Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history.

How Fun Are These? Historical Facts From the State Archives, Part II

Fun Fact: The State Archives team can’t get enough fun facts! In celebration of American Archives Month, our staff is sharing interesting and unique stories they have learned about North Dakota. Read on for part two of our favorite fun facts about the state! (View part one here.)

Sarah Walker, Head of Reference Services

Did you know that Laura Eisenhuth was the first woman in the United States elected to a statewide office? Eisenhuth, who was living in Foster County at the time, was elected state superintendent of public instruction in 1892. She had been first nominated to run for this office in 1890 but was initially unsuccessful. Eisenhuth served a single term, which lasted through 1894. She was then succeeded by another woman, Emma F. Bates. 

All of this is extraordinary to me, especially since North Dakota continued to struggle with the idea of woman suffrage for many years. The topic recurred in much early legislation in both Dakota Territory and the state of North Dakota, including at the Constitutional Convention. North Dakota women did gain more agency in their lives and were able to vote for president just prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women across the country the right to vote. How interesting that these early women were still eligible to hold these offices and helped others break through the glass ceiling!

Laura J. Eisenhuth, superintendent of public instruction, circa 1894. SHSND SA A1591-00001

Greta Beck, Audiovisual Archivist

I have always heard stories from my grandparents who farmed near Sawyer that Black Butte used to be home to a ski lift and jump. Black Butte rises from the prairie at 1,716 feet and overlooks the Mouse/Souris River Valley, dominating the landscape for miles. With the help of the State Archives newspaper collections, I was able to find articles confirming that Black Butte was used as a ski hill in the 1930s. Prior to becoming a ski hill, Black Butte was used as a meeting and camping place for Dakota and Métis bison hunters.

Emily Kubischta, Manuscript Archivist

In the early 1930s, teacher Gertrude Evart’s history class at Bismarck High School created a model of the four blocks from First Street to Fifth Street on Main Avenue, as they appeared in Edwinton, Dakota Territory, in 1873. Each student handmade one or more of the street features, which included businesses, Camp Hancock, people, fences, flagpoles, a railroad depot, train, sidewalks, signs, a stagecoach, houses, chimneys, windows, wagons, Red River carts, barber poles, and an eagle. Even soldiers were molded and painted for the display. Unfortunately, the model was destroyed while moving it into the newly constructed Bismarck High School in 1935. However, a typed layout of the businesses and list detailing which students created which aspects survives in the George F. Bird Papers (MSS 10216). Both documents tell us a lot about Bismarck’s Main Avenue in the early days.

Edwinton’s Main Avenue, 1873. This photograph shows some of the buildings likely depicted in a model of the street made by Bismarck High School students in the 1930s. SHSND SA C0529-00004

How Fun Are These? Historical Facts From the State Archives, Part I

Did you know? The North Dakota State Archives staff are full of fun facts about this state’s history. That’s because we work so closely with collections, books, newspaper articles, and other documentation related to the state. When we discover something bizarre, interesting, humorous, or unique, we have the tools to dig deeper, and we love to share our findings. More proof that it’s a lot of fun to work at the State Archives!

Read on for the first installment of our staff’s favorite fun facts about North Dakota.

Ashley Thronson, Reference Specialist

While I have learned many things about the history of North Dakota since I started working for the State Archives, one of the most memorable tidbits was reading about a memorial adopted by the territorial Legislature in 1879 related to the division of Dakota Territory. A delegation traveled to Washington, D.C., where territorial Rep. John Q. Burbank of Jamestown petitioned Congress with a proposal to divide Dakota Territory along an east-west line. Compared to the current north-south division that created the two states of North Dakota and South Dakota, an east-west split would certainly have been different! This fact also got me thinking of how the territorial divisions impacted and influenced cities and communities. What would Bismarck, Fargo, and other North Dakota towns have looked like in an East Dakota or West Dakota?

Map of Dakota Territory by district, 1884. SHSND SA 978.402 R186m 1884

Matt Ely, Photo Archivist

My favorite North Dakota fun fact is that the Ward County Courthouse fielded men’s and women’s basketball teams in 1909-1910. The formation of the teams was announced on Nov. 18, 1909, in the Minot Daily Optic. The State Archives collections include a picture postcard of the men’s team. Although I have been unable to find the team’s schedule yet, a note on the back of the postcard states that they had a record of five wins and zero losses going into their final game against Minot High School. In the future, I hope to find the result of their final game as well as any information I can on the women’s team.

The men’s basketball team from Minot was commonly referred to as the Court House basketball team, as evidenced in this image, circa 1909. SHSND SA 2006-P-012-00015

Lindsay Meidinger, Head of Archival Collections and Information Management

In 1911, a standpipe and tank were built on the North Dakota Capitol grounds in Bismarck. This water tower was witness to historical moments during the formative years of the state, including the 1930 Capitol fire. Recently, the State Archives received a donation of a photograph of the new capitol building. In the background of the image, the same water tower is visible. Utilizing the State Archives’ online resource, Advantage Archives, we learned that the water tower was “unriveted and taken down” in 1957. Not only was the date it was disassembled discovered, but we also found out that the water tower was sent to Hannaford for its first municipal water system. And it still stands there today!

The water tower looks on as the original North Dakota Capitol burns, December 28, 1930. SHSND SA A3522-00001

Jayne and Sally Strawsine on the North Dakota Capitol grounds in 1948. Notice the water tower to the right of the Capitol building. SHSND SA 11567-00004

These days you’ll find the original state Capitol water tower in Hannaford.