Who was the first settler in what is now Fargo? The answer is not absolutely certain but much of the following material was published in the Sunday Argus on July 5, 1896, just 21 years after Fargo was officially established. Given that the information was still recent at the time, the account is likely as accurate as we will find.
The Native Americans, of course, inhabited the Red River Valley long before Europeans came to America or migrated west. The first known documented exploration of the area by non-Native Americans was an expedition sent by the War Department in 1858. This was a survey party looking for a northern railroad route to the Pacific. The group crossed the Red River near Breckenridge and camped near the Sheyenne River.
In the winter of 1869, several families named Hicks settled in the immediate vicinity of where Hickson now stands. In the same winter of 1869, Charles Farrell and Conrad Mow settled on the Sheyenne, west of present day Fargo.
On November 7, 1870, D. P. Harris arrived at the Probst house, a rendezvous for hunters, and took a claim on land just across the river, where he built a 16 x 24 foot log house.
Peter Goodman may be the first pioneer settler of Cass County. He made frequent trading trips through the area starting in 1866, after gaining the confidence of the Native Americans. In 1871, he took up residence on the west bank of the Red River, north of present-day Fargo. Prior to 1871, Goodman lived with a Mr. Probst on the east bank of the river.
By the spring of 1871, many were watching the land north and south of Fargo to find out where the Northern Pacific was likely to cross. They all expected a townsite to be established at the crossing point and were eager to secure land in the anticipation of land values increasing rapidly. Among the land speculators, the Argus mentions by name Jacob Lowell, H. S. Back, A. McHench, and James Holes. In the spring of 1871, speculators could be found near the mouth of the Elm River, where it was thought the crossing would be made. Camping at the Elm River were Jacob Lowell, Sr., Jacob Lowell, Jr., Andrew McHench, N. K. Hubbard, H. S. Back, Capt. George Egbert, and George Sanborn.
The speculators soon found Elm River was not be the crossing site and were again mislead into thinking the site would be south of Fargo at a site later named "Bogusville." The speculators rushed to that site (Oak Port) and included Jasper B. Chapin, John E. Haggart, G .J. Keeney, Harry Fuller, and N. Whitman.
Jacob Lowell, Jr., took residence in Fargo in April 1871, and the Argus credits him as the first settler in Fargo. Lowell registered his claim three months later on July 1, 1871.
With the announcement of the site of the crossing of the Red River at the present location of Fargo, land speculators immediately filed claims. The earliest registered claims were:
- Harry Fuller, June 15, 1871
- Andrew McHench, July 3
- G. J. Keeney, July 5
- Jacob Lowell, Sr., July 5
- Charles Roberts, July 8
- James Holes, July 26
- John E. Haggart, August 8
- A. H. Moore, August 19
- A. J. Harwood, August 22
- Brad Stevens, October 31
- Pat Devitt, November 25
N. B. Pinkham shared his recollections of early Fargo in the June 7, 1894 Argus. Pinkham claimed he was "a settler in Cass county before any other American." Pinkham wrote that "if Jake Lowell was here before me it was as a settler at Elm River. He did not come to Fargo to settle until July. I was on my claim in May 1871 and when I came I found Hans Hoglund, August Lundblom, and Martin Knudson on the Sheyenne. They had been there two or three weeks." He went on to say that "there was also a Norwegian settler on the townsite of Fargo, but the Puget Sound Company bought him off and he went away. There were also two or three settlers on the Dakota side near Georgetown." Most of the settlers Pinkham mentions were north of Fargo (near Georgetown) or west of Fargo (near the Sheyenne).
Lounsberry lists the membership of the Red River Valley Old Settlers Association in 1895. Those listed for Fargo, and their date of settlement were:
- Jacob Lowell (October 1870)
- Andrew McHench (November 2, 1870)
- P. P. Nokken (June 1871)
- George G. Beardsley (June 1871)
- James Holes (July 1871)
- A. F. Pinkham (October 1, 1871)
- John E. Haggart (1871)
- G. J. Keeney (1871)
- Terrence Martin (1871)
- Frank Whitman (1871)
- N. B. Pinkham (1871)
- Harry O'Neil (January 1872)
- J. C. Probert (April 1872)
- Philip McLauglin (September 16, 1872)
- Samuel G. Roberts (1872)
- Charles Crawford (1872)
- Alex Gamble (1872)
- W. H. White (1872)
- William O'Neill (1872)
- Martin Hector (1872)
- Chas. B. Thiemens (1873)
- Evan S. Tyler (1873)
- William W. Gamble (August 1873)
According to the June 7, 1894 Argus, the December 1874 tax rolls of Cass County showed 240 personal taxpayers. The total valuation was $81,235. There were 17 names on the real estate rolls outside of the city limits and 25 names on the real estate rolls within Fargo city limits. The latter were: C. E. Peterson, Terrence Martin, Northern Pacific Railroad Company, A. Plummer, Francis Pinkham, John H. Hanson, P. W. Kennedy, B. A. Berg & Co., J. B. Chapin, C. S. Foster, Charles Cotter, Bernard Griffin, L. R. Beardsley, E. S. Tyler, A. McHench, D. A. Sanders, J. Lowell Jr., E. A. Grant, Oscar Smith, George Egbert, A. J. Durham, A. A. Hall, John Cummings, John E. Haggart, and John Burns. The total value of the real estate within the city limits was $23,490.
Only 11 years later, in 1885, the valuation of city property had increased to $3,825,950. The number of personal taxpayers in Fargo increased from 240 in 1874 to 2,833 in 1885.