First, a little background for the later generations, such as myself,
who did not know the two writers first hand, and are not familiar with Glen Ullin.
I would like to give some history on their ancestry, as genealogy is a hobby of mine,
and the conditions of the early settlement in Dakota. I wish I had the time to
research the Dakota pioneer era in more depth, but in the interests of passing
these stories on to another set of readers before another generation goes by,
I will settle for what I now know. The stories were preserved by my great-uncle
Homer Bean and my mother, for which IÕm very thankful.
Theodore was the youngest of three kids, all boys. From first-hand reports he was
a master storyteller and could keep people spellbound and laughing even when they
had heard the same story over and over. He would sit in his chair in the living room,
by the black and
white TV, not far from the small coal-burning furnace. This was in the house I grew up
to know as Uncle HomerÕs. My Great-uncle Homer was TheodoreÕs only son and they built
the house together, by a creek between buttes just South of Glen Ullin. It was a low
house, built partly into the hill to take advantage of the natural insulation of the earth.
I used to listen
to Uncle Homer tell stories as he puffed on his pipe, in the same room as my mom would
listen to her grandpa Theodore. When he
started telling stories, young and old would gather around to hear of the pioneer days.
Obviously these written words cannot reflect the embellishments and gestures and
inflection that make a good story great, but with a little imagination the original
spirit and feelings come through.
Homer's father Theodore wrote most of the stories, and Alma additional stories.
Her stories include some of married life, but mostly they both write about their
childhoods, taking place in the Glen Ullin area, roughly from 1885 to 1896.
Ted and Alma married in 1908 in Glen Ullin. First I will describe Theodore BeanÕs
family tree, then his stories follow. After a brief description of the Lidstrom
family, AlmaÕs stories are included. But first, an understanding of the Glen Ullin
area of North Dakota, during this era, is needed.
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About Glen Ullin and its Surroundings
Most of North DakotaÕs settlers were recent Scandinavian, German, or German-from-Russia
immigrants, who were seeking farmland in the New Country about the time the Great Plains
were opening up for homesteaders. There were also some settlers of Scotch-Irish-English
background, some of these were moving west, following the frontier, and some were coming
straight from the old country.
Railroad workers in general were often Irish, and this is one possibility of where the
name Glen Ullin comes from. Glenullin of Ireland is a picturesque valley nestled in the
Sperrin Mountains of far northern Ireland. Another theory, given in the Minneapolis
Tribune in 1953, is that Ullin comes from the poem "Lord Ullin's Daughter". The town
is in a shallow valley (glen), hence Glen Ullin. Originally it was occasionally spelled
"Glenullen", such as the sign at the Northern Pacific depot, which supports the idea of
an immigrant from Glenullin, Ireland suggesting the name. The part in favor of the poem
(besides being published in a major newspaper as the official story line) is that the poem
is written in 1875, and Glen Ullin was named in 1883 (by Major Bovay, colonization agent
for the NP RR). This will probably remain a mystery, unless we track down Major Bovay
and what his inspirations were. (Go here for a
picture of Glenullin, Ireland).
Railroads often named the towns that were started along their lines. Usually these were
planned by the railroads themselves. They would alternate Catholic and Protestant towns,
and advertise the land in glowing terms in Europe. Often specific towns were settled by
people of one nationality and the next town was settled by people of a different nationality,
and sometimes a good portion of the residents of a single European town would all settle
in one town in the American Midwest.
All told, by 1915, 79% of all people in North Dakota were immigrants or children of
immigrants. Alma Lidstrom was in this category. Theodore however, was of English/Scottish
heritage having a long history in North America. We will look at their family background
in more detail a little later.
At this time, this was the rough edge of civilization and definitely pioneer country.
Following statehood of Minnesota in 1854, the land of North Dakota was under military
command until reforming as Dakota Territory in 1861. This included North and South Dakota,
Montana and Wyoming. Indian relations up to this point were relatively calm, despite the
near annihilation of the famous Mandans due to a small pox epidemic in 1837. But in 1862,
there was a violent Indian uprising at Birch Coulee, Minnesota. Some of the Sioux fighters
left for the Dakotas, and a zealous army searched them out, fighting in the sacred Badlands
and Killdeer Mountain in 1864. This and the great buffalo slaughter in the 1870Õs forced
most Indians onto reservations (1882 was the last Great Indian Buffalo Hunt). The Laramie
Treaty of 1868 defined Sioux lands as those West of the Missouri River, but by 1872
Morton County (where Glen Ullin is today) was created and in 1875 the US War Department
officially allowed settlement on Indian Lands, leading to more uprisings.
