Trails to the Past

Williams County North Dakota Biographies

Compendium of History and Biography
of North Dakota

Published by George A. Ogle & CO. in 1900





R. H. COPELAND, a prominent attorney of Williston, is also engaged in newspaper work in that town, and is editor and publisher of the "Williston Graphic." He is well known in Williams county, and is held in the highest esteem by his many friends.

Our subject was born in Kirkland, Ohio, in July, 1830. His father. Dr. William Copeland, was born in England, and came to America in 1839 with his family. He was a physician all his life and died in 1842. The grandfather of our subject, John Copeland, was an officer in the British service. Our subject's mother, Susannah Pledges, was born in London, and was left an orphan at an early age.

Mr. Copeland was the youngest in a family of six children, four of whom grew to maturity. He attended the common schools, and at the age of fifteen years finished the printer's trade, at which trade he worked until 1859. He then established the "Sparta Democrat," at Sparta, Wisconsin. The paper was Democratic, and Mr. Copeland operated the same one year, and in 1861 founded the "Alma Journal," at Alma, Wisconsin. He conducted the same until 1864, and then disposed of the plant, and the paper is still published there. Mr. Copeland bought the "Wabasha Herald" in 1864, and sold it one year later, and in 1865 went to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and established the "West Eau Claire Argus," and in 1871 bought the "Eau Claire News," which he conducted four years. He went to North Dakota in 1882 and settled at Grand Forks, and was engaged on the "Grand Forks Plain Dealer." and in the spring of that year located at Villard. on the Mouse river. He established the "Villard Leader" in 1886. This was the first newspaper west of Devil's Lake and north of Washburn, and was conducted by Mr. Copeland until 1889. He went to Washburn in 1890 and founded the "Washburn Leader," and was there several years. He was state's attorney of McLean county three years. He moved to Towner in 1894, and to Williston one year later, and then established the "Graphic." This was the pioneer paper of Williston, and was issued first July 2, 1895, and is published weekly. The paper is independent in politics and enjoys a good circulation. Mr. Copeland was admitted to the bar in 1890, and has built up a lucrative business in his profession.

Our subject was married, in 1860, to Miss Huntington, a native of Connecticut, and a granddaughter of S. A. Huntington, of Connecticut, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Mrs. Copeland was a lady of high attainments, and followed teaching as a profession before her marriage. One child was born to Mr. and Mrs. Copeland, a daughter, named Minnie, whose birth is dated 1862. Our subject is a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. He went overland to Dakota in the pioneer days, and experienced the hardships of life in the west before the settlers had transformed it into a thriving farming and business district.

ERNEST R. BROWNSON. The educational interests of North Dakota are not without able representatives and a foremost place among those who are engaged in Williams county is accorded the gentleman above named. He is principal of the Williston high schools and has accomplished much in educational advancement since taking up his work there.

Our subject was born on a farm in Allegan county, Michigan, May 3, 1870. His father, Alfred i5rownson, was of English-Scotch descent, and was a farmer by occupation. His ancestors participated in the early American wars and the family settled in Vermont in the early days. Our subject's mother, who bore the maiden name of Adalaide McRay, was of Scotch-English descent and her ancestors came to America in 1639 and settled in Connecticut. The paternal grandfather of our subject, Joel Brownson, served in the war of 1812. The parents of our subject were married in Michigan and of their family of four sons, our subject was the third in order of birth. He spent his boyhood on the home farm and attended the common schools until twelve years of age and then began to work out for the neighboring farmers. He went to North Dakota in 1884 and joined his father in the western part of Sargent county, where he had located in 1882, and he worked for others by the month and attended school in the country until eighteen years of age. He then attended Oakes high school and paid his way by doing janitor work, and at tlie age of twenty years taught his first term of school. He taught one year and then entered McAllister College at St. Paul and after one year there returned to North Dakota. His brother had died suddenly and the charge of the home farm largely devolved upon him for three years and he then taught school and also attended to the farm. In the fall of 1885 he entered the Valley City Normal School and graduated in the scientific course with the class of 1897. Soon after he accepted a position of the Williston high school as principal, and has done very efficient work there since, and is now retained for the fourth year. The school has been reorganized and graded, and five teachers aside from Mr. Brownson are now employed, and the attendance is 212 pupils. In 1898 our subject established a ranch near White Earth, North Dakota, and engages in cattle raising to some extent. He has experienced pioneer life in North Dakota with all its blizzards and prairie fires, but despite these has remained to witness its advancement and aid materially in the same.

