The first occupation of the soil of Becker County by white people, of which we have knowledge, was in October 1802, when a small trading post was established at White Earth by men in the employ of the Northwest Fur Company. They, however, remained there but a short time. This post was run a man by the name of Duford. During that same month, October 1802 a small trading post was established at Shell Lake, in what is now Shell Lake township, by William Morrison, the man who first discovered Lake Itasca and the extreme head waters of the Mississippi River a year later.
In 1854, Donald McDonald, of Otter Tail Lake, Built a log-house on the northeast shore of Detroit Lake, on the little prairie a few rods west of where the Pelican River enters the lake. After trading there with the Indians about two years he returned to Otter Tail.
In the year 1867 a treaty was made at Washington by which various tribes of Indians, residing along the Mississippi River, were to be removed to White Earth the ensuing year. Arrangements were accordingly made that fall by which one million feet of pine logs were cut and banked on the east side of White Earth Lake during the winter of 1867-8 to be sawed into lumber for the use of the Indians the ensuing year. These logs were cut by men in the employ of Wm. Thompson and Fred Peake, who had been awarded the contract for banking the logs, and they all returned to their homes below with the advent of spring. This was the first party of men to begin operations at White Earth.
About the last of April 1868 a small party of men was sent to White Earth from Crow Wing, by Major J. B. Bassett, the Indian agent, to begin farming operations. A contract was made with Joseph W. Wakefield to break 240 acres of land for the Indians, and about the 25th of April a small party of white men was sent to White Earth with teams to do this work. Paul H. Beaulieu was the leader of this party. He had been recently appointed to the position of Government farmer at the agency about to be established and was sent with this advance party to select and survey out the land to be plowed and to take charge of affairs generally until such time as the agent himself should arrive. They arrived at White Earth about the 10th of May, and Paul remained in the county, and as he was the only one of the party that did remain he is entitled to the honor of being the first pioneer settler with white blood in his veins to settle permanently in Becker County. The first white person to settle in Becker County, outside the reservation, was Patrick Quinlan, who settled on the southwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 35, of Burlington Township, a few rods north of the county line, on the 28th of May 1868. He supposed at the time that he had located in Otter Tail County, but none of the county or township lines had been established at that time. When the Chippewa Indians passed by his place, a few days afterwards, on their way to their new homes at White Earth, and also when the Henry Way party passed a few days still later, he told them all that he was living in Otter Tail County, which led Way and Sherman to believe they were the first white settlers in Becker County, but after the line between Becker and Otter Tail counties was run by W. W. Howard in the summer of 1870, Quinlan found himself living in Becker County.
Quinlan's wife was a full-blooded Chippewa and this circumstance leaves the Way-Sherman party entitled to the honor of being the first party of "simon-pure" white people to settle in Becker County.
On the 14th day of June, 1868, the first installment of Indians, about 150 in number, came to White Earth under the direction of Maj. J. B. Bassett, then Indian Agent, and under the guidance of Truman A. Warren; and another large party came in 1869, making several hundred who had gone to White Earth during those two years.
On the 28th day of June, 1868, Henry Way, Almon W. Sherman and L. D. Sperry took up claims near Oak Lake in what is now Detroit Township. They put up hay and returned to their families at Clitheral. Sherman moved to Oak Lake that same fall and they and Quinlan were all the white people to winter in Becker County during the winter of 1868 and 1869 outside the reservation. In the spring of 1869 Way and Sperry came back from Clitheral with their families, and in the month of June, following, three Norwegians, John F. Beaver, Chris. Anderson and Fred Johnson, located in the western part of what is now Audubon Township.
A little later on another party, mostly relatives of Way and Sherman, came and located a little south of the three Norwegians in the same township. This party consisted of Buckly B. Anderson, wife and seven children, Jackson Burdick, a son-in-law of B. B. Anderson, wife and three children and Harvey Jones, a single man who took land on Section 18.
Along in October of that same year, Dr. David Pyle, who had been appointed government physician at White Earth, came and located in the same vicinity and remained there the most of the winter. Two other men came with him, whose names were M. L. Devereaux and David Beveridge. The three men brought a shingle mill with them, and made basswood shingles during the winter of 1869 and 1870, on what is now Section 18 of Audubon Township. Mark Warren wintered somewhere in the county, and also another man by the name of Talmage, who lived in a dug-out on what is now Section 20, of Audubon Township.
