Dakota Datebook

Kelley’s Firsts

by Merry Helm

December 17, 2018 — Arthur Wellesley Kelley was born in New Brunswick on this date in 1832. Forty years and one week later, he became the first postmaster of Jamestown, North Dakota, of which he was the first settler. And the first merchant. And owner of the first general store.

Kelley’s first view of what would become Jamestown was on May 9, 1872. He had been in a partnership dealing in the hay and wood business at Fort Totten for five years. Now he wanted to strike out on his own. He had heard the railroad was approaching the James River valley and decided to have a look.

Kelley liked what he saw and headed back to Fort Totten for his merchandise and livestock. When he returned to the valley a month later, graders were at work, and track-layers were approaching. The military arrived the same day that Kelley set up his camp. Soldiers created Fort Seward, and Kelley created a tent store.

When Kelley felt his little store was well enough established, he left it with a temporary manager and went back to Fort Totten to get his wife, Frances, and their two children – Horatio, 12, and Jennie, 6. They were the first children in the new little village called Jamestown.

Jennie later talked about what it was like when they arrived in the summer of 1872: “To my childish eyes, it was a vision of fairyland. On the bluffs west of the river, the campfires of the soldiers were burning brightly, while in the valley below, the twinkling lights of the town gleamed merrily through the darkness.”

The Kelleys lived in a tent for six months until their one-room log cabin was built. The town now consisted of many other businesses operating in tents – three hotels, several saloons and three general stores were all located on the west bank of the river where the Anne Carlsen school now stands. By Christmas, Kelley was named postmaster, and he distributed the mail from his store.

Arthur and Frances sold peanut butter, kerosene and vinegar in bulk. Apples and crackers were sold from barrels, and sugar, flour and coffee beans were sold in 100-pound sacks. They also sold 5- and 10-pound pails of syrup. Out front on the sidewalk, the Kelleys encouraged farm trade by selling hay bales.

When Fort Seward closed five years later, Kelley salvaged timbers from one of the buildings and built an impressive new building called the Capital House.

Kelley was the town’s first notary public, which led to yet another of his firsts – he officiated over the town’s first marriage ceremony – a wedding between a soldier named Gillespie and a Miss Bowden.

Jennie later talked about how she and her brother loved running on the prairie. They grew up with the town and went to school with the military kids. She also talked about their Native American neighbors and said there was a friendliness between them and the early white settlers. On one occasion, Mrs. Kelley came in to the house to find her husband sitting on the floor smoking a pipe of peace with eleven Indian visitors.

Frances died in 1908, and Arthur followed fourteen days later. They had been married for 36 years. Their children and grandchildren carried on in their place, with Arthur Kelley II running a grocery store in the tradition of his grandparents until 1936 – including hay bales on the sidewalk.

Bachelor of Ugliness Campaign

by Merry Helm

December 18, 2018 — In December 1913, the Fargo Forum reported, “What promises to be the greatest social affair of the year at the YMCA is the mammoth Bachelor of Ugliness contest to be conducted on New Years day. Already the members are…putting forth every effort to have the greatest laughing feast of the season…The dormitory men, gymnasium men, men in the night educational classes, gas tractor school men and old boys are holding…conventions to nominate their candidate.”

That night, gunshots and screams woke the “dormitory men.” In the ensuing chaos, a wounded boy was found with blood oozing from his mouth. When everybody was sufficiently shocked, another boy burst out laughing and officially declared the fake casualty was his nominee for the Bachelor of Ugliness degree.

Merton Utgaard’s Band Camp

by Merry Helm

December 19, 2018 — If you went to International Music Camp between 1956 and 1983, you most definitely remember the tall, silver-haired gentleman who ran the show – he was Merton Utgaard, the camp’s founder. He was born in Maddock in 1914, and today marks the anniversary of his death.

Experiencing Dr. Utgaard as a music conductor was at once terrifying and awe-inspiring. Tryouts were torture. Joe Alme, the camp’s present administrator, recalls summer, 1963: “My first three days at camp were the worst of my life. I sat last chair trombone that first year. I discovered how little I knew, but by Thursday, I was totally hooked. Dr. Utgaard’s expectations were high, and he knew what he wanted. He had a look that could kill and a ‘wink’ that made you proud, and inspired you to work even harder. There has never been anyone else like him.”

The basic daily schedule has not changed since the camp opened in 1956, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. His daughter Karen says, “The first year, the student housing stood in a field of dirt that quickly became mud on opening day. Everyone took off their shoes and socks and trudged through the rain to the dorms. Only, the water wasn’t working, so we had to wash our muddy feet in the toilets. It took a couple of days before there was HOT water, and it rained almost all week. Afterwards, Dad thought that he had seen the last of the music camp he had envisioned for so many years.”

Luckily, Dr. Utgaard’s worries were unfounded, and the camp became a tremendous success. At least 100,000 young artists from 67 nations have attended IMC since then, and Utgaard became recognized the world over for his vision and tireless dedication.

About his own career, Alme now says, “There is no doubt that I made music education my career because of Dr. Utgaard and the influence of his work. There are literally hundreds of others who attended IMC who feel the same way.”

