At Ghosts of North Dakota, we occasionally like to check-in with artists and photographers (like Mariah Masilko and John Piepkorn) who’ve shown a passion for North Dakota and its vanishing, forgotten places and Jack Dura certainly qualifies. We caught up with Watford City journalist, photographer, and frequent explorer “Travelin’ Jack” between road trips to find out more about his background, his thirst for adventure, his favorite bird dog, and favorite places, from the Badlands to the North Dakota prairie.
Q: I first became aware of your work when you were still at NDSU in Fargo. Tell us about your background. Where are you from, where have you been, and what are you doing now? …
Venturia, North Dakota is located in McIntosh County, just north of the South Dakota border, forty-five miles east of the Missouri river, about nine miles southwest of Ashley, North Dakota. Like most shrinking rural communities across the state, Venturia was founded as a railroad town, but today the tracks are gone.
We visited Venturia on an overcast day of intermittent sprinkles, and we were excited by the photo opportunities but we needed a break from the rain. It took us a few minutes of sitting in the car, waiting for the rain to pass, before we realized the neon sign on the bar behind us was lit — OPEN. We decided to go pay a visit. …
Leal is a small town in Barnes county, an hour northeast of Jamestown, or 73 miles northwest of Fargo. It was founded in 1892, and incorporated as a village in 1917, but in 1967, North Dakota eliminated the “village” and “town” incorporations in the state, making all incorporated places “cities.” So, today, Leal is a “city” with a population density of 142 residents per square mile. Sounds like a hoppin’ place, right? Not really. The population density figure is a mathematical quirk of a city with an area of .14 square miles and a population of 20 in the 2010 census.
Our stop in Leal was quick and we found just a little to photograph… a few select buildings and an abandoned farmstead outside of town. …
During their historic journey to the Pacific, Lewis and Clark reported enormous herds of North American Bison in the midwest, so large that they “darkened the whole plains.” Wagon trains sometimes waited days for passage through herds numbering in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. But by the early 1900’s the bison were reaching their low-point. Over-hunting, drought, and encroachment on their natural habitat by humans and cattle drove the population of bison down to only several hundred animals (the actual number is disputed) — the bison were almost extinct. …
Corinth is a near-ghost town in Williams County, about thirty-four miles northeast of Williston. Although one of the residents has taken over a portion of the town, Corinth is still fairly intact with lots of original buildings in time-worn condition.
Corinth was founded in 1916 and reportedly had a peak population of 108 around 1920, and although that figure began to dwindle almost immediately, the Post Office stayed open until 1969. Corinth was an unincorporated town and as a result, there are no reliable census figures to be found. …
In the late 1890s and early 1900s, residents near the tiny town of Niagara, in the new state of North Dakota, began to hear strange noises in the night. The sound of galloping hooves punctuated the quiet countryside. It was Farmer Eugene Butler again, who had recently started riding his horses late at night, yelling at the top of his lungs. It was strange behavior from a man who was known to be a wealthy, successful farmer, if somewhat reclusive.
The townsfolk had no idea that, in the coming years, the story of Eugene Butler would get much stranger.
On February 4th, 1904, the Jamestown Weekly Alert republished a story that ran a few days earlier in the Grand Forks Herald:
From brooding over the hallucination that all the widows and old maids in the country wanted to marry him, Farmer Eugene Butler became insane and was committed to the insane hospital at Jamestown. Butler is about 40 years of age and has lived by himself for years on a farm at Shawnee. He is probably the wealthiest man who has ever been committed to an asylum from this county, his property being valued at from $40,000 to $50,000. In addition to the hallucination that all the women have designs on him–owing probably to its being a leap year–Butler claims that men are in the habit of coming to his home during the night, forcing him to get up and dress and take long walks and horseback rides.
In hindsight, there are a couple of clarifications that should be made to the Herald story. Butler’s home was reported as being in a tiny railroad stop known as “Shawnee,” but today we know he lived in Niagara, about 6 miles to the northwest. Second, Butler was actually 54 years old at the time, not 40. At any rate, Eugene Butler was deemed insane and committed to the State Hospital in 1904.
