This column ran in the March 30, 2010 Prairie Post
A couple weeks back I wrote an article for the Jamestown Sun about a large scale dairy operation planned for the Edgeley area.
I won’t comment on the pros and cons of such an operation, I leave that for each person to decide for themselves, I will comment on the operation’s use of manure as an energy source.
There is a long tradition of using poop as fuel on the prairies.
The wagon trains that crossed the Dakota plains, some right through the Jamestown area, cooked most of their meals over a fire of dried buffalo chips.
This was the most readily available fuel of the time. Few trees grew on the open prairie so firewood would have been scarce to non-existent.
But the 1860s were still before the age of market hunting for buffalo hides on the northern plains and the herds would have been large. And they had a tendency to let the chips fall where they may.
By the 1880s the buffalo had been all but exterminated so buffalo chips were no longer a source of fuel for the early homesteader.
If you had money, or credit at the general store, you bought lignite coal to heat your claim shanty. If that wasn’t an option many tied hay into knots, which slowed the rate it burned, and fed that into the stove.
This was a little labor intensive. It was said to take two men and a boy tying knots in hay all day to keep a shanty warm for 24 hours.
But the Germans from Russia settlers in what is now south central North Dakota and northern South Dakota had another way to heat their claim shanty.
It was called “mist” and made from cow manure and hay or straw. The poop was mixed with water in a low spot in the homestead yard. The straw or hay was thrown on top of the manure and mixed by walking horses or ox through the muck although a wife or child could probably be substituted in a pinch.
After it was thoroughly mixed it was packed into wooden forms. The mix was then ejected from the forms and allowed to dry in the sun.
Mist was economical to produce, totally home grown and a good supply of energy to keep the shanty warm.
Making it was still a crappy job, but someone had to do it.
This column ran in the March 23, edition of the Prairie Post
We are paying a lot of attention to the rivers again this spring. Normally we don’t think a lot about the James and Red Rivers. They just don’t figure in our lives much unless they are overflowing their banks.
That was not always the case. If you go far enough back in history the rivers played a brief part in transportation in the Dakotas.
Back in 1879 the Belle of Richmond was hauled from somewhere in Minnesota where it had been used as an excursion boat to the James River.
Evidently the Belle was not an overly large boat. According to the book “The Story of North Dakota” by Erling Rolfsrud a St. Paul newspaper wrote “the craft is composed of a steam whistle, an engine the size of a teakettle and a little boat under it.”
The next year the James River got its own boat. Anton Klaus broke a rare bottle of wine over the hull of the Nellie Baldwin as it was launched in Jamestown. Nellie, or Nettie, the histories vary a little on the boat’s name, spent the latter part of her career as an excursion boat in the Sand Lake area of South Dakota.
And the Red River played a part in the disposition of one of the first crimes committed in Jamestown although this story may be more legend than history.
Sometime before 1877 J.H. Bellhammer was arrested at Fort Seward and charged with theft. He and about a dozen other prisoners were being transported by steamboat north on the Red River possibly to be tried at Fort Pembina.
According to the story a child was playing on the deck of the boat by grabbing at low hanging branches that hung over the river. Somewhere along the way the girl is swept from the boat and into the swirling Red River of the North.
Bellhammer jumps up, still wearing his handcuffs and leg shackles, and dives into the river after the girl. Because of the cuffs and shackles he can only keep the girl afloat by grasping the belt of her dress in his teeth.
He must have looked a little like a big dog retrieving a girl when the rowboat of the sternwheeler picked them up.
For his heroics, according to the story, Bellhammer was given a pardon for his crime which, by the way, was stealing food at Fort Seward to feed his wife and child the previous winter.
It is a good story. Almost a parable given the main character faced adversity for doing what he saw as necessary but won his freedom by performing a good deed.
But you still have to wonder if Bellhammer ever returned to Jamestown.
Some of the early history of the region is full of names that will make history in later years for their part in the American Civil War.
