Langdon Long Ago

Remembering Lyla

While many long-time friends remember Lyla Herrud from her work in their jewelry store, her love of playing golf or her faithful attendance and work for the Langdon Presbyterian Church, one of my first memories of her was as a perky little teenager in a jaunty red cap and a red cape with white lining.

By Rita Maisel

It seems like both the cap and the cape were trimmed with gold piping and gold buttons. I do not remember the instrument she played but remembered her in that uniform at parades and maybe some tournaments. When their band leader was summoned by Uncle Sam for service connected to World War II, the Langdon School did not have a band for several years. Some of us are still around to remember when Don Thornton came to Langdon and began our band with hopeful musicians from grades five through twelve who had no previous training. We practiced on back porches (at parental request) and eventually sounded pretty good. Lyla would encourage us with stories of her own band days. There is even a faint memory of her showing some of us her old band uniform.

Funerals are a time for remembering long ago events so the thought flashed through my mind that a horn of some kind should be on display at Lyla’s funeral. One was there but early on carefully hidden. Lyla’s younger sister, Doris, had married our band leader Don Thornton, and some of their children were present at the funeral. Yes, one nephew played a special song which the family knew Lyla loved. That was one of many “just right touches.”

A few years later Lyla became our neighbor. Around 5 a.m. her husband’s pickup would race down the alley between the bedrooms in our house and the house to the north. Depending on the season of the year Roy was either hurrying out for an early golf game or down to the store to repair watches and clocks. Neighbors joked they never needed an alarm clock – Roy would wake us up. Then later in the morning Lyla would walk down to the store, declining rides because she liked the walk, and taking time to visit with any neighbors or friends who happened to be outdoors along the way. She is the last of our old neighbors who formed a special bond that lasted for 60 years or more. For details of her long and busy life, see her obituary in this week’s paper. As it happened a question about the early days in Langdon and the coming of the railroad followed Lyla’s funeral – possibly inspired by the fact that her father spent many years working for the railroad.

Before the Railroad

October 24, 1887 is said to have been a chilly day in Langdon, Dakota Territory. A crowd stood along the railroad tracks watching and waiting as the first train slowly made its way to the end of the rail line, and some reports mention snow on the ground. The Jubilee book tells us the depot agent did not arrive until December 1, 1887 – possibly because one of the small details might have involved the need to build a depot. The Cavalier County Courier of that era noted that 150 cars of lumber and building supplies, merchandize for stores waiting to open and new settlers arrived the first week. People who read that assume the town did not exist until that moment. They would be wrong.

It did take a railroad link to distant places to provide stability for a new town, but Langdon had existed at least in name since July 8, 1884, and even before that date there were many settlers in the area who had chosen their future homes in the immediate Langdon area and were busy planting and harvesting crops. The “main street” of the town from 1884 on was a trail which ran east and west on a surveyed section line that is now 9th Avenue/Highway 5. The July 8 date marked the organization of Cavalier County said to have taken place at L. C. Noracong’s and there seems to be some controversy over whether this was Noracong’s claim close to Langdon or his custom office near Elkwood. The eastern border of Cavalier County as established by the Legislature in 1871 was what is now the border between Elgin and Manila townships, with all townships east of that line Pembina County. Township names were added after organization and some changed a time or two.

Before 1884 settlers had to go to Pembina to register their land or file their claims. This could be a two or three day trip if you had a horse, longer if you were on foot. Olga, 18 miles to the east, had accommodations at the Hotel de Log, or settlers along the way might put you up for the night. Once the county was organized settlers from as far away as Mt. Carmel, Hannah and Starkweather could handle legal business at Langdon. Bids were called for a wooden court house (cost around $300) and in the meantime a tent was set up on the hill west of Sioux Coulee with a sign identifying it as the “Cavalier County Court House”. Visitors were quick to joke about the tent court house vanishing in a brisk wind so what became known as the crackerbox court house went up that fall. This wooden building had neither heat nor water nor other accommodations so using the facility in winter was not possible. County officials were elected that fall with Mooney and McHugh keeping the county records at their shared claim shack located roughly near the present-day Funeral Home.

In December of 1884, a young teacher known to Pat McHugh and W. J. Mooney who both had relatives and friends near Grafton was hired to come to Langdon and hold down the Mooney-McHugh claims and take care of any county business. This brought E. J. Fox to Langdon. He kept a journal of the books he read and the visitors who came to Langdon that winter. We understand the handwritten journal no long exists, but excerpts were printed in local newspapers years later and those scraps are available to enjoy. Mail was addressed to people here “c/o Pat McHugh” who wrote to authorities asking for a post office designation which would put Langdon on the map.

