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Peronto’s Claim


Settlers, speculators and squatters built a shanty-town on the Dakota side of the Red River the moment the Northern Pacific Railway surveyors showed any interest in the crossing, even though the area was still Indian land. US troops from Fort Abercrombie ran off unlawful squatters twice, but eventually the settlement grew into what we know today as the city of Fargo.

On this date in Eighteen Seventy-Three, Sioux Indian Francis Peronto appeared in the general land-office in Pembina to file his claim for part of section seven, township one-thirty-nine, range forty-eight, a small rectangle containing what is now the south half of downtown Fargo.

The land office refused Peronto's claim, even though he met the legal requirements of residing on the land and building a home. The land office authorities said Peronto's claim was on land granted to the railroad by the U.S. Government, so he could not settle there. Peronto appealed in court, stating that he settled on the land before it became public lands, so as a Sioux, he 'pre-empted' the railroad's claim. The Northern Pacific Railroad argued their rights to the land, leaving the ownership of downtown Fargo in question for over a decade.

While the courts debated Peronto's case, the city of Fargo grew into a financial and business center for the region. The railroad had sold or leased Peronto's land to Fargo businessmen, who built businesses and homes. If the courts turned the property over to Peronto, his one-hundred-fifty acres would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and would give him control over much of the young city's real estate.

In 1886, the legal battle over the claim made it to the United States Supreme Court. To the relief of Fargo residents, the Court decided that once the Indian lands were converted to public lands, the railroad was next in line of ownership, so Peronto's pre-emption was impossible. This made his claim no more legal than the other unlucky squatters who tried to settle on the railroad's land. Peronto, sadly, did not live to hear the Supreme Court decision. He had passed away on August 20th, 1883.

Dakota Datebook written by Derek Dahlsad.

Buttz v. Northern Pacific Railway Co, 119 U.S. 55
"The Town Site of Fargo Claimed", Sacramento Daily Record, 10 September 1883
"Peronto's Pot," The Fargo Argus, 13 June 1883.
Peronto obituary, The Fargo Argus, 1 September 1883.