Dakota Datebook

Dead Man Walking

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.”

Joseph Gilbert Totten

written by Lane Sunwall

April 22, 2019 — As a popular tourist destination, Fort Totten is familiar to most North Dakotans. Located near Devils Lake, the frontier military post was built to protect American interests in the region. It was briefly commanded by Major Marcus A. Reno, visited by General Sherman, and later turned into a school. But what may be less familiar to North Dakotans is who the “Totten” of Fort Totten was.

Joseph Gilbert Totten was born on August 23, 1788, in New Haven, Connecticut. Upon graduation from the military academy, Totten entered the Corps of Engineers, and after a brief period in civilian life he returned to the Corps, assisting in the construction of Castle Williams and other New York Harbor defenses. During the War of 1812, Totten was made chief engineer of the Niagara frontier and Lake Champlain armies, and assisted in attacks against British interests in Canada. In the Battle of Plattsburg, Totten earned two brevets, honors conferring a temporary increase in rank, for his “meritorious and distinguished services.”

Totten remained in the Corps following the end of hostilities between the US and Great Britain, and as a member of the board of engineers continued his work fortifying America’s coastline against attack. He developed enduring principles of defense construction, and his plans became the backbone of the nation’s coastal defenses.

In 1838, Totten was promoted to chief engineer of the Army’s Corps of Engineers. During the Mexican-American War, Totten was again called into combat. His work assisting General Winfield Scott with the siege of Veracruz earned him another brevet, to Brigadier General.

When Totten wasn’t constructing America’s costal defenses, or lending his engineering expertise in times of war, he worked to advance the country’s intellectual interests by serving as regent of the Smithsonian Institution, cofounder of the National Academy of Sciences, and a harbor commissioner for both New York and Boston.

His life having been well filled, it was on this date, April 22, 1864, that Brigadier General Joseph Gilbert Totten passed away in Washington D.C.

Three years later, when General A. H. Terry advanced into the Devils Lake region and began construction of a temporary fort on the south shore of the lake, he immediately named it Fort Totten in honor of the late chief engineer. Five other military posts around the nation have been also named in his honor including those in New York, Washington, D.C., Missouri, North Carolina and Georgia. Although the memory of General Totten has faded through the years, his name continues to live on in the forts bearing his name.

Making Beer

written by Merry Helm

April 23, 2019 — In the 1850s, the beer brewing industry was flourishing, and growing hops was quite profitable. Aadne Hoiland and his family used his knowledge of hops to brew their own.

Son Albert wrote: “Malt for beer brewing was prepared by putting one bushel of barley in a grain sack (which was) tied shut, fastened to a rope and submerged in the Sheyenne River … for three days. This soaking so swelled the barley that it made a whole sackful. Clean (cloth was) now spread on the upstairs’ floor when it was warm. The barley was spread on the cloth about three inches thick to sprout …”

When they were about an inch long, the sprouts were put in the oven to dry. “Care had to be taken …,” wrote Albert, “so that the barley did not burn, which would give a bitter taste … The dry barley, sprouts and all, was then coarsely ground on a common feedmill in Valley City.”

Hoiland then put his malting barley in clean oak barrels, which he filled to the top with boiling water.

After six hours, the liquid was drained off and brought to a boil on the stove.

To that, Aadne added a three-inch layer of hops, which he strained out after 30 minutes.

From there, the boiling liquid went into a second barrel, and brewing yeast was added.

After it cooled, he poured the mix into beer kegs – uncorked – for three weeks.

Albert wrote, “The beer was then ready to be served. It made a wholesome refreshing drink, especially in the summer, for it corrected the reactionary effect of the river water.”

Old Maid Teachers?

written by Merry Helm

April 24, 2019 — In April 1895, the Minto Journal proudly reported that the land office in Grand Forks had, in one week, recorded 69 people filing for land and 11 proving up, accounting for a total of 13,000 acres, almost all in Cavalier County.