Mr. Brownson was married, December 27, 1898, to Miss Francis A. Williams, a native of Wisconsin. Mrs. Brownson is a daughter of Minor S. Williams, a prominent ranchman of White Earth, North Dakota, who has served six years as county commissioner of Ward county. Mr. and Mrs. Brownson are the parents of one child, born March 23, 1900, Who bears the name of Ada Clair. Mr. Brownson is a member of the Modern Woodmen of America, and was a charter member of Williston Lodge, No. 5396. Our subject and wife are active members of the Congregational church, and Mr. Brownson is chairman of the board of trustees of that denomination, and is president of the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor, and takes a prominent part in the affairs of the church socially.

WILLIAM H. DENNY, cashier of the Williams County State Bank, is one of the prominent business men of Williston, North Dakota. He has spent many years in that part of North Dakota and has witnessed its development and has aided in the advancement of the locality in which he has made his home.

Our subject was born in Sibley county, Minnesota, March 17, 1870. His father, William Denny, was born in New York and was a gunsmith by trade. The grandfather came from Germany and settled near Buffalo. New York. Our subject's mother, whose maiden name was M. E. Josline, was of Scotch descent. She was left an orphan when young and was raised near Lansing, Michigan. Our subject's parents were married prior to the Civil war and moved to .Minnesota in 1806. Of their family of five children our subject was the third in order of birth. He was raised in Glencoe, Minnesota, until fifteen years of age and attended the village school and also the Anoka Business College, and at the age of seventeen years started for himself. He worked in various stores in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and in the fall of 1889 went to Montana and was engaged as a cowboy there. He then spent seven years selling horses in North Dakota and in July, 1897, entered the Benson County State Bank at Minnewaukon, North Dakota. He remained with that institution two years and in February, 1899, went to Williston, Williams county. North Dakota, and established the Williams County State Bank in company with C. H. Davidson, who is president, and T. L. Beiseker, vice-president. Our subject became cashier and the bank opened for business February 13, 1899. They contemplate changing it in the near future into a National Bank with a capital stock of twenty-five thousand dollars, owing to the growing business of the institution. It is one of the solid financial enterprises of northwestern Dakota, and under the guidance of Mr. Denny has met with decided success.

Our subject was married, March 8, 1899, to Miss Kate Huffnail, a native of Wisconsin. Mrs. Denny is a daughter of William H. Huffnail, a teaching physician of Osceola; Wisconsin. She Denny is a lady of excellent education and engaged in teaching school several terms. Mr. Denny is the present town and school treasurer and enjoys the confidence of all.

THOMAS R. FORBES is one of the well-known old settlers and prosperous merchants of Buford, Williams county. He was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on the present site of the Ryan Hotel, February 11, 1859.

The father of our subject. Major William H. Forbes, was an associate in the mercantile business with N. W. Kittson, and was also an Indian trader. He was commissioned with General Sibley in his campaign in Dakota, and during the latter part of the Rebellion was in the commissary department of the army in Missouri. He was prominent in the Civil war and also took a prominent part in the settlement of Minnesota. He was born in Canada and was of Scotch descent. He was married in Minnesota and was the first postmaster of St. Paul. Our subject's mother, whose maiden name was Amanda B. Corey, was born at Cooperstown. New York, and many of her ancestors were early settlers of this country and some served in the Revolutionary war.

