City of Hazen
Reprinted from the Hazen Jubilee Book published in 1988.
The First People
The word “settlers” is used to describe the people who came to Mercer County to live and make a living, as distinguished from the hunters, trappers and frontiersmen who passed through the area in pursuit of their various interests.
Archeologists believe Mercer County had visitors—and perhaps settlers—for some 9,000 years prior to the arrival of white settlers. Mandan and Hidatsa—Native Americans---settled here perhaps 750 years ago. Both tribes were “village horticulturists” who built semi-permanent villages, planted and harvested a variety of crops, and had elaborate political and ceremonial systems. They were, in short, settlers.
During the last several hundred years of their occupation of this area, the Mandan and Hidatsa were concentrated in the area where the Knife River joins the Missouri, the same place chosen by the first white settlers several hundred years later.
As in most small-scale societies, the Mandan and Hidatsa practiced a male/female division of labor that was related to the social and religious structure of the tribe. Women were responsible for building and maintaining the earth lodges and the gardens, tanning hides, making clothing pottery and baskets, and preparing the meals. Childcare was shared by both men and women; grandparents were important teachers for the children. Men were responsible for much of the village ceremonial and social life, for hunting, and for contacts with outsiders. Often this involved establishing trade relations, for the Mandan and Hidatsa villagers were the center of an extensive trade network, both before and after white contact. Increasingly throughout the 19th century, the men of the villages were preoccupied by village defense and warfare. Their principal enemies, the Lakota Sioux, traveled frequently to the Mandan and Hidatsa villages to raid their stores of corn and other crops, and to steal horses. For defensive purposes, the villages were surrounded by palisade fences, and by ditches. Success in warfare was an important component of men’s status, and nearly all adult men were experienced warriors.
Children learned their adult roles and responsibilities partially be emulating and assisting their parents and other family members. Boys often accompanied their fathers and uncles on hunting parties, and as they grew older, on war parties. Men taught the youngsters the art of making stone tools and weapons.
An important source of raw materials for the Mandan and Hidatsa were the Knife River flint quarries, located in what is now Dunn County. Knife River flint was used by Native American in North Dakota for thousands of years, and is found in archeological sites as far away as Florida, Texas, and New York. It was perhaps the first important commodity in the regional trade network. To reach the quarries, Knife River villagers probably followed a route that took them through what is now Hazen. Men hunted bison, deer and antelope, and trapped beaver and other small mammals throughout the Mercer County area. They also fished along the Missouri and Knife.
In their leisure hours, men often gathered on the roofs of the earth lodges where they could smoke, talk, and make tools while keeping an eye out for visitors, both welcome and unwelcome. Men and women enjoyed gambling games, sporting contests, and social dances. Children practiced a variety of competitive games and sports. In wintertime they slid down hills on sleds made of rib runners.
By the time the Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived in Mercer County in the fall of 1804, the Mandan and Hidatsa were at the apex of their power in the Missouri River Valley. Their villages were large and prosperous, consisting of some 4,500 people, the greatest concentration of population on the Missouri.
For the Indians and members of the expedition, the winter of 1803-04 had to be a fascinating experience. Lewis and Clark reported glowingly of the hospitality and friendship of the Indians; the Indians enjoyed their exposure to the members of the expedition and to the gifts the visitors brought. They apparently enjoyed each others company. Furthermore, the Indians looked forward to establishing trade relations with American companies and to gain aid in defending themselves against enemy tribes.
Who was the first white resident of the Hazen area?
White men visited these parts of North Dakota perhaps as long ago as the early 1700’s, but from available evidence it seems most of them were merely passing through, exploring, hunting, trapping, stopping at Indian villages, setting up trading posts along the Missouri. So the first white resident of this community may have been some forgotten adventurer who simply didn't get around to recording where he had been.
After 1804, when the Lewis and Clark Expedition spend a winter near Stanton, the Missouri River became the highway to the northwest, and what is now Mercer County was merely an adjacent expanse of prairie with a fringe of trees along its riverbanks. Those trees acquired a value as fuel for the riverboats that plied the Missouri for six or seven months of each year after 1831. The prairie remained a hunting ground for buffalo, deer, antelope, and game birds – empty except for the remnants of Indian tribes who had survived the smallpox epidemic brought by early white visitors.
Even after the Homestead Act was passed in 1862 there was no movement to this quiet terrain next to the busy river.
A trader of Spanish descent, named Manuel Lisa, had established a post north of Stanton five or six years after the Lewis and Clark visit. Distinguished explorers like John Bradbury, H.M. Brackenridge, artist George Catlin, writer Maximilian, Prince of Wied, touched base, remarked on the crops Indians were growing, and moved on.
They were followed by a long succession of traders, trappers, and hunters, distinguished mainly for their ability to get along with the Indians and therefore leave with their scalps.
Captain Grant Marsh began regular riverboat trips up the Missouri in 1864, became familiar with the river and the riverboat landings, but it wasn’t until after the Civil War ended that any white men settled in Mercer County.
