On several occasions we’ve made an effort to document the abandonment of civilizations along the Missouri River in 1953 due to a coming flood created by the Garrison Dam project — the story of Sanish, North Dakota, the construction of Four Bears Bridge, a visit to an Elbowoods Church, and a lost highway to the bottom of a lake, for example — and the story of Independence is another of those.
Independence, North Dakota stood along the west bank of the Missouri River. Douglas A. Wick’s “North Dakota Place Names” says it was founded in 1885 by Wolf Chief of the Gros Ventres, and named “Independence” to signify independence from the other tribes at Fort Berthold.
In the screenshot from Google Earth above, the light green line through the center of the lake denotes the county boundary lines, which correspond with the path of the Missouri River before the dam was closed and the valley flooded. The former Independence town site is marked on the west bank of the Missouri River, which is today underwater. Unfortunately, Independence residents were forced to relocate, many of them for the second time, to make way for the lake, but before the water arrived, this church was moved to high ground.
We visited another church that was relocated in 1953, the Elbowoods Susan Webb Hall Memorial Congregational Church, on the other side of the lake, and it had an almost identical engraving as Independence Congregational. Relocated 1953.
When we visited in July of 2017, it was non-stop oil traffic around these parts. It seemed like an eighteen-wheeler rolled by about every three to five minutes.
Independence Congregational Church is one of the most remote spots we’ve been to considering the geographic obstacles in getting here. Lake Sakakawea surrounds this land on the Fort Berthold Reservation on three sides, and unless you live in the area, it’s not a place you’ll just pass by.
Before we left, we took a moment to pay our respects to some who have gone before us. There were plenty of resting places that were covered in flowers, graves that were frequently visited by friends and family, but there were some lonely-looking ones too. We chose a couple, and Terry left a flower.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media
Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy