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Lending a Helping Hand


Sheep farming has a long history in North Dakota. The January 1st, 1891 issue of the Jamestown Weekly Alert reported on several farmers who were adding sheep to their livestock. The newspaper felt that sheep farming had a future in the state, saying “anyone who does not believe that sheep farming will pay in North Dakota should visit the Buzzell Ranch in Mount Pleasant.” That same year, H. H. Perkins planned to drive a flock of 5,000 sheep to Minot for the North American Sheep Company. Governor Burke’s private secretary stated that western North Dakota was “grand country for sheep farming.”

But agriculture depends on the weather. 1910 was a devastating year for North Dakota’s neighbors in Montana. In that year, Montana suffered severe drought. Fires broke out primarily in the western portion of the state.

Montana was ablaze, and with fires also in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, supplies and manpower for firefighting were in short supply. The Forest Service persuaded President Taft to deploy troops to augment the civilian firefighters. Eventually, 4,000 soldiers were called upon. Just when firefighters thought they had gained control, hurricane force winds swept through, fanning dying embers back to life. Trains raced to evacuate entire towns. Over 1,000 fires burned more than 3 million acres. At least 85 people were killed. Smoke from the fires clouded the skies as far as New England and even Greenland.

On this date in 1910, it was announced that trains started arriving in Sharon from Montana. They were transporting sheep out of the drought area. One train brought 4,000 sheep. Another unloaded 6,000, and more were on the way. With the help of North Dakota farmers, the sheep would graze in here until it was time to send them to market.

The kindness of the North Dakota farmers was repaid in 1936 when the state fell into drought. Photographs of the period show livestock being shipped to greener pastures in Montana.

And the animals were not the only ones suffering. One picture taken for the Resettlement Administration shows people labeled “drought refugees” who had traveled to Montana looking for relief. It was another case of neighbors helping neighbors.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Hope Pioneer. “County News.” 29 September, 1910, Page 2.

Jamestown Weekly Alert. “Windsor and Mount Pleasant Notes.” Page 1.

Bismarck Weekly Tribune. “Capehart’s Views.” 12 June, 1891, Page 8.

The Forest History Society. “The 1910 Fires.” "http://www.foresthistory.org/ASPNET/Policy/Fire/FamousFires/1910Fires.aspx" http://www.foresthistory.org/ASPNET/Policy/Fire/FamousFires/1910Fires.aspx Accessed 29 August, 2017.

Only in Your State. “19 Rare Photos of North Dakota Farming.”
Accessed 29 August, 2017.

Pinterest. “Explore Resettlement Administration.”
Accessed 29 August, 2017.