Dakota Datebook

Henry D. Minot

Friday, November 14, 2008


The year was 1876. Sixteen-year-old Theodore Roosevelt was just starting his freshman year at Harvard. While unpacking his personal belongings, including a catalogue of birds he had produced, Roosevelt heard a knock. Opening the door, he discovered Henry Minot.

Henry Davis Minot was born in August of 1859; the sixth child of a prominent Boston attorney. Growing up in the Massachusetts countryside, Minot developed a love for nature at a young age. Taking daily hikes, he made detailed notes on the various bird species he encountered. While studying at Harvard, he published his notes in a new book entitled “The Land-Birds and Game-Birds of New England.”

Learning of Roosevelt’s interest in birds though a family friend, Minot was anxious to meet the incoming freshman. The two became fast friends, spending many weekends together at the Minot family home. At the end of the school year, they made arrangements for a three week bird-watching trip to the Adirondacks. Their 1877 expedition resulted in a privately-financed publication entitled “The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in Franklin County, NY.” A scientific catalogue of 97 bird species, the collaborative work was Roosevelt’s first published work. But unfortunately, it was the last joint publication by the bird-enthusiasts.

At the insistence of his father, Minot left Harvard the following year and went to work for Jackson and Curtis, a Boston investment house. There he began studying the potential of railroad investments. His examination of the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Manitoba Railway in 1884 brought Minot to the attention of James J. Hill. Minot’s work also encouraged several Boston bankers to invest in Hill’s railroad. At their prompting, Henry Minot was elected a director and vice president of the railroad company that would eventually become the Great Northern.

As the Manitoba Railway pushed westward from Devils Lake in the spring of 1886, Minot was sent ahead on a 10-day scouting trip. Inspecting the crops and cattle, he reported back to Hill that it was “first rate country”. With Minot’s favorable report, engineers, road graders and Hill’s right-of-way agents moved west.

Among the new towns platted was one along the Mouse River on the farmstead of Norwegian immigrant Erik Ramstad. When Hill’s right-of-way agent Solomon Comstock was asked about the town’s new name, Comstock suggested calling it ‘Lincoln’. But James Hill had a different idea in mind. Minot’s friends and relatives in Boston were important investors in Hill’s railroad and Minot was becoming increasingly indignant at what he considered a slow rise up the corporate ladder. So to mollify him, in September of 1886 Hill announced that the new town would be named ‘Minot.’
Henry Minot continued to supervise the construction west to Montana but shortly after had a break with Hill when Hill refused to name him as his successor.

He continued in the railroad industry but a few years later, Henry D. Minot was killed in a train collision in Pennsylvania at the young age of 31 on this date in 1890.

DuGarm, Henry. “The Founding of Minot.” In Reflections from a Distant Mirror: Minot State University and Its Regions, ed. Dr. Eric Clausen Teresa M. Fox: Midcontinent Institute, 1994.
“Henry D. Minot; the Life of One of the Victims of the Collision.” The New York Times, November 15, 1890, 1.
“Henry Davis Minot Papers, 1825-1891: Guide to the Collection”, Massachusetts Historical Society http://www.masshist.org/findingaids/doc.cfm?fa=fa0286#top.
Keillor, Steven. Erik Ramstad and the Empire Builder. Minot, ND: North American Heritage Press, 2002.
Mathes, Valerie Sherer. “Theodore Roosevelt as a Naturalist and Bad Lands Rancher.” In The Centennial Anthology of North Dakota History Journal of the Northern Plains, ed. Ann Rathke Janet Daley Lysengen, 89-98. Bismarck, ND: State Historical Society of North Dakota, 1996.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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