Dakota Datebook: Aug. 8-12

HOTR Champions Ride


Aug, 8 — For nearly 60 years, Home On The Range (HOTR) at Sentinel Butte has been helping troubled, neglected and abused children turn their lives around. This unique ranch home, on the edge of the beautiful North Dakota Badlands, gives these children calming solitude and time with nature.

Combined with structure, guidance, spirituality, hard work and love, the program helps them make the changes they need in their lives. However, raising the funds to support this non-profit, 24/7 residential care facility has always been challenging.

One of the most creative, and ultimately most well known, events to support the HOTR came from two saddle bronc riding brothers.

Two of the top professional bronc riders of the era, Jim and Tom Tescher, had the idea for a saddle bronc riding featuring North Dakota cowboys competing against the top performers in the world that would bring spectators from many areas to see the best hands around matched against legendary bucking horses.

When it began in 1957, it was billed as “North Dakota against the World.” And, as predicted, people came from miles to see the show at the natural arena nestled in the hills at HOTR.

Alvin Nelson, of Grassy Butte, won the first match in 1957 and went on to win the world saddle bronc-riding title that year.

Champions Ride has been held every year since then, and its reputation for great cowboys competing on great bucking horses continues. Since 1957, every world champion saddle bronc rider except one has ridden at the Champions Ride.

There was a time, however, when the future of the match was in jeopardy. Jim Tescher and Brad Gjermundson, two cowboy legends, spearheaded the rodeo committee and pulled the Champions Ride “up by its boot straps,” getting it back on track.

Many are aware of the HOTR, and some even remember the “cowboy priest,” as Father Fahnlander was fondly called, who would go behind the chutes and thank the bronc riders for coming.

Molen, Horse Thief


Aug. 9 — Ed Molen was an expert horseman and blacksmith, and he had a knack for locks. Molen also seemed like a man who didn’t overstay his welcome. Even the State Penitentiary had a hard time keeping him in one place.

After stealing a horse from his employer, Mr. Hamilton on June 7, 1911, near Bowman, Molen escaped to Wyoming where he was later caught. He was sent to the South Dakota State Penitentiary to serve a previous sentence for embezzlement and forgery before being returned to Bowman in August 1912 to stand trial for the theft of Hamilton’s horse. He didn’t stay there too long, however, and broke out of jail the night before his sentencing.

When Sheriff Moore came to retrieve his prisoner, he was gone. All that remained of Molen was a note, in which he assured Sheriff Moore that he had been securely locked in, “but that did not bother him any, as he was an expert at picking locks.” He had picked the lock to his cell, wrenched a bar from the grating on his window and escaped. He added in the note that the sheriff would not see him again.

Following the escape, Molen returned to the scene of the crime, and again stole a horse from the Hamiltons. He remained at large for five days when he was captured near Sentinel Butte. After his sentencing, which took place today in 1912, Ed Molen was sent to the North Dakota State Penitentiary to serve four and a half years for grand larceny.

While in the state pen, Ed Totten, the Bowman County state’s attorney, stated that Molen, described as bold, shrewd and resourceful, should be treated for insanity. “He is not insane in the sense that he does not know what he is doing or that he should not be held accountable for his actions, but in the sense that his power of resistance to temptations along the line of his desires seems to be so extremely weak that … he should be treated for weak-mindedness rather than charged with wanton wickedness.” The resourceful Molen, however, had other plans. On October 2 at 8 pm, he broke out of the state pen.

A press dispatch on Oc. 3 reported Molen’s escape. “In some unknown way, he secured a brace and bit of good size, went up over the picture machine booth in the auditorium where he effected an opening through the roof. He then drew up a plank and by the use of it, he got to the officers’ quarters where he let himself down with a rope,” reported the Bowman County Pioneer. He stole a horse at a nearby ranch, and Ed Molen disappeared.

Molen was gone, but in his usual taunting flair, he wrote a letter to Sheriff Jack Barrett of Bowman. The letter was dated from Russia. He greeted the sheriff and told him that he could steal a thousand horses there easier than he could steal one from Bowman County. The letter was the last sign of Molen for nearly three years.

He returned to North Dakota, however, and this time he was dressed as an Indian with the Barton and Bailey circus. While riding in the circus parade in Marmarth in July 1915, Molen was recognized by Ed Moss, who reported him to the authorities.

The Marmarth Mail reported that Molen “could easily have went through here without being caught by remaining in the car, but his natural daring and the feeling that he wanted to know if he could ‘get by,’ forced him to take the long chance with the result that he was recognized and caught.”

Molen was arrested and taken in for questioning. He denied his identity until it was verified by the tattoo of German, English and American flags. He became wily and later seemed upset that authorities thought the letter to Sheriff Barrett was from Russia, when it was really from Liverpool, England. He calmed down, however, and said he was more at peace with himself now than ever. He stated he was even anxious to go back and serve his time so that he could be a free man without continually dodging authorities. He was returned to the state penitentiary and was discharged on July 1, 1917.

William Taylor, 2002 NDCHF Inductee


Aug. 10 — William Lemuel “Bill” Taylor, North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame inductee, died on Aug. 9, 1961.

He was born on January 23, 1874, in Rolla, Missouri, the first son of James and Martha (Hoagland) Taylor’s 10 children. He was raised on the family’s home place in Sumner County, Kansas, where he played cowboy by riding a cornstalk horse, roping his mother’s geese and shooting a whittled wooden gun. He wanted to be a cowboy or a “horse doctor” when he grew up. His father taught him to ride, shoot, plow, hay and fiddle.

