Sibley Historic Sites

written by Merry Helm
July 15, 2019 — The State Historical Society administers a good number of historic military sites throughout the state, many of which are small out-of-the-way spots that come with small brown road signs that point the way.
Recently, our Dakota Datebook writer came upon one of these beside ND Hwy 1 near Binford. “I spotted it and asked my husband to pull over!” she said. A marker explained that it was the site of Camp Atchison, a field-base used for more than a month in 1863 by the Sibley Expedition.
“It was so quiet,” Helm said. “It was like discovering a nesting pheasant, because beside the marker stood the grave of a soldier who had died there. His headstone was of white marble that looked like it had just been carved. It was unsettling.”
A string of historic markers identify the 1863 route through North Dakota. Along with one led by General Sully, General Sibley’s expedition was here for one specific purpose – to find and kill Little Crow and his men, who they’d been fighting in Minnesota for almost a year.
While Sully’s men were the worst offenders, neither expedition discriminated; if Native Americans were spotted, they were considered enemies and fired upon – men, women or children, it didn’t matter.
Termed the Sioux Uprising, a long progression of bloody battles had begun with a relatively innocent event the previous summer. On a Sunday morning in August, four young braves were passing the farm of Robinson Jones, when one of them took some eggs from one of the farmer’s hens. One of the boys said it was a bad idea and was quickly branded a coward, which he claimed wasn’t true. One thing led to the next, ending with the murder of five white settlers. The back and forth reprisals that were set off by that event didn’t end until 28 years later when revenge for the Little Bighorn culminated in the Massacre at Wounded Knee.
Sibley and Sully had followed Little Crow into Dakota Territory, with Sibley entering near Big Stone Lake on June 24. The first major camp established by Sibley’s expedition was at Fort Atchison, where about 1,000 of the 3,330 soldiers were left, including many who had become ill. Other sites used by Sibley’s men in July include Camp Weiser near Kathryn, Camp Buell near Milnor, Camp Corning near Dazey, Camp Hayes near Lisbon, Camp Grant near Woodworth, Camp Kimball southwest of Carrington and Camp Sheardown southeast of Valley City.
On July 26, Sibley and his men engaged in their first major exchange with the Dakotas. That site is called the Big Mound Battlefield, which is near Tappen.
Nine miles north of Tappen is the approximate location of the Camp Whitney, the campsite used by the expedition following the battle. There is a grave marker at Camp Whitney.
Sites used in August include Camp Banks near Driscoll and Camp Arnold four miles north of Oriska. Two headstones honor the memory of two soldiers buried at the Pickett Lake campsite, and a site at Lake Johnson honors George T. Johnson, who drown. Many of these sites are neglected now. A chokecherry bush drapes over the stone marker at Camp Atchison, and tall grass has grown up around everything. A flagpole stands with no flag. Helm said, “The expedition was far from noble; it was about revenge, and innocent people died. Still, I felt sad for the soldier buried there — he died because he got sick, and he was left behind in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t help but wonder what that was like for his family.”


Freakish Hail Storm

written by Tessa Sandstrom
July 16, 2019 — It was 1951, and farmers of Emmons and McIntosh Counties were optimistic about the year’s crops. It looked to be one of the best crops they had ever had, but it was late at night on this date when many of these crops were pummeled by ice chunks the size of a man’s fist.
The storm, reported to be ten miles deep and forty miles long, was a sporadic one, too. The Ashley Tribune reported that this “freakish” hail storm “oddly … lifted here and there, sparing numerous fields, while others nearby were almost totally destroyed.” Near Kintyre in Emmons County, the storm cut a path four miles wide and twenty miles long through some fields, putting farmers at a 100 percent loss. Yet other farmers, especially in nearby Fredonia of Logan County only reported a three percent loss. Only one farmer near Fredonia reported extensive damage, making this the sixth year in a row he’d been hailed out.
Heavy moisture accompanied the hail, with McIntosh County receiving one and three quarters inches of rain. High winds knocked out windows in homes in barns, and lightning started a farmhouse near Strasburg on fire.
The storm continued through the night early into the next morning. The next morning, after the storm cleared, the sight many walked out to was that of broken windows, dented siding, trampled crops, and in some areas, ditches filled one foot deep with hail.
Two hundred loss claims were reported to the McIntosh County Auditor’s office following the storm. It was a tragedy for many who were expecting a bumper crop, and many others who had plans to begin harvesting later that week. Kintyre postmaster Ed Ellingson commented on the destructive storm. “It’s a sad sight after the finest stand that any of the old timers had ever seen.”


