130: Happy Birthday Minot
As the train neared the settlement of Minot in 1887, conductor Casper Sands announced to the passengers: “Minot, Minot, the last stop. Everybody out. And prepare to meet your God.”
Judge William Murray would tell this story and other details of his introduction to Minot in 1887 to those privileged to sit and listen in the old office of the county court of increased jurisdiction.
After his arrival in the young settlement, Murray walked up the main drag and entered the nearest saloon. Some men there were playing cards, and the smooth-looking one had a diamond stickpin and a diamond ring. As Murray stood at the bar, a pistol shot rang out. The smooth one fell at Murray’s feet and died. His name was Shang Foster, a known gambler. The fatal shot was fired by another locally known character, Roxy Queal, who fled the scene.
The incident did not deter Murray from thinking that here was a town where his services might be needed.
Murray, a young carpenter from Dumfries, Scotland, went to work for the railroad for a time. He became a lawyer and a judge. Murray framed the scaffold and tied the knot for Minot’s only hanging, that of Hans Thorpe who murdered his wife.
Testimonies like these added plausibility to various later accounts of how uproarious and immoral Minot was in the early years.
Located in the Souris (Mouse) River valley, the city was named for Henry Davis Minot, a close associate of railroad executive James J. Hill. Henry D. Minot never came far enough west to see the town which was named for him.
The townsite was chosen in November 1886.
Minot began as a tent town when the railroad was pushing west. When construction halted to build a bridge across a coulee west of Minot, a large tent town immediately sprang up which was generally assumed to be the start of permanent settlement. When the selected townsite of Minot became known, the tent town was replaced almost overnight and the new city grew so fast it was called “The Magic City.”
Ernest Minot Tompkins, who was born in Minot on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, 1886, on Main Street North, was considered the first white child born on the original townsite. His parents came to Minot from Winnipeg by covered wagon, a trip that took six months. Their son was born not long after their arrival and they gave him the name of the new community, which had been established on the “second crossing of the Mouse.”
Minot’s post office was established in 1887 and Minot was incorporated as a city in 1887.
Dakota Territory pioneer historian Col. Clement Lounsberry, writing in November 1896, characterized the Minot of 1887 in these words:
“It was a wild, roaring town in those days. There were 22 saloons, sporting houses, dance halls, gambling of every class, and a floating population of fully 2,500.”
Minot was the main concentration point in the late 1800s for loads of buffalo bones picked up on the prairie by the settlers to bring to town to be exchanged for cash. The bones brought from $6-$15 per ton and were shipped to manufacturing industries in older states for knife handles and commercial fertilizer, and much of the output in the process of sugar manufacturing. The bone-gathering business reached its height in about 1890. Old timers recalled the big bone pile heaped up in Minot in 1888.
The first colony of settlers ever brought direct to Minot came in on the railroad in 1900. There were 105 persons, including men, women and children. About 60 of them would file on lands.
In six short years the Magic City rose in prominence from a railroad junction to a city of several thousand people, third largest in the state in 1908. It became a wholesale and jobbing center for the area, new industries and new businesses were being established by the score, several new manufacturing concerns were added and the people looked forward to a bright, expanding future for the city and the area.
By 1896, Lounsberry said, things were different in Minot. “From a congregation of ungoverned and almost ungovernable human beings, it quickly became noted for good order and the enterprise of its people,” he said.
The explanation seemed to be that after being a railhead boom town from which railroad executive Jim Hill launched a world record in laying track west across Montana, Minot was forced to settle back into a more orderly struggle.
As a city, Minot started with a mayor-council type of government, later switched to commission and changed to the present manager-mayor-council form in 1933.
Old City Hall records show the first meeting of the original City Council was held on Aug. 31, 1887, shortly after an election had been held to name the first mayor.
That honor went to James H. Scofield, whose name was spelled “Schofield” in the minutes of the initial Council meeting.
Attending that first session were aldermen Phil K. Fields, William Brunelle, Eugene Coleman, Edward Kelley, Dr. E.H. Belyea and Nelson A. Mott.
Over the years, Minot has survived devastating floods, droughts, economic hard times and gone through prosperous times.
Today, Minot is a trade center for northwest and north central North Dakota along with Canada and Montana. The city is surrounded by agriculture and is in the eastern boundary of the oil-rich Williston Basin, both benefiting the community. Minot has the largest air terminal in North Dakota and Minot Air Force Base, the only dual wing nuclear-capable base with its B-52 bombers and Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, is 14 miles north of the city. As it did when Minot was settled, the railroad remains an important part of the city. Today, Minot has a population of 48,743, according to the July 2016 population estimate.
Happy Birthday to you, Minot.
– Source: Minot Daily News files