Created By: North Dakota State University
Randolph Michael Probstfield was born in Germany in 1832. When he was 22, he left Germany and traveled to the United States. He worked many odd jobs including a treasurer, clerk, school director, county commissioner, senator, and of course, a farmer. In 1868, Probstfield and his wife, Catherine Goodman Probstfield, established a homestead in Oakport Township. This made Probstfield one of the earliest settlers in Moorhead and the homestead was created before Fargo-Moorhead actually existed.
The initial Probstfield family included eleven children and all were involved in educational and social activities. Probstfield built the first school house and also taught students in his area. Probstfield was also a major contributor to agriculture, he experimented and ran tests for the U.S. Bureau of Agriculture that the Red River Valley was fertile for crops.
1862, Indian fighting along the frontier, caused panic amongst the settlers. This caused the family to move towards another settlement at the Hudson Bay compound, Georgetown. The family eventually also had to evacuate Georgetown, against his will, and went to Fort Abercrombie, but got into an argument over a cow, and had to leave the settlement to St. Cloud for a year. When he was finally able to go back to his settlement near Georgetown, working for the Hudson Bay Company, then the Postmaster. Probstfield found land near the Red River that was not in fear of flooding and built a house. The steamboats went along the river near the house. The family also started to farm. Probstfield's house was a stop for the steamboats, he would chop wood for them, and his wife Catherine would cook meals for the passengers. This was one way that the family created their income. One year the steamboat failed, and trains came into the picture.
The house was originally a two-story house, the second floor was used as a greenery, then as bedrooms as they had more children. Grasshoppers was a big difficulty when farming, a whole year of crops were eaten by the grasshoppers. In Probstfield's diary, it often says how the grasshoppers came and what they ate. The farm had a regular crop, including tobacco and sugar beets. He often won at awards for farming at the Clay County Fair, and they ended up eventually making him a judge because he kept winning.
In addition to farming, Probstfield was also very interested in politics, on the side of the small farmer. Very concerned with fairness, he thought that farmers were being taken advantage of by the railroads. He ran as a candidate of the Populist Party but lost both times he ran for office.
Probstfield also faced many challenges in his life, including a financial crisis, where grasshoppers overtook his crop, an Indian uprising, and chronically ill family members. He ended up losing his wife and one of his daughters in a span of a few months. Catherine Probstfield suffered a stroke while visiting her daughter in the hospital who was there for a tumor and later passes away on December 18, 1899, in Saint Paul. Her daughter Dora was there with a terminally ill form of cancer. Dora died not long after in March of 1900. This was a very hard time on Probstfield because he was at home, and the news of losing two of his family members in such a short amount of time was very troubling for him.
For more information on another early Moorhead settler, visit the John Bergquist Cabin, site 36.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Moorhead Historic Preservation Walking Tour