DAKOTA DATEBOOK: The Fourth at Fort Rice

July 4, 2022 — On this day in 1865, the United States of America celebrated its first Independence Day after four years of civil war. Although far from the battlefields of the war, Dakota Territory was also affected by the conflict, especially its isolated soldiers. After spending the duration of the Civil War in Dakota Territory’s sparsely populated plains, the officers and soldiers of Fort Rice found the reuniting of their nation a meaningful reason to celebrate the Fourth of July with new found excitement.

The men of Fort Rice suspended all business for one day to properly acknowledge America’s day of independence. The events of this day were carefully and colorfully detailed in Fort Rice’s newspaper, the Frontier Scout.

On the morning of July 4, 1865, the men of Fort Rice welcomed sunrise with a 13-gun salute, and found the day to be cool, blustery and damp with occasional sprinklings of rain. Far from dreary, the camp was decorated with soldier-made adornments — the mottos “4th July”, “1776”, and “Peace” painted on yellow scrolls, and two large wreaths bearing the initials of “George Washington” and “Abraham Lincoln” were hung at the entrance of the camp.

Speeches were quickly followed by the eagerly anticipated games of the day. The men of Fort Rice enthusiastically competed for money prizes in several contests, including a mile foot race, a blindfolded wheel barrel race and horse races.

As the games finished, the mock dress parade began. Each soldier dressed himself in outrageous gear and armed himself with whatever he could find: pokers, brooms, crutches, dresses, face paint and 3-foot tall hats.

As the day came to an end one officer wrote, “the thirteen guns of evening, as in the morning, shook the dirt roofs of Fort Rice, and waked far echoes in the hills and ravines around, and the sun set on the happiest Fourth of all time, past, present, or to come.” The men of Fort Rice then shared a feast of salmon, oysters, clams, peaches, and champagne — deliquesces rarely, if ever, seen at the fort.

After four years of division, America was celebrating her Independence Day as one nation. The men of Fort Rice honored their country, and celebrated the end of the war, in the best way they could — with games, good food, and true comradery.

The Far West Returns


July 5, 2022 — On this date in 1876, the steamer Far West returned with the first news of Custer and his 7th Cavalry’s expected encounter with “the Indians.” Up until that point, no one knew that The Battle of the Little Big Horn had been fought earlier on June 25. Everyone was anxiously awaiting word about the Custer Expedition.

The Far West was commanded and piloted by Capt. Grant Marsh of Yankton. His orders, following the battle were to “reach Bismarck as soon as possible.” On the evening of July 3, Capt. Marsh was under a full head of steam from the mouth of the Little Big Horn River in present day Montana.

Wounded soldiers from the battle had been carried on board and a Dr. Porter was detailed to attend them. Gen. Terry’s adjutant general, Col. Ed Smith was also along with official dispatches from the battle as well as many other messages.

During the days preceding the ship’s arrival however, a sense of uneasiness loomed within the walls of Fort Lincoln, Custer’s embarkation point. An expected courier who would bring news of the expedition had not yet arrived. The city of Bismarck also shared in the collective anxiety.

The last report anyone had was from Mark Kellogg, a correspondent on the Custer Expedition. He had reported earlier to the Bismarck Tribune that “We leave the Rosebud tomorrow and by the time this reaches you we will have met and fought the red devils, with what result remains to be seen. I go with Custer and will be at his death.” Kellogg’s prophesy proved to be amazingly accurate.

At approximately 11 p.m. on the evening of July 5, 1876, the Far West finally docked along the Missouri River in Bismarck. She had traveled some 700 miles in just 54 hours. Dr. Porter and Col. Smith ran from the steamer, calling upon Mr. J.M. Carnahan, the telegraph operator. Mr. Carnahan was to spend the next 22 hours dispatching news of the disaster. The news they brought to the world was that Custer had been killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn, along with 14 other officers, 237 enlisted men and other civilians and Indian scouts.

Mark Kellogg’s earlier report did, in the end, prove amazingly true.

Rawhide City


July 6, 2022 — What do you do with a 55-foot, 2 ½-ton gorilla?

Rawhide City was first located seven miles south of Dickinson on Highway 22. The city was the brainchild of two Dickinson men who had been connected by their interest in the Old West, and antiques. Bob Watts and Harold Sweitz built their dream town inside of a 50- by 120-foot steel building, using lumber from an old Hebron school to construct the two-level main street.

By the summer of 1974, Rawhide City’s 13 businesses were open to the public. From the bank to the library, visitors were able to enter and explore each business, learn about artifacts and history of the area, shop for antiques, and view over 400 of Watt’s paintings in the art gallery.

