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Dakota Datebook

by Jayme L. Job

January 21, 2019 — A Fargo newspaper reporter played a very fortunate game of pinochle on this day in 1910.

The newspaperman, L. W. Brooks, had formerly worked with The Fargo Forum and The Call, but had left the city of Fargo to seek his fortune out west. News and rumors of Brooks’s successes poured into the city after the man’s departure, but none was more sensational than the true account of the man’s lucky gambling spree.

While travelling through the state of Idaho, Brooks met Harry Moore, the owner of a weekly newspaper in the small mining town of Wallace, Idaho. Brooks and Moore began a friendly game of pinochle on this night, but decided to up the stakes by wagering a bet. Brooks, having no possessions of high value on his person, put in a box of cigars, while Moore placed his weekly paper, The Dividend, up for stakes. Brooks won the game, and because of a game of pinochle and a box of old cigars, became owner of his own newspaper.

Carter Amnesty

January 22, 2019 — The Fargo Forum reported that President Jimmy Carter issued an amnesty to Vietnam War draft evaders on this date in 1977. The amnesty came a day earlier, as one of President Carter’s first acts in office. The move also fulfilled one of the President’s most popular campaign promises.

The amnesty granted a complete pardon to all Vietnam-era evaders who were not involved in any acts of violence. Although it did not apply to deserters, the amnesty allowed any overseas American evaders to return home without prosecution. It also freed at least five evaders being held in U. S. prisons. Carter ordered complete reviews of deserter and other-than-honorable discharge cases on an individual basis. John Russell of the Justice Department claimed that the amnesty would affect an estimated 10,000 individuals nationwide, but the U. S. Attorney for North Dakota, Harold Bullis, reported that only ten former North Dakota men would probably be affected. Of these ten, nine were living in Canada, and one in Mexico.

Two of the Canadian evaders that the Forum were able to locate did not plan on returning to the U. S. and had become Canadian residents, although with the amnesty, they could now return to North Dakota to visit family and friends. Both men were already living in Canada when the draft was implemented.

Although the pardon proved popular to many Americans, not everyone was pleased with the President’s decision. Veterans, most notably, were upset by the move, claiming that the amnesty would endanger the country in future outbreaks by weakening the ability of a draft to be successfully instituted. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, the nation’s two largest veterans’ organizations, were among the first to speak publicly against the move. T. Cooper Holt, executive director of the Washington VFW office, referred to the date as “…one of the saddest days in the history of our country.” Holt believed that President Carter would “…have to accept the responsibility of arming our military in case of another confrontation with a foreign power.” More than 50,000 Americans were killed in the Vietnam conflict.

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

Asteroid North Dakota

January 23, 2019 — The Associated Press issued a release on this date in 2009 announcing that Asteroid #114703 would henceforth become known as “Asteroid North Dakota.”

Renaming the asteroid was proposed by UND graduate student Vishnu Reddy of India, and approved by the International Astronomical Union’s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature. Reddy discovered the two-mile long space rock while researching at an observatory in Arizona, and decided to honor the state of his graduate studies because he hoped it would draw attention to the state’s dark skies.

Because North Dakota lacks a large population and subsequent light pollution, its skies are ideal for astronomical observations, but the state does not have an observatory or high-power telescope.

Asteroid North Dakota is located between Mars and Jupiter, and has a surface temperature of 170 degrees below zero, which Reddy commented was “chilly even by North Dakota standards.” It is one of only fourteen asteroids named for U. S. states.

Towner County Organized

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job

January 24, 2019 — Towner County, North Dakota, was organized on this date in 1884, with Cando as its county seat. The county was named for Oscar M. Towner of Larimore, North Dakota. Towner gained notoriety as president of the Elk Valley Farming Company and for founding the enormous Elk Valley bonanza farm just south of Larimore during Dakota Territory’s early years. He was also a member of the Territorial Legislature in 1883, a Civil War veteran, and an ambitious promoter of Dakota real-estate. His business ventures led author Virginia George to pen a short biographical account of his life in 1961. At its height, the Elk Valley bonanza farm encompassed eight to nine thousand acres of land. The city of Towner, located in McHenry County, is also named for this prominent businessman.