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Joseph Dodge

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In the spring of 1937, R. L. Melville, while walking along Apple Creek south of Bismarck, found an old axe, hobbles made of iron for a horse or mule, and some links for a log chain. But it was a rusty old branding iron buried in the sand that caught his attention. The brand had been forged in the shape of a Masonic emblem. On this date in 1937, responding to a reporter’s questions, William A. Falconer, Bismarck’s oldest resident and historian, related the story of the man for whom the branding iron was forged and how he met an untimely death.

Joseph Dodge was an adventurer and an early pioneer in Bismarck. He settled on Apple Creek and was elected to the Burleigh County Commission in 1875. After the Custer Expedition to the Black Hills in 1874 brought rumors of gold, Dodge and a number of his friends were determined to strike it rich. They departed for the Black Hills in December of 1875 and arrived there on New Year’s Day. After only two weeks of prospecting they returned to Bismarck bringing a number of gold specimens that were put on display at the Capitol Hotel, and they had a splendid tale to tell.

The resulting publicity led many of the male adults in the Bismarck area, and thousands from elsewhere, heading to the Black Hills. Tensions between the gold seekers and the Indians were high as miners by the thousands encroached on the Indians’ beloved Black Hills.

Dodge and his partners, numbering about 25 men in all, set out for a return trip in early April of 1876. Dodge and his party traveled over treacherous trails with a herd of cattle and a dozen wagons loaded with approximately four thousand pounds of supplies. Ever wary of attack, they carefully picked their way, making it into Rapid City on the 3rd of May. Noting that one of the calves was missing, Dodge left the safety of the wagons and went in search of the stray, but he failed to return. When a large group of searchers from Rapid City was organized, Dodge’s bullet-riddled body was found.

As a charter member of the Masonic Lodge in Bismarck, Joseph C. Dodge was buried with Masonic honors. The branding iron that had been forged for him had lain undiscovered for more than 50 years.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune August 17, 1937

The Bismarck Tribune May 31, 1876

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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