The lands including Traverse County were ceded to the government in 1851, but not open to settlement until 1870, being then surveyed. The Souix reserved in that treaty a strip of land 10 miles wide on each side of the Minnesota River. That on the east side, extending north and including this valley, ceded in 1858, and surveyed about the time of Traverse. So the permanent settlements along the entire length of these lakes were simultaneous. Commencing in 1871 and 1872 settlemants were started at this time on both sides of Big Stone Lake. C.K. Orton laid out the flourishing town that bears his name, Ortonville. Big Stone City, its vigorous competitor, was started across the lake.
The county was created and the boundries established and defined by an act of the legislature on Febuary 20, 1862. The boundries were again established and defined by the legislature on February 4, 1881 and on March 6, 1886. As an unorganized county it was attached for judicial and administrative purposes to Stearns County in 1866, to Douglas County in 1867, to Pope County in 1868 and to Stevens County in 1872.
The first colony of settlers located on Lake Traverse, in what is now Windsor township, in September 1871. It consisted of Hugh Whitley, George Scheifley and James D. Finley, with their wifes and children all from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mr Whitley built the first frame house in the county. They suffered many deprivations, at times almost starved. The nearest railroad station then was St. Cloud.
The pioneers of the Red River Valley found the winters to severe for the growing of winter wheat so they turned their attention to spring wheat. At first the market for this wheat was poor, for the flour made from it was not satisfactory. A series of improvments in manufacturing beginning with the perfection of the "middling purifier" in Minneapolis in 1870, produced a superior grade of flour from spring wheat, and the demand for ir grew to great proportions. In 1871 the Northern Pacific reached Breckenridge from the Twin Cities. With a market for spring wheat and adequate railroad facilities, immigration into the Valley increased rapidly and a period of remarkable agricultural development ensued, scarcely interurupted by the financial panics of 1873 and 1893. By 1900, sixty-two percent of the land area of the Minnesota part of the Valley was in farms.
Discription written in the 1870's for publicity purposes
"Light and mellow, a dark loam, the earthly materials finely pulverized, silic abounding - such is our soil. The acids of our so called 'alkali', a combination of lime, soda, potash, magnesia, and other ingredients help make our country what it is, the great cereal belt of the world. There is scarcely a square rod of all this beautiful prairie but what can be tilled." Those first settlers were not aware that they were settling the southern end of what would become the most famous agricultural valley in the world next to the Nile Valley in Egypt.
History, Office of the County Auditor John A. Muellenbach,
Photo, Wheaton, Minnesota Centennial History 1887-1987