The snap and creak of harnesses, the precision of furrows newly turned in the earth, the rich smell of food being prepared for harvest crews... this is the legacy early homesteaders brought to the picturesque Sheyenne River Valley in the late 1800s.
Today, that heritage is preserved at Ft. Ransom State Park, which officially opened in July, 1979.
The Early Years:
The Sheyenne River valley is rich with history. The first inhabitants of the valley were Asiatic Mound Builders who roamed the area 5,000 to 8,000 years ago. These inhabitants lived in dugouts or semi-dugouts. Most of the mounds they built were probably burial mounds, and can still be seen today in the valley. It is believed that these people left inscriptions in a large boulder in the valley know as Writing Rock.
Following this period, several other Indian cultures inhabited the valley at various times. Farming tribes of Hidatsa, Mandan and Sheyenne are believed to have spent time there, as well as tribes of Chippewa and Sioux in their wanderings across the Great Plains. The first known expedition of white men in the area was led by Pierre de la Verendrye in 1738. The fur trading industry followed and lasted until approximately 1860.
The park derives its name from the original Ft. Ransom, named for General T.E.G. Ransom, a distinguished volunteer officer in the Civil War. The fort was established in 1867 to guard the trail from Fort Abercrombie to the Missouri River. Men at the fort also provided protection for crews working on the Northern Pacific Railroad to the north. Fort Ransom was abandoned just five years later in 1872. The original fort site is located three miles south of the park.
The Homesteading Years:
During this period, much of the valley was settled by Norwegian farmers and a deep-rooted Scandinavian heritage still exists there today.
Hardworking and industrious, these immigrants left an indelible mark on North Dakota's history. Their settlement of the area led to a period of extensive agricultural development and homesteading. Durum wheat, one of North Dakota's major grain crops, was first grown in the United States in this area in 1882. Within the park can be found two early farmsteads. The Bjone House, just inside the park entrance, is used as a visitor center. The house was built by Nils Olson in 1879 and inhabited by the Bjone Family until 1976. In 1882, it was the site of the first Lutheran Church services in the area.
Exhibits in the visitor center contain information on local folklore and Norwegian legends. A second farm, first homesteaded by Andrew Sunne in 1884, is the site of the park's annual Sodbuster Days, sponsored by the Ft. Ransom Sodbusters Association. Held twice each summer on the second full weekend in July and the weekend after Labor Day, Sodbuster Days attract visitors for demonstrations of horse-drawn fieldwork, antique machinery displays, blacksmithing and farm cooking.
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