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Andreas' 1884 Historical Atlas of Dakota

[Note: In 1884, the county was eleven years old, and at final size as the portion for Benson had been removed in 1883. North Dakota was still five years away from becoming a state.]

This prominent county lies in the northeast part of the Territory, within the water shed of the Red River of the North, and is bounded as follows: north by Cavalier and Towner counties; south by Foster County; east by Nelson and Walsh counties, and west by Benson County. It contains about the equivalent of 27 1/2 congressional townships, 990 square miles or 633,600 acres. From this amount must be deducted about 100 square miles or 64,000 acres, for the area covered by water, of which the portion of Devils Lake in this county includes about seventy nine square miles or 50,600 acres; the Sweet water Lakes, thirteen squares miles or 8,320 acres, and Dry Lake ( as its name implies, sometimes dry), and land surface equal to 890 square miles or 569,600 acres. About one tenth of the surface of the county is water. With the exception of the Sweet Water Lakes, this water is salt or brackish.

Minnewaukan, or Devils Lake, has a length in a right line east-southeast and west-northwest, of thirty-two miles, but measured along the center of its channel it stretches out to a length of about forty-five miles. The water of this lake resembles that of the ocean, holding in solution chloride of sodium, magnesium, sulphate and carbonate of soda and lime, The lake abounds in splendid fish of the pike family, known as pickerel weighing from a few pounds to thirty pounds each. Bathing in this lake is highly recommended for nervous and rheumatic diseases.

The water, which is exceedingly clear, varies greatly in depth, the deepest places reaching 100 feet or more. A broad and beautiful sandy beach extends along the margin in many localities, and in places a person can wade to a distance of fifty yards from shore without getting beyond depth. The lake varies in width from 300 yards to six miles, the widest point being nearly opposite Tort Totten. It is wonderfully diversified in its outline, and abounds in picturesque bays, narrow straits and broad reaches of deep blue water, on which the storm king often raises white capped surges worthy of Lake Michigan. Its principal subdivisions are West Bay, Tellers Bay, Creel's Bay, Lamoreaux Bay, Devil's Heart or Donahue's Bay, Mission Bay, Fort Totten Bay, Hill's Bay, and Mauvais Bay. The distance around the shore of this lake, measuring its sinuosities, is about 130 miles. The north shore of the lake is comparatively level, or gently undulating, but on the southern side it is rough, broken and hilly in many portions. The highest elevations are the Devil's Heart near the southwest extremity of Donahue's Bay, and Sully' Hill across the bay, northeast from Fort Totten.

The high point known as Devil's Heart is situated near the southwest extremity of Donahue's Bay, about eight miles east, southeast from Fort Totten, and is the highest elevation in the vicinity of the lake. It rises, solitary and alone, in the midst of the prairie to the height of several hundred feet above the common level, and is visible for many miles in all directions, the views from its breezy top is extensive and interesting , covering the whole Devils Lake country, and very probably the outlines of the Turtle Mountains. There are considerable hills around the west end of the lake, but between these and Fort Totten it is comparatively level. In places the banks are abrupt and filled with boulders of the drift period, and these are frequently found in other localities. This lake, and others contiguous, are probably the result of glacial action, or of diluvial action in the Champlain epoch.

The islands and peninsulas in and around this curious body of water abound in excellent timber, much of which has been reserved by the United States authorities for use at Fort Totten. The heaviest bodies are on Rock Island, 3,000 acres, and Graham's Island, 3,000 on the north shore. Narrow fringes of timber skirt the lake in many localities. Correctly speaking, both Graham's and Rock Island are peninsulas, though they were once surrounded by water.

The lake has no visible outlet, though there may be under-ground connection with the Sheyenne River on the south. The only stream worthy of mention tributary to it is the Grand Coulee, which comes down from the northwest, and in rainy seasons discharges a large amount of water. The lake has been diminishing for years, for the reason that the amount of evaporation exceeds the annual rain-fall. It is probable, however, that the settlement of the country will have the effect to increase the precipitation, and keep the level of the lake up to its present standard, or even increase its volume. The lake has receded some six feet in the last ten or twelve years.

The elevation of this lake above mean tide, as determined by careful observations, is stated to be 1,423 feet, and 814 feet above the level of Lake Superior. Sully's Hill has an elevation of 275 feet above the lake.

