Early Minot Press

Est. 1993

April 1993

Vol I, No 2

Eric Ramstad Homesteads Minot

Eric Ramstad came to Albert Lea, Minnesota at the age of 20 from Sigdal, Norway with a home-made immigration chest that he carried on his back. In Minnesota, he earned food and lodging by chopping cordwood. Soon he found another way to make money. As a boy in Norway, he had been a cattleherder and grew up to be a man of sturdy build. He would offer to wrestle and throw all comers for $25.00.

Ramstad started for the Mouse River valley in May of 1883 with Lena, his wife, and Peder, his brother. They took with them a team of good oxen and two cows. The trip took three weeks and even though it was difficult, everyone arrived in good shape. The wagon was enclosed to serve as bedroom, parlor and kitchen. They would drive during the day and camp at night, turning the oxen loose to eat prairie grass. At first, grass was thin, but it got better as they travelled west. As they neared the Mouse River valley, gnats became a problem. They covered their faces with buffalo net and spread wagon grease on the oxen, especially on their heads.

When they arrived in the Mouse River valley, they found that homesteads were plentiful, but the land had not been surveyed. They chose their land in the valley next to the river part of which would later become downtown Minot and built their house where the Great Northern roundhouse once stood. His brother, Peder, picked the land where Valkers Greenhouse was later built.

The Ramstad home was built of logs and common tree stumps that were everywhere. Timber was plentiful along the river. Logs were laid on logs until the structure was done. The sun and moon could shine through between the logs. A mortar was made of mud and water. Once plastered with the mortar, the shanty was tight.

After building their home, the Ramstads started breaking land. The oxen worked well and soon the land, where the railroad tracks and Parker Suites would one day be, was broken.

With an abundance of deer, prairie chickens and rabbits, no one needed to go hungry. Also, the Mouse River was full of fish so easy to catch, they could be caught with a pitch fork.

Looking over his field, Ramstad realized he was in need of a drag. Not having one, he went in to the woods and found a tree that he felt would work. After going over the fields with it, he seeded it by hand and then went over it again with his makeshift log drag.

All went well. The crops grew well. But now, he needed to cut and thrash it. A cradle was obtained to cut it and a flail to thrash it. But the flail did not work well for the area. After talking to a neighbor about the problem, they agreed to build the complicated thrasher that was needed. The home-made thrasher allowed them to thrash 40 to 50 bushels of wheat or 100 bushels of oats on a good day.

After the crop was cut and thrashed, getting the crop to market was the next problem. Because the nearest markets were Bismarck, 140 miles to the south, and Devil's Lake, 120 miles to the east, the round trip would take about 11 days. Neighbors worked together to get the produce to the markets.

In 1886, Ramstad was called upon by some strangers. When they asked for something to eat, he told them that all he had to offer was bread and milk. Lena prepared the meal. When the strangers finished eating, one paid them with a $5 gold coin. Ramstad, not wanting to reveal were he kept his money, said that he could not make change. The stranger told him to keep it and then introduced himself as James J. Hill of the Empire builders.

In the summer of 1886, after Ramstad had three crops off the land, he sold 40 acres of his original 160 acres to the Northwest Land Company. The Ramstads pledged not to reveal the company's intent. Many squatters had come to the Mouse River valley with the hope that their claim would become a townsite.

The Ramstads' early years in the Minot area were mainly dedicated to farming. He did more farming than most other pioneers. He later made real estate deals, ventured into the lumber business and was one of the original directors of the First National Bank.

After the things Minot did for him, he did much for Minot. He donated the lands where Minot State University, McKinley School, and the First Lutheran Church, parsonage and cemetery now stand. The First Lutheran congregation first met in his cabin in 1884.

On January 22, 1951, Eric Ramstad died at the age of 91, after living in the Minot area for 71 years. He was one lucky pioneer.

Burlington Regulators Lawmen of 1880's

The three missions of the Burlington Regulators were to fight prairie fires, to protect claims from claim jumpers and to track down murderers and horse thieves. During the short time the Regulators existed, they did accomplish some of those tasks.

Prairie fires were one of the terrors of the plains. The fires, once started, would sweep on the wind over the grass-covered plains, destroying everything in its path. The Regulators, at the first sign of fire, would be mobilized to get ahead of the fire and build fire breaks. Then, back fires would be set so that the roaring prairie fire would be brought to a dead stop. These techniques would save homes and lives all over the Great Plains, not just in the Mouse River valley.

