On Theodore Roosevelt’s first trip to North Dakota in 1883, before he made Elkhorn Ranch his home, he stayed in a modest frontier cabin about seven miles south of Medora at Chimney Butte. It was still the Dakota Territory then and the future President was bolstering his rawhide credentials. The National Park Service has a nice page on the cabin here.
Above, the Maltese Cross Cabin at Chimney Butte, circa 1904, photo by Jospeh Kitchin. The cabin originally had a steep, pitched roof but according to a report by the Historic American Buildings Survey, it underwent structural changes in 1884 or ’85 and again in 1897 or ’98. Other modifications to the cabin are also visible in the photo above. You can make out the timbers that were used to patch the doorway in the wall. Compare to the photo at the bottom… the door has been restored today.
During Theodore Roosevelt’s Presidency, the Maltese Cross Cabin began touring the country. It is shown here at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and it was also shown at the Portland World’s Fair the following year.
After traveling the country, the Maltese Cross Cabin came back to North Dakota and resided at what was then the State Fairgrounds in Fargo for a couple years before moving to the grounds of the State Capitol in Bismarck.
Above, the Maltese Cross Cabin when it was at the State Capitol in Bismarck, approximately 1909 to 1959.
Today, the Maltese Cross Cabin stands behind the visitor center at the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora and the original pitched roof has been recreated. Admission is free, there are guided tours and a very talented Theodore Roosevelt impersonator.
Russell Lee was a trained chemical engineer who passed on a career in the field in favor of art. He is best known for the incredible number of photographs he took during the Dust Bowl for the Farm Security Administration. Mr. Lee spent a good portion of 1937 in North Dakota photographing families, farms and cities, too.
The photos below are just a small sampling of Mr. Lee’s work. He left a vast collection of photos of American culture in the 30s and 40s, and we were lucky to have his camera trained on us for a time.
Abandoned garage on Highway Number 2. Western North Dakota. 1937
After a dust storm. Williston, North Dakota. 1937
Sod post office. Grassy Butte, North Dakota. 1937
Sod house. McKenzie County, North Dakota. 1937
Corner of sodhouse. Williams County, North Dakota. 1937
Photos by Russell Lee, Farm Security Administration, in 1937
The rise of Devils Lake has been a strong contributing factor to the abandonment happening in towns like Church’s Ferry and Minnewaukan, but also on hundreds of individual farms and properties all around the lake. We’ve shown you some views of the inundation in the past, including the Harmon home and a satellite view of the lake.
Now, if you have a free hour, please enjoy Prairie Public Television’s Mother Nature in Charge: Devils Lake The Dilemma. It’s a very informative hour on the unique challenges posed by Devils Lake. At the time this aired in January of 2013, 30-thousand acres of land had been reclaimed from Devils Lake which hit a record high water level in June 2011. It remains to be seen whether the battle has been won.
In part one, Mary, a former patient at San Haven Sanatorium, detailed her arrival at San Haven and the circumstances that led to her spending five months in the facility in 1963. Eventually this ten-year-old from Carrington settled into her time at this massive hospital and learned how to keep herself safe.
We never wandered the halls unless we told the nurses where we were going so I did not associate with too many more of the residents. We knew there were men on the other hallway because we were never allowed on that end. We had to tell them when we wanted to go to the bathroom because we shared the bathroom with all the ladies on end of the hall. As I told you before, no shower, just a bathtub, two stools and two sinks. Sometimes when I went to the bathroom I would see blood in the sinks.…
This website is a constant reminder of how things change over time, those reminders frequently coming in the form of a photograph that shows a crumbling structure, a little less stout than when we last photographed it. Sometimes though, the reminders come in the form of a story, an email from a visitor. In this case, we received an email from a former ten-year-old patient at San Haven Sanatorium and we’re reminded that sometimes it’s a change in our culture which leads to abandonment. …
There is a concentration of vanishing places in the lands surrounding Devils Lake — places like Hamar, Grand Harbor, and the remains of a ski jump. In the last few decades, Devils Lake has risen steadily and has driven even more people from their homes and farms, and inundated numerous roads and highways.
Our first experience with the Rise of Devils Lake however came in 2005 when we posted the photos of the Harmon residence shown on this page, just before it succumbed to the rising lake. We ended up using that photo in our first book, accompanied by the comments of Gail Biby, who grew up there. These photos represent the rest of the batch that we shot from the shoulder of that then-busy highway which has since been raised and relocated.
