Throughout the twentieth century, the State Historical Society of North Dakota made a concerted effort to better care for the state's important historic sites. To do so, it acquired many properties of historic importance - former military posts, homes of important North Dakotans and significant government buildings. While many of us have visited some of those famous landmarks, such as Chateau de Mores, Fort Abercrombie or the Former Governor's Mansion, a number of the sites have escaped the notice of many North Dakotans: places such as Brenner Crossing, situated 19 miles southeast of Fort Totten in Eddy County.
Located in some of North Dakota's most beautiful farm land, Brenner Crossing State Historic Site marks the location of an old crossing station ran by Ernest William Brenner. Born in Germany in 1844, Ernest Brenner spent little time in his native land. Like many other Germans in the mid-nineteenth century, Ernest's father hoped to make a better life for himself in America, and set sail with the family for Boston in 1848. Ernest stayed in Massachusetts for some time, working for two different Massachusetts governors. However the young man grew restless with life in the East and by 1868 he had made his way to Dakota Territory where he established himself as Fort Totten's post trader and married Mary Bottineau, the daughter of the famous North Dakotan guide and scout, Pierre Bottineau. In 1882 Brenner left the fort to try his hand as a farmer, settling just south of the Sheyenne River along the Fort Totten-Fort Seward trail. Located along a well-traveled trail, and near a shallow stretch of the river, Brenner started a river crossing service and established himself as a local postmaster. While perhaps a creative way to earn money, Ernest's personal post office venture was not a success, closing only a few years after it opened. Not to be deterred, Brenner and his family moved to the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation where he was appointed a government agent in charge of farming.
While Ernest Brenner only lived at "Brenner Crossing" five years, the name became a permanent fixture, and about 75 years later, on this date in 1959, the State Historical Society acquired ‘Brenner Crossing:' keeping Ernest Brenner's name alive, well over a century after the postmaster at the little outpost along the Sheyenne passed away.
Written by Lane Sunwall
Snortland, J. Signe, ed. A Traveler's Companion to North Dakota State Historic Sites. Bismarck, ND: State Historical Society of North Dakota, 1996.
"State Historical Society of North Dakota Strategic Long-Range Plan", State Historical Society of North Dakota http://www.nd.gov/hist/LRPlan.htm (accessed July 3, 2008).