Butler lived an apparently uneventful 8 years in the State Hospital in Jamestown, but in November of 1911, two weeks after his death on October 22nd, 1911, Butler’s name again appeared in the paper, this time the Saturday, November 4th issue of the Bismarck Tribune. The story, “Filing of Petition Recalls Old Case,” details the appointment of Butler’s former attorney as the administrator for his estate and concludes that his estate would be divided between two brothers, a nephew and a niece. We’re also offered a further glimpse into Butler’s story:
Butler came to Grand Forks County in 1880 with a number of others, from New York State. He picked out three quarters of a section of land near Larimore and started in to farming. He rapidly improved the land and built a substantial home. He was accounted a moderately well fixed farmer. In spite of the fact that he had made many friends, he continued to live alone on the farm, doing all the work about the house.
About ten years ago he was noticed to have changed considerably and at times at night would ride his horses at breakneck speed about the country. Those who are familiar with the case state that he lost his mind through his hermit habits. He gradually became worse and was brought here and taken before the insanity board.
By 1915, Butler had been dead for years and many had no doubt nearly forgotten about the strange man who had occupied the now-vacant farmhouse on the edge of Niagara, but on June 27th, 1915, the Bismarck Daily Tribune’s headline announced a horrifying discovery in large type:
SIX BODIES WITH SKULLS CRUSHED ARE FOUND AT NIAGARA, N.D. Are Believed To Have Been the Victims of Eugene Butler, an Insane Patient
Beneath the terrible headline, other details were disclosed in successively smaller fonts. “Gruesome Find by Workmen in Old Basement.Bodies Are Those of Men Who Worked for Butler on His Farm. Accused Man Died at Jamestown in 1913. Victims Dropped Into Basement by Cleverly Made Trap Door.” The story read:
Workmen excavating under a house occupied until a few years ago by Eugene Butler, who died in 1913 in state insane asylum, unearthed the remains of six men. It is believed by the authorities they were murdered by Butler while employed by him as farm hands. The skulls of each had been crushed. The bodies had been dropped into the basement through a cleverly constructed trap door.
An added note near the end of the story added specifics from Butler’s doctor while he was at Jamestown:
REMEMBERS BUTLER. Dr. Hotchkiss over the telephone last evening said that he remembered Butler but that there was little about his case to distinguish him from the other insane patients. He showed great surprise when he learned of the gruesome find in the former home of Butler.
Again there is a detail in the story that should be clarified. Butler actually died in 1911, not 1913, and the belief that Butler killed six individuals in separate acts would later be called into question. In a story from the Bismarck Daily Tribune, July 1st, 1915, the new theory became clear:
BELIEVED BUTLER MURDERED FAMILY
Again, details were added through subheadings in successively smaller type. “Examination of skeletons indicate five crimes were committed at once. Bodies had been stripped of clothing. No one in neighborhood can throw light on gruesome tragedy.” The story continues:
Five murders at one time, when he wiped out an entire family, and one at a later date when he slew a male adult, are the crimes laid at the door of Eugene Butler, the recluse farmer of Niagara, whose death in the asylum for the insane at Jamestown four years ago effectively draws a curtain before one of the most mysterious cases ever brought to light in the northwest.
Examination of six skeletons found under the Butler home near Shawnee, this county, shows that five of the murders were committed at one time when a man, a woman, and three children were slain. At some later date one man was killed.
Bodies of the five members of the family were buried in a single hole, while that of the other victim was buried about ten feet from them.
The horrible record of the crime was unearthed by a workman engaged in excavating for a basement under the former Butler home. He first unearthed the body of the lone victim, which had been concealed under about three feet of dirt, under the middle of the Butler home. The body had been dropped to its place of concealment through a hole cut in the floor.
Buried from the Outside. The five bodies were buried in a hole that was dug from the outside of the house, under the foundation. The hole into which these bodies were dumped was sloping in nature, and while time may have rotted the bones there are indications that in order to hide his crime, Butler was compelled to break the legs of at least two of his victims.
The foundation wall where the bodies had been buried was disturbed after its construction, which was about 20 years ago. That fact limits the period within which the murders occurred. In order to bury the victims, the three bottom stones of the foundation wall were loosened. In refilling the hole, black dirt was thrown in, and the manner in which the burial place was dug, indicated by the marked lines of distinction between the black dirt used as a covering and the red clay subsoil.
Clothing Removed. There is absolutely no trace of clothing of any kind. The dirt about the skeletons was carefully examined for trace of buttons, shoes, etc… but nothing was found, indicating that the bodies had been buried nude — their clothes probably destroyed by fire, thus effectively destroying the possibility of identification at this time.
