Early Explorations

They reported the James River void of timber, but wood was not essential as long as buffalo chips (Bois de Vache) remained plentiful.
 
“July21: Our route today had been over rolling prairies, thickly intersected by small ponds and sloughs.  At noon we lunched and grazed our stock at a beautiful lake and soon after we started on for the afternoon journey, we encountered a herd of some 5,000 buffalo.  Pierre Bottineau, riding his fleet horse “Major,” attempted to shoot one of the cows, but just as he took aim, his horse stepped into a badger hole with both front feet, throwing him to the ground, and the horse rolling onto, and severely injuring him.  Bottineau had to be carried in the flag wagon the rest of the day, but was up and ready to guide the party the next morning.” They camped that night near the picnic grounds east of Wellsburg.
 
“July 22: At noon today we arrived at the base of Butte de Moral, a high hill rising out of a comparatively level prairie, which is a well known land mark to Indians and Red River Hunters.  Just as we approached the hill, we discovered tracks of a Red River Cart Train.  There were four distinct tracks running parallel to each other and only a rod or two apart.  These hunters make their excursions in very large parties and divide their trains into four lines in order to keep closer together and to form themselves more quickly for defense in case of Indians attacks.
 
Each hunter had at least one good horse which he kept fresh for the hunt.”
 
The Red River Cart Trains
The Red River carts were rudely but solidly built and very often numbered several hundred in a train.
 
The chorus of loud squawks and squeaks made by the carts, when in transit, was said to have been almost deafening and never equaled in sound by anything.  “Whrr-ee-ee’ Whor-ee-ee’ Who-ee-ee’ ” they wailed and each in a different time and key, as they were drawn over the prairie by a lone ox or pony.  They were built wide with very high wheels and made entirely of wood and raw-hide, without a nail or bolt or any particle of iron in their construction.  They were never greased, which only helped to make the squeaks louder and stronger and which could be heard for miles.
 
Gen. H.H. Sibley’s Indian Campaign 1863
Gen. Henry H. Sibley, with his army of 2,500 picked Indian fighters reached the Wells county vicinity on July 22, 1863, and sent scouts ahead to examine the Hawksnest and secure wood for the camp fires.  They camped that night in the Pipestem valley near the junction of the north and west forks of that stream.  This camp they named “Camp Kimball,” after a member of the expedition.  It was located in Foster county on the south edge of the NE ¼ , Sec. 16, Twp. 145 N., Range 67 W., some four miles northeast of the Hawksnest. On July 23, they entered Wells county, to the north of the Hawksnest, and after passing the butte, swung to the south, entered the Coteaus, and continued on thru the New Home valley and camped that night on Sec. 23, Twp. 143 N., Range 69 W. in Stutsman county.  This camp they named “Camp Grant,” in honor of Gen. U.S. Grant, the site of which is on the Gerber farm in Gerber township.
 
Gen. Sully’s Army 1865
Late in July, 1865, Gen. A.H. Sully, U.S.A. led an army of 2,500 men from Fort Rice to Devils Lake.  He entered Wells county near the southwest corner, and traveling slightly east of north, forded the Sheyenne in the Harvey vicinity and continued on past Butte de Morale.
 
Captain Twining’s Military Road
In 1869, Capt. W.J. Twining, U.S.A. selected the route for a military road from Fort Stevenson to Fort Totten.  This old trail passed over the extreme northwest corner of Wells County, and wagon ruts hub deep remained in mute memory of the past, until the prairie was broken up by the early settlers.
 
With the completion of these expeditions, Wells County was well explored.
 
Wells County was included in the Boundless Grassland Prairies of the Great Plains.  In the U.S. Biological Survey it is classified with much of North Dakota in the Humid Transition Life Zone.  The zone is generally characterized by a heavy growth of prairie grasses, strips of timber along the streams and by thickets of brush in protected places.
 
The Semi Arid Transition zone covers most of the western part of the state. The 100th Meridian of Longitude west from Greenwich is generally conceded as the dividing line between the two zones.
 
It is in the second group of the production series of North Dakota, and in the Black Earth belt, which is the transition zone between the humid east and the arid west.
 
The soils are black or brownish black loam, eight to thirty inches in depth, with a yellow clay subsoil and beds of sand and gravel and usually a hard pan of blue clay. 
 
There have been several ice invasions since the beginning of Pleistocine times.  A glacier is formed by more snow falling in winter at high elevations that can melt during the following summer.  An ice sheet is then formed which grows in thickness from year to year until its weight causes it to flow toward a lower level.  The general movement of the last great ice sheet which covered most of North America was toward the south.  Geologists say that this glacier was probably more than a mile in thickness and did not move more than a rod or so during a season.  Accumulations of earth, boulders and lime stone were plowed up by the glacier and left as a residium or “drift” as the ice melted.
 
What is lighter and more delicate than a snowflake; yet the mighty ice sheets of glacial times were nothing more or less than a great number of snowflakes that fell one upon another for centuries until a glacier was formed.
 
The “drift” of the Glacial Period covers the old landscape of Wells county to a depth of many feet.  We once found a piece of petrified cedar wood with a knot on one side, thirty-eight feet below the surface, when digging a well on our farm near Cathay.  Silt, the essential element in soils for producing wheat and other small grains, is pulverized limestone mixed with the black earth of the “drift.”  This limestone causes the hard water in the wells.
 
There are  many huge boulders near Cathay and in other localities, showing parallel lines or striations on their under surfaces, indicative of their long journeys during the Glacial Period.  There are many Moraines or chains of ridges.  One just south of Cathay, one northeast and another southwest of Fessenden, and several in the Harvey vicinity.  A Moraine is an accumulation of earth and stones carried and deposited by a glacier.  There are terminal, lateral, medial and ground moraines.
 
In early days there was much alkali in the soil in some localities, which was caused by the salt water not having drained sufficiently after the Glacial Period.  These spots were indicated on the surface by an irregular broken condition of grassless sod, and a chalky whitish soil.  They were very deceiving when covered with water, and teams became easily mired.  Wells of good and pure water are found at a depth of 40 feet.  The lakes are fresh water and dry alkaline.
 
Alkali lakes are formed by more water collecting than can evaporate, and when it drys up, the alkali minerals dissolve and leave a white crust on the lake beds.
 
The alkali is derived from the shales or rocks, that were crushed and deposited as sediment in the sea water that once covered the land.
 
There is much evidence of Lignite coal deposits.  Lignite is a brownish coal, in which the alteration of vegetable material is produced farther than in peat, but not as far as in sub-bituminous coal.
 
Many specimens of mica or isinglass were found on the ridges, some of them in quite large chunks.  When a boy, I took much delight in finding the larger pieces and splitting them into sheets and using them for windows in sod play houses.
 
The Big Slough is a long shallow marsh or meadow-land extending from near Bremen to the Heimdal vicinity.  In pioneer days it was the usual nesting place for countless numbers of wild ducks and geese, and one of their greatest habitats in the territory.  Central North Dakota is long included in the greatest wild duck flight in North America, which is second in the World.  Russia has the greatest flight.
 
Walter Earnest Spokesfield
January 1, 1928.
Copyrighted, 1929 by Walter E. Spokesfield.  All rights reserved.