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A Winter Trip East


Bismarck was a fledgling city in 1875, lying at the end of the track on the Northern Pacific Railroad. Although the community was growing rapidly, the railroad was inclined to limit the runs from Fargo once winter set in. Merchants laid in a stockpile of goods and when the river froze and the steamboats moved onto dry docks, transportation to and from the city was limited. A stagecoach made weekly trips east from Bismarck, but on this date in 1875, five men who had missed the Monday stage were determined to make it to Fargo and points east, despite heavy snow that blanketed the region.

Waiting for the next stage was not to their liking, so L. J. Rusk and Charles Morris from La Crosse, Wisconsin; Mr. Sprague of Standing Rock, and Mr. Dodge of Bismarck, along with Father Genin, a Catholic Missionary, decided to attempt the trip by railroad handcar. Getting permission to take the car, they bid their Bismarck friends goodbye and began the 200 mile journey. They estimated three days for the trip, but after being out only a few hours they quickly began to tire and realized it could be quite an ordeal. They pondered the wisdom of their decision.

Perhaps it was the vision of wind-swept snow drifts or the waving prairie grasses that reminded them of sailing upon a sea, but whatever the reason, they conjured up a labor saving idea. Mr. Rusk, it appears, had packed a tent for shelter and warmth and it was soon made into a sail. Assuming the role of tourists instead of pumping the handcar, they let the blustery winter wind carry them to their destination while they enjoyed the scenery along the route. At a brisk pace of twelve miles an hour, they covered the 200 miles to Fargo in seventeen and one half hours. They telegraphed news of their safe arrival to anxious friends back in Bismarck. After spending the night at the Headquarters Hotel, they continued their journey eastward from Fargo in the warm coaches of the Northern Pacific Railroad, having gotten one-up on Old Man Winter.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune November 20, 1875