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. …
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 …
Sanish was a thriving North Dakota town until 1953, when residents began to evacuate to higher ground. The construction of Garrison Dam, a project to provide hydroelectric power and flood control, would turn the Missouri River Valley in this part of North Dakota into a large reservoir to be named Lake Sakakawea. Sanish succumbed to the rising waters soon after the Garrison Dam embankments were closed in April of 1953, and the townsite disappeared beneath the waves of Lake Sakakawea. …
Tagus was founded in 1900, on a rolling spot on the prairie, forty miles west of Minot, just off Highway 2. A railroad settlement town, it reached a peak population of 140 in 1940. It was originally named Wallace, but was later renamed Tagus to avoid confusion with the town of Wallace, Idaho. The origin of the name “Tagus” is still in dispute.
It is now primarily abandoned with a handful of residents and numerous vacant structures.
The Minot Daily News ran a story about GND several days before our actual trip to Tagus. You can imagine our surprise when we were met by two of the residents of Tagus who had been keeping an eye out for us. They had quite a story to tell.
As it turns out, Tagus has weathered way more than it’s fair share of vandalism and mean-spirited behavior. For years, vandals from the nearby areas have used Tagus as a party place. One of Tagus’ residents told us a story about one Halloween night in the 1980’s, when 300 kids showed up in this tiny town for an all-out Halloween trashing session. The Mountrail County Sherriff had been tipped however and put a stop to it.
It’s not often we run across an old country home with a turret.
That tree is huge!
In 2001, vandals again did their damage when they were found to be responsible for a fire which destroyed Tagus’ only remaining church. The spot is now marked with a stone marker. Although there are reports the fire was electrical, the resident we spoke to was adamant the fire was caused by vandals.
As you’ll see from some of the comments on this post, Tagus has been the subject of some very strange and persistent rumors and urban legends over the years, to a greater degree than any other town we’ve encountered. There are outlandish tales of Satanic activity, hellhounds, ghosts and ghoulish activity in Tagus. Anyone who has grown up in northwest North Dakota has likely heard them. At any rate, if you decide to visit Tagus, please be respectful of the town. They’ve already sacrificed far too much.
Who knows what this structure used to be? Please leave a comment.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
We’ve all heard the stories from our parents and grandparents about having to walk to school with no shoes, uphill (both ways), and there’s certainly an air of humorous exaggeration in many of those tales, but not too much exaggeration. The truth is, daily existence as a pioneer on the prairie was a hard life, and the people who came to the northern plains were taking their lives in their hands and facing dangers we can scarcely imagine today. Yes, we have our own challenges today, but take a moment to imagine living on the frontier when there were no antibiotics, or in a small city when there wasn’t a fire hydrant on every corner. At risk of sounding morbid, examining some of the terrible fates our ancestors so frequently faced helps us understand and appreciate the sacrifices they made so we could have a better life. …
The pseudo-scientific field of cryptozoology deals with theories of creatures unknown to science, many of which have their origins in Native American lore. Stories of Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest, and the Wendigo in Minnesota and the Great Lakes region, originated with native people. Even North Dakota has a mysterious but little-known monster …
Some of the earliest European travelers through Dakota Territory were in search of gold. Stories of gold mines in Montana and Idaho drew prospectors from all over with the promise of wealth and prosperity. Dr. William Denton Dibb, credited by the Quarterly Journal of the University of North Dakota (Vol. 13, 1922) as the first pioneer physician in the Dakotas, wanted his share of the gold. …
Like Fargo in 1893 and Chicago in 1871, Bismarck fell victim to a massive wind-whipped fire on August 8th, 1898.
As was the case with so many pioneer-era cities around the nation, Bismarck in 1898 was a city constructed largely of wood. When coupled with a frequently unrelenting prairie wind, any unusual dry spell created extraordinarily dangerous conditions. …
I ran across this photo while I was perusing the photos at the Library of Congress and I was totally blown away. Clinton Johnson took this photo, captioned “North Dakota Cyclone,” in an unknown North Dakota town in 1895, just six years after North Dakota statehood. It appears to depict a menacing tornado bearing down on a North Dakota town. If you look closely, you can see some people standing around, watching, proving that even in the 1800s, people were gawkers. Farmer A.A. Adams took the first ever photo of a tornado in Kansas in 1884, a feat which was overshadowed by another tornado photograph taken a few months later in South Dakota.
I believe this is the first photograph ever taken of a tornado in North Dakota. You can read about the 1957 Fargo F5 tornado in Fargo Moorhead Lost and Found.