We are now able to make a pretty accurate list of all the people, who wintered in Becker County during the winter of 1869 and 1870, outside the White Earth Reservation.
Mrs. Henry Way.
Almon W. Sherman. (Died during the Winter.)
Mrs. Almon W. Sherman.
Mrs. Lois Cutler, mother of Mrs. Sherman.
Lois Anderson, granddaughter of Mrs. Sherman.
Mrs. Dewitt Sperry.
Ella Sperry, Frank Sperry, children of Dewitt Sperry.
Alice Sperry, niece of Dewitt Sperry.
Mrs. Barbary Stillman, mother of Mrs. Sperry.
Mrs. C. Anderson.
Annie Anderson, daughter of Chris. Anderson.
John F. Beaver.
Mrs. John F. Beaver (Died in the spring of 1870).
Buckley B. Anderson.
Mrs. B. B. Anderson.
Jedediah Anderson, son of B. B. Anderson.
Edward Anderson, son of B. B. Anderson.
Richard Anderson, son of B. B. Anderson.
Elva Anderson, daughter of B. B. Anderson.
Freeman Anderson, son of B. B. Anderson.
Miron Anderson, son of B. B. Anderson.
Andrew Anderson, son of B. B. Anderson.
Jackson Burdick, son-in-law of B. B. Anderson.
Mrs. Jackson Burdick.
Ida Burdick, daughter of Jackson Burdick.
Eunice Burdick, daughter of Jackson Burdick.
Oren Burdick, son of Jackson Burdick.
M. L. Devereaux.
The census of 1870 gives the population of Becker County as 308. These figures are misleading, as to my certain knowledge there were not more than sixty people in the county on the first day of June of that year outside the White Earth Reservation, so that the other 238 reported at the time must have been mostly on the reservation, and nearly all of them Indians.
In the summer of 1869, a party sent out to explore a route for the Northern Pacific Railroad, passed through the county from the west, and among them was John O. French, now of Detroit Township, who was connected with the party.
In the summer of 1870, the probability that the Northern Pacific Railroad would pass through the county brought quite an influx of settlers, too many to mention in detail at the present time, but they will be accounted for under the heading of the different townships.
At the beginning of the year 1879, there was not a single settler in the whole region of country east of the Otter Tail River, which includes rather more than the eastern half of the county. That summer J. F. Siegford, his son, Frank Siegford, George M. Carson, A. W. Sanderson, and C. E. Bullock, opened the way and led the van-guard of pioneers to the beautiful prairies of Osage and Carsonville, that have since developed into one of the most thriving and prosperous communities in the county.
The timbered townships were somewhat slower to settle, but at the present time (1905) there is scarcely a quarter Section of government land in the county without a settler.
The first white girl born in the county was Clara D. Way, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Way, who were then living at Oak Lake in Detroit Township. She was born on the 20th of July 1870. The first white boy born in Becker County was Olaus Reep, son of Mr. and Mrs. Sevald Reep, who was born on the 29th day of July 1871 and recorded January 20th, 1872.
The first death among the white settlers was that of Almon W. Sherman, who died at Oak Lake on the 31st day of December, 1869.
Frank M. Campbell of White Earth took the census of Becker County in 1870. The first deed of conveyance for land in Becker County was made by Christen Anderson to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, for the west half of the southwest road of Section 8, in the present township of Audubon. This deed was made the 11th day of July, 1871, and recorded January 20th, 1872.
The first mortgage in Becker County was made by Ole Peterson to Knute Nelson, present United States senator, the mortgage was for $200, and was on the east half of the southwest quarter of the southwest quarter of the southeast quarter, and lot 5 of Section 4, in the present township of Audubon.
The mortgage was dated January 9th, 1872.
The first school in Becker County was taught by Mrs. Julia A. Spears at White Earth in the fall of 1870.
The first school in Becker County, outside the reservation was taught by Miss Nancy M. Comstock, in the fall of 1871, in a house belonging to Henry Way, in what is now school district number three in Audubon Township. The first school taught in Becker County, in a legally organized school district, was in district number one in the village of Detroit, by Miss Lottie Frank, beginning on the second day of July 1872.
The first religious service in Becker County was held at White Earth by the Rev. John Johnson, (Enmegahbowh), in the fall of 1868.
