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A permanent exhibit about Old Clitherall is on display at the county museum in west Fergus Falls. Tom Hintgen/FOCUS

A little look into Otter Tail County's history

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opinion Perham, 56573
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

Many people consider the year 1865, when the Civil War ended, a long time ago. That's also the year of the establishment of the first non-Native American settlement in Otter Tail County, at Old Clitherall, which is west of the current town of Clitherall, Minn.

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While 147 years is indeed a long time ago, the year 1865 is relatively recent compared to the history along the East Coast of the United States - the first permanent English settlement, in Jamestown, Va., was established in 1607.

Old Clitherall was founded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerites), a small Latter Day Saint faction. This group relocated to Otter Tail County from Manti, Iowa. Followers of Alpheus Cutler traveled in covered wagons pulled by oxen to the north shore of Clitherall Lake.

The township of Clitherall took its name from the lake of that name, and the lake took its name from Major George B. Clitherall, who was register of the United States land office at Otter Tail City from 1858 to 1861. The township of Clitherall was organized on Oct. 24, 1868.

Today, Clitherall has a population of 112.

Almon Whiting's chairs, dating back to Clitherall in 1879, are treasured keepsakes. Some of those chairs are on display at the county museum in Fergus Falls, near the Old Clitherall permanent exhibit.

The final resting place for many Old Clitherall residents is at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, atop a hill just south of Highway 210, west of the present-day Clitherall. There, visitors will see grave markers with the names of Whiting, Murdock, Oakes, Chancey and many others.

The county museum will host a tour of Mount Pleasant Cemetery at 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 1, at Old Clitherall on Highway 210 for $5 per person.

During the late 1860s and early 1870s, when Old Clitherall took hold, there was a variety of wild game. Among them were deer, elk, moose, bear, wolves, otters, red foxes, mink, muskrats and rabbits. Buffaloes roamed west of Fergus Falls. The main hunting grounds were in Leaf Mountain Township, south of Vining, Minn.

The railroad was built in 1881, and the present village of Clitherall was founded. Since then the first town has been known as Old Clitherall or Old Town. Chauncey Whiting, who was a blacksmith and wagon maker, built the first blacksmith shop in the county.

The first schoolhouse in Otter Tail County was established at Old Clitherall in 1866-67. It was built with an old-fashioned fireplace at one end. Close to 30 students were enrolled that first year.

Native Americans welcomed the settlers at Old Clitherall and purchased cloth and other supplies in exchange for bread, butter, flour, potatoes, melons and vegetables, which were most appreciated by the new settlers. Native Americans made maple sugar to trade for other goods at Old Clitherall.

Farming took hold near Old Clitherall with corn planted by hand and covered with use of a garden hoe. Rows were marked off with a one-horse shovel plow. The first threshing in Otter Tail County took place at Old Clitherall with a second-hand horsepower machine purchased near Sauk Centre, Minn.

In the late 1860s there was a large migration of home-seekers from Fillmore County in southeastern Minnesota.

A book about the history of Old Clitherall is available at the Otter Tail County Historical Society (county museum) in Fergus Falls. A historical marker is located at the site of Old Clitherall, along Clitherall Lake, just west of the present-day town of Clitherall.

Hintgen is an avid local amateur historiam.

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