On July 4th, 1859, writer Manton Marble sat on a hill near Breckenridge, Minnesota, watching lines of oxcarts inch their way through the Red River Valley below. Minnesota had become a state the year before, and the Dakota Territory was two years from creation. This made the Red River of the North the dividing line between the United States and the mysterious land visited by Lewis and Clark fifty years before.
Marble was traveling with gold prospectors headed west, and his tales of following the Red River from Fort Abercrombie to Fort Pembina were published in Harper’s Magazine. The next day, July 5th, Marble visited Fort Abercrombie. The fort was founded in 1868 along the west bank of the Red at the southernmost navigable point on the river. The steamboat “Anson Northup” had just launched, shuttling cargo and passengers between Fort Abercrombie and Fort Garry, near current-day Winnipeg, Manitoba.
On this date in 1859, Marble reached a new settlement at the mouth of the Sheyenne River named Dakota City. This “City” was a single log cabin on the Dakota side of the Red River. Two men, Frank Durant and David Auge, had staked the townsite claim on behalf of master frontiersman Pierre Bottineau. When writer Charles Coffin visited Dakota City ten years later, he found the population had grown sevenfold. The lone log cabin was occupied by a husband and wife and their twelve children.
On the Minnesota side of the Red River, the cities of Lafayette and Shayenne appear on the first county maps. All three towns had been founded by land speculators, each hopeful townsite consisting of only a handful of buildings.
The mouth of the Sheyenne river was the farthest upstream that riverboats could reach during dry seasons, and the Red River was shallow enough for horses and wagons to cross. This important crossroads of rivers and oxcart trails was poised to become extremely valuable as commerce increased in the new territory.
One misfortune prevented Dakota City from growing into a major metropolis. In 1872, the railroad had reached the Red River nine miles south of Dakota City, moving land speculation to a new townsite that would become Fargo. The three towns at the mouth of the Sheyenne disappeared with the oxcarts and steamboats, while new towns sprouted up along the freshly-laid railroad tracks. Nothing remains today of Dakota City.
This Dakota Datebook written by Derek Dahlsad.
Marble, Manton. “To Red River and Beyond.” Harper’s Magazine, Vol 21, August 1860.
Coffin, Charles Cotton. The Seat of Empire. Boston: Fields, Osgood, & Co. 1870.
Williams, Mary Ann. Origins of North Dakota Place Names, Bismarck Tribune Press, 1961.
1859 Public Land Survey of Kragnes Township, Clay County, Minnesota ftp://gis.co.clay.mn.us/Photo/GLO/t141r49w5fi01.jpg
Johnson, Roy. “Gold Seekers and Trappers Mingle at Georgetown,” Fargo Forum, 7/17/1955.
Various. History of the Red River Valley. Grand Forks: Herald Printing Company. 1909.