Kollman speaks on BlewettAlden Kollman in the latest Sunday afternoon Front Porch Chat at Stutsman County Memorial Museum related the story of Pierce Blewett. Blewett was born in Wisconsin in 1859. He worked on his parents’ farm until he turned 21 then began work in the lumber industry, driving logs down rivers to Oshkosh, Wis.
Alden Kollman in the latest Sunday afternoon Front Porch Chat at Stutsman County Memorial Museum related the story of Pierce Blewett.
Blewett was born in Wisconsin in 1859. He worked on his parents’ farm until he turned 21 then began work in the lumber industry, driving logs down rivers to Oshkosh, Wis.
In his spare time he practiced with a telegraph key and learned Morse code, apparently with plans to join the railroad and not build it.
In 1880 he started with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in Wisconsin. By 1882, he was with the Northern Pacific as an operator and made his home in a boxcar at Crystal Springs, N.D.
In 1885 he was at Blanchard and Casselton and by 1886 had been promoted to dispatcher at Jamestown. He eventually retired from the railroad in 1907 having spent 27 years on the job.
Most of the winters were spent on engines equipped with snow plows. Kollman told of several of his snow plowing adventures, one ending in tragedy and another with a humorous result.
He also spoke of Blewett’s dedication to keeping the rail lines open — sometimes spending days away from home with his favorite V-blade snowplow. In a 30-page journal that is now held by the North Dakota State Historical Society, Blewett had recorded tales of railroad “spotters,” which were head office spies that the trainmen had very little time for. He also told of “cake eating passengers” that got left behind because of their selfishness when the train got unstuck.
After Blewett’s retirement from the railroad he became the mayor of Jamestown in 1908. He bought a grain elevator and spent the next 20 or so years as a grain dealer eventually having elevators in Jamestown, Eldridge, Millarton, Montpelier, New Rockford and Homer Station (on the Midland Continental Railroad).
In 1913 he and Jacob Yeager built an elevator in Bloom, 4 miles east of Jamestown. It was also the site of Anton Klaus’ brickyard and brick factory. In the 1930 city directory he lists his occupation as owner of Star Elevators.
In about 1930 his empire collapsed, grain prices plummeted and he couldn’t sell fast enough. He was broke, so he decided it would be a good time to run for governor. He won the Democratic nomination but ran a poor second in the general election, losing to George Shafer.
He had been a staunch advocate of the repeal of Prohibition, serving as a director of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment. He testified in Washington, D.C., before the House Judiciary Committee against the 18th Amendment on the basis that it was ruining agriculture, destroying the barley market and that the money that people were spending for illicit booze was “gone forever.”
He was an avid hunter, who spent his off hours hunting with his favorite horse Dan, a runaway from the State Hospital, and his hunting dog Mike, a mutt that loved to point and flush birds for Blewett.
His other dog was not so well-liked in the city. Ponto was a bulldog that loved crowds and made himself a nuisance. He would sleep all day and bark all night. He was prone to get into all sorts of mischief and was typically “burned” in the Jamestown Alert on a weekly basis. Kollman related a story of Ponto and the dog act at the Opera House that was typical of his unruly behavior.
Blewett would likely have been forgotten over time as have many of the other former mayors, grain dealers, railroad men and other colorful characters that have inhabited Jamestown, except for the many stories related about Ponto and a gesture of generosity that seemed rather out of character for this hard working, railroad man, grain dealer and politician noted for his profanity.
He was very religious. He would sit by himself in the St. James Catholic Church, because his wife, Emma, was not Catholic. When the church was first built there were no stained glass windows, Blewett wrote a check for $5,000, a huge sum at that time, to have the stained glass windows built in Minneapolis. They were installed in 1918. Kollman said he was sure Blewett enjoyed their beauty until his death in 1939 at the age of 80. He was probably unaware that they would be one of the things that would be most remembered about his life.
The Front Porch Chat on July 1 will feature a presentation by Ronald Brost on the experiences of the Germans from Russia.