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Buying Absaraka


As rural populations have dwindled in the 21st century, reports of entire towns for sale have tempted people with utopian ideas and deep pockets. In the past five years, the towns of Swett and Scenic, South Dakota were both up for sale for a few hundred thousand dollars each. In 2013, the lone resident of Buford, Wyoming sold the town for just under a million dollars.

On this date in 1917, the Bismarck Tribune reported that two pieces of property had recently changed hands. George W. Humphrey had traveled through Absaraka, North Dakota, and he liked the town so much he made a deal to trade his farm near Pingree, North Dakota for the entire town, all land and buildings included.

Absaraka had been established along the Great Northern railroad in 1882, Eben Chaffee developed the town to support the workers and business operations of his bonanza farm. Chaffee's Amenia and Sharon Land Company put up houses, an elevator, and commercial buildings. Unfortunately, by the time Humphrey offered to trade for the town, the largest of the bonanza farms were shrinking, and the small towns that had benefited from the bonanza days were feeling the impact.

George Humphrey's utopian fantasies of buying an entire town and ruling it like Czar Nicholas, as the Tribune article speculated, failed to come together. The Cass County Register of Deeds has no record of Absaraka transferring to Mr. Humphreys.

However, for most of the early 20th century, there actually had been a single majority owner of the town. William Staples founded Absaraka’s first general store in the late 1890s, but by 1912 he had expanded to also own the elevator, lumber yard, and coal business. When Staples retired, most of his assets were sold to Nils Nilson, who added more businesses and buildings, including a blacksmith shop and one of the first automobile dealerships in North Dakota.

Today, although much smaller than when Staples or Nilson owned the town, Absaraka is still on the map, a handful of houses along the railroad tracks in central Cass County.

This Dakota Datebook written by Derek Dahlsad.


"Trades Farm For A Town", Bismarck Tribune, 6/4/1917.

"Absaraka Centennial : Absaraka, North Dakota, June 25-27, 1982."

"Swett, South Dakota and Other Towns for Sale", ABC News, retrieved 5/21/2015 ""

"Small South Dakota Town on Sale for $799,000", ABC News, retrieved 5/21/2015 ""

"Biography of the Pioneer Residents and Businessmen of Absaraka, As Far as Possible from the Records at Hand", Monilaws, R. E., retrieved 5/20/2015 ""

Cass County land records, Cass County Courthouse, Fargo ND