Dakota Datebook

Doctor Reilly is Jailed

by Merry Helm

March 4, 2019 — About this time in 1911, the town of Milton and the surrounding communities were reeling from a series of events that led to the murder trial of one of the town’s most highly regarded citizens, Dr. J. J. Reilly. It started on February 23 with the unexpected death of 22-year-old Mrs. Will Drury, who had married just seven weeks before.

Cavalier County knew her as Lilly Sweet, a well-liked schoolteacher who had spent much of her youth in the area. She was in Milton visiting friends when she became violently ill. She died the next day before her husband could get there from Langdon. The cause of death was given as blood poisoning.

Because Lilly’s death was so unusual, County Coroner Gibson was called in. The next day, the coroner’s jury heard the results of the autopsy and returned a verdict that Lilly had died of complications from an abortion; Dr. Reilly was promptly arrested for second-degree murder.

At Dr. Reilly’s preliminary hearing, townspeople got another jolt. Reilly’s main witness, a 23-year-old nurse named Nellie Gande, was arrested for manslaughter after she testified. Gande, in addition to being a nurse, was also a teacher who had accompanied Lilly from Langdon to Milton. While Lilly was under Dr. Reilly’s care, Nellie served as her nurse.

In July, Dr. Reilly’s trial started off with a misstep when his attorney objected that the coroner – who was bringing the murder charge against Reilly – had participated in soliciting a jury panel. The judge sustained and directed the county sheriff to find a new panel of jurors. The defense attorney pointed out that the sheriff was William Drury senior, Lilly Drury’s father-in-law, so the deputy sheriff was given the job of finding a new panel from which to choose jurors.

Medical witnesses stated that Mrs. Drury died of a septic infection “brought on from without” during an illegal operation. Dr. Reilly pled not guilty, and stoutly maintained his innocence. Nellie Gande was on the witness stand for almost a day and a half, during which she stated that Dr. Reilly had performed a minor operation on Lilly for hemorrhoids, and later one on her womb, but that they’d done nothing illegal or negligent.

With the topic of abortion being very delicate for the times – especially with Lilly’s father-in-law being a prominent citizen – the case is hard to understand because of the way it was reported. An article in the Langdon Courier Democrat suggests that Lilly’s abortion was self-inflicted and that Gande and Reilly were trying to contain an infection when the girl died.

A week later, the jury brought in a verdict of guilty, and Reilly was sentenced to 10 years, and Nellie Gande’s charges were dismissed in a surprise move from the prosecution.

In the Bismarck Penitentiary, Dr. Reilly was put in charge of the hospital and given every liberty allowable. Still maintaining his innocence, he abruptly died on May 10, 1915 – just one month before many of his friends and colleagues believed he would be pardoned. Ironically, he became ill with tonsillitis, developed pneumonia and died less than 24 hours after developing his symptoms.

The Milton Globe reported, “Dr. Reilly stood well (here) and was one of those physicians who neglected his own business on behalf of his patients and never refused to answer a call, no matter what the weather or the financial condition of those who needed his services. Time and time again he (provided) both medicine and services to struggling pioneers who were without money.”

The Flower Woman

by Merry Helm

March 5, 2019 — This is the time of year we thumb through seed catalogues, but many of those seeds are available only because of the work of one of the most famous gardeners to come out of North Dakota – Fannie Mahood Heath, who was born on this day in 1864 in Wykoff, Minnesota. At the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, a picture of Fannie was exhibited with the following title, “Fannie Mahood Heath: The Woman who Made North Dakota Flowers Famous the World Over.”

Fannie learned gardening early. Her grandmother gave Fannie her own small garden plot when she was only seven. Fannie’s father, John Mahood, had learned about the medicinal value of plants from Native Americans during the California gold rush, and the whole family loved flowering plants.

