Early homesteaders thought this area was a good place to stop. Homesteader Ben Holcomb.
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 was the only wooded area, 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. 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. The new settlers were 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 settler picked his quarter of land and they began work on a sod shanty. While the shanty was being built we also dug a well. We had been using slough water which would be strained to remove the wigglers and then boiled. Our well was some 14 feet in diameter and when we 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 hole, 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.
A womans impression the pairie, Mrs. Ben Holcomb.
Mrs. Ben Holcomb
I was intensely afraid of Indians when we 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 our homested 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 stayed at our home 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 I believe name was Charlie, was very nice in appearance, talked English fairly well and always was polite and mannerly. He dressed well and upon his visits to our home, the children were fascinated with him. He rode a beautiful horse which had a beaded saddle and always wore highly polished black boots. I was ammused 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. Often 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.
Mrs. Jennie Laughlin
The trail from Fort Totten to the Standing Rock Reservation passed through our farmyard 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 our home for food and drink which they never refused. I 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 us. They 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.
I remember well our first experience with the Indians. One day in the summer of 1885, we had just finished the noon meal when Mr. Laughlin noticed two Indian bucks carrying guns, riding toward the house from the north. I begged him not to leave the house until the Indians were out of sight and we 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 me to feed the men. I quickly set the table with our simple dishes and silverware and was glad that I had on the stove a large kettle of cabbage and another of potatoes, also plenty of bread which I had baked that morning. I 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. I kept replenishing the bread plate but all would soon be gone. When I had given them almost three loaves of bread I decided I would watch and see if they were actually eating it; surely two men would not consume that much food. It was then that I saw that they would empty the plate and tuck the bread in their blankets. I decided I would give them no more and was chagrinned that I had given them as much as I had, for there was little left for the family. Later I 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, we 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. Afterward I berated my 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 I 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 direction the other two men had taken and was quickly on his way also. Often the we wondered what his interest in the other two Indians had been and whether or not he was some kind of officer but we 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.
Mrs. F.N. Chaffee
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 me to let them have what food they wished and all the water they, needed. As a result of Mr. Chaffee's kindness, our homestead became a regular camping ground for the Indians, much to my disgust. Sometimes they would buy all the food we had on hand and once a group of Indians drained our well dry, watering some hundred head of their stock. The first night the Indians camped on their place, I sat up all night and watched them much to my 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 us and often asked to buy food rather than to beg it. There was a stipulation made to the Indians camping on our homestead. 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.
John Middleton, long known as "Black Jack of the Hawksnest"
I came to Fargo in March 1882 and was given transportation by the Northern Pacific Railroad to go to the end of the line west of Miles City, to seek a homestead. After looking the country over there I deciced it was unfavorable, and on account of shortage of funds it became necesary for me to walk back to Jamestown. At Jamestown I engaged with the Sykes & Hughs ranch to begin work. I reached Hawksnest on May 20, 1882, on that day I encountered a most severe blizzard. Ironically I've deciced to homestead in this area. I'm the caretaker of the Hawksnest one of my jobs, is to keep people from taking hordes of wook from the hills. One winter two friends of mine from England decided they would camp the winter in the Hawksnest. The winter turned harsh and cold and I became worried about my friends and went looking, but found no trace of them. They were sure to die of exposure. It wasn't tell spring when we found my old frieds, winters in Dakota can overcome even the hardest of man. 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 my farm to get help. With help from the neighbors, word was brought to Carrington of the Indian's 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 50 some horses to the blizzard. The stranded were packed up, with most having to walk, returning to Carrington they were housed in the Buchanan liver stable till they were rested up for the journey to Fort Totten.
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