July 16, 1926: Grand Forks and the Red River Valley

After an overnight trip from Chicago, the Columbia River Special arrived in St. Paul at 6 am the next morning. After presumably eating breakfast, they departed the train at 7:30 am for a quick trip to the Minnesota Historical Society and a few other points of interest. They returned to St. Paul Union Depot at 9:15 for a 9:30 am departure, joined by Minnesota members of the expedition.

This is the only Flandrau paper in my collection whose interior pages are the same size as the cover. This suggests it is a much later printing; the Great Northern reprinted these papers for distribution to passengers for at least two decades after the expedition. Click image to download a 14.7-MB PDF of this booklet.

The train took about eight hours to get to Grand Forks, North Dakota, where they met students and other expedition members who came from the West. The Great Northern staged a meeting with the William Crooks and its two historic passenger cars, looking tiny compared with the 1926 train. Although the Great Northern depot was located about 1-1/2 miles away from the campus of the University of North Dakota, most of the evenings festivities took place at the campus–which is bordered on the south by GN freight yards–so it seems likely that the train skipped the depot and let passengers off next to the university.

In addition to the William Crooks, the railway had arranged for demonstrations of even more primitive modes of travel: a lengthy string of Red River ox carts and Indian travois. The two-wheeled carts were used prior to the railroad to carry goods between St. Paul, the head of navigation on the Mississippi River, and points north. Grand Forks residents showed off pottery made from North Dakota clays and gave each expedition member a locally hand-cast replica of the Astor medal, which American Fur Company employees had given to Indians as a token of friendship. The University of North Dakota owned one of the few remaining authentic medals.

A string of Red River carts was displayed to the expedition on the University of North Dakota campus. This photograph is from the August 7, 1926 Sarasota [Florida] Herald-Tribune; click image for a larger view.

That evening, expedition members enjoyed a salmon banquet provided by the people of Grand Forks. A toast by North Dakota Governor (and Grand Forks resident) Arthur Sorlie was followed by several lectures on North Dakota history. Using the latest technology, Canadian historian Charles N. Bell gave a lecture over the radio from his home in Winnipeg about his early days in the region. University of North Dakota historian Orin Libby described the cultures of the Native Americans who once lived in the area. Other lectures were given by Minnesota historian Solon Buck and writer Lawrence Abbott. The lectures were interspersed with entertainment provided by Great Northern musicians.

With the addition of people from west of Grand Forks, the Columbia River Historical Expedition now had 160 members, which was enough to require two trains for most of the rest of the trip. Members boarded their trains that evening for an overnight trip across the state to Fort Union.

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