Fannie’s family moved to Grand Forks when she was 16, and a year later she married Frank Heath and homesteaded with him west of the city. Gone were the lush woodlands of her youth. Now she contended with wind, fickle rainfall and alkali soil. “We weren’t told how difficult it was going to be when we moved here,” she later said.

To protect the farm from wind, she planted lilac bushes and fir saplings, but the firs died. Heath began to study the local flora, and soon successfully circled the farm with a shelterbelt of native willows, cottonwoods and box elders in addition to her lilacs. She also studied the dirt and was the first person to neutralize alkaline soil by pouring vinegar on it until it stopped bubbling.

Many tried to discourage the Heaths, but through trail and error, they developed a flourishing yard of flowerbeds, vegetable gardens and fruit trees. Fannie corresponded with horticulturists across the country, and was soon exchanging seeds with people from around the world. Some seeds worked, but some didn’t; either way, she kept careful records.

The homestead started gaining local attention, and on weekends, the Heaths became hosts to hundreds of tourists. When one neighbor particularly admired one of her flowers, Fannie informed him she’d gotten them from his pasture!

The seeds Fannie sent out into the world brought in orders for more – people in England, Norway and China were thrilled with the new flowers they were discovering. Now, as Fannie watched the surrounding prairie succumbing to the plow, she embarked on another mission – to conserve and promote North Dakota’s native plants before they were exterminated.

Within the next few years, Fannie was writing articles and traveling the country to lecture on North Dakota’s native plants. Unfortunately, the locals weren’t always interested. The Superintendent of London’s Royal Gardens consoled her by saying, “Native plants are a lot like prophets – they’re not popular in their own country.”

Nevertheless, Fannie pressed on with her research and, in 1920, was so highly regarded that she was asked to help establish the National Horticulture Society. Three years later, she co-authored the book, Perennial Flowers in North Dakota. By 1925, her four acres of gardens included over 450 varieties of shrubs and flowers, but she could no longer host the throngs of eager visitors.

After Fannie died in 1931, the gardens sadly dwindled and finally disappeared altogether.

The Inaugural Ball

by Christina Sunwall

March 6, 2019 — A prominent figure in the history of Dakota Territory, George Armstrong Custer, was married to a woman who played an undeniably crucial role in his professional achievements Elizabeth Bacon Custer, like many of her peers, made it her duty to help her husband advance his career.

Shortly after their marriage in 1864, Libbie moved to Washington DC. While her husband was in the field, Libbie kept company with powerful Republicans and their wives to ensure her husband’s name and deeds were kept at the forefront. Her methods paid off. Michigan Senator Zachariah Chandler and Congressman Francis Kellogg included Libbie on several memorable excursions. Shortly after moving to Washington, she received her first invitation to accompany Congressman Kellogg to a Presidential Reception.

After standing in a long, crowded line, Mrs. Custer was presented to the President. Taking her hand, Lincoln said, “So you are the wife of the general who goes into battle with a whoop and a yell?” “Well,” he continued, “I’m told he won’t do so anymore.” Flattered, Libbie assured the President she hoped her husband still would, even if he was now a married man. With a twinkle in his eye, Lincoln replied, “Then you want to be a widow, I see.” They enjoyed a good laugh together at the silly comment before the crowd finally pushed her on. Afterwards, she asked one of Lincoln’s secretaries to tell the President “he would have gained a vote, if soldiers’ wives were allowed one.” Describing the event in a letter to her parents, she announced that she was “quite a Lincoln girl now.”

Libbie saw the President on several further occasions, the final time only six weeks before his assassination. Having attended the Inauguration ceremony two days earlier, Senator Chandler escorted Libbie to the Inaugural Ball on this date in 1865. Writing her Civil War memoirs, Libbie admitted she was thoroughly absorbed watching the President that evening. While everyone joyfully danced and twirled, she noted Lincoln looked anything but happy. As she later wrote, she would always remember the image of the “gentle, sorrowful man who carried out so faithfully the responsibilities of this position when society compelled him to do something so distasteful as dancing when our country was sorrowing.”