This region abounds in wild game, and especially wild fowl, including pelicans, geese, brant, sand-hill cranes, prairie and wood grouse, white breasted grouse, many varieties of ducks, including the celebrated canvas-back, mallard, red-head, blue-bill, spoon-bill, blue and green winged teal, and the shell drake. The curlew, golden plover, yellow-legged plover, prairie plover, sand-piper and many others abound in their season.

Large game is rapidly disappearing, but elk deer and antelope are still met with.

Taken from the Compendium of History of North Dakota

For "Ramsey county, the record of organization is as follows: January 25, 1883. D.W. Ensign, E.V. Barton and G.S. Moore, the three commissioners appointed for the purpose by the governor, met at Devil's Lake City. This was a town laid out by Ensign Benham & Co, about two miles southeast of the city of Devil's Lake, near the main lake, on sections 1 and 12, township 153 north, range 64 west. This place was chosen as the county seat. A substantial court house was erected and the town seemed to flourish. The railroad, however, was located a short distance away, and Creel Cit ( now the city of Devil's Lake) was laid out a few months later, when the superior advantages of the latter place drew the older place to it. The county seat was changed and the court house, as well as every other building of the former town, was removed to the site of its younger rival. The first officers elected were: E.V Barton, D.W. Ensign and H.H. Ruger, commissioners; J.A. Percival, register of deeds; T.C. Saunders, clerk of the court; Charles F. Smith, sheriff, and Capt. J.W. Palmer, treasurer. Ramsey county was created from part of Pembina county, by act of legislature. Several times its boundaries have been changed."

Grand Coulee

This is a long valley, extending from the west end of Devils Lake to the British line on the east side of the Turtle Mountains, a distance of about sixty miles. About twenty miles of this valley are in Ramsey County, the remainder in Towner County. The water-shed of this coulee is from ten to forty miles in width, and the entire region is very fertile. The stream in the center of this valley takes its rise near Cartwright, on the Turtle Mountain trail, about five miles north from the International boundary. In the rainy season a large amount of water discharges into Devils Lake, through this coulee, but in the dry season it diminishes to a small creek.

Lying in Towns 154 and 155 north, Ranges 63 and 64 west, is a large body of water known as Sweet Water Lake, or lakes covering over 8,000 acres. The water in this lake differs from all the water in the region in being perfectly pure and sweet, and as it is elevated about eighty feet above the city of Devil's Lake, and only five miles distant, the city can be easily supplied with excellent water at a nominal expense. A pipe line will be laid to the lake, and the pressure will carry water into the tops of the highest buildings. The lake is said to be very deep and clear. A considerable stream, made up from perennial springs flows into it from the northeast, and it has a probable outlet in seasons of surplus water through Dry Lake and the Grand Coulee.

There are many smaller lakes in the southern part of the county, mostly lying within a few miles of Devil's Lake. There are no streams of any importance flowing into the Sheyenne River which passes through the southwest corner of the county in the Indian Reservation.

The Cut Head Sioux Indian Reservation includes about the equivalent of six congressional townships in the south part of this county, and extends into Benson County on the west, and Foster County on the south. It includes within its borders the Fort Totten Military Reservation.

The first occupation of this region by the military forces of the United States dates from July, 1865, when General Sully arrived from Sioux City, Iowa with a force consisting of one battalion of the Thirtieth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, the Sixth and Seventh Iowa cavalry, the First Regiment of Dakota Cavalry, part of two regiments of Nebraska troops, one battalion Illinois troops, one battalion Eight Minnesota Infantry, and one battery of four guns under Captain Pope.

General Sully had left Sioux City in May, 1863, and moved up the Missouri river as far as old Fort Sully in Hughes County, and from thence attempted to reach Devil's Lake overland, but the season was a very dry one, and he was compelled to return to Fort Sully. He succeeded in getting through in 1865, after a severe fight with the Indians a few miles northwest of where Jamestown now stands.

On his arrival at Devils Lake, General Sully formed a camp on the slopes of Sully's Hill. At this time the Sioux chief Sitting Bull had full sway in this region.

General Sully remained here during three seasons, but erected no permanent works or buildings. In 1867 General Terry, who had been appointed commander of the Dakota department, arrived and commenced the erection of government buildings. These were at first constructed of wood, but have since been replaced with more substantial ones of brick manufactured on the ground. The post is considered one of the very best in its construction in the northwest, and presents a splendid appearance.

