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Schafer Jail, a Mass Murderer, and a Vigilante Lynch Mob

Schafer Jail, a Mass Murderer, and a Vigilante Lynch Mob

The events of 1930 could be considered a textbook example of “hard times” anywhere in America. The stock market crashed near the end of 1929 and ushered-in the Great Depression. Unemployment skyrocketed along with the price of imported goods. North Dakota and other rural states endured unprecedented drought that would eventually lead to the Dust Bowl. In the midst of these events, it wasn’t uncommon for families to pack up as many of their belongings as they could transport and move to greener pastures, frequently leaving their homes and farms behind, but residents of the tiny community of Schafer, North Dakota and nearby Watford City found it odd when, in the spring of 1930, the six members of the Haven family stopped showing up in town.

Albert Haven, with his wife, Lulia, and four children, teenagers Daniel and Leland, plus Charles (2), and Mary (2 mos), farmed and kept livestock at a farm north of Schafer, and were considered successful and well-off, but in February of 1930, people began to notice they had not seen the family in awhile, and strangers had taken up residence at the Haven farm. Charles Bannon, a 21-year-old Watford City man who had worked as a farmhand for the Havens, along with his father James F. Bannon, told townspeople that they were renting the farm from the Havens and managing the affairs of the farming operation while the Havens headed out west in search of prosperity. The story seemed suspicious. The Havens had left without informing anyone of their plans, and without saying goodbye.

For much of 1930, suspicions mounted. The authorities met with Charles Bannon, who recounted his story. The Havens moved to Oregon, and intended to stay for some time.

On November 15, 1930, The Bismarck Tribune ran their first story about the Havens, McKenzie County Family of Six Is Believed Missing. An excerpt from the story:

McKenzie County authorities today launched an investigation into the disappearance of an entire family of six, missing since last February 10. Relatives fear the family has met with foul play.

The story continues:

A number of relatives live in Oregon and Washington, and none of them know anything of the whereabouts of the family, they have advised authorities.

Three days later, the authorities’ suspicions were surely elevated when they got a court order to examine the Haven’s safe deposit box and found stocks, bonds, and insurance policies of substantial value left behind. Investigators also discovered a federal farm loan payment had been missed.

In a move intended to incarcerate Bannon for further questioning, police arrested him just after Thanksgiving, 1930, on a charge of embezzlement when he tried to sell four of the Havens’ hogs. On December 1st, The Bismarck Tribune ran a front page story under the headline Bannon is Arrested in Missing Family Case. It read, in-part:

Sheriff C.A. Jacobson said today that he intends this week to make a search of the Shafer vicinity in an effort to determine whether the family has met foul play.

Bannon says he took the family to Williston last February 10, so that they could go to the west coast. He exhibits a letter bearing the date of Feb. 17 and signed Daniel Haven, a son, saying they were at Colton, Oregon, and would stay there for some time. At Colton, the family has never been heard of.

Schafer, North Dakota Jail
The Schafer Jail where Charles Bannon was held is all that remains of the original town of Schafer, North Dakota.

Under questioning, Charles Bannon produced a letter purportedly written by Daniel Haven and claimed it had been mailed from Oregon. The envelope was conveniently missing. However, an astute staff reporter from the Minot Daily News noted the letter alleged to have been written by Daniel Haven contained a litany of spelling errors, with words like arrived, personal, property, and machinery, all misspelled. The reporter asked suspect Charles Bannon to spell the words, and he misspelled them all in remarkably similar fashion. When authorities further checked Bannon’s story, the postmaster at Colton, Oregon reported that no family named Haven had ever received mail there, and the return address listed on the letter was for a post office box that did not exist.

On further questioning, Bannon insisted that Mrs. Haven was in poor mental health, and that the family’s departure was partly due to her illness. Bannon claimed the family feared Mrs. Haven would be confined to an asylum and instead chose to flee. The investigation proceeded quickly, however, and in the ensuing several weeks, Bannon’s story unraveled with a series of revelations.

On December 3, 1930, the Bismarck Tribune reported “records at the railroad station at Williston do not show that any family the size of Haven’s left that city by train on Feb. 10.” Nevertheless, Bannon testified on his own behalf soon after, and repeated his story despite the contradicting facts. He also denied knowing the whereabouts of his father, James Bannon, who had not been seen in about six weeks, other than a vague contention that he might be somewhere in Portland, Oregon.