After the Civil War, Libbie Custer followed her husband to the plains of northern Dakota Territory where she lived until his death in 1876.

Home Brew Day

by Merry Helm

March 7, 2019 — The passage of the Volstead Act in October 1919 launched national prohibition, as defined by the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

This date in 1922 was labeled “Home Brew Day” when 73 North Dakotans were brought up on charges before District Judge Andrew Miller in his first session of Federal Court in Bismarck. Most of these men were immigrant farmers charged with making everything from chokecherry wine to moonshine whiskey. According to the Volstead Act, there was no law against buying or drinking alcohol, but it was illegal for them to manufacture or possess it.

Nearly all pled guilty, with some using interpreters to explain they didn’t know it was illegal to make home brew for their own use — something they’d been doing all their lives. Most were let go with a ten-dollar fine and a stern warning that a second offense would be more costly.

Amy Lybeck and

Other Bowlers

by Merry Helm

March 8, 2019 — Today is Amy Lybeck’s birthday. She was born in 1916 to Justin and Olga Georgeson in Heimdal, and grew up with her eight siblings on her parents’ farm near Maddock.

Amy was an outstanding student, graduating as valedictorian of her class and lettering in track and basketball. When she later moved to Fargo, she worked at the Fargo Café and also for the Dakota Tractor Company. She married her husband, Earl Lybeck, in 1942, and together they raised three children.

The special thing about Amy was that you couldn’t keep her down. For example, she loved ballroom dancing, and for a while, beginning in the 1960s, she and several other Fargo-Moorhead women did a Roaring ‘20s Charleston routine around town, including appearances on WDAY’s Party Line.

Then there were her two favorite sports – golfing and bowling. Even when she was in her ‘80s, she would often golf 18 holes in the morning and then play another round or two in the afternoon.

Amy’s 2003 obituary read, “Her hobbies didn’t stop there. When Amy wasn’t golfing, bowling, walking, or doing volunteer work at her church, she would knit, and knit and knit. Amy loved knitting, but more than that, she loved giving her work away. It will never be known the hundreds, if not thousands, of booties, scarf’s, golf hoods, sweaters, afghans and stocking caps she has knit for friends, acquaintances and occasionally individuals who she will never have the pleasure of meeting.”

Amy didn’t start her true addiction – bowling – until she was past forty, but then played as though to make up for lost time. For the next forty years or so, there were weeks when she bowled seven days a week – morning, afternoon and evening. In 2002, she was inducted into the FM Bowling Hall of Fame. She died the following year, at age 87.

Lloyd Harmon

by Merry Helm

March 11, 2019 — Musician 2nd Class Lloyd Frost Harmon, from Mandan, was discharged from the army on this date in 1919. He served with Company A of the 164th Infantry during World War I. The following is a letter he wrote to a friend named Mick from “Somewhere in France” in 1918:

Nearly wept great alligator tears of joy yesterday when the mail came in. We had not received any for over two weeks and were getting mighty blue, then when the good old canvas sacks began to show up, well say! The boy with his first pair of long pants had nothing on us. I got sixteen and crawled into the corner by the wood-box and proceeded to (fly) right back to that good old land, U.S. The best country in fifty worlds.

It’s just about like the farmer boy at his first circus to see a bunch of soldiers all grown, brown, strong and full of good old Yankee pep, get a bunch of mail. You can’t hear, you can’t see, you can’t think, you can’t anything. Everybody laughing, hollering, talking, pushing, stepping on each others’ toes, forgetting about mess, troubles, dangers, etc.

