Dakota Datebook

Flett and Remington

by Merry Helm
November 28, 2018 — On this date in 1912, a Fargo newspaper article read: MURDERER SENTENCED FOR LIFE IS PARDONED. North Dakotas were outraged when a Casselton native was granted parole despite having been convicted of what was considered one of the most cold-blooded killings in the state’s history.
More than 20 years earlier Joe Remington had been sentenced to life in prison for what he’d done.
The article read: “The last and closing chapter in one of the most notorious murders ever committed in North Dakota is now closed. Joe Remington, sentenced to prison for life for the murder of James T. Flett at Arthur, this country, has become a free man as a result of the clemency of the state board of pardons.
“The murder was one of the most cold-blooded crimes in the state and is vividly recalled by the pioneers of this section. Remington was raised at Casselton between here and Arthur, and in the fall of (1890), was employed on a farm near the latter place.
“He took a load of wheat to Arthur, and in those days the elevator agents carried large sums of money, frequently paying in cash. Remington saw Flett’s roll.
“Afterwards Remington went to Minneapolis and for a short period drove a hack. He formed the acquaintance of a notorious woman there and soon spent what money he had saved. Her demands on him recalled the money he had seen Flett carry.
“Remington quietly returned to Arthur, concealed himself in the hayloft of the elevator, and in the darkness when Flett came in to feed the horses, Remington brutally beat him to death and escaped with the money.
“The murderer was arrested at La Crosse where he had gone with the woman. When he returned to Fargo he pleaded guilty and received a life sentence. The state board of pardons commuted his sentence last summer to 23 years, and now Remington has stepped from the penitentiary at Bismarck a free man.”
The 1912 article continued, “Since the recent lynching at Steele, many editors of the state have boldly asserted the mob violence was directly due to the leniency shown by the pardon board to Remington, who was guilty of one of the most brutal murders in the history of the state.”
Yet the newspaper told another side of the story, as well, when it went on to say:
“Remington has had a remarkable record in the state penitentiary and is said never to have violated a rule of the institution. He has been regarded by Warden Hellstrom as a “trusty” and for two years had charge of the penitentiary exhibit at the state industrial show at Bismarck without a guard.”

Shoot ‘em Up

by Merry Helm
November 29, 2018 — Charlie Cosgrove was born in Australia in 1861. When he was 21, he and his brother, Bill, moved to Dickinson to try ranching, and Charlie later described some of those early days:
“The Hash-Knife out from Texas was in here. Their cattle, between three and four thousand head, had a hash-knife brand. In ’86, the year the snow blew — I’ll never forget it, old ’86 — the Hash-Knife outfit lost 500 head. There was just one damn blizzard after another.
“One day in ’86, a feller named Taminlin brought a load of hay to Dickinson on a wagon hitched to two old nags. That same day the Hash-Knife outfit was in here drinking and shooting up the town, and old Taminlin got right on a street corner when the Hash-Knifers took a few pops at him. Taminlin seemed to go right down in the hay, and one horse was killed. After the shooting let up, old Taminlin crawled out and said, ‘Well, why didn’t they get old Ted, too?’ He got a good horse from the Hash-Knife outfit for the one they killed. That outfit would raise hell and tear things galley-west, then pay back for any damage they had done to anyone. They were pretty good that way.”

Wine at the Chateau
by Tessa Sandstrom
November 30, 2018 — Medora’s legacy as a tourist town began as early as 1936 when Louis Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Mores’ eldest son, donated the de Mores properties to the state of North Dakota. The State Historical Society of North Dakota was made the trustee of the property and began some renovation in May, 1939. On this day of that year, the Badlander reported an interesting event.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were conducting much of the renovation. Crews were excavating the basement of the chateau when one of the enrollees discovered several bottles of rare wine that was bottled in Bordeaux, France in the early 1800s. The discovery generated much excitement around the chateau. Rumors spread that the supervisors took the wine home and drank it, but Marge Neuens Gratton, originally of Medora, said this wasn’t so. Her husband was one of the landscape architects working on the project and was present when the wine was discovered. He told Marge about the incident. She said:
“They were grading there, and they didn’t have large equipment like they have today. They were grading and part of the tractor kind of fell into what became the wine cellar. There are lots of stories that tell about that, but there wasn’t really any wine left in those containers. The wine was pretty well dried out so no one got drunk on it. I just heard a story … that the boys didn’t get any of the wine but the supervisors and whatnot got it and took it home, but that isn’t true. There wasn’t any wine to take home, but it makes a good story for the boys.”

