LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — I Go To Eastern North Dakota — AGAIN

Surprising as it may seem, I traveled to eastern North Dakota again this week, to take my octogenarian mother to visit her grandsons, Matthew and Michael McLaughlin. She hasn’t been on a road trip for quite some time and was quite excited at the prospect.

Mother with her grandsons, Matthew and Michael McLaughlin.
Mother with her grandsons, Matthew and Michael McLaughlin.

But first, the drive east. My mother loves to go to thrift stores and when we stopped in Jamestown for lunch, she spotted the first one. The accommodating staff there gave her a list of thrift stores in the Fargo area, which she proudly displays here (there is an impressive number of thrift stores in the greater Fargo area). Thus, at the Buffalo Grill, we planned our route. By the end of the trip, she’d hit nine (9!) thrift stores and was quite happy with her finds.

Tuesday morning, I left Mother in the care of Matthew and his fiancee, Jamie, and I headed to the campus of the University of North Dakota. Most of the students were gone, and thus the campus was very quiet. I strolled the grounds headed for my ultimate goal, the Chester Fritz Library, followed closely by the Library of the State Historical Society of North Dakota and the NDSU Library, Chester Fritz Library is the finest library in North Dakota.

Ultimately, I was headed to the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, in order to do some research.

While at Chester Fritz Library, I also visited my friend, Shelby Harken, who has been a librarian there for 45 years! Now, that is some institutional memory.

After I finished at the library, I walked over to the North Dakota Museum of Art, which I greatly enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed the Barton Lidice Benes collection.

Another walk by the English Coulee took me to the UND Hopper-Danley Spiritual Center.

Now it was time to head to downtown, first to East Grand Forks to meet old friends for lunch.

Now it was time for a walking tour of the downtown Grand Forks area. But first, a mandatory stop at a Red River Valley institution, Widman’s Candy Store. From there, I called Jim and took his request for a couple of “turtles.”

It is so good to see all of these Grand Forks area icons survived the terrible flood of 20 years ago. The cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks have done a terrific job, in my estimation, of rebuilding and revitalizing these areas, including the addition of greenways along the Red River and the flood interpretative signs. One of the signs tells me it was “the largest evacuation of an American city since the Civil War.” As I walk this area, I, too, am flooded with memories of the flood, and its impact on my family, my friends and my state.

My mother has always been a coin collector, and she passed on that tradition to her grandchildren. Wednesday morning, it was time to give Matthew the National Park coin book and say goodbye so we could head back to Bismarck via the blue highways.

My mother and I both enjoy history, beautiful old buildings, birds and such, so there was much for us to see along the way — and all day — in which to explore.  It is very difficult for both of us to just drive right by “brown signs,” the signs marking historic spots. Our first pull-out was this one describing the Old Fort Totten trail which was perfect, as we were headed in the direction of Fort Totten State Historic Site, a place my mother had never had the occasion to visit.

We are so appreciative that people have taken the time to erect these signs and preserve these places so that future generations can learn more of their predecessors.

A side trip into Michigan, N.D., rewarded us with these sights

Next up was a driving tour of some of the beautiful old Devils Lake buildings.

After a quick lunch at the Spirit Lake Casino, we drove on over to Fort Totten State Historic Site. According to “A Traveler’s Companion to North Dakota State Historic Sites” (third edition), “Fort Totten is one of the best preserved frontier military posts in the United States because of its later use as an Indian boarding school. Sixteen of the original military structures still stand … in Benson County on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation.” (page 76).

My mother was an U.S. Army wife, so we’ve spent more than a lot of time on Army posts, and memories flood back when I look at the parade grounds and think of all of the times I’ve watched my father march on these with his comrades.

We proceed onward with a short stop at Sheyenne, N.D., to see the historic log cabin there, where we reminisce about the old log cabin that was located in our hometown of Rhame, N.D. As we drive along, I am the beneficiary of my mother’s good company and her interesting life stories. One of the things we talked about was our memories of the summer of the Watergate hearings. Even in the midst of all of the work on our Slope County farm, the TV was always tuned to those historic events, and I remember exactly where I was when Walter Cronkite told us that Nixon was resigning, as does my mother.

Our next destination was a place I’ve been looking forward to taking my mother to since I first saw it over a year ago, the Hurd Round House. Located 6½ miles southwest of Chaseley in Wells County, the house is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is very well-cared for by the residents of the county.

From the free brochure found inside:

“Styled and furnished to impress prospective land buyers — either wary, calculating home seeker of modest means, or the sophisticated, well heeled eastern speculator — the “Round House” was built on the eastern slope of a hillside in the northwest quarter of Section 17 of Silver Lake Township in the early 1900s. It was to be an office for the sale of Northern Pacific Railway lands in Lynn and Silver Lake townships, the last quantity purchase of such lands in Wells 

“Chartered by Congress to build a railroad from Duluth, Minnesota, to Seattle, Washington, the Northern Pacific had received an enormous grant of over 50 million acres of land, 8 million of which were in North Dakota, to help finance construction.

 “Financed initially by the sale of $25,000,000 in stocks at $100 a share, the tracks reached Bismarck in 1873, but in the financial panic of that year the Northern Pacific became bankrupt, and its stocks fell to less than $10 on the market.

“The company now began an intensive land selling campaign, advertising North Dakota lands at from $2 to $6 an acre, depending on distance from the railroad, and offered to redeem its shares of stock at full value, in exchange for these lands.

“Spurred on by the success of “Bonanza” farms in Cass and Traill Counties, settlers and land speculators soon bought up all of the available good land along the main line of the railroad, and by the early 1880’s the “boom” hit Wells County. 