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This was once the road to the casino, but it washed out.
These photos were taken in the south unit, near Medora, North Dakota. At the time of our visit, it was $10/vehicle to get into the park, and it occurred to us that you won’t find a better value for your money to experience the North Dakota Badlands.
This one had an itch that just had to be scratched.
The space where Minot High School’s Central Campus now stands has a long history as home to several impressive schools, one of which also happens to be my alma mater. In 1893, a far-too-small schoolhouse was replaced with the building below – Central School, sometimes referred to as “Central Graded School” with the “d”.
By 1905, enrollment had outgrown Central School so the Central High School was built in a bookend position on the same city block. In the hand-colored photo postcard above you can see Central High School in the background, so we know this photo was taken after 1905.
This was Minot’s High School for thirteen years when, in 1918, enrollment had again outgrown capacity and the new Central High School was built, with the school shown above then being referred to as “Old Central.”
I was a kid in Minot when, in 1974, they knocked down Old Central. I have just the faintest memories of seeing this school from the back seat of my Mom’s car when we occasionally drove by it. So, unfortunately, both of the schools on this page no longer stand.
A gymnasium/cafeteria addition for Central Campus was built on the spot where Old Central stood. Ten years later, I would go to Central Campus myself for two years before moving on to the new, modern high school for my final two years. I enjoyed going to Central right in downtown Minot, but I also remember the school having a very mad labyrinth vibe due to the incredible number of renovations and additions which were done over the years — necessary for a school with very limited space in an non-typical downtown location.
And Central was full of rumors and legends too… ask any former Central Campus student about the little-known Central Campus swimming pool which was shuttered and hidden away in shame after a student drowned, and they will tell you that they know that story, and maybe more… — Troy
Mighty rivers require mighty bridges and several impressive examples have spanned the North Dakota stretch of the Missouri River. The river valley near the former town of Sanish has been home to several. First, the Verendrye Bridge, a steel truss bridge completed in 1927, crossed the Missouri at Sanish. In 1934, the first bridge to be known as Four Bears Bridge was built downstream near the town of Elbowoods. They served North Dakota dependably through the thirties and forties. …
It’s always a thrill to see enthusiastic residents get involved in saving historically and culturally significant places in their communities, but in North Dakota’s vanishing small towns, the losses frequently outnumber the wins by a significant margin. It’s something we’ve seen time and again in over ten years of photographing North Dakota.
What follows is our personal list, by no means exhaustive, of ten significant North Dakota places that have unfortunately lost their battle with time. …
One of the worst crimes in state history occurred April 22, 1920 on a farm just north of Turtle Lake.
It was a gray, overcast day and light rain had been falling. Local resident John Kraft noticed the neighbors, the Jacob Wolf family, had left their laundry on the clothesline overnight and their horses untended. He went to investigate and stumbled into what might be the most horrific crime scene in North Dakota history.
Jacob Wolf and two of his daughters were found murdered in a barn. In the basement of the farmhouse there were five more bodies — the rest of Jacob’s family plus a chore boy, Jacob Hofer, son of a neighbor. They were brutally murdered with shotgun blasts and a hatchet. The only surviving family member was Emma Wolf, just nine months old, who had been confined to her crib for more than a day with the rest of her family dead.
John Kraft called the authorities who soon zeroed-in on neighbor Henry Layer as chief suspect. The Minot Daily News published a story in 2008 which describes the events of the murder, during which Jacob Wolf would be killed with his own shotgun, like this:
The killings happened when Henry Layer, another neighbor, had an argument with Jacob Wolf about his dog biting one of Layer’s cows. When Layer ignored Wolf’s orders to leave his property, Wolf got his double-barreled shotgun and put two shells in the chambers. Layer grabbed for the gun, and in the ensuing struggle, the gun discharged twice with one shot killing Mrs. Wolf and the other hitting the chore boy through the back of the neck and killing him.
When Wolf fled into the yard, Layer reached into a dresser drawer for more ammunition, fired at Wolf, hit him in the back and again at close range. Maria and Edna fled screaming to the barn, where they were pursued and shot by Layer. Bertha, Lydia and Martha were screaming wildly in the house. Layer silenced two of them with the shotgun and Martha, the youngest to be killed, was hit on the frontal bone with the broad side of a hatchet.
