Traverse County, Minnesota

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County History and Description

Source: Minnesota Geographic Names, Their Origin and Historic Significance by Warren Upham, Archaeologist of the Society, 1920, Minnesota Historical Society, Saint Paul

Transcribed by Christina Anthony

This county, established February 20, 1862, organized March 8, 1881, received its name from Lake Traverse (Lac Travers in French), a translation of the Sioux name. Keating wrote of its significance: The lake has received its present appellation from the circumstance that it is in a direction nearly transverse to that of the Big Stone and Lac qui Parle lakes, these being directly to the northwest, while Lake Travers points to the northeast." Williamson gave its Sioux name and meaning: "Mdehdakinyan, lake lying crosswise."

By the way of Lakes Traverse and Big Stone, whence two counties are named, and by the Minnesota river valley, whence this state is named, the River Warren outflowed from the Glacial Lake Agassiz, which in the closing part of the Ice Age filled the basin of the Red river and Lake Winnipeg. The Ojibways have given quite another name to Lake Traverse, referring to this deeply channeled ancient watercourse of the continental divide, noted by Gilfillan as follows: "Lake Travers is Ga-edawaii-mamiwung sagaiigun, the lake with a breast or pap (like a woman's) on either end; one on the northern, and one on the southern (flowing into Big Stone lake in high water); so flowing either way."

In exceptionally high flood stages of the upper Minnesota river, flowing into this channel of the Glacial River Warren at the village of Brown's Valley, a part of its water goes northward into Lake Traverse, so that canoes or boats can then have a continuous water passage from Big Stone lake to Lake Traverse; but probably no flood conditions in recent time have permitted any southward outflow from Lake Traverse.

At the east side of the southwest end of Lake Traverse, Major Long and his party in 1823 were entertained by Wanotan, chief of the Yankton Sioux, for whom, with changed spelling, Wahnata county of Minnesota Territory in 1849 was named, including the present Traverse county.


Information of the origin and meaning of names has been gathered in "History of Traverse County, Brown's Valley and its Environs," by J. O. Barrett, 1881, 32 pages; "History of the Minnesota Valley," 1882, having pages 986-990 for this county; and from E. J. Fortune, judge of probate, Patrick H. Leonard, sheriff, George G. Allanson, postmaster, James H. Flood, and Ole Odenborg, all of Wheaton, the county seat, interviewed during a visit there in September, 1916.

ARTHUR TOWNSHIP, organizd in 1881, originally called Hoff in honor of Abel Hoff, its first settler, was renamed on the suggestion of James H. Flood for Arthur village, Ontario, about 70 miles west of Toronto.

BOISBERG, a village site platted in the northwest corner of Morison, is named from the Bois des Sioux river, to be noticed on a later page, and from the large granite boulder (berg) on the opposite or South Dakota side of this river in the village of White Rock, whence that village derived its name.

BROWN'S VALLEY, in Folsom township, a village founded in 1866-7 by Joseph R. Brown, platted in 1878, was the first county seat, being succeeded by Wheaton in 1886. The settlement and post office, established in 1867, were at first called Lake Traverse, but were renamed Brown's Valley after the death of the founder in 1870. Biographic notes of him are presented in the chapter of Brown county, which also was named in his honor. His son, Samuel J. Brown, who during fifty years has been a resident of this village, was its first postmaster, 1867-1878. A vivid sketch of Joseph Renshaw Brown was given in the pamphlet history of this county by J. O. Barrett in 1881.

CLIFTON TOWNSHIP, the latest organized in this county, was named for a township in Monroe county, Wisconsin, about 40 miles east of La Crosse, as proposed by Bartlett Ashbough, a former settler here, who removed to Saskatchewan.

COLLIS, a railway village in Tara, comes from the Latin word, collis, a hill, this name being proposed by a priest, with reference to the hill Tara in Ireland, whence the township was named.