Three days after Bill turned 13, his father died. He left school to work the farm with his mother and, in the fall of 1893, left home to be a cowboy in Texas. Along the way, he learned the “ropes” from full-fledged cowboys. Bill was tall, straight and lean, a good horseman, a crack shot, a fine fiddler and a dependable worker.

Bill wrote home for his 16-year-old brother, Jess, to join him. The Converse Cattle Company hired them to help trail 3,000 head of Longhorns from Texas to the AHA Ranch in McKenzie County. The cattle and cowboys traveled by rail to Moorcroft, Wyoming, and by trail from there. Twelve men moved the cattle toward the AHA at 15 miles per 16-hour day.

After the drive, Bill continued working at the AHA and then at the Long X, making three more trail drives–in 1897, 1899 and 1900. He later worked at several other ranches in the area, including the DZ where Sam Rhoades was foreman and for Wilse Richards’ North Dakota Land and Cattle Company.

By 1905, Bill was running horses with his own T+ brand, buying them up as he could. On Jan. 23, 1914, he purchased the T+ Ranch near the Killdeer Mountains and, on April 18, he married homesteader Olaphene “Teppy” Werpy. They sold the T+ in 1917 and built the Taylor Hotel in Dunn Center, a promising new town on a new Northern Pacific rail line.

Bill served in the World War I Home Guard and brought his law and order talents to the new community by serving three terms as deputy sheriff, two as justice of the peace and four as marshal. He was active in 50 Years in the Saddle, Rough Riders and Killdeer Mountain Roundup Association and officiated at the Killdeer Mountain and Sanish rodeos.

Bill was a friend of Native Americans and managed a parade and powwow at Dunn Center’s first Independence Day celebration. He was a plainspoken, modest and independent man who was kind to children and animals and placed work and character in high regard.

He and Teppy retired to Dickinson in 1941, where he died on Aug. 9, 1961, and Teppy on Sept. 7, 1964. They are buried in Dickinson.

Bill was inducted into the pre-1940 ranching category of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in August 2002.

Peronto’s Claim


Aug. 11 — Settlers, speculators and squatters built a shanty-town on the Dakota side of the Red River the moment the Northern Pacific Railway surveyors showed any interest in the crossing, even though the area was still Indian land. Troops from Fort Abercrombie ran off unlawful squatters twice, but eventually the settlement grew into what we know today as the city of Fargo.

On this date in 1873, Sioux Indian Francis Peronto appeared in the general land office in Pembina to file his claim for part of section seven, township 139, range 48, a small rectangle containing what is now the south half of downtown Fargo.

The land office refused Peronto’s claim, even though he met the legal requirements of residing on the land and building a home. The land office authorities said Peronto’s claim was on land granted to the railroad by the U.S. Government, so he could not settle there. Peronto appealed in court, stating that he settled on the land before it became public lands, so as a Sioux, he ‘pre-empted’ the railroad’s claim. The Northern Pacific Railroad argued their rights to the land, leaving the ownership of downtown Fargo in question for over a decade.

While the courts debated Peronto’s case, the city of Fargo grew into a financial and business center for the region. The railroad had sold or leased Peronto’s land to Fargo businessmen, who built businesses and homes. If the courts turned the property over to Peronto, his 150 acres would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and would give him control over much of the young city’s real estate.

In 1886, the legal battle over the claim made it to the United States Supreme Court. To the relief of Fargo residents, the court decided that once the Indian lands were converted to public lands, the railroad was next in line of ownership, so Peronto’s pre-emption was impossible. This made his claim no more legal than the other unlucky squatters who tried to settle on the railroad’s land. Peronto, sadly, did not live to hear the Supreme Court decision. He had passed away on Aug. 20, 1883.

First Celebration in Almont


Aug. 12 — On this day in 1906, the town of Almont prepared for its first celebration.

Named after the buttes in the area, and laid out according to the railroad lines, the new town of Almont was built in just five weeks. Citizens of Almont and its visitors were amazed to see prairie pasture land transformed into a town in such a short period of time. The new town had nine city blocks, and it boasted five businesses–a grain elevator that could store 40,000 bushels of wheat, the C.H. Chase lumber yard, the Chalmers Hotel, De Vaul’s store and Sherwood’s restaurant.

People came from all directions for the festivities, with Almont boasting a crowd of around 300 citizens and visitors that day. The group crowded into a large lumber shed at the C.H. Chase lumber yard to hear the town’s first church service. A Presbyterian missionary, the Reverend Hughes, had made the journey all the way from New Salem to preach that day. The churchgoers filled every available bench, stood or simply sat on the ground to hear the Reverend Hughes’ inspiring message. After the church service, the townspeople and churchgoers were treated to a picnic dinner, followed by a concert from a Bohemian band.

The highlight of the day was a baseball game between the towns of Sims and Almont. The Sims team, sporting red uniforms, were well known in the area as an “outstanding” baseball team. The players from Almont, coming from town and country, sported overalls as their uniforms. The Almont boys had the disadvantage as they had seldom played together, or even practiced much. However, after nine innings, the score was tied, 2 to 2. Almont then scored in the tenth and was declared the winner.

The town of Almont, still in existence, celebrated its 100th birthday in 2006. The 87 or so remaining citizens of the town threw a huge celebration for its guests and past citizens, with over 2,000 people arriving for the Almont Annual Labor Day celebration. As in 1906, the town of Almont celebrates with the finest.

“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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