Catherine Geiszler Vanourny
by Karen Horsley
December 3, 2018 — On this date in 1909, Charles and Catherine Vanourny had been married only a day, but it’s unlikely they were honeymooning. They were, after all, frugal, hard-working Germans from Russia. A 31-year-old widower, Charles had homesteaded his 160-acre farm southeast of Ashley. His new 25-year-old bride, Catherine Geiszler, had the distinction of being the first girl born in McIntosh County.
According to “Women of the Northern Plains” by Barbara Handy-Marchello, Catherine’s mother reared her “in the ordinary fashion of the prairie, teaching the oldest to mind the younger ones and to manage some simple household tasks while (mother) worked in the fields. By the age of five … Catherine looked after the babies while her parents were out of the house” and she was also taught to “start the fire to heat the noon meal when the sun reached a certain spot on the floor.”
Catherine was only thirteen when her life changed dramatically. Capricious, uncontrollable fires were common on the dry, flat prairie. One afternoon two of her younger sisters had gone to bring in the cows as prairie fires danced nearby. Noting a change in the wind, her mother rushed home from the field and found the girls, each grasping the tail of a terrified cow, racing for home, but little Annie’s foot caught in a gopher hole and her mother reached her just as the flames engulfed them.
Hours later, Annie died. Their mother hung on for fifteen days, desperately instructing Catherine in the details of housework and childcare despite incredible pain. Drawing her last breath, she asked Catherine to “be good to your stepmother,” knowing that her husband would remarry in order to keep his family together.
Less than two months later, he did remarry. Catherine was no doubt a great help to her eighteen-year-old stepmother as they cared for the house and six younger siblings, as well as thirteen additional children who would be born to her stepmother. This undoubtedly left Catherine well prepared to start her own family, as she began married life on the prairie, more than one hundred years ago.
“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.


DAKOTA DATEBOOK: Ole the Green Man

by Merry Helm
December 4, 2018 — On this date in 1914, it was reported that while in Grand Forks, Ole Evenson painted his entire body a bright emerald green. Nobody understood why he did it, as reported in the following newspaper story:
“When a Swede deliberately takes a can of green paint, and with a brush proceeds to decorate his anatomy from head to foot with a liberal coat of the same, he is either drunk, crazy or booze has left a lasting impression of some hilarious old time, with a Mick for a partner and the 17th of March still fresh in his memory.
No one knows just what prompted Ole Evenson of Starkweather, North Dakota, to adopt the color scheme he had about completed in the rear room of a poolroom in Grand Forks a few days ago; enough to say Ole is some artist and does his work thoroughly. The authorities are of the opinion that he will come out of it, and that it is a case of booze — but he will never look the same again, until the winds and rains have put in a twelve-month on the face.
Ole must keep away from the cows, or he will be picked up by some inquisitive and hungry bovine as a new specimen of alfalfa or the head of a bloom-the-year-around cabbage. He’s a sight.
When officer Aldahl strolled into the poolroom about two o’clock, he heard the sounds of idiotic laughter emanating from the rear room. The officer investigated, and on opening the door his eyes met as odd a sight as a bluecoat ever gazed upon. In the center of the room with a brush of good proportions in one hand and a pail of paint in the other, stood Ole. Only his eyes — glittering like two holes in green blanket through a coat of paint so green that the heart of an Irishman would swell with pride and the thoughts of St. Patrick’s Day in the morning — had escaped the brush.
He was busy at his task and had about completed a once over of his anatomy from head to foot when Aldahl happened in. “What to — here you mutt, what’s the game?” asked the officer. Ole grinned and made another splash at his half-exposed body with a brush ‘not made of camel hair,’ and there were no ‘three leagues of canvas’ covering his anatomy either.
“Put down that brush!” ordered the officer, but Ole was in the painting business, and his artistic fervor mounting to the very realming of fame. The officer grasped the Swede’s shoulder with a powerful hand and, after some trouble, wrenched the brush away from him, but he was daubed with a pint and his temper decidedly ruffled he was led to the city bastille through the back door route.
After his clothing had been partially replaced, Ole was given a change in exercise from painting to scrubbing his manly form. But there are still traces of Old Erin’s color on his person, and with a snow bank for a background he will look like a big bed of horseradish breaking through in the spring.
Reports have it that Everson came to the city in an auto, and efforts to locate his machine have failed. The police have thus far failed to get anything out of the man, as he is still a premium example of just what real “Squirrel” whiskey can do to a man in a short space of time.”
“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.