First of course, we dig into and devour our letters from mother, dad, sister or brother; then the one or ones from the girl, or girls (if a fellow is lucky or nervy enough to have more than one of these wonderful afflictions). Each fellow telling everyone else at the same time what’s happening at home, who got married, who got pinched, who got drafted, and got anything else from the grocer’s bill to the whooping cough. It’s a grand and glorious feeling I can assure you, and you should see the big difference in the fellows’ work and play after the mail battle is over. They will wear out four pick handles where they wore out one before. I know without a doubt that the quickest way to end the Hun would be to give the whole front the news that the Huns had captured a mail train and had (our mail) in their trench. I’d bet our fellows would go through them so fast that the Hun would take his last thought on earth thinking that perhaps he made the sad mistake of coming on earth about a thousand years too soon.

We received a big bunch of new band music from Carl Fischer about a week ago, and say, you should see us up and at ‘er. We had played all the music we had so much and so long that we could play it upside down, backwards and sideways, and were really getting kinda desperate, but now, oh boy! Also got a few new jazz numbers for the orchestra. Tell me all about it, Mick, you know I am interested.

Very little here in the hunting line, few wild pigs, and say, man, they sure are well named. About three times as large as our pigs, not so broad, but much taller, longer legs, curved back, and the most unsociable faces on the nuts that I have ever seen; and speed, they can put Barney Oldfield to shame. Saw an old Frenchman come in with a pig on one of their two-wheeled, one-horse (go in every direction at once) wagons the other day. It looked about seven feet long and should judge it would weigh about five or six hundred pounds. Some pig. The old man had an implement of death, which was supposed to be a rifle, but I would call it a young cannon. Had a bore about twice the size of a .44 revolver and I guess they use anything from a chunk of shrapnel to a sledgehammer for ball. Much obliged, I don’t care for any pig hunting. Haven’t seen any wild game birds here, but reports are that further south they have good hunting for small game and birds.

When you go out this fall think of me, Mick, and knock over a few for me. This fall will make two seasons of duck and chicken hunting missed, and missed is a poor word for it, too. I’ll be there stronger than ever for the hunt a year from this fall and will make up for lost time…

That was a letter written by Musician 2nd Class Lloyd Harmon in 1918 from “somewhere in France.”

“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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DAKOTA DATEBOOK: Of War and Agriculture

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Stark

March 12, 2019 — Despite being in the middle of World War II, visitors to the North Dakota Winter Show in Valley City were enjoying the last hours of the sixth annual agricultural get-together on this date in 1943.

The final slate of events culminated in the popular livestock show. Top awards were bestowed on the finest Herefords, Shorthorns and Aberdeen Angus that proud North Dakota producers had to offer.

On just the previous day, the United States Senate had cleared the way for passage of legislation that would offer exemption from military service for all “substantially full time” farm laborers. The bill pending specified that farm workers must produce certain amounts of agricultural products, regarded by the secretary of agriculture, as vital to the war effort. Livestock and most of the food and fiber crops were on that wide-ranging list.

But, agriculture was also in the national news for America that day. The Fargo Forum’s headlines concerning the winter show were dwarfed by the banner headline that announced “MEAT AND BUTTER RATIONING ORDERED.” Meat, butter, other edible fats and oils, cheese and canned fish were now on the list to be rationed to the American public. The Office of Price Administration, known as OPA, would oversee the rationing.

Rationing began in 1942 with non-food items such as rubber, metals and gasoline. The first food rationing began with sugar in May of 1942. As the conflict progressed and valuable resources were directed toward the war effort, all Americans were called upon to sacrifice. To that end, rationing of standard American goods began. Rationing would continue until supplies of those selected items were deemed sufficient to meet with demand.

Ration booklets, stamps and even coins were used and monitored by a point system. Every person was given an allotment of points for all commodities. Points were allocated to all rationed items from prunes to petroleum.

Agriculture officials explained that the rationing estimate of two pounds per person, per week of meat, meant that much on the average. The point system did differentiate in meats, however. For example, Hamburger did not have as many points as steak.

When the initial meat and cheese rationing was announced, officials did not know how long it would last. It would not be until November 1945 – two months after Japan’s surrender – that meat rationing ended.

“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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