Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




The purpose of this thesis is to examine closely the transformation of a frontier area into a settled community. The demographic history of Benton County, Minnesota, from 1850 to 1870, is examined in detail. The major emphasis is on the structure of the population and its changes over a twenty-year period. The central goal is to determine if there was a pattern to these chanoes. Generalizations applied to the entire frontier will then be compared to this one county to see if they are valid.

The manuscript census was the major source of information. The demographic information for each individual, age, race, sex, occupation, and wealth, was recorded on computer cards and analyzed with the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. This program tabulated single demographic characteristics for the population and then cross- tabulated two or more characteristics to see how they related to each other. Persistence rate and nativity were tabulated by hand. Traditional sources, such as newspapers, local histories, and the like, were also used. By combining these two techniques, the history of this one county was examined in detail.

Several themes emerged over the course of the twenty years studied. In 1850, the population was mostly male and between the ages of 20 and 40. There were few women and few foreign-born. No women were represented in any of the skilled occupational categories. The persistence rate in the county was very low although the population grew substantially. Settlers usually came from the Northeast, New England, or the British Empire. The foreign-born element exclusive of the British Empire increased greatly. By 1870, when the county was no longer part of the frontier, the population structure was much like that of the nation. The number of men and women was fairly evenly balanced and no age bracket was overrepresented. Women were present in all occupational skill categories. Thus, as the county shifted from a frontier region to a settled community, the population changed from one dominated by young men to one that was a miniature reproduction of the national structure.

Case studies of other counties in Iowa, Wisconsin, California, Texas, and Illinois indicate that these themes were common to many frontier communities. Their populations were generally dominated by young men. The settlers came from states not immediately adjacent to the one to which they migrated. When these counties were studied over a long period of time, their populations showed a characteristically low persistence rate coupled with a growing population. It is hoped that this study will extend the validity of other historians' findings to Benton County.