The History of Marshall County, MN


Marshall County, 1895


Marshall County, covering an area of 1,675 square miles, is situated in the northwestern part of Minnesota bordering on the Red River of the North. The county was named in honor of William Rainey Marshall, one of Minnesota's esteemed governors. (1)

The county is bounded on the north by Kittson and Roseau counties, on the east by Beltrami.County, on the south by Polk and Pennington counties, and on the west by the Red River which separates it from North Dakota.

Marshall County lies in the Red River Valley, the great wheat raising section of the country. It is a part of the old bed of glacial Lake Agassiz, and the glacial drift left a thick coating of rich soil extending over several miles of nearly level prairie land. Herds of buffalo roamed over these prairies, and Indians hunted them for food and clothing. Elk, deer, and prairie chickens were plentiful and occasionally, a bear was caught. The Indians were not aware, however, of the richness of the soil. The squaws raised a few vegetables and a little corn, and as hunting declined, this became a more important item in their livelihood, but the agricultural value of the land was not developed until the white men settled on it.

As early as 1812, Lord Selkirk opened settlements from Winnipeg to Pembina, and in 1821, many Swiss people were induced to settle there to promote agriculture. Storms, floods, poor harvests, grasshoppers, and famine discouraged the people so that many soon left, passing through what is now Marshall County on their way to Fort Snelling and points farther south.(2)

Marshall County was in a direct line from the Selkirk Red River Settlement to the Mississippi River and one of the early trails passed through the county. Over the trail, furs were carried beginning in the early 1800's. In 1823, Major Stephen H. Long led an expedition to explore the region of the Red River Valley. The expedition went down the east side of the Red River to Pembina, thus passing through area that became Marshall County. With Major Long on this expedition was Giacomo Constantino Beltrami. The Red River became a highway of travel in the late 1850's when steamboats began running down the river to Fort Garry, Canada. The first steamboat was assembled in 1858 at a little town site called La Fayette, opposite the mouth of the Sheyenne River. (3)

There were very few white settlements in this area before the railroads were built in 1872 and 1873. The railroads brought a wave of immigration, and in about 10 years, nearly all the land was taken by homestead and preemption claims.

In the forties and fifties a missionary, Rev. Sela G. Wright, was stationed on a mission farm on Red Lake. He wrote as early as 1848 of a farm that could produce 3,000 bushels of corn and 2,000 bushels of potatoes besides other vegetables, when all the rest of the northern and western Minnesota was a wilderness. Wright told of a trip to the Red River Settlement in December 1843 to purchase oxen and cows. (4)

The government had encouraged settlement by granting land as subsidies to railroad companies on condition that they extend their lines, and by selling land to actual settlers, who, under certain circumstances, could obtain as much as 480 acres. Long processions of emigrant regions, called "prairie schooners," passed along the trails to settle in the Red River Valley. Many settlers came from the south and the east, and others came directly from Europe, especially from Norway and Sweden; others were Germans, Britons, Scots, and Irish. (5)

The first settler to remain on his homestead was Michael McCollough, a hunter and trader, and an outstanding character, who arrived about 1872. He did not file on his homestead near Stephen until May 6, 1879. Others had filed on claims before him, but had abandoned them later. He became a. close friend of Charles Wentzel, a.sturdy German blacksmith, who came from Prussia and arrived in 1874, settling near the present site of Warren. Mr. Wentzel lived in a log shanty for a few years, later building a log house, and in 1880, a frame house. Others who came in 1878 and settled near Wentzel were Frank Smith, W.A. Wallace, A. P. McIntyre, James B. Titus, Emmet W. Rossman, J. W. Slee, Ed Slee, A. E. Flint, A. B. Nelson, J. McCann, and G. O. Gross. (6)