Even so, the word “settled” is used here loosely. Those early settlers were mainly adventurers, clerks at trading posts, or wood hawks who cut and piled wood along the riverbanks for the steamboats, living in tents or dugouts and getting out when winter came.
C.B. Heinemyer, author of the History of Mercer County, became postmaster at Ree (initially called Stoelington) in 1090 and knew many of the frontiersmen, virtually all of who knew each other, so his descriptions of them have the advantage of personal acquaintance if not the precision of history.
It may be that John Nagel was the earliest true settler of record. He stayed a few years after he arrived in this area in 1865 to set up a string of wood yards along the Missouri. His first wood yard was on this side of the Missouri somewhere between what later became the Mannhaven and Expansion town sites, and subsequently part of rural Hazen.
Another early bird was “Lonesome Charley” Reynolds, a frontiersman in the Daniel Bone tradition. He also lived on the Hazen side of the river, furnishing game to the garrison at Fort Steven's on the other side. He was in his 20’s when he came here. He was only 34, and one of Custer’s favorite scouts, when he died with the Custer command at the Little Big Horn.
Lonesome Charley was truly a loner, unlike John Nagel who once boasted he had married “eight squaws, legally.” Frontiersmen often took Indian wives and raised families of half-breed children.
Bill Miller came in the late 1870’s and worked for a time as a wood chopper, later started a wood yard of his own, and when the German-Russian homesteaders came, Bill hired many of them around Expansion to dig potatoes for him, at 25 cents per 10 hour day. They were expected to furnish their own
According to Heinemeyer’s history of Mercer County, Robert McGahan was a river man who filed the first homestead claim in Mercer County, in 1882.
It was Richard “Four Paw” Farrington, an Irishman who filed for the homestead on which Hazen is now situated. He reportedly earned his nickname from having worked for the nationally known Forepaugh Circus.
Farrington and his brother Tom at one time had Mercer County's biggest ranch, located south of the Knife River in the Hazen-Beulah area, and when Richard Farrington gave up ranching, he took up the hotel business in Hazen for a time.
If Hazen want to point to its real beginnings, it has to look to Alexander F. “Sandy” Roberts, who arrived in the fall of 1882, squatted on what was to become part of Hazen, and in 1884 filed a request for a post office to be names Hazen. His request was granted, and on February 12, 1885, Hazen became the authorized name of a United States post office and won a place on the map. However, it was to be another 29 years before Hazen became a town.
Hunting & Fishing in the Early Days
By the time the railroad reached Hazen, hunting and trapping already were subject to regulation. No longer was it possible to take to the field any day of the year to shoot game for the table or to trap furs for cash.
But hunting was good. Prairie chickens were “unusually plentiful” in the fall of 1913, not yet crowded out of the habitat by the croplands that since have virtually eliminated them. The buffalo were gone. Antelope were rare. There were some deer around.
Game limits were still generous during Hazen’s early days. The daily bag limit for prairie chicken was 10; for ducks and geese, 15. The season stretched from early September to December. Coyotes, fox and rabbits provided sport hunting. Mink, muskrats, beaver could be trapped all winter long. Fishing was limited, but catfish and bullheads were plentiful. So were carp.
Perhaps the most remarkable event in Hazen’s game history was the introduction of pheasants. Dr. C.R. Chapman was one of the founders of Hazen’s Isaac Walton League chapter in 1930. He was chosen the chapter's first president, and he was instrumental in the introduction of pheasants.
Some 75 hens and 25 roosters arrived in February 1931, and were placed in pens along Antelope Creek northeast of town where they were fed until spring. Shortly after the pheasants arrived, the state game and fish department offered the local Isaak Walton chapter Hungarian partridge from Czechoslavakia – some 75 or 80 hens and a similar number of roosters, as Dr. Chapman recalls. They were put in another set of pens and also fed by members of the chapter. In the spring the birds were placed around the county in small batches – three hens and a rooster for the pheasants. Dr. Chapman and Harold Buri distributed most of them.
Despite the drought and some miserable winters in the Thirties, the birds flourished. By the early 1940’s, the Hazen area was one of the prime pheasant hunting grounds in the nation, and good pheasant hunting continued into the early 1950’s.
In the fall of 1946, Hazen played host to 27 military staff delegates from the United Nations for a two-day pheasant hunt, generating massive publicity in the process.
In the fall of 1951, governors from five states as well as other members of the Missouri River Basin Interagency Committee were invited to a pheasant hunt in the Hazen community.
Suddenly, in 1953 there was no season on pheasants for the first time in 23 years, precipitating a major crisis among North Dakota sports factions as to where the blame lay for the pheasant population decline. Whatever the cause, the pheasants never again achieved anything like the spectacular number of the early 1940’s.
Hungarian partridge are still around in sufficient numbers to call for an open season. Ruffed grouse, sometimes called “chickens”, also are around, but in diminished numbers.
