American Pikelhaube, 1890s

Today’s Dakota Death Trip has a striking soldier in uniform for the Sunday photo; he may seem like the wrong sort of image to post for Memorial Day weekend.  Thick mustache, guns stacked to the side, and the kind of helmet the Kaiser would praise a solder for keeping in good shape.

That iconic helmet induces people of the 21st century to remember trench warfare, the earliest of tanks crushing everything in its path on the Western Front, and America’s mortal enemies wearing little close-fitting helmets with spikes on top.

Looking back at an earlier time through the filter of modern day has its pitfalls: it seems like every couple days the internet realizes the swastika wasn’t originally a symbol of fascism and genocide.  We see the above photo as the enemy, because one of the most destructive wars ever fought was against an army of helmets like this.  However, that was all in the 1910s, due to political strife of the time, the terrorism of anarchists fighting against the empire swallowing their smaller nations, triggering a war that spanned a continent.  When this photo was taken, America wasn’t shipping our doughboys ‘over there.’ German immigrants were flowing into the midwest, inspiring the railroad to name a fledgling frontier town after German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, eventually becoming the state capitol.

The spiked helmet is known as a pikelhaube, and while it did have its origins in the Germanic regions of central and eastern Europe, there’s nothing sinister about its origins.  Today’s military uniforms are plain and functional, and that change was slow and started in the 19th century.  Military uniforms were a symbol of power, a demonstration of a country’s military strength, and the pikelhaube was an iconic part of those uniforms.

As is with other aspects of fashion, various designs similar to the pikelhaube spread through other militaries around the world, including South America, Russia, and Scandinavian countries.  The British Horse Guard still wears them, in polished metal, and the design is still present, if you know what you’re looking for, in the traditional bobby helmet. And, as a young country not wanting to buck popular fashion trends, the US military adopted it as well.

The pickelhaube first was worn during the Civil War, by German militia regiments; the militias were self-contained units, not affiliated with the standing US Army, so they were able to design their own uniforms.  The militias also pulled from their local communities, which were often of similar ancestry, so a more German region would choose to base their uniforms on the ones they would have work back home.   In this case, they adopted the pikelhaube.

This wasn’t a one-off uniform for the Civil War, honoring the homeland; as the pikelhaube spread around the world, the US Army also adopted it as part of the standard uniform through the 1870s and 1890s, although most modern document credits the British calvary as the inspiration for the American helmet, rather than anything German.  Let’s take a closer look at our man’s helmet insignia:

Detail of American  pikelhaube

That is clearly the traditional American eagle: shield on its chest, holding an olive branch of peace in one claw and arrows of war in the other.  This looks like the M1881 helmet (as opposed to the M1872, which does look more British), and the braid would seem to indicate an officer.

I couldn’t definitively identify the coat our helmeted gentleman has on, it doesn’t look standard nor does it show any rank to indicate an officer.  The standing collar has a number “1” on it, which could indicate either the 1st Cavalry or 1st Infantry — or, this is possibly a militia uniform, designed after the US Army uniform but given their own unit personality.

So, Dakota Death Trip’s photo today isn’t one of the enemy, or of a German fighting for his empire — but an American soldier, the kind of which we honor on Memorial Day.


Reposts and Aliases, 1884

One thing the internet both rewards and hates at the same time is when someone reposts something, without crediting the source, as their own fresh content, under an alias.  Reddit has an entire culture revolving around it.  Copyright defenders try to point out that just because something’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s free, but it falls on deaf ears at every corner.  People use aliases to cover up their duplication, with little regard to taking much claim of their stolen content, other than to reap the attention, upvotes, and thumbs-ups in the fallout.

Sadly, this isn’t something new: it has been going on for more than a hundred years.   From The Bad Lands Cow Boy, April 16th 1885:

Reposters are warned to stop reposting under aliases

Some tenderfoot has sent us an article on roller skating, copied almost entire from an article which has been floating around the newspaper world until it has become stale, and signed it “Cow-puncher.”  We don’t really think the writer knows the difference between a hackamore and a round-up and that he does know a great deal more about rubbing stage stock.  We like to hear from you, boys, but write original articles and send your names so that the editor may know whom to get action on, provided he happens to get stepped on for publishing some other man’s ideas.