Examination of the skull of the single victim, and probably the most recent murder victim, indicates that the man had a crooked nose, the nasal bone being bent slightly toward the left.
Each Killed in the Same Manner. That some sharp instrument was used in killing the members of the family, also is indicated. There is a sharp and clearly defined hole in the left side of the skull of each. The skull of the single victim is similarly marked.
The authorities had apparently determined that the original theory, six transient farm laborers killed one at a time, was incorrect, and that a family of five was killed first, followed by one individual. Neighbors, however, did not remember a family of five ever visiting the farm, and nobody ever reported a family of five missing. One theory was that perhaps five of Eugene’s family members came to visit and he dispatched them before anyone had seen them at the farm. The passage of time between the murders and the discovery of their bodies further hindered any identification of the victims.
On July 22, 1915, The Valley City Times Record published a story about a possible identity for one of the victims. Leo Urbanski, a wealthy businessman and former saloon keeper from Minnesota, wondered whether his brother might be the single male victim whose remains were found at Butler’s farm, and asked his attorney to send a letter to States Attorney O.B Burtness:
“I have been requested to make inquiry concerning one John Urbanski who disappeared near Niagara, N.D. in 1902. The last heard from him was a letter received by his brother stating that he was working for a bachelor near Niagara. The post mark showed that the letter had been mailed at Larimore.”
“John Urbanski was a young man about five feet seven inches in height, weight 145 pounds, light hair (almost white) and light complexion.”
“He was sometimes called John Miller and such may have been the name he was called when working near Niagara.”
In the century since Butler’s crimes were revealed, little progress has been made and the victims have never been positively identified. There have been a number of theories proposed. The age and gender of the victims has been disputed with some claiming they were all male. Others have speculated that they were all housekeepers on the Butler farm.
In the age of DNA, some identification of the victims should be possible, right? A story from the Ward County Independent on September 2, 1915 said the bones of the victims were held in Grand Forks at the Office of Sheriff Art Turner, but WDAY TV/Fargo reported in 2016 that, upon hearing of the crime, townspeople flooded to the Butler home and looted the bones of the victims. The whereabouts of the bones are unknown today. Unless someone comes forward with the remains, no DNA analysis is possible. In a further blow to the investigation, the original case files, if they ever existed, are missing, possibly destroyed or lost over the years. The Butler home was razed, and today a workshop owned by an area family stands on the site.
Who were the victims of Eugene Butler? We might never know. Really, our only hope for resolution at this point is in the slim chance that someone still alive can provide a break in the case. Perhaps someone reading this might have their memory jogged, maybe they found some bones in a box in their attic, or remember a story told by their parents or grandparents that could provide a break in the case of the midnight rider, Eugene Butler.
We visited Hamberg, North Dakota, a near ghost town in Wells County, about 18 miles east of Harvey, for the first time in 2008, to photograph an old school which has since burned in an accidental fire.
Thanks to Heidi Ermer, we can now take a brief look at Hamberg as it appeared in yesteryear when there were residents numbering in the hundreds, as versus the approximate 20 residents who live there today. Heidi sent us the following postcards. The exact year of these photos is unknown. …
If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know “ghosts” is a metaphor that refers to the ghosts of our past, and most of the time, that manifests itself here in the form of photos of our vanishing places. Sometimes though, we run across a story so interesting, a piece of forgotten history or local lore so fascinating, that we feel compelled to write about it. This is one of those instances.
There are published accounts from as far back as 1894, and Native American legends going back much further, about a Loch Ness-style serpent in Devils Lake, North Dakota’s largest natural body of water, named in an approximate translation of the Lakota name, “Lake of the Spirits.”
Devils Lake-area residents are, of course, quite familiar with the legend, sometimes known as the Devils Lake Monster (not to be confused with a reported lake monster in Oregon of the same name) but there are surprisingly few modern references to a creature that has been reported for hundreds of years in Devils Lake.
One of the earliest accounts comes from the New York Sun, October 21st, 1894. It reads in part:
All descriptions of the serpent agree that it has alligator jaws and glaring red eyes. Its tail is about 80 feet long. The serpent usually appears in August and about sunset. The red glare of the sunset sky is often reflected in the eyes of the serpent like mirrors and the flashes of red light that go darting here and there as the serpent turns its head strike terror into the hearts of those on whom they fall. The serpent moves slowly along about a half mile from the shore, and in the course of a day or two makes the round of the lake. At times it lashes the water furiously with its tail and it leaves a simple shining wake as it pushes its way along.