“Dad was one of those people who felt if you wanted to do something, you just did it,” his daughter says. “A story my mother once told me was when Dad was living in Valley City working toward becoming an Eagle Scout, and he needed just one more merit badge in swimming. For some reason he missed the test, and the water was now too cold in the river. So he decided to go to Fargo to the YMCA to be tested. He didn’t have a car, and neither did his folks, so he hitch-hiked. Before he had gone too far, a big car stopped and offered him a ride. Bill Langer, a North Dakota politician, gave him a ride to Fargo. His fee was for Dad to ask his folks to vote for him.”

Dr. Utgaard’s passion was evident in almost everything he did. “He had always wanted a sailboat,” Karen remembers, “but he was really not very good at sailing. He finally got his own sailboat late in life and loved to sail on Lake Metigoshie. Those of us who went with him called it ‘getting out of the weeds,’ but that didn’t discourage him in the least.

He also spent hours talking to people all over the world on his ham radio. A few times he got to help out in emergencies when phone lines were out. I also remember studying Morse Code. I’m not sure why we were all learning it, but it was a family event. He said you never know when it might come in handy.”

Dr. Utgaard was honored with a host of well-deserved awards over his lifetime, but some would like to see him receive the Rough Rider Award as well. And there’s probably a terrific band somewhere that would love to play for the celebration…

Loren Torkelson, POW

by Merry Helm

December 20, 2018 — First Lieutenant Loren Harvey Torkelson was from Crosby and was a month shy of his 26th birthday when his plane was shot down over North Vietnam. He was in his second tour of duty as an Air Force F4 Phantom pilot with the 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron when it happened. It wasn’t until this day in 1990 that his missing co-pilot finally came home from the war.

Torkelson departed Da Nang Airbase on a strike mission over North Vietnam on April 29, 1967. First Lt. George J. Pollin, from New Jersey, was his co-pilot; they were escorting F105 bombers that were to strike the Hanoi Bridge. Their flight path took them near a MIG fighter base and some SAM missile sites. They were fired on by both and took a hit in the rear of the plane as they were nearing the Red River in Ha Tay Province. Eyewitnesses said the plane rolled over, crashed, and exploded. The crew of the lead aircraft saw one partially opened parachute.

Torkelson had ejected and was captured by the North Vietnamese and imprisoned in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” That same year – on the 4th of July – an East German film company conducted interviews with imprisoned pilots for an anti-American propaganda film titled “Pilots in Pajamas.” Among the pilots interviewed was Torkelson, who told the interviewer that he had flown 120 missions and had been downed by a Vietnamese pilot flying a Soviet MIG17.

Torkelson also said he was a protestant, had a bachelors degree from the University of North Dakota, and was 26. He had gotten married on the 4th of January that year and left for Vietnam nine or ten days after the wedding.

The interviewer enticed Torkelson to talk by telling him, “If you look in this camera, there is a real chance your wife will see these pictures, we’ll take care of that.”

Torkelson took the opportunity. “I’d just like to say that I’m all right now,” he said, “very well taken care of, and I hope that you don’t worry too much about me. I think that when the war is over the Vietnamese people will release me and I hope that you’re doing fine and that you’ll help to comfort my mother and father and don’t worry too much. I’ll be home in the near future.”

Meanwhile, it was thought that if either man had survived the crash, it was Pollin. Co-pilots ejected before the pilots in F4s, and Pollin’s ejection seat was seen near the site of the crash.

It took Torkelson six years to make it back home; he was released in March 1973. But, Pollin was still missing. In his debriefing, Torkelson said that he hadn’t seen Pollin’s parachute and thought he had probably gone down with the plane. Shortly before their takeoff, Pollin had phoned his brother back home and told he was volunteering for a combat mission because the scheduled co-pilot was sick. He told his brother that this would just bring him that much closer to going home.

On December 20, 1990, the U.S. announced that Vietnam had furnished some remains that were positively identified as Torkelson’s co-pilot. It was unclear whether Pollin died during or after the crash, but now, after 23 years, he was finally home.

Loren Torkelson finished out the war a highly decorated officer, receiving two Silver Stars, three flying crosses, 16 Air Medals, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star for Valor, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Air Force Commendation Medal. When he got home, he went back to UND to earn a law degree. He died in 1995 in Lexington, Kentucky. He was 54.

Turtle Mountains/Chippewa

by Merry Helm

December 21, 2018 — On this day in 1882, the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation was established for the Chippewa Tribe. Congress planned for 200 full bloods, who were allotted 160 acres each, but the Chippewa, true to their culture, decided to hold the land in common rather than claim individual plots. Soon, more than 1,000 mixed-bloods were placed on the reservation as well. In less than two years, overcrowding became a serious problem, because the reservation’s best farmland was opened to homesteaders, and the Chippewa’s original 22 townships were reduced to two.

By the mid-1880s, winter storms and summer droughts were so harsh that even the pioneer farms were failing. The Chippewa’s main food source, the buffalo, was nearly extinct, and conditions became so desperate that in the winter of 1887-88, 151 tribal members starved to death.

Five years later, the Chippewa sued the government for the seizure of their lands, and in 1982 the Pembina Band of Chippewa was finally awarded 52 and a half million dollars as payment for more than eight million acres of stolen land.

“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, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.