Layer then dragged Jacob Wolf’s body to the barn and covered it and those of his daughters with hay and dirt before returning to the house and pushing the other bodies in the cellar.
Layer was arrested two weeks later, convicted, and served five years of a life sentence before he died in prison. Emma Wolf lived first with relatives, then eventually a benefactor until she was an adult. She later married Clarence Hanson and died in 2003 at the age of 84.
If the toll of eight victims isn’t tragic enough, the alleged killer’s family was torn apart when he was sent to prison and four of his children were sent to an orphanage. One of them, Berthold Layer, was killed in a farm accident when he was run over by a beet truck, his death announced in this 1922 Fairmont Sentinel story which describes him as a six-year-old “inmate” of a ward home. It seems even Mr. Layer’s family paid for the evil deeds he allegedly committed.
There is a book on the subject of the Wolf family murders by author Vernon Keel, The Murdered Family, a work of historical fiction in which the author questions whether the police got the right man. UND’s Patrick Millercovered this story in 2011as well.
In the summer of 2006, the tiny town of Tappen, North Dakota briefly became the center of the UFO community when the Briese family experienced some unexplained events.
In April of that year, 16 year-old Evan Briese reported a triangle-shaped UFO on the family farm. According to a story published in the Fargo Forum on Oct. 27, 2006 [reporter Dave Olson], Evan and his dog Buster were tending to the cows during calving season when they saw an intermittent glow. Upon investigation, Evan discovered a triangle-shaped craft hovering over a watering hole, seemingly investigating the pond with a bright beam of light. Buster took off toward the craft barking, at which point the UFO lifted off the ground and flew away into the night at such speed it created a sonic boom. Evan’s sister Myra also heard the boom. Later in July, Briese also reported seeing a bluish light in the sky.
However the most intriguing sighting on the Briese farm took place in Sept. of 2006.
In the early morning hours of September 12th, Evan Briese got out of bed to get a drink. Looking outside, he saw something moving in the pen that held his sister’s pregnant hog. Thinking an animal was attempting to harm the hog, Briese grabbed his .22-caliber rifle and went outside.
There, he encountered two creatures standing 8 to 9 feet tall that were doing something to one of the hogs. The boy fired his rifle at one creature and was pretty sure he hit it, judging by the unearthly scream it emitted. Another creature then grabbed the boy and threw him to the ground, causing him to black out. When Evan Briese awoke, he found that Ruthy, a 450-pound sow that had been ready to give birth, was gone. The boy ran to the home of his older sister, Trista, a short distance from the house he shares with his parents. Trista Briese made a frantic phone call to her parents and it wasn’t long before they, and later the Kidder County sheriff, were on the scene. Evan Briese, whose shirt was in tatters, told his story.
The sheriff came to no conclusions about what happened to the hog.
According the story, Evan was later hypnotized and remembered more. He revealed five entities had been in the corral, and that two of them had been dragging a dead hog when he unexpectedly surprised them.
The credibility of the Tappen UFO story is indeterminate. Reports that come from teens tend to be viewed with skepticism, however Evan Briese was not known as a teller of tall tales. Other corroborating sightings have gone along with the Briese family’s tales, but there have also been confirmed meteor sightings which coincide with some of the events.
The North Dakota Badlands cover the southwestern third of the state and are part of a larger range of badlands which stretch south to White Butte and into South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. These photos were taken in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, near Medora, North Dakota.
There is a certain romance in the landscape of badlands, and North Dakota’s are no exception. You can’t help but be reminded of the all the moments in cinema history where the badlands were the backdrop, from westerns to post-apocalyptic thrillers.
North American Bison roam this park as well as wild horses and other wildlife. Camping is available, as well as hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, and more.
Painted Canyon Visitor Center is right off the north side of Interstate 94, a few miles east of Medora. If you’re entering the Badlands from the east, this is your first chance to get a look at them from a scenic overlook, and it is amazing.
A more extensive gallery of the badlands as you see them from inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora is here. Further south is White Butte, the highest point in North Dakota, where hints of a similar landscape crop up in the middle of green farmland.
On our recent visit to North Dakota’s southwest corner, we spent some time in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, and we were reminded of the magic of the Badlands.