CROKE TOWNSHIP, organized in 1881, was named, on the suggestion of P. D. O'Phelan, a homestead farmer in Tara, who was a member of the board of county commissioners, in honor of Thomas William Croke, who was born in County Cork, Ireland, May 24, 1824, and died at Thurles, Ireland, July 22, 1902. He was a Catholic bishop in Australia, 1870-74, and afterward was archbishop of Cashel in Ireland taking an active interest in political affairs and in support of the Home Rule movement In 1876 the Catholic Colonization Bureau was organized, with Bishop Ireland as president and Dillon O'Brien, secretary, each of St Paul, through whose efforts many Irish colonists were brought to this county, and to Swift, Murray, and other counties in southwestern Minnesota.

DOLLYMONT TOWNSHIP, organized in 1881, bears the name of a seaside suburb of Dublin, Ireland, about four miles northeast from the center of that city. It was chosen also partly or mainly in honor of Anthony Doll, who was a pioneer settler here.

DUMONT, a railway village in Croke, was named by officers of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railway company. The same name is borne by villages in New Jersey, Iowa, and Colorado.

FOLSOM TOWNSHIP, organized September 2, 1880, was named in honor of Major George P. Folsom, who came from New Hampshire and was one of the first merchants of Brown's Valley. In the north part of this township, adjoining the shore of Lake Traverse in sections 2 and 10, a trading post for the Indians was established about the year 1815 by Robert Dickson, "a red-haired Scotchman," whom the British government had appointed "superintendent of the western tribes." In 1823, the expedition of Long and Keating found the Columbia Fur Company occupying this post (or another location near it), tinder the superintendence of "Mr. Moore," probably Hazen Mooers (b. 1789, d. 18S8). He was also trading here in 1835 when Joseph R. Brown first came to this post; and a few years later, in 1838-39, Mooers and Brown were associated at Gray Cloud island, below St. Paul, in trading and farming.

LAKE VALLEY TOWNSHIP, organized in 1881, is named for the northern part of Lake Traverse bordering its west side. This part of the lake, northward from its marshy tract at the mouth of Mustinka river, is called Buffalo lake on the map of Long's expedition, and Nicollet's map called it Intpah lake, a Sioux name meaning the end. It has an extent of eight or ten miles from south to north, being at the ordinary stage of low water an area of marsh one to two miles wide, in which are several spaces of open water a mile or two in length.

LEONARDSVILLE TOWNSHIP, organized in 1881, commemorates Patrick Leonard, who came from Philadelphia, Pa., settled in Hastings, Minn., 1855, removed to this township as a homestead farmer in May, 1878 and died here in 1900.

MAUDADA, a townsite platted in 1881 on the shore of Lake Traverse close south of the mouth of Mustinka river, was designated in the first county election, November 8, 1881, to be the county seat; but business of the new county had been earlier transacted at Brown's Valley, from which its offices were not removed until in 1886 they were transferred to Wheaton. The name Maudada was in honor of Maud and Ada, daughters of A. C Earsley and Charles F. Washburn, of Herman, the original proprietors of the townsite. This proposed village, though manifesting much vigor in its first year, had only a brief existence.

MONSON TOWNSHIP, organized in 1881, was named for Peter Monson, a Swedish pioneer homesteader.

PARNELL TOWNSHIP, also organized in 1881, was named, like Croke and Tara, by P. D. O'Phelan, one of the county commissioners, in honor of Charles Stewart Parnell (b. 1846, d. 1891), the prominent Irish statesman, who visited the United States in 1879-80.

REDPATH TOWNSHIP, organized in 1881, was named by its Swedish settlers for a trail or path of the Sioux there.

TARA TOWNSHIP, organized in 1881, received this name on recommendation of one of its pioneer settlers, P. D. O'Phelan, a county commissioner, for the renowned hill of Tara in Ireland. This extensive hill, adjoining; the village of Tara, has a height of about 500 feet Here was the "ancient seat of sovereignty in Ireland from a remote period to the middle of the sixth century."

