The Florence Crittenton Home


Sept. 26 — Florence Crittenton was the daughter of prominent New York businessman John Crittenton. Florence died of scarlet fever in 1882 when she was only four years old. Her father was heartbroken. Looking for meaning in life, he began attending prayer meetings. At one such gathering he met evangelist Smith Allen, who invited Crittenton to tour the red-light district of New York City. Crittenton was appalled at the condition of young girls living on the streets. He was dismayed when he realized the women had no alternatives in life. Even if they had wanted to leave the streets, there was nowhere for them to go. Crittenton immediately felt that something had to be done.

The wealthy businessman founded the Florence Crittenton Mission in memory of his beloved daughter. He devoted himself to helping homeless young women and unwed mothers. The first home was in New York City. The organization expanded to include homes in 76 American cities and in five foreign countries. There are still 27 Crittenton agencies in the U.S. Today, the Mission focuses on providing the tools that young women need to be successful. By improving parenting skills, the organization hopes to improve the lives of children.

On this date in 1918, the Weekly Times Record of Valley City reported on the visit of Miss E.C. Briggs. Miss Briggs was a national organizer for the Florence Crittenton Mission. She had come to raise money for the home in Fargo. It was her 11th trip to North Dakota. She said city residents had always been generous, but it was difficult to reach those living in the countryside. In two days of canvassing she spent $20 to rent a car and only received $5 in donations. She expected the trip to be her last, as it did not pay. Instead, she would contact farmers by mail and encourage them to send in donations. Miss Briggs said the Fargo home was doing wonderful work, but it was very expensive and needed the support of the entire state.

From 1893 until the early 1970s, the Florence Crittenton Home in Fargo provided shelter for unwed mothers. Today the building is the Butler House, providing permanent supportive housing for homeless young people ages 18 to 26.

Skunk Prank

Sept. 27 — Skunks are not native to Norway, therefore many settlers to North Dakota had never seen nor heard of one, and most significantly, had never smelled one. A popular joke was to invite a newcomer to chase one, letting them discover later this animal’s particular charm.

Through correspondence in Norway with relatives already in North Dakota, John O. Haugen had heard of the infamous skunk joke before he arrived. When Haugen’s fellow farm workers invited him to chase a skunk, he knew better. Haugen played innocent, but had a plan. One night, after successfully trapping a skunk, he took the work-clothes of his bunkmates to get thoroughly perfumed. The next morning Haugen’s coworkers awoke to discover their clothes so offensive and smelly they were unbearable to wear. Whether oddly favored or disliked by the mysterious skunk, Haugen’s work clothes were fine.

Civilian Casualty on the Home Front


Sept. 28 — On this date in 1917, the Second Regiment of the North Dakota National Guard prepared to leave for Camp Greene, North Carolina. Among them was Joseph Jordan, a Sioux of the Standing Rock Reservation, who had enlisted in Company I, Second Infantry of the guard on July 22 that same year. He was anxious about what lay ahead for him.

War feeds upon both the fears of the soldiers who courageously face death, and also upon the families and friends who worry about their safety – burdened with the fear of never casting their eyes on their loved one again.

On the night before departure, Joseph Jordan’s 18-year-old wife joined him in Bismarck. She spent the night weeping and begging him to allow her to accompany him to Camp Greene, but that was not possible. He repeatedly assured her that he would be fine and she would have to remain behind. For the distraught young bride, this reassurance was not enough.

As the train left the station, the lifeless body of Sarah Jordan lay in a mortuary but a few hundred yards from the tracks. Unable to overcome the grief of seeing her husband off to war, the young woman, in the early morning hours, came into the bedroom and cried out that she had taken poison. As she slumped onto the bed, a bottle of carbolic acid fell from her hands and clattered on the floor. Her husband rushed her to the hospital, but nothing could be done. She died within the hour. Her remains would be returned home to the reservation, escorted by her family. In the eyes of many, she was Sioux County’s first victim of the Great War.

Only four hours after the death of his wife, Private Joseph Jordan boarded the train, bound for Camp Greene and eventually the battlefields of Europe. He served overseas from Dec. 15, 1917, to Jan. 3, 1919, and was wounded during the fighting. According to General Order #5, issued from the 1st Infantry Brigade at Selters, Germany, he showed gallant conduct and self-sacrificing spirit during numerous battles in France and Germany. He was cited for his courage and awarded a Silver Star.