Early in 1879, Nels Malm, while on a business trip from Willmar to Crookston, met Peter Jarvis, a settler from Argyle, (then Lousia) who told hire that the "cream of the valley was around Lousia" and persuaded him to make a trip up there to look over the land with a prospect of settling. The railroad had just completed its road to St. Vincent in 1878 but there was no scheduled train service. Mr. Malm says he passed only two buildings between Crookston and Argyle and one of these was at Warren in Marshall County. It was March and there was very little snow on the prairie. Much impressed by the prospects of the land, he returned to Willmar relating his experience to others. That fall he, with several families, left Willmar in eight covered wagons traveling over land to Argyle. Mr. Malm and one of the men walked, driving a herd of 62 cows. It took them 24 days and they arrived in Argyle on election day, November 4, 1879. (7)

On December 15, 1879, Charles A. Bergland, an agent for the Cunard Steamship Line, coming directly from Gothenburg, Sweden, in the interest of the Swedish Emigrant Association, made a call at Warren. He was so well pleased with the country and its prospects that he expected to send 100 families to settle near Warren. (8)

With the coming of these settlers, the need of a trading point was necessary, and a post office was established, named, "Farley," and A. T. Minor appointed postmaster. Later the name was changed to Warren in honor of the general superintendent of the railroad. In 1878, the railroad was extended to St. Vincent, and a station was built on the site of Warren through the efforts of Mr. McIntyre. This brought many more settlers in 1879 and 1880.(9)

Although this land had been pictured as a land of "milk and honey," the early settlers found much to discourage them. They had barely established themselves when a terrible prairie fire occurred in 1879, destroying much grain and hay and burning some of the settlers. The winters brought blizzards, which were just as discouraging. But these hardy pioneers were not overcome by discouragement. They could acquire land for very little and the richness of the soil would enable them to make a good and honest living for themselves and their families.

It was not long before capitalists saw the profitable prospects of these grain fields, and they bought land from the railroads and the settlers, and established what were called "bonanza farms," some of which contained as many as 40,000 acres. Before 1870, the farmers of the Red River Valley found that this region was more adapted to the raising of spring wheat than to winter wheat. However, the methods then generally in use in the milling of the spring wheat produced a dark flour which did not sell as readily as white. This difficulty was overcome by the introduction of the middlings purifier and steel mill rollers at Minneapolis beginning in 1870. The subsequent tremendous demand for Minnesota flour made from spring wheat by the perfected process placed a premium on that grain, and created a heavy demand for it. The result was that immigration into the valley increased rapidly.

Marshall County was created from Kittson County by an act of the legislature in 1879. The boundaries were again defined by acts of the legislatures of 1883 and 1885. (10)

The act to establish the county in 1879 directed the governor to appoint three qualified electors to serve as a board of county commissioners which was given authority to appoint all county officers, except the clerk of the district court, who was to be appointed by the judge of that court. These appointed officers were to hold office until their successors were elected and qualified. The county was attached to Polk County for judicial purposes.

In accordance with this act, the governor appointed H. Craig, William A. Wallace, and Edwin S. Radcliff as county commissioners. The county commissioners appointed Henry B. Lane, auditor; A. P. McIntyre, assessor; James P. Nelson, attorney; Wm. H. Gilbert, sheriff; Thomas R. Craig, register of deeds; and Frank Smith, treasurer. The first general election was hold on November 4, 1879, and the following officers were elected: commissioners H. M. Craig, Chris Anderson, and Alfred Diamond; sheriff, Willis T. Lackey; treasurer, William A. Wallace; register of deeds, Thomas R. Craig; attorney, A. E. Flint; auditor, O. Taylor; judge of probate, John Slee; court commissioner, court appointed James P. Nelson, clerk of the distract court in the board appointed M. Bauchman on June 1 1880, to complete the term. On March 17, 1880, Mr. Wallace resigned as treasurer and the board appointed James C. McCrea in this stead. At the same meeting, the board appointed W. Carrese as coroner. (11)

Although the office of assessor is not a county office, assessors were appointed by the county commissioners at various times to act for the unorganized parts of the county. They, however, were termed "county assessors." In April 1879, board appointed A. P. McIntyre as county assessor. (12) In January 1830, three commissioner districts were to serve also as road districts, and the board appointed A. P. McIntyre, George Foresythe, and John Hughes each as assessor and road master for districts one, two, and three respectively. (13) Other county assessors were appointed in following years for the unorganized parts of the county as late as 1909.

