Dawson's 125(tm) Anniversary Trip
by: Tom Armbrust
Flying out of Chicago land at times has had its problems, but why did it have to happen the night before the Dawson July 2nd 125th Celebration. In short, my July 1st evening flight had been cancelled due to a mechanical problem with our plane. Was I disappointed as I was to link up with my good friends Jim Heggeness and his wife, Sandra, in Fargo. Then get an early start the next morning to catch Dawson's parade at 10 a.m. Finally, I got out of Chicago early the next morning but we did not arrive in Dawson till 12:30, so we missed the parade. Kind of a shame, as I was really looking forward to seeing 99 year old Evelyn Hoove DeVore riding in her 1976 Oldsmobile that Tim White drove in the parade. If I only had driven out the day before with my good friend Marty Sands and his 5 year old daughter Alyssa to Gackle, I would not have missed the parade.
We arrived at noon to meet our old friends Dave and Debbie Lang and their boys, Jon and Jeremiah, in Dawson. Can't believe Jeremiah graduated from high school on May 22nd and will attend college in Bismarck in September. Where does the time go. The first time I met the Lang's he was two years old. We have shared so many good times in the Dawson area over the years that I feel like I am part of their family! Plus hunting ducks and geese with Dave and Jim has been out of this world at times. Many great memories to say the least!
Tim White told me a number of very interesting tales about old time Dawson as this little town is bursting at the seams with local history and many very interesting folks. His grandmother, Mattie Eastburn and her husband Taylor, owned the famous Sibley Hotel from 1905 to 1927. It was built in 1882 at the cost of $40,000 which was a tremendous amount of money at that time. His mother, Mary, also worked in the hotel as a young girl lived to be 100 years old and passed away in 2000. If she were still alive today Mary sure could have shed some valuable information regarding the J.J. Gokey puzzle. A very interesting picture is shown on Page 52, lower right hand corner of the page in the Dawson Centennial Book. Pictured in front of the Sibley Hotel in the right corner is Joe Gokey, the famous duck hunting guide, dog trainer, crack shot, etc. Mr. Gokey was born in Vermont in 1841 and settled in the Dawson area in 1881. He was proprietor of the Roosevelt Club House Farm on the north end of Barker Lake. The strip of land between lower and upper Barker Lake was called the famous Gokey Pass. Thousands of ducks were shot there by Gokey and his clients. The gun club derived its name from Teddy Roosevelt, later to become President, as Mr. Gokey was his personal guide on both buffalo and elk hunts in the western Dakota territory.
I will give a $100 reward for information and a good quality picture of Mr. J.J. Gokey. When he left Dawson and where he went. Mr. Robert E. Schmidt, former resident of Dawson, told me Joe Cokey's son made a return visit on or around 1932 and stayed at the Templeton's farm being about 21 years old. Again, does anyone have any memory of this?
Tim White told me when he was a boy he hunted with an old 12 GA Damascus double barrel. One time a group of hunters were out from Chicago duck hunting with him. He dropped high brass duck loads into the chambers as the other hunters looked on in horror. They told him not to shoot that old gun with those powerful shells as it would sure as hell blow up. Tim told them he had been shooting this gun for years, but they would not hear of it! He was asked to leave the group.
Another very interesting character we met at the celebration was Mr. Bruce Bowerman. He showed us where the Battle of Big Mound took place as it was right near his homestead on the south end of Kunkel Lake. He invited Jim, Sandra, and I to come up to his place for a look see. What a time we had as Bruce took us on a tour of the Battle of Big Mound, Dead Buffalo Lake, and Stony Lake.
After a 39 day march General Sibley's troopers (an army of 4075 men) found a large Indian village of over 5000 Indians north of present day Tappen. Buffalo hunting tribes the Hunkpapa, Blackfeet, Dakotas, and Lakota were first engaged in battle July 24, 1863 at Big Mound. They were hunting buffalo as Gall and Sitting Bull were with the Sioux hunting party five miles north of the Indian village. After an attempt to talk with the Indians, Dr. J.S. Weiser was shot and killed by a renegade! Having superior arms and artillery the soldiers prevailed. Imagine a wide rolling prairie with no farms or trees. There were Indian braves behind every hill and in the ravines. This marked the beginning of warfare between the Lakota, Sioux and the United States. This warfare did not end until Sitting Bull surrendered 18 years ahead in 1881. Again, this most interesting history was so very close to Dawson. As Sandra and I stood a top Big Mound, I could almost visualize the advancing Indians and the roar of the cannon fire.
Robert E. Schmidt told me of the human skull with the arrow head stuck in the side that he had found years ago from this area. The Indian battle war was not enough, Bruce also showed us his home right on Kunkel Lake.
Much to our delight he "fired up" his huge 11 ton Avery 45 horsepower tractor built in 1922. This is a real old "workhorse" that use to pull a large eight bottom gang plow. Sandra's eyes got as big as saucers when this iron monster started to come alive. She cried, "It's actually moving" with her husband Jim behind the wheel. Jim told us this had been the most fun driving the old tractor he had experienced in many years. Bruce also gave Sandra and me a tractor ride.
