Monday, November 16, 2009
Ole G. Thortwick, lauded as the first settler in the Red River Valley, passed away on this date in 1908. Thortwick traveled to the area from his home in Houston County, Minnesota. As the first homesteaders to stake a claim in the valley, he and his wife did so in hopes of farming the valley’s rich soil in 1870. He had heard about the agricultural possibilities of the area from visitors returning to eastern Minnesota, so he decided to pursue his love of farming “out west.”
The fact that Thortwick did not stake his land claim in conjunction with the coming railroad made him a rarity at the time, as many prospective settlers laid claims along the river where they hoped the Northern Pacific railroad would cross from Minnesota into Dakota Territory. It was certainly a gamble, but owning the land at the crossing point would entitle the owner to a large sum from the railroad. Since the cost of staking a claim was only the erection of a dwelling and a nominal closing fee, the gamble was worth taking for many. In a way, Thortwick’s hopes of exploiting the agricultural possibilities were also a gamble, but the early homesteader went on to build a successful farm on his claim east of Moorhead.
His homestead rested on the banks of the Buffalo River, about six miles east of Fargo. He carefully selected this tract of land, taking into consideration the nearby water source, and the productivity of the black, silty loam he encountered. Thortwick worked tirelessly on his homestead for a number of years, and eventually built a reputation for being a highly-respected and hardworking individual. He spent the remainder of his life on his original land claim, where he and his wife raised a family of four children. It was on this same farmstead that Thortwick took his last breath in 1908. After a brief illness, Thortwick passed away from a sudden heart attack at his home.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Tuesday (Evening ed.), Nov. 17, 1908: p.10.