Claim jumpers were a worry to every squatter during the years before the Mouse River valley was surveyed. In the fall of 1884, a man by the name of Montana Fritz built a small shack on some land in the valley. The land, however, had already been claimed by a West Virginian named W.S. Griggs who had come to the area early that spring. Griggs asked Montana Fritz to vacate his land but Fritz refused. Griggs then took the matter up with the Regulators. Fritz sent a message to the Regulators too. Fritz said that if they ever showed up at his place, he would "shoot their hides so full of holes, they couldn't be sold at a tannery."

The Regulators converged on the shack, ready to shoot at any sign of resistance by Fritz. They found Fritz in his shack white with fear. They told him to move. He apologized for threatening the Regulators and told them he would move. When the Regulators returned the next day, Fritz was gone. The Regulators received a letter from Fritz about a month later which said that he had gone for good because he couldn't live in a country run by "a bunch of outlaws."

The Regulators third mission, to track down murderers and horse-thieves, was important but rarely done. One story tells of a man named Osbourne Benson who was, at the time, running a whiskey still north of Burlington. One day, Benson missed some horses. John Bucholzer, John Bates and Stanley Ravenwood of the Regulators were sent to help find the horses. Bates and Ravenwood, who had run up quite a tab with Benson, made a deal with him that if they could find and return the horses, Benson would forgive their debt. Benson gladly agreed. Several days later, they returned with the horses. Bates and Ravenwood became popular in the community for the aid they gave for this and other similar circumstances.

In November of 1884, a new group of "lawmen" appeared in the valley. This new group was the Montana Stranglers. In the next issue, the Montana Stranglers have a direct affect on the Burlington Regulators.

Buffalo Bones Attracted Pioneers

Buffalo bones meant income to settlers. The word of this income spread with the help of the railroad. Some people came to Minot thinking they would become rich picking up buffalo bones.

Ole and Kari Otterness made the trip to Minot from Norstrand, near Northfield, Minnesota, because of the bones. Ole and Kari, both natives of Norway, married with the dream of coming to America. Ole had come to America and worked for one year while they were engaged. When he returned to Norway, they married and then made their way back to Minnesota. But after a time in Norstrand, they realized that they would not be able to start a farm there. The area had been settled for some time and without capital, stock or equipment, they could not start farming.

In 1888, they made the trip to Minot with only their suitcases in hand and their dreams of buffalo bones and starting a farm or ranch in their hearts. They filed for a land claim 12 miles southwest of Minot and built a sod shack.

They moved onto their claim in the spring and spent the summer picking up buffalo bones. Their summer work brought them less than $100.

Out of the money earned, they spent $8.00 on a large leather bible ordered from a travelling missionary.

When they obtained a cow and chickens, Kari took produce to town every Friday. She sold butter and eggs, each for 2 cents. While in town, she would buy groceries. This trip was 24 miles round trip.

In 1889, they moved to Minot and lived in a house on the land that the post office now stands. They moved from this first house to a house built on a lot purchased on time for $50 from Eric Ramstad.

After coming to Minot, Ole worked for the railroad as a helper to the boiler-maker. He was injured in an accident in 1902 and died, in 1903, from those injuries.

Kari died just short of her 96th birthday in 1958.

Neighborhood Associations

One of the best ways to improve neighborhoods and enhance the historical value of Minot, is to start a neighborhood association. The Eastwood Park Historic District Neighborhood Association is just two-and-a-half years old but it has done much to improve Eastwood Park and brought city-wide attention to the history of Minot.

Eastwood Park was one of the first neighborhood districts in Minot. Nestled between the downtown area and Roosevelt Park, Eastwood Park was within walking distance of the business district and attracted many prominent, early 1900's businessmen. The Souris River oxbow that surrounds Eastwood Park and the heavy woods gave the neighborhood a secluded atmosphere.

In the fall of 1990, the Association formed under the leadership of LeAnn Derby, who was elected the first president of the Association, and Pete Hugret, who was the first vice-president. The purposes of the Association are to unite property owners in Eastwood Park, to preserve historic architecture unique to Eastwood Park's era, to provide an educational resource to foster the appreciation of the history of Minot, to enhance Minot through civic improvements and community activities and to maintain and preserve the appearance of Eastwood Park. In its short existence, Eastwood Park's Association has done many things.

In the spring of the past two years, the Association has held a Tour of Homes to try to highlight some of the historical architecture of Eastwood Park. Through the annual Tours, the Association has been able to raise enough money to improve the neighborhood is several ways.