We’re posting this photo here because a) it’s super cool, and b) there is a (very) slim chance that we might be able to identify this location. Mr. Johnson also appears to have also been one of the photographers who covered the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906.
Do you know anymore about photographer Clinton Johnson or the location of this photograph? Please leave a comment.
These photos of Christmas in Sanish, North Dakota come from Staci Roe, who came upon them in a hospital rummage sale and saved them from the trash. They are from the estate of Marvin L Knapp and the photographer is unknown. Photos of the construction of the footings for Four Bears Bridge were in the same collection.
These photos were taken almost seven decades ago …
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. …
Old Sanish, North Dakota came to an end in 1953, when the river valley it occupied for over half a century became the bottom of North Dakota’s newest reservoir, Lake Sakakawea. Sanish’s residents left for higher ground, as did the residents of other low-lying towns like Van Hook and Elbowoods. …
Sometimes we photograph a place and find out years later that it’s gone, sometimes the place is gone by the time we get there. But the one constant is that the list of places is growing all the time.
Here’s another list of ten more significant North Dakota places that have unfortunately lost their battle with time. When you’re done with this one, check out 10 Lost North Dakota Places, and 8 More Lost North Dakota Places. …
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. …
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. …
Blanchard is a small town in Traill county about a half hour north of Fargo. Our Facebook fans warned us that there wasn’t much of a historic nature left to photograph, and they were right. Linda Grotberg commented: “Blanchard, is another reason why your “ghost project” is so important! The two churches, Seim’s Store, Wally’s garage, Blanchard #1 (although the school bld is still there used as a house) Grandma Hazel’s house, the old bank building….all part of mine and my Mother’s childhood….gone forever!”
Troy stopped in and got the photo below.
Nearby is the KVLY TV antenna which was for decades the tallest structure on Earth at 2063 feet tall. It’s status as the world’s tallest structure was finally surpassed with the construction of Burj Khalifa in Dubai. However, the antenna remains as the tallest structure in the western hemisphere, and the third tallest structure on earth. The Tokyo Skytree, completed in 2011, is second. On a clear day, you can see this mast from 20 miles away.
Photos by Troy, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC
This is the Standing Rock Hill Historic Site, south of Kathryn and west of Enderlin, just up the hill from Little Yellowstone Park, right off Highway 46. It is also just a short drive from Jensen Cabin at Wadeson Park. Standing Rock Hill Historic Site consists of four Native American burial mounds, the largest of which is marked with the small standing rock shown below.
There is a fairly serious grade up a minimally maintained road to get to the parking lot at the top of the hill, but in dry conditions, you shouldn’t have any trouble in the typical car. Read more about it here.
Photos by Troy Larson, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
This cabin was built in 1878 by Norwegian immigrant Carl Bjerke Jensen, made from hand-hewn oak. The cabin and the land were donated to the State Historical Society by the Wadeson family in 1957. This cabin was in pretty bad shape until it was restored in 1981.
I stumbled upon this place while taking a drive near Kathryn.
This is the Wadeson Park Spillway, right across the road from the Jensen Cabin.
Photos by Troy Larson, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
North Dakota has dozens of small towns approaching ghost town status. As the population declines, they tend to go through a transition period during which the population fluctuates. Aging residents pass away and young people go off to college. It’s not uncommon for a town to be abandoned, only to be re-inhabited for a time–drawing in those who are attracted to the solitude and the dirt cheap cost of living. Heaton is one of those towns.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Brian Miller, the sole remaining resident of Heaton. We found him on the tractor, working well past sundown on a chilly November evening.
Only twenty five years old, Miller was raised on a farm about a half mile outside of town. As a child, Miller and his friends used to ride their bikes into town to get a can of pop and a candy bar at the local store. “There used to be an old bank there,” Miller says. “We’d sit on the steps and eat our candy bars.” The store closed in 2003. Miller says the Post Office closed when he was quite young, but he remembers going into Heaton early one morning to get their baby chickens off the mail truck. “We were excited about that,” he says.
There were perhaps fifteen residents in town in those days, enough to justify a trip to town on Halloween. “I remember we used go there and trick or treat when I was real young, too,” Miller says. There were two elevators, a lumber yard, a post office, a bank, and a church in Heaton back then.
But over the years, the population steadily declined. “Everybody that was there was getting older,” he says. “People passed away. Some just moved.” A tornado that wiped out some of the structures contributed to the decline.
The owner of the gas station went into the nursing home and then passed away some time later. Miller’s father bought the place and turned it into a meat processing facility. “That’s going pretty good for us,” he said.
