Been reading a book about the Christmas Truce of 1914. Basically, during the early days of The Great War the soldiers in the trenchs decided that at Christmas Time they weren’t going to kill each other. This went against the orders from the commanding officers.
The book makes the point that most of the soldiers fighting The Great War, what we now know as World War I, had the same basic religions and Christmas traditions. When a German soldier sang a Christmas Carol the English Soldier in the opposite trench could recognize the melody and sing the same song in English.
The book also makes the point that WWI and the European theatre of WWII were the last time people with largely the same religious faiths squared off against each other in major armed conflict.
I don’t know what this all means in the way of world peace but I do want to take this chance to wish everyone a happy New Year.
This column ran in the Dec. 29 edition of the Prairie Post
We survived a blizzard this past week. Another chance for Mother Nature to assert her dominance over mere man. This one dumped a lot of snow at a most inopportune time, disrupting the holiday plans of thousands of people.
This was not the first time the Christmas holiday has been disrupted by a snow storm. The book, Century of Stories, talks about the Christmas Blizzard of 1935. Maybe every 74 years we get a storm on Christmas Eve.
The 1935 Christmas Blizzard lasted just 24 hours, but that was long enough to cause at least one death in Stutsman County.
Mr. and Mrs. Paul Antonwitch were doing some last minute Christmas Eve shopping at Fried when the storm started blowing in during the afternoon. They headed home in a horse drawn sled even as the storm was building in strength. Before long even the horses became disoriented and lost.
Paul Antonwitch stopped and unhitched the team before turning the sleigh box over. He and his wife then crawled under the box to ride out the storm in its meager shelter.
Even though the storm lasted only about 24 hours it was devastating. Sometime during Christmas Eve night or early Christmas Day morning Paul Antonwitch died of exposure.
For whatever reason, his wife fared better. On Christmas Day afternoon, as the weather cleared, she crawled out from under the wagon box. Unable to stand she crawled on her hands and knees to a nearby farmhouse.
Mrs. Antonwitch survived the storm although she was hospitalized from Christmas until Easter.
The Christmas Blizzard of 1935 was the beginning of a serious stretch of rough weather for the Northern Plains.
February of 1936, just a month or so after the Christmas Blizzard, temperatures dropped to record lows with 58 degrees below zero recorded in Jamestown. The North Dakota record low of 61 degrees below was set at Steele during that cold snap.
And within a few months the record cold was replaced with record heat. The hottest temperatures ever recorded in North Dakota occurred in the summer of 1936.
This reinforces the basic premise of North Dakota weather. If you don’t like the conditions just stick around for awhile, it will change.
According to the Bismarck Tribune there was absolutely no one in the Stutsman County Jail at Christmas time in the year 1885.
“For the first time in a number of years the Stutsman County Jail is empty, and Sheriff McGechny is congratulating himself and the people of Jamestown and the county for the flattering fact,” the paper reported.
It wasn’t that there hadn’t been any recent crime in Stutsman County. It would seem that Judge Francis had just been through Jamestown and held his term of court.
“Every prisoner was tried and disposed of,” the Tribune wrote. “Either by acquittal or sentence.”
We don’t know if Judge Fisher was trying to be efficient or just wanted to move on to the next stop on the District Court Circuit. Not only was Kidder County about to hold its first session of District Court but they had a murder case to be heard.
The case involved the death of Mrs. Christian Unger, evidently even being murdered didn’t prompt the newspapers of the 1880s to include a woman’s first name in an article, whose body had been found in the barn of the family farm covered in straw.
Accused of the crime was a German immigrant only identified by the last name of Wolfe.
According to the newspaper report Mrs. Unger had been killed at about 8 a.m. shortly after her husband left for his land claim. About 9 a.m. visitors to the Unger farm found Mr. Wolfe covered in blood. He reported he had gotten injured while working with the farms bull and that Mrs. Unger had left for her sons land claim about 5 miles distant.
When they found Mrs. Unger’s body they went looking for Mr. Wolfe who had decided he needed to be somewhere else. They chased him for about a day and found him in the open country around Medina where he was arrested.
There were a few ugly rumors involved in the case. Some people insinuated Mr. Unger had committed the murder because Mrs. Unger was paying too much attention to Mr. Wolfe.
Still, most people seemed to feel the guilty party had been apprehended.
“The prospects of sending a murder into eternity are promising, if not bright,” the Tribune reported.
In other words, we’re going to give the accused a fair trial, then we’re going to hang him.
In the next weeks we’ll take a look at how this case was resolved.
I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and the best wishes for 2010, hopefully its better than 2009.
Doing some research for the Prairie Post column and came across a fact from 1885. That year the Stutsman County jail was empty at Christmas time.
That was 124 years ago and I doubt it has been true since.
Keep the jailers in the Christmas thoughts. While the prisoners have made the bad choices that put them behind bars the people who are on the other side of the bars are just doing their jobs.
