XV: North Dakota
For most of the last 2.5 million years, North Dakota has been covered by a sheet of ice over 5000 feet thick. In more recent times as the ice began to melt, a massive lake covered the eastern part of the state. At its largest extent, Lake Agassiz had a surface area of 110,000 square miles, far larger than all of the current great lakes combined, and it spread out over eastern North Dakota, northwest Minnesota, and parts of Ontario and Manitoba. Until about 8,000 years ago, its outlet to the north was blocked by the massive Laurentide Ice Sheet, so it emptied to the south, carving out the Minnesota and Mississippi River Valleys. As the ice sheet melted, the lake became separated from Hudson Bay by a thinner and thinner bridge of ice and about 8,000 years ago this bridge of ice burst and a torrent of fresh water was released into the north Atlantic. In a very short period of time this affected the level of the oceans worldwide. There have been theories postulated that it was responsible for the filling in of the English Channel, making Britain an island and it was also then that the Mediterrean Sea overflowed into the basin that became the Black Sea.
The Red River system ultimately developed which would drain this entire region north to Hudson Bay. Remnants of the great lake remain today as Lake Winnipeg, Lake Winnipegosis, Lake Manitoba and Lake of the Woods.146 The lakebed, when it dried out, became the flat, fertile
Red River Valley of the North. Its western shore became the Pembina Ridge,
and from there, westward, the land slopes gradually up to the drift plains, low,
undulating hills, shaped like drifts of snow.147
The climate gradually warmed enough for a sea of prairie
grass to grow. The semiarid climate limited trees to the banks of streams,
and the grasslands stretched as far as the eye could see. The grass attracted
great herds of buffalo, herds so massive that the ground would seem to shake,
and it would sound like thunder when they would stampede. Still later, American
Indians would brave the severe climate to base their whole survival on following
and hunting these animals.148
Just as in the Ohio Valley, the French were the first
Europeans to visit and lay claim to this land. In the 1730s, Pierre Gaultier
de Varnnes, sieur de la Verendrye, discovered a canoe route from Lake Superior
to Lake Winnipeg, and opened Manitoba to the fur trade. In 1738 he led an expedition
into North Dakota, but there were never any permanent French settlements. In
1762, the French ceded their North American holdings west of the Mississippi
River to Spain, and the following year with the conclusion of the French and
Indian War, the lands east of the Mississippi and all of Canada were turned
over to the British. In what is now North Dakota the areas drained
by the Mouse and Red Rivers were British. The rest of the state, drained by the Missouri River was Spanish. The British from Fort Garry (Winnipeg)
in Manitoba established trading posts along the Missouri River at the mouth of
the Knife River, even though this was technically Spanish, French or, after 1803,
American land. In 1812 a group of settlers from Manitoba, established the first
permanent white settlement at Pembina.149
By 1800, French power had again greatly increased under
the leadership of Napoleon, and they had persuaded the Spanish to cede back
this land, to France. Alarmed that the French may hinder American shipping through
the port of New Orleans, President Thomas Jefferson began to bargain with the
French government, and in 1803, the French, increasingly short of money because
of their struggle with Great Britain, agreed to sell the entire property, called
Louisiana, to the United States. 150 The
boundary, between the British and the Americans, was finally fixed by the Treaty
of Paris which followed a few years after the War of 1812. It was signed in
1818 and established the 49th parallel as the border between British and American
territory from the Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains.151
Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Lewis
and Clark Expedition passed through the state on their way up the Missouri
River. They found the British trading post, but otherwise no other European influences.
It is in North Dakota that the Shoshone woman, Sakajawea, joins the expedition
as a guide. After Lewis and Clark returned home, the area they had explored
became of much more interest to Americans. Although it would still be a long
time before many permanent settlers would come, fur traders and trappers were
soon scouring the territory for animal pelts, which they would bring back to
St. Louis and sell for enormous profits.
