Benton County, MN

Local History

Benton County History

Before Columbus, the area now called Benton County, MN was part of a vast region occupied by the Ojibway people. (a.k.a. Ojibwe, Ojibwa, Chippewa, or Saulteaux). In what is now central Minnesota, the upper Missiissippi formed the boundary between the Ojibway on the east and the Sioux (a.k.a. Dakota) on the west, who were bitter enemies.

French explorers, missionaries, and fur traders began exploring Minnesota in the mid 17th century. It is unknown if any of them passed through, stayed a night or built a cabin in what is now Benton County.

The history of treaties and skirmishes is a complex story, but the general trend is the same as in other parts of the American Midwest. The Ojibway and Sioux were gradually removed to reservations, in Minnesota and the Dakota Territory. In 1848 group of Winnebago, from Iowa, was placed on the west bank of the Mississippi, opposite the new settlement of Watab, but they were again removed in 1855 to a reservation on the Blue Earth River.

The area between the St Croix and Mississippi rivers was ceded to the settlers by treaty in 1837, but the part that became Benton County had no permanent white settlers until 1848. The land west of the Mississippi was opened up for the white settlers in 1851, by another treaty. The location of St Cloud, Stearns County, which would become the largest city in the region, was inhabited only by Indians in the early years of Sauk Rapids and Benton County.

Minnesota Territory was formed in 1849, after Wisconsin had become the 30th state in 1848. Benton, one of the original counties in Minnesota Territory, was formed in 1849, and organized in 1850. [MV, p. 340]

The first white settlers in what is now Benton County settled in the area of Watab/Sauk Rapids. David GILMAN, made a claim at Watab in 1848, and remained in the general area, although whether he was in Watab or Sauk Rapids is not clear. T. A. HOLMES settled in Sauk Rapids in Spring 1848, and James BEATTY in Fall 1848. H. M. RICE built a trading post at Sauk Rapids, which was purchased by the American Fur Company, and managed by Jeremiah RUSSELL in 1849.

Sauk Rapids grew rapidly, at first, and when the US Census was recorded by R. M. RICHARDSON on 18 Sep 1850, the total was 418. The growth slowed somewhat, as the population of Benton County was 627 in 1860.

Minnesota was reorganized several times in the mid 19th Century, and it may be hard to find features in common on different maps.

Benton County, Minnesota Territory, in 1852 [source]

Benton County, Minnesota Territory, in 1856 [source]

By 1856, the area of Benton County had been reduced, to nearly its present size. The eastern part of the county extended to the Rum River. The map above shows 4 villages, all near the Mississippi River: Langola, Watab, Sauk Rapids, and Benton. The village of Langola has since disappeared, but Langola Township remains. The village of Benton has been absorbed by the eastern part of St Cloud.

In 1857, the eastern end of Benton had become part of Mille Lacs County, leaving Benton County in its current shape.

The eastern part of Minnesota Territory became the 32nd state, taking the name Minnesota, in 1858. The western part became Dakota Territory, eventually North and South Dakota.

Of the 253,440 acres in Benton County, only 1,239 were cultivated in 1869. That's about half of 1%. So a 160-acre "farm" might only have 8 acres growing crops. [M, pp. 199-200] By 1881 there were 9,043 acres under cultivation. [MV, p. 340]

In 1870, Benton County had 4 post offices: Langola, Maywood, Sauk Rapids, and Watab. Only Maywood was in the eastern part of the county, not on the Mississippi. The county had: Number of horses, 264; cattle, 843; mules, 16; sheep, 449; hogs, 167; Wheat (1867), 7383 bushels; carriages, 52; watches, 49; pianos, 5. Schools, 10; school houses, 5; scholars, 449. Sauk Rapids itself had population about 500, which was 1/3 of the county, and had 2 hotels, 6 stores, 2 churches, 2 lawyers, 1 doctor. The village of Watab boasted a steam saw mill and 5 houses. [M, pp. 199-200]

Benton County, Minnesota, in 1871 [source]

Starting in 1850, we have population totals every 10 years from the US Census. (The 1860 total includes a significant number of Princeton and Rum River inhabitants, which were not part of Benton County afterwards.)

1850 -      418
1860 -      627
1870 -   1,558
1880 -   3,012
1890 -   6,284
1900 -   9,912
1910 - 11,615
1920 - 14,073
1930 - 15,056
1940 - 16,106
1950 - 15,911
1960 - 17,287
1970 - 20,841
1980 - 25,187
1990 - 30,185
2000 - 34,226
2010 - 38,451

A glance at the census records for Benton County show many people who were born in Poland, Germany and Bohemia. A large group came from the Opole region of Polish Sliesia in 1870, and settled near North Prairie, Morrison County, near the northwest corner of Benton County. Many of these immigrants came into Benton County and settled in Langola. In the late 1870s, Ignacy Wendziński, publisher of the Chicago newspaper Przyjaciel Ludu (The People’s Friend), formed a Polish-American colony in Gilman township, Benton County. In 1878, a colony of more than 30 Polish Lutheran families was founded at Sauk Rapids.

Benton County, MN in 1903 [ source]

Links to Benton County and Minnesota History

[CF] Maps showing history of county formation in Minnesota.

[HM] History of Methodism in Minnesota (1900) by Chauncey Hobart
(A transcribed version of the chapter on Benton County is here.)

[HS] Benton County Historical Society and Museum.

[LV] The Lost Village of Langola is near the NW corner of Benton County, just above the confluence of the Platte and Mississipi Rivers.

[M] Minnesota as it is in 1870 by John W. McClung

[MV] History of the Upper Mississippi Valley (1881) pp. 340-69 covers Benton County.

[OW] Out on the wind : life in Minnesota's Polish farming communities (2002) by John Radziłowski

[PG] The Polish Genealogical Society of Minnesota

[R] Historical Sketches of Royalton and Vicinity by Frank B. Logan

[RD] Ronneby Dissolves, 2009

[SA] Silesia to America -- A Heritage - Polish Silesian Settlement in Central Minnesota.

[T] 1886 Sauk Rapids Tornado on Wikipedia and on YouTube.

Other links on local history can be found on the Research Links and Biographies pages.

Note: I have not found any genealogical information on the Ojibway Indians, who inhabited this area before 1837. The purpose of this site is to provide information on anyone who ever lived in what is now called Benton County. If there are names, dates, family stories, or any information that would be appropriate here, I would be very interested to see it.

I'm also looking for more information on the German, Polish and other European immigrants who came here after 1870. Most of the people in Benton County from 1848 to 1870 were born in the US or Canada, and had ancestry in France and the British Isles. I have plenty of biographies and stories about them, but not many about the farmers who came from Central and Eastern Europe after 1870. - WH

Updated 6 Nov 2019 by William Haloupek

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