Ukranian Festival

written by Merry Helm
July 17, 2019 — The Ukrainian Cultural Institute in Dickinson was founded in 1981, and has since grown from 50 to 500 members from 26 states and Canada.
The Institute celebrates its annual Ukrainian Festival this time every year, including music and food – including “varenyky-pyrohy” or cheese buttons, arts and crafts including intricately hand-painted “Pysanky” or Ukranian Easter Eggs, and entertainment by the Stepovi Dity Dancers who range in age from six to 46.
Identifying the ethnic backgrounds of many of the state’s first Ukrainians has been confusing for researchers, because Eastern Ukrainians arriving from Russian areas were sometimes listed by census takers as Russians.
Western Ukrainians, on the other hand, had lived in Hungary and Austria, which led to a faulty notion that there were large colonies of German speaking Austrians living in western and central North Dakota, rather than Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians.
In turn, Austria had referred to its Ukrainians as Ruthenians – a term which also found its way into the early census – and historians have found the sorting-out process to be quite a challenge.


Cold Day in Beulah

written by Merry Helm

July 18, 2019 — Looking back at the unseasonably cold weather this spring, it’s interesting to note the record high and low temperature that have been set at Theodore Roosevelt National Park over the years. For the months of February through September, every high record except one was set during the 1980s and ‘90s, while almost every cold record was set during the 1960s.

In a publication printed for Beulah’s Golden Anniversary, a story reads, “A big water carnival was sponsored in July of 1962. The committee picked the windiest, coldest day ever recorded in July. But that didn’t slow down the crowd. Hundreds upon hundreds garbed in winter gear and, carrying blankets and hot coffee, clamored (out) to see the show.”

A beautiful new water-ski ramp had been built for the show, but right before the jumps were to begin, the ramp began to lean, and a few minutes later, whitecaps chopped the ramp apart “like a tinker toy … but the show went on and was a success, ramp or no ramp.”


Georg Hildebrandt in the Gulag

written by Merry Helm

July 19, 2019 — Today is the birthday of Georg Hildebrandt, who was born in 1911 in a German village in the Ukraine. In 1993, Hildebrandt’s book, “Why Are You Still Alive? A German in the Gulag,” was published in the German language. A German reviewer wrote, “Why are you still alive? That is the cynical question of a KGB officer to the author… His fate, which one could avoid only by escape or suicide, represents that of thousands of fellow-sufferers. Imaginative, sympathetic readers should have strong nerves for this book.”

On NDSU’s Germans from Russia website, Hildebrandt writes, “Many Germans died in Siberian detention camps during Stalin’s dictatorship. As Germans, they were declared as public enemies and after 1941, they were accused of collaborating with the Fascists.”

Dr. Erich Franz Sommer writes in the preface: “Testimonies were only rarely given by German camp inmates; more rarely yet, by those German colonists who experienced themselves forced collectivization in the Volga region, in the Ukraine, and in the Caucasus, and on the Crimean peninsula, and who have survived decades of resettlement in Siberia and Central Asia.

“That is why this biography and the report of suffering by the Ukrainian-German, George Hildebrandt, are of documentary value. He speaks not only for himself, he speaks also vicariously for those whose cries and prayers in prisons and in detention camps fell silent without finding an ear. George Hildebrandt’s report, which I can confirm from my own experiences,” continues Sommer, “recalls a chapter of the Soviet Union’s past with which people are still trying to come to terms and, as far as this is possible, the Kremlin cannot be indifferent towards revising it.”

Hildebrandt, himself, writes, “I was born on 19 July 1911, in the German village of Kondratjevka, Ukraine, the second of five children. My forefathers came to Russia in 1778.”

“After finishing junior high school in 1927, I worked on my father’s farm. In March 1929, Stalin began to collectivize agriculture, the ruin and destruction of many millions of farmers, Russian and German alike.”

“Very early one morning in March 1930, militia and secret agents of the state police occupied our entire town,” he said. “All men and boys from 16 years of age were arrested and jailed. I was among them. This was my first arrest. I began forced labor in road construction in Konstantinovka. In the fall I fled to my relatives in Madestovka, where I took a correspondence course for technical draftsman until spring 1931. A series of arrests, imprisonment, and even one escape followed, taking me through several labor camps including that of the infamous Kolyma.”

“In 1952,” he continues, “I was prematurely released from a concentration camp to remain forever exiled in Kolyma. However, in 1953, I was arrested for the fifth time in my life and transported to the Urals. The journey took me through Magadan and (five) prisons, where I arrived to reunite with my family already living there in exile. Immediately after my arrival, I was admitted to the hospital for tuberculosis patients. I had contracted the highly communicable disease in one of the prisons.”

Hildebrandt later had two sections of his lung removed in Moscow. He returned to school, and pursued his profession as a draftsman for ten years before retiring in 1971. Three years later he was allowed to emigrate with his family to the Federal Republic of Germany..


“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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