Our subject was the third in his mothers family of four children, but also had half brothers and sisters. He spent his early boyhood in the South during the Civil war, and afterward attended college at Montreal, Canada. The father died while our subject was in college and he was forced to leave school and start for himself. He worked in a wholesale house in St. Paul about five years and in 1881 went to Bismarck, North Dakota, where he worked as clerk on a steamer between Glendive and Terry's Landing, Montana, and in the fall clerked in a store in Miles City three months. He went to Fort Buford in the winter of that year, clerked in a store there four years and put the money in cattle, which he lost during a hard winter. In 1886 he assisted in the construction of the Great Northern Railroad in different places from Williston, Dakota, to Great Falls, Montana, and again bought cattle and lost about three hundred head. In die spring of 1888 he established a ranch twelve miles from Buford in partnership with K. G. Whistler, and continued thus until 1896, when he bought the ferry boat and followed the ferry business across the Missouri river at Buford two years, and still owns and operates the boat. In the fall of 1898 he established a general store at Williston for Hedrich Brothers, and he conducts the business as general manager. They carry a complete line of general merchandise, machinery, etc., and under the guidance of Mr. Forbes the business steadily increases.

Our subject was married, in 1898, to Miss Julia Lunde, a native of Iowa. Her father was a native of Norway. Mrs. Forbes was a dressmaker by trade and followed the business several years. She was also an instructor in the Indian schools, and a lady of rare attainments and excellent education. Our subject is a member of the Sons of Veterans and Modern Woodmen of America. Politically he is a Democrat.

NORMAN A. STEWART, state's attorney of Williams county, is a gentleman well versed in his profession, and has built up an extensive and lucrative practice in Williston. He was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada, on a farm, in 1846.

The father of our subject, Angus Stewart, was born in Scotland and came to America in 1841 and settled on Prince Edward Island. He was a farmer throughout his career. The grandfather of our subject, Norman Stewart, served in the British army. Our subject's mother was born in Scotland and bore the maiden name of Katrine McKinnon. The parents were married in Scotland, and of their family of seven children our subject was the fifth in order of birth. He attended the country schools and assisted with the farm work and later attended the Provincial Normal School and Prince of Wales College and was graduated in 1865. He taught his first term of school at the age of nineteen years and continued school work ten years in county and city schools and for six years as superintendent of schools. He went to Bismarck, North Dakota, in 1881, and clerked in the First National Bank. He soon afterward went to Minneapolis and studied law and then to Duluth, after which he moved to Michigan and was there admitted to the bar and followed his first practicing there. He went to Minneapolis in 1889 and from there went to North Dakota and settled in Bottineau, and continued the practice of his profession. While there he was elected state's attorney and served two terms, and in the fall of 1894 went to Williston and established his office there. He was elected state's attorney in Williams county in 1894 and re-elected in 1896 and 1898, and is now serving his fifth term in that capacity. He practices in the district, supreme and federal courts and has an ever-increasing patronage. He engaged in farming in Bottineau county to some extent, and at present has two farms there.

Our subject was married, in 1876. to Miss Harriet A. Domville. a native of Canada. Her father, James Domville, was a farmer and merchant. He was an officer in the English army. The family has been in America for generations. Four children have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, who are named as follows: Annie B., Effie M., Spurgeon D. and Harriet P., of whom two were born in Canada and two in the United States. Mr. Stewart is prominent in affairs of the Republican party and has attended numerous county and state conventions and is earnest in his convictions. He has a good knowledge of his profession, and is energetic and possessed of a character of the highest integrity, and is deservedly successful in his work in North Dakota.

JUDGE JAMES W. TRUAX, county judge of Williams county, was born in Ogdensburgh, St. Lawrence county. New York, August 18, 1836. He has been a resident of Lawrence county since its early settlement and is thoroughly posted in the affairs of the northwestern portion of the state.

