The first known residents of the Mitchell area were a farmer-hunter Indian tribe now known as the Pre-Mandan. They settled on the banks of Firesteel Creek. It is now the location on Lake Mitchell known as the Prehistoric Indian Village. They occupied this area from 1000 A.D. to 1100 A.D. Archeological research tells us they left this area mainly because they exhausted the available supply of trees necessary for lodge construction. The site has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. Subsequent tribes in the general vicinity were the Arikara from circa 1600 to 1750 when the Lakota (Sioux) occupied the area.
H.C. Greene and John Head settled at the confluence of the James River and Firesteel Creek, lived in dugouts during the winter of 1872-73 and built homes during the summer of 1873. They chose this particular site because they were convinced the Milwaukee Railroad would choose this site to cross the James River. Their conviction proved rewarding. The railroad was coming. The town called Firesteel had its beginning.
Several families of hardy pioneers including Greene’s brother, Israel, arrived in Firesteel having traveled from the Rochester, Minnesota area to Yankton, Dakota Territory and up the James River to their new home. In 1874, Davison County, named for Henry C. Davison, was formed. Firesteel was the county seat. By 1879 the town boasted 32 buildings.
From Firesteel to Mitchell
A visit by the Milwaukee Road Surveyor determined the town of Firesteel sat on a dangerous flood plain. The railroad felt the crossing site was still the best choice but the routing would be changed slightly and the railroad’s facilities would be located a mile to the west of the river brakes. Both H.C. and Israel Greene, being civil engineers and surveyors, saw the potential flood danger, as did the other residents. By buggy, by wagon and by foot, everything, including all the buildings, was transported to the new townsite. The first building moved to the new town was a 12’ x 16’ frame structure, which would later house the post office and the Weekly Capital, a local newspaper.
Mitchell Platted and Surveyed
The platting of the original townsite of Mitchell was done by A.M. Rowley in 1879. The town was named in honor of Alexander Mitchell, then President of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. The townsite covered 75 acres.
The first school was in the H.C. Green residence in Firesteel. The teacher was Mrs. Israel (Edmonia) Green, a well-educated and experienced instructor. When Mitchell was established in its present location, a school system was established under the direction of a superintendent with six women teachers.
The Coming of the Railroad
In the spring of 1880, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad was completed through the town and Mitchell became bound to the rest of the world by ribbons of steel. The population at the end of the first year was 320 hardy souls.
A City is Born
Mitchell was incorporated in 1881 and the population climbed to 1,000 by 1883. The first city election was held and Chauncy S. Burr was named the first mayor. The directory of 1884 lists a population of 4,000 and notes 200 places of business. Today Mitchell’s population is 15,254.