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Early Place Names

Pipestem River.  So named on account of its pipestem outline on the map.  It was early called Pipestone creek, owing to the Indians making pipes from pieces of pipestone, found along the sides of the steep banks near Jamestown.  The Pipestone rises southwest of Heaton and flows into the James River near the Anton Klaus Memorial park in Jamestown.

Sheyenne River.  Named after the Dakota Indian name for this river which was “Sha-i-e-na Ozupi Wakpa,” meaning River where the Sheyennes (Enemies) planted.  It rises in Sheyenne Lake west of Pony Gulch and flows through the southeastern part of the state, and empties into the Red River of the North near Fargo.
James River.  The James River was early called the “Can-Sa-Sa,” after the Dakota Indian name for the Red Dogwood shrub or Kinnikinick.  It is shown on Nicollet’s map of 1839 as “Tchan Sansan,” which has the same meaning..  The Dakota Indians early called it “Utahu Ozu,” meaning River full of Oaks. The French half-breeds called it Rivierre Aux Jacques, meaning James or Half-breed River.  The half-breeds were always called “Zoch,” meaning James, and this river became the line of demarkation between them and hostile Indian bands.
Section 20 of the Organic Act of Dakota Territory specified that it should be called Dakota River, after the Dakota Indians, who were one of the Leagued or Seven Council Fire tribes of the Acheti Shakowing.
The Dakota Indians also called the James River “E-ta-zi-po-ka-se Wakpa,” meaning “The Bow Cutting River.”
The James River rises in western Wells County and is formed by a chain of springs and coulees.  It is said to be one of the most crooked and the longest unnavigable river in the United States.  It traverses nearly one thousand miles through the Dakotas, and empties into the Missouri River near Yankton.

The Coteaus

The Coteaus is one of the geographical place names bestowed by the French Voyageurs in the long ago, and remains with us a permanent monument to their adventures and explorations.  “Coteau” is a French word meaning a little hill or rise in the ground as distinguished from “Cote” a hill or rib.  The full name is the Coteau du Missouri Plateau, and means simply Hills of the Missouri.  The Coteaus are a low range of hills of Larimie rock-strata formation, which rise from 90 to 400 feet above the level prairie, and extend across Wells County in a west and northwest direction, from the Hawksnest to Pony Gulch.  The Hawksnest is the most easterly point and most prominent butte and is situated in the extreme southeastern corner of the county.  It is a drift-covered pinnacle of the old landscape before the Glacial Period.  Its blue and hazy head rises some 400 feet above the prairie country and can be seen for many miles.  Its summit affords a wonderful view of the surrounding country.  Butte Cuvier in Crystal Lake township is another high butte of the Coteaus.

The Sheyenne Hills

The Sheyenne Hills are a chain of low hills in the Sheyenne River vicinity.  Butte de Morale in Wells township and Black Hammer Hill in Valhalla township are the highest of these hills in the county. The low hills in Hillsdale township are a continuation of the Bois Blanc or Whitewood Hills.
The hills near Heron Lake in Forward township were early called the Scotch or Whitby Hills.

Butte de Morale

Butte de Morale is situated in Wells township on the NE1/4 section 10, but extends over onto the SE1/4 section 3, the SW1/4 section2 and the NW1/4 section 11.  It was named after Morale, a French-Chippewa half-breed who was killed there by the Sioux Indians about 1840.  It was in the heart of the great buffalo country and is a relic of the “Bunch Grass Acres” as the old time bunch or buffalo grass is still found growing there.  Butte de Morale is seven miles northeast of Harvey and south of Selz.  It was a very prominent land mark and was known to the Hudson Bay Company’s hunters, the Red River Buffalo Hunters and the hunters and trappers from the Missouri River.  Governor Stevens’ Expedition passed by it on the south in July 1853; Captain James L. Fisk’s wagon train of gold seekers passed to the north of it in July 1862, and again in 1863; and Gen. A. H. Sully’s army of Indian fighters marched to the east of it in 1865. It is a flat topped hill rising some three hundred feet above the level prairie and affords an excellent view for several miles in all directions.  Lake Stevens (Goose Lake), a narrow canal-shaped lake some four and one-half miles long extends to the west to this butte.

Black Hammer Hill

Black Hammer hill is a large flat topped hill rising above the level prairie some two hundred feet.  It is situated on Section 5 in Valhalla township and is straight north of Bremen.  It was named Black Hammer by the early settlers who pioneered there all of whom came from the rural post office of Black Hammer, in Black Hammer township, north of Spring Grove, Houston county, Minnesota.

Butte Cuvier Grover

Butte Cuvier Grover is situated on section 13 in Crystal Lake township and is midway between Harvey and Hurdsfield and only a half mile east of state highway No. 10.  Lieut. Cuvier Grover and detached party of the Governor Stevens’ Expedition passed over this butte on July 13, 1853.  It affords an excellent view for many miles in all directions.  Butte Cuvier Grover was named by Walter E. Spokesfield on November 18, 1924.  It was first called Turtle Back Hill.