The military reservation, covering about 150 square miles including wood reserves on Graham's and Rock Island, was laid out in the same year. The Cut Head Sioux Indian Reservation covering about 400 square miles was laid out in 1868. The old military reservation has since been reduced to about twenty square miles. the establishment of Fort Totten which was named in honor of a former chief engineer of the United States Army, dates from July 17, 1867. (See General Military Chapter).

Where fort Totten now stands the Northwest Fur Company had a trading post many years ago. One of the buildings of this old post now forms a part of the dwelling of W. S. Peck.

Major Whistler, of the Twenty-second United States infantry, and Brigadier General of Volunteers, was the first post commander. In the fall of 1883, Colonel J. S. Conrad, of the Seventeenth United States Infantry, was in command with a post garrison, consisting of Company I, Seventh United States Cavalry, Captain T. H. Nolan, and Company C. Seventeenth United States Infantry, Captain M. Mc Arthur. The post has barracks and quarters for four companies. [For report of the Indian Agency, see general chapter.]

Gustave Korn, of Troop I, Seventh Cavalry, is the only man who escaped from Custer's command at the massacre on the Little Big Horn River in June, 1876, and his escape may be attributed to his horse taking fright at the beginning of the action and carrying him at break-neck pace into the camp of Major Reno. Korn is a Prussian by birth, about thirty-six years of age, and has been in the United States service about eleven years.

In August, 1867, Little Fish and 250 warriors came into the reservation, He is chief of the Wahpetons and fifty years of age. Iron Heart is a subordinate chief of the Sessetons, and about the same age.

Wanata is chief of the Cut Head Sioux and about sixty years of age. The Cut Heads form the principal portion of the Indians in this reservation. Big Track and Red Shield [Red Shield is a war chief of the Cut Head Sioux, and has been in many conflicts with the Indians and Whites. David Macdonald, Civil engineer of Chicago, has a splendid specimen of an Indian pipe manufactured from the famous red pipe stone of Minnesota, which the Chief presented him, with his compliments, in exchange for an American silver dollar in September, 1883. The Chief had carried it through all his campaigns, including the siege of Fort Abercrombie. It is a historic relic well worth preserving.] are sub-chiefs under Wanata. A cousin of Little Fish living on the reservation lost an eye at the siege of Fort Abercrombie in 1862.

The Indians, generally, on this reservation, have given up many of their old customs and habits and donned the apparel of the whites. A few of the older chiefs are loath to give up their Indian finery and the trappings of rank. Wanata, the hereditary chief, still dresses in the ancient garb of his race. The young men and maidens are gradually adopting the dress and the manners of the whites. The older squaws wear beads, tinsel jewelry and moccasins.

Among the Indians are about 300 farmers, each occupying with his family a home of his own, generally a log cabin, which the women keep in very neat order. many of them are furnished with carpets, chairs and upholstered furniture, and there is as much outward appearance of prosperity as can be seen around the average pioneer home of the white settler.

The mission station located at the head of Mission Bay, is under the management of the Catholics. Sister Chaplin of the Grey Nuns has charge of the girls school, and the boys' department is conducted by Reverand Fathers Carew and Jerome. The efforts of the missionaries have not been without effect on the savages. Their habits, customs, modes of living and, to a certain extent, their religious ideas, have been materially changed, and from a nomadic life and uncertain mode of living they have settled down to fixed habits and pursuits and, outwardly, at least, exchanged their heathen belief for the religious doctrines and ceremonies of the Christian. The most valuable of these changes, as time will certainly determine, is their adoption of a civilized mode of living and the habit of cultivating the soil. Civilization will surely follow and the time is not far distant when our Indian population will form an important and wealthy portion of the nation.

In the place of the Indian marriage ceremonies they have adopted that of the white people, and the priest generally officiates at their weddings.

They have adopted the burial system of the whites and a huge wooden cross marks the cemetery devoted to the burial of their dead. For a more particular sketch of their religious belief, language, customs, ceremonies, etc., see general chapters.

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.

Agustus 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. Ensign, 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 & 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.