The Sun article further describes the appearance of the serpent:
Its color is a slimy green, and it is easy to trace the waves of motion that begin at its head and follow along to its tail, three or four distinct waves being in evidence at the same time. It has ragged and enormous fins on its side and horny substances that project from its jaws, or directly behind them, and trail along in the water, but which, when it is angered, stick out in a horrible bristling attitude. Its scales sometimes glisten and sometimes lie so close to its back that they seem to be simply an ordinary snakeskin
In July of 1895, The Bismarck Tribune published a story which told the tale of a fisherman who reportedly hooked the monster and got towed on a high speed joyride around the lake. These early accounts of the Devils Lake Monster are frequently dismissed as sensationalized accounts by newspapers seeking readers and/or local business interests trying to draw tourists and settlers on the freshly laid railroad line. Nevertheless, reports of a serpent in Devils Lake would continue.
In August, 1904, The Wichita Beacon published a story that would be reprinted in other newspapers around the nation for months afterward.
Mrs. C.F. Craig, of Leeds, Mrs. Edgar Larue and Mrs. Carr Cleveland, while strolling along the bank of Devils Lake, at Chatauqua grounds, were terribly frightened by an object that resembled a sea serpent, which was lashing the water into white foam about a mile from shore.
The party secured opera glasses, and on returning, were horrified to see on a close examination, that the serpent was swimming north across the lake, and was leaving a vast wake behind it, as with slow but powerful and irresistible motion, the monster threaded its way through the water, with its long sinuous folds which were like a weavers beam.
The serpent’s body was very thick, and covered with huge and horribly loathesome-looking black scales. Its head was of snake-like formation, with a flashing, darting tongue, and two angry eyes as big as goose eggs, glowed in the monster’s head.
Another published mass-sighting of the serpent occurred in 1915 with a number of eyewitnesses reporting their accounts separately, including E.M. Lewis, a businessman, who sighted the creature from a train passing near the shore of Devils Lake. From the Grand Forks Daily Herald, July 21, 1915:
That Devils Lake Sea Serpent Basks in Sunshine For Admiring Crowds; Now They’ll Hunt it
(Herald Special Service) Devils Lake, N. D., July 21. — Stretched out on the surface of the bay of Devils Lake, fronting Chautauqua, the monster sea serpent basked. In the delightful evening sunshine shortly before sundown last night, while residents of Chautauqua and Greenwood looked on in silent amazement. The serpent was viewed from several different points.
There was no mistake about it. The monster, that has figured in the legends of Devils Lake for half a century, when only the Indians inhabited the country, or a descendant which answers the earliest description, was seen by so many that no one disputes the fact that it lives in the waters of the lake.
E. M. Lewis and Chas. Pillsbury, well known business men, saw the serpent very distinctly, unknown to each other. It was stretched out on the water about a quarter of a mile from shore. It is described as between fifty and sixty feet long and between a foot and two feet in diameter. Captain Walter Fursteneau of the police force, accompanied by his wife also witnessed the sight.
The last time the serpent was seen was a couple of years ago by Rev. C. L. Wallace of the M. E. Church. At that time it was in the extreme east end of the lake. It happens that this section is separated from the section where the serpent was seen last night, by a bridge at the Narrows, which in reality is a dike, there being no water passage. How the monster got into the west-end of the lake is the present mystery. That it vaulted the bridge, or else that there are two serpents in the lake, is the conclusion reached today. In any event, it has been established beyond the question of a doubt that a monster lives in the lake and already there is talk of expeditions to get in closer touch with the freak.
The legend of the Devils Lake Monster is certainly a fanciful and interesting tale, an entertaining story to be told around a campfire on a summer night, but there are no photos of the creature that I could find, and it’s interesting to note that actual sightings of the monster seem to have died down in the last fifty years, perhaps due to the seeming scientific impossibility of the creature.
Devils Lake is a body of water with no natural outlet, disconnected from any larger sea, and skeptics frequently question where the serpent could have come from. While re-tellings of Native American legend say the creature was stranded in Devils Lake after the last glaciers retreated, that would necessitate a lifespan of 9,000 years or more for the beast.
