Herbert C. Fish
In July of 1907, Herbert C. Fish became curator of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with an annual salary of $1,200. Newspapers reported that he was “full of enthusiasm for local history work, and that his “qualifications and energy” would be a boon to the job and the state.
Fish was from Moline, Illinois, and had graduated from the University of Wisconsin “specializing in United States history and economics.” Newspapers reported: “With the great development of our state which is at present obliterating the old landmarks, we may find in our curator an officer who will do much to preserve this old life and who will keep the new history for the future.”
Fish did indeed do a variety of work for the Historical Society. With little in the way of staff, he collected stories, artifacts, and did field work. This is evident in articles dotting the newspapers, and in his correspondence. Here are some examples from 1910: In one, he addresses a map of North Dakota that was used in the Official Congressional Directory in 1910. Since the map pre-dated statehood, it was not correct.¹ In another item, he informed the governor about the cost of preparing a pedestal for the Sakakawea statue on the Capitol grounds.² He also obtained information about “Stanton County,” a proposed county that never came to be.³ He also received detailed fire insurance maps, which remain available on microfilm today.⁴ And one final example, an invitation to join a cattle roundup around Elbowoods.⁵
It is noteworthy that Fish did a majority of his work with limited support staff. In 1911, a listing of the officers, deputies, and employees at the Capitol was printed in the Bismarck Tribune. The State Historical Society was still in the Capitol basement at the time. Fish, it was noted, was the only employee of the agency who had his office there, though he had assistants from time to time.
In 1915, Fish resigned as curator and accepted a position as head of the history department at the Minot Normal School, although he continued to contribute to the work at the State Historical Society.
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
- Bismarck Daily Tribune, April 21, 1907, p3
- Bismarck Daily Tribune, Thursday morning, August 22, 1907, p7
- Bismarck Daily Tribune, July 9, 1907, p5
- State Historical Society Curator’s Correspondence Series 30205, box 1, folder: 1910 correspondence, H.C. Fish
- Bismarck Daily Tribune, January 8, 1911, p3
- 2015-2017 North Dakota Blue Book
Full or selected text of these selected letters is below:
¹ From Curator Fish to Mr. A. J. Walford, Washington D.C, on May 26
“Dear Sir: In looking over the Official Congressional Directory of the 61st Congress, 2d Session, January 1910 and April 1910 I find the map given on page 436 antidates Statehood. Many of the counties are not on the map today and one has never been on the map of North Dakota. I call your attention to this for the sake of many who will look at page 436 and believe he is reading a correct map.”
² To Governor John Burke, on April 13, from Curator Fish
“Dear Sir: Secretary O.G. Libby has asked me to leave the following memorandum for you at the Auditor’s office: ‘A Chicago firm can furnish a rough cut pedestal for the Sakakawea statue 5x5x6 feet delivered at Bismarck for $425. Granite Material, rough cut.”
³ From Thomas Challoner in Jamestown to Curator Fish, July 2
“[Your correspondence] of June 28 received: Referring to the so-called Stanton County; from June 1884 to March 1890 I lived at Crystal Springs about one mile from the North and South line of Kidder County and Stutsman. In the year of 1885, a faction in the East part of Kidder County sought to divide Kidder County and name the East part Stanton County. This proposition was put to a vote of either the whole or part of the residence of Kidder County and the proposition was defeated and Stanton County never existed. This is all that comes to my knowledge.”
⁴ From the Sanborn Map Company of New York, to the State Historical Society, December 18
“Gentlemen: By express this day we are sending you the old maps of Park River and Wahpeton for filing among your archives. We have also made a new map of Hillsboro, but regret exceedingly that the old edition was entirely out of print, so that we cannot furnish you a copy.”
⁵ From Mr. E.W. Hall in Elbowoods, to Curator Fish, May 20
“Sir: … I will be very glad to have your company on the [cattle roundups and calf branding on this reservation] which will last from the 6th of June to the 17th. We leave here for the corrals twelve miles north on Monday morning…. You should arrive by Saturday’s stage…. There will be a camp man to drive the outfit, two riders and myself. We have a big tent and there will be any amount of room. I will get a saddle horse for you or you ride the wagon with the camp man, which ever you prefer. All that you would need to provide would be your roll of bedding.”