I have had many people ask why I use the name Chahinkapa. It was a park where I grew up and it was beautiful. I have many wonderful memories of spending time on the playground, at the zoo, and especially at the pool. Many of my friends through the years will remember the good times at the pool and parkette. The name Chahinkapa is a Sioux Indian word which means “end of the woods” and I have always felt a bit on the edge of the end of the woods and on the edge of beginning of civilization.
I am including a bit of Wahpeton History for those who remember Chahinkapa and for those who might be interested in how that part of the United States became settled. My great grandfather Jake Lotzer owned the first wood and coal yard in Wahpeton.
More than one hundred years after the Carver expedition, a Government surveying party passed through the Wahpeton area. J. W. Blanding, a member of the expedition was so impressed by the fertile river valley that he returned to his Wisconsin home determined to move his family and belongings to the Dakota Territory. Blanding so influenced other Wisconsin settlers that many of them arrived and homesteaded in the Wahpeton area before Blanding could return.
The first settler was Morgan T. Rich. His plow turned the first furrow of rich black bottomland in 1869. When other settlers arrived, they formed a tiny community and quite naturally named it Richville. An apt name considering its founder and the fertile quality of the soil.
In 1871, a Post Office was opened. At the same time, the town’s name was changed to “Chahinkapa” an Indian name meaning “the end of the woods.” Two years later, the county was organized and called Chahinkapa County. Later that year the county was renamed Richland County and the town of Chahinkapa renamed Wahpeton. Credit for suggesting the name Wahpeton is given to an early settler named William Cooper. Wahpeton is a contraction of the Indian name “Warpeotonwe” meaning “Leaf Village”.
Growth of the village of Wahpeton was quite slow during the first few years. But a flurry of activity was created in 1872 when the St. Paul and Pacific Railway (now the Great Northern) extended a line into Breckenridge, Minnesota, a tiny community just across the Bois de Sioux River. This created a booming business in flat boat building in both Breckenridge and Wahpeton. Flat boats could carry freight directly from the railroad down river to northern North Dakota and all the way to Winnipeg, Canada, via the Red River of the North, the waters of which eventually reach Hudson Bay.
At the same time, the railroad opened up the area to many more settlers. Germans, Bohemians, Scandinavians and native Americans moved to Richland County to file homesteads. Wahpeton was growing. And in 1874, Jacob Morvin and Joseph Sittarich opened the first retail store in the county. By 1876 the traffic between Wahpeton and Breckenridge had grown to where the local ferry could not handle it and a bridge was built across the Bois de Sioux River connecting the two towns.
Another flurry of growth was realized in 1880 when the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad crossed the river and pushed its tracks on toward the north-west. A few years later, in 1883, the population of Wahpeton was estimated to be as high as 1,400 people.
As the county seat, Wahpeton was the center of all activity. Here was the courthouse, the bank and the first flour mills. In 1889 the Red River Valley University was established later to become the North Dakota State School of Science.
As the century came to a close, Wahpeton had settled down into a hard-working agricultural community. Its frontier had, years before, passed further west.
In 1904 the United States Government established the Wahpeton Indian School (now called Circle of Nations School) for the education of Native American children from northern Minnesota, North Dakota and northern South Dakota.
Through the Twenties and Thirties, Wahpeton continued to grow, develop and to keep pace with the rest of the nation. It has been through this half of the Twentieth Century that the Red River Valley has earned its reputation as one of the richest agricultural belts in the nation.