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When Old Settlers Go Wild


As we heard earlier this month, Old Settlers Reunions were once common throughout North Dakota. It was an opportunity for neighbors living on widely separated homesteads to get together and socialize. The reunions were also designed to attract new settlers.

On this date in 1903, the Emmons County Record reported on a recent reunion. President Worst of the North Dakota Agricultural College gave the keynote speech. He was one of the earliest settlers in Emmons County. His speech was said to be “entertaining in every way,” with the attentive audience hanging on every word. After the speech came horse racing, which included some possible shenanigans. Some of the Linton folks lost money on the race, which may or may not have been fixed. They got their revenge in baseball as Linton topped the town of Napoleon 18 to 12. There was also picnic, followed by a dance at the local hall.

However, not all such reunions were as well-behaved as the 1903 gathering in Emmons County. Two early settlers at Hiddenwood Lake, William Wright and Eston Williams, held the first Old Settlers Reunion there in 1903. It was described as neighborly and nice, but the same could not be said for their reunion the following year. An article in the Ryder News reported: “We have been to several bad picnics in our time, but of all the picnics that we have been to, the one at Hiddenwood Monday certainly was the most rotten affair we have ever taken in.”

The blind pigs in the area had apparently opened for business early, and the liquor flowed freely. Eston Williams’ son got into a fight, and seeing that his son was getting the worst of it, the elder Williams went to get his gun. It was a great relief to all that he couldn’t find it. The rowdy gathering broke up shortly after.

By all reports, subsequent reunions at Hiddenwood Lake were the neighborly and nice affairs that they were intended to be.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Emmons County Record. “The Reunion.” Williamsport ND. 25 September 1903. Page 1.

State Historical Society of North Dakota. “Backstage Pass to North Dakota History.” http://www.blog.statemuseum.nd.gov/blog/when-picnics-get-out-hand-hiddenwood-lake-stories-discovered-nd-state-archives   Accessed 21 September 2019.

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