Dakota Datebook


By Jayme L. Job

January 8, 2018 —The winter of 1928 proved to be one of the worst on record for North Dakota in terms of snowfall and blizzard-like conditions. Many people around the state, notably doctors and mail carriers, found it impossible to drive their automobiles, or even horses, through the large snowdrifts that blocked the rural roads.

To solve this problem, North Dakotans devised a new way of traveling through drifts and ice. Removing the front wheels and fender from their automobiles, and replacing these with skis, and then reattaching these front tires right in front of the back ones, and wrapping a “caterpillar”-like track around the sets of tires, these innovators created what came to be known as a “snowbird.” The snowbird was capable of breaking through drifts up to five feet. And, although strange to look at, they reached speeds up to thirty miles per hour.

O. H. Woodridge, rural mail carrier for southwest Fargo, reported to the Fargo Forum that his snowbird allowed him to complete his twenty-nine mile mail route in “little more than two hours.” He claimed that on many days he would not even have been able to complete the route with traditional means of transportation.

Woodridge was the first of Fargo’s mail carriers to employ a snowbird, and he built the vehicle himself using his old Ford automobile. The mail carrier spent a total of $165 on the alteration, purchasing an additional axle for the adjustment of the front tires, the two front skis, and the wheel track around the four back tires. Woodridge reported that the snowbird was “…the best outfit he [had] ever seen for ‘bucking’ snow.”

It is ironic that the vehicle created to help rural North Dakota make it through the tough winter of 1928 was named the snowbird, considering that today the word is used to describe residents of the northern Midwest and Canada who choose to flee south before the first flakes of winter even begin to fall!

Strange Stories

By Sarah Walker

January 9, 2018 — It’s the fantastic that sells. In 1907 and 1908, Ward County newspapers reported on a mess of such tales—some tall, some so strange they must have happened.

In one story, as the Kenmare news reported on this day in 1908, a buffalo that had wandered down from Canada apparently had an identity crisis. The buffalo joined Kenmare man J. A. Englund’s cattle herd, and managed to go home with the herd. Once there, after he was discovered, the buffalo picked a fight with Englund’s Red Poland bull. Englund and his foreman used pitchforks to separate the two animals, and finally they succeeded after the buffalo almost gored the bull to death. The buffalo then began to attack one of Englund’s mares and ripped up his barn. He was forced to shoot the buffalo. Under normal circumstances, this would incur a penalty.

This wasn’t the only odd happening in that region. The Bismarck Tribune proclaimed its curiosity: “Strange things are coming out of the northern part of the state,” the paper stated, citing the case of the buffalo, as well as a “lad” who was attacked by “catamounts or mountain lions, or wild cats or roaring hippopotami or some other unusual animals.” It had been gruesomely reported earlier that young Walter Johnson, of McKinney, had gone to shoot a lynx. Instead, the lynx attacked the boy and killed him.

The funeral was set…unbeknownst to Walter, the grieving family, and even the city of McKinney. The report wasn’t true.

The Tribune also reported that Ole Olson, from Blaisdell, walked into a pack of wolves after mistaking them for dogs. He escaped by playing his horn, which he just happened to have with him. The Tribune stated of the instrument, “We forget whether a trumpet or a trombone.” Whichever the case, the music did the trick. The wolves apparently had a taste for the finer arts. Finally, some people living nearby came and rescued Olson. He had been playing for a long time—so long, in fact, that he was exhausted and out of breathe, and he needed help just climbing into the wagon. This story appeared under the headline, “Weird.” It certainly was.

As the Tribune said, “The typewriters of the veracious correspondents are clicking overtime with horrifying recitals.”

Good Samaritan Centers

By Merry Helm

January 10, 2018 — In 1922, Lutheran pastor August Hoeger was concerned about the needs of children crippled by polio. Inspired by the Bible story in the Book of Luke, he founded the Good Samaritan Society in Arthur, North Dakota. He started raising money, and the response was so positive that he surpassed his goal by $2,000. He put the extra money to work, opening his first Good Samaritan Center in 1923; it was a six room home in Arthur that cared for children with epilepsy.

Seven years later, the Good Samaritan Society opened its first home for the elderly in Fargo, and by 1940, the Society had branched into 27 communities in 10 states. By the time Reverend Hoeger died at age 85 in 1970, the Society had grown to 150 facilities caring for 12,000 residents. Two sons and a grandson carried on the virtuous pastor’s work, and the Society now cares for thousands of residents in 26 states.

