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Langdon Long Ago

This has been a wild few weeks for research in our area. You go to look up something simple and find yourself off on a tangent dealing with something you never thought you wanted to research at all. 

By Rita Maisel

While trying to condense family history for several families who had requested help earlier more questions came in from people wanting information on families from the same part of Ontario who had also settled near Langdon and Hannah.  Not only did I get confused with overlapping information but ended up scrapping this week’s column and starting over.

First off, the family wanting information about their branch of the McNiven family with ties to the Sandisons, Curries and Plummers who settled at Langdon (some are even buried here) had a daughter Sara who married Harry Scott. This couple lived at Hannah. Harry had served in World War I, enlisting on the Canadian side of the line but later identified as part of the Cavalier County Last Man’s Company. Harry’s postwar work included working at the post office and eventually the customs office. When a still unknown lady called from Cavalier wanting information on Scott families who had lived near Hannah and Langdon the first name that popped into my head was Harry Scott. Did her interest include Harry? She did not know. The names she had in her notes were Sam, Hazel and maybe a Walter.  She also knew her history had some ties to the Nickersons. Then her questions shifted to asking about the Taillon family at Langdon, the McArthur and Sparks families at Calvin and other details she was seeking. It was not until the conversation ended that I realized she had asked for my name, address, phone number and e-mail without divulging any of those clues for contacting her should any answers be located at this end.

Because the conversation left me curious and I had some other research to do on the computer I typed the name Scott into the search engine for the 1885 Territorial Census and the ND Naturalization Index–two good places to start for pioneer research. One of the lists brought up 217 people with the last name of Scott mostly in Pembina and Cavalier counties. Variations on people with a first name of Sam ran from Samuel to Sammy, S.T. and eventually Samuel Taylor Scott. Samuel Taylor Scott had worked on several newspapers in Cavalier County including the Cavalier County Republican when Lindstrom owned the Langdon paper and had also edited a paper at Munich. His full name was given as the father of the Harry Scott from Hannah. However, not all Scott families are related so that line could be totally different from the ones the caller from Cavalier area was seeking. We did have students at Langdon school with the Scott last name, but there was not enough information to tie them into the information she was seeking.

Then came a question about the Work family who had been among the earliest settlers in what is now Harvey Township. Robert Work’s story of coming to settle in 1882 would be worthy of a column of its own but this query appeared to have political overtones. For many years Cavalier County students learned their history of our county from a paper Robert Work compiled during the years he was County Auditor and before that he had served several years as County Treasurer.  During that time the family lived in Langdon and attended school here.  Along with their cousins in the McLean family (living then at Hannah), some of the Work family went to the Model High School at UND and then on to spend their university years there. In this time, World War I began. Robert Work Jr. served in France during World War I, and his brother Donald, who would later be a local veterinarian, had worked with the horses used for the cavalry in that war. Meanwhile, several of the McLean family had been employed in Denver working in the military hospital there and as volunteers with the Red Cross – a tie-in to the book on World War I nurses.

Marv Baker sent me a column he had written as part of his World War I research which did mention members of this family and sent me off on one of those unexpected tangents – wondering about North Dakota politics in general during World War I. Some North Dakota histories tend to gloss over those years as a time of turmoil because several political parties were active at the time and the whole area was not shy about having political opinions. In short, there were the Democrats of long standing and Robert Work was one as apparently was his brother in law, Henry McLean of Hannah who served many terms in the North Dakota legislature. There were also “old line” Republicans and Republicans who had backed Theodore Roosevelt when he ran for and was elected to the presidency. There were socialists who concentrated much of their efforts on farmers of which North Dakota had a good number and a variety of independent groups. In the early years of statehood legislators were marked by a D, R or I behind their names. Then came years of only lists of names with an asterisk in front of maybe a handful of decision makers. The footnotes read: *(Democrat). All others are Republican.  Socialists and independent groups were not listed by name, but even I could remember there must have been a group called the NonPartisan League.