 “In 1881 Richard Sykes purchased 7,680 acres in Bilodeau and Sykeston Townships and in the next two or three years purchased additional railroad lands in Speedwell and Haaland Townships. His total acreage of Northern Pacific lands in Wells County aggregated 31,040 acres, at a cost of about $1 per acre. 

“At about the same time the Carrington and Casey Land Company bought 39,640 acres in Foster and Wells Counties, and sometime in the 1890’s the D S B Johnston Land Company of St. Paul bought 22,704 acres, 22,704 acres, all that remained of Northern Pacific land in Wells County, for $31,2717.00, or roughly $1.37 per acre.

“In true ‘boomer’ fashion, the D S B Johnston Company did not record the purchase until Jan. 31, 1900, a month after they had sold the entire parcel to E.R. Moon of Franklin County, Iowa on Dec. 29, 1899. The sale price was $45,406.56, or roughly $2 per acre; not counting interest on the money, a neat profit of $14,189.56.

“This was the land which Warren Hurd undertook to sell in his new and unique “Round House” land office in Section 17 of Silver Lake Township, thirteen miles from the nearest railway station, Bowdon.

 “The building was planned and erected by his brother, Elgin H. Hurd, who had training as an architect and also as a stone mason, whose skill is well attested by the structure.  Built on a hand-cut stone foundation, the 16×24 foot building has a round porch and a round, over-hanging roof supported by 8 columns.

“The two story frame house has a large reception room and two small offices downstairs and a large room used occasionally for sleeping quarters upstairs. This was reached by a stairway to a door on the second story. The stairway has not been restored since it was considered to be a hazard to children or others who might be tempted to climb it. The second story had three dormer windows to the north, east and south, from which the land buyer might look out toward where his newly bought land lay.

“The reception room had a fireplace, tiled with a rich green glazed ceramic tile as was also the floor immediately before it. A large rug covered the floor and near the fire place lay an intact animal skin rug with gaping jaws and head intact. Between the two windows on the north and south sides of this room hung two full length plate glass mirrors, each flanked by leather-upholstered settees.

“Some insist that the walls of the reception room were papered with an off-white imported wall paper with scenes in green, one portraying a “coach and four” with passengers, another depicting a cluster of “gay nineties” people under a weeping willow tree. Local residents, however, are unable to recall that the walls were ever papered.

“On the walls hung pictures and above the mantle over the fireplace were a stuffed duck and prairie chicken.

 “Buyers were hauled out from Bowdon by surrey or spring wagon until the tracks were laid to hurdsfield in 1902. The porch was built just high enough for one to step directly from the vehicle to the porch, or vice versa. Jerry Hayes, who had a claim nearby, was the driver and Eze Simar took care of the teams. In wet weather when the going was heavy, he hitched four horses to the three-seated spring wagon that whisked the buyers from place to place.

 “The visitors were housed and fed at the Hurd ranch house down below the hill. It had running water, most unusual for a rural home at that time, which was piped down from the small cut-stone spring house in the gully just below the Round House to the southwest. 

One can learn much more about the Hurd Round House by googling the term or searching the collection of the SHSND or at the NDSU Institute for Regional Studies at their Digital Horizons Online portal.

Now it was time to skedaddle on home to Bismarck on this beautiful prairie day, with just two more brief and unplanned stops along N.D. byways.

West of Tuttle, just west of mile marker 31 on state Highway 36, is a series of small lakes. Here we spotted the lovely western grebe, 51 to be exact, all engaging in courtship displays. I was shooting into the sun. so my photos are not as I would have liked,

But here is a splendid video that gives you a sense of the wonder my mother and I watched. And we got to see 51 western grebes, all in one small lake.

My next screech to a halt was for my all-time favorite prairie wild flower, Prairie Smoke (geum triloforum), also known as Torch Flower, Maidenhair or Old Man’s Whiskers. My mother was not acquainted with this flower, so it was especially fun for me to introduce this to her and caused me to wonder if this does not grow in the Deep Creek area of Slope County. O.A. Stevens does not enlighten me on this, so it is something for me to find out on a later date. I picked a few stems for her to carry back to her apartment for later enjoyment.

I dropped her off at her assisted living facility with this loot from her thrift-storing and many happy memories of the outing. Both of us were happy to be North Dakotans and happy to be home.

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Lillian Crook

A retired librarian, Lillian Crook is an Army child but completed her junior high and high school education while living in North Dakota’s Slope County, where her parents retired to her mother's family farm and ranch. She completed a bachelor's degree in English from Dickinson (N.D.) State University and a master’s of library science from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and was an academic librarian at DSU for 26 years. She later worked for Theodore Roosevelt National Park as a museum technician and volunteered for TRNP in many capacities. She is married to Jim Fuglie, is an avid reader, gardener and birder and enjoys hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, photography and writing, is the mother of twin daughters and loves yoga. She and Jim run Red Oak House Books and Publishers from their home. Lillian is the founder of Badlands Conservation Alliance, a grass-roots voice for wild places in western North Dakota. Bullion Butte is the center of her universe, and she is happiest when floating the Little Missouri River. Her blog, WildDakotaWoman.blogspot.com, consists of random thoughts on wild places and musings on life in Red Oak House of Bismarck. She can also be followed on Twitter @WildDakotaWoman. She takes heart from one of her favorite writers, Terry Tempest Williams, who wrote, "If you know wilderness like you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go. We are talking about the body of the beloved, not real estate."

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