Homesteading 1860s-1920s

Settlement in Northeastern Minnesota on the outskirts of Duluth took place much later than the more fertile farmland of Southern Minnesota.

Much of the area around Proctor was settled between the late 1860s and continued into the 1920s but the bulk appears to have occurred in the 1880s to 1990.

Overall, in America the highest number of homesteads granted from public lands occurred between 1900-1920. Peaking in about 1915, 10 million acres were transferred to private ownership.

Minnesota became a state in 1858 and had been a state from 39-50 years during the period of time settlement was occurring in the areas around Proctor.

Large numbers of settlers were Scandinavian immigrants. Proctor, itself, had a sizeable French-Canadian population living in what was known as “Frog Town” on Proctor’s West Side. They along with most other settlers had no recollection of the Civil War or the Little Big Horn, but many would have sons who would fight, and some would die, in World War I.

During this period of settlement, America was going through an explosion of inventiveness — inventions such as the telephone in 1876, the phonograph in 1877, and the automobile in 1886. And the Eastern US was already well settled.

In 1896, Olaf Gulleranson and 36 others signed a petition to change the name of the township of Fond-du-lac to Midway. Fond-du-lac was one of the oldest townships in St. Louis County. Proctor was carved out of Oneota Township in 1894. Rice Lake Township was formed in 1870, which at the time included Canosia Township, which became a separate township in 1888. Solway was formed in 1897.

The world of farming was rapidly changing by the time homesteaders were settling the Proctor area. Industrialization and inventions that spurred it had begun mechanization of farming. New horse-drawn plows, reapers and mowers had made planting and harvesting more efficient and with the advent of tractors and automobiles, would eventually replace the horse as the main source of traction and transport, although the horse would continue to have a place on many forms until after World War II.

Still, planting and harvesting required numerous hands to get the job down. Large families and relatives close by provided a ready pool of helpers. In many cases, they moved from family-farm to family-farm during the season.

The 1918 Sear Roebuck four-volume Farm Knowledge series clearly showed the improvements in farming. The volume on machinery offered advice on how to adapt the Model T Ford with the use of after-market accessories, to multiple farm chores.