Bruce also showed us his 1928 Model A Ford he had when he was a senior in high school. A friend of his recently tracked the Ford's whereabouts getting it back for Bruce after all those years.
What really fascinated me was his father's machine shop that was powered by a one lung putt putt gas engine. That engine powered a pulley and belt system that drove a drill press, lathe, and drop hammer, plus electric lights. He told us his father was the very first welder in the country way back when. He worked on many different farm machines. Bruce also showed us his gun and old shot shell boxes he had collected through the years. He still gets a big kick out of goose hunting as we found many young Canada geese on a lake on his property.
Don't know who had more fun, Bruce or us, as we had such a good time visiting with him just like we had known each other for years. Just before we left he showed us a homestead deed that was granted to his wife's grandfather, Charles Roberts, in 1882. That land is now part of the Slade Refuge. Mr. Roberts and his wife, Bessie, ran a demonstration farm started and funded by the state in 1910. Located four miles southeast of Dawson, the farm was primarily for the purpose of demonstrating those cultural practices which investigators had found most desirable. They provided an opportunity to test new crops such as alfalfa and their suitability under a range of soil and climate conditions in the state. Records were kept of all field operations when done, time consumed, yields obtained, etc. Records accumulated provided some of the best cost of production then available. The farm also provided a place where superior stocks of seed might be increased and made available to others in the community. A tragedy struck the Roberts family in 1929 as Charles was killed by a bull.
Many thanks also to Lorna Schauer for the idea of the Dawson video with all the great old pictures and historical information. Her daughter, Peggy Howell, edited the video. Well done!
Last, but not least is one strong self reliant woman, Irene Sprague. She and her husband, Leo, moved on the farm in 1945. She had come from a farm family of nine children, she being the youngest. At age five she had to walk the cows back for milking, sometimes a mile or more in all kinds of weather. They milked 24 cows by hand. Her husband died of cancer in 1971 leaving her with three boys, the youngest 14 months old. Thank God her oldest son Robert was old enough to help with all the hard work on the farm. For eleven more years till 1982 Irene and her son stayed on the farm building a herd up to 62 cows. Just imagine if you can all that work for just two people. I must have talked with Irene for at least an hour or more about all her times on the farm as she really very much enjoyed milking cows. Those were good days she told me.
Her husband also hunted providing food for the table such as ducks and venison that was all put up in mason jars. On a number of different times Leo would bring home fifty mallards or more. Irene said she would be picking the damn birds till three in the morning.
God Bless you Irene for working so hard to raise your family and your son for sticking by your side through that hard time of losing your husband. You have that true pioneer spirit as you never gave in to hardships and bad times in your life. Yet looking back you have very much enjoyed your lifestyle.
I, myself, had been looking forward to the Dawson celebration for months as I have not had that much enjoyment for a long spell. So many things the flea market, the great food, tractor and truck pulls and the wonderful hospitality of small town rural America. I am very blessed to have found this great little town by accident on a hunting trip 17 years ago with my good friend Jim Heggeness.
The fireworks display was just maybe the best I have ever seen. I almost forgot one last bit of information told to me by Mrs. Ethel Nunn while visiting with her and friends. When she turned in the books for the United Church of Christ five years ago she came across the name of Joe J. Gokey appearing in the church register. Ethel is going to try and get that church book back for me to look over. Perhaps that information will shed a little more light onto pieces of the Gokey puzzle.
Marty Sands and his five year old daughter, Alyssa, and I had a good visit at the nursing home with Evelyn Hoover DeVore. Her mind is still very sharp as she will be 100 years old on December 6. She asked Marty's daughter how old she was, answering five. Evelyn said, "You have to live 95 more years to catch me."
Evelyn also very much enjoyed seeing Alyssa dressed up in her Buffalo Gals cowgirl costume. Alyssa competed in the Streeter Centennial that was the same time as Dawson's events. She wore a cowboy hat and boots plus two cap gun shooting irons. A picture to be sure.
Thank you my dear old friends from Dawson, the Langs and my new friends for a wonderful visit. I very much hated leaving to go back to the big city life. Fall hunting season is not far away. I am counting the days till my return.
Even though Dawson's population is dwindling slowly away (now 71), the little town has much to be proud of. The people of this community and travelers from far away such as I, celebrated their 125th Anniversary and the 4th of July meeting people who are a wonderful example for many others in our country to follow. A far cry from the fast paced city life. For they are strong willed folks facing many adversities such as the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, World War I and II, bone chilling winters, blizzards and sizzling summer heat. Yet they still love their great little town, being a very close knit community. Irene Sprague told me, "Nothing comes easy without plenty of hard work and a few struggles. This way you will appreciate it more." My hat is off to each and everyone from Dawson from the earliest settlers to all their descendants now living in the great state of North Dakota. God Bless you all and take care. I promise you I will not forget the many interesting stories that I have heard that weekend. This is why I wanted to share a few stories now while they are still fresh in my mind. It would be a shame to loose these stories once some of these elderly people pass on. This a piece of American history!