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Farming Devils Lake


Most people in North Dakota are aware of the problems associated with Devils Lake. A rising water level has submerged thousands of acres of crop land, surrounded towns and farms and left the road system in shambles. Attempts to drain the massive lake has been met with stiff resistance from downstream concerns along the Sheyenne and Red River due to the somewhat saline content of the water, but as the Devils Lake World pointed out on this date in 1947, the saline content was once touted for its beneficial qualities.

As the railroad pushed across northern Dakota Territory in 1883, Devils Lake was already widely known, with Fort Totten located on the south shore. Reports of large pickerel and a beautiful shoreline came from the troops at the post. But they had also talked about a medicinal quality to the water, considering it helpful for a variety of human ailments. The water was considered delightful for bathing, and with wide beaches, plans were being made for hotels and spas along the lake, including the Wamduska Hotel. Steamboats plowed the waters from one end to the other, moving settlers and goods, but soon they also carried tourists that came by railroad to view the great inland sea and swim in the health-giving waters.

Most of the newcomers were eying the rich farmland or the possibilities that awaited in establishing shops, saloons or other commercial entities. But one group of investors looked to the lake for a very different purpose. They deemed that the water was similar in comparison to the ocean, being comprised of salt, sulphur and magnesia. The fact that it already supported large pickerel proved that its depths were ample to sustain a large population of fish. They speculated that perhaps it could become a major fishery if they were to import species found in the salty water of the oceans. But fish were not the only commodity considered for the lake. Oysters had long been a staple as western expansion took place. They could be easily transported in barrels of salt water with only minimal need for ice, and they had a variety of uses in stews, soups or even raw. If oysters and ocean fish could be cultivated in Devils Lake, they would find as ready a market as the grains being cultivated along its shores.

Unfortunately, within a few years, the waters of Devils Lake began to recede before any plans could be implemented, and the hopes of farming the waters diminished along with it.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


Devils Lake World August 27, 1947