DAKOTA AGENDA: September 19-23 | News, Sports, Jobs


The rise and demise of prairie chickens

By Steve Hoffbeck

September 19, 2022 — The slaughter of prairie chickens was one of the earliest outdoor pursuits for hunters from the 1880s to the early 1900s. This was not always the case, for when large herds of buffalo roamed the Dakota, bison ate too much grass and prairie chickens couldn’t thrive. That all changed when the bison were wiped out in the 1870s and the last major herd was killed in 1883.

When the farmers arrived, they planted wheat and small grains. Grassland chickens followed closely, nesting in the remaining grasslands and feeding in the adjacent wheat fields. Prairie chickens proliferated when farmers killed foxes, owls and hawks, their natural predators.

“North Dakota is a wonderful place for prairie chickens,” said an expert hunter in 1883, “they live in wheat fields, where they breed, and hard No. 1 [wheat] agrees with them.

As farmers plowed farms in West Dakota, prairie chickens thrived in these “newer agriculture” areas. After the August wheat harvest, the stubble was “living with prairie chickens” and game birds were meant to be “as thick as mosquitoes.” In the best years a hunter could “Go out into the fields and shoot his birds like he would in a barnyard.”

The newspapers referred to the “festive prairie chicken”, as the feathered quarry became the “delicate dish” for big parties. Eventually, the Game and Fish Department limited hunters to 25 birds per day, with a hunting season from August 20 to December 1.

Unfortunately, overharvesting made the birds rare, and hunters in the 1890s generally needed a bird dog to find them. When cropland replaced more grassland, the prairie chicken population fell further.

On this date, in 1909, the Grand Forks Herald reported that the prairie chicken hunt near Towner was “better than any other part of the state”, but bird numbers were still very low and it was clear that North Dakota would have to provide additional protection for the species to prevent extinction.

To improve hunting, the state Game and Fisheries Department began importing ring-necked pheasants and Hungarian partridges – and these birds have largely replaced grassland chickens. The Greater Prairie-Chicken hunting season ended after 1945.

Thus, a small population survived, and today the “festive prairie chicken” can still be seen in the grassy fringes near Grand Forks and in the Sheyenne National Grasslands near Wahpeton.

A nuisance from North Dakota

By Carole Boucher

September 20, 2022 – On this date in 1900, the Griggs Courier warned that boxelder bugs were on the move.

More than 100 years later, insects continue to appear every year. An article in the Bismarck Tribune on September 2, 2004 announced that it was again time to prepare for the invasion. According to Burleigh County Extension Officer ElRoy Haadem, bugs are just one problem. Hadem said, “They don’t damage crops or homes, don’t transmit disease, and aren’t toxic.”

But insects leave a stain if crushed. If they are inside, it is best to use a vacuum cleaner or carefully remove them with a paper towel.

On warm days after cold nights, insects invade sidewalks, yards and homes. The cleaner a yard, the fewer places boxelders can hide. But once the bugs appear, it is very difficult to get rid of them. A spray of soap and water only gets rid of the insects it touches directly. Pest control companies can apply chemicals that leave a residue to kill boxelders, but they are difficult to control and may very well show up the next day.

Boxelder plant bugs eat the seeds of the boxelder tree, but they adapt and can breed in other leafy places. Box elder adults emerge in the spring and do best when a warm spring is followed by a hot, dry summer. Their population can be high in summer, but they are less conspicuous as they remain in the foliage. In the fall, they come out in search of warm places.

So in all likelihood, the little guys will be out before you know it, gravitating to warm areas like the sunny side of buildings as they search for a nice, cozy place to hide for the winter.

Ole A. Olson, artist

September 21, 2022 – The name “Ole” may recall the fictional character who defends many Norwegian jokes. However, a North Dakota named Ole A. Olson was not fictional, though his famous woodcarvings certainly have character.

Olson was born in Drammen, Norway in 1882. As a child, he came to the United States with his family who settled on a farm near Litchville, North Dakota.

Although interested in woodcarving since childhood, Olson did not consider himself an artist, but a farmer. Leaving his farm in 1942, the recently widowed Ole moved to Valley City where he focused on his woodcarving. His comedic characters were highly animated characters inspired by the Norwegian immigrants of his youth. Olson was nicknamed, “Ole the Hermit.” Contrary to the epithet, Olson did not spend his life in isolation. His woodcarving skills have brought visitors from across the country and around the world to see his studio.

