Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ramsey County


Named after Alexander Ramsey, the US Senator from Minnesota, Ramsey County was established in January 1873 by the Dakota Territorial legislature. The Ramsey County government was organized ten years later on this day, January 25, 1883.

A North Dakota county named after a Minnesota Senator may seem odd. But in fact he played a significant role in the development of what would become the state of North Dakota.

Alexander Ramsey was born in Pennsylvania on September 8, 1815. Orphaned at the age of 10, he lived with his uncle in Harrisburg where he learned carpentry but also became interested in politics.

After earning his law degree at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, Ramsey began a meteoric rise in his political career. Within the span of a decade he had served as secretary to the Electoral College in Pennsylvania, clerk of the State house of representatives and two terms as Pennsylvania Congressman.

Serving as chairman of the Whig Party in Pennsylvania, he helped Zachary Taylor successfully win a presidential bid in 1848. For his support, Ramsey hoped to be appointed Collector of the port of Philadelphia. Instead, President Taylor offered him the governorship of the recently organized Minnesota Territory; a territory that included not only present-day Minnesota but also North Dakota and South Dakota east of the Missouri River.

Serving concurrently as first governor of Minnesota Territory and ex-officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs, he negotiated two treaties with the Dakota Indians in 1851. Pressured by traders, settlers and a US military presence, the Dakota ceded nearly all their land in Minnesota Territory.

Without access to the land upon which they had hunted for generations, they had to rely on treaty payments for their survival which were often inadequate and late in arrival. These actions helped ignite the US-Dakota Conflict a decade later, followed by a US military expedition that carried the fighting into Dakota Territory by 1863.

Ramsey was accused of fraud in the treaty negotiations but investigations of his conduct cleared his name by 1854.

Alexander Ramsey went on to serve as mayor of St Paul, Minnesota’s second state governor, US Senator and Secretary of War. Before his death on April 22, 1903, the former governor of Minnesota Territory had two counties, one in Minnesota and one in North Dakota, named in his honor.

Written by Christina Sunwall


Dickenson College-

Minnesota Historical Society: Tales of the Territory Exhibit-

Minnesota Historical Society: Governors of Minnesota-

North Dakota State Government-

Ramsey County-