written by Merry Helm
May 13, 2019 — This essay is dedicated to Everett Albers. He was the executive director of the ND Humanities Council since its inception in 1973 until his death. He co-authored, with Jerome Tweton, the Humanities Council publication, “TR, Cowboys, Rough Riders and Our Boys in the Philippines,” which provided the information for this story.
Most of us know little about the Spanish-American War, except that the Rough Riders took part. Nor do we know much about the Philippine-American War, which started a few months later. In a nutshell, Cuba rebelled against Spain during the late 1800s because of economic depression and heavy taxation. Spain crushed the Cuban revolts, and in 1898 installed a new get-tough governor, Valeriano Weyler. Weyler promptly turned Cuba’s cities into concentration camps where all Cubans “loyal to Spain” were told to go. Those who didn’t comply were labeled unpatriotic and shot to death. The Spanish then destroyed the Cubans’ villages, farms and livestock. Cuban rebels responded by destroying plantations, sugar mills and cane fields – everything Spain valued.
Americans were concerned about conditions within the concentration camps, but President McKinley had experienced the horrors of the Civil War and wanted to steer clear of a war with Spain. When John Pulitzer’s NY World and William Randolph Hearst’s NY Journal started printing graphic details of Spanish atrocities, Americans pressed harder for intervention. McKinley offered to help negotiate a peaceful resolution, and in late 1897, Weyler was replaced and Spain promised to disband the concentration camps – but they wouldn’t give Cuba its freedom.
A surprise explosion turned everything in a new direction; on February 15, 1898, the U.S.S. Maine was blown up while in the Havana Harbor. Two hundred and sixty American sailors died, and a new cry arose: “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!”
Unfortunately, America was far ready for war. Spain had 80,000 soldiers and officers in Cuba; America had only 28,000 who were ready for action. So McKinley turned to volunteers and state-militias – or the National Guard. In particular, the Secretary of War wanted three cavalry regiments formed “exclusively of frontiersmen possessing special qualifications as horsemen and marksmen.” Teddy Roosevelt was offered his dream job – to lead the First Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. As he began signing volunteers, Brooks Brothers tailored a new uniform for him.
The Rough Riders included three North Dakotans. Seventeen year-old Jesse Langdon of Fargo “hobo’d” to Washington and found Roosevelt at the Navy Department. Langdon asked to be a Rough Rider and talked about the time that he went with his veterinarian father to Roosevelt’s North Dakota ranch to inspect some cattle. TR remembered and gave Langdon a train ticket to Camp Wood, San Antonio, for training.
TR said, “…I only hope that peace will not be declared without giving the army a chance at both Cuba and Puerto Rick, as well as the Philippines.” On May 30, 1,060 men and officers, their weaponry, as well as 1,258 horses and mules were crammed onto a train bound for Tampa, Florida. Four days later, they arrived to mass confusion and bad news. Only eight of the 12 troops of Rough Riders would set sail for Cuba. And the horses had to remain behind. Young Langdon said that the volunteer cavalry suddenly became “Wood’s Weary Walkers.”
written by Merry Helm
May 14, 2019 — One month after the Spanish-American War began, American troops sailed from San Francisco to battle the Spanish at their Pacific stronghold, the Philippines.
Most of the Regular Army was fighting in Cuba and Puerto Rico, so three-fourths of the 10,000 men who went to the Philippines were members of volunteer state militias – the National Guard. The 1st North Dakota Volunteer Infantry – with 36 officers and 401 men – was among them.
When Spain surrendered on August 13, Filipinos celebrated their independence. But they were in for a surprise; while negotiating the Treaty of Paris, the U.S. bought the Philippine Islands, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico, from Spain. Philippine insurgents under General Aguinaldo refused to accept the deal. They proclaimed independence, ratified a constitution, and prepared to battle the U.S. American citizens had been lead to believe that Filipinos wanted to be part of the U.S. and were stunned by the Philippine reaction. But by then, it was too late. From February 1899 until July 1902, 126,000 American troops were committed to a war that many consider America’s “first Vietnam.”
Meanwhile, the 1st North Dakota Infantry thought they were finished and were going home.
After six months of waiting, they were instead ordered to start fighting the people they’d just liberated.
Two months later, Thomas Sletteland of Grafton earned the first Medal of Honor awarded to a North Dakotan when he carried a wounded soldier to safety and then single-handedly defended three (of eight) dead comrades against a greatly superior enemy force.
