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First Homestead Patent


2008 marks the beginning of the Bicentennial Commemoration on the birth of Abraham Lincoln and among the more important actions of President Lincoln, especially in regard to Dakota Territory, was the signing of the Homestead Act in 1864. On this date in 1914 the Jamestown Sun announced the death or Nelson E. Nelson, the recipient of the first homestead for what is now North Dakota. Born in 1833, Nelson immigrated from Norway in 1849 and grew up in Wisconsin. He began working as a clerk in land offices in Wisconsin and Minnesota. On May 17, 1861, at age 28, he enlisted in the Minnesota First Regiment and saw action at Bull Run, the Shenandoah Valley Campaign and the Battle of Antietam Creek which was the bloodiest single day in the Civil War; 23,000 men were killed or wounded on both sides. His regiment lost one hundred and forty one men.

Returning to Minnesota, Nelson E. Nelson first became a judge of the probate and then register of deeds for Sibley County. In 1869 he accepted a job as deputy collector of customs at Pembina, Dakota Territory. When the land became available for homesteading near Pembina, Nelson , along with a number of other individuals, filed for a homestead in Section 8 of Township 163, Range 51 on December 19, 1870. He then obtained the first patent for Homestead in what is now North Dakota and his Patent was #1. Officially his patent is listed on page 29 of Land Office Tract Book #85, which shows it as #_ and he may have initially shared the patent number with Joseph Rolette, Senior. Rolette actually filed on June 15, 1868 but due to difficulties with land office recordings and rules, his final patent number was given as #1152. Among Nelson’s neighbors were Charles Cavalier who obtained the second patent and Margaret Renville, whose patent #5, made her the first woman in Dakota Territory to obtain a patent.

Nelson E. Nelson served one term in the Territorial Legislature in 1883 taking the House seat formerly occupied by his son-in-law, Judson LaMoure. Nelson was one of the leaders in removing the territorial capitol from Yankton to Bismarck. Later in life he moved to California to live with his daughter whose husband, Alex Montague, had served with the San Diego Customs Office for more than forty years.

Individuals such as William Morehead, Charles Cavalier or Judson LaMoure are more recognizable names in the history of Pembina and had lived in Pembina long before Mr. Nelson. It was the timing of his filing and the fact that he actually obtained a final proof on the application for a homestead, instead of using script or commuting the application to a cash sale, that made Nelson’s patent the first official homestead in what is now North Dakota.

By Jim Davis


Land Office Tract Book #85

Jamestown Daily Alert January 8,, 1914 Page 2

Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars Volume I, Pioneer Press Company, 1891