I couldn’t figure out what “rubbing stage stock” meant, but it must be an uncowboylike task the way it was accused upon the alias-hidden copyright-infringer.


Lightning Jugglers, 1882

After the juvenile amusement at the flowery term “jerking lightning’ that appeared in Dakota Death Trip a few months ago,  here’s an equally Zeus-like term from 1882:

The Lightning Jugglers

Cincinnati, March 16.– The telegraphers’ convention to-day resolved itself into a committee of the whole on the best method of forming a national organization.  After hearing the views of a majority of the delegates, the committee rose and the convention appointed a committee of five to draft a constitution in accordance with the views presented.   The committee has already begun its labors.  A night session was held, which was principally devoted to an interchange of views on disreputable telegraph schools.  The convention adjourned at 11 o’clock, to meet again to-morrow.

The awe regarding the nascent understanding of electricity — noting that electric lights were a pretty new idea, making telegraphy most people’s only personal interaction with loose electrons  — is clearly evident in the nicknames given to telegraph operators: they were the IT departments of the 19th century.


Amenia, ND, 1880s.

If you head north on Highway 18 from Casselton, on your way to Arthur and Hunter, you’ll pass by the little town of Amenia.  You might not even notice it: the highway takes a bend to the east, and a thick shelterbelt blocks the view of town, other than the grain elevator peeking over the trees like a giant on patrol.

Eben Chafee was an old man when his family contributed a large chunk of money to what would become the Amenia and Sharon Land Company.   The investment group had bought railroad shares, which hadn’t done well in the 1870s, and they cashed in their stock to reinvest in something else West-related.   Rather than trains, the group bought land in Cass County, North Dakota, and send ‘ol Eben west to run the place.

Most of the other “bonanza” farms were merely owners, not farmers; the investors managed inventory and land and workers, but land was leased out, or crops were grown on a cost-sharing method, so there wasn’t a whole lot of tools lifted by the full owners of a bonanza farm.    Chaffee saw things differently:  sure, it was a lot of work to grow crops, and labor was expensive, but Chafee knew that the fertile land of North Dakota could be very profitable if the Amenia and Sharon Land Company controlled everything, from seed to trains.

They attempted to build their own rail line, but not much came of it; the big railroad companies were happy to run rail lines themselves where needed.   Everything else, though, Chaffee build himself: a network of grain elevators, towns full of general stores and blacksmiths and gas stations and hotels, everything needed to support an army of farmers hired to work the land for the Amenia and Sharon Land Company.

The company existed until the 1920s, well past the age of the bonanza farm, but the towns Chaffee built are still there.   Amenia may not be much today, less than a hundred residents on the census, but in its day the town was a industrial hub, providing a valuable service to hundreds of farmers, all for the profit of the Amenia and Sharon Land Company.

The town might not be visible, but Amenia was where this photo was taken — which was immortalized on a two-cent stamp commissioned for the 1891 Trans-Mississippi Exposition.   The stamp shows Chaffee’s farmers working the land with a massive horse teams all lined up.   This stamp bent the rules a bit: only in the past years have US Postal Service rules allowed for a living person to appear on a postage stamp.     In the “Farming in the West” stamp, however, it was quite certain that there were at least a couple of the people in the photo still living when the stamp was released.   Although the town of Amenia might not have the value it once did, the “Farming in the West” stamp still holds value to stamp collectors.

Learn more about Chaffee and the founding of Amenia in the Dakota Datebook story I filed for today.


The Steamboat Montana

My Dakota Datebook today tells the tale of the Wreck of the Montana.   In June, 1879, a tornado hit the boat landing at Bismarck, wreaking havoc on the steamboats moored there.   Three were tied up; the Montana’s sister-ship Dakotah and the Col. Mcleod made it through with minor damage.  The Montana, pictured below, didn’t fare so well.

The Coulson Line had the largest, fastest, and finest fleet of steamboats on the Missouri River.   In early 1879, the newly-launched Montana was their flagship of a half dozen large riverboats.   She was 250 feet long, 48′-6” wide, and had a two-cylinder steam engine.  Each cylinder was 18″ across and had a seven foot stroke — a massive engine to push around the largest stern paddle wheel  ever made, eighteen feet in diameter and 36 feet long.  The size of the Montana provided plenty of room for both passenger cabins and cargo holds, and even with 500 tons of weight on board only drew 3 feet of water.

