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January 12: Fatal Wolf Attack

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Today is another story of the young preacher called from seminary in St. Louis to McKenzie County a century ago. For 10 months, the Rev. Richard C. Jahn preached in English and German, and baptized, confirmed, and buried residents. He lodged with a bachelor homesteader in a cabin east of Watford City. At age 21, Jahn attended a dying person for the first time, a man mangled by wolves.

Hertwig W. Odermann was a 30-year-old cowboy, attacked on this date in 1916. He was walking his horse through a snowstorm when the wolves struck. His horse bolted, leaving him without his rifle. Help arrived and carried the injured man to his bunkhouse.

The Reverend Jahn arrived an hour before Odermann died, and shared the Gospel with him. Odermann seemed comforted by the young preacher’s words. He was buried three days later on the butte east of the NT Ranch.

Jahn did not conduct Odermann’s funeral because he was tending to the funeral and burial for a baby. Jahn and mourners traveled eight miles by sleigh through a blinding snowstorm to bury the child in a grave cut into scoria.

Jahn did write an obituary for Odermann, which concluded “Peace to his ashes!”

The weather at this time was intensely cold. In his journal, Jahn noted the temperature had dropped to 64 below zero.

Wolves were abundant back when bison roamed the prairie, but they had become scarce by the early 1900s. Beginning in 1897 and continuing for decades, the state offered a wolf bounty. In January of 1916, a Harvey man who hunted wolves with a pack of hounds brought in 731 wolf pelts in the course of a year. His bounty from the state was worth over $1,800, or over $52,000 when adjusted for inflation.

Scattered sightings of wolves still occur in North Dakota, of wolves from neighboring states and provinces with breeding populations. And Watford City still has wolves, as the high school mascot!

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Sources:

  • The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. 1916, January 17. Page 2: One man secures 731 wolf pelts in a year
  • Sioux County Pioneer. 1916, April 21. Page 2: Pays wolf bounties
  • “Called to the Prairie: Life in McKenzie County, North Dakota, 1915-1916, From the Journals of the Rev. Richard C. Jahn.” Edited by Richard P. Jahn Jr., Jan Dodge and Dennis E. Johnson, 2014, Catlinberg Publishing. Pages 51-52, 54-55
  • gf.nd.gov/wildlife/id/carnivores/wolf
  • Email communication with Stephanie Tucker. 2022, November 21
  • Tucker, S. (2022, October). Study No. E-XI: Mountain lions and less common furbearers (surveys). Report No. C-501. North Dakota Game and Fish Department: Bismarck, ND. Pages 23-35

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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