The first religious service in Becker County, outside the reservation, was held by the Rev. Dr. Lord on the shore of Floyd Lake on the 22d of August 1869, at the camp of the Northern Pacific Railroad exploring expedition.
The first religious service ever held in Becker County with a full audience of Becker County people, and by a minister residing in this part of Minnesota, was conducted by the Rev. T. Watleson at the house of John F. Beaver in what is now Audubon Township, on the sixth of November 1870.
Father Gurley was the first resident minister in Becker County, outside the reservation, corning here as missionary for the Northern Pacific Railroad, under the auspices of the Methodist church in July 1871.
His father was a Scotch immigrant named Allan Morrison, a native of Stornoway, on the Lewis, one of the Hebrides or western Isles, forming part of Scotland, and his mother a Canadian French lady named Jane (or Jessie) Wadin.
Montreal was at that time the home and general headquarters of the British and Canadian fur traders, who came down the Ottawa and St Lawrence Rivers, in mackinaw boats and birch-bark canoes, every summer, with their winter's collection of furs, and returned the same season, to the far Northwest, with a new supply of goods for the next winter's business.
The few avenues to fortunes presented to the ambitious young men by the Canada of that day, coupled with the tales of adventures, and stories of the large profits made in the fur trade, fired young Morrison's ambition, and he at the early age of sixteen, was apprenticed by his father with the Northwest Fur Company, then the great rival of the more ancient Hudson's Bay Company, and started for old Grand Portage on Lake Superior, the Company's western headquarters, with the returning boats.
The next year, in 1802, he was sent to Leech Lake and thence to an outpost on the headwaters of one of the streams tributary to the Crow Wing River, from which point they collected furs from their Indian hunters scattered through what is now Becker and Otter Tail Counties. These Indians were Pillager Chippewas, and from information gathered from some of the old Indians I knew at Leech Lake in 1870, and who remembered well "Sha-gah-nansh-eence," the "Little Englishman," as he was called by the Chippewas, I would locate this outpost at Shell Lake.
In 1803-4 Morrison wintered at Upper Rice Lake on the head waters of the Wild Rice River, and it was during that winter and the spring of 1804 that he visited Lake Itasca and the various smaller lakes which form part of the source of the Mississippi River. No white man had ever visited that country before Morrison, and he rightfully claimed to be the discoverer of the source of this great river, although Nicollet, Beltrami and Schoolcraft all claimed this honor several years later.
It being the policy of the Northwest Fur Company not to allow any of its traders to remain more than one or two years at the game outpost, Morrison was, in this manner, enabled to visit many places, and became well acquainted with the fur resources of a vast territory; the knowledge so acquired soon proved of great value to him.
His industrious habits and natural shrewdness, coupled with his ability to handle the rough "voyageurs" and his popularity among the Indians, soon attracted the notice of his employers, and after several years spent in managing various trading posts tn Minnesota, he was placed in charge of a number of them, with headquarters at Sandy Lake, on the upper Mississippi River. It was while stationed there that an incident occurred, illustrating his popularity with, and influence over the Indians.
Tecumseh's brother, "The Prophet," had sent out his tobacco to all the western and northwestern tribes, with a secret message to the Indians to join him in a general massacre of the whites in the Indian country.
Such was the reputation and influence of this famous grand medicine man, the prophet, over the Indians, that although the Chippewas were of a peaceful disposition and had no great cause of complaint against their traders, they dared not refuse the invitation. The tobacco sent was smoked in secret council, the Indians withdrew away from the trading posts, and generally assumed an unfriendly attitude.
Morrison had left Sandy Lake and gone on a business trip to Fond du Lac, to meet with the other chief traders and the managing board of the Northwest Company. While there, messengers came in from Sandy Lake and a number of other trading posts, with reports, that the Indians were acting in an unfriendly manner, and that their actions indicated there was mischief a brewing, but none of the traders' employes could find out what the trouble was.
The assembled traders decided that Morrison was the only one able to get the secret out of the Indians, and he started at once for Sandy Lake, his own post, with the messenger who had brought the report. They had a light birch canoe and traveled rapidly, so that on the forenoon of the third day they paddled out of Prairie River into Sandy Lake.