Although he had first denied knowing anything about the whereabouts of the Haven family, his story changed when a closed-door conference was called during his preliminary hearing on the embezzlement charge. The Bismarck Tribune reported on December 11th:

State’s Attorney J.S. Taylor, of McKenzie County, this afternoon said that Charles Bannon, who is being given a preliminary hearing here on charges of embezzlement in connection with the disappearance of the six members of the A.E Haven family, claims that Mrs. Haven killed her three months old daughter before the family disappeared.

It was alleged by Bannon, according to Taylor, that the child was buried in a refuse heap on the Haven farm near Schafer. Searching parties immediately left for the farm.

Mother, Clergyman Present

Bannon is alleged to have made the statement at a conference of his attorney, A.J. Knox, his mother, and a clergyman, according to Taylor. The State’s Attorney was not present at the conference.

It was reportedly at the strong urging of his mother that Bannon finally began to come clean.

The next day, the truth came out in a flood. The body of the Haven infant was found right where Bannon said it would be, and under withering questioning, Bannon revealed the locations of the remaining members of the Haven family. Their remains were found buried on the farm, some dismembered and covered in lime (Bannon had exhumed and reburied Mrs. Havens’ body after killing her, and her torso would not be discovered until May of 1931). Bannon was immediately transported to the more secure county jail in Williston, partly out of fear that, when word got out, vigilantes might take justice into their own hands.



Charles’ father, James Bannon, was found in Oregon and incarcerated with his son in North Dakota soon after. Charles’ story changed several times over the ensuing days, and he tried to claim that the Havens were murdered by a stranger who had been angered when the Havens’ had rebuffed his offer to buy their farm, but all evidence pointed to Charles as the culprit. When the authorities informed Bannon that tensions were running high in McKenzie County, he told them he’d had a nightmare in which he saw an angry mob outside his jail window, intent on hanging him, and begged not to be returned to the Schafer jail. Bannon even claimed he was haunted by the apparitions of the Haven family he had murdered, and felt relieved to get the truth off his chest.

In the third week of January, 1931, Bannon’s nightmare came true. He and his father were transferred back to the Schafer jail in preparation for trial. In the frigid, early morning hours of Thursday, January 29th, a crowd of 80 men, some masked and armed, drove to the Schafer jail in a caravan of at least 16 cars and two trucks.

Schafer, North Dakota Jail

Charles and James Bannon no doubt heard the arrival of the mob that had come for them — the sound of car doors closing and angry men shouting — but from inside the jail, they could only imagine what was going on outside the barred windows high on the wall.

The Bismarck Tribune revealed the happenings of the night in a series of stories over the ensuing months. The mob used huge timbers to batter down the front door of the jail and tied Deputy Sheriff Peter S. Hallan to his chair. Sheriff F.A. Thompson, awakened by the commotion, was also bound when he arrived to investigate the ruckus. The lynch mob argued with Deputy Sheriff Hallan in an attempt to acquire the keys to Charles Bannon’s cell, but the lawman would not reveal their location. The Tribune reported:

Leaders argued with Deputy Hallan for some time in an endeavor to get keys for the cells. Hallan, however, refused to say where they were and the leaders left. They returned within a few moments, however, and using the timbers again smashed down a steel door to reach young Bannon.

Charles Bannon pleaded with the mob to spare the life of his father, James, and the mob promised that he would be given his day in court, and left him behind at the Schafer jail, with another prisoner, Fred Maike, who was incarcerated for stealing wheat. Charles Bannon was then spirited away to the scene of the crime in an attempt to elicit a fully-accurate confession once and for all, with the intention that, once he had bared his soul, he would be lynched, but the guardian who had been appointed to safeguard the Haven farm had his wife and six children living with him. He wanted no part of the vigilantes’ plans and ordered them off the farm.

The lynch mob returned with Bannon to the steel truss bridge over Cherry Creek, about a half mile east of the Schafer jail, put a noose around his neck, and pushed him off the bridge. He dropped about twenty feet before the rope snapped tight and his neck was broken.