There are 49 townships in Marshall County. The first townships organized were: Middle River, township 156, range 48: Tamarack, 157-48; and Wallace, 155-48, on October 7, 1879. (14) On March 13, 1880, the township of Wallace was joined with 155-47 and called Warrenton. (15) On July 27, 1880, the following townships were organized: Viking, 155-45; Comstock, 155-46; Oak Park, 155-49; Vega, 155-50; Big Woods, 156-50; and Fork, 157-50.(16) The last township organized was Mud Lake, 156-41, on March 12, 1912.(17)

The first school district was organized at Stephen in Tamarack Township, on December 23, 1679. (18) Today there are about 163 school districts in the county.

When Marshall County was established the boundary lines were as follows: commencing at the intersection of the middle line of the main channel of the Red River of the North with the line between the townships 154 and 155; then cast to the southeast corner of township 155; then north on a line between ranges 38 and 39 to the intersection with the townships line between 158 and 159; then west to the center of the main channel of the Red River, and up the main channel of the river to the place of beginning.(19) Legislative acts of 1883 and 1865 provided for a change of the county lines of Marshall and Polk counties.(20)

Like other counties, Marshall had its contest over the county seat. Although the county commissioners had not definitely designated the county seat, the town of Warren was considered as such. The town of Argyle, a few miles north of Warren, made efforts to have the county seat placed there. On February 8, 1881, the board of county commissioners passed a resolution that the safe be placed in charge of the sheriff and moved to Argyle, and that the county business be transacted there. The commissioners met at Argyle a few times and on February 27, 1882, passed another resolution authorizing the chairman to hire men and teams to haul the safe and other county property from Argyle to Warren and place it in the county building. (21) In 1881, the legislature passed an act to legalize the location of the county seat at Warren, and later in the same year, definitely established it there.(22)

The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized at Warren in the fall of 1879, the first sermon being preached by Reverend Samuel Kerfoot in November of that year. There being no public buildings this first service was held in the barroom of the Commercial Hotel. The next service was in the law office of J. P. Nelson. The erecting of a church was begun in the spring of 1882 and it was completed and dedicated on November 25, 1888. The Reverend Frank Doran preached the dedicatory sermon.(23)

The first brick manufactured in the county was in 1880, by August Lundgren in the southwest quarter of section 36, Warrenton township, range 48. The first brick building erected was the bank at Warren in 1883. Brick making has become a profitable industry.(24)

On March 5, 6, 1935, the following resolution was adopted: "Whereas, the so-called "Old Mill Site" in Marshall County, Minnesota, is a natural amphitheater and playground, used by the people of Northwestern Minnesota for years as a picnic ground, pageant site, and meeting place, and whereas said site has a historical background with an old mill and millstones, with a stream and natural woods and a hillside providing adequate seating capacity for an outdoor amphitheater, which site is centrally located and better adapted for such purposes than any other in this part of the state, and its establishments as a state park is being promoted by the Marshall County Historical Society, the Warren Commercial Club, and other civic organizations, and a plat and maps thereof are being prepared by such organizations to show the location. Adaptability and extent thereof: Therefore be it resolved, that the Board of County Commissioners of Marshall County, Minnesota go on record in favor of the establishment of a State Park at the Old Mill Site above described."(25) The state has acquired this site and it is in process of development.