So, this holiday, keep in mind the jailers, police officers, ambulance attendants, firemen, nurses and everyone else whose job will keep them away from family even if for just an 8 hour shift on Christmas.
Column from the Dec. 15, 2009 edition of the Prairie Post
Pingree was a booming town back 100 or so years ago. North Dakota Magazine, published by the state Agricultural Department in 1908, characterized the town as well situated for almost every type of commerce.
The community was situated in the midst of rich farm land, railroads were well situated to move goods to and from Pingree and a new county road had just been built from the city to the Kidder County line to the west. After all, it had to be a good road, the county had spend a couple thousand to build it.
The community’s location between the James River and Pipestem Creek was both a blessing and a curse. The area had great opportunities for sportsmen with brooks abounding with “finny inhabitants.” The area also required four steel bridges, some of which may still be in use, to cross the creek and river.
The Pingree area also had a couple of parks. Sunset Park was located right in Pingree while Lake View Park was on the north end of Jim Lake. By the way, Jim Lake was the “queen of the lakes” in Stutsman County back in 1908. Lake View had been platted into lots for cabins and development and was thought to become the summer resort of Stutsman County.
Pingree also had a two year old school building, a downtown full of businesses and a branch of the James River National Bank. The community was as happening a place as any in North Dakota.
And North Dakota was the best place in the country because, as the North Dakota Magazine pointed out, it was shielded from the blighting effects of earthquakes, floods and cyclones.
And Pingree was booming in the communications industry. In fact, the little town had three, and was working on a fourth, telephone companies.
Back in 1908 the residents of Pingree were served by the North Dakota Independent Telephone Company. The people west of town were served by the Pingree and Foothills Exchange and if you lived off to the east you got your telephone bill from the Pingree-Arrowwood Company.
North Dakota Magazine said a new company was being formed to string lines southwest of town.
Back in the early days of telecommunications you could start a phone company with the equipment available in a mail order catalog. Many phone companies in North Dakota started with the husband stringing and maintaining the phone lines while the wife served as the operator.
And I’m guessing that couple starting their new phone company spent less than the average person does on a year’s cell phone service now.
I’m sitting at a nice warm computer on a cold Sunday afternoon. The words of Garrison Keiller, in his newest novel, A Christmas Blizzard, are rolling through my head.
"To the manly men of North Dakota winter was a challenge. Zero was considered a mild chill. Twenty below was cold. Forty below is darned cold. At 60 below you had to take precautions."
Heck, we’re not even to cold yet.
Keillor’s newest book is largely set in the mythical North Dakota town of Looseleaf. Evidently the N.D. version of Lake Woebegon. The main charector grew up in Looseleaf but was now a multi-millionaire, thanks to some shady dealings, living in Chicago. His effort to spend Christmas at an estate in Hawaii derailed by an ill uncle in North Dakota.
Instead of sipping umbrella drinks on a beach in Hawaii he is in a fish house in North Dakota.
The surprise attack by Japan on the American Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 marked the beginning of the American participation in World War II.
But it wasn’t until February of 1945 that the Japanese actually attacked North Dakota. In fact they came close to bombing Ashley, N.D., not that many people there even noticed.
According to the book “The Great Plains during World War II” by R. Douglas Hurt Japan turned to sending explosive laden balloons towards North America late in the war. By this point the Allied island hopping campaign in the Pacific had put American forces close enough to the Japanese Islands for bomber missions. Without a way to reach the United States with planes or ships the Japanese tried to retaliate with balloon bombs.
Between November 1944 and April 1945 Japan launched more than 9,000 balloons. About 300 were actually observed in the United States in Canada although it is estimated about 900 reached the continent. Some of the bombs carried incendiary devices, others carried anti-personnel bombs. None carried the bacterial agents that were rumored at the time here in the United States.
And even though they were considered ineffective as a weapon of war they did kill six Americans. On May 5, 1945, a church youth group in Oregon encountered a balloon bomb while on a picnic. The explosion killed five children and one adult, the only American mainland casualties of World War II.
If you are an old timer and have no recollection of the Japanese attack on Ashley don’t feel bad. Until the deaths in Oregon the Office of Censorship requested no mention in the press of the balloon bombs. The balloon in Ashley was quietly picked up by an FBI agent and no one likely made mention of it. After all, back in those days we cooperated with our government.
But here is something to think about. There are still about 600 of these balloon bombs unaccounted for. The last one discovered was in 1978 in Oregon. Look for a ballast ring, barometer and a bomb.
You might want to be a little careful; they say the Japanese were pretty good at building a bomb that lasts.
And on another topic, I’d like to take this opportunity to announce Volume 2 of the Great Stories of the Prairie Post book series. The book contains about 50 stories that have appeared here in the Prairie Post in the past couple of years. I’ve also added pictures to many of the stories to make them a little more interesting.
Great Stories of the Prairie Post, Vol. 2, is available at the Jamestown Sun and at Great Stories Book Shoppe. As a shameless promotional plug by the author I will say they make great Christmas gifts.