City of Devils Lake

This busy, growing and important city, situated mostly on Sections 33 and 34, in Town 154, Range 64, at the head of Creel's bay, was first settled by Lieut. H. M. Creel, Colonel C. H. Uline, Wm. C. Farrington and Gardner S Moore, who made claims of the land now occupied by the city some time in 1882. The Oswald brothers and a man named List were also interested at one time, but sold their interests to the parties first named. A house, the first on the town site, was erected by the syndicate in October, 1882, previous to the laying out of the town. The survey of the town, which was at first Creelsburg, was completed July 25, 1883, and certified to by John Farrington, one of the trustees and owners. The St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba railway Company owns a five-eights interest in the town site.

The town proprietors erected the second building in March, 1883, for a business office. The first regular passenger train on the railway reached the place July 14, 1883.

A United States Land District, with an office located at this place, was set apart in the summer of 1883. The office was opened for business August 1, 1883. the district embraces a region nearly 100 miles square, bounded as follows: "commencing at a point on the 12th standard parallel between Ranges 63 and 64 west, thence north to the international boundary line, thence west along said boundary line to the 11th guide meridian, thence south along said meridian to the 12the standard parallel, thence east to the place of the beginning."

The officers at the land office are H. W. Lord, register and A. O. Whipple, receiver. A very heavy business has been transacted by this office since its establishment. The district embraces an area of about 6,000,000 acres.

The majority of the land within a radius of seven miles around the City of Devils Lake was claimed by squatters previous to its being surveyed.

The first lot sold in Creel City, as it was at first named, was lot 14 in block 24 for $750, by the railroad company on the 21st of May, 1883, to T. T. Lee, for a general store.

The town has had many additions and in the fall of 1883 the original plat and additions covered 1,137 acres. The lots then numbered 3,503, of which 400 had been sold for an aggregate sum of $200,000. The sales of a single day reached in some instances $20,000. The highest price paid for a lot to the time mentioned was $3,250.

The town is laid out on a liberal scale, with wide streets, and a boulevard 100 feet in width fronting the bay.

A range of low hills or high rolling prairie, technically known in local parlance as the "Devil's Back Bone," sweeps across the country east and west at a distance of about five miles north from the city. The land on this swell or ridge is all excellent for cultivation.

The first religious services were held in the town site company's office by Rev. Smith, a Presbyterian Minister, May 20, 1883.

There are several organizations in the place, including Presbyterians and Episcopalians, and some of them have erected houses of worship.

A private school was taught in the summer of 1883 by Mrs. Brainard. Steps have been taken to establish public schools, and probably by the time this work reaches the place, a school will be in successful operation, for the people of this region are in no degree behind the other wide awake citizens of the Territory.

There are two important banking institutions. The Bank of Devils Lake, the oldest in the county, organized under the laws of the Territory with a capital of $25,000, does a general business, including the sale of domestic and foreign exchange, money loans and collections. A. M Ferris, president; H. G. Stone, vice-president; O. B. Corsett, cashier.

The North Shore Bank of H. L. Prescott and J. A. Burnett, does a general banking business; loans money on real estate, deals in exchange and makes collections a specialty.

There is also a large number of real estate offices, about thirty attorneys, several physicians and resident clergymen, insurance agents, and every variety of business usually found in towns of like importance. A very large mercantile business is transacted with the surrounding country, including a considerable wholesale trade. Several firms have branch houses at St. John's, Bottineau, and Rolette or Willow Creek, at the foot of the Turtle Mountains. The Turtle Mountain and Mouse River country will no doubt contribute largely to the trade of Devils Lake in the near future.


The press is well represented in this ambitious city. The pioneer journal was the North Dakota Inter Ocean, established in Devils Lake, March 31, 1883, when there was but one house (log), by H. C. Hansbrough, who still continues it. It is a five column quarto, handsomely got up and well conducted, with a good advertising patronage and subscription of 1,000. It is published in a well constructed building, 22 x 58 feet in dimensions, and fitted up with one of the best printing outfits in Dakota. Mr. Hansbrough is present Postmaster, having succeeded H. M Creel the first incumbent.

The Devils Lake Pioneer Press was established by Albert M Powell. Mr. Powell subsequently sold to his partner, and he in turn to H. M Creel, the present proprietor. Mr. Powell was for a time editor after Creel purchased the paper, in April, 1883. It is a seven-column folio, with an attractive heading including a miniature bird's-eye view of the Devils Lake region, and is well filled with choice miscellany and current news, and has a large advertising business.

The City of Devils Lake is the natural headquarters for the boating business of the lake. The first steamer on the lake was a small one belonging to the United States Government and used by the Fort Totten garrison.