The first year's Tour financed the building of two entrance columns for Eastwood Park. The columns let visitors to Eastwood Park know that the neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Last year's Tour provided the money for landscaping of the entrance.

Another major event held in Eastwood Park is the annual Holiday Festival. Many people have come to Eastwood Park during the Christmas season to enjoy the houses lit up for its own Holiday Lights Contest. The Holiday Festival offers those visitors a ride on a horse-drawn hay wagon through the neighborhood, carolling, musical groups, holiday refreshments and more.

Other events held by the members of the Association are a neighborhood-wide rummage sale, river clean up activities and neighborhood get-togethers and picnics.

The Eastwood Park Reporter, a neighborhood newspaper and predecessor to the Early Minot Press, was started in 1991 by Steven and Kay Cameron, two residents of Eastwood Park and members of the Association. Through the newspaper, the neighborhood learned more about the history of Eastwood Park and the activities of its Association.

In 1993, the Association is again presenting its Tour of Homes, Holiday Festival and more. It is a young organization, but with its growing list of community events, it is an organization well worth emulating in other neighborhoods in Minot.

Why Minot?

James J. Hill, of the Great Northern Railway, could have chosen Burlington instead of Minot for a stop on its way to the Pacific coast. George Christensen, the Mayor of Minot, remembers a story about why the railroad chose Minot.

An engineer for the railroad and his wife were staying in a hotel in Burlington. In those days, guests had to share a bath room. One day, the wife wanted to take a bath and asked at the desk for a bar of soap. The desk clerk told her that she had to return the soap after her bath. As they were going to stay in the hotel for several days, the wife asked if she could keep the soap until they checked out. The clerk insisted that she return the soap after each bath.

The wife was very upset about this and according to the story, she had her husband design the trestle west of town to by-pass Burlington.

Another story heard around Minot relates a different story. Joseph Colton, a powerful landowner in Burlington, wanted too much money for his land. Eric Ramstad, in Minot, agreed to sell his property at a better price.

The true story of why James J. Hill chose Minot over Burlington may not even be known for sure. Is it one of these two or maybe a completely different reason? Do YOU know?

Changing Seasons

Minot, as an infant, offered very little structured entertainment. Most recreation was self-created. During all seasons, residents enjoyed getting together and visiting. Churches, schools and fraternal groups offered leisure activities that changed with the seasons and time. Though the settlers of early Minot has little free time since the work day often started at 7:00 am and went as late as 9:00 pm, and later on occasion.

During the spring, residents of Minot enjoyed horse and buggy rides around the outskirts of Minot. Another spring activity was strolling along the wooded paths in northeast Minot, approximately 4th Avenue NE, popularly called Lovers' Lane.

Spring was one of the busy work seasons in this area. This left even less time for leisure activities.

From the Editor

We would like to thank everyone who has subscribed to the Early Minot Press. We are excited about bringing you the paper. If you know of anyone that might enjoy a copy of the paper, call or mail us their name and address and we will send them a free issue.

We will be starting a new column about antiques. If you have a question about an object or would like to share something interesting about antiques, send a note with what you know or what you want to know about the object and a photograph, if you have one.

The paper is interested in historical stories that you would like to share or questions that you may have about past events in Minot. We will do our best to find an answer to your questions. Also, if you have more information on a story that has already been printed, we have an Update section in the paper. Let's keep it full.

We want you to feel that this is your paper and hope that you contribute your information so that Minot's history can be further highlighted. We look forward to hearing from you!

Pioneer Letter

Dear Mother and Father,

I am writing a few lines to let you know how our journey is going. We are following the route we originally planned on. The trip to Fargo went very well. The prairie grass was fairly thin but the oxen and our cow, Anne, made out pretty well. The chickens that we brought with were not faring well so, in Fargo, Matthew traded them for some extra supplies and lodging.

From Fargo to Jamestown, it rained almost every day which slowed us down considerably. But, we pressed on with visions of free, rich land awaiting our arrival. We are now in Jamestown. The James River is high and we are not sure how we are going to cross it or how long we will have to wait. I will write again as soon as we have made more progress.

Your ever loving daughter,
Ina Johanson

Story Update

We received the following information after the publication of our stories. We would like to thank the people who gave us the information.

Henry D. Minot's cradle is on display in the Massachusetts State House.

Fern Watkins, Minot

Future Stories

If you have any stories or information concerning the following topics, please give us a call and letPionee us know so that our stories will be as complete as we can write them.

Joseph L. Colton, founder of Burlington and prominent businessman.

North Minot, the other side of the tracks.

And much, much more.