The Hawksnest

The Hawksnest is situated on Sec. 26 in Hawksnest township.  It is a high flat topped hill with a running spring of good water near the extreme summit.  The sides are abrupt with several wooded gullies.  It was named Hawksnest by John H. Potter, in 1873.  It was also called “Chief Hill,” “Great Coteau” and “Pilot Knob” by some in the long ago.  The Hawksnest was much reverenced by the Indians and was a prominent land mark and camping place for them when traveling back and forth between the Devils Lake and Standing Rock Indian Reservations.
Early Indian tribes or Mound Builders who were unknown to the Dakota Indians left evidence of their work on the top of the Hawksnest.  A serpent shaped mound several hundred feet long, with five connecting mounds or ridges is seen there and stands as a monument to those pre-historic people.  Several attempts have been made at excavating but nothing of Archaeological nature has ever been found.
Huyawayapaahdi was the Dakota Indian name for the Hawksnest and is pronounced huya-waya-pa-a-hdi, and is interpreted to mean “where the eagle brings something home in its beak.”
The Indian legend is that once when a large band of the Dakotas was encamped there they suddenly suspicioned that a camp of Chippewas was near at hand, but their scouts were unable to locate them.  A little later they saw an eagle fly into the trees with something peculiar in its beak and which they soon after discovered to be a piece of buffalo meat which had been cut off with a knife and indicated that their suspicions were correct.
On further inquiry with their scouts they were able to indicate from what direction the eagle had come and the warriors went out and located the enemy camp without further trouble.

Pony Gulch

An historic landmark of pioneer days situated near the eastern edge of the Coteaus.  It is composed of some half dozen gulches extending slightly northeast and southwest direction.  The main gulch or coulee is over a mile in length, and about the width of a city street with very steep and high banks and extends back from the Sheyenne River Valley to the level prairie country.  The height of land is found near Sheyenne Lake.  The gulches are wooded with many kinds of trees including Ash, Aspen, Box Elder, Cottonwood, Linden, Poplar, and Willow.  Also several kinds of bushes:  Buffalo Berries, Choke Cherries, Raspberries, and Saskatoon or June Berries.
Pony Gulch is situated on the southwest quarter of Section 19 in Pony Gulch township and is a lovely place for outings and picnics.  It was named in the 70’s by “Scotch Bill,” a trapper who was caught there in severe winter weather and forced to build a dugout and remain marooned until the spring breakup.  Necessity forced him to kill his pony for food which enabled him to exist.  Hence the name “Pony Gulch.”  It never had an Indian name as far as known but in the Dakota language it would be “Sunka O Smaka.”
In the early days the pioneers always referred to the several localities as the James Fiver and Sheyenne River countries and the Coteau regions.
There has never been a U. S. Geological Survey of Wells county but the following table of elevations was taken by civil engineers in charge of railway surveys and were kindly furnished me by the chief engineers of the Great Northern, Northern Pacific, and Soo Line railways:
Dover, 1619.4 ft.; Sykeston, 1652.9 ft.; Heaton, 1727.4 ft.; Bowdon, 1832.4 ft.; Chaseley, 1880.2 ft.; Hurdsfield, 1923.4 ft.; Bremen, 1548 ft.; Hamberg, 1550 ft.; Heimdal, 1556 ft.; Wellsburg, 1601 ft.; Cathay, 1578 ft.; Emrick, 1597.3 ft.; Fessenden, 1610 ft.; Manfred, 1607.4 ft.; Harvey, 1599.4 ft.; Hawksnest, (estimated) 2000 ft.; Butte Cuvier (estimated) 1950 ft.; Butte de Morale, (estimated) 1885 ft.; Black Hammer Hill,  (estimated) 1680 ft.
Walter Earnest Spokesfield
January 1, 1928.
Copyrighted, 1929 by Walter E. Spokesfield.  All rights reserved.


The soils of North Dakota are given three general classifications, lacustrine, glacial till, and residual.  Small areas of alluvial soils are found along the James, Sheyenne, and Pipestem rivers.  Lacustrine soils are those which have been deposited in old lake beds from which the water has since disappeared.  There are four sub-divisions or series of soils, the Fargo, Barnes, Williams, and Morton series.  Only the Barnes and Williams series are found in Wells county.  The Barnes series consists chiefly of loam, clay loam and silt loam.  The Williams series consists of loam soils of glacial origin and is found in the hilly regions with large stones left by the Glacial Period.
The soils of the narrow valley of the James and Sheyenne rivers are classified as glacial stream deposits usually underlain by gravel, commonly represented by terrace benches with loams, silt loams and clay loams.