by Merry Helm
December 5, 2018 — In 1881, a 21-year-old bachelor named Irving Gardner headed to Hope, North Dakota, to homestead. As he later wrote, he was unprepared for what lay ahead of him.
“…The train was a freight train with a few passenger cars and a caboose in the rear. After traveling about half the distance toward Hope, the passenger cars ran off the rails and bumped along on the ties. We were going pretty slowly, and no one seemed much alarmed at first, but some of the men got up on the cars and tried to attract the attention of the engineer by yelling and waving coats. They had no success, and things began to look more startling. More cars were off the rails and the cars began to zigzag. The call was to jump off and others did so. I stood on the platform with another, an Irishman from Philadelphia. We both hesitated…
“I made the plunge into a snow bank and went in up to my waist without hurting myself at all. No sooner had I jumped than over went the cars on their sides…
“The poor Irishman failed to jump and was on the platform when the car turned over. He was crushed by the rail into the snow bank, with but a small part of his body in sight when I got up to him. The snow was spattered with blood, and I feared he had been killed, but by pawing the snow away I found that his bruises were all on his feet…
“Everybody stood around looking at him with apparently no thought to give him aid. Upon my direction we. carried him across the track to a small house whose occupants spoke little, if any, English. I removed his boots and stockings and got the woman of the house to bathe his feet in warm water. Whether or not that was proper treatment, I didn’t know, but it seemed right, and the woman seemed to think so and helped willingly. When I started to go to the train, he begged heart-breakingly for me to stay with him. I had to go, as the train was soon to pull out, and so I bade the unfortunate homesick fellow good-bye, never to see him again.”
“… Home life on my quarter section was at first very discouraging and provoking, for I had no sooner moved in when burglars did the same. They were considerate in a way, as they didn’t take everything at one time. First they took my blankets, then dishes, tools, then the clock. Each time I would try to strengthen my fortress, but the burglars would use a little more force and ingenuity and get inside. I finally got the doors and windows barred up so that they couldn’t get in without smashing in, and they apparently stopped just before doing that.
“But there was still one more way to extract my wealth. They climbed to the roof and pulled up the stovepipe which was connected with my stove. One night I was wet and tired and got home only to find my stove several feet short of pipe to go through the roof. But a young adventurer like me could not let that bother him. I had to do something, for it wouldn’t do to let the smoke pour out into the room. So I pulled off a couple of boards from a partition and ran them from my bed to a table, lifted the stove to this higher level, shoved the pipe through the roof again with a piece of wire run through it and under the roof boards for further protection, started my fire and in no time was all heated up ready for business as usual.”
Like many others, Irving Gardner found the life of a homesteader wasn’t what he expected. After proving up, he rented out his land and moved back to the east coast, where he went into the insurance business.
“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.


DAKOTA DATEBOOK: Father De Smet and the Snorer
by Merry Helm
December 6, 2018 — Father Pierre De Smet entered North Dakota from Montana in 1840, calling it the best “retreat” he ever made; he was petrified of warring Blackfeet. “…only a rocky point separated us from a savage war-party,” he wrote. “Without losing time, we…started at full gallop… That day we made forty to fifty miles without a halt, and did not camp until two hours after sunset…”
His only companion, a Belgian trapper, posed a different kind of problem that night. “My grenadier, braver than I, was soon snoring like a steam engine in full swing; running through all the notes of the chromatic scale, he closed each movement of his prelude with a deep sigh, by way of modulation.”
The next day, they found a freshly killed buffalo. “We trembled at this sight, thinking the enemy was not far away; but…the Lord…had thus prepared food for our evening meal… That night we camped among rocks that are the resort of bears and tigers. There I had a good sleep. This time the music of my companion’s snoring did not trouble me.”
“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.


DAKOTA DATEBOOK: Pearl Harbor—Sim and Rup
by Merry Helm
December 7, 2018 — On this date in 1941, many North Dakotans witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, including Carl “Sim” Simensen. After graduating from Grandin High School, he went to UND and earned a degree in commerce. He joined the Marine Corps, was commissioned a second lieutenant, and in June 1941, was assigned to the battleship U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor.
Edwin Rupp, who had played football with Simensen at UND, reached Pearl Harbor a few months later aboard the U.S.S. Tennessee. When the Tennessee reported to the Arizona, Simensen was the Officer of the Deck, and the two friends had a surprise reunion.
When the Japanese attacked two months later, Rupp was one of the survivors. But Simensen wasn’t so lucky; of the 2,390 lives lost during the attack, half of them were on his battleship. At least 13 North Dakotans died aboard the Arizona when it sunk, but young Simensen had the sad distinction of becoming the first UND graduate killed in action in World War II.
“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.

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