In the aftermath of the Bannon lynching, Mrs. Bannon, a schoolteacher from Fairview who had lost her job when her son confessed to the killings, swore vengeance on the men who had lynched her son. The authorities made multiple inquiries to determine the identities of the men in the lynch mob, to no avail. The Sheriff and his Deputy said they did not recognize any of the men in the mob. North Dakota Governor George F. Schafer called the lynching a “shameful act” and ordered a probe into the affair, but in the end, none of the lynch mob were ever identified and no charges were ever brought. There was even an unsuccessful attempt to restore the death penalty, which had been abolished in North Dakota in 1915.

James Bannon and Fred Maike were immediately returned to the jail in Williston for their own safety, but Bannon was eventually transferred to Minot, and later tried in Crosby, North Dakota, where he was convicted of complicity in the murder of the Havens and sentenced to life in prison. An appeal for a new trial was later denied.

Charles Bannon was the last person to ever be lynched by a vigilante mob in North Dakota. Today, there are relics of this infamous chapter in North Dakota history scattered among the museums in Alexander and Watford City, including the rope with which Bannon was hanged, and the door to the jail cell where he was confined. You can also read more about the Schafer affair in this story by our friend Sabrina Hornung of the High Plains Reader, in a book by local historian Dennis Johnson, End of the Rope, and in this piece written by Lauren Donovan of the Bismarck Tribune in 2005.

What do you know about the Schafer affair? Please leave a comment.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Niagara, North Dakota: Former Home of a Serial Killer

Niagara, North Dakota: Former Home of a Serial Killer

Niagara, North Dakota is just off US Highway 2, not quite forty miles west of Grand Forks. It was founded in 1882 by settlers from Niagara County, New York. According to the 2010 Census, Niagara has 53 residents.

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota is the former home of a serial killer, a man named Eugene Butler, a recluse who lived on the edge of town. Butler was committed to the State Asylum in Jamestown in 1904, and he died there in 1911. Four years after he died, an excavation at Butler’s home uncovered a hidden trap door leading to a crawlspace. Inside, authorities found the remains of six people. All had been bludgeoned to death with blows to the back of the head.

Niagara, North Dakota

Since Butler was already dead, he never saw the inside of a prison for his crimes. There weren’t any local people reported missing, so there are many theories about who the victims were–transient farmhands for instance. Their identities remain a mystery today.

An update on the mystery came from WDAY-TV in Fargo in February, 2016. Case files have been lost over the years, and an effort to perform DNA testing on the victims’ remains depends on the authorities ability to acquire bones stolen by looters in the aftermath of the discovery.

Niagara, North Dakota

The Butler murders are a chapter of Niagara’s history that many have forgotten. Today, Niagara has a nice historical complex in their town square but there is understandably no mention of Eugene Butler’s crimes.  Butler’s home was demolished and a workshop (not shown) stands on the site today.

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota

Just as we pulled into town, the wind started to really blow and a light drizzle began… so we didn’t spend quite as much time photographing Niagara as we would have liked. We’ll definitely go back sometime when the weather is better.

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota

There was once an impressive building on the corner of the intersection shown above.  It would have stood where the nose of the pickup is sticking out from behind the fire garage.

Niagara, North Dakota

Niagara, North Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Leith, North Dakota After the Turmoil

Leith, North Dakota After the Turmoil

We first visited Leith, North Dakota, in Grant County, about fifty miles southwest of Mandan, in May of 2007. We had heard that it was a shrinking rural community with a few abandoned places to photograph, and we found that to be true, but we could not have known that Leith would become a place of conflict just a few years later when a white supremacist would move-in and thrust Leith into a national spotlight.

Leith, North Dakota

We watched from afar with dread as buildings in Leith were vandalized with spray-painted swastikas and decorated with banners of hate as Leith’s residents were threatened with violence, their community meetings disrupted by vile characters. The apologists for racists like those who invaded Leith would tell you they simply wanted to live in an all-white community, but a simple look at Census statistics reveals there are dozens of tiny rural communities all over North Dakota that are already one-hundred percent Caucasian — not out of hate, but simply by default. They could have easily settled in any one of those communities and lived peacefully. No, these people wanted to impose their will on Leith and the remaining sixteen residents.

Leith, North Dakota

Through several years of turmoil, meetings and demonstrations were held, ordinances were passed and enforced, and the hate-mongers were eventually driven out. We visited Leith again in July of 2015 to see how the town had fared.

