Early homesteaders Ben Holcomb, Jack Bort, Li Holcomb, Van Vleet, Meton and Crayton Sherk thought this area was a good place to stop. The prairie grass was rich green and miles and miles of it stretched unbroken in all directions as far as the eye could see. The Hawksnest Hills, some 18 miles southwest, were clearly visible; otherwise all was green prairie grass in every direction. They tested the soil and found it rich and fertile, ideal for their purpose of raising wheat on a large scale. The weather was cool, the sunsets gorgeous, and the distances made Ben feel like the man who said, "Gosh, I didn't know there was so much outdoors." Buffalo trails ran all through the country, some of them deep ruts. Buffalo bones lay all over the prairie, bleached white by many suns. It was a grand country and a grand life for husky young men eager for adventure and unafraid of hard work. The country was in its original prairie state with numerous large sloughs and plentiful game. Trees were scarce with only two small clumps visible on the whole countryside. The new group of settlers was eager to begin farming operations at once.The land was not yet surveyed and it was necessary to know where to take their squatter's rights, so they would not be on railroad and school land when it was put on the market later. Each of the men,picked his quarter of land and they began work on a sod shanty on Li's land. While the shanty was being built they also dug a well. They had been using slough water which would be strained to remove the wigglers and then boiled. The well was some 14 feet in diameter and when they got down about 16 feet "hard pan" was struck. One of the men was in the well at the time and called attention of those above to the hollow sound when he struck on this hard clay. He then struck it a hard blow with his pick and the water shot far into the air. He was quickly helped out of the hold, even forgetting to take the pick with him; and in an hour the well was completely filled with water and very good water it was. The well was used for a good many years.
Mrs. Ben Holcomb was intensely afraid of Indians when she first came to the west in the summer of 1883. The Indians from Fort Totten followed a trail to the Sheyenne River, then down the Jim River, cutting off at what was known as Bowman's Crossing and then crossing Foster County to the Hawksnest. Many of them stopped at the Holcombs asking for food and drink and often for tobacco. Sometimes they were fed and sometimes they weren't according to the provisions at hand. During the early years there was one Indian who came to the Holcombs quite often and often stayed there overnight. He lived north of Devils Lake and had been educated at the Carlisle Indian School. He was the son of Chief Ironheart, who was said to be a most cruel looking Indian and who lived up to his name. However, his son whom Mrs. Holcomb believes was called Charlie, was very nice in appearance, talked English fairly well and always was polite and mannerly. He dressed well and upon his visits to the Holcombs the children were fascinated with him. He rode a beautiful horse which had a beaded saddle and always wore highly polished black boots. He amused Mrs. Holcomb very much when he would leave in the early morning as he walked very gingerly through the wet grass in order to protect his boots. Mr. Holcomb said his chief impression of Indians was that they always had a lot of dogs following them for which he had much pity.
In the summer of 1885, Mrs. Jennie Laughlin saw Indians for the first time and she was very frightened. The trail from Fort Totten to the Standing Rock Reservation passed through the very farmyard of the Laughlins and the Indians did not change their course just because there were settlers located there. They seemed to follow their instincts in most things and did not change their habits easily. Often Indians stopped at the home of the Laughlins for food and drink which they never refused. Mrs. Laughlin hoped to be rid of them sooner by complying with their wishes. However, vicious looking many of them were. They did not steal or molest anything belonging to these pioneers. Mrs. Laughlin says that most of the Indians dressed in native garb to some extent, wearing shawls or blankets wrapped around them and tied in below the waist with a cord or piece of rope. Their hair was usually parted in the middle and hung over their shoulders in two thick braids, the part painted a bright red and often a feather for an ornament. Occasionally there would also be an Indian with a full feather headdress. If they had beads or other ornaments they would be bedecked with them.