Early travel was by way of rivers and trials. These trails were not real roads, but merely well worn paths. One important trail through Marshall County was the East Plains Trail over which the early ox carts carried furs from Fort Garry and Pembina to near St. Paul, returning with merchandise and other supplies. Better transportation became a necessity as settlements grew, and as soon as counties were established, the county boards made provisions for roads. In Marshall County, the first consideration in 1879 was for bridges. (27)

Road districts were established in January 1880. (28) At a special meeting on August 21, 1880, bids were received for building bridges. A contract was let to E. C. Davis for bridges across Snake, Middle, and Tamarack rivers. An appropriation was also made for the work. (29) Other early considerations for roads and bridges were made in 1881. (30)

In 1871, railroads were completed to Breckenridge and Fargo, but none reached Marshall County until 1878. Today, the Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Sault Ste. Marie crosses the central part of the county from south to north, and a branch of this road crosses the southern border from Thief River to the Dakota line. The Great Northern railroad crosses the western part of the county from south to north, and also crosses the central part of the county.

In 1880, one-third of the farms in the county averaged over 1,000 acres. By 1910, 49.6 percent of the land area was in farms and in 1935, it had increased to 76.2 percent. However, diversified farming has become popular since single crop fanning develops weed pests, plant diseases, insects, etc, which lower the fertility of the soil. Therefore, the raising of cattle, sheep, and hogs has become important. (31) Many factories for cheese and butter making have been established in the area.

Statistics of the fifteenth census of the United States in 1930 show that there were 3,256 foreign-born in the county. Of these, 1,292 are from Norway; 1,148 from Sweden; 224 from Canada; 147 from Poland; 59 from Denmark; 56 from Finland; 41 from Czechoslovakia; 23 from Scotland; 25 from England; 14 from Ireland; 13 from France; 12 from Austria; 11 from Russia; and 36 from other countries. (32)

The population, which began about 1878 with only a few families, increased to 992 in 1830 and to 17, 003 in 1930.

(1) Warren Upham, Minnesota Geographic Names, 326.
(2) A. L. Burt, The Romance of the Prairie Provinces, 131-133.
(3) Minnesota Historical Collections, 10: 16, 17.
(4) Grace Lee Nute, "New Light on Red River Valley History", Minnesota History Bulletin, 5: 567.
(5) Upham, Minnesota Historical Collections, VIII: 11-24.
(6) History of the Red River Valley, 1909, 2: 836-338.
(7) Nels Malm, in Marshall County Banner, Argyle, Feb. l4, 1929.
(8) The Northern Tier, Crookston, December 20, 1879.
(9) History of the Red River Valley, 1909, 843; Warren Sheaf, Anniversayr Edition, July 22, 1931.
(10) General Laws, 1879, 24; 1883, 111: 1835, 290.
(11) The Northern Tier, Crookston, Nov. 8. 1879; History of the Red River Valley, 1909, 830; Legislative Manual, 1881, 250.
(12) Commissioners Minutes, A: 1.
(13) Ibid., A: 11.
(14) Commissioners Minutes, A: S.
(15) Ibid., A: 13.
(16) Ibid., A: 19.
(17) Ibid., D: 419.
(18) Ibid., A: 9; History of the Red River Valley, 1909, 338.
(19) General Laws, 1879, 24, chapter 10
(20) Ibid.. 1883, 111; 1885, 290.
(21) Commissioners Minutes, A: 40.
(22) Special Laws, 1881, 894; l881 extra session, 86.
(23) History of the Red River Valley, 1909, 852, 853.
(24) Ibid., 1909, 834.
(25) Commissioners Minutes, F: 594.
(26) Legislative Manual of the State of Minnesota, 1939, 153.
(27) Commissioners Minutes, A: 4, 5.
(28) Ibid., A:11.
(29) Commissioners' Minutes A: 20.
(30) Ibid. A: 25, 29.
(31) Settlement of the Red River Valley, (Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletins, 283: 7: 284, 1). U. S. Bureau of the Census, 15th Census, 1930, 2:159, 218, 652.
(32) Bureau of the Census, 15th Census, 3: part 1, 1221.


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