In 2009, he bought a house and moved it to a vacant lot in the center of town. “I got in there about January of 2010,” he said. He wasn’t the only resident at that time, however. “When I moved in, there was another family living in town and they had three kids,” he said. They split up and moved out of town last summer, leaving Miller and his dog as the only remaining inhabitants. Miller’s closest neighbors are now an elderly couple who live just west of town.
When asked if he gets lonely, Miller said “Yeah, I guess. I grew up on the farm and I’m pretty self-sufficient. I enjoy the freedom of that.” Miller had planned on returning when he finished college, and had hoped to find a farm to buy. But when he bought his house, he was attracted to the Heaton lot by the availability of water and electricity. “I enjoy the freedom,” he says. “You can go and do what you want, but I guess it does get a little lonely.”
A farmer by trade, Miller works for a local rancher and maintains his own cows and chickens. Like any other farmer, Miller starts his day by feeding his animals, then spends most of the day at work. “You never know how many hours a day you’re gonna have to work,” he says. “During the busy times it’s morning ’til dark pretty much.” In his free time, Miller goes hunting and fishing.
In addition to water and electric, Heaton even has fiberoptic internet service. Last summer, Daktel installed it for all the farms in the area, Miller said. “Every farm in our area has it too, so we’re livin’ pretty good.” Miller has to provide his own heat in the winter via a propane furnace.
Despite the modern amenities, living in a ghost town is not without challenges. Although the mail comes via rural mail delivery, Miller drives to Jamestown or Bismarck about once a month for groceries. He visits the grocery store in Carrington, about twenty five miles away, for more immediate needs. The small town of Bowdon about eight miles away is a frequent stop as well. “They have a credit card gas pump there, and a little grocery store too,” Miller says.
We noticed on our last trip to Heaton that things had changed quite a bit in the six years since our previous visit–many structures were gone. Miller says many of the properties were forfeited to the county due to unpaid property taxes, and then Speedwell township took over and razed many of the properties due to health hazards. And the process of ‘cleanup’ will continue. “They plan on burning a couple of the old buildings down this winter,” he said.
Miller says the property owner of several lots in Heaton is a Montana resident who only occasionally comes to town. “He was back here about a month ago,” Miller says, “And he was coming to get some of his stuff out of these old houses, and he said a bunch of stuff was missing. And I said, the front door’s been open on the place, and there’s been a lot of people coming through and going through these places. It’s kinda like, what do you expect?”
Although proud to be a resident of Heaton, Miller doesn’t plan on spending the rest of his life there. “I’d still like to get out on a real farm,” he said. He expects to end up on his parents’ farm or his grandmother’s farm, which is just a couple of miles from Heaton.
I asked Miller if he plans to leave Heaton empty when the time comes. “I’d hope… I plan on selling my house, I mean if I could leave it there and sell it or if I have to sell it and have it moved, either way.” I asked him what are the chances he could sell his house to someone knowing they would be the only residents of Heaton. “You’d be surprised, I think. It would be pretty easy to sell it.” What does a house sell for in Heaton? Miller estimates he could get twenty thousand for his. And if he can’t sell it, he’s open to renting it. “There are a lot of jobs here,” he says.
Being the last resident of Heaton does have it’s advantages. “People ask me where I live and I tell them I’m the only one left in Heaton. I’m the Mayor, the Sherriff and everything,” Miller says. “They get a kick out of that.”
Host/Author/Producer Keith Norman was kind enough to share a story about a Merricourt robbery, from his book – ‘Great Stories of the Great Plains, Vol. 1’
Self Defense on the Back Roads
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. …
Vacant as of 10/04
Mose, North Dakota is a true ghost town in Griggs County, about forty miles southeast of Devils Lake. It was also known as Florence and Lewis prior to 1904. On Halloween 1904, it was renamed Mose in honor of a local lumberyard employee. It’s peak population is said to have been 25.
Mose was particularly hard hit by a tornado, hence the sign at the entrance to the town. Most of the townsite is on private property which is well posted. The old home shown here appears to be the only original structure remaining on the town site.
Our expedition to Mose ended up being a little more eventful than we would have liked. Due to our poor planning, we found ourselves in the middle of an abandoned town during opening weekend of deer hunting season. And with no blaze orange to alert the hunters to our presence. After hearing several rifle shots in the distance, Terry resorted to using the rainbow umbrella from his trunk to make himself visible to any prospective hunter who might think he was venison.
To further put a scare into us, on our way out of Mose, a carload of hunters zoomed off the shoulder of the road right into our path without looking. It took a little Hollywood stunt driving to avoid a bad accident.
Ghost town hunting during deer hunting season is bad.
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Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC