Early History & Organization

Excerpts From Andreas' "1884 Historical Atlas of Dakota"

Early History

The earliest knowledge of the Devils Lake region came through fur traders who established themselves there as early as 1815. As far as known Captain Duncan Graham, a Scotchman, was the first of these. He settled on Graham's Island where he built a trading post immediately succeeding the war of 1812-15, and continued there for a number of years. A granddaughter of Graham, now the wife of Major Cramsie, the Indian agent, is living at Fort Totten remains of the old post are still visible. Grahams Island was named for this man.

Augustus Rock, a Canadian Frenchman, established a second trading post on what is now known as Rock Island (named for him), a few years after Captain Graham's settlement. G. H. Faribault, a grandson of Captain Graham, is now a resident of Rock Island. Mr. Faribault accompanied Major Forbes to Fort Totten in may, 1871 in the capacity of farm manager and Indian interpreter, and has been a resident of Rock Island for nearly three years.

Frank Palmer made the first claim in Ramsey County early in 1880, but E Thompson, of Thompson's Bay, was the first person to make a claim and occupy it, which he did in 1880. Palmer's claim adjoins Thompson's. Another settler was a man named Hunter, and two others named Becker and Tom Graham settled near by. These were the first settlers in the county outside of Fort Totten, and were all four discharged soldiers from the fort. Becker and Graham are located on Rock Island east of Creel's bay. The four soldiers all took claims at the same time.

D. W Ensigh, from Illinois, and Major Benham, from Michigan, settled on Devils Lake in the fall of 1882.


Ramsey County was organized on the 25th of January, 1883, by the Commissioners appointed by the Governor, to wit: D. W Ensign, Chairman; E V. Barton, G. S Moore, who met at Devils Lake City, a town laid out by Messrs. Ensign, Benham and Co., located about two miles southeast of the City of Devils Lake, near the main lake, on Sections 1 and 12, in town 153, Range 64. This place was chosen as the county seat at the first meeting of the commissioners. A substantial frame court house was constructed, and the town had a rapid growth for several months. There were several stores, a hotel, and good number of dwellings; but when the railway line was located a half mile to the north, and Creel City (now City of Devils Lake), was laid out, and commenced building up rapidly, the older town lost its hold and business gradually departed to the more fortunate location. The county seat was changed to the new town, and the court house was cut in twain and hauled over on wheels. The court house was about the last building to be removed, all the others having departed previously. It now stands on a stone basement which contains a strong jail for the safe keeping of prisoners.

The present county officers are the following: Commissioners, E V. Barton, D. W Ensign, H. H. Ruger; Register of Deeds, John a. Percival; Clerk of the Court, T. C. Saunders; Judge of Probate, James Linden; Sheriff, Chas. F. Smith; Coroner, Dr. A. B. Bennett; Treasurer, Captain J. W Palmer; Superintendent of Schools, James V. Brooke; Surveyor, Frank Alexander; Justices, John W Bennett, P. J. McClory, J. A. Locke; Constables Thomas Fassett, A. J. Wirtz.

In the fall of 1883, the population of the county was estimated by residents at 5,000, and this number has been materially increased.

The soil is mostly a deep, rich, black loam, with a mixture of sand sufficient to make it warm and "quick". It is under laid by a subsoil of clay. In the fall of 1883 it was estimated that 15,000 acres had been brought under cultivation; 5,000 acres adjacent to Devils Lake City; 3,000 in the Grand Coulee country, and 2,000 around the Sweet Water Lakes. This area has been greatly enlarged the present year, and the country is being rapidly improved in all directions.