Native Americans used the survey
area for hunting and fishing and had permanent
dwelling sites. Two Native American tribes
were in constant conflict. The Dakota (Sioux)
were being pushed from their home area by
the Ojibwa (Chippewa) during the late 1700’s
and early 1800’s. Burial mounds and
artifacts can still be found. Some of the
oldest remains of Native Americans were
found near Pelican Rapids, Minnesota. The
Minnesota Girl, were dated at about
11,000 B.C. (Otter
Tail County Historical Museum).
The first white men to enter the county
were French and British fur traders. Efforts
were made to set up trading posts on the
Leaf Lakes and Otter Tail Lake. In the late
1800’s, most of the towns were built
along the railroad lines. Lumber and agriculture
were the major industries in the county
at that time. The pine and hardwood forests,
transportation system, and markets were
instrumental in the development of Fergus
Falls into a lumber center.
In 1870, the population of the county was
about 2,000. At that time the principal
languages spoken in the county were Norwegian,
Swedish, German, and English (Mason, 1916).
Otter Tail County was established in March
1858 by a legislative act. It was organized
in 1868. The original county seat was Ottertail
The people of Fergus Falls organized a new
county named Holcomb. In 1872, a legislative
act abolished Holcomb County, added additional
townships to the west, and established Fergus
Falls as the county seat of Otter Tail County.
There are 62 townships in the county. The
county is named for Otter Tail Lake and
the Otter Tail River.