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

Terry suggested we should stop in the local bar for a chat and some refreshments to help stimulate the local economy in whatever small measure we could, but we only stayed a short time. After what Leith has gone through, we found smiles in short supply and people apparently (but understandably) wary of strangers. We asked about some of the buildings which once stood in Leith, and the bartender told us many of them were “pushed down and burnt down” after the racists moved on. She described the situation succinctly as “a crock of bullshit.

Leith, North Dakota

The former Leith Creamery building, which once stood next to the home with the red front door, is gone. Intentionally razed for reasons that vary, depending on who you ask.

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

Vacant lots dot the townsite in Leith. Many of the places we photographed in 2007 are now gone. Bad weather limited the amount of time we spent in Leith, so we didn’t photograph everything we’d hoped to.

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

The Leith Fire Department building is now gone and only the bell remains. We have two galleries of photos from our previous visit to Leith which you can see here and here.

Leith, North Dakota

The racist who started the turmoil in Leith has since moved to Sherwood, North Dakota and has designs on another town we’ve photographed, Antler, North Dakota. In the interest of preserving our prairie heritage and pioneer architecture, we can only hope they run him out of town, too.

Leith, North Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media.

Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Back to Balfour

Back to Balfour

We visited Balfour in November of 2014, nine years after our first visit, to get some photos of all the things we missed the first time. We actually tried to revisit Balfour in 2012, but a road construction crew had traffic at a complete stop on Highway 52, complicating our travel schedule, and we decided to wait until another time, so it was nice to finally get back there.

Balfour, North Dakota

Most notably, Balfour has this abandoned church standing right along Highway 52. If you drive the stretch between Minot and Harvey, you’ll see it.

Balfour, North Dakota

We’re told this church was originally in Verendrye, North Dakota, a near ghost-town where only a farm and the facade of the old school remain standing.

Balfour, North Dakota

On this particular weekend, winter was about two minutes away, and the skies had been flat, gray, overcast the whole time. Balfour was our last stop before heading for home.

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balfour5

This church, several derelict homes, along with several inhabited ones, stand on the south side of Highway 52.

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

On the north side of the highway, some familiar sights… like the former Post Office and Community Hall, covered in gorgeously rusted tin siding.

Balfour, North Dakota

The sunset was approaching and the street light was on.

balfour7

Right across the street, the former bank.

Balfour, North Dakota

As we were photographing this area, we ran into the Mayor of Balfour who informed us there are now about 20 residents in town. He also told us about the former fire station and jail, and gave us permission to shoot it as long as we promised to be careful.

balfour42

This little non-descript building once functioned as the fire station and jail in Balfour.

Balfour, North Dakota

Inside, the firefighters’ jackets still hang on the wall. The years they’ve been hanging here can be seen demonstrated in jacket number four. The original red wall paint remains on the wood where the jacket has shielded it from the elements that have been pouring in through the open roof for years. Winds have blown the jacket back and forth on the hook, wearing a fan shape on the wood, and the silhouette of jackets that have fallen on the floor can still be seen on the wall.

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

The siren still rests on top of a tower outside.

Balfour, North Dakota

This is in the room on the other side of the wall from where the jackets are hanging.

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

The door on the left leads to the Balfour town jail. Seeing this chair with the ashtray on the floor made me imagine a jailer, sitting here smoking cigarettes, waiting for a county deputy to arrive and take custody of a prisoner.

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

The jail cell is made from two by fours, and when the door is closed, it is pitch black inside.

Balfour, North Dakota

These two abandoned homes stand on the west side of town.

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

The clouds had been around all day, but just as we were finishing up shooting this school, the sun ducked below the cloud cover and illuminated Balfour in a beautiful golden light that would only last about twenty minutes before sundown.

Balfour, North Dakota

There was another school in Balfour before this one.

Balfour, North Dakota

Part of the wall has collapsed on the south side of the school.

Balfour, North Dakota

Trees have sprouted between the slabs that once served as the basketball court.

Balfour, North Dakota

Just north of the school, this building with a collapsed roof hides in the trees. We intended to get a closer shot, but the changing light conditions made us adjust our priorities. Perhaps next time.Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

There’s something hidden in the photo above. Can you spot it? (Click the image, then again on the next page to see it full size.)

