now the township of Cuba, we we drove on with our ox team over a road that was gradully becoming better as we proceded north until we came to where a man by the nme of John P. Rud was building a log house on what is now Section 29 of Lake Park Township, where we camped for the night.
In the evening, a man came to our camp by the name of E. H. Nelson who was living a little west on Section 30. Two other men also living on Section 30 at the time, Gus Jacobson and Erik Quam. The next morning we continued north over a bad road and about 10 o'clock made a halt at a small gove by a timber. I started to go to it. I do not think there was then a house on the prairie in Lake Park Township, although there were quite a number scattered around among the groves, but they were pretty well hid from view. I worked my way along all right until I came to the middle of the big marsh in Section 11 of Lake Park and seeing no way around it to the north or to the south, I gave up the job and went back. The house I started for, I think, was where Hamilton Kelly has since lived, but was then occupied by Palmer Hall. When I reached my camp, I found two men there, Erick Anderson and his father, and I hired them. That afternoon we drove on north to the Buffalo River and camped in the grove of timber, since called Kittelson's Grove, on Section 16, town of Cuba. There was a hard frost that night, the first of the season. This was the 13th day of October, 1870.
The next thing was to hunt up the township lines and find a starting point. I found that a random line between Cuba and Lake Park had been run and temporary corners set, but no corners were established. The next day, the 14th, was Sunday and about noon a man by the name of Bemer came from Howard's camp, the surveyor who had run the township lines, bringing the field notes of the town line with the correction for each corner.
That same day, Chris. E. Bjorge came to our camp and I hired him, and he proved to be a valuable assistant. A man by the name of Ole Kittelson had taken a claim which included a part of the grove where we camped. He had a dugout on the high bank of the Buffalo River which was made by digging a square hole in the face of the hill and building a low house over the hole. He had been at work on the Richwood milldam, but when he heard that the surveyors had come he started for home making a bee line across the country. He came on all right until he struck the big string of lakes and sloughs that stretches across the present townof Hamden, when trouble began. The water was much higher then that it is now since the ditch was dug. After wandering back and forth from the south to the north and from the north to the south without finding a way around, he finally plunged in where it appeared to be the narrowest and undertook to wade across, bu soon got in above his depth and became tanged in the wild rice and bullrushes and was almost drowned, but finally pulled through more dead than alive and reached our camp away in the night. I hired him also. Cuba was then sprinkled over with sloughs and ponds and they were all full of water, so we had plenty of wading to do unless we resorted to the more tedious process of offsetting, and where the water was not more than two or three feet deep we preferred to wade.
There were three settlers in the township of Cuba at the time. B. O. Bergerson was living in a comfortable log house on Section 36. Martin Olson had a house built on Section 35, but there was no one residing there. He had gone below after his family and returned with them on the 21st of October. Ole Kittelson on Section 16, in addition to his dugout had a smalll patch of turnips. There was an old Red River cart trail which crossed the Buffalo River near the middle of the township and ran northweserly across the country to some point on the Red River. Buffalo bones were abundant, especially near the Buffalo River on Sections 15 and 16, showing that Becker County had been a favorite summer resort for that animal.
From our camp we could see a grove of timber directly east in the next township and on the 20th day of October, I ordered my camp moved to that grove which proved to be on Section 17.
Return to A Pioneer History of Becker County Minnesota table of contents
Return to Becker County, MN main page
Last updated: October 20, 1997