In June of 1879, Captain Buesen had climbed to the top of the Montana to make sure the smokestacks were secure — unfortunately, they were about the only thing that survived when the tornado hit, along with the hull.   The cabins were torn apart, the pilot house is tipped forward over the bow, mass destruction ensued.   Only four members of the crew were on board when bad weather hit, and all survived with minor injuries.  The Montana, however, had to be sent in for repairs.

After a season in the shop, the Montana was put back into service on the lower Missouri and possibly also on the Mississippi and Ohio for a time.

On June 22, 1884, however, the Montana made its last voyage.  Loaded with freight, the steamboat hit either a submerged log or a bridge piling and sank near Bridgeton, Missouri.  The captain at the time, Bill Massie, managed to limp the Montana onto a sandbar near shore where the boat finally sank to the bottom in only a few feet of water.  The shallow wreck allowed for much of the cargo to be salvaged.

The Montana, however, rises from its grave from time to time.   The wreck was never entirely salvaged; when the water level of the Missouri drops due to drought, like last fall, you can see the remains of the Montana’s hull in the muddy banks of the river.  This has been a boon to researchers, who have little left to go on for these huge steamboats of the Missouri.

You can learn more about the Montana in the book The Steamboat Montana and the Opening of the West, which I sadly have not read yet but is now on my list.


Horsepower, 1884

As I was doing my usual reading of old newspapers I ran across this advertisement. Ads for agricultural implements aren’t unusual, but this one in a May 1884 issue of the Bismarck Tribune caught my eye because of the odd device at the top. Mounted to a wagon are a large array of gears and pulleys, with no immediate explanation of what it does. It doesn’t have the parts to be a harvester, or a binder, or a thresher, and way too many gears to be a plow or a rake. What could this mysterious machine have done for a Dakota Territory farmer of the 1880s?

The main clue is the big wheel in the middle. Spaced evenly around its bullwheel are 10 square loops, alternating a large one and a small one. I’ve seen these before, on a horse-powered hay-baler. You run long bars through the rings that attach to the horse’s harness, so as the horse walks around the machine, the wheel turns and mechanical energy is generated.

The machine in the advertisement is, literally, a five horsepower engine. It gets difficult to search for similar machines, because “horse-power” pulls up pictures of late-model Fords and Toro lawnmowers. This excellent document has eye-witness description of one of these at work, along with some good pictures and description of what it does. The underside of the machine shows a combination pulley and drive-shaft, which is the output of the power. Another name for these is a horsepower ‘sweep’, due to the carousel-like sweeping motion the horses make as they produce their power.

At the time, a five-horsepower steam traction engine was an unhappy combination of expensive, difficult to use, and dangerous when things go wrong. The ongoing industrial revolution was producing innumerable labor-saving devices for the farmer, and this was the way to get the power without replacing your horses or investing in a big expensive machine that’d probably kill you, or at least take a bunch of your fingers. Not that the open gearing of the horse-power above was all that much more safe, but it’s easier to stop well-trained horses than to disengage a steam engine. Technology moves quickly, though: the size and reliability of steam and gasoline engines caught up with and exceeded horse-power sweeps by the beginning of the 20th century, so the window for these links between the unmechanized history of farming and today’s technological marvels of machinery wasn’t very long.


Three Generations of Norway, 1880s.

Care de viste of four Norwegian women. Taken in Arendal, Norway, by the photographer H.P. Nielsen. The original photo has some scratches and was of very low contrast, which accounts for the high grain in the photo above; their faces are nearly indistinguishable to the naked eye in the original. Appears 1880s.


J. D. Muldowney and Bro’s Kitty Chorus

It’s sad when something doesn’t come up in Google whatsoever. J. D. Muldowney & Bro. – nothing. Neither address brings anything up. 164 Main looks like a parking lot now on Google Maps, but 373 could still be an old building. Not even the illustrator, J. H. Ives, shows up in search results. So, this little advertising card holds a bunch of mysterious info, guarded by a chorus of partially-anthropomorphized kitties. It’s printed on a stiff card, not as thick as a postcard but thicker than paper, and it looks like it may have been gummed.