Shortly after, Henry Young, a Connecticut citizen soldier, organized an elite reconnaissance force of 25 men; 16 of them were North Dakotans. They would soon win fame as “Young’s Scouts.”
By May 12 – their numbers now reduced to 18 – they came upon a band of about 300 rebels near San Miguel. In the ensuing clash, Young was mortally wounded. Medals of Honor were earned by Private Gotfred Jensen of Devils Lake, Colonel Frank Anders of Fargo, and Private Willis Downs of Jamestown, whose citations for valor read: With 11 other scouts, without waiting for the supporting battalion to aid them or to get into a position to do so, charged over a distance of about 150 yards and completely routed about 300 of the enemy who were in line and in a position that could only be carried by a frontal attack.
Three days later, the Scouts clashed with rebels defending a strategic bridge. The river below couldn’t be crossed without it, so the Filipinos set fire to it.
Under heavy enemy fire, the Scouts charged across the flaming bridge, routed 600 strongly fortified insurgents, and saved the bridge. Medals of Honor were awarded to Private Otto Boehle of Wahpeton; Private Charles Davis of Valley City; Private John Kinne of Fargo, Private Frank Ross of Langdon, and Private Richard Longfellow of Mandan.
Six months later, Artificer Sterling Galt of Valley City earned one more for distinguished bravery and conspicuous gallantry in action against insurgents.
Though the war “ended” July 4, 1902, men continued to die in skirmishes that followed. Casualties included 4,234 U.S. and 16,000 Filipino soldiers.
Estimates of civilian deaths range from 200,000 to a million; famine and disease claimed a great many.
Atrocities were committed on both sides.
Denver Beauty’s Death
written by Jayme L Job
May 15, 2019 — News was received in Fargo on this day in 1917 that caused quite the commotion, and even more chuckles. The obituary of Mrs. John W. Springer from New York appeared to many quite the fitting end to a sensational story.
Six years earlier, Mrs. Springer was seen as the cause of a double-murder involving a very prominent Fargo man, Mr. Harold F. Henwood. Henwood had come to Fargo in 1901, and was viewed by the city at that time as one of the Fargo’s leading bachelors. A necessary guest at social affairs, Henwood ruled social circles and launched a successful business career in Fargo.
Then, after several years of residence in Fargo, Henwood packed up and moved west. He settled in Colorado and soon became enamored with Mrs. John W. Springer, who it is suggested heeded his advances. Mrs. Springer was also a society leader, and married to John Springer of Denver, a noted banker and capitalist of that city. She was often referred to as the “most beautiful woman in Colorado.”
One fateful evening in 1911, Henwood relaxed in a Denver hotel lobby with George E. Copeland and Sylvester von Puhl. When the conversation turned to Mrs. Springer, Copeland and von Puhl gave some rather snide remarks regarding the woman’s character that rubbed Henwood the wrong way. Henwood felt obligated to defend the woman’s honor, and demanded that the men revoke the remarks, which they refused to do.
Subsequently, Henwood pulled out a pistol and shot the two men right there. Both of the men died as a result, and Henwood was given a life-term for the murders and sent away to prison. Mr. Springer later divorced his wife, and paid her $5,000 to leave the state. Mrs. Springer quickly retreated to New York City, where she resided for a number of years.When news of her death reached Fargo, it was discovered that the woman who had been called the “most beautiful woman in Colorado” only six years before, died a pauper in a poor house on Blackwell’s Island.
Legends from the Devil’s Colony
written by Merry Helm
May 16, 2019 — A 10-year-old town called The Devil’s Colony felt its name might be inappropriate when it opened its first post office May 19, 1884. So they changed the name to Winona, an Indian word for first-daughter.
Dakota Datebook has described many colorful characters from this Wild West town – folks like Mustache Maude and Turkey Track Bill. Today, we’ll focus on some lesser-known legends taken from the writings of Ben Barrett, who became a county agent in Emmons County.
Winona was built on the east side of the Missouri River across from Ft. Yates and the Standing Rock Reservation. Its primary purpose was to cater to some 3,000 soldiers who were stationed at Ft. Yates. In the late 1800s, liquor was illegal at the fort, as it was on the reservation. The nearest railroad station was some 40 to 50 miles away, so Winona easily cornered the market on the “entertainment” industry. While the town’s top population was only 150, it was the largest town between Bismarck and Deadwood. The town’s slogan was “Winona and vicinity has no equal” and boasted nine saloons.