The buffalo would eventually attract white hunters,
and as the 19th century wore on this resource would steadily decline. The Indians
would feel pressure from European settlers coming into Minnesota at the same
time as their buffalo were being depleted on the plains. This would lead to
the great Minnesota massacres in the Minnesota River Valley in 1862.152 Three
hundred and fifty settlers were killed by the Sioux. Subsequent military campaigns
then drove the Indians west of the Missouri River in the Dakota Territory.
The Dakota Territory was established in 1861, and in
1863 the Territory was opened for homesteading. The first segment of the Northern
Pacific Railroad was built in 1872. It crossed the Red River at Fargo and extended
west. In 1875 the first bonanza farms were established in the Red River Valley.
Bonanza farms were very large operations, generally financed by outside investors
and were over 3000 acres in size. There were well known bonanza farms at McCanna,
and at Larimore, both within 25 miles of where the Wises and Elvicks would
settle in Nelson County. These farms flourished in the early years before much
of the land was taken up by smaller settlers. The North Dakota land boom began
in 1879. The St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway entered the Territory
that year. This would be built westward from Grand Forks across the state during
the 1880s. This railroad was being built across Nelson County about the time
the Wise family moved there from Ohio. Family tradition held that the Wise sons
went to North Dakota to work on the railroad.
The St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway (after
1889 known as the Great Northern Railway) came across Nelson County in 1882
when the line was built from Larimore to one mile west of Bartlett. The Michigan
City depot was constructed in 1883 and the first passenger train arrived that
year. Nelson County was also formed in 1883, and the name was given by a judge,
Judson LaMorre, who named the county after his father-in-law N. E. Nelson. (I
can remember as a small child thinking it was named after my father, Nelson Elvick.)
The first of the Lamb brothers, who founded the town, was there in 1882. The
town of Michigan City was platted in April, 1883, and lots were sold beginning
on that date. (Officially the town is still Michigan City, but City was dropped
informally from the name when a carload of iron ore destined for Michigan City,
Indiana, arrived by mistake early in 1883.) Settlers began arriving and the land
around Michigan was farmed for the first time that year.
The Wise brothers were here by 1884 when they applied for homesteads about one-half mile south of the Michigan town site. Nels Elvick was here by 1885 when he appeared on the 1885 Dakota Territory mid-decade census. The Wise family was here looking for work and a new start. Charles, George, Ebenezer, Henry, Rosa and Malinda, herself, all took advantage of the Homestead Act and filed claims for 160 acres of land each. There is family lore that Rosa was also earning a living by making and selling hats, a trade she would have learned in Ohio. Her aunt, Mary Alexander and two of Mary’s daughters, had been milliners back in Gallipolis.
The land claimed by Rosa happened to be adjoining a quarter section being claimed by Nels Elvick. When it came time for Rosa to register her homestead claim in the county seat at Lakota, she was accompanied by Nels, who had to testify that the required improvements were taking place on her land. Family lore attributes this circumstance as the beginning of their courtship and marriage. The marriage took place in Grand Forks in 1888.
Within the next several years each of the Wises, except Rosa, had sold off their land and moved on.153 William did not homestead and the only evidence he was ever here is his presence on that 1885 census. Charles name does not appear on the 1885 census, but is on a homestead application here a year earlier, so it was probably he who was back in Ohio taking care of the family’s legal problems when the census was being taken. He eventually moved on, first to Minneapolis, and later to Seattle. George, Ebenezer and Henry all stayed in North Dakota but each moved away from this immediate area. Only John Anthony and Martha were still living back in Ohio. Lincoln was living in Nebraska City, Nebraska. He had not come to North Dakota.