We have visited sites around Devils Lake, and although we have sometimes found a haunting panorama of imagery which includes abandoned homes and inundated roads from a time when the lake level was much lower than today, we have yet to see anything that resembles a serpent in Devils Lake. Have you?
On occasion we’ve been asked if we know how many miles we’ve driven in pursuit of North Dakota ghost towns and abandoned places, but we’ve never really had an answer because we didn’t really start keeping track of our mileage until a few years ago. We did, however, have a metric we used to keep track of how much driving we’ve done… the number of vehicles we’ve gone through. We’ve driven about ten different vehicles, and worn-out three of them on the backroads of North Dakota, and two of them actually gave up during a trip to shoot abandoned places.
As of 2017, our best estimate is that we’ve driven about 65,000 miles inside the borders of North Dakota in pursuit ghost towns and abandoned places, and if you include the places we’ve photographed for Ghosts of Minnesota and Ghosts of North America, the number is probably closer to 90,000 miles. At any rate, this story is about that time our vehicle went to the ghost town in the sky.
It was early winter of 2005, and even though we don’t usually go out shooting in winter, it had not yet snowed and we decided to go on a trip to the Devils Lake area.
We had several places on our agenda with the ultimate goal of visiting Silva and Fillmore, North Dakota. It was planned to be an overnight trip, during which we would shoot some places on the way to Devils Lake, spend the night in a hotel, and photograph a few more places on the way home the next day. (As a sidenote, I’ll say this was at a time when we were each working full-time jobs, but not making a lot of money, and we were driving some beater cars. Thank you, Jesus, that we’re in a little better place these days and driving more reliable vehicles.)
It started out fine. As we approached Devils Lake, we stopped along the highway to photograph the home shown above. It was abandoned due to the rising waters of Devils Lake, just a short distance from the former road to the casino, which was also inundated by the rising water. Terry was taking the photograph above while I was standing in front of the car shooting something else, and I thought I noticed the car, a used Ford wagon, making a funny noise. It didn’t seem like anything major, it just sounded a little different than usual.
We continued down the road, checked in at our hotel, and although the weather was gloomy, it was good enough that we could keep shooting, so we headed out for our next place.
It started to drizzle on the way to our next destination, the former Grand Harbor school. Actually, it was more of a mist than a drizzle, and we waited in the car a few moments when we arrived at the Grand Harbor school to see if it would stop. It didn’t. Instead, the mist became a fairly steady light rain, so we got out and photographed the school building quickly, and then headed out for Silva and Fillmore with the hope that the weather would be better by the time we got there.
We were heading west, about 15 minutes from Fillmore when the rain turned to snow. We were on a back road, a pretty rough dirt road, and it wasn’t long before the snow started to accumulate on the road, which was already a little muddy from the rain. The car started to slide around a little bit, and even though I slowed down quite a bit, it was one of those North Dakota weather situations where we decided to let the conditions win. We decided we would go back to the hotel and come back the next day.
We were finally back on the pavement and headed for Devils Lake when, suddenly, the car just died. I looked down and all of the dash lights came on. Engine light, oil light, everything. We rolled to a stop on the side of the road, at the end of a farmer’s driveway, and I tried to start the car again. It made a groaning noise and I suspected it wasn’t going to be starting again. Ever.
So, we called Devils Lake for a tow and we were informed it would be about an hour and 45 minutes. People were sliding off the road all over the place, and they were pretty busy.
While we waited for the tow truck, a weird thing happened. Right behind us, Terry noticed another car roll to a stop on the shoulder. The driver got out and walked away from the car as steam poured from under the hood. Another car had broken down in the exact spot where our car had given out. We made jokes about how maybe this was the Devils Triangle for cars or something.
The tow truck arrived and we had the car towed back to the hotel while we figured out what we were gonna do. In the room, we picked up the phone book to call a few places about the car, and… cue the Twilight Zone music… the phone book said “Durum Triangle” on the cover.
Seriously though, we eventually concluded that the car was done, like, forever. It had likely lost oil pressure and the engine was seized up entirely. We had to call an end to our adventure for that day, and we needed to get home.