TAYLOR TOWNSHIP, organized in 1881, was named for one of its pioneer homesteaders.

TINTAH TOWNSHIP, organized in 1881, received its name from the Dakota or Sioux people, this being their common word meaning a prairie.

Hennepin wrote of the Sioux as "the Nation of the prairies, who are called Tintonha," a name derived from tintah. Later it has been written Tintonwans, Titonwans, or Tetons, comprising many Sioux bands ranging over southern and western Minnesota and onward to the vast country of plains west of the Missouri.
Shorelines of the Glacial Lake Agassiz extending past the railway village of Tintah are therefrom named the Tintah beaches, being traced, like other shorelines higher and lower, along great distances on each side of the Red River valley.

WALLS TOWNSHIP,  organized in 1881, was named for three brothers, William, Robert, and George Walls, Scotchmen, who came from New, Brunswick, taking homestead claims in this township.

WHEATON, which succeeded Brown's Valley in 1886 as the county seat, is a railway village at the center of Lake Valley township, named in honor of Daniel Thompson Wheaton, of Morris, a surveyor for the Fargo Southern railway company. He advised that this new village be named Swedenburg in compliment to the Swedish owners of its site, Swan C and Ole Odenborg, but they preferred to give it this name of the surveyor. He was born in Barre, Vt, January 21, 1845; was graduated at Dartmouth College, 1869; came to Minnesota in 1871, and settled at Morris in 1876; was county surveyor of Stevens county, 1877-1910.

WINDSOR TOWNSHIP, first settled in September, 1871, organized in 1881, was named by one of its pioneer farmers, William J. Smith, who came here from Hastings, Minn. This name is borne by an ancient borough on the River Thames in England, a seaport town of Nova Scotia, a city in Ontario, and townships and villages or cities in nineteen other states of the Union.


Lake Traverse whence the county is named, has been noticed at the beginning of this chapter. Its northern part, often called Mud lake, is more definitely described, with comments on its nomenclature, under Lake Valley township.

The most southern island of Lake Traverse, about halfway across the lake opposite to the former trading post, which has been noticed for Folsom township, is called Snake island, "covering about 20 acres, once the village home of the Indians."

Battle point, in section 29, Windsor, commemorates a battle between the Ojibways and the Sioux, about the year 1830, narrated by Barrett (History of this county, 1881, p. 8).

Two other islands, nearer to the South Dakota, shore, lie about one to two miles north of Battle point, the more southern being Plum island and the other North island. The former translates a Sioux name, Kanta Wita, which is placed farther north on Nicollet's map, in the extreme northern end of this lake.

Bois de Sioux River, outflowing from Lake Traverse to the Red river, has an early French name, meaning Woods of the Sioux, with reference to the woods or narrow groves by which it is bordered along its lowest five miles, next to Breckenridge and Wahpeton. On the map of Long's expedition, in 1823, it is called Sioux river; and in the Narrative by Keating, as also in the description of the country by Long, it is mentioned as the Sioux river or Swan river. The name Bois des Sioux was used by Keating to note only its fringe of timber. On Nicollet's map, 1843, it is named Sioux Wood river.

Keating's Narrative spells the name of the Mustinka river, tributary to Lake Traverse, with a more correct rendering of its Sioux pronunciation, Mushtincha, meaning Rabbit. The main stream receives in this county South and West branches or forks, and the latter has an affluent named Twelve Mile creek.


Pelican hill, two miles northeast of Brown's Valley, is a knoll on the crest of the bluff of Lake Traverse, about 25 feet higher than the adjoining portions of the bluff.

Similar knolls or hillocks on or near the lake bluff close south of the Mustinka river were mapped by Nicollet with Sioux names, Plan Kara and Manstitsa Kara. One of these is now called Round Mound, from which, as noted by Barrett, very impressive views are obtained, especially when the effects of mirage bring Herman and the Tokua lakes into sight.

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