This column ran in the Oct. 26 edition of the Prairie Post
Everyone has heard of the counties of Stutsman and Kidder. How about the county of Stanton? Some people reading this article may be sitting on land that was part of this county that never came to be.
The 1885 Dakota Territorial legislature attempted to create a new county, by the name of Stanton, out of the eastern third of Kidder County and a small portion of the western Stutsman County. The records of the day don’t say why the legislature thought we needed a new county but it may have had something to do with creating a new county seat and the real estate boom that would bring to whatever town that might be.
Part of the bill required that an election be held to determine if Stanton County should exist. The voters of all of Kidder County and the portion of Stutsman County affected went to the polls sometime in the spring of 1886. The total returns were 249 in favor of the division and 179 against, and yet Stanton County was not formed.
At issue was the language of the bill authorizing the vote to form Stanton County. The law was vaguely worded and interpreted by most officials as requiring that Kidder and Stutsman County must each pass the issue for it to take effect.
Voters in Kidder liked the idea of a new county. They voted 244 in favor and 173 against.
But the residents in the portion of Stutsman County that was slated to be made part of Stanton County weren’t too hot on the idea.
Of the 11 votes cast five were in favor and six were against.
This left the whole issue up in the air. If you read the law to require a majority of all voters in the election the new county of Stanton was authorized. If you interpreted the law to mean voters in each county had to approve the law individually Kidder and Stutsman Counties would stay the same.
The issue became even more clouded when some property owners in what might have been Stanton County didn’t pay property to Kidder County feeling they were part of Stanton County. It should be noted they didn’t pay taxes to Stanton County either as it was never organized to the point it could put out a tax statement.
When there are differences of opinion regarding a law the whole process generally ends up in court. This case went before the Territorial Supreme Court in February of 1889 with an opinion filed that October.
The justices found that even though the language of the law was “peculiar” it specified that the measure had to pass each set of voters individually and effectively killed the idea of Stanton County.
But keep this in mind the next time someone says a single vote doesn’t count. The vote in the portion of Stutsman County effected by the change was five yes and six no.
If one of those no voters had changed his mind 125 years ago there would still be another county on the North Dakota map between Jamestown and Steele.
A decade ago the Lear Jet carrying golfer Payne Stewart and several others crashed in a field near Mina Lake, S.D.
The plane had lost cabin pressure and all aboard had died of oxygen starvation. The plane continued on its way on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel.
I covered the event from the scene for another media outlet in Jamestown. By about 2 p.m. I was on the scene broadcasting live on the radio. Many things from that day are still stuck in my mind.
The plane had struck the ground with such force there were no signs of the wreckage above ground.
But the other thing I remember was the media circus, and I was one of the smallest clowns under the big top.
I was sitting in my old pickup truck with a cell phone and a little gadget that allowed me to connect a microphone to it. This was the sum total of my remote broadcasting equipment.
Next to me sat a huge truck with the letters CNN painted across its side. This rig, built on the chasis of a semi tractor, contained satelite equipment, cameras, control booths and a little dressing room for the lady that was doing the broadcasts.
In my defense I did have a magnetic sign on the door of the truck with the radio stations call letters on it.
This column ran in the Oct. 20, 2009 edition of the Prairie Post.
It would seem that some of the railroad equipment of 75 years ago was larger than the train engines we see today, although I don’t believe these steam powered behemoths could pull the coal trains of today.
The Northern Pacific Railroad was proud of the 10 new steam engines it acquired in the fall of 1934. The headline over the photo in the Jamestown Sun called the new equipment the “Largest Passenger Engine in World,” and it was going to run from Jamestown, N.D. to Missoula, Mont.
These machines were huge. The engine and coal tender was 110 feet in length and it was just a bit over 17 feet from the track to the top of the smoke stack. The eight drive wheels in the center of the engine were 77 inches tall and were of a new design, called a boxspoke, that made them stronger to carry the weight of the engine.
