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William Larrabee


There was a man named William Larrabee, a trooper in the Seventh Cavalry in 1875, who had a terribly sore throat. Larrabee’s malady indirectly led him to establish Larrabee post office in Foster County, a location later called “Grace City.”

Larrabee had been a Union soldier in the Civil War, and by the early 1870s he had joined the famous Seventh Cavalry regiment under the command of George Armstrong Custer. A member of Company “L,” he was sent to Fort Totten in 1875.

That winter, Larrabee became ill with a “bad cold,” with a painful sinus infection, and a terribly inflamed throat. His assigned bed was “within four feet of a hot stove,” kept blazing hot, and he “could not get much sleep,” due to a lack of fresh air, because soldiers near the windows would not open them.

Other soldiers also made accusatory comments toward Larrabee about a tragic incidence in his past. This traumatizing combination of insults and sleep-deprivation led him to desert. Larrabee fled the fort, southward, but was captured 30 miles away, near Lake Juanita. He was brought back to the fort to face a court-martial.

Larrabee’s wife, Maria, lived back East and traveled to Dakota, by rail, prairie schooner, and ox team to attend William’s trial. He was found guilty, sentenced to two years in Federal prison.

“I was crushed,” wrote Maria later, but with help of “friends . . . we got his sentence changed to ten years of life on the prairie.”

Fatefully, Company “L” marched west to the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn, but “Deserter” Larrabee was left behind. All in Company “L” died alongside Custer.

Graciously spared from death and prison, William Larrabee was dishonorably discharged. He and his wife, along with daughters Mary and Emily, took up farming near Lake Juanita, along the Fort Totten Trail, where he had been previously-captured. They subsequently had three sons – Berkley, Charles, and Walter.

Larrabee established a combination post-office and waystation in Larrabee Township. In 1886, his house burned down and the family moved back East, after completing his ten-years on the prairie.

Later, the Larrabee post office became “Grace City.” On this date in 1910, the Bismarck Tribune told about the brand-new Grace City, reflecting the blessings from a dishonorable sore throat that, providentially, saved William Larrabee from Custer's Last Stand and led to his “ten-years-of-life-on-the-prairie” banishment.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department, some research by Jason Smith.

Sources: “Progress On The Fargo-Minot Job; Twenty New Towns To Be Established Along The New Road,” Bismarck Tribune, July 15, 1910, p. 5.

Foster County History Book Committee, A History Of Foster County (Foster County, ND: The Committee, 1983), p. 23-27.

“Grace City,” Mary Ann Barnes Williams, Origins of North Dakota Place Names (Washburn, ND: Bismarck Tribune, 1966), p. 112.

“Interesting History Of Foster Court House,” Bismarck Tribune, June 8, 1910, p. 6.

“Fort Totten Mail,” Jamestown Weekly Alert, July 4, 1878, p. 4.

“Massacred,” Bismarck Tribune, July 12, 1876, p. 1.

“L Troop,” Bismarck Tribune, August 11, 1875, p. 4.

“Sentenced To Confinement,” Army and Navy Journal, February 5, 1876, p. 414.

“William Larabie [Larrabee], age 33,” “Mariah Larabie [Maria Larrabee], age 30, “Mary (9), Emily (5), Barclay (3), Charles (1), 1880 U.S. Census, Foster County, ND.

“William H. Larrabee, age 24, photographer,” “Maria E. Larrabee, age 23,” 1870 U.S. Census, Paris, Oxford County, Maine.

“Maria E. Larabee, age 53,” Emily (25), Charles E. (21?), Roland (18), 1900 U.S. Census, Leominster, Worcester County, Massachusetts.

State Historical Society of N.D., “William H. Larrabee, papers 1876.”