One of the earliest Red River Valley settlers was also one of North Dakota’s most interesting and little-known characters. William Budge left the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland and immigrated to Canada to work for the Hudson Bay Company in the spring of 1869 with his three older brothers. Only sixteen, Budge was sent to the Saskatchewan River area, where he worked through a frigid winter. By spring, he had had enough of the Hudson Bay Company. While his supervisors were sleeping, Budge snuck off with a supply of the fort’s buffalo jerky and headed south. Budge entered Pembina on June 1st, increasing the size of the settlement to four. There, he and George Winship decided to go into business together.
In 1871, they built a log cabin between Grand Forks and Pembina to serve as a hotel and tavern for Red River traders. The two could not agree on a name, so they posted a sign saying “Winship Hotel” on the south side of the cabin, and another sign reading “Budge’s Tavern” on the north. They also posted a sign above the fireplace that read, “We are NOT here for our health!” which both men found amusing. Budge became famous for his expensive $1 flap-jacks, which hungry travelers gobbled up. However, the hotel owners could agree on very little else, and the hotel eventually burned down. It was said that the two men were too busy arguing about who should put the fire out to put the fire out.
In 1876, Budge traveled to the Black Hills of South Dakota during the short-lived gold rush. He was a member of the Oscar Ward wagon party, which was attacked by Indians near Big Meadows. Several members of the party were killed, until Budge shot and killed White Fish, their leader.
Eventually, Budge moved to Grand Forks and opened a mercantile store. He was one of three men to donate the land and money needed to build the University of North Dakota, and he served on the Board of Trustees for sixteen years. He was also a member of the state’s Constitutional Convention, served as a State Senator for many years, and helped organize the Red River Old Settlers Association. On July 9th, 1938, Budge passed away in Oakland, California, at the age of eighty-five.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
Pearson, Ethelyn. 2000 It Really Happened Here: Amazing Tales of Minnesota and the Dakotas: pp. 101. McCleery & Sons Publishing: Gwinner, ND.
Lounsberry, Clement Augustus. 1913 Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines of American History: pp. 356-8, 389, 431, 518-524, 533, 565-70. Liberty Press: Washington, DC