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Merry Helm

February is Black History Month. In North Dakota, the African American population has grown, though historically the numbers were few. But there have been African Americans in the state as long as there have been white people. Early records indicate that the earliest came as slaves of explorers and traders. In fact, the first non-Native born here was an African American baby.

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Feb 11, 2020

Sacagawea gave birth to Jean Baptiste Charbonneau on this date in 1805. Lewis and Clark were wintering at Ft. Mandan and had hired Touissant Charbonneau and his pregnant wife Sacagawea as interpreters for the next leg of their Corps of Discovery Expedition. Meriwether Lewis wrote about the birth, saying, “…one of the wives of Charbonneau was delivered of a fine boy.”

There is much interest in architectural preservation these days, so it’s interesting that already back in 1923, there was concern about losing a historic building at the North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo. The building was Francis Hall, the second building constructed on campus. It was built in 1893 at a cost of $17,000, and was named for O.W. Francis, a former president of the school’s board of directors. It served as a dormitory, had a dining room, a reception area, and was also home to the “Department of Domestic Economy.”

Anti-German sentiment ran high not only in the U.S. but also in Canada during the First World War. In some Canadian cities, full-fledged riots broke out. For example, an anti-German mob destroyed the Riverside Hotel in Calgary on February 10, 1916. Nine days later, the hotel owner’s saloon was also destroyed because he was German speaking.

Verne Leslie Skjonsby of Hickson, North Dakota is remembered in the US Naval Academy Virtual Memorial Hall with words written upon his graduation. In part is reads: “…wherever he may wander to, he will radiate a warmth of friendship and a strength of character that success is sure to follow.”

General David Jones was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on this date in 1978. Born in South Dakota, he was raised in Minot, where a winter storm helped him choose his life’s path. It was during the late 1930s when Army Air Corps planes on their way to Alaska made an emergency landing in Minot because of a snowstorm. David went with a group of students to talk with the pilots and observe the planes. The instruments and controls were impressive, but when Jones sat in a pilots’ seat, destiny called.

Shortly after 7:30 p.m. on this date in 1957, a tornado ripped through north Fargo. Called by many the “storm of the century,” it left 13 dead, more than 100 injured, and 329 homes destroyed. Churches, schools and other buildings were left in shambles.

Doctor Webster Merrifield became UND’s third president on this date in 1891. Merrifield grew up in Vermont and graduated from Yale in 1877. For the next two years, he taught in a private school in New York, then spent the next four years as a Greek and Latin tutor at Yale. He moved to Dakota Territory in 1883 to fill the chair of Latin and Greek at the newly established University of North Dakota, where he also taught Literature and Political Science.

About this time in 1949, North Dakotans were learning that a man doing time for forgery in Michigan had confessed to killing two people in North Dakota. One of his victims was shot in a beauty salon in Jamestown, and the other was a man named James Woods.

On this date in 1914 Canada experienced its worst maritime disaster during peacetime. Just two years after the Titanic went down, the Empress of Ireland collided with a fully loaded cargo ship in the St. Lawrence Seaway.