written by Jim Davis
June 24, 2019 — On this date in 1897, the Jamestown Weekly Alert announced that Frank James had been captured.
A young cowboy known as Lee Allen had drifted into Mandan and began working at the Mackin Ranch south of Mandan. Allen locked the nineteen-year-old rancher’s son in the cellar and then robbed the house, escaping with a stolen horse and saddle.
Morton County Sheriff Charles McDonald learned that Allen had entered the employ of the OX Ranch in Montana. He traveled the two hundred miles, surprised Allen as he slept on his gun and returned him to North Dakota to stand trial.
It was soon learned that Allen’s real name was Frank James and that he was a cousin of the notorious James brothers. He had recently escaped from the South Dakota state prison but was to remain a guest of North Dakota until December 9, 1899.
Digging up Bones
written by Tessa Sandstrom
June 25, 2019 — “Digging up bones, I’m digging up bones. I’m exhuming things that are better left alone.”
These are lyrics from one of Randy Travis’ hit songs about heartache and lost love. Of course, this song wasn’t out on this day in 1915, but had it been, it just might have been on the lips of Leo Verhulehn as he literally dug up bones.
Verhulehn had bought property between Niagara and Shawnee and was digging a cellar on this day, June 25, 1915, when he uncovered six skeletons covered by six feet of earth. Five of the skeletons appeared to be those of adults and the other that of a young child. All of the skulls were split open as though struck by an axe or other sharp instrument. The skeletons were found beneath a hole that was cut in the floor of the house.
The sheriff investigated the skeletons a few days later and came to the conclusion that the farmstead’s original owner; Eugene Butler was responsible for the deaths. At first, the skeletons were thought to be those of transient laborers, but further speculation led them to believe they were the skeletons of two housekeepers, their children, and one large, elderly man. According to area farmers, Butler had mentioned to them he was going to get rid of the housekeepers because they cost too much. Rather than dismissing them, however, it appeared he killed them and their children instead.
Butler homesteaded the land in 1882 and was considered a miser. Over the years he also grew paranoid. He’d awake during the night and prowl about his house and the surrounding land, convinced that someone was trying to break in.
He was committed to the asylum in Jamestown in 1906, and his condition grew worse. The asylum superintendent, W.M. Hotchkiss said that during his time in the asylum he “was haunted by the hallucination that ‘some one was after him,’ and also believed that if his photograph was ever taken, he would die.
Butler did die in 1912, just three years before the discovery of the bones. Upon the discovery of the skeletons and his gruesome crime, one must wonder if Butler really was hallucinating, or if he truly was haunted by the victims buried beneath his house.
The discovery of the bones was not the first time Butler had caused some excitement. His insanity, of course, had caused much, especially when he was taken to the asylum and $6,000 was discovered in his house. It was also discovered that he was the owner of 480 acres of land in Grand Forks County.
The discovery of bones only added more mystery to this recluse’s life and brought more than 150 people from the surrounding area to the farmstead. The miser had certainly made this day in 1915 one to remember. In fact, the buried bones caused so much excitement that according to the Grand Forks Daily Herald, the visitors who came to the farmstead “carried off small pieces of the bones as souvenirs.”
written by Merry Helm
June 26, 2019 — The town of Gackle celebrated its Centennial this weekend in 2004. There used to be a settlement named Hackney about six miles south of present-day Gackle where, in 1903, George Elhard, George Gackle and John Gross of Kulm built a store. They renamed the site Gackle, and Elhard became the postmaster.
When the Northern Pacific Railroad bypassed the site, the town was moved north, and the little settlement — instead of going back to the name of Hackney — gave itself the name Minister, but it soon became a ghost town.
Gackle, on the other hand, soon had a restaurant, lumber yard, real estate offices, harness shop, livery and feed stable, hotel and a “small building for handling refreshments.”
Another town celebrating its centennial that weekend was Alfred in LaMoure County. The town’s promoter, Richard Sykes, named it after Alfred the Great, King of England, and the town’s streets were given classic British names like Avon, Warwick and Winchester.
Really Old Pollen
written by Merry Helm
June 27, 2019 — The smallest items owned by the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck are samples of pollen grains that are from 10 to 12 thousand years old.
The reconstructed skeleton of an elephant-like Highgate mastodon greets visitors inside the Center’s Museum. While studying it, paleontologist John Hoganson discovered a cavity in a breastbone that still held some dirt from the pond that entombed the animal. Tests revealed more than 200 grains of pollen that indicated the mastodon probably foraged in a boreal forest with some grassy areas.
Pollen from trees included one tamarack, four birch, three ash, 18 oak, one elm, three ironwood, one butternut and one hickory. In contrast, there were 156 grains of spruce pollen. In his botanical report, John McAndrews, curator at the Royal Ontario Museum, wrote, “No vertebrate today eats spruce and thus the extinction of mastodon has left an unoccupied ecological niche.”
written by Sarah Walker
June 28, 2019 — Performers have long been lifting morale and entertaining the troops. For some, like Bob Hope, this was a career-long process. Called “America’s No. 1 Soldier in Greasepaint,” Hope remained dedicated to the troops in both war and peace.
One young army captain from Fargo, “Ronnie” Severson, saw Hope perform during a War Bond show. Severson had a habit of impersonating individuals. When he was later introduced to Hope, he impersonated the entertainer’s own style during their conversation. Hope liked this, and told Severson to contact him when he left the service.
Several years later, on this date in 1946, Severson signed on to accompany “G.I. Bob” on a cross-country tour!
“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.