For anyone who lives in eastern North Dakota in the flat lands which were once the bottom of glacial Lake Agassiz, it’s easy to forget that North Dakota is not entirely flat. As Terry and I entered the Badlands and caught our first look at Painted Canyon from the highway, we were literally bouncing up and down with excitement in the car. We couldn’t wait to photograph the beautiful topography — gallery here.
Far and away, the highlight of our trip was getting to see the animal that brought Teddy Roosevelt to North Dakota in 1883 — North American Bison. We mounted a video camera on top of my car and let it roll as we came upon the bison. If you have a nice fast connection, make sure you check it out in HD, fullscreen. There’s a photo gallery of the bison here. Enjoy.
Photos and video copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC
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Although they did name Tenney, Minnesota — a place we’ve visited twice for our sister project GhostsofMN.com — they neglected to mention any North Dakota places. So here we present our own list of North Dakota’s loneliest places.
Hesper, North Dakota
A true ghost town, population zero.
Lincoln Valley, North Dakota A rapidly crumbling ghost town, no residents.
Merricourt, North Dakota Population one or two last time we visited.
Straubville, North Dakota Nobody lives here.
Heaton, North Dakota Population one. Brian Miller.
Arena, North Dakota Population zero.
Hanks, North Dakota One resident, profiled in National Geographic some years ago.
June 7th, 1893 was a typical Wednesday in Fargo, sunny but windy. Fargo’s six thousand residents were going about their lives, carrying out their business from mostly wooden storefronts and traveling from place to place in horse drawn carriages and wagons.
Winds were gusting to 30 miles per hour that day. Even today, if you’ve spent any time in Fargo, you know these windy days all too well. Rarely though do we give much thought to the danger that comes with a dry, windy summer day.
Around 2:15 that June day, a fire broke out in the 500 block of Front Street, now known as Main Avenue. It was the beginning of an event that would come to be known as the Great Fargo Fire of 1893.
One account claims the fire started at the rear of Herzman’s Dry Goods Store which stood approximately where the Island Park parking ramp stands today. According to another account, the fire started when ashes were thrown from the rear of the Little Gem Restaurant, across the way from Herzman’s. Regardless of the source, the fire quickly spread out of control on that breezy Wednesday.
A firehouse was located on Front Street, right across from Herzman’s. They no doubt would have reacted quickly and extinguished the blaze before it got out of control, but in a tragic twist of fate, they were out hosing down Fargo’s dusty streets. It was a regular duty for the fire department in those days — an effort to keep the dirt from the unpaved streets from blowing all over town. The firehouse was empty.
A neighboring gun store caught fire and the block was rocked when a powder keg exploded, intensifying the fire. Just down the block there was a fire alarm box in front of Moody’s Department store, where Bank of the West now stands. The key to the alarm box was kept in the Sundberg Jewelry Store, but the clerk on duty was unable to find it. It was the pre-telephone era, and this simple problem further delayed the fire fighting effort. The fire burned for forty-five minutes before the alarm was sounded, and by that time, it was too late.
In 1893, fire fighting technology was primitive and in a state of transition. Municipalities that could afford them had the newest technology — steam powered fire engines. More commonly, fire carts were horse drawn, or even hand-pulled to the scene of fires. Automotive fire engines were just on the horizon at the time.
Fargo native John Caron built a very informative Fargo history website which now resides with the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, and which contains a very nice accounting of the Fargo Fire. In the accompanying photos, you can see Fargo firefighters attempting to fight the fire with hoses stretched for blocks. Fighting fires in 1893 was a daunting task. Fire crews from outlying cities in both North Dakota and Minnesota rallied to the scene and attempted to aid in the battle, but their efforts though valiant, were fruitless.
The fire spread northwest, first jumping Front Street and proceeding north. It destroyed many of the buildings on the east side of Broadway, then eventually jumped across Broadway and burned all the way to the prairie on the west side of the city. The result was total devastation. 31 blocks of businesses were destroyed and over 350 buildings burned to ruin, including City Hall.
The rebirth of Fargo began almost immediately following the fire. In the ensuing days and months, local businessman Alexander Stern led an impressive effort to rebuild, and eventually replaced nearly 250 buildings, many in fire-resistant brick, at a cost of almost one million dollars. To prevent any future conflagration on the order of the 1893 fire, building codes and city regulations changed. The Fire Department was no longer expected to sprinkle the streets. The following year local businesswoman Ella J. Henderson was reprimanded by the city for laying wood sidewalks which had been outlawed following the fire. Upon discovery, the city removed them.