Enter my cousin Brad. Actually, he’s my ex-wife’s cousin, but I never got out of the habit of calling him “cousin”. He’s the kind of friend who will help you fix a leaky pipe, cut down a dying tree that’s threatening your roof, or rescue you when you get into trouble, and never make you feel bad about it. Everybody needs a friend like Brad. He lived back in Fargo, and when I called him and told him what happened, I heard him say “Hey. Chris, you wanna go on a road trip to Devils Lake?” Within ten minutes, he was on the road with his friend Chris to come pick us up in Devils Lake.
They arrived just before nightfall. We packed up all our stuff and loaded it into Brad’s new Subaru, which was all-wheel drive, with plans to have a local salvage yard pick up our dead car the next day. Brad and Chris sat in the front, and Terry and I were in the back.
We were heading east on US Highway 2, and conditions were getting really bad. If you’ve driven in North Dakota for any length of time, you’ve likely encountered a snow storm like this. It was hovering around freezing, and a light, wet snow was falling. The wind was blowing the snow horizontally across the highway. Brad slowed down a little bit, but the Subaru seemed like it was handling the slippery road surface fine. Suddenly, we hit a section of highway where the grade rose a little bit. We felt the car squat down on its suspension a little, but when it hit the crest of the rise and started to come down the other side, all four tires broke loose. The road surface in that spot was glare ice. There was a queasy feeling as the car started to rotate clockwise, with the nose pointing toward the ditch.
Time seemed to slow down. There was a moment, a split second really, when Brad was calculating what to do. Then, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well…” then stepped on the gas slightly and drove the car right down into the ditch. Our first lucky break was that this happened in a spot where the grade down into the ditch was at a very shallow angle and the ditch was a wide one with a fairly flat bottom. A moment later, we were in the bottom of this ditch going about 50 miles per hour, with prairie grass sticking up through the snow, pelting the bottom of the car.
Very gingerly, Brad turned the wheel back to the left and started heading back up the grade to the road. Terry and I were in the back seat, leaning toward the middle of the car so we could see what was happening through the windshield. I remember thinking, just for a moment, “Is this it? Is this the end?”
The car popped back onto the highway, fishtailed a little bit, Brad wrangled it under control, and continued driving like nothing had happened. It was dead silent in the car. Then, I said the only thing I could think of to say.
“Nice driving, Brad.”
“Thank you,” he said.
A moment later, the car exploded in laughter and excited chatter. We couldn’t believe that had just happened.
We made it home without any further trouble. Brad swore us to secrecy on our off-road adventure, lest his wife find out what had happened in their brand-new Subaru (she knows, now. He confessed.) Our car in Devils Lake was picked up by a local salvage yard, and we managed to make it to Silva and Fillmore in the summer of 2006.
Thankfully, we haven’t had another trip as eventful as that one.
We’ve passed this place a dozen times in our travels. It usually happens something like this… we’re on a tight schedule, wanting to get to all of the places we’ve planned to shoot before the sun sets, or the weather turns bad, so we pass on by, promising to hit it next time. Then, we usually get ten minutes down the road, and we start regretting the choice not to stop. So, this time we decided to stop and photograph this lonely James River Church on a hill overlooking Highway 200, about 16 miles east of Carrington, or 30 miles west of Cooperstown. …
Charbonneau, North Dakota is in a very sparsely populated area of western North Dakota, in McKenzie County, about fifteen minutes west of Watford City. As far back as 1960, Charbonneau had already been de-listed from the Census, but according to North Dakota Place Names by Douglas A. Wick, Charbonneau was founded in 1913 and a peak population of 125 was reported in 1920. Charbonneau’s name was derived from nearby Charbonneau Creek, which was in turn named for the interpreter on the Lewis & Clark expedition, Toussaint Charbonneau. …
We’ve visited the ghost town of Lincoln Valley a number of times, and we’ve posted about why it became a ghost town ( a railroad that never arrived, primarily). We’ve heard stories and read newspaper articles about the glory days, and marveled at descriptions of a town that included churches, stores, a gas station, an implement… all the things you would expect in a small rural town. It was hard to imagine, though, considering we visited for the first time in 2004, long after Joe Leintz, the last resident, had gone, and after almost all of Lincoln Valley’s structures had disappeared. …
Once upon on a time there was a pioneer settlement named Genin at this spot in Benson County, about halfway between Maddock and Oberon, North Dakota. That settlment was later renamed Josephine, but it never really became a town. The highest population ever recorded was approximately 30, and some of those were folks who lived in the surrounding countryside. The truth is, Josephine was really just a glorified railroad siding along the Northern Pacific Railroad. The remains of the town are gone, and only two crumbling grain elevators remain. …
Lincoln Valley, North Dakota is in Sheridan County, about 8 miles NE of McClusky. Lincoln Valley was a primarily German/Russian settlement when it was founded in 1900 by George and Conrad C. Reiswig as Lincoln. In 1912 the name was changed to Lincoln Valley. There were hopes that the railroad would come through Lincoln Valley and spur a boom, but the tracks never came and Lincoln Valley slowly withered.
