On this date in 1881, a Sentinel Man read the back page of his newspaper to notice its very last advertisement for two million acres of Red River Valley Wheat Lands being sold by the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway Company.
A Sentinel Man did not refer to someone from Sentinel Butte in North Dakota. It was a reference to a reader of “The Sentinel” newspaper, a weekly printed in Trenton, New Jersey. It was run by prominent black editor and aspiring Republican politician, R. Henri Herbert. He asserted that the paper stood for “earnest advocacy of the broadest freedom and purest liberty for white men, black men, Chinamen, and all men alike.” It supported Irish land agitation and expressed sympathy for aboriginal Americans. The Irish National Land & Industrial League and the Ancient Order of Hibernians advertised in its pages. The local regiment of the National Guard and the local chapter the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans of the Civil War, also advertised in its pages. The Sentinel illustrates how cultural hegemony, and indeed a model for assimilation, can be black.
The Sentinel would advertise Joe Gaffney's Sporting House with its boxing ring, local mortuary parlors, live entertainment from Rice's Orchestra and Watkins' Cornet Band, and the Koran. Its editor was a noted connoisseur of cigars. The Sentinel attracted an aspirational readership that might enroll at Rutgers College or Wesleyan University – or buy farmland. The Sentinel had a strong interest in agriculture, with an apparent interest among the newspaper's readership for buying farmland. Other advertisements included farmland in Maryland, Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Long Island.
32 out of 41 of the first existing issues of the Sentinel included advertisements for Red River Valley Wheat Lands, as part of a run of railroad advertisements from late February 1880 to early April 1881.
April 2, 1881, was a different time, a different era. The Red River Valley of the North was a new frontier. Hope was in the air.
Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel
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