James W. Truax was the sixth child in a family of eleven children born to Daniel W. and Sarah (Wright) Truax. The father was a steamboat man on the St. Lawrence river and was born at Schenectady, New York. The Truax family are of French descent, the father of our subject being born in Paris and coming to the United States when a young man. The mother of our subject was born in Whitehall, Vermont, and was of English lineage. James W. Truax was reared on a farm and attended the public schools of the neighborhood. When he was fifteen years of age he accompanied the family to Hastings, Minnesota, and was employed as clerk in a store. The next year he accompanied a party of government surveyors and assisted in surveying all the country between the Minnesota river and the Iowa line. He then engaged for a time in locating lands and worked for others on the farm for several years. In 1862 he enlisted in Company B, Second Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry. He accompanied his regiment to Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, and from there did scout duty all through Missouri and Arkansas and later through Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. He was in the service altogether three years and in active service two years. He returned home in 1865 and for some time ill health prevented his doing any hard labor. He purchased wheat, clerked in a store and speculated for several years after the war and in 1879 was employed by the Great Northern Railroad  as foreman of car repairs. He remained in the employ of that company for eighteen years. During this time he was steadily pushed west and in 1889 was placed in charge of car repairs and wrecking at Minot, North Dakota. In 1895 he went to Williston and in 1898 quit the service of the company. He took land two and a half miles from Williston and took up his residence thereon. He still owns this farm and it is a valuable piece of property.

Judge Truax was married, in Minnesota, in 1858. of Miss C. A. Wheeler, of St. Lawrence county, New York, and to this union five children have been born. He was again, in 1875, married to Mrs. Rosie B. Stone. Of this union three children have been born. In political faith the Judge has been a Republican all his life and has taken an active interest in public matters. He was elected county judge in 1898 and is still serving in that capacity. He has been able and upright as a judge and has always done his duty with a fidelity to principles of justice and the interests of his fellow men.  He is a member of the Masonic fraternity.


FRED J. WALDRON, county superintendent of schools of Williams county, has won for himself an enviable position among the educators of North Dakota in the brief time he has been a resident of that state.

Mr. Waldron was born at Waterville, :Minnesota, March 17, 1872. He was the youngest child in a family of four children born to Jacob C. and Amanda A. (Thrasher) Waldron. The father was of English descent, born in Canada, and was a farmer all his life. His mother was of Scotch-English descent, her father having been born in Scotland.

Our subject was reared on a farm in St. Croix county, Wisconsin, where he found plenty of hard farm work to do, besides his experience in saw-mill work, which claimed a portion of his time. He attended school during the winter months until he was seventeen years of age, when the family moved to a farm near Roberts, Wisconsin. He attended the village school of Roberts and later the Hudson high school one year. He taught his first term of school at the age of nineteen years, and two years later entered the River Fall Normal School. He continued there one year and then engaged in teaching. He entered the West Superior Normal School at the age of twenty-four years and graduated from that institution in the elementary course and received a five-years' state certificate. In 1897 he came to North Dakota, arriving in Williams county July 8 of that year. On account of his mother's death the same year as his graduation the family was broken up and separated, the father going to Leadville, Colo, to live with his sister.

On his arrival in Williams county Mr. Waldron went on a ranch to recuperate his health, which had been threatened by close application and hard work. For many years he had not only paid his own way at school, but had assisted in the support of the family. He spent the summer on a ranch, and in the fall taught the Stony Creek school. He met with great success, and in the fall of 1898 was elected county superintendent of schools of Williams county by a large majority vote. He continued to teach at Stony Creek for another year, and then, in 1899, accepted a position in the Williston high school, a position he still holds. In political sentiment Mr. Waldron is a Republican and is a member of the Modern Woodmen of .America. He has evidenced a capacity for educational work by a general advancement in the grade of work done in the schools of the county, and he is well known as a thorough educator and school man.




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