Mrs. Laughlin remembers well her first experience with the Indians. A Lesson in Etiquette One day in the summer of 1885, Mr. and Mrs. Laughlin and their children had just finished their noon meal when Mr. Laughlin noticed two Indian bucks carrying guns, riding toward the house from the north. His wife begged him not to leave the house until the Indians were out of sight and they stood at the window watching the two men as they rode up to the house and dismounted. Mr. Laughlin then went outside to waylay them, but they held out their hands in friendly fashion and asked in their sign language if they might have food. They then stood their guns against the house and followed Mr. Laughlin inside where he asked his wife to feed the men. She quickly set the table with their simple dishes and silverware and was glad that she had on the stove a large kettle of cabbage and another of potatoes, also plenty of bread which she had baked that morning. She heaped serving dishes with food and the Indians sat down at the table. However, they completely ignored the plates and silverware and ate from the serving dishes, one eating by handfuls of the cabbage and the other handfuls of the potatoes and then exchanging. The bread disappeared like magic; Mrs. Laughlin kept replenishing the bread plate but all would soon be gone. When she had given them almost three loaves of bread she decided she would watch and see if they were actually eating it; surely two men would not consume that much food. It was then that she saw that they would empty the plate and tuck the bread in their blankets. She decided she would give them no more and was chagrinned that she had given them as much as she had, for there was little left for the family. Later she learned that it is "Indian manners" to take all that is set before them and that this showed appreciation. When the two men had finished their meal, the Laughlins breathed a sigh of relief, but in vain, for they sat by the stoves and drew out their pipes, which had stems one foot and a half long. They sat there and smoked contentedly, every so often offering a pipe to Mr. Laughlin who was unable to smoke without becoming ill. He finally made them understand that he could not smoke, and they seemed reconciled and took their leave. The offering of their pipes had been their way of showing their thanks for the meal and friendship toward their benefactors. Mrs. Laughlin afterward berated her husband for not smoking as the Indians might have become angry. These Indians had not been gone more than fifteen minutes when a lone Indian rode into the yard and up to the house. He was very different in appearance then the other two had been; being clean and well dressed in a navy blue suit with brass buttons which looked like a uniform. He told them partly in English and partly in sign language, that he would like some food. There was nothing left now from dinner, but Mrs. Laughlin set the table as before and gave him bread and butter, and tea. He ate with the manners of a white man, using the plates and silverware in the approved manner. He then asked the Laughlins regarding the direction the other two men had taken and was quickly on his way also. Often the Laughlins wondered what his interest in the other two Indians had been and whether or not he was some kind of officer but they were never able to find out.
In another early setlers account, Mrs. F.N. Chaffee said that Indians were the bone of her life the first summer that she lived in Dakota, in the year 1885. Sometimes they would go through the country in large bands and again in two's and three's. Mr. Chaffee was friendly with the Indians and believed in treating them with kindness, telling his wife to let them have what food they wished and all the water they, needed. As a result of Mr. Chaffee's kindness, their homestead became a regular camping ground for the Indians, much to his wife's disgust. Sometimes they would buy all the food she had on hand and once a group of Indians drained their well dry, watering some hundred head of their stock. The first night the Indians camped on their place, Mrs. Chaffee sat up all night and watched them much to her husband's amusement as he had become accustomed to the Indians in his two years in Dakota. However, the Indians did not touch anything belonging to the Chaffees and often asked to buy food rather than to beg it. There was a stipulation made to the Indians camping on the homestead of the Chaffees. They must make their camp on the plowing so that the house and barn would not be endangered by their fires. The Indians usually traveled in wagons, but sometimes were on horseback or afoot. The women carried the luggage and small children and if anyone walked, they did.
During one of the many seasonal trips between Standing Rock & Fort Toten starting on Thanksgiving Day, 1896 a 3 day blizzard trapped a large group of Souix in the valley of the Hawksnest. Some of the Souix managed to reach neighboring farm of Jack Middleton (the caretaker of the Hawksnest for Carrington & Casey Land Co.) to get help. Word was brought to Carrington of the indians fate. The indian agent and first sheriff of Foster Co. Maj. Ralph Hall orginized a group of wagons and sleighs to go rescue the Souix and bring them back to town. Upon arivial to the Hawksnest the Souix had lost about 50 horses to the blizzard. The stranded were packed up with most having to walk, returning to Carrington and were housed in the liver stable till they were rested up for the journey to Fort Totten.
Jack Middleton caretaker had the job to keep people from taking hordes of wook from the Hawksnest. One winter two English friends of Jacks decided the would camp the winter in the Hawksnest, but were found frozen to death in the spring.
Mrs. John Connolly Sr. had many experiences with Indians in the early 80s. She spent the first three years of her life in Dakota at Fort Sisseton and Fort Totten, and at both places Indians were numerous. They seemed very frightful to her at first as she judged them by stories she had heard from her father and mother who were settlers in Minnesota in 1862, the time of the great massacre that was recently commemorated. Soon she became accustomed to the Indians and really interested in their customs and language. She learned to speak "Indian" quite fluently. Even after Mr. Connolly left the army in the fall of 1884 and took a homestead on the Sheyenne River some 15 miles northeast of New Rockford. Indians were constantly at their door. The reservation was just across the river from them and often the Indians were real pests.
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