The first regular steamer, the Minnie H., was built by Captain E. E. Herman, in the winter of 1882-3, at a cost of $30,000. She is a side-wheel boat, 110 feet in length, and handsomely fitted up after the manner of a first class Mississippi boat, and makes regular trips to all ports on the lake, including Fort Totten. She can also be chartered for pleasure parties and picnic excursions at reasonable rates. She uses wood for fuel, of which Captain H. owns an extensive tract. No intoxicating liquors are allowed on board.

The Arrow was brought by Captain Soper from Duluth to Bartlett by rail, and from thence to the lake on wheels. She is a crew propeller, of the tug pattern, remodeled into a passenger boat. There is plenty of sail and row boats, and every necessary accompaniment for pleasure and sporting parties. Navigation is generally open from May 1 to November 15th.

It is probable that the Saint Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway Company will establish shops at Devils lake, as forty acres of land have been reserved by the company. Substantial passenger and freight buildings and round house are already completed.

It is the intention to extend the Saint Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba road to the Turtle Mountain and Mouse River regions in the near future. The Valley City and turtle Mountain line, projected to cross the lake at Simrall's Pass, is quite certain to be built soon. The Jamestown and Northern, from Jamestown on the Jim River to the Turtle Mountains, is already running to the west end of the lake, and will soon be extended northward.

Other lines are projected, and it is probable that before many years Devils Lake will be the center of extensive system of railways and the greatest summer resort in Dakota. The outlook for its future is very promising.

The city contains at the present time a population of one thousand people, all active, energetic and intelligent, and its increase keeps pace with that of other live towns in Dakota. It is the established county seat, and being centrally situated will no doubt remain so. Its facilities and conveniences as a watering place and pleasure resort are unsurpassed.

Devils lake was incorporated as a village in the last week of February, 1884, and is now organized, with a president and board of trustees. The place is named City of Devils Lake. The post office is called simply Devils Lake and now all the names having the word Devil in them should be rejected, and the town, post office and station re christened with some good, sensible name, Indian or otherwise, unmixed with either Pagan or other superstition.

Grand Harbor

This thriving town situated at the head of Teller's Bay, which projects in a northeasterly direction from the main lake, and about six miles northwest from the city of Devils Lake, on one of the finest harbors on the lake. It was laid out in the spring of 1882, and the first house put up in the summer of that year by A. J. Wirtz. The first lots were sold on the 9th of June. The place has grown quite rapidly, and now contains a weekly newspaper, The Devils Lake Globe, established by A. J. Garner, April 26 1883, the first paper wholly edited and published on Devils Lake; a half dozen stores, two hotels, a blacksmith shop, several saloons, and a considerable population. The town is finely situated. The extension of the railway north will probably make this a point. There is deep water in the bay all the way up to the town.


This place, located near the east line of the county, on Section 25, Town 153, Range 61 was commenced in the fall of 1882, upon the completion of the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway to that point, and for a number of months had a wonderful growth and business, the population, at its maximum, reaching 1,000. There were 250 buildings in the place, and the people had high hopes that its boom would be a permanent one. But the laying out of Lakota, in Nelson County, four miles east of Bartlett, and the establishment of the county seat at the new town, resulted in the removal of the bulk of its business to Lakota and the city of Devils Lake. One hotel building was taken down and removed to West End, in Benson County, where it was metamorphosed into a number of cottages. There remains at Bartlett two hotels, several stores, and altogether some twenty five or thirty buildings.

Midway and Tracy

Post offices on the railway between Devils Lake and Bartlett.


The name of a post office situated on the northeast bay of Sweet Water Lake, in Town 155, range 63. It was named for a gentleman who entered a large amount of land lying around the lake. It is picturesquely situated.

De Groat

A post office in Town 156, Range 65.


On the east shore of the lake, in Town 152, Range 63, was laid out on a large scale, in anticipation of the railway making a crossing here. At present it is simply a post office.


A post office on the eastern side of Lamoreaux Bay, in Town 152, Range 62.

Dana's Grove and Rogers

Post offices on the eastern margin of the lake, northwest of Odessa. The only post office in the Indian reservation is at Fort Totten.

Iron Heart, chief of the Cut Head Sioux, keeps a hotel at the southeastern extremity of Devils Lake, in the reservation.