Several years after Rawhide’s opening, Watts added another piece to his art collection: a giant mechanical gorilla. Created by Watts from metal and foam, this gorilla, also known as Og, kept a silent, yet impressive, watch over the city where it lay outside of Dickinson.

Four years after its opening, Rawhide City and Og made the move to Mandan, in an effort to avoid highway construction near their original location in Dickinson. Newly located on Interstate 94, the Old West Town, and especially Og, received a lot of local attention. Many area residents supported a new tourist attraction, while others thought the gorilla was too over the top and had nothing to do with North Dakota or the Old West. Ignoring any objections, Og loomed over the interstate as Watts had intended him to.

Soon after relocating to Mandan, Watts sold his Rawhide City to two retired Mandan residents, Jack Hopfauf and Dean Olson, who reopened the attraction in July of 1981. Which leads to the question … What do you do with a 55-foot, 2 ½-ton gorilla?

On this date in 1981, readers of The Bismarck Tribune were treated to a tale of the newly revamped, reopened indoor Old West Town, and a possibly, homeless gorilla. After years of keeping watch over the tiny town, Og’s place in the Old West was being questioned. Under new management, Og and Rawhide City faced separation.

Although equipped with lower admission fees, a larger concession stand, and plans to give Og a facelift, business at Rawhide City faltered. Only a couple years after reopening in 1981, and after nearly ten years of taking visitors back through time, Rawhide’s doors closed forever.

But what about Og?

Og was purchased by Glen Lelm of Harvey. Lelm planned on showcasing the gorilla on the roof of his implement building, but after his insurance company shot down the plan, Og found himself on his back, forgotten, for over 10 years.

Finally, in 1993, retired Harvey resident Bert Miller thought Og might be useful in putting a “little life” back into his hometown. Og was soon relocated along Highway 52, enticing visitors with the slogan, “Come to Harvey and monkey around!”

Over a decade later, Og was damaged beyond repair in a storm. One can only hope that Og is in the Old West afterlife, guarding over the Rawhide City that once entertained and educated visitors of all ages.

A Record Flight


July 7, 2022 — On this day in 1929 Dwight “Barney” Zimmerley swooped low over the town of Cogswell. Zimmerley was on a record flight from Brownsville, Texas, to Winnipeg. He flew nonstop for 1,725 miles, easily beating the old record of 758 miles. On his return flight, Zimmerley stopped in Stirum and Cogswell for the night, and residents held a banquet and reception for the new record-holder and former Cogswell boy.

Residents reminisced about Zimmerley’s earlier feats in Cogswell. He’d been the first to have an automobile, and according to the Cogswell Enterprise, this is how he got the nickname “Barney.”

“Frightening horses and careening his machine through the streets, he soon acquired the name of Barney, for it was at that time that Barney Oldfield was at the peak of his glory as a pilot of high-speed machines,” said the Enterprise. It was a fitting nickname for Zimmerley, who proved that he, too, was a master pilot of high-speed machines when on this day in 1929, he claimed the record for the longest nonstop flight.

Mustache Maude



July 8, 2022 — Mustache Maude. . .with a name like that you know there have to be a few stories. And there are. She didn’t start out with that name, of course. Her real name was deceptively soft and feminine: Clara Belle Rose. She was born in July 1873 in Tracy, Minnesota.

While Clara Belle loved her father, she locked horns with her mother and ran away when she was 15. Using the excuse of going to Minneapolis to care for her sick sister, Clara waited until her mother and father were away. Then, she loaded a wagon with grain and used a second team of horses to take it to town. She sold the grain, left the wagon at the elevator, and put the horses in the livery stable, and then found some people who were heading for Minneapolis. With money in her pocket, she hitched a ride.

Clara Belle spent the next six or seven years living with her sister, Dora. She worked a variety of jobs, including waiting tables and learning the seamstress trade in a tailor’s shop.

By the time she was 23, Clara Belle had a bankroll large enough to set up her own business and moved to Winona, North Dakota. Her brothers, John and William, were among the area’s first white settlers. The town was across the Missouri from Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation — no liquor was allowed on the reservation, and the dance hall town of Winona had become a magnet for shoot’em-up soldiers and cowboys.

Clara Belle soon proved she could do a whole lot more than wait tables. She put up a building and opened her own saloon and gambling parlor. She ran the place with a six-shooter on her hip and, from all accounts, she wasn’t afraid to use it. She rolled her own cigarettes, cut her hair short, and became widely known for her razor sharp humor and a certain kind of big-heartedness.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from Humanities North Dakota.


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