Dakota Datebook

Death of Four Bears

by Merry Helm

July 30, 2018 — Small pox decimated the Mandan tribe in 1837. When Chief Four Bears died on July 30, artist George Caitlin wrote:

“This fine fellow…watched every one of his family die about him, his wives and his children… when he walked out, around the village, and wept over the final destruction of his tribe; his braves and warriors all laid low; when he came back to his lodge, where he covered his whole family with a number of robes, and wrapping another around himself, went out upon a hill at a little distance, where he laid for several days…resolved to starve himself to death. He remained there until the sixth day, when he had just strength enough to creep back to the village…and laying his body alongside…his family, drew his robe over him, and died on the ninth day… So have perished the friendly and hospitable Mandans.”



by Merry Helm

July 31, 2018 — It was on this date in 1955 that the state’s monthly oil production topped the one million barrel mark for the first time, when 1,000,154 barrels were produced in July of that year.

It was in 1916 that the Pioneer Oil and Gas Company began drilling the state’s first wildcat well southeast of Williston.

It turned up dry, but that didn’t stop the many attempts that followed it. All told, it took 45 years for dry holes to turn into gushers. The Amerada Petroleum Corporation finally discovered oil near Tioga in April 1951. The well was named “Clarence Iverson Number 1,” and it produced over three hundred barrels of oil in its first 17 hours.

An exciting boom followed, and by year’s end, two-thirds of the state was under lease. Crowds of strangers swarmed into the region, completely changing the complexion of western North Dakota with overcrowded schools, outbuildings being turned into living and office spaces, and roads wearing out – which led to a boom in the construction trade as well.

Drinking Water

by Merry Helm

August 1, 2018 — On this date in 1894, the Grand Forks City Council approved the purchase of a half block of land to create the city’s first water filtration plant – the first in North Dakota. For two years, the city had been experiencing an epidemic of typhoid fever; 10% of the population had contracted the disease, and 150 people had died. It turns out that a short distance upstream, Crookston was dumping its sewage directly into the Red River – from which Grand Forks got its drinking water.

Unsanitary conditions existed all across the state in those days. Every home had an outhouse that could easily contaminate water from wells.

In Bismarck in 1886, untreated water from the Missouri River was being piped into homes and businesses – handy, but not great for drinking.

Many towns also had slaughterhouses, and after hog or beef butchering was completed, there was no systematic means of disposing of rotting carcasses. Runoff from these areas was infested with billions of deadly germs and bacteria – not to mention the stench, flies and maggots.

Laborers Help Harvest

by Tessa Sandstrom

August 2, 2018 — As the men of North Dakota rushed off to Europe to aid in the battles of World War Two, others were needed in Ramsey County to help in that year’s harvest. Today in 1944, The Devil’s Lake World reported on a group that did just that.

On July 28, Governor John Moses gave a welcome speech to 455 Mexican laborers in Camp Grafton. The workers had arrived to help farmers in Ramsey County harvest. “In the name of the citizens of North Dakota,” announced Governor Moses, “I am privileged to welcome you to our state. You have come to help us in our most difficult, and our most important war-time task – the task of harvesting our crops and of starting them on their way to provide food and clothing and necessary equipment for our fighting men and our fighting allies … Every hour you spend in the harvest fields of North Dakota will be a direct contribution to the cause for which we are all fighting.”

The Mexican laborers were brought to North Dakota to help in the labor shortages that had plagued farmers for years. Many of the farmers who had already received help from these workers were pleased by their work ethic. Several returned to the camp to hire more.

The Mexican Nationals, however, did not only take advantage of the work opportunities due to the labor shortages, but they also took advantage of the American culture. While in America, the laborers learned many games, though baseball was their favorite. According to a Devil’s Lake World reporter, “the group was apparently living up to the best American traditions in baseball including ‘razzing the umpire,’ and cheering a home run to the echo.

The custodian of Camp Grafton, Captain Phil Christopherson, also arranged a gathering between the Mexicans and the Native Americans of Fort Totten.

The Native Americans danced and sang traditional songs in full costume for the Mexican Nationals.

The Mexicans followed with their guitars and songs in Spanish. The Devil’s Lake World noted the significance of this cultural exchange.

“Enjoyment was equally keen among the whites in the audience who apparently realized they were privileged to witness something unique in entertainment.”

Valley City Village

by Merry Helm

August 3, 2018 — On this date in 1881, Valley City was incorporated as a village. It had four other names before getting its final version. It was called Second Crossing of the Sheyenne when the Northern Pacific Railroad founded it in 1872. Probably because that was a bit wordy, it was soon renamed Fifth Siding and then renamed again within the year. That name? Wahpeton.

For some reason, the hamlet was renamed again two years later, this time Worthington. But, that didn’t work, either; there was too much confusion with the town of Worthington, MN.

Joel Weiser, who later became mayor and state legislator, then suggested a name that made sense – Valley City – to reflect its location in the Sheyenne River Valley; the name stuck and became official on May 10, 1878.

At that point, the population of the village was right around 30, and the building count included twelve houses, a small store and a saloon.

A newspaper business also started about that time. It was called the Northern Pacific Times, but later became the Valley City Times-Record, which is still in publication today.

During the next four years, the population of Valley City exploded, reaching almost 2,000 by 1883, when it left its village status behind and incorporated as a city.

A fledgling congregation of Episcopalians was growing in the valley as well. The first services began informally in 1878, but two years later, when Reverend Herbert Root came to town to open a bank, he and his wife donated money and land to build an official church building.

The parishioners donated additional money, and by the following year, a building made of native fieldstone was going up. The congregation held their first service there on Christmas Eve, 1883.

Today, the All Saints Episcopal church is the only church of that faith in North Dakota that was built entirely by its local congregation. It’s also the oldest church building in Barnes County that’s still being used.

Fortunately, Valley City has held on to some of its other historic buildings as well. The town was designated the county seat for Barnes County, and a courthouse was built in 1884.

It burned down in the 1920s but was rebuilt in 1925 using an architecture that blended classical and colonial revival styles. The exterior is faced with cut limestone, and the symmetrical front facade has a central portico fronted by freestanding Doric columns.

Thankfully, the interior has been spared the remodeling efforts that have altered so many other historic buildings in the state.

The courthouse still has it bronze doors, marble and terrazzo floors, and the interior atrium still glows with light admitted through stained-glass skylights.

Another architectural gem still intact in Valley City is the Barnes County Public Library, which came about on January 8, 1895, when the 20 members of a group called the Tuesday Club decided the town needed a library.

In 1901, the club received $15,000 from Andrew Carnegie, the board secured a building lot across from the high school for $1,600, and construction began. The building was dedicated two years later.

There were only eleven Carnegie Libraries built in North Dakota, and only three have escaped remodeling. Valley City is fortunate to be home to one of these rare little beauties.

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