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Oliver Evans, Photographer

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In late August, 1911, a horrible fire in Topeka, Kansas did more than one hundred thousand dollars damage in the business district. The reports noted that the J. C. Gresser furniture company, and the Grebbs clothing company were hit the hardest, but what caught readers’ attention in North Dakota was the news that photo studio also burned, killing a man named Evans, who lived in the studio.

The news spread quickly around North Dakota, and for good reason; many thought it was Oliver Evans, a photographer from Devils Lake who had planned on moving.

Oliver Evans was popular in Devils Lake and well-known around much of the state. In 1905, Six years before the Topeka fire, the Fargo Forum called him “the leading photographer of Devils Lake.” The comment appeared in a story about Evans and a partner purchasing Freeman’s photograph gallery in Fargo. The partner would focus on the Fargo establishment, while Evans would “devote his time to the Devils Lake Gallery.” The name of the business was changed to Drysdale & Evans.

In 1906, Evans took a Devils Lake newspaper editor on an automobile tour, showcasing his automobile skills. Though the day was beautiful, there were no photographs taken to commemorate the event. In the afternoon paper, the editor reported: “Friend Evans did not take his camera, for, said he, ‘with my wife and an editor along, I shall have enough to perplex me without doing any field work.’”

Later that year, multiple newspapers reported an interesting tidbit that Evans owned a book that was over 200 years old! Published in 1641, it was titled “Moses; His Choice,” by Jeremiah Burroughs.

As it turned out, Oliver Evans was a victim of misidentification; for he had not yet left Devils Lake, nor did he have family living in Topeka. In fact, on this date, he was still arranging to sell his gallery.

After receiving many calls about the Topeka fire from papers around the state, The Devils Lake Weekly World checked on Evans, who asked “that his friends be notified that he was a lively corpse.”

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


The Bismarck Daily Tribune, August 31, 1911, p1

The Evening Times (Grand Forks), August 31, 1911, p1

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, September 11, 1905, p8

The Pioneer Express, December 7, 1906, p7

The Bowbells Tribune, December 7, 1906, p3

The Wahpeton Times, December 6, 1906, p3

Devils Lake Inter-Ocean and Devils Lake Free Press, August 10, 1906, p1

Devils Lake Weekly World, September 1, 1911, p1

Devils Lake Weekly World, September 8, 1911, p1

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