Dakota Datebook

Herbert Wilson, Fort Berthold Doctor

written by Merry Helm

April 15, 2019 — Doctor Herbert Wilson was born in Bethel, Vermont, on this date in 1921.

Wilson was a physician at Fort Berthold for 43 years.

Of his self-dedication, Dr. Wilson says he was a product of his times.

His college education was interrupted by World War II, which turned his life in a new direction.

“I was in the Air Force,” he says, “on B24s as navigator, gunner, etc. After my tour of duty, I married a WAAF and had five years of GI bill that could be paying for my education. I decided on medical school as the most noble thing I might do after causing so much destruction with the heavy bombardment of the Eighth Air Force.” Wilson said he felt constantly drawn to dedication and purpose because of the war.

“How could someone forget all those appeals to loyalty after Pearl Harbor?” he asks.

Upon completing his “government-subsidized education,” Wilson was ordered to serve one year on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

Dr. Wilson remembers he and his family arriving in Elbowoods “on a hot August day in 1951. We were fresh out of training,” he says, “after a year in Tampa, Florida, treating Merchant Marine sailors.”

The people of Fort Berthold were undergoing a major upheaval with the pending loss of their homes and rich bottomlands to the Garrison Dam and its subsequent reservoir, Lake Sacagawea.

The Elbowoods Hospital had been closed, and people were being urged to use an innovative “off-reservation care program.”

But, many people had turned back to traditional medicine.

Babies were being born at home; lacerations were filled with sage rather than being sutured, and tuberculosis was a significant problem. “In my first year, two infants came down with tubercular meningitis,” he says. “One survived; one succumbed.”

Many of the people stayed in their homes beyond the time the Corps of Engineers had ordered them to get out. “It was so hard to leave!” Wilson says.

“And where to? Some were moved family by family, or by small community, onto property up ‘on top’ – to lands most of them had never even visited before.” Some moved to the nearest towns: Garrison, Parshall and New Town.

Some also had accepted the Corp’s plan to go far, far away.

It was all arranged for them. An anthropologist was sent from Chicago to plan transport, procurement of housing and even help with job-hunting in their new city. But, says Wilson, many of these eventually returned to the vicinity of their flooded reservation.

There was a lot of unrest in the early years; much of the doctor’s practice consisted of setting broken bones and treating cuts and bruises. “Divorce was frequent,” he says.

“Drinking was unrestrained. Records point to about five suicides a year. There was no rebellion; most of their frustration was vented in carousing and internal violence.”

When his year was up, Wilson realized his patients were more restless and troubled than ever.

The Wilsons decided to stay and also opened a part-time, private practice for non-Indians who were experiencing the same problems.

Their second year led to a third, a third to a fourth, and finally, forty-three years after the move to the Missouri River bottomlands, it was time for a rest. Finding it difficult to slow down their pace, the Wilsons retired in a more urban setting – Bismarck.

A Family of Fifteen

written by Jill Whitcomb

April 16, 2019 — On this day in 1858, John Heid Sr. was born in Hoffenheim, Germany.

Like many homesteaders in the late 1800s, John and his wife Babetta came to America for a new life and a fresh beginning. After living for few years in Chicago, they came to North Dakota and settled in the New Salem area. Their first home consisted of a boxcar at the Blue Grass Railroad.

By the time their first permanent home was built, a one-room sod house, the family had grown to include two children.

However, they soon outgrew their tiny sod house. And the Heid family expanded to 13 children.

It was extremely common in those days to have very large families, as more children meant more help with the everyday housework and farm chores.

In the Heid family, John farmed while Babetta sewed and knitted to keep them all clothed. John grew hundreds of cabbage plants from which gallons of sauerkraut was made — a Heid family favorite.

They grew potatoes and onions as well, trading truckloads of extra cabbages, potatoes and onions for groceries at Wiegman’s Store.

The Heid family garden flourished with peas, beans, carrots, beets and turnips. Growing enough food was a necessity to feed the large family all winter. Gardening was not just a hobby in the late 1880s; it was survival.

The Heid family dug coal by hand to heat their home — a step up from the dried buffalo chips and grass they had previously used.

Hunting and fishing was a means of survival as well. With 13 children, there was always someone who needed their shoes repaired, someone who needed a haircut and someone who needed to help Babetta with the canning and pickling.

Neighbors were always welcome at the Heid home.

Every summer, the Heid’s hosted a picnic for the entire town, cooking up such German specialties as summer sausage, kuchen and German potato salad. The Heids were known for their association with the Hermansohne Lodge, and their membership of the Friedens Geminde church of New Salem.

John Heid passed away in 1915, and Babetta in 1927. From their 13 children, the Heid family produced over 300 descendants. That’s one heck of a family reunion!

Labor Laws

written by Merry Helm

April 17, 2019 — On April 18, 1895, an article in the Milton Globe explained a relatively new state law that allowed farm laborers to put liens on crops they tended – meaning they would get their wages before anyone else got a cut of the profits.

“Every fall,” the article read, “many a laboring man (has) been obliged to stand by and see the fruits of his toil applied on some old claim, which too often … left him with nothing but experience and winter to clothe and warm himself with.

“The laborer is now protected from … an irresponsible class of employers who … promise any wages asked, because their property and crops were hypothecated and they knew the laborer would have to settle for little or nothing in the fall. This uncertainty of being paid has deterred many honest laboring men from coming to this state, who can now afford to come for smaller wages because their hire is secure.”

Fern Welk’s Wedding at Dawn

written by Merry Helm

April 18, 2019 — In 1927, Lawrence Welk and His Novelty Band discovered the power of the media when Welk persuaded a Yankton radio manager to let them play on his station one morning. It went so well, that the band got a long-term contract out of the deal.

Lawrence had no shortage of female admirers in Yankton, but the nursing student he fell for wasn’t one of them. Fern Renner was far more interested in becoming a doctor than getting mixed up with a musician. Lawrence became so desperate that he scheduled himself for a tonsillectomy, hoping she would be his nurse. She wasn’t, but she felt sorry enough for him to visit him afterwards.

It was on this day in 1931 that Lawrence finally won Fern’s hand. They got married in Sioux City, Iowa, at 5:30 in the morning, because Lawrence and his band had to get on the road to play a show in Wisconsin that night.

“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 written by Merry Helm

April 19, 2019 — A strange sight was seen by motorists outside of Minot on this date in 1916. A dead man was lying beside the road.

Authorities were quickly notified, and soon after, states attorney O. B. Herigstad and deputy coroner A. B. Hill were speeding to the scene in their automobile.

About halfway there, they met up with the corpse in question — he was walking toward town. The man had innocently lay down and fallen asleep, not realizing he gave the impression that he was dead.

While that might seem less than newsworthy, the last line of the article is worth noting. It read: “The man refused to allow the coroner to sit on his body.”

“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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