The coal tender hauled 27 tons of coal and the engine had a capacity of 20,000 gallons of water. The total weight of these giants, when loaded for work, was about 877,000 pounds.
The depression era economy of the 1930s surely had an effect on the business of the Northern Pacific and other railroads. Still they had money to expand and upgrade equipment.
After all, they still were the only transportation option for anything other than short distances. There wasn’t a well enough developed road system to make trucks a viable option for moving freight. Passenger air travel was an option but considered too dangerous by most people. That made the railroad the king of the transportation industry in 1934.
The Northern Pacific purchased their new engines at the Wings of a Century exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was a showcase for the biggest and best in steam powered railroad technology. And it was the beginning of the end for the big coal burners.
The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, later to become the Burlington in the Burlington Northern line, introduced the Pioneer Zephyr.
This train, as a promotion, traveled from Denver to the Wings of a Century exhibit at Chicago in less than a day. The Zephyr reached speeds as high as 112.5 miles per hour in the trip, but it wasn’t the speed that made the trip unique.
The Zephyr was the first diesel train used in the United States. With no need to stop for coal or water the train traveled non-stop from Denver to Chicago.
Steam remained the principle power for trains for a little more than a decade. In the years shortly after World War II passenger trains were converted to diesel power. In the next decade the freight trains of the nation made the same switch.
And then the steam whistle of the old steam engine was replaced by an electric horn that seems to become a little louder every time they sound it.
This column ran in the Oct. 12, 2009 edition of the Prairie Post
Law and order and criminal matters have always been popular topics. The Jamestown Sun includes a daily recap of the activities of the Jamestown Police Department and the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office.
And the recap of the court cases found in the Saturday paper is one of the most well read sections of the Jamestown Sun according to statistics from the Internet.
The same was true 75 years ago, and the police were pretty active back then.
According to information presented by Jamestown Police Chief H. L. Briggs to the city council during their October meeting the department responded to 186 calls during the month of September, 1934.
And the officers of the JPD made 33 arrests. That included 16 people for drunkenness, this was about two years after prohibition ended, four for vagrancy, three for assault and battery and one each for reckless driving, speeding, petty larceny, disturbing the peace, operating a slot machine, non-support of spouse, carrying a concealed weapon and grand larceny.
There were also some unspecified arrest warrants issued as well as four search warrants served.
But there were other things the Jamestown Police Department did back in the depression era.
They investigated 11 car accidents in Jamestown. Quite a number given not every household would have had a car in 1934.
And there were other automobile related issues in Jamestown.
During the month the police found two cars that were stolen in Jamestown, recovered one car that was stolen in Minneapolis and reported one stolen car from Jamestown as “lost.”
And one child who became lost in Jamestown was found by the cops and returned to its parents who, we’re sure, were greatly relieved.
All those things are still the duties of cops in the modern day and age. But the officers did some tasks back then they don’t do now.
The report indicates officers found 17 doors and 12 windows open during their rounds.
“People must be more careful about going away from home and leaving doors unlocked since there are so many transients in the country at this time,” Chief Briggs said in the meeting. “It is impossible for the police force to be in on every corner of the city day and night and the people must cooperate.”
Not a bad suggestion, even if there are no depression era hobos hanging around town today.
Today is Columbus Day, a holiday the United States happens to share with Spain.
It is meant to honor the landing of Christopher Columbus in the new world in 1492. He didn’t actually reach the mainland of North America but instead landed some where in the Bahamas and had the first Carribean vacation.
There is some controversy with the holiday. Native Americans basically refer to it as a commemoration of the point in time when the whole continent started going downhill in a handbasket.
And it doesn’t commemorate the first explorer to reach the area, that honor should go to the Vikings (Norse, not Minnesota).
So Columbus Day is kind of a bizarre, somewhat controversial, holiday everyone but the post office and the banks ignore.