Tom Netherton

By Lane Sunwall

January 11, 2018 — For many Americans, the “Lawrence Welk Show” conjures fond memories of a bygone era. Many remember the bubbles floating across the stage and the big band led by Mr. Welk himself.

An integral part of Americana, the show is still on air in a syndicated format some 50 years after first being televised. In addition to our fond memories of Mr. Welk, we also remember the Welk Musical Family.

One member of this family, Tom Netherton, was a regular on the show starting in 1973, and was featured on the show until Mr. Welk retired in 1982. What we may not remember is that Tom Netherton started his professional musical career not with Lawrence Welk, but with another famous North Dakotan, Harold Shafer at the Medora Musical.

Tom Netherton was born on this date in 1947 in Munich, Germany, to an Army family stationed in the country following the Second World War. Tom followed in his father’s footsteps and became an Army officer. During his time in the service, Netherton decided his career would not be in the Armed Forces, but rather in the entertainment business.

After First Lieutenant Netherton left the Army, he joined Harold and Shelia Schafer’s Medora Musical Company in 1973. During the summer season Tom greatly impressed the Schafers with his musical and entertainment abilities. When the Schafers learned that Lawrence Welk would be traveling through the state, they arranged a meeting between young Tom and Mr. Welk at a golf course in Bismarck. Lawrence Welk immediately saw potential in Tom and invited him to perform on his show at the St. Paul Civic Center a few nights later.

Tom’s “audition” before a live audience of 19,000 was so successful that Lawrence Welk offered him a chance to join his show on a more permanent basis. Tom’s first appearance as a regular was on the 1973 Christmas special. Tom immediately became a fan favorite, and continued with the show for a total of eight years.

After Lawrence Welk retired in 1982, Tom moved on to a successful solo career, performing at opera houses, civic centers, college campuses and state fairs across the nation. Tom also found success with theater, performing in “Carousel” and “Oklahoma,” and has been featured on television commercials for Nabisco’s Triscuits and Rosemilk Skincare Lotion. Fluent in French, he is also one of the few Americans to perform on the “La Chance Aux Chansons,” a popular French variety program. However, the entertainer who made his professional start here in North Dakota will always be best remembered as the talented, handsome baritone on the Lawrence Welk Show.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at

Red Kate

By Merry Helm

January 12, 2018 — Today marks the anniversary of the death of Kate Richards, who died in 1948 at the age of 71. Also known as Red Kate, her brush with North Dakota made history.

She was born in 1876 to Kansas farmers who were forced off their farm after an economic depression and then a drought in 1887. The family moved to a poor section of Kansas City, where they barely managed to survive.

In 1894, while Kate was working as a machinist, she met Mother Jones, who introduced her to socialism. The devastation her family had experienced in losing their farm made her ripe for the picking, and Kate became active in the movement. A year later, she met Eugene V. Debs, another noted socialist, and within five years Kate and her father co-founded the Socialist Labor Party.

Kate also founded the Socialist Party of America and married Frank O’Hare, a St. Louis socialist. The couple lectured on socialism around the country and organized as they went. Despite the birth of four children, Kate kept touring, often for whole summers at a time. Her popularity was second only to Eugene Debs, and she twice ran for political office, even though women couldn’t even vote yet.

At the onset of World War I, Woodrow Wilson called for 500 thousand volunteers, but he received only a couple thousand. Under the infamous “Red Scare,” Congress created bills giving the government increased power while also suppressing the rights of American citizens. The 1917 Espionage Act prohibited, among other things, interfering with efforts to recruit army volunteers.

In 1918, they also passed the Sedition Act, which made it a federal crime to criticize the government or Constitution. Even writing personal letters to a friend or relative was illegal if one’s opinion was critical of the government. Attorney General Palmer and his assistant J. Edgar Hoover used both acts to their advantage as they mounted campaigns against liberals and so-called radicals.

Meanwhile, Kate Richards O’Hare was firmly against World War I and was touring the country to say so. On July 17, 1917, she was in Bowman, North Dakota, giving her speech for the 76th time, when she was arrested under the Espionage Act for hindering army recruitment. She was put on trial in Bismarck, found guilty, and sentenced to five years in prison.

In May 1920 she was set free when her sentence was commuted. In response to her experience, she went to Washington to loudly protest the treatment of those opposed to the war and to call on the government to honor people’s constitutional rights.

The following year, both the Espionage Act and the Sedition Acts were repealed as unconstitutional, and Red Kate turned her attention elsewhere. She became active in prison reform … bringing to mind her experience, one day in 1917, in Bowman, North Dakota.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at

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