We first visited Lincoln Valley in 2004 and took these photos. Before we even made it into town, we ran into an intriguing home on the northeast edge of town. It was in the middle of a field with no driveway or outbuildings… just a lonely home, all alone and decaying. …
At one time, there was a “town” near Hurricane Lake, in the northeast corner of Pierce County, about 7 miles northeast of York, North Dakota. It was a “town” because it had a post office, but in reality it never had a sizable population. Hurricane Lake was founded early in relation to many of the towns we visit — in the 1880s — and was a stage coach stop, never having had the benefit of a railroad line to boost development. There was a hotel at the north end of Hurricane Lake to serve travelers on the stage line, but the post office shut down in 1905 and today there is nothing left of the original Hurricane Lake. At present, the area is home to the Hurricane Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and this crumbling church and still-used cemetery are the only man-made signs of the settlers who once lived in the vicinity of Hurricane Lake. …
We visited Nanson, North Dakota, a true ghost town with zero residents in southern Rolette County, in 2012. We traveled through waving country to get there (when an occasional car or truck passed, the drivers frequently waved) and found a townsite rapidly disappearing. There were only four significant structures still standing in Nanson, and the Great Northern Railroad tracks that led to the founding of the town were long gone, too. On Easter weekend, 2017, we decided to make a return trip to Nanson on our way home from another ghost town, Omemee, North Dakota, and see if anything had changed. …
Get all four of our books with a Ghosts of North Dakota 4-book combo:
Ghosts of North Dakota Volume 1: Special Edition (softcover, featuring twenty pages of content not included in the original)
Ghosts of North Dakota Volumes 2 and 3 in the original hardcovers
Churches of the High Plains (hardcover)
That’s 426 total pages, in four full-color books featuring some of the best photos from the Ghosts of North Dakota project — ghost towns, near-ghost towns, churches and abandoned places across the state of North Dakota (plus a few places in surrounding states and provinces like Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Manitoba), plus comments from the photographers, historical tidbits, and more.
Omemee, North Dakota, a ghost town in Bottineau County, has been a source of intrigue since we first became aware of it in 2005. We were initially made aware of Omemee by a North Dakota resident who alerted us that someone was trying to sell lots in Omemee to out-of-state buyers under questionable circumstances, an effort which amounted to nothing in the end. Later, Fargo resident Mark Johnson sent us some photos of Omemee taken around 2010, and we also received some correspondence and photos from people who had family roots in Omemee, too, but we had never visited Omemee ourselves until Easter weekend, 2017. …
We visited this beautiful place, Norway Lutheran Church, in April of 2017. It’s in McHenry County, about 15 miles southwest of Towner, North Dakota, and it is perched on the hill above the Souris River Valley. The Souris, known to locals as the “Mouse River”, has flooded many times, particularly in 1969 and 2011 (a 1976 flood was serious, but not as severe as ’69 or ’11), and 6 years later, the legacy of the 2011 flood can still be seen everywhere. Just down the way from this church, a gravel road still stands blocked-off, partly underwater. Dead wood lies along the river bank in heaps, piled there by land owners after thousands of trees, live and dead, were uprooted and sent drifting downriver in the deluge. In places, there are the remains of flooded buildings, but in many more, new constructions, nicely landscaped and brightly painted. From a safe spot well above the flood plain, and in the tradition of the hardy settlers who came here more than a century earlier, Norway Lutheran Church overlooks perseverance. …
If you didn’t know better, it would be easy to look at these photos and assume this place was struck by a powerful prairie tornado. Grain bins are ripped open, the roof of the former bar has caved-in, and the building leans at a precarious angle. Pieces of several structures have blown down and lie decaying in the grass some distance away with their rusty nails pointed skyward, waiting for an unsuspecting explorer to test their tetanus shots with an errant step. Nobody would blame you for believing Dorothy and Toto just blew away minutes before, but the reality is, it’s been a slow-motion disaster in ghost town Aylmer, North Dakota. …
