Northwestern Minnesota

Kittson County History

Date Organized: February 25, 1879. Part of the Pembina District until organization. The county also included the western portion of what is now Roseau County until 1894.

County Seat: The county seat is Hallock. The first county commissioners, who were appointed by Governor Pillsbury, designated Hallock as the temporary county seat. However, in 1891, a group of citizens from St. Vincent, circulated a petition to move the county seat to St. Vincent, with a promise to build an $8,000 courthouse. The petition was dismissed by the county commissioners because of the "unauthorization of the circulation of the petition" and that they had no jurisdiction for this matter. A courthouse was built in Hallock in 1896. The present courthouse was built in 1964.

Origin of the County Name: The county is named after Norman W. Kittson, an early fur trader & partner of the American Fur Company. He increased the fur trading traffic significantly by increasing the use of oxcarts. He was also responsible for the pioneering of the steamboat in the Red River and was active with James J. Hill in the development of the railroad. His contributions played an important role in the settlement of the county.

Prehistory: Kittson County was once part of glacial Lake Agassiz. Evidence of this prehistoric lake can still be seen in the topography of the county today. Remnants of "McCauleyville Beach" of Lake Agassiz, can be found on the eastern portion of the county. This is an area of sandy soil and sand ridges. Other evidence of the glacier and Lake Agassiz is the approximately 140' drop in elevation from the eastern portion of the county to the western part, near the Red River. This is where one can find the black, rich soil that the Red River Valley is famous for. Evidence of occupation dating back 1800 years has been confirmed through archaeological expeditions done in the 1930's and the 1970's around the burial mounds that are located on the sand ridges in the eastern part of the county. This dates back to the "Woodland Period". Evidence has been found that the Laurel, Arvilla, St. Croix & Blackduck complexes were the early occupants of the county. However, approximately 400 years ago, the Cree, Assiniboin, Sioux and Ojibway inhabited the county.

Early Exploration: The early explorers of the region were the fur traders. Pembina, North Dakota's oldest settlement, which was located just across the Red River, dates its beginning to 1797 when the first trading post was established by Charles Baptiste Chaboillez of the Northwest Fur Company. The Hudson Bay and the American Fur Companies were also situated in Pembina as the fur trading industry increased. The fur traders and voyageurs traveled on the eastern side of the Red, which eventually would be Kittson County. Alexander Henry, who erected a fort for the Northwest Company in Pembina, is considered to be the first white man to test agriculture in the valley. Joe Rolette, who started a fur post for the American Fur Company in Pembina, and Norman W. Kittson, were two "explorers" that predominately opened this area by developing the Red River Ox Cart trails and broadening the use of the ox carts. The need for the ox carts diminished as the steamboats became the new mode for transporting furs and supplies, Eventually, the steamboats were replaced by the railroad.

Settlement: St. Vincent, which is located directly across the Red River from Pembina, was settled in 1857. With rumors of a railroad coming through, settlers moved across the river from Pembina to stake their claims. Many of these early settlers were Metis, a mixture of native and naturlized North Americans, Nearly twenty years later, in 1878, the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad line finally reached St. Vincent and opened up the area to settlement. This railroad extended through the western portion of the county. The communities of Donaldson, Kennedy, Hallock, Northcote, Humboldt and St. Vincent were established along this line. It wasn't until the early 1900's when the eastern portion of the county was settled. The Soo Line railroad was completed in 1904 and the communities of Karlstad, Halma, Bronson, Lancaster, Orleans and Noyes were established. Scandinavians, Ukrainians, Polish, Scottish, Irish, English, Germans, French Canadians and Metis all contributed to Kittson County's "melting pot".

Historic Sites: There are currently three sites in the county that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. They include the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, located in Caribou Township, the burial mounds referred to as the "Lake Bronson Site" which is located in Norway & Percy Twps. and the Lake Bronson State Park WPA/Rustic Style Historic Resources which include an observation tower and several buildings. The Lake Bronson State Park also has interpretive sites for the tower, a pioneer cemetery and the WPA camp.

Names of Cities

  • Hallock was named after Charles Hallock, the founder of the magazine, Forest & Stream. He was an avid sportsman who purchased one of the early town sites and built Hotel Hallock, a place for travelers and sportsmen. The town was built around this location.
  • Donaldson was named after Captain Hugh Donaldson, a veteran and Civil War officer who came to the area in 1878 and became a dominant figure of the community.
  • Humboldt was named after the German scientist, Alexander von Humboldt,
  • Karlstad was named after a Swedish immigrant, Carl August Carlson, who allowed the Soo Line to put the railroad through his homestead. The name also came from the city of Karlstad, Sweden.
  • Kennedy was named after John Swart Kennedy, a native of Scotland who had a connection with James J. Hill's interests.
  • Bronson was named after the first settlers in the area, Giles and Margaret Bronson. It became Lake Bronson in the late 1930's after the dam was built and their homestead became part of the lake.
  • Lancaster was named after an official of the Soo Line, believed to have come from Lancashire County in England.
  • Northcote was named for Sir Henry Stafford Northcote, an English Statesman and financier who had financial interests in James J. Hill's projects.
  • Noyes was named after J. A. Noyes, the first Deputy Collector of Customs at the U. S./Canadian port of entry.
  • St. Vincent was named after St. Vincent de Paul, founder of missions and hospitals in France.


The Kittson County History Center/Museum located in Lake Bronson, is the only museum in the county. The museum has many exhibits depicting the pioneer era and a resource area that includes a microfilm library of most of the county's newspapers dating back to the early 1880's and state & federal census records. The museum is open year round and admission is free.

Kittson County Historical Society
Cindy Adams, Director
P.O. Box 100
Lake Bronson, MN 56734
(218) 754-4100








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