A History of RED LAKE COUNTY, Minnesota

The Battle for the County Seat

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Now it carne to pass in the latter part of the nineteenth century that the county of Polk in the broad state of Minnesota, was thought by some of its worthy inhabitants to be too large; and those especially who dwelt in the city of Red Lake Falls, nestling prettily among the hills between the bend of its two rivers, determined that they should have a county of their own, carved out of the northeastern part of the parent county, and of which their city should be the county seat.

Then there was a great hurrying to and fro, and meetings of citizens and much work was done and many shekels spent to bring the matter to a successful vote, for behold the parent county sternly opposed the amputation of any of its parts, and put up a brave front of battle. For several years through several elections and in the legislative halls at St. Paul the battle waged and many times was Red Lake Falls defeated in her ambitions.

Yet her people rose from each defeat with fresh courage, and passed the hat and collected more funds, and never for a moment ceased to fight, until in 1896, the battle of the ballots was won, the new county of Red Lake was born, wearing as its brightest gem, the triumphant city of Red Lake Falls.

Legal fights followed, for old Polk would not give up, and the moment came when the five wise judges of the great court at St. Paul were called upon to say whether Red Lake lived, or had "died a'bornin." After due deliberation, they seized their pens and wrote the famous decision which took Red Lake from the struggling hands of her wet nurse - Polk, and endowed her with independent life all her own.

Now, this fighting cost many thousands of dollars which the people of Red Lake Falls contributed, and cheerfully borrowed from their friends when they lacked it themselves. During all this time there was situated on the mud flats in the northern part of the county, a little village known as Thief River Falls; whether so called by reason of certain propensities of its citizens, was not known at that time, but it is now certain that the parent who named it was a true prophet and deserves a leather medal for his foresight and a reserved toasting fork in Hades for his hindsight in ever founding such a place at all.

This town had never taken any interest in the new county, never spent any money and cast only four of her people's votes for it at the election. Yet the ink was scarcely dry upon the court's decision, when her people began to cast envious eyes upon the county seat at Red Lake Falls.

Only her weakness and the fact that the law prohibited a change in the county seat for five years prevented her immediate action. Seven or eight years later the opportunity came. The county seat had prospered. The people of the county were well satisfied with its location, yet the jealousy that rankled in the north had prevented the building of a decent courthouse.

A new railroad, the Soo, came wending its way through the county and through some oversight, when Providence wasn't looking, built into Thief River Falls, bringing big crews of foreign labor there. A large saw mill was built, employing drifting crews of lumberjacks.

The little town swelled up like a pint of beans in a bucket of boiling water, and looked so big to its citizens that they began to pity Crookston, Grand Forks and Bemidji.

An unofficial census was taken and its taker counted all the noses that lined up before Andy Erickson's bar for thirty days and nights until his figures became a little hazy and the accuracy of his report has been doubted.

Several hot air lines were built and are now running full blast, on hot air. The surrounding country was promptly notified that Thief River Falls was the only thing that ever happened, and that everybody had better get into the ark before the deluge comes. A few of us are still out taking chances.

True to its name, the nature of the Town soon asserted itself, and its people determined to become possessed of the county seat. A committee was appointed. The saloon licenses raised to sixteen thousand dollars and with eight thousand dollars of the drink money thus obtained, means were at once resorted to, to line up enough of the voters of the county to change the county seat. A petition was circulated to that effect, and booze freely distributed.

Now, Thief River's whiskey would make a jackrabbit sign his grandfather's death warrant, and it apparently had that effect on the voters. Joe Duchamp was employed to dig up all the Indians who had ever died on the reservation, and anyone who has ever seen Joe can safely affirm that no Indian, living or dead, would hesitate long about signing his name at Joe's request.

At any rate the petition to rob Red Lake Falls of its hard earned county seat was finally brought into the county auditor's office in April, 1905, with two-thousand, six names attached. Since then the merry war has been on. To be sure Thief River has not progressed far. Indeed, she seems built like a crab, with great facilities for going backwards.

Red Lake Falls attacked the legality of the petition in the courts. Prolonged litigation followed. Lawsuit after lawsuit was tried, and sometimes the thieves (Riverites) won in the district court, and the county seat defenders appealed to the higher court at St. Paul, when the five wise judges of the supreme court almost invariably promptly seized their pens and wrote the decisions which made Red Lake Falls happy.

At last, after two years, when the poor old petition was worn down to skin and bone with litigation, and had attained a dishonorable ole age, it became so ashamed of itself and the cause for which it stood, that it suddenly faded away, vanished, disappeared, vamosed, and went back to the father of Evil where it undoubtedly had its birth.

No one has yet been found who will own up to a knowledge of its whereabouts, though Red Lake Falls buisiness men offered a reward of five hundred dollars for its return. The city had spent a great deal of money in obtaining withdrawal of signatures from it, and all this would go for naught if a new petition were presented.

Thief River Falls put on a long face, which seemed to conceal a broad smile of joy, and before the smell of brimstone had faded away from the corpse, they were circulating a new petition.

Everybody signed this, who did not live in Red Lake County, North Dakota railroad crews, St. Paul traveling men, Marshall County farmers, Beltrami lumberjacks, and a few Indians who died before the Civil War, but still take great interest in the affairs of Red Lake County. This petition was filed with the county auditor amid great rejoicing on the part of the Thief Riverites, who now thought the fight was all over, but the shouting.

But it wasn't.

Again the Supreme Court had the last to say, and they decided that the rejoicing was premature; that the first petition was "not dead, but sleeping," and that until the board of county commissioners held a post-mortem over its devoted corpse, and ordered funeral trimmings, it was still enough alive to kick its worthy successor, the second petition, into the great hereafter.

And so the matter rests. The people have been granted a breathing spell in the cruel county seat war which had disrupted the county, broken the ties of friendship, turned brother against brother, and father against son.

Let's all get together now and be good, spend our time, our breath, and our money in advertising the whole county, and in doing the greatest good to the greatest number. Cut out all selfishness, ill-will, and sectional feeling and pull together. We have one of the best counties in the state. Let's make it still better.

Charles Boughton, Sr.

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