Dakota Datebook

Hope’s Midnight Raid

Monday, December 27, 2004

Cooperstown and Hope were once in the same county – Griggs – which was established by the Territorial Legislature in 1881. But that wasn’t to last.

Mr. Edward Steele founded the town of Hope on the east side of the Sheyenne River and named it after his wife. Governor Nehemiah Ordway declared Hope the county seat in the summer of 1882, because it was already a thriving little community and – well – it was also the county’s only town. The commissioners began meeting in the impressive Hope House Hotel in June of that year.

Meanwhile, Rollin Cooper, a bonanza farmer, registered a plat for a new town on the other side of the Sheyenne just weeks before the first county elections. Cooper wanted the county seat moved to his new town, which at that point consisted of one building – a granary that housed three carpenters who were building the Dakota House, a boarding house to rival the Hope House.

Moving the county seat was a bitterly contested issue by November 7th. Election fraud was rampant on both sides. Railroad crews were paid to vote, whiskey was flowing, and people voted several times by changing hats and casting their ballots at different polling spots.

Almost every official who won that election lived near the Cooper brothers’ farm, and Cooperstown was named the new county seat. Before anybody could get to Valley City to ask for an injunction, the Cooper boys took possession of the county records and handed them over to William Glass, one of the carpenters living in Cooper’s granary.

“When the records were brought from Hope, I was made deputy register of deeds and placed in charge of them,” Glass later wrote. “John Houghton and Allan Pinkerton, (my fellow carpenters) slept in my ‘office,’ because they had no other place on the town site to occupy, and besides, they were counted on to assist me in holding the records in case an attempt should be made to steal them… It was cold and we all slept on the floor under loads of blankets.”

Glass asked for more protection than the “25 cent lock” they had on the granary door, but he was assured they wouldn’t have any trouble. The exact date has been lost, but it was near the end of December that the carpenters were put to the test.

“When they came we were asleep,” wrote Glass. “They went through that door with one little push and were right on top of us in a second. They lit our lamp and I saw that every one of that dozen raiders had a gun in his hand, while ours were hanging on the walls. They soon had the records carried to their sleighs and then ordered us to dress and accompany them as far as the Sheyenne River, presumably so we could be delayed in sounding an alarm. We all refused to dress and go. They tried force, but after the stove and table had been overturned and the place thoroughly wrecked, they left, taking our guns with them.”

The midnight raiders hid the records in a bin of oats and then sent them to Minneapolis for safekeeping. A few weeks later, Steele and Cooper came to an understanding, and the records were given back to Cooperstown. Griggs County was divided up, and Hope became the first county seat of the newly established Steele County. Two years later, the town again lost the seat to the more centrally located town of Sherbrooke. When the railroad failed to come to Sherbrooke, the seat was moved again in 1918, this time to Finley, where it (so far) remains.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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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