Astrid Fjelde, singer

September 22, 2022 — “Remember this, with a good will you can accomplish anything you wish to do – anything good.”

These words were spoken by Margaret Fjelde to her children as children on their farm in North Dakota. The Fjeldes, the children, Paul, Margaret, Katherine and Astrid; must have taken those words to heart, as they all became accomplished adults as artists, scholars, and teachers.

The father of the Fjelde children was Jacob, a famous Norwegian sculptor. He and Mrs. Fjelde immigrated to the United States from Norway in 1887. Tragically, however, Jacob died in 1896, leaving Margaret to raise their four children alone. After Jacob’s death, the Fjeldes moved from their Minneapolis home to a farm outside of Wing, North Dakota. Life on the prairie was not easy for a single mother, but Mrs. Fjelde always found a way to support her children and nurture their talents.

Paul’s achievements are perhaps the most notable of the Fjelde children, like his father he became a famous sculptor. However, the Fjelde girls also had artistic gifts. Mrs. Fjelde had been a musician in her youth in Norway and passed on this love of music to her daughters. In 1914, after studying music under some of Europe’s masters, Katherine became an instructor at Valley City Normal School and Margaret graduated with honors from Columbia University’s Teachers School. The youngest, Astrid, became a singer.

Astrid has always enjoyed entertaining, debuting as a seven-year-old singing atop a soapbox in front of a crowd of farm workers. Later, Mrs. Fjelde and her daughters moved from the North Dakota farm to New York, where Astrid pursued her life’s dream.

In 1925, near the bright neon lights of Times Square in Manhattan, Astrid Fjelde gave her first performance. It was a success, with praise from many New York critics. Over the next few years, Astrid would fulfill her ambition by becoming a leading soloist for the National Grand Opera Company, performing “Vavara” at Cesare Sodera “Russian Shadow”. She also sang for NBC’s Opera Hour and was featured on NBC’s Saturday Nights. “Cavaclade” broadcast in 1929 as one of the first musical variety shows.

However, among Astrid’s many accomplishments, one of her most famous talents was her ability to forcefully sing the Norwegian folk songs and lullabies of her youth:

Oh, I remember that wonderful night so well

Where my mother and father had their home

Who stood there so peaceful by the snowy hill

Near the forest whisper.

Norwegian independence

September 23, 2022 – Norwegian immigrants from the state made up a high percentage of North Dakota’s population; and a loud Norwegian-American voice could be heard throughout the state. This was never more evident than in 1905, when after 600 years Norway became an independent nation.

Since 1814, Norway and Sweden had been united under one king. Norway retained a great deal of independence in the union, having its own constitution and governing bodies. However, the monarchy and foreign affairs were nevertheless controlled by Sweden. When foreign policy interests began to diverge, tensions arose between Norway and Sweden. When Norway declared its independence in June 1905, without a request from Sweden, war was expected.

Word of the event hit newspapers across the United States. North Dakota’s The Esmond Bee reported Norway’s statement. Events were closely watched in North Dakota, as articles from abroad appeared daily. At that time, 62 newspapers were still written in Norwegian.

In the summer of 1905, many North Dakotans, whether Norwegian or not, gathered to show their support for Norway. In Devil’s Lake, 2,000 people gathered in July. The auditorium was packed as another 600 stood outside on the grass to participate. Norwegian flags were hoisted, Norwegian artists were entertained, and petitions endorsing Norwegian independence were circulated. Among the many statewide petitions confirming Norway’s decision, one had 4,450 signatures, stating: “To President Roosevelt on behalf of the citizens of North Dakota.” This was in the hope that the powerful political voice of the United States might help legitimize Norway’s declaration of independence.

Nevertheless, diplomatic affairs with Sweden and Norway were important to the United States, and no action was taken in the conflict. However, the unlikely war never materialized and the situation ended peacefully. In August, negotiations for the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden began at the Karlstad Convention. In September, on this day in 1905, the terms of dissolution were concluded.

To this day, a healthy rivalry remains between neighboring Sweden and Norway. This can be seen in the many good-natured jokes between the two nations:

Q: What is the difference between Swedes and Norwegians?

A: The Swedes have nice neighbours!

“Dakota Diary” is a Prairie Public radio series in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from Humanities North Dakota. See all Dakota agendas on prairiepublic.org, subscribe to “Dakota Diary” podcast, or purchase the Dakota Datebook at shopprairiepublic.org.

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