North of town, an oval racetrack attracted horse racers on Sundays. Some of the finest racers came from wild stock descended from Indian ponies. Because the town swarmed with single young men, prostitutes and other women were drawn to the area. There were few laws, and those that did exist were freely broken. A graveyard south of town proved that.
Gambling was, of course, a favorite pastime. One business owner reportedly extended his building out over the river. Barrett wrote, “If a new man, through skill or trickery, showed an unusual winning streak, he would be maneuvered around the table to a spot over a trap door. If his earnings piled up to seemingly more than his share, the trap door would be sprung and he would take a watery departure.”
One winter, a saloon girl hit a particularly strong-willed customer over the head with a spittoon, killing him on the spot. The ground was frozen solid, so she and the bar owner dragged the man to back shed, where he laid until spring.
Another saloon girl met her death by her own hand. After the mail arrived that day, folks noted the she was overcome by a letter she received. That night on the dance floor she drank from a bottle of carbolic acid and put herself out of her misery.
Yet another prostitute was involved in a death when she shot and killed a drifter in her room over a saloon. When she confessed to her boss, he helped her drag the man down into the cellar, where they buried him. They hid the grave with empty beer kegs. Barrett writes, “Sometime later, the freighter who supplied the saloon discovered he was short of some of the empty kegs. He questioned the saloon keeper who, on swearing the freighter to secrecy, told of the body buried in the cellar. The kegs were taken away. No doubt, the remains of the body are still in the grave in the cellar hole.”
written by Merry Helm
May 17, 2019 — Happy Syttende Mai! An old article in the Hansboro News explains that May 17 is the “anniversary of the rise of modern Norway among the nations as an independent, self-governing kingdom…”
The year the article was written was 1914 – the year of Norway’s Jubilee – and it stated that the 100-year celebration was “of peculiar interest to about two and a quarter million people living in Norway and about two-thirds as many of their kinsmen in foreign countries, for the most part in the United States and Canada.”
During the years leading up to the centennial, Norwegians constructed a number of special buildings for a grand exposition. The Swedes decided to open the great Baltic Exposition at the same time, and the competition spurred the Norwegians to double their efforts to lure the most visitors. It was announced, “The cathedral of Trondheim, the most magnificent building in all Scandinavia, will be the scene of elaborate ceremonies,” and that, “Eidsvold, the birthplace of the constitution, will be the great Mecca of those who visit southern Norway.
A “quaint, almost homely building” was dedicated to “Det Udflyttede Norge,” or the Emigrated Norway. It housed exhibits from Norwegians living mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota. Many Norwegians who had moved to America and Canada were expected to come back for the festivities, and according to the Hansboro News, Norway wanted them back to stay. In a puffed-up bit of writing, the News reported that people back in the old country had found that Norwegians who had moved to America were much more enterprising than those who never ventured abroad.
“During the exposition,” the reporter wrote, “systematic efforts will be made to capture as many as possible of the 25,000 or more Norwegian visitors expected from abroad.” The story continued in a pure flight of fancy: “(Norway) has large areas of tillable soil that have never been put under the plow. The greatest drawing card to be aimed at the prospective settlers will be a list of farm and garden land for sale in all parts of Norway. The government has printed 20,000 copies of this list as a starter.” If the story was accurate, Norway was certainly in denial about the economic hardships that had caused so many of its people to move to America in the first place.
The largest Syttende Mai celebration outside of Norway that year took place at the Minneapolis fairgrounds. “New country” Norwegians had organized themselves into bygdelags, or unions, which were named for the area of Norway from which its members had moved. For example, people who emigrated from Trondheim were members of the Tronderlag.
There were about thirty of these unions that set up headquarters at the fairgrounds so members could meet up with their neighbors from the old country. Tens of thousands of people were expected to board special trains in North Dakota and other areas that would take them to this celebration.
Two months later, a state delegation traveled to Kristiania, Norway, where they presented a statue of Abraham Lincoln as a gift from the people of North Dakota. The unveiling took place at Frogner Park on July 4. Senator J. G. Gundersen of Aneta read a poem by James Foley, the writer of the lyrics for the North Dakota Hymn. The “Chorus of Norwegian Singers of America” sang the Star Spangled Banner,” and addresses were given by Governor Louis Hanna of Fargo; editor P. O. Stromme of Grand Forks; and Smith Stimmel, the Fargo man who served as Lincoln’s bodyguard. The Luther College Concert Band played several numbers, including My Country Tis of Thee, and Governor Hanna’s daughter, Dorothy, unveiled the statue.
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.