This column ran in the Sept. 8 edition of the Prairie Post
Over the years there have been many people committed to the North Dakota State Hospital.
In this story, from 1909, we hear about a woman who went to unusual lengths to try to get out.
Mary, I never use the full name of the person in this type of story, ended up in the State Hospital when she was committed by Morton County officials, according to the Jamestown Alert.
But almost immediately there were questions.
First, the Alert reported that when she was admitted to the State Hospital she had $100 sewn into her bustle. Money was worth a lot more back in those days. According to some of the financial Web sites having a $5 bill in your wallet then would buy more than a $100 bill now. We don’t know if it was one large bill or a number of small bills. We can assume it would make a difference in the size of her bustle.
For those of you not familiar with the bustle, it was a pad worn across the rump of women and was considered a standard fashion item of the day although it wasn’t usually used as a bank.
Then there was the situation that had surrounded her at New Salem before her commitment.
She had gained possession, the Alert doesn’t report how, of a large amount of property valued at over $1,000. Ten days later her husband died suddenly. Whether simply by the timing of his death or evidence, his passing was considered suspicious.
Her attorney, W. H. Stutsman of Mandan, probably argued against her commitment but lost. He then turned to the writ of habeas corpus in an effort to get his client set free.
He lost his case at the District Court and appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court which also ruled against him.
In both hearings Supt. Baldwin of the State Hospital testified that she needed to be under close supervision and was criminally inclined.
I found no other references to Mary in any of the old newspapers. After the Supreme Court ruled against her she is not mentioned again. She may have lived out the rest of her life at the State Hospital or she may have pursued other legal avenues for release that just didn’t make the paper.
After all, she had financial resources in her property at New Salem worth more than $1,000 at the time. She could have kept the attorneys working on trying to find some legal way out of the hospital.
And any woman that straps the equivalent of about three months wages to her butt has to be pretty capable of planning for the future.
Good roads, or more specifically how to pay for good roads, is a century old problem. Back in 1909 there was an effort to improve the road system by changing how repairs were accomplished.
Times were different more than a century ago, which explains a lot in this case. Back in those days an individual had an option when it came to meeting there road obligations. They could pay the tax in cash or they could work it off.
In the modern day few people have the heavy equipment necessary to maintain roads. Back in the early 1900s most people had a team of horses who, along with a light drag, made up a very common road maintenance process.
But the system had its drawbacks. Farmers working off their road tax had a tendency to maintain roads on the path from their farm to town. Other areas, where there were fewer farmers or they were too busy to work on the roads, got little maintenance.
Also, the roads had to be worked in the spring while they were wet, otherwise the clay in the road bed would get to hard and dry to be worked by a team of horses. Farmers were doing their spring field work at that time and often didn’t get to their share of the road work until it was too late to be effective.
That is why the Good Roads State Convention, held in Larimore in 1909, voted to ask the legislature to do away with the provision allowing farmers to work off their road tax.
They referred to their plan as the “contract system” with the idea to “secure the payment in cash of such road tax and to let the work to contractors.”
And the convention, attended by W.E. Hoopes and George Heinmiller of Carrington as representatives of this area, also heard about another problem of the “work the taxes off” plan.
The conventioneers heard that on some projects work was abandoned before it was completed when the taxpayer’s obligation to work ended.
And according to stories told at the convention this sometimes occurred during the installation of road culverts.
It would seem that in some cases a taxpayer might get the trench for the culvert dug, he might even get the culvert rolled into that trench and then he would have worked enough hours to meet his road tax obligation and quit, leaving the open trench across the road.
It would appear that even traveling the maintained roads was a challenge a century ago, unless you knew someone who needed to work off their road tax and could fill in the hole.
Labor Day this weekend, the traditional end of the summer season.
But there is another sign that summer is coming to an end. The trees seem to be starting to change color. To me this seems a little early, I don’t know if this is due to our dry weather or the advancing season.