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

We have featured Balfour in several of our hardcover coffee table books.

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Balfour, North Dakota

Photographer Ria Cabral sent us some photos of Balfour in winter you can see here.

Balfour, North Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC



Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Kathryn, North Dakota: Ripped from a Western Movie

Kathryn, North Dakota: Ripped from a Western Movie

Kathryn is a beautiful little town in Barnes county, nestled perfectly into the landscape of the Sheyenne River Valley. It is more of a small town than a near-ghost town with a population of 57, but with an abundance of abandoned places and other photo opportunities.

There’s a nice little bar in Kathryn and one or two more businesses, plus some nicely maintained homes. If you decide to drive the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway, Kathryn is the perfect non-touristy place to stop in for a beer.

The former bank.

If you drive the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway between Valley City and Kathryn, North Dakota, you’ll be treated to a roadside panorama as incredible as nearly any in the state. It is beautiful.

Terry was snapping photos of this old jail when he walked around the corner and saw this mannequin staring out at him. He said something about needing a change of pants after that!

We spoke with a local resident named Roger who showed us this old photo of the hotel.

The former harness shop.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Pingree, ND

Pingree, ND

Pingree is a small town in Stutsman County, northwest of Jamestown.  According to the 2010 Census, Pingree is home to 60 residents.  Pingree was founded in 1881 and reached a peak population of 268 residents in 1920.

We didn’t have plans to visit Pingree, but we saw a few photo opportunities from the highway and decided to stop.  On the day we visited, several local residents were busy towing cars from the townsite.  There is a sizable auto repair/salvage operation in Pingree.

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

This church is beautifully well-kept and still in use.

Pingree, North Dakota

This church is beautifully well-kept and still in use.

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

The former Pingree depot and gazebo.

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Relics of Pingree’s railroad heritage are prominently displayed in town.

Pingree, North Dakota

Inside the caboose.

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

The former Pingree Jail — two cells.

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

Pingree, North Dakota

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Pingree, North Dakota

Photos by Troy and Rat, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Marmarth, ND

Marmarth, ND

Slope County
Inhabited as of 5-07

Marmarth, ND is a Badlands town in Slope County in the extreme southwest corner of the state.

Marmarth is one of the more populous towns we’ve photographed with 130 people according to the 2010 Census, but minimum conveniences. Marmarth has lost 190 residents since 1960.

There’s an exhilarating old west ambience in this part of the state… Montana is only five miles west and it’s just a three hour drive to Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.  The landscape is a harder, chalkier badland than the more pastoral lands to the east and radio signals sometimes elude the car radio as the highway winds past the occasional butte.  There’s a gas station, a bar/steakhouse (with excellent food), and a railroad bunkhouse where you can rent a room with a double bed for $15 per night.  At the time we visited, we were told they had dial-up internet in Marmarth, and satellite was the only way to get TV programming.

The most prominent abandoned structure in Marmarth is Barber Auditorium. It’s actually two buildings, Barber Auditorium and First National Bank of Marmarth.

The train depot has been cut in two pieces and relocated to a stretch of grass along the highway as you enter from the east.

CLICK PHOTOS TO ENLARGE

Marmarth, North Dakota

The 1st National Bank and Barber Auditorium in downtown Marmarth, built in 1918.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Order Ghosts of North Dakota Books

Marmarth, North Dakota

In the basement of Barber auditorium.

Marmarth, North Dakota

The red velvet theater seats still wait in the murky black.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

The staircase on the main floor of the auditorium.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

A former storefront, now only storage.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

The former Mystic Theatre

Marmarth, North Dakota

These were the first two jail cells ever installed in Marmarth.

Marmarth, North Dakota

The Pastime Bar has cold drinks, and the food in the steakhouse at the rear is excellent.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

One former filling station.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Another former filling station.

Marmarth, North Dakota

The depot has been moved.

Marmarth, North Dakota

It now rests on blocks alongside the road in downtown Marmarth.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

A boarded-up school.

Marmarth, North Dakota

Marmarth, North Dakota

We rented rooms at this former railroad bunkhouse for $15 bucks a night.

Marmarth, North Dakota

See more photos of Marmarth here.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.