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Towner County is one of the youngest counties in North Dakota, being one of ten counties that were organized in 1883, during Governor Ordway's territorial administration, six years before the Dakota twins were born into the sisterhood of states. It was formed from a resurvey of Cavalier and Rolette counties and was named after Mr. O.M. Towner, who was a  member of the 15th territorial legislature. The boundary established gave the county 28 full and 4 fractional townships, or 660,480 acres within her boundaries.

On November 16th, 1883, the governor appointed three commissioners, namely: J.S.CONYERS, H.C. DAVIS and P.R. PARKER, to organize the county, and in the month following they set out for the "Big Coulee Country" to perform their duties under conditions and amid controversies peculiar to the frontier.

Vol. 3, Oct. 1905

Settlement began in Towner County in 1883 with a heavy immigration in 1884 and again in 1894. The population increased from this early settlement until 1910. At this time the highest number of people are recorded.

Following is the population of Towner County, every ten-year period for the past fifty years: 1890, 1450; 1900, 6491; 1910, 8693; 1920, 8393; 1940, 7196. Since 1910, the tendency has been toward increasing the size of farms which has automatically decreased the population.

The county was settled by people representing several nationalities. Early settlers were principally of Scandinavian, Canadian, English and French descent. Three townships, Mt. View, Monroe and Armourdale comprise a settlement of Finnish descent.

The topography of Towner County is best described as level to gently rolling. Numerous coulees are prevalent, some of which have steep banks and land immediately adjacent thereto might be described as hilly. Most of the county is drained by these coulees connected with the "Big Coulee" system immediately associated with Devils Lake, Lake Ibsen and Sheyenne River basin, save for a small part of the Northern portion of the county which is drained toward the Red River basin. The level area thru the center of the county is generally poorly drained while the east and west portions of the county are well drained. (Land Use Planning-County Agent).

In December, 1883, with a gray blizzard in the air, Andrew GERRARD, the blacksmith, blew up a blazing fire and arranged boxes and kegs for the first public meeting in the county. There were six residents from the banks of the big coulee to the East who arrived first and so far took the blacksmith into their confidence as to confide to him their purpose of establishing the county seat near their properties, but they reckoned a little wrongly. A motion was made by Mr. Conyers that the county seat be placed just where they were then sitting, but the six from the coulee most emphatically stated that the county seat could not and should not be placed there, and every effort was made by them to have it located on the townsite already located on the bank of the coulee. The meeting had lasted for several hours when Capt. PARKER, who was chairman of the board, arose to his feet and shouted, "They say we can't do it and we say we can do it, and just to show them we can do it, we'll call the county seat CAN-DO!". The motion was heartily seconded by the other commissioners and supported by their friends--and so the town was named. (Towner County Democrat)


From “Early History of North Dakota – Essential Outlines of American History” by Colonel Clement A. Lounsberry (founder of the Bismarck Tribune)




Towner County, named for Col. O. M. Towner, a prominent figure in the early days of North Dakota, founder of the Elk Valley farm, and other important enterprises, was created March 8, 1883, from parts of Cavilier and Rolette counties.


The county was first settled in 1881 and was organized in 1883 by the appointment, November 6 of that year, of P. T. Parker, H. C. Davis and J. W. Connella as county commissioners, but J. S. Conyer was substituted for the latter on the day of organization.


In 1886 Cando was established and forty acres scripped and laid out as a townsite by J. A. Percival of Devils Lake, who also purchased the three adjoining forties entered by H. C. Davis.


June 2, 1884, the county was divided into school districts and the following were appointed as judges of school election: District No. 1, J. L. Miller, J. H. McCune and Frederick Lemke—election at A. S. Gibbens’; district No. 2, Frank Blair, C. C. Edwards and J. W. Hardee—election at the county building.


The county was divided into commissioner districts in October, and voting precincts and judges were ordered as follows: At the store of W. H. Lane, T. W. Conyers, A. S. Gibbens and T. F. Hesse, judges; at the county building, John Smith, C. C. Marks and Mike Rocke, judges; at Richard D. Cowan’s, James Dunphy, George Edmonson and J. Pinkerton, judges.


The county officers elected that fall were H. C. Davis, J. S. Conyers and R. D. Cowan, commissioners; W. E. Pew, register of deeds; W. H. Lane, superintendent of schools; J. W. Hardee, judge of probate; Edward Gorman, sheriff; T. W. Conyers, coroner; James Dunphy and John Nelson, justices of the peace; John Rocke, treasurer; R. J. Cowan, assessor; R. D. Cowan, constable. A. M. Powell continued to act as clerk of the court.


A prominent factor in the early settlement of Towner County in 1883 was the Missouri Colony. They came largely from Pike County, which has furnished many immigrants for all portions of the North and West, and is famous from once having been the home of Joseph Bowers and his red-headed rival, who married Joe’s sweetheart when he was off in California trying to raise a stake.


This colony consisted of about forty men, and they had seventy carloads of stock and immigrant movables. Among them was Capt. P. P. Parker, Frank L. Wilson, Col. John Ely, J. H. McCune, James H. McPike, A. H. Riggs, George W. Clifton, A. H. Steele, William Steele, Wilson Williams, Guy M. Germond,

C. B. Riggs, T. W. Conyers, Ed Preist, James M. Hanson, Joseph Grotte, John Crow and Amos Glasscock.



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