Settlers in the western part of Pembina County began talking about joining Cavalier County and in May 1885 fifteen townships of western Pembina County voted to become the eastern half of Cavalier County. When the border with Canada was formalized that added all land from 1 mile east of the Langdon site to the edge of the Pembina Hills as Cavalier County land. However, North Dakota as a state still not exist so the territorial legislature required a census which was done in Pat McHugh’s handwriting in June of 1885. Today you can read it on-line. At that time Cavalier County had more than 5,000 residents – almost double our population today. Only a handful of those early residents lived in towns. As the county seat of this large area, the town of Langdon began to grow. Charlie Crawford opened a store. There were two blacksmith shops. Annie Doyle had a lunch counter. John Doyle brought the mail from Olga on horseback. Archie Shelp had a saloon and so did Tom Brown and Johnny Padden. Merchandise for Archie’s saloon was on the same wagon as the County Safe designated for the court house and in transit the load was too heavy to get up the hill near Beaulieu. County records say the safe arrived intact. In August 1885 C. B. C. Doherty brought a press and racks of type and began printing the first newspaper in Langdon, the Cavalier County Courier, in the court house – a building that had space for the printing equipment. Much of what we know of Langdon from that era is due to his newspaper with existing copies now too fragile to page through. Harry Bowles drove the stage coach which would take you to Rosa Lake, Bathgate, Lemon, Neche (nearest train), Elkwood, Olga, or to places named Osnabrock and Milton but not located where those towns are today. The newspaper had ads quoting prices for travel to Ontario, Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Paul or Red River travel (by boat) to Winnipeg or towns in the valley. Many settlers reached our area by rail to Grafton or Neche and then would be met by relatives or the stage in their search for work or a new home.

The business area was called Spruce Street (now 9th Avenue) and lumber for any construction had to be brought from distant places so major building was kept to a minimum. However, some had horses or a wagon and just enough money to put up needed buildings. Mrs. Mooney and son John came early in 1885 and took over the claim shack then moved to another location. In October 1885 Pat McHugh’s house was constructed (still located on 7th Street today) and a big party held for their neighbors and friends. The newspaper tells us Mrs. McHugh and the children remained in Grafton that winter.

Rural schools had been open under Pembina County jurisdiction but with the vote to enlarge Cavalier County all of the schools came under Cavalier County administration. There were plenty of children who wanted an education, and the schools grew rapidly. Olga had 90 students enrolled with one teacher and a helper. Others were smaller groups and teachers had to take an exam in order to teach. A lawsuit over unpaid teaching salary gave the decision of the county commissioners as more worried about roads than paying teachers. Each farmer gave a specified number of days to help construct trails which later became roads. The first Langdon school was located near where the clinic/hospital is today and opened in April 1886 with E. J. Fox as teacher. Fox went on the head the school district for Langdon and to become an early county superintendent.

As news that the railroad would finally be extended to Langdon became known more and more people hastened to settle closer to that projected route. A group from Bathgate who would later be known as “the gang of ‘87” decided to move their businesses to Langdon when the train would finally arrive. Farmers and others got jobs working on the railroad line – the extra pay was needed as some had not farming experience and costs over-ran their budgets. When the line reached Langdon horses and some construction equipment were auctioned off to use in building the town and equipping area farms. The population at Langdon that first winter was estimated as “about 1,800” with many living in hastily built hotels with over-crowded conditions much like the recent oil patch housing situation.

The land, which later became a major part of Langdon ,was still cropland in the summer and early fall of 1887 and had to wait for the crop to be harvested before it could be surveyed into lots which home owners and business owners could purchase. When the exact route was realized some buildings had to be moved or construction altered so the businesses faced a different direction. The result was a business section along north and south lines – the Third Street business section we have today. While doing some other research I ran across the announcement that deeds to commercial property were not issued to the new owners until February 1888 although some already had been in business for some time. Lots in general sold to men for $250 with the same size lots sold to women for $300. The shops opened by women were millinery shops, dress-making businesses, boarding houses and some restaurants. Ladies also taught school and several set type for the newspapers or clerked in stores. The town was incorporated in April 1888 with Pat McHugh as the first mayor. Statehood followed on November 2, 1889.

You had to be brave to be a settler but a surprising number of children here today are sixth generation descendants.

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