I want to write about one of my impressions of western North Dakota, which I will describe as wonder. I do not want to romanticize western North Dakota, or give anyone the idea that it is quaint, picturesque, amazing, incredible, or awe inspiring. To me, it is frightening and tragic.
A few days ago, a person who read my blog post article about UFOs being seen in the New England area of North Dakota in the 1970s, to such an extent that the Air Force came to town, told the witnesses to shut up about it, and set up a base outside of town, this reader left a comment saying that this Air Force station was in “Havelock”.
I looked up Havelock, and to my surprise, this place was just a few miles southeast of New England, I had never heard of it before. Here is some information from Wikipedia:
In April 1907, the first Moravian settlers arrived to this area in the vicinity of New England, North Dakota. They were visited by Moravian Bishop Karl A. Müller for the first time in the summer of 1908, and four years later, on October 17, 1912, a congregation was organized. At this time, there were only 12 communicants and 2 children living in the community. This congregation operated and constituted the bulk of the small community’s membership until September 4, 1921. A post office called Havelock was established in 1910, and remained in operation until 1948.
I have lived in this area of North Dakota for the past eight or nine years, and I had never heard of Havelock. Looking this up on Google Earth maps and satellite view, there is no longer any town or any buildings in Havelock, just a few farms. Census data gave the town’s population in 2018 as 20 people.
The settlers in Havelock were from Moravia. I had only ever heard of Moravia three or four times in my life, I had to look it up. Moravia is a historical region in the east of the Czech Republic and one of three historical Czech lands, with Bohemia and Czech Silesia. Moravia was a part of Austria-Hungary from 1867 to 1918.
Prior to moving to Dickinson, North Dakota in 2011, I had very seldom heard of Bohemia either, but a few miles north of Dickinson, there was a group of Bohemian immigrants that had settled “New Hradec” in 1887.
One of my older friends in Dickinson had grown up in New Hradec and had gone to elementary school there, and he told me about the school children being scolded for continuing to speak Bohemian, and that some of their parents did not speak English. When looking up U.S. Census data for New Hradec, it was noted that “the U.S. Census was never conducted in New Hradec”, what??? There were as many as several hundred people living in New Hradec from 1900-1960, which is a normal sized North Dakota town.
Getting back to the subject of the town of Havelock, settled by Moravians, not Bohemians like New Hradec where they continued to speak Bohemian and were avoided by the U.S. Census, the town of Havelock published a newspaper titled, “The American German”, with some columns written in German. This newspaper was in publication from 1915-1918. Jeez, that was during WWI with Germany.
Havelock and New Hradec sound pretty mysterious, don’t they? What happened to them? To put this into perspective, the more successful neighboring towns are Lefor population 80, Regent population 130, and New England population 600.
To some readers, the tone of this blog post article may seem that I am making fun of the towns of Havelock, New Hradec, Lefor, Regent, and New England, but I am not. I have a sense of wonder about all of this, but not in a fairy-tale way, but in a frightening and tragic way.
I didn’t say this yet, but the town of New Hradec was the only documented immigration of Bohemians from the Crimea to have settled in America. And, the town of Lefor has the highest percentage of residents of Hungarian origin of any zip code in the United States. (Remember, Moravia and Bohemia were part of Austria-Hungary.)
What is even more telling, is that there are many more towns in this area that no longer exist, towns that I had never heard of before, towns that once had a church, school, post office, and stores. Sometimes the only thing that still remains, is the town cemetery.
Here are some examples:
Town of DeSart southwest of New England: Ora and Anna DeSart homesteaded in the area in 1905. They had nine children. The DeSarts had come from Iowa. Ora DeSart established a Post Office in 1906. About 75 people lived in DeSart at its peak in 1920. The town had a store, bank, and dance hall. By 1960, only six people lived in DeSart. What remains of DeSart today is its cemetery.
Town of Daglum northwest of New England: Settled in 1900 and named for John Daglum, who erected the first store in which he established the Post Office in 1906. Many of the Daglum settlers were Norwegians, who had first settled in Beresford, South Dakota, before coming here. Daglum had its own school from 1907 to 1961, when it became part of the New England School District. What remains of Daglum today is its Lutheran Church and its cemetery.
Town of Bessie near Amidon: Can’t find hardly any information other than it existed.
Town of Chenoweth near Amidon: Can’t find any information other than a newspaper was published in Chenoweth from 1910-1924, called “Slope County News”.