The story which came down in our family was that my grandfather had been very interested in politics and especially in the career of Theodore Roosevelt so must have voted Republican when Teddy ran on their ticket. However, like other farmers who were not satisfied with President Taft, when Roosevelt ran for another term as president on the Bull Moose ticket, grandpa changed his voting habits to vote for the president he supported. It has always been my understanding that grandpa was not swayed by the socialist orators, but he might have been caught up in the NonPartisan League.

Not finding NPL history in the Blue Books, the next stop was the internet which lists the group’s history beginning in 1915 with many farmers responding to the rhetoric of Arthur Townley, an early socialist agitator, by meeting in Bismarck that year and forming the League with a multi-faceted agenda. Some of the items they wished to accomplish were practical and worth fighting for. They wanted to rid themselves of the political boss mechanisms of Alexander McKenzie who lived in Minnesota and controlled the railroads in North Dakota. They wanted a state-owned Mill and Elevator that would give farmers a fair deal for their crops without further lining the pockets of McKenzie and his cronies. North Dakota bank loans were controlled by banks in Minnesota. They wanted a state-owned bank to back their loans. Crops were being damaged by hail each year and they wanted a state program for hail insurance. And they wanted a workman’s compensation program. One of their most enduring programs was the NPL housing opportunities. One or two model homes were chosen and offered to their membership at a cost more reasonable that the elaborate gingerbread decorated homes offered by local lumberyards. The sturdy houses are still standing – possibly on a street where you live in Cavalier County. The new political organization chose the humble goat for their symbol or mascot because the goat was said to be smarter and tougher than the donkey or the elephant who represented other political groups. They even featured the goat on their Christmas cards.  Townley drove around the state collecting $6 membership fees from farmers everywhere who supported these suggested programs. He also had a few other ideas which were popular with some parts of North Dakota and not popular with others. One of these ideas was that he did not want war with Germany and urged young men to avoid the draft and not enlist. Some young men went north to Canada to join up and others ignored him. Townley, himself, did not support the Red Cross which had gained many supporters through their work in the Spanish-American conflicts, but most of his membership supported that group liberally.

In the 1916 election Lynn Frazier from Hoople was elected governor, William Lemke was Attorney General, Neil C. Macdonald from Hannah became State Superintendent of Schools, and there were others who had come to power on the dual credits of either Republican or Democratic tickets but were elected primarily by NPL voters. By 1919 the State Mill and State Bank were approved by the legislature and exist today. But by 1921 the NPL support had backfired and several high-ranking officials were out of work. Long-time Republicans who sided with the NPL on certain issues left the Republican party and joined with the Democrats in what today is officially called the Democrat-NPL Party in North Dakota.

On the official list of governors, the name of Lynn Frazier is followed by a comment “removed from office in 1921” and farther down on that same list is the name of William Langer and again a note that he had been “removed from office” in the 1930s. Following that is the name of Thomas Moodie who had at one time been a newspaperman in Langdon. Moodie had been briefly appointed as governor of North Dakota following Langer, and a short time later was himself “removed from office”. The connection these men shared was an earlier association with the NPL. Both Frazier and later Langer were later elected to serve in Congress and happily went off to Washington, D.C. Frazier filled his car on each trip to Washington with Red River Valley potatoes – claiming them to be superior to any raised in the capitol area.

While Townley was not a favorite with either of the major parties he tended to surface from time to time with new plans. In the 1920s he suggested that North Dakota should start drilling for oil and borrowed $250 to drill around Richardton.  No oil gushed out. His supporters did not get their money back.  Headlines read that there was “no oil in North Dakota”. But the story was not the final word on the subject. A farmer near Tioga found oil in 1951 and hoping to cash in on a new boom Townley offered “doodle bugs” for sale. Like a water witch the bugs would locate oil and make the land owners rich. Maybe and maybe not. He died in 1959 while many in North Dakota believed the oil boom was over.

There is a memory of the Sam Scott I went to school with attending our 50th class reunion. Sam had spent much of those fifty years in the oil business in various ways around Tioga and Mohall. Someone asked him if there really was oil in North Dakota. Sam took off telling about drilling deeper and off to the side – possibly even using the word fracking which would have been new to most of us at the time.   To Sam the Oil Patch was real long before his friends from school days realized its importance.

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