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Between generations

A brief look at Buffalo history, in celebration 

By Miriam Orr

A stream of vehicles, coming from each direction, slowly stops at what is now a controlled intersection on Hwy. 55. Headlights and brake lights flash and stop, and across the intersection, an eighteen-wheeler's brakes release a pop of pressurized air. In the distance, the Highway 55 strip is illuminated with business lights and signage, as cars continue to pass to and fro.

For generations, this is the Buffalo citizens have known, and it is easy to assume that the concept of present-day society is how it has always been – booming, expanding, and modernized. It's difficult to think back to the foundations of a society, and imagine its grass roots beginning as little more than a posted sign and a dirt road.

But everything has a beginning. Buffalo was not always the seat of Wright County, and it was not always its bustling society that it is today.

Once, it was a quiet little place with the vision of grandeur.


Buffalo, Minn., circa 1800s.

Before Buffalo was a modernized, buzzing metro area, it was the Buffalo of the "Big Woods," a lake area populated by new settlers and Native Americans. For 130 years, Buffalo had seen farming and settlement.

The area, known once as the "Big Woods," was covered with a myriad of trees, so thick that visibility was nearly impossible.

Not far in any direction, a spattering of lakes and dense forests promised fishing and prosperity for settlers, until trees began thinning near Cokato, as settlers desired open farmland and leveled everything in less than fifty years.

As white men moved in, the native Indians of the area slowly began to abandon the county after almost 300 years of hunting, fishing, and establishing life. The Dakota, known then as the Sioux, worked the land between Pulaski and Buffalo first. In a documentary, one Fred Bjork claimed there was an Indian cemetery at Mink lake, and that Indians traveled to the area until at least the 1890s.

Eventually the Chippewa pushed the Dakota Indians out of the area, and the two tribes battled for a number of years, which eventually ushered in government involvement. To buffer the continuous warfare between the Chippewa and Dakota, the U.S. signed a treaty with the Winnebago, who were transferred from settling in Iowa, instead to be re-routed in-between the two tribes in 1848. 

The Winnebago inhabited what is now the downtown Buffalo business district until 1855, until their treaty with the U.S. was redacted. They settled near the Blue Earth River, which paved the way for white settlers to move into the area.

The Dakota continued to move around the Wright County area, until Sept. of 1858, where they were ordered to a reservation near Redwood Falls. When they refused to go, white settlers moved to extricate them. Upon realization that the white settlers would no longer trade or divide game any longer, and that they would come with sophisticated weapons, they left of their own accord to move farther west. 

And there the history of Buffalo begins.


Developing roots

The first permanent Yankee to settle in the township was Augustus Prime, who settled in April of 1855. He died in Monticello in 1870. Following Prime, Soloman Hatch of Maine came in May of that same year. His family followed in October, and they resided in the township until their deaths in 1874.

Amasa Ackley and George A.J. Overton followed later in 1855, coming to the shores of Buffalo and finding land near what was known as Section 30, and Ackley was known to have built the first settlement in Buffalo at that site. The name would live through infamy, as their home was the first to be used for a township election site. With the Ackley's came James Griffin, the first black man to move into Buffalo. In February of 1856, he located permanently in Buffalo's Section 32.

Society lifestyle was quite different for early settlers in Buffalo, and the 1915 Wright County History records that the settlement, beginning in 1855, was very small, and that groups would cluster in populations, with large distances separating clusters throughout the area.

Buffalo officially became a founded village on December 27, 1856 by Amasa Ackely, George A.J. Overton, Moses A. Calkins, and William J. Feuseca. Surveys of the land were written and recorded with the county in January of 1857. Most of these settlers had streets named after them, though the north and south streets were named after trees surrounding the area.

Buffalo and Pulaski lakes attracted many of the settlers to the area, which would eventually provide industry in fishing. From 1890 through 1920, Pulaski and Buffalo brought tourists who would resort in the area on the water. Summer populations would almost double with added tourist population.

In September of 1986, the city was awarded with the Star City designation. The Minnesota Department of Energy and Economic Development presented the award to those cities with an exceptional level of services to the public, and high levels of quality of life.


Buffalo and Monticello's history

Buffalo and Monticello have both shared the title of the county seat in Wright County history. Monticello was first selected as the seat, due mostly to the fact that the city, at the time, was considered an early center of the county's population.

When populations began to expand throughout the county, it became a concern for citizens that it was not a central location for services, as many officials and offices were scattered throughout the city and not in one centralized locale. Monticello did not consider building a structure that would tie county services together, so the consideration to move the county seat grew.

Jackson Taylor and James Sturges spearheaded the movement to localize county services in Buffalo. Taylor, at the time, would canvass the entire area to discuss with voters the idea of the movement as a Buffalo Commissioner. Eventually, Sturges, Taylor, and O.L. Dubley would present an offer to the county – they would build the first courthouse and offer it free of charge for a five-year term, if only the county should move to Buffalo. The Wright County would later purchase the building from the three for $900, in 1873.

Considering the concern of the people, and the fact that Buffalo had won the popular vote on ballot in 1867, Wright County decided to relocate to Buffalo from Monticello, and would host the first Wright County Board of Commissioners meeting on March 23, 1868. 


Buffalo, circa 2018

One hundred and fifty years after that first County Commissioners meeting, Buffalo is still hosting County Board meetings at its modern Government Center downtown. With discussion in the works of a new government building and a jail slated for construction at the Law Enforcement Center, Buffalo is continuing to deepen its roots and expand its horizons as more and more people come to call our city home.

What's more, our historic downtown is stretching as well. What was once an old Coborn's grocery store is facing development as a residential apartment complex, as well as other changes that are in discussion among city officials.

While times have certainly shifted between generations, time cannot erase the fortitude and stability Buffalo has provided communities of people throughout the years. The city has hosted changes, expansion, and trial, but it has proven true in the test of time. One hundred and fifty years of holding the county seat, and things are still looking up. Here's to Buffalo, and many more years to come.

Welcome home.



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