This county, established with its present name March 6, 1868, commemorates Colonel Alexander Wilkin, who in the civil war gave his life for the Union, being shot and instantly killed in the battle of Tupelo, Mississippi, July 14, 1864. He was born in Orange county, N. Y., December, 1820; served as a captain in the Mexican war; came to St. Paul in 1849, and entered the practice of law; was United States marshal for Minnesota, and also secretary of the territory, 1851 to 1853; went to Europe in 1855, and studied the art of war before Sebastopol in the Crimea; afterward again was engaged in law practice in St. Paul; recruited the first company of the First Minnesota regiment for the civil war; served also in the second regiment, and was colonel of the ninth regiment. Physically he was of small size and stature; but he stood very high in courage and skill for military leadership.
An earlier county, somewhat corresponding to this in area and likewise having Breckenridge as its county seat, but named Toombs county, was established March 8, 1858. It was named for Robert Toombs (b. 1810, d. 1885), of Georgia, who had been a member of Congress in 1845-53, and was U. S. senator, 1853-61. He became a leading disunionist, was Confederate secretary of state, 1861, and later was a Confederate general. His disloyalty against the Union so displeased the people of the county that in 1862 they petitioned the legislature to change its name. "In 1863 the act changing the name from Toombs to Andy Johnson became a law. But the subsequent political attitude of Andrew Johnson [succeeding Lincoln as president of the United States] was no less displeasing to the people, and in 1868 the law was again amended and the name changed from Andy Johnson to Wilkin." (History of the Red River Valley, 1909, pages 908-9.)
Information of names was learned from "History of the Red River Valley," 1909, two volumes, continuously pages, 1165 pages; and from John T. Wells, clerk of the court, and Halvor I. Shirley, president of the First National Bank, each of Breckenridge, the county seat, interviewed during a visit there in September, 1916.
AKRON township has a name that is borne by a city in Ohio and villages in nine other states. It is received from the ancient Greek language, meaning the extreme, hence a summit or hilltop.
ANDREA township is named in honor of Mrs. Andrea Heider, wife of Philip Heider, a pioneer homesteader here. He died in 1915, and she in 1916.
ATHERTON township was named for a former extensive landowner of this township, but not a resident.
BRADFORD township was similarly named for an owner of lands along the Red river north of Breckenridge.
BRANDRUP township was named in honor of Andrew Brandrup, one of its pioneer farmers, who became clerk of the court.
BRECKENRIDGE township, organized May 23, 1857, and its village, the county seat, platted in the spring of 1857, incorporated as a city in 1908, are in honor of John Cabell Breckenridge, who was born near Lexington, Ky., January 21, 1821, and died in that city May 17, 1875. He was a member of Congress, 1851-55; vice-president of the United States, 1857-61; general in the Confederate army, 1861-4; and Confederate secretary of state, January to April, 1865.
BRUSHVALE, a railway village in the southwest corner of Nordick, was named for Joseph Brush, on whose farm it was located.
CAMPBELL railway village, founded in 1871, and the township, organized in the fall of 1879, were named by the St. Paul and Pacific (now the Great Northern) railway company. This Scotch name is borne by counties in five states, and by villages of fourteen states.
CHAMPION township was named in honor of Henry Champion, a pioneer homesteader, who during several terms was the county auditor.
CHILDS, a railway village in the west part of Campbell, was named for Job W. Childs, an adjoining farmer, who was a member of the board of county commissioners, but later removed to California.
CONNELLY township was earliest settled by Edward Connelly, a homestead farmer, who came in 1868 and was a county commissioner.
DEERHORN township was named for the creek flowing through its northeast part.
DORAN, a railway village in Brandrup, was named in honor of Michael Doran, of St. Paul, who was born in County Meath, Ireland, November 1, 1829, and died in St. Paul, February 20, 1915. He came to the United States in 1850, and in 1856 to Le Sueur county in this state, where he engaged in farming and banking; removed to St. Paul in 1877; was a state senator, 1875-9.
EVERDELL, a railway village in Sunnyside township, was named in honor of Lyman B. Everdell, an early lawyer in Breckenridge.
FOXHOME township received the name of its railway village, from Robert A. Fox, a real estate dealer, who was proprietor of this townsite, but removed to Oklahoma.
KENT, a railway village in McCauleyville, was named by officers of the Great Northern railway company. This is the name of a county in England, counties in five states of the Union, and villages in twelve states.
LAWNDALE is a railway village, euphoniously named, in Prairie View.