Whetstone Township north of Reeder: I found the Whetsone Butte Cemetery while driving. The only information I could find was, “Whetstone Butte Cemetery is located in Whetstone Township, section 27. No church was built here, people met for church services in the school house, one mile to the north.” I did find the large old school house, it is still there.
Pierce, unincorporated southeast of Amidon: Pierce is an unincorporated community in Slope County. Pierce is 15 miles southeast of Amidon. The community was initially named Reno after Marcus Reno a Civil War officer, but was later renamed for local residents, the Pierce brothers. The only thing there now is a church.
So what happened to everyone, where did everyone go? Why don’t these towns exist anymore? These immigrants came from Moravia, Bohemia, and Scandinavia to settle here and farm, did they fail, did they die?
In 1785 Congress passed a law called the Land Ordinance, and later in 1787 this law was added to by the Northwest Ordinance, which among other things, required that new U.S. territories be surveyed and divided into townships that were six miles square. Each township was to be divided into 36 sections, each one mile square. One mile square is equal to 640 acres.
The Homestead Act of 1862 granted parcels of land to homesteaders that were 160 acres in size, which is one quarter of a 640 acre section. What this means if you can picture this in your mind, or look at a Google Earth satellite map, is all of those one mile square sections of land that you see, each homesteader family was granted a corner piece, 1/4 of that one mile square piece of land.
Theoretically, if a township consists of 36 sections, and each section could have four homesteader families on it, you could have 144 homesteader families in a township. These homesteader families typically had about five persons, so that’s a population of 720 people. The North Dakota townships didn’t get completely filled with homesteaders, but a peak population of 300 people in the early 1900s was not uncommon.
The homesteader families having large numbers of children, a school being built, a church being built, a Post Office being established, a general store being opened, all were catalysts for early growth of these townships. Just talk or plans for a railroad line to be built near town would cause the town to grow.
Some of these towns reached their peak population in the first half of the 1900s. When WWI broke out in 1914, and the Selective Service Act of 1917 conscripted adult males to go fight in Europe, many of these farmers or sons of farmers were killed and never returned to their North Dakota homesteads.
When WWI ended in 1919, ten years later came the Great Depression. Even in remote North Dakota, community Banks failed, Bank depositors lost all of their money, farms went into foreclosure and farmers were kicked off their property, community general stores went out of business because people didn’t pay their bills that were owed or have money to buy anything. Crop prices dropped. Just about every North Dakota small town had people leave during the Great Depression and their populations dropped.
When the U.S. got into WWII in the early 1940s, all males between the ages of 18-45 were subject to compulsory military service. The War took North Dakota farmers to their death in Africa, Europe, the Far East, and the South Pacific. After WWII, most of the small North Dakota towns saw a steady decrease in population.
Due to modernization in the U.S. leading up to and following WWII, the attitudes, values, beliefs, outlook, and habits of American people changed. As shown and advertised on television, radio, movies, newspapers, and magazines, “advances” in science, technology, farming, and industry made hard physical labor “a thing of the past”. Americans could now enjoy a life of ease with many modern conveniences, where machines did all of the work.
If you think about it, in 1900 before the automobile, towns like New Hradec, New England, Lefor, Regent, Havelock, DeSart, children walked or rode horse wagons to their local school, parents worked on their own farm, families walked or rode horse wagons to the local Bank or local store, and on Sunday everyone went to the local Church. You couldn’t just get up and go to Dickinson for something, a horse wagon ride would take at least a couple of hours one-way.
When automobiles became more widely available to North Dakotans in the 1920s, families could travel to larger towns like Dickinson to do their banking, shopping, seek medical treatment, personal services, dining, and entertainment. The small North Dakota towns didn’t have to be completely self-reliant anymore, for better or for worse.
With the larger, more capable, more powerful, more efficient farm equipment that came into use after WWII, North Dakota farm families did not need to have as many children to perform farm labor, or require adult children to remain on the farm in order to accomplish all of the work. North Dakota farm families shrank in size as they had fewer children, and allowed adult children to move away to pursue an easier and more comfortable lifestyle.
In order for readers to get a very good picture of what life was like in these small western North Dakota towns, I would have liked to have included some newspaper articles from the newspaper “Slope County News” dated 1911-1915, but the woman who retrieved them from micro-film archives and transcribed them, says that they can not be copied.
By clicking on the following link, you can read very interesting news stories of events, marriages, births, accidents, fights, and bizarre deaths in New England, DeSart, Amidon, Chenoweth, Bessie, and Bowman 1911-1915: http://files.usgwarchives.net/nd/slope/newspapr/slconews/1911-15c.txt