The cornerstone for this church along County Road 5 reads “Bethel Hauges Norsk E.V. Luth. Kirke, 1915”. Put more plainly, that’s Bethel Hauges Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church. The building is located in northern Wells County, about 10 miles east of Harvey, and although the cemetery is still active, the building stands abandoned and boarded-up. In the place where the Lord’s word could once be heard on Sunday mornings by 80 or 100 parishioners at a time, Bethel Lutheran awaits just one more potluck. …
Grassy Butte, ND is in a very sparsely populated area of western North Dakota, in southern McKenzie County. It does not appear in any of the census records back as far as 1960, but it reportedly harbored 100 citizens at one time. Monica Hardy contributed these photos in 2010 with the following comments:
The building that looks like a church in the background of the post office/museum pictures are of a private home. Someone renovated the home. There were other bldgs in the town that had been renovated into private homes. This town is very close to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park… no hotels located in this town at present.…
It occurred to me the other day that we’ve told the story about how Ghosts of North Dakota began in countless interviews over the years, but we’ve never posted it here, so for those who might be interested in how this project began, this is the tale.
In 2003, myself and Terry Hinnenkamp, my roadtrip friend and fellow adventurer, were working at the same Fargo Top 40 radio station, Y94. Halloween was coming up and we had this goofy idea that it would be neat to find an abandoned place and spend the night in it while recording our experiences for a program we would put together later, to air on Halloween — a kind of radio campfire story. …
The Hutmacher farm is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is considered the midwest’s finest still-standing example of the earthen abodes built by Germans from Russia. Believe it or not, Alex Hutmacher lived here until 1979.
The Hutmacher farm has been undergoing restoration. You can get more information here. These photos contributed by Kim Dvorak.
More reading on the Hutmacher farm here and here. …
Stady was founded in 1907 and was a stopping point on old highway 85. The peak population of 60 had dropped to 11 by 1940, after the highway moved. Stady is now a true ghost town — totally abandoned.
MJ Masilko contributed these photos with the following comments:
I’m sending you some pictures I took in May of 2006 of a ghost town called Stady. It’s in Divide County, 16 miles SSW of Fortuna. There didn’t seem to be any people living there, and we only saw 3 structures: a store, a house, and something else (maybe another store).
Forbes, North Dakota is in Dickey County, about thirty miles southeast of Ashley, right on the South Dakota border. On nearly every trip, we go out looking forward to seeing a certain town, but on the way home, we realize another town was better or more fun. In this adventure in June of 2011, Forbes was that town — the pleasant surprise. …
Argusville is located right off I29 about fifteen minutes north of Fargo. It was founded in 1880 and dwindled to around 100 residents by the 1980’s, but experienced a population boom after the turn of the millennium. Argusville now has a population of 475. So this abandoned high school is a rare spot in an otherwise budding town.
The last class graduated from this school in 1997 when it was known as Cass Valley North High School. …
This is a simple truth. There is no greater pleasure per penny than searching through a box of old postcards in an antique store. A little hard on the lower back if you’re wearing the wrong pair of shoes, but pleasurable none-the-less. Here are a few old postcards featuring scenes from Marmarth.
Year of the above photo is unknown but I’m guessing early 1930s. Look closely — on the left, behind the grassy median, several black sedans are parked. And on the right, a horse waits for it’s rider to return. This photo postcard provides some insight into the original location of the depot, and the 1st National Bank/Barber Auditorium building we photographed on our first trip to Marmarth is visible on the left.
A great slice of life from old Marmarth. Everybody’s dressed to the nines, the fountain is going, and there are trains in the background. The effort that went into this photo!
When we ran our Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of our first book, we offered supporters the opportunity to name a location they would like us to photograph in exchange for their support. One of our supporters asked us to visit and photograph the former Minot Air Force Station, about 14 miles south of Minot.
Minot Air Force Station was the first major Air Force installation in North Dakota, predating the other Minot and Grand Forks bases. It was originally a radar base intended to detect and identify unidentified aircraft in American airspace — a relic of the age before ballistic missiles, when the Soviet threat was from long-range bombers. …