Some young Indians, who were returning from a deer hunt, recognizing him, hurried home to spread the news, that the "Little Englishman" was coming home. From stray hints heard while at Fond du Lac, Morrison had made up his mind that "The Prophet" was at the bottom of the trouble, and he soon decided on his plan of action. Paddling close to the shore he was soon opposite the wigwams of the Indians, but contrary to custom he never stopped to enquire about the news and kept on as if in a great hurry. This nettled the suspicious Indians, and one of them was sent on to intercept Morrison above one of the small portages which cut across the points formed by the long bends of the Mississippi River, below the mouth of the Sandy Lake River. His face was painted black, and as Morrison did not seem to notice him, the Indian hailed the canoe, when the paddlers stopped. "You seem to be in great hurry," said the Indian, "what news where you come from?" "Nothing," answered Morrison, "and what is going on here?" "Nothing here either." Then Morrison slowly began paddling away; stopping suddenly, he half turned around saying: "Oh yes, there is some news I was forgetting. The great medicine man, "The Prophet," has been killed by the Long Knives, (the Americans). Then he resumed paddling and soon reached his stockade, a short distance down the Mississippi. The next day the Indians flocked in and resumed friendly relations, without showing the least sign of ill feeling.
As luck would have it, messengers came a few days afterwards from Lake Superior; confirming his report of the death of "The Prophet," and all circumstances connected with the plot came out.
It was a lucky hit. Morrison had calculated that if he could get the Indians to come around, he would succeed in getting them started out deer hunting, birch-bark raising, etc., and get them scattered, so they could not spend their days of idleness in plotting more mischief.
William Morrison stayed with the Northwest Fur Company until in 1816, when being offered better inducements, he joined the American Fur Company (John Jacob Astor's), and was placed in charge of the department of Fond du Lac, with headquarters at Old Superior, Wisconsin. This department embracing within its territory, Lake Vermillion, Red Lake, Sandy Lake, Leech Lake, Lake Winnebagoshish, Cass Lake, Otter Tail Lake, Crow Wing on the Mississippi, and Grand Portage on Lake Superior. He remained in charge of John Jacob Astor's business there until 1826, when having acquired what was called a competency for those day', he retired from the fur trade and returned to Canada. There to purchased a large island, since known as Morrison's Island, in the St. Lawrence River, between Old Fort William Henry, now Sorel, on the south shore, and Berthier-en-Haut, on the north shore of the river.
For some years he was engaged in farming, but pastoral life was too quiet and unexciting for his active mind, and after a few years spent on the farm, he settled in Berthier, where for many years he carried on a mercantile business, and was also judge of the county court.
While trading in the upper Mississippi country, he married a Pillager Chippewa woman, by whom he had two boys and a girl. His wife dying soon after the birth of the last born, the children were, according to Indian custom, taken care of by the wife's mother, who always thereafter followed and lived with her grandchildren. When Morrison left the Indian country in 1826, he made arrangements to take his three children with him, but on the eve of the day set for the departure of the boats, from Superior for Mackinoe, the grandmother stole the children and disappeared during the night. Search for them was made for several days, but with-out success, and they were necessarily left behind. They returned eventually to Leech Lake, and in course of time the two boys grew to be great hunters and warriors, and many Sioux scalps dangled from their belts whenever they went out with a war party.
In spite of their Indian bringing up, and thanks to the good advice given them by their uncle, Allan Morrison, they never forgot that they were of white blood, and always exercised their influence over their reckless tribesmen to keep them from molesting the whites, and but for the stand taken by Joseph, (or Ay-gans as the Indians called him), at Leech Lake during the outbreak of 1862, there would have been a massacre of the employes and traders at the agency.
Hole-in-the-day, head chief of the Mississippi Chippewas, had stirred up the Pillagers to such a pitch that they had robbed the stores and made the whites prisoners. They had met in several councils and the most reckless of them had decided that the whites must die the next morning. Ay-gans had taken an active part in the councils, but had always taken the part of the prisoners. At last, when he saw that all his efforts had been in vain, he got up and spoke about their comradeship in war and in the hunts, and also on their relationship to one another and of that law of nature which binds kin to kin, and then he bared his arm, displaying his light skin, saying: "You are talking of killing our white friends. and you say they must die tomorrow. Look at this arm; it is light colored, the blood that runs through it is white man's blood, and when you kill our white friends you will kill me also." That last part of the speech was telling. Ay-gans was a brave man, and his last words, were to Indian ears, both defiant and threatening. The next morning other brave men took sides with the whites and their lives were spared. They were marched down to Gull Lake as prisoners, and turned over to the care of the Gull Lake Indians, and afterwards liberated.