Take, for example, the first survey of the route that would become the Northern Pacific Railroad. A survey crew that would have passed near the Jamestown area in the summer of 1853 or about 20 years before the construction of the line.
Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederacy but the U.S. Secretary of War at the time, hired Gen. Isaac Ingalls Stevens to do the survey. It was a bit of double dipping for Stevens. He had been recently appointed to the position of Governor of Washington Territory. The War Department hired him to do a survey while he was in route to his new job.
Actually Stevens only had to survey the eastern part of the route. Gen. George McClellan, later a Civil War commander and saddle inventor, surveyed the route from the west end. They were to meet at Fort Benton, Montana.
Stevens started the expedition from St. Anthony, Minnesota in May of 1853 with Pierre Bottineau, sometimes called the Kit Carson of Dakota, as a guide. He used Red River carts purchased from Norman Kittson, Joe Rolette and Charles Cavileer to haul his supplies.
And it was protecting these carts that caused Stevens some problems.
At Lake Jessie, in Griggs County, the expedition became surrounded, by an estimated 200,000 buffalo. The animals crowded around the people and the supply carts. Stevens made an effort to keep the buffalo back and was evidently knocked about a bit. He spent the rest of the expedition, or at least until they reached Fort Union in the present day Williston area, riding in the expedition’s ambulance.
And that wasn’t the only problems the party had.
A little further west, in present day Wells County, Bottineau rode up to the column warning of a large band of Sioux approaching the column.
While the Stevens expedition went into a defensive corral it turned out to be a false alarm. The party the Kit Carson of Dakota spotted was not Indians but turned out to be 1,300 Metis hunters from Pembina.
This group of people, mostly of French and Indian descent, traveled with 824 Red River carts and about 1,200 horses and was on the prairie hunting for buffalo in preparation for the winter. They were completely peaceful.
This story tells us a couple of things. The original route of the Northern Pacific must have been planned for 30 or 40 miles further north than the route that was actually built and now passes through Fargo, Valley City, Jamestown, Bismarck and Dickinson.
And even the best frontiersman sometimes can’t tell who is who on the prairie without a scorecard.
I’m rather proud of the fact that directions to my home from Jamestown include the words "turn right at the end of the pavement."
Of course if you’re going to Jamestown the directions would be turn left where the pavement starts.
Right now the road from the pavement to our driveway can’t be called dirt or gravel. Mud, soft, gooey, greasy mud, is the only term that applies to the road.
Friday night there was a strange vehicle on the road. With only four houses in the area we notice things like different trucks or dogs in the neighborhood. This truck drove a ways up the road, through some of the softest mud, and then backed up. I thought he had changed his mind about driving through a road that would resemble a wide donkey cart path through the jungle of a third world country if it weren’t for the snow banks in the ditches.
But instead the passenger got out with a video camera and filmed this idiot fishtailing through the mud as fast as he could drive.
Those of us that live there drive through these areas slowly. We know the the road will be in this condition for a while and we are going to have to deal any ruts in the mud for weeks.
And now we have to deal with his ruts. I should point out he, or she I couldn’t see that well from our yard, didn’t break any laws.
After all Driving while an Idiot is not against the law. Maybe it should be, just like Driving while Intoxicated.
This column ran in the March 9 edition of the Prairie Post
Somewhere back 138 years ago Sisters Charlebois and Rose Clapin arrived in Jamestown. They intended to start a school for the residents at Fort Totten. Unfortunately they never got past Jamestown.
We don’t know the date the two members of the Sisters of Charity order, often called the Gray Nuns, arrived in Jamestown. It was likely late in the year as the railroad had only built as far as Jamestown that summer. The line did not extend any further to the west.
Even though the Sisters had been requested by Maj. William Forbes, the Indian Agent at Fort Totten, there was no one in Jamestown to meet them. Evidently some sort of miscommunication left the folks at Fort Totten unaware they had visitors waiting in Jamestown.
