On a spring day in 1910, a story from the Garrison Independent newspaper boasted “The meanest man in North Dakota learns lesson!” The headline connected the incident with a group of train passengers whose trip had been curtailed by a surprise blizzard. They were forced to wait on the tracks in Tolley, North Dakota. Unable to move most of the day because of snow-blocked rails, the travelers waited out the storm.
By evening, the hungry and snowbound male passengers decided to pitch in a dollar each to buy a meal, and to pay for the women as well. Their plan was to entice a farmer, living half a mile away, to prepare food for all the travelers.
One male passenger refused to pitch in. He said he “had never paid more than 50 cents for a meal, and argued that the women were just as able to pay…” Following further arguments, the tightwad contributed 50 cents for the cause.
Everyone trudged to the farmhouse for a fine and graceful sit-down dinner, but upon the return to the train, a passenger fell through a partially frozen creek, with the frigid water reaching to his knees. Worried about the man’s health and safety, the passengers thought that some whisky could help, but none could be found.
Thankfully, one passenger remembered seeing “the mean man” with his own bottle of booze. At first, the man denied having alcohol, but when others offered to purchase it from him, he admitted to owning a bottle. He claimed his three-dollar bottle was half full and announced he would sell the remaining whiskey for two dollars.
A man paid him the two bucks and the now perturbed passengers told the newspaper that “Everyone on the train was furious with him. But we fixed him when we arrived in Tolley. Once the train was able to trek through the snowy tracks, we had him arrested for selling liquor in the state of North Dakota. And after spending the night in jail, he was fined ten dollars and costs.”
The fussy, unfriendly, “Meanest man in North Dakota,” became a funny footnote in Dakota history. And we still don’t know his name.
Dakota Datebook by Steve Stark
The Fargo Forum & Daily Republican, March 19, 1910