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Kittson Cabin

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May is National Historic Preservation Month. Today, we celebrate North Dakota’s history by highlighting a preservation example.

In 1843, Norman Wolfred Kittson, working with the American Fur company, arrived in Pembina to replace Joseph Rolette Jr. as the head trader in the Red River Valley and International Boundary region.

Kittson established three new posts near Pembina, eventually moving to one in 1852, where a burgeoning community was growing around the fur trade. He was followed by missionary Father George A. Belcourt, who built a chapel dedicated to St. Joseph there, and the community became known as St. Joseph.

Despite his posting far from St. Paul, Kittson still served as a legislator in Minnesota. He had also built a store and warehouse, from which he shipped furs to Mendota "by the ponderous, slow-moving Red river carts. His success in the fur business was something unparalleled,” according to the St. Paul Daily Globe.

In 1871, St. Joseph would be renamed Walhalla, a version of Valhalla, the home of the gods in Norse mythology. Today, a log building that was Kittson's warehouse remains as one of the few structures left from the fur trade era in northeastern North Dakota. In hopes of preserving this window into the past, the building was dismantled, moved, and rebuilt at the Walhalla State Historic Site, overlooking the city, around 1904.

Kittson unexpectedly passed away on a train near Chicago on May 10, 1888. He was 72 years old. Later that month, he was honored by the Chamber of Commerce in St. Paul by the following preamble and resolutions, as reported in the newspaper:

“Whereas, Almighty God in His wisdom has seen fit to remove from us by death Hon. Norman W. Kittson, one of the oldest members of this body … one of the most distinguished citizens of Minnesota … [who] in all measures for the advancement of this city… was ever ready to contribute his full share as a public-spirited citizen … Resolved, That [his death] may well be regarded as a public calamity.”

Kittson County, in far northwest Minnesota is named for him.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker

SHSND AHP file 32PB66
North Dakota Place Names, by Douglas Wick
St. Paul Daily Globe, May 11, 1888, p1 (Kittson obit - https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059522/1888-05-11/ed-1/seq-1/)
St. Paul Daily Globe, May 29, 1888, p2

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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