But for this bereaved husband and soldier, his greatest battle was fought long before he faced the enemy guns on the battlefields of France

Lending a Helping Hand


Sept. 29 — Sheep farming has a long history in North Dakota. The Jan. 1, 1891, issue of the Jamestown Weekly Alert reported on several farmers who were adding sheep to their livestock. The newspaper felt that sheep farming had a future in the state, saying “anyone who does not believe that sheep farming will pay in North Dakota should visit the Buzzell Ranch in Mount Pleasant.” That same year, H. H. Perkins planned to drive a flock of 5,000 sheep to Minot for the North American Sheep Company. Governor Burke’s private secretary stated that western North Dakota was “grand country for sheep farming.”

But agriculture depends on the weather. 1910 was a devastating year for North Dakota’s neighbors in Montana. In that year, Montana suffered severe drought. Fires broke out primarily in the western portion of the state.

Montana was ablaze, and with fires also in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, supplies and manpower for firefighting were in short supply. The Forest Service persuaded President Taft to deploy troops to augment the civilian firefighters. Eventually, 4,000 soldiers were called upon. Just when firefighters thought they had gained control, hurricane force winds swept through, fanning dying embers back to life. Trains raced to evacuate entire towns. More than 1,000 fires burned more than three million acres. At least 85 people were killed. Smoke from the fires clouded the skies as far as New England and even Greenland.

On this date in 1910, it was announced that trains started arriving in Sharon from Montana. They were transporting sheep out of the drought area. One train brought 4,000 sheep. Another unloaded 6,000, and more were on the way. With the help of North Dakota farmers, the sheep would graze in here until it was time to send them to market.

The kindness of the North Dakota farmers was repaid in 1936 when the state fell into drought. Photographs of the period show livestock being shipped to greener pastures in Montana.

Trains and Guns

Sept. 30 — At about this time in 1902, railroad workers in the state had been going through a tough time with men riding the rails. On Sept. 22, the Fargo Forum reported a story under the heading, “Another Brakeman Shot.” The incident had happened the previous Saturday night aboard a Northern Pacific stock train heading east. A number of men climbed onto the top of the train at Casselton, but they weren’t discovered until the train was underway. A crewmember went to a brakeman named Wilson for help, but by then, the men had disappeared.

Wilson returned to the engine, but soon after, a strange man began climbing in over the tender. The Forum article read, “After a few strong oaths, applied to Wilson, the stranger remarked, ‘you are the man I am after’ and then took a shot at Wilson, but the bullet went wide and only made a wound at the side of his face. The fireman jumped at the assailant and held him until Stearns, the engineer disarmed the shooter.”

Officer Costello took the man into custody when they reached Fargo. He gave his name as Arthur B. Miller, and, in addition to his revolver, he had money and a gold watch on him. He was charged with shooting with intent to kill and riding on a train without a ticket.

Three days later, the Harvey Herald reported that a man named John Burns shot Evan Williams while they and several other men were inside a boxcar near the depot. Burns said he would shoot any man for $10. Playing along, Williams dug a 10-dollar bill from his pocket. Burns pulled out a gun, demanded the money, and when Williams refused, Burns shot him in the gut.

Crewmembers on a freight train, pulling out of the yard, heard the shot. They caught Burns before he could get away, and he and three witnesses were handed over to Constable McGlenn, who took them to Fessenden. Williams was taken to a doctor to have his bullet cut out.

Another shooting took place early that morning on an NP freight train heading east. At sun-up, brakeman Tom Blewett found a man on top of one of the cars and asked him where he was going. The man told him, “Casselton,” and when Blewett asked him why he was trying to get a free ride, the man pulled a gun and shot him. Blewett was hit in the foot, but he made it back to the engine. The train was slowing down at a point where a Great Northern line crossed the NP tracks, so conductor Will Percival disengaged from the train and rushed Blewett to Casselton.

A Casselton constable boarded Percival’s engine, and they steamed back to the rest of the train. By then, the man had headed north on foot along the Great Northern tracks. The men found an engine that could travel those tracks, and after three or four miles, they caught the shooter, who gave his name as Charles Smith of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

There was considerable hostility toward Smith, because he was Black. You see, the hobo problem had started five weeks earlier when a man who also happened to be Black shot a brakeman named Fred Stevens. Stevens had spotted five men on board as the train passed through Bismarck. He threw them off, and when they hit the ground, one pulled a gun and shot him in the thigh. The train stopped, backed up, and Stevens received immediate medical help; the injury was very serious, however, and a week later, on Aug. 22, he died.

The shooter was named Grover Griffin, but he went by the name of Governor. On this date in 1902, he was sitting in a Bismarck jail awaiting trial for murder.

“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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