McCAULEYVILLE township, and its village on the Red river opposite to the site of Fort Abercrombie, were named in honor of David McCauley, sutler of the fort, who later founded this village and was county superintendent of schools many years. He was born in Merrimack, N. H., July 27, 1823; came to Minnesota ini 1858; opened a store here in 1864, which was the beginning of the village.
MANSTON township received the name of its former railway village, given by officers of the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba (now the Great Northern) railway. It is the only place known bearing this name.
MEADOWS township was named for its being a part of a vast area of prairie, natural hayland.
MITCHELL township was named in compliment to Charles Mitchell Corlis, a homestead farmer here, a brother of the late Hon. Eben E. Corliss, of Fergus Falls and St. Paul.
NASHUA, a railway village in Champion, was named for its Nash families, but took the spelling of a city and river in New Hampshire, and of a village in Iowa.
NILSEN township, the latest organized in this county, has the name of one of its early settlers.
NORDICK township was named for Barney and Gerhard Nordick, German farmers, who came here from Iowa.
PRAIRIE VIEW, the most northeastern township, has from its high eastern part a very extensive view over the flat Red River valley.
ROBERTS township was named in honor of Michel Roberts, a French homesteader here, who was a cousin of the widely known Captain Louis Robert, of St. Paul. The old French surname is anglicized by the addition of s.
ROTHSAY, a railway village in the east edge of Tanberg, was named by officers of the railway company, for Rothesay, a seaport and watering place about thirty miles west of Glasgow, Scotland. This is the only use of the name in the United States.
SUNNYSIDE township, crossed by the Red river, was at first called Riverside; but, because the name had been elsewhere used in this state, it was changed, taking this euphonious name. It is borne also by villages and post offices in sixteen other states.
TANBERG township was named in honor of Christian Tanberg, a Norwegian pioneer settler, who was proprietor of its Rothsay townsite.
TENNEY, a railway village in the south part of Campbell, was named for the owner of its site.
WOLVERTON, the most northwestern township, was named in honor of Dr. W. D. Wolverton, physician of Fort Abercrombie, who owned much land in this township, but removed to the Pacific coast.
It seems desirable to add two names in North Dakota.
WAHPETON, the county seat of Richland county, on the west side of the Red river opposite to the city of Breckenridge, was settled in 1869, and was reached by the construction of the railway crossing the river in 1880. It bears the name of a large division of the Dakota or Sioux people, meaning "leaf dwellers," so named when they lived in the wooded country of Mille Lacs and farther north and east (from Wakhpe, leaf, tonwan, a village).
FORT ABERCROMBIE, on the west side of the Red river opposite to McCauleyville, was established in 1858, and was abandoned and dismantled in 1877-78, its buildings being sold and removed or torn down, to be used by settlers for making their homes on the surrounding prairie. It was named in honor of John Joseph Abercrombie, its first commander, who was born in Tennessee in 1802, and died in Roslyn, N. Y., January 3, 1877. He was graduated at West Point, 1822; served in the Florida and Mexican wars, and was breveted lieutenant colonel; was in this state when the civil war began, through which he served, being breveted brigadier general at its close.
The only lake of this county, now drained, was crossed by its east boundary two miles east of Foxhome village. It is mapped as Lake Alice, but was more commonly known as Shaw lake, for Thomas Shaw, an adjoining farmer.
The Red river has been noticed in the first chapter, and again in part under Red Lake county; and the Bios des Sioux was noted in the chapter of Traverse county.
Deerhorn creek, for which a township is named, flows northward into Clay county, to the South branch of Buffalo river. Mushroom creek is tributary to the Deerhorn from the south.
Whiskey creek flows ten miles nearly parallel with the Red river, to which it is tributary a mile north of McCauleyville. It was named from unlawful sales of whiskey in dugout huts beside this stream to soldiers of Fort Abercrombie.
Rabbit river, crossing the southern end of the county, is named for its rabbits, like the larger Mustinka river in Traverse county, which is a Dakota word having the same meaning..
While the Glacial Lake Agassiz flowed south along the valley of Lakes Traverse and Big Stone, its outlet stream, named the River Warren, eroded that remarkable valley, with gradual reduction of the lake level. Five stages of the ancient lake during its southward outflow are shown by so many distinct beaches, each lower than the preceding. In their descending order they are named, from places where they are well developed and were first recognized and mapped, being the Herman and Norcross beaches, for villages in Grant county, the Tintah beach for a village in Traverse county, and the Campbell and McCauleyville beaches in this county. Thence each of these old lake levels, recorded by the successive low beach ridges of sand and gravel, are traced far along each side of the Red river valley, in Minnesota and North Dakota and onward in Manitoba.