Descendants of this Jos. Morrison are now settled on the Wild Rice River in Norman County, but formerly were a part of the first contingent of Otter Tail Chippewas, who removed with their father to Becker County in 1872, and settled around the present agency and the Old Trading Post.
The daughter was taken into the family of one of the missionaries and followed them to Stillwater, where she married a German farmer, and died several years ago. Joseph died at Beaulieu, Minn., in January, 1889. His older brother Richard, or Dekaince, died at Otter Tail Lake about 1870.
William Morrison's second wife was a Miss Ronssain, daughter of a Fond du Lac, Minn., Indian trader. She was the mother of two sons and two daughters, and went with her husband to Canada, where she died a few years afterwards. William, the older of the two boys, left Canada for the. west and eventually joining one of Col. Fremont's expeditions to the Pacific coast, went to California, where he settled and died about 1850.
The younger son, Donald George, left Canada before he was twenty years of age, and worked his way through Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin to Minnesota, where he settled in the Red River valley near the boundary line, and became a member of the territorial Legislature of Minnesota. A few years later he settled in Old Superior; Wisconsin, where he was elected register of deeds of Douglas County, an office he held for years afterwards. He died in Superior, in 1898.
After the death: of his second wife, William Morrison found himself with four young children, with none but hired help to manage and care for them, so after a couple years of this kind of existence, he married Miss Elizabeth Ann Kittson, an elder sister of the late Commodore N. W. Kittson ' of St Paul, Minnesota. Four daughters were born of that union.
Mrs. Morrison died in February, 1864, and her husband, who had been blind for several years could not bear up long under the blow. He aged rapidly after this, and although surrounded by kind friends who endeavored by their attentions and company, to keep his mind interested in the events of the day, he lost all interest in life and gradually passed away. He died on Morrison's Island August 7th, 1866, and was buried in Sorel, alongside of his last wife.
In religion he was an Episcopalian, and in politics a Conservative, and a strong supporter of the Canadian government in the troublesome years of 1837-38, and possessed of much influence with the authorities. This he used to good advantage after the rebellion, and was instrumental in saving the lives and liberty of many of his patriotic friends.
The accompanying portrait was taken when he was about sixty-nine years of age.
The first man I ever saw in Becker County was Mark Warren. He was one of those eccentric characters, always found on the frontier, whose occupation can best be defined as fur trader and wild rover, and who usually disappeared with the advent of civilization.
I found him near the southwest corner of what is now Cormorant Township, in October 1870. 1 asked him where he lived, and he pointed to an, old Red River cart that was standing near by and said that was all the home he possessed. He did not remain in the county more than a year or two longer, but I afterwards frequently camped with him both in Minnesota, and Dakota, learning something of his history, which had been very eventful. He was about forty year of age, a native of Vermont well educated, and, started out in life intending to become a lawyer. His life, however, about that time became blighted, the particulars of which he never gave me in full, but from occasional hints it was easy to surmise the cause that changed the whole future course of his life. He had been for many years engaged in buying furs from the Indians and frontier settlers, and for the last ten or fifteen years had been a rambler of this region of country. Sometime in the year 1865, he had gathered up a cart-load of furs and taken them to St. Paul, disposing of them at good prices, and returning by the Old Red River trail, camped at night near the Buffalo River. His camp was a little way off the trail, and sometime in the night, someone entered his tent, struck him on the head with a club, then stabbed him in the breast with a knife and robbed him of $400 and left him for dead. Whether the robber was a white man or an Indian is not know, as Warren did not see the villain. When he became conscious, it was noon the following day and he was scarcely able to move hand or foot, and lay in that condition until the second day, when he mustered up strength to crawl out to the cart trail, where he lay all that day and the next night. About noon of the third day, he was picked up by some Red River half-breeds, who took him to the nearest trading post, where he hovered between life and death for a whole month, and it was a year before he fully recovered from the effects of this foul deed.
Warren went from here to the Wild Rice River, and in the autumn of 1874, I found him on the banks of the Missouri, a little above Bismark, in Dakota, and again in 1878, I found him further up the Missouri in a snug cabin, herding cattle and reading Blackstone. The last I hear of him was in the year 1895, when he had found a final resting place among the mountains of Wyoming.