In 1886, a farmer-rancher deeded 40 acres of his land to the Great Northern Railroad (GNRR) for the establishment of a town on the land, and that town grew to become the fourth largest city in North Dakota.
Twenty-four years later, that same man donated another 60 acres to establish a college that grew to become the fourth largest university in the state. For those reasons, Erik Ramstad can be called the father of Minot and the father of Minot State University.
Erik Reiersen was born Jan. 17, 1860, on a farm near Sigdal, in south-central Norway, to Reier and Anne (Ellefsdatter) Pederson. Erik attended a country school, but the education he received was so inadequate that, at the time he was to begin church "confirmation classes, he was unable to read or write." His parents were very poor, and in desperation, they "sought help from the welfare commission to find him a place to stay for his education, but nobody would take him because he was so mischievous."
A minister in Sigdal finally agreed to take Erik into his home and teach him to read and write. After Erik became literate, he was hired out to work for farmers in the area, and one of the people he worked for was Steinar Ramstad. Erik told Steinar that he would like to immigrate to America, and after Erik earned his trust, Steinar loaned him money to board a ship headed to the U.S. on July 14, 1879.
After arriving in America, Erik traveled to Freeborn County in south-central Minnesota and worked as a farmhand, sending money back to his family and to Steinar to pay off the loan. In 1880, Erik was joined by his older brother, Peder, and two years later, the two men journeyed to Walsh County, in northern Dakota Territory, in the hope of finding land on which to establish a homestead. Although Erik did not find any suitable available land, he did find something else, and on Feb. 3, 1883, he married Oline "Lena" Oleson from Grafton.
Erik learned from friends that the Mouse River Valley, in northwestern Dakota Territory, had "many splendors (desirable farm land) to bid on." In May, Erik, Lena, Peder, and a team of oxen, along with a couple of cows, headed west. When they reached the Mouse/Souris River, Erik selected 80 acres along the river, 40 acres on each side, and built his home.
Having no farm machinery, Erik was forced to improvise. He cut down a large tree with many branches, hitched it to his oxen, dragged it back and forth across the land to break up the soil, and then scattered the seed by hand. Erik also devised ingenious devices to cut and harvest his grain. When the harvest was over, he and Peder loaded much of their grain into wagons and, with the use of oxen, traveled 120 miles to Devils Lake to sell their produce and purchase supplies. In 1885 Erik's mother and his sister Berte, arrived from Norway and traveled to Erik's home.
Reiner Pederson, Erik's father, had died in 1884. It was about this time that the entire Reierson family, in honor of Steinar Ramstad, decided to adopt Ramstad as their surname. On Nov. 23, 1885, Ward County was organized, and to Erik's disappointment, Burlington, a town 8 miles northwest of his farm, was named county seat. Minot became the county seat in 1888.
The GNRR was pushing westward from Devils Lake, and their route was to take them right through the land owned by Erik. Solomon Comstock, president of the GNRR land company, met with Erik and obtained an agreement from him to deed 40 acres south of the Mouse River to the GNRR. People quickly flooded into the area and a large tent town was established, and because of this, the new town acquired the sobriquet "The Magic City."
Acting on behalf of the GNRR, Comstock acquired an additional 40 acres south of Erik's original claim and town lots were platted, a post office was established and on June 28, 1887, those 80 acres officially became the city of Minot. Erik erected the first wooden structure in Minot when he built his house in what became the downtown part of the city.
Being deeply religious, one of the first things Erik and Peder did was to have a Lutheran Church constructed in Minot. The Ramstad brothers were very active in the church and Lena organized the Lutheran Ladies Aid of Minot. When the pastor later changed his sermons from Norwegian to English, Erik felt betrayed and lamented, "Now I am homeless in my old church home. All the work, struggle, and expense is wasted."
In the spring of 1905, Erik co-founded the Great Northern Lumber Company and five years later organized a group of investors to establish the Scandinavian American Bank of Minot and served as president. Because of his own personal experience back in Norway, Erik understood the importance of a good education and was active in supporting the development of schools in Minot, and the Erik Ramstad Middle School is named in his honor.
In 1905, he was named to the board of trustees for the North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo. Minot had grown rapidly from 400 people in 1887 to more than 6,000 by 1910. The one thing that was lacking in western North Dakota was a good college that could provide advanced educational opportunities for the young people in the area.
In 1907, Christopher A. Johnson, a state legislator from Minot, introduced a bill to establish a normal school in Minot. After this measure passed, two constitutional amendments were passed in the 1909 Legislature that enabled this measure to be placed on a statewide ballot for a vote by citizens in North Dakota. Erik donated the needed 60 acres for building the school, and the measure was passed by state voters 45,792 to 25,743.
After the measure was approved, "a group of (Minot) citizens accompanied by a band carried Erik Ramstad, decked out in a tall silk hat, on their shoulders through the city." The Minot Normal School became Minot State Teachers College in 1924, Minot State College in 1964 and Minot State University in 1987.
Besides the middle school, one of the major streets in downtown Minot was named in Erik's honor, and the name of Ramstad Avenue is now First Street East. Erik Ramstad died Jan. 21, 1951.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at email@example.com.