In 1895, Fargo held the first Fargo Fire Festival to celebrate the rebirth of the city, a celebration which was held annually until World War I. The final Fargo Fire Festival — a 40th anniversary event — was held in 1933.
This piece was posted in 2013 to commemorate the 120th Anniversary of the Great Fargo Fire. Nobody alive remembers the event firsthand, but it’s appropriate to reflect on an event that shaped our city and state.
Most North Dakotans know what has been going on in Devils Lake over the last few decades. A steady rise of water levels on the lake has inundated towns like Church’s Ferry and Minnewaukan, plus numerous farms, homes, and businesses. Without a natural outlet, the lake has continued to rise and has been the subject of contentious political battles. One of Terry’s best photos features a home which was overtaken by the ever-expanding shoreline of Devils Lake.
Here is an animated photographic representation of what the residents of Devils Lake have been battling. Take a look at the shoreline of Devils Lake in 1984 compared to 2009.
Animation by Troy Larson, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC
The first day of fall in North Dakota. The calendar says it happens at the same time every year, but the truth is much different. In North Dakota, by the time fall officially arrives, the leaves have already been falling for weeks, accumulating into entrancing swirls of yellow and red. The air gets brisk and has a refreshing smell. And the change in temperature signals a new season about to begin. Homeowners decorate their property in the colors of the season. Pumpkins appear on doorsteps. Halloween will soon be upon us. Unfortunately, like fall, winter will probably be upon us prematurely. The first snow will likely be on the ground before the calendar announces winter’s official arrival. But for now, it’s autumn.
Today was the first day of fall. And as I took a leisurely road trip to photograph some abandoned places, I encountered a problem with my camera. A battery that appeared full before I left was mysteriously dead when I tried to snap a few photos. I had driven two hours only to have my camera malfunction. Dejected, I turned around and headed for home.
Somewhere along the way, I decided it was a terrible waste to come so far to leave empty handed, so instead of getting on the Interstate, I chose another path. South of Manvel, North Dakota, I took a little used road I had never traveled before. As the road veered away from the highway, I found myself on a gravel road in between fields of corn. Soon, the road narrowed. I crossed an intersection and the road changed from gravel to black dirt. A sign read “Minimum Maintenance Road.” I hesitated to continue. Would the quality of the road hold out, or would I be forced to turn back?
I came to a spot in the road where it widened ever so slightly. I could see very little in the distance due to the height of the corn. I pulled to the side of the road and got out. It was quiet. I grabbed my phone and snapped a picture of the trees next to the road. As I was about to leave, something spoke to me. Just try your camera again. Maybe the battery… rejuvenated itself, or something. I grabbed my camera and rotated the switch to ‘On.’ The battery bar which had shown one bar just two hours before, not even enough juice to activate the shutter, now showed ‘Full.’ Without hesitation, I turned and snapped the photos below in full auto mode, afraid the battery would give out. It didn’t.
I don’t know what happened with the battery. I chalk it up as a mystery. I gave some thought to all the places I passed by because I thought my battery was dead. I wondered whether I would have found myself in this place at all if the battery had been working. Probably not. And I would have never gotten these photos. The beautiful colors of the first day of fall in North Dakota. Sometimes things just happen, and I’m not about to ask why. Enjoy the season.
After we posted our photos of Stardust 17 Drive-In in Grafton, it became pretty clear that you were bitten by the Drive-In bug, because we got lots of comments, questions, and emails about Drive-In Theaters.
As we mentioned in that post, there are no remaining operating drive-in theaters in the state of North Dakota — the last was Lake Park Drive-In in Williston, which closed in 2012.
Here is a larger list which includes open drive-in theaters within reasonable driving distance of North Dakota. I’ve included official websites where possible. Many of these facilities have seldom updated websites, so please call or email ahead before you drive too far. If you have updated information to add to this page, please post a comment.
Roy Michaelson listed his occupation as a professional Boxer from Minneapolis Minnesota. His record in sanctioned bouts was 1 win, 1 loss, and 1 draw. In all likelihood he fought in many unsanctioned fights across the Midwest in his brief stint in the ring. …