A little detail like 90 some miles of open country with no roads, stage stops or other amenities wasn’t about to stop Charlebois or Clapin. Remember it was 1872 and the railroad had just arrived in Jamestown and the Fort Seward to Fort Totten trail was just beginning.
The nuns tried to hire some of the local Jamestown residents to take them on a trip to Fort Totten. There were rumors that not all the residents at the Fort Totten agency were entirely friendly and travelers on the trail could be picked off so the brave frontiersmen passed.
After a while Sisters Charlebois and Rose Clapin gave up and returned to Montreal. The idea of a school for the young Indians as Fort Totten was put on hold.
Maj. Forbes managed to convince the Gray Nuns to try again two years later in October of 1874. This time the plan went a little smoother.
Sister Clapin was again part of the expedition which this time included Father Louis Bonin and three other Sisters and a Novice.
Instead of being left at the Jamestown Depot this time were met by the assistant Indian Agent Major James McLaughlin. McLaughlin would latter go on to serve as the agent in charge at Fort Berthold and the town of McLaughlin would be named in his honor.
He escorted the group to Fort Totten. Due to the heavy snow it took almost a week to make the trip.
The school operated by the Grey Nuns grew slowly. By 1880 the school had about 100 students, three years later it burned to the ground. They rebuilt and the school continued to grow.
The sisters also operated the hospital at Fort Totten.
Overall, the mission school and medical facility was a success. But you have to wonder how well it would have turned out if some Jamestown resident had the guts to haul the two good Sisters north two years earlier.
Watched Prairie Public TV last night (Monday). It was pledge week so they had an excellent concert program on featuring the Celtic Women.
If you’re not familar with the group my wife tells me they are four ladies, from Ireland obviously, that do tradition Irish music as well as other genres. I’ll add they do an excellent job.
I particullarly like their version of the gospel classic Amazing Grace, performed with full orchestration, background choir and a whole bunch of bagpipes. The song, powered by bagpipes and orchestra, was a powerful reminder of faith, of a higher power, of the grace that gives each of us our daily life. It was a moving experience.
But I got over it by switching channels and watching "Two and a Half Men."
This column ran in the Mar. 2 edition of the Prairie Post
Enos Stutsman had a problem.
Stutsman was the Custom Agent at Pembina, Dakota Territory in the late 1860s and early 1870s. It was his job to make sure only legal goods crossed into the United States from Canada and the proper taxes or tariffs were paid.
Kind of a tough job. Stutsman, who moved about on crutches due to legs shortened by birth defects, had a crew of six at the Custom Bureau.
“We are utterly destitute,” he wrote in a letter to headquarters. “Of protection from the military and the courts.”
The nearest courts where smugglers could be prosecuted were in Yankton or St. Paul.
Stutsman asked for a military fort and a Federal Court in the northern part of the Dakota Territory.
He argued there was so little in tariffs collected that, unless they added a fort to capture smugglers and courts to give them fair trials and then impose large fines, it hardly seemed worth having a Custom Bureau in Pembina.
We don’t know how much weight the War Department gave Stutsman’s request. We do know they only authorized a fort near Pembina after it was requested by the Minnesota legislature out of concern for Indian attacks on their northern frontier.
But before the fort was built there was a little controversy. The Department of War wanted to build the fort along the Pembina River about 27 miles west of the city of Pembina and the Red River.
It seems the Red River’s propensity to flood was even known 140 years ago. This location was chosen because it hadn’t flooded in the big flood of 1825 when the Red River rose 9 feet in 24 hours.
Stutsman and others put pressure on the Army. The fort was too far away from the point where commerce was conducted, Pembina, to do any good in catching smugglers.
They got the Army to move what was later named Fort Pembina to a hill just 200 yards from the Red River. After all, that particular hill hadn’t flooded since 1851.
Other than contributing his name Enos Stutsman didn’t have anything to do with Stutsman County. He died in 1873. I have never found a record that indicates he ever set foot in the county that bears his name.
We do know that when it came to planning forts he should have bought flood insurance.