Garrison Dam had a surprising impact on both hunting and fishing in the area. Lake Sakakawea apparently altered the flyways followed by the duck and goose migrations. While the numbers of ducks seen each fall has declined, the number of geese has increased dramatically. Geese now have breeding grounds in the Lake Audubon area northeast of Hazen, and their numbers are increasing annually as some migrate and others winter here.
The introduction of wild turkeys several years ago has brought another major game bird into Hazen’s hunting grounds as their numbers continue to increase.
Fishing, once a local sport for small boys and retired oldsters, now attracts sportsmen of all ages from all over the country. Lake Sakakawea offers Chinook Salmon, Lake Trout, Rainbow and Brown Trout, Walleye, Saugers, Paddle Fish, and Small Mouth Bass. The lake also hosts such non game fish as White Bass, Perch, Catfish, Ling and Sturgeon.
White tail deer were expected to decline in numbers once Lake Sakakawea flooded much of their habitat. Instead, the deer have been increasing in number.
"Jolling" The General Gets Hazen It's Name
Hazen was named for A.D. Hazen, who was third assistant postmaster general in the summer of 1884, when Alexander F. Roberts made application for a post office.
In his 1932 letter to Mrs. Catherine Albers of Hazen, Roberts tells how he “negotiated with Third Assistant Postmaster General A.D. Hazen for a post office, jollying him along by saying we would name it Hazen in his honor, which he granted and I was named the first Postmaster of Hazen…”
Third Assistant Postmaster General Hazen was no stranger to the area. Earlier he had served at Fort Stevenson, a military post on the north side of the Missouri, the boundaries of which extended into what became northern Mercer County, so he had once lived within 20 miles of the future town of Hazen.
Whether Roberts personally knew General Hazen is not clear from his letter, although the term “jollying him along” seems to suggest some kind of personal association.
Official documents relating to the Hazen postal application don't quite jibe with Roberts’ recollections.
On July 2, 1884, First Assistant Postmaster General Frank Hatton sent a “Location Paper” to Z.L. Jones in care of the postmaster at causey. The location paper stated:
“Sir: Before the Postmaster General decides upon the application for the establishment of a post office at Hazen, County of Mercer, Territory of Dakota, it will be necessary for you to carefully answer the subjoined questions, get a neighboring postmaster to certify to the correctness of the answers, and return the location paper to the Department, addressed to me.”
Although the location paper was initially addressed to Z.L. Jones, his name was lined out and the name of Alexander F. Roberts was substituted. Near the bottom of the paper where the signature of the proposed postmaster was to appear, the name of Zacharia L. Jones appears to have been erased and the signature of Alexander F, Roberts substituted. The Jones/Roberts certification is dated June 21, 1884.
Some pertinent facts from the location paper are:
The post office would be situated in the SW quarter of Section 18, Township 144 North, Range 86 West, in the County of Mercer, State (sic) of Dakota.
It will be on or near route No. 35366, being the route from Weller in McLean County to Clarks Ranch, on which the mail is now carried one time per week.
The contractors name is L.H. Warren.
The name of the nearest office to the proposed one, on the same route, is Causey, its distance is 12 miles in a East direction from the proposed office.
The name of the nearest office to the proposed one, not on this route, is New Salem distance by the most direct road 15 miles in a South direction from the proposed office. (Actual distance was nearer 40 miles.)
The name of the most prominent river near it is Knife.
The name of the nearest creek is Otter.
The proposed office will be on the bank of said river, on the South side of it, and will be two and one half miles from said nearest creek on the East side of it.
If it is to be a village, sate the number of inhabitants.
Also, the population to be supplied by the proposed office. –Ans. 30 persons. (The number is overwritten and not clear, and may have been 20, 30 or 80, possibly a deliberate obfuscation.)
At the top left corner of the location paper appears a rubber stamped seal dated Feb. 11, 1885. Postal records show the Hazen post office was established the following day Feb. 12, 1885.
The postal records also indicate that Z.L. Jones was the first postmaster, serving from Feb. 12, 1885, until Nov. 5, 1885, when he was succeeded by Alexander F. Roberts.
If the location of the Hazen post office is correctly stated, it would place the post office on the south side of the Knife River in what later became know as Keeley’s Grove, a popular crossing in the days before the Haas bridge was built. The location is about a half mile southwest of Hazen across the Knife from the point where the railroad tracks come nearest the river.
What the document tells us is that Hazen became the name of a post office in Mercer County, Dakota Territory, Feb. 12, 1885. It was to be located on the south bank of the Knife River just west of the present site of Hazen, and that either Zacharia L. Jones or Alexander F. Roberts filled out the location paper, and that one or the other subsequently became the first postmaster.
Since both served as postmaster that first year, who was first may not be of earthshaking consequence, but this earliest official document bearing the name of Hazen tends to cast a small cloud of doubt over Hazen’s historical beginnings.