What was once called ‘Colorado of Lake Prairie’ became Colfax Township

The first person seeking government land in what was known as “Lake Prairie” was Andrew Vaalhood, but the first real settler in what is now Colfax Township was Joseph Moritz, a German who arrived in August 1858, built a log house with a grass roof, then moved over to Stearns County, because no other Germans had followed him.

Instead, several Swedish families moved in in the summer of 1859. Vaalhood traded his claim for help in getting his livestock and belongings to Richmond in Stearns County.

There was a little confusion when this area was called Lake Prairie. Several men who were on the road from Paynesville to the Colfax settlement became confused when they passed by Mayhew’s claim in Roseville. Realizing that others needed directions too, they put up a sign directing fellow travelers to follow the trail on the left to “Lake Prairie 12 miles”.

Travelers who had visited other parts of the country thought that Lake Prairie should be known as the “Colorado of Lake Prairie.” They thought that what is now Mount Tom should be called the “Pike’s Peak of the area,” while other parts of the settlement became known by names such as Goat Ridge, High Hill and Wooded Hill. Lake Andrew lay at the foot of the hilly section along with Games Lake and Norway Lake.

There was no dearth of settlers in what is now Colfax when the area was reopened to settlement following the the U.S.-Dakota Conflict.

The first school, a log building, was constructed in 1868. In 1871, this was replaced by a new, larger, frame structure to meet the needs of rapid growth in the area.

Finally, what is now Colfax Township was separated from what is now Burbank. On Sept. 5, 1871, Colfax residents observed the change by adopting “Colfax” as suggested by C. S. Geer.

The First Presbyterian Church of Colfax was organized as a Sunday school in 1888, because four young ladies had, for some time, carried on their own campaign for the establishment of such a facility.

It had been done with the urging and strong support of the English-speaking settlers in the neighborhood.

A year later a group of 55 adults presented a petition for the establishment of a church to help support the Sunday school.

The St. Paul Presbytery brought an offer of $400 toward the building, provided the congregation raise $600.

Four young ladies, Mattie Geer, Jessie Geer, Effie Stauffer and Belle Ward, all young teachers in the county school system, just went ahead and raised $400. Local residents raised the final $250 needed to build the church which served the entire area for many, many years. Just four determined young women made it happen.

Henrick Shipstead was another person from Colfax who made things happen. He was born and raised there and received his early education in nearby country schools. When the time came, he went to the Cities to earn a degree in dentistry. He opened an office in Glenwood and practiced there ’til the call to run for public office had to be answered. In 1922, he was elected to the U.S. Senate where Will Rogers introduced him as “the only Senator who could hold a caucus in a telephone booth.”

He served in the Senate for nearly three decades. He had been elected on the new Farmer Labor ticket and, eight years later, switched to the Republican party, but was reelected anyway. Such was his political influence. His bid for re-election in 1947 failed when he was defeated by Ed Thye.

He retired quietly to his home in Colfax, where he remained under medical care until his death.