Nels Elvick had left Norway in 1879 at the age of 19. On the 1880 census he was working as a farmhand on a farm in Worth County, Iowa. This is a very rural county that borders the Minnesota State line roughly between Austin, Minnesota, and Mason City, Iowa. He was later fond of telling the story about how he plowed land, walking behind a team of horses, and that he couldn’t figure out how they could actually pay him for just doing that. Locating him on the 1880 census was a formidable task. When a fully indexed 1880 census was published in the year 2000, I was sure it would be easy to find him, but whichever way the name Elvick was spelled I couldn’t find any entry. Finally I went through the entire Worth County census line by line, looking either for Elvick or Otterstad, but still no luck. Months later the thought struck me that he might have succumbed to the Norwegian tradition of changing the last name whenever you moved. (Or whenever you felt like it.) His father’s given name was Hans, so why not Nels Hanson? Sure enough, there he was on the census record as a farmhand named Nels Hanson.
After about four years he had saved enough money to start out on his own and he moved on to Nelson County, North Dakota. Probably the reason he came to this particular area was because of the available land. He appears to be the first of the Norwegians from the Vaksdal and Modalen areas in Norway to settle here. Later there were others who would follow.
The Kallestad family lived only about one to two miles, as the crow flies, from the Elvik farm in Norway. These families were lifelong friends, and also distantly related. Both families settled around Michigan, North Dakota. The Masters family also came from the same county in Norway as the Kallestads and Elvicks. In the 1930s there was a marriage between the Kallestads and Masters (Minnie Masters and John Kallestad). There were also other Elvik families from the Elvik farm in Norway who came to the USA. It might have been one of these families who provided Nels Elvick with his first farm work in Iowa. Another one of these families, the Knut Elvik family, settled first in South Dakota and then came to Williams Township in Nelson County and later in life moved to the neighboring town of Lakota. Mrs. Nels (Inga) Orvik was a sister of Knut. When Nels Elvick returned to Norway for a visit in 1901, Inga returned with him and for a while worked on the Elvick farm, and then worked for other farm families in the area before marrying Nels Orvik. Nels Orvik’s brother, Kohn, later married Nelson Elvick’s sister, Lillie.
The Knut Elvik, Kallestad, and Masters families do not appear in the 1885 census records for Nelson County. On the 1900 and 1910 censuses residents were asked when they emigrated from a foreign country, and this fixes their year of immigration as 1883. The 1900 census also lists the oldest Knut Elvik child as being born in South Dakota. Kallestad family lore also has the family coming first to South Dakota. They would have settled in Nelson County sometime after 1885. It would appear, then, that Nels Elvick was here first and the rest followed.
The first land settled by George, Charles and Malinda was just south of the townsite of Michigan. The Nels Elvick farm was about 5 miles further south and was first homesteaded by Ebenezer and Henry Wise. Eventually the land they homesteaded was sold to Nels Elvick, and they moved on to other townships, Ebenezer to Williams Township and Henry to Wamduska Township. The rest of the original farm was acquired by homestead applications, separately from Rosa and Nels, from purchase from Telisphore Tavoran, presumably a neighbor, and by purchase from the US government under the Public Land Sale Act of 1820 (pre-emption). So entering the 20th century, the Nels Elvick farm contained six quarter sections, these being all of section 31 and the East ½ of section 32 of South Michigan Township (152-58), and totaling about 960 acres.
Nels Elvick154 had left Norway in 1879 at the age of 19 and came first to Worth County, Iowa and then about 4-5 years later moved on to North Dakota and probably arrived there about 1884-1885 and so arrived there about the same time as the Wise family. He was unaccompanied by any other family members. There were ten children in the Henry and Malinda Wise family. Caroline died in 1866. John Anthony and Martha both stayed behind in Ohio. Lincoln moved on to Nebraska City, Nebraska and the rest of them, Charles, William, Ebenezer, George, Rosa and Henry moved to North Dakota in 1884 with Malinda. William was present in Nelson County for the 1885 census, but that is the only record there for him, and it is suspected that he moved on to Colorado. So at the beginning of the 20th century, it was just Nels and Rosa with their growing family, and Rosa’s brother, George who still lived in the immediate area.