Front Porch Chat on major trail in areaOn Aug. 5, Rebecca Young-Sletten gave a PowerPoint presentation during the Front Porch Chat at the Stutsman County Memorial Museum. She and her mother, Mary Young, received a grant from the North Dakota Humanities Council for their historical perspective of the Fort Seward to Fort Totten Trail.
On Aug. 5, Rebecca Young-Sletten gave a PowerPoint presentation during the Front Porch Chat at the Stutsman County Memorial Museum. She and her mother, Mary Young, received a grant from the North Dakota Humanities Council for their historical perspective of the Fort Seward to Fort Totten Trail. The museum sponsored the grant and was the first stop for a series of presentations along the Fort Totten Trail. Young-Sletten gave her sister, Cathy Lutz, credit for encouraging her to apply for a grant to fund the project. She also expressed appreciation to her daughter, Amanda, who created the PowerPoint presentation.
The presentation included many stories and pictures of people who traveled the trail and who lived along the route, as well as some personal experiences. Young-Sletten said she got much of her information from the writings of historian Dana Wright, and she frequently mentioned him in her presentation.
Young-Sletten gave a brief history of the Yanktonaise tribe that lived in the Jamestown area for generations. She said they were a detached band of the Isanti Sioux who lived in Minnesota that had settled in the Klaus Park area at the mouth of the Pipestem, along the bluffs. Young-Sletten said they called the area “Heap Water,” because the valley had a large lake where they could canoe from Capitol Hill to the North Dakota State Hospital bluffs. The Indians were driven from the area by General Sibley’s army in 1863, and relocated near the mouth of the Cannonball River (Fort Yates).
Young-Sletten said the influence General Rosser had on the naming of Jamestown when it was basically a tent city along the river in the area of what is now the Anne Carlsen Center. She said Fort Seward was named in honor of William H. Seward, secretary of war under Lincoln. Heavy supplies for Fort Totten were floated up the Missouri River from supply depots downstream and then hauled overland for 126 miles. When the Northern Pacific Railroad extended west from Fargo to Jamestown, the Fort Seward-Fort Totten Trail shortened the distance for supplies to 84 miles overland.
According to Young-Sletten, A.W. Kelly was involved in building Fort Totten. He brought his family to the new Fort Seward, the first white-family used the trail. Jenny Kelly, 6 years old when they came to Jamestown, grew up with the city. She had the first white baby born here and told about her frightening experiences in her journals. She also told about how amazing it was to see the lights from the army’s campfires at Fort Seward and lights down in the valley at night.
James Lees arrived in 1872 and managed a saloon for John Mason (shown in a photo of local businesses at the time). By 1874 he had become the first land owner in Homer Township. He became a contractor and freighter from Jamestown to Fort Totten. His 20 or more ox teams carried most of the freight and an occasional passenger on the Fort Totten Trail. Sixth generation members of the Lees family still reside in the Buchanan area.
Young-Sletten told anecdotes about several of the drivers of the Fort Seward-Fort Totten Trail. One of the drivers was Archie McKechnie, who walked from Fargo to Jamestown, stopping along the way to work as a scraper on the railroad being built at the time. He built a 24-foot by 24-foot canvas hotel in Jamestown and later became a freighter on the trail. He kept a journal and in it wrote details about a conversation he had with some Indians in June of 1876. They told him they received smoke signals from Indians further west bragging about defeating Gen. George Custer in Montana. Young still has his journal which was given to her.
Driver Martin Joos commissioned James Kirkpatrick to do two paintings of Joos coming off the Fort Totten Trail; one hangs in the Stutsman County Commission boardroom and one is displayed at City Hall.
Young-Sletten told about driver Matt Wink, husband of Dr. Helena Wink, and relayed the story about Jack Clayton’s (Limpy Jack) wild ride one New Year’s Eve when he fell out of a wagon and froze his fingers and toes.
In 1967, Ernie and Mary Young attended a 100th anniversary celebration at Fort Ransom that included a wagon train from Fort Sisseton. They were inspired to form a group to travel the Fort Seward-Fort Totten Trail once again. Dennis Smith, founder of the Fort Seward Inc. Committee, hired a researcher who was able to obtain a military map of the trail and former Jamestown Sun editor, James Smorada, placed an ad in the paper announcing the opening of the trail, requesting interested persons meet at the armory.
Smorada wrote daily reports to The Sun about the 1969 wagon train which started at the fairgrounds: “Day 1) The latrine wagon got left behind and had to be retrieved. Mules had to be substituted for a ‘spirited pony’ that caused its wagon to overturn. Spooky, creepy sounds turned out not to be spirits but Girl Scouts across the lake playing tricks. The day ended at Medicine Lake. Day 2) The wagon train was welcomed by Company C of Carrington as the train approached Lake Juanita. Delicious ‘buried beans’ were included in the evening meal. Day 3) George Torrison, landowner, gave permission for the wagon train to stop at Brenner Crossing, the former William Larabee home (first permanent settler in Foster County). The group enjoyed a delicious buffalo BBQ provided by Torrison who owned 200 head. Day 4) A mid-morning thunderstorm drenched the travelers. Chief Clear Sky invited them to participate in the Fort Totten PowWow that involved between 500-1,000 dancers.”
Within days of the astronauts landing on the moon, Smorada said, “…for the riders it was a vacation into the living past of the prairie, for the rest of America, the moon had become the newest frontier.”
Young-Sletten and Young plan to write a book about the trail and including many more historical facts, anecdotes and experiences than could be covered in their presentation. They hope to complete the book by Christmas. Although the Youngs no longer participate in the trail rides, the Fort Seward Wagon Train still makes an annual trip across the North Dakota prairie.
Next Sunday, the museum will host its annual Ice Cream Social with cake and ice cream or a root beer/coke float. On Sunday, Aug. 19, Patsy Klose will speak about quilting.