“There is no mistake about the meaning of this,” the article read. “It is clear that the last four excellent crops have given people confidence in this county. I heard one say, ‘We have no trouble in getting our bills settled promptly in Cavalier County.’ And several other traveling men asserted the same thing.”

The article went on a bit, and then revealed a mounting problem in the field of education. It read, “I am told that in one school in Cavalier County, five successive teachers were married at the close of their term. The school officers are now offering inducements to old maid teachers, hoping thereby to retain their teacher.”

How To Start An Automobile

written by Merry Helm

April 25, 2019 — In April 1910, the Hansboro News offered the following advice:

Here are a few things a gasoline engine will and will not do. They will not run backwards; sometimes they won’t run forward either. If they won’t run either way try severing your connection with the anti-swearing society, get out in the woodshed and give full vent to your feelings – it will help lots.

They will not run without gasoline; after you have carefully removed the spark plug, cleaned and replaced it, thoroughly overhauled the carburetor, tested your battery, and turned the crank (until exhausted), send for an expert and pay him $5.00 to turn on the gasoline for you.

They will run any time except when you are in a hurry. If you’re in a hurry, don’t let the engine know about it … It will not quarrel … The only thing that makes them hot is to run them without water.

“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: Snakes, Preachers and Fire Festivals

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

April 26, 2019 — This week’s news in 1900 included plans for the annual Fargo Fire Festival. A major portion of the city had burned to the ground seven years before, and the festival had become a means for celebrating the town’s comeback.

According to the Fargo Forum, the three-day celebration was to be a reproduction of a New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration with three gigantic parades. The planners were estimating that at least 6,000 costumes would be needed. Shriners were planning on a special costume reserved just for themselves.

Bands were coming from all over, including Minneapolis and Winnipeg. According to the poster, Broadway would have two “monster marine search lights, gorgeous street decorations, magnificent illuminations and 25,000 colored lamps.” In addition, there was a free circus and vaudeville acts, logrolling contests, a series of daily baseball games and hot air “balloon ascensions.” The culminating event was a “Grand Masque French Ball in the Open Air,” with prizes given for best costumes and masks.

The April news in 1895 included the following article:

“While railroad men were removing some ties at Hamilton last week, they came upon a petrified snake of the copperhead species, weighing seven and one-half pounds.”

We took this tidbit to paleontologist John Hoganson of the North Dakota Geological Survey. He responded, saying, “I haven’t heard about the ‘Hamilton Snake’ before, but I am sure that it is not a fossilized snake. It could be a cephalopod fossil transported to North Dakota by glaciers from Canada during the last Ice Age. Cephalopods are marine animals,” he continued, “like the Nautilus that lives in the Pacific Ocean today. Some of the fossil varieties had straight shells (cigar shape) and were segmented and may look like snakes.”

That sounded pretty interesting, so we asked him to describe these creatures. “Actually,” he said, “the shells of these extinct cephalopods are about 450 million years old and can be huge – I have seen some up to 25 feet long!!”

Also in 1895, the Devils Lake Free Press published an article called “One on the Majah.” Here’s how it goes: “Word comes from Bottineau to the effect that one Sunday during the progress of the Pagal murder trial, Major Magione attended church. At the close of the sermon, the minister requested all who wanted to go to Heaven to stand up.

The whole congregation arose with the exception of the major, who was very tired from his arduous labors of the previous week, and had gone to sleep.

“After the congregation was seated,” the article continued, “the pastor said: ‘Now all who want to go to hell stand up.’

“By this time the major had awakened and heard the request ‘stand up,’ but no more. Rubbing his eyes, he stood up and stared around at the seated congregation and then at the minister. When he took in the situation he said: “Oh, ho – Mr. Preacher – ah – I don’t know exactly what you are voting on, but somehow you and I seem to be in a hopeless minority.”

“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” 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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