Early History of Marshall County

Dakota Territory contained an area of 150,932 square miles, and was considerable larger than the six New England States, with the great Empire State, New York included. The great Missouri River, with its windings included, ran one thousand miles diagonally across the territory and navigable the entire distance. There were numerous lakes scattered throughout the territory, of which Devils Lake in the Turtle Mountain region is the largest. East of the Missouri River the country is a beautiful undulating prairie with the exception of the Coteau Hills. This magnificent agricultural region may properly be divided into two sections: the James or “Jim” River Valley, drained by the “Jim” River flowing south, and the Red River Valley drained by the Red River flowing north. The watershed of the continent dividing these streams extends through nearly the center of Marshall County.

West of the Missouri River the country gradually becomes more elevated and broken and contains the Great Sioux reservation with an area of 22,000,000 acres of land. The Black Hills region in the southwest has an area of about 4,000 square miles and contains rich mines of gold, silver, tin, mica and coal. Harney’s Peak is said to be about 5,000 feet high.

About the middle of the seventeenth century French explorers passed through what is now Dakota, and again in the beginning of the present century Lewis and Clark explored this region. In 1809 one of the Astor’s parties, conducted by Mr. Hunt on their way across the continent to the mouth of the Columbia River, ascended the Missouri River to the 46 degree parallel, where they procured horses from the Indians and traveled overland. Washington Irving gives a glowing description of this region in his Astoria and in 1835 gives it as his opinion that this magnificent country would ever be the home of Indians and outlaws because so far from civilization.

Lord Selkirk, a Scotch nobleman of great wealth, purchased an immense tract of land from the Hudson Bay Company in the first decade of the present century. He induced Scotch and Swiss colonists to settle these lands. He died before his colonization proved a success and most of the colonists immigrated to the United States. Pembina, one of the Scotch settlements, settled in 1812, proved to be on Uncle Sam’s domain and is now included in Dakota Territory.

In 1858, a few hardy pioneers had settled along the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers in the vicinity of Sioux Falls and Yankton. In 1861, Dakota was organized, and Wm. Jayne appointed first governor. The Minnesota massacre and Indian troubles in 1862 drove many settlers from their homes and general settlement was retarded by the rebellion and later by grasshoppers and drought. The Northern Pacific Railway commenced in 1870, affording an outlet for the Red River country developed that region with almost unparalleled rapidity and success. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul, and the Chicago and North Western Railroads, constructed in 1880-1, and considerably extended since then, opened the south half of the territory now containing a population of 263,533.

First Birth and Death

First Child born in Marshall County, so far as the author could ascertain, is Minnie Roehr, of Newport, born July 14, 1883.

First Death outside of Fort Sisseton, was Mr. Shorey, of Victor, who suicided January 1, 1883. He was a bachelor and, in all probability, had an attack of insanity when he committed the deed.


A “tenderfoot” would be surprised to see the numerous, neatly painted and furnished school-houses in Marshall County. Well may we feel proud of our school-houses, and the fact that we have a class of citizens that appreciate education. There are at present thirty-four school-houses and twenty-seven licensed teachers in our county. To appreciate the progress made in this direction, let the reader bear in mind that three years ago there was not a single school-house in Marshall County; the above figures show that we have averaged ten school-houses built each year.

Our school-tax is somewhat burdensome at present as we must support our schools by direct taxation; the reserved school sections 16 and 36 in each township will not be available until our Territory becomes a State; after which we will have one of the richest perpetual school funds in the Union.

School Government

Each school township has a director, treasurer and clerk, and each school district a moderator. Pupils in a township can go to any school most convenient, and the school age is from seven to twenty-one years. Women are allowed to vote at school meetings.

School-houses are built by bonding, the bonds are issued in denominations of $100 and $500 bonds, redeemable after eight years and payable at the expiration of fifteen years; semi-annual interest at the rate of eight per cent per annum. The bonds can not be sold for less than ninety-five per cent of face value, and usually sell at par or at a very small discount, which shows that eastern capitalists have confidence in our future.

Religious Denominations

As yet there are no churches in the county, but religious services are held in school-houses and private houses. Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, German Evangelical Association, Congregationalists and Catholics have church services in all parts of the county. The Welsh settlers of Hickman and Lowell townships have their regular Sabbath school and church service in their native language.

First Sabbath School and Church Organization

The writer is indebted to Mrs. A. A. Warren for the following:

In June, 1883, a Sunday school was organized in Lowell township, at the house of A. A. Warren, where it was held each Sunday after that till October, when it was held at the house of Rev. G. L. Beach. The same month a Presbyterian Church organization was formed; Rev. G. L. Beach, pastor.

Nativity And Character of Early Settlers

A large percentage of our settlers are native born Americans, from Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and in fact from every northern state from Maine to California, and representatives from every province of British America. Newark has a native from the far-off arctic Iceland. Perhaps twenty-five per cent of the settlers are Scandinavians and Germans; of Germans there are perhaps only a dozen families. Wales and England have a few representatives; the. Welsh are mostly in Hickman and Lowell townships. The writer has personally visited each township of the county collecting material for these pages, and has generally been treated with courtesy and hospitality, for which the citizens have his thanks. It would be difficult to find a class of settlers anywhere that are better informed, educated and intelligent, than the citizens of Marshall County.


Hickman, George; History of Marshall County, Dakota: Its Topography and Natural History, and Sketches of Pioneer Settlers, with the Names of Actual Settlers where They are From, and where They Live; Also the Military and Sisseton Reservations; J.W. Banbury, 1886.

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