This was due in part to the sudden discovery of gold in Montana in the 1860's and then
in the Black Hills. Because of this, a rail line was built thru the Dakotas into Montana,
and Fort Abraham Lincoln was built up to protect the railroad. Lt. Col. Custer left
Fort Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck in 1876 and fought the Battle of Little Bighorn
(CusterÕs Last Stand). This made Crazy Horse, Gall and Sitting Bull famous.
Sitting Bull in particular did not like reservation life, where they had to live on
government handouts - fenced in, unable to hunt, migrate or live like they had for thousands
of years. Living with violence and fear of violence, a religious cult quickly spread
across many Indian tribes called "The Ghost Dance". Followers were promised that their
ancestors would come back and overthrow the white man, returning the Indians to traditional
lifestyle. This cult made the military and the settlers nervous, because the followers
were not afraid to die, although the cult was pacifist, and a mix of traditional Indian
beliefs and Christianity. The last major uprising was at Wounded Knee in South Dakota
in 1890, where Sitting Bull was killed. Shortly before that, in November of 1889,
North and South Dakotas became states.
Most of the Dakota population was still well east of the Missouri River. Along the
Red River "Bonanza Farms" became popular in the late 1870Õs. These were immense farms,
owned by Easterners, growing wheat and other grains and returning a healthy profit to
their out-of-state owners. In the Badlands along the Missouri, ranching was started
on a similar scale a few years later, but was severely curtailed by the winter of 1886-1887.
Winter came weeks early with blizzards in mid-November. Up to three fourths of the
cattle population died that winter. Ranching continued, but the days of large-scale
open range ranching had ended.
The mighty herds of buffalo, which at one time were like the wildebeests of Africa,
had been decimated by the anti-Indian policies of Presidents Andrew Johnson and Ulysses
S. Grant. They knew the Indians of the Great Plains depended on the buffalo for food,
shelter, household materials and spiritual sustenance. They promoted shooting the
buffalo for their hides, occasionally the meat, but often with no purpose other than
to kill them, and their numbers which had once numbered in the millions, fell to less
than a couple hundred before a few people, notably one shooter turned entertainer and
businessman, Buffalo Bill Cody, gathered up some herds onto private land and preserved
the species. After the slaughter, there were buffalo bones scattered all over the
prairie. These were bought by fertilizer and feed companies, which ground them up for
The geography of this area of North Dakota is very interesting, and rewarded those who
could work with the ruggedness. Theodore Roosevelt bought his first ranch, the
Maltese Cross in 1883, just north of this area. This is by the town
of Medora which had its start that year. (I have another ancestor who worked there in the
early days, in the Rough Riders Hotel). He lived there on a part-time basis and kept a
small herd of cattle until 1898. Teddy Roosevelt later said, "I would never have been
president if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota."
As President, he is known for his commitment to nature, establishing Yellowstone National
Park and setting aside millions of acres as wilderness.
Glen Ullin and other locations in these stories, which are in the corner of North Dakota
west of the Missouri River and along modern-day I-94 and south to the state line, have
an open and rough beauty. For those readers who have not seen this area, it is not a
flat featureless plain, like the immense flatness of the Red River Valley, but rugged
and hilly. Actually, the hills are buttes, as they are called there. Buttes, like
mesas, are flat topped with sometimes steep sides, often with ledges where there is a
layer of harder rock, sandstone or burnt clay. The buttes can be fifty to a couple
hundred feet in elevation, created by erosion. Farther north these buttes become closer
and closer until continuous, forming the Badlands of North Dakota, which are very
different than the Badlands of South Dakota.
The vegetation is short-grass prairie, with cottonwoods and other trees near water.
This gives long views, bounded only by the buttes. Trees can be grown only if they are
heavily watered their first few years, or planted by coulees. (Coulees and sloughs are
areas of open, sometimes semi-stagnant, water, with a narrow ring of brush and trees).
Curlew Creek (called Big Muddy Creek on newer maps) flows from Hebron thru Glen Ullin and
on to the Missouri near Mandan. Well south of Glen Ullin there is a large rocky butte called
Heart Butte. Near that is the Heart River, which joins with Antelope Creek before
joining the Big Muddy. Farther south are the Cedar and Cannonball Rivers, forming the
border of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, with Fort Yates as the center of activity,
again on the Missouri River. All of these places were visited by T.C. Bean in his stories.
The rocks in this area vary considerably. There is fossilized wood, sometimes whole tree
trunks protruding out of the sides of buttes. There is an abundance of coal, mostly low-grade
lignite coal, also scoria, which is a clay baked into red rock by burning coal, and is
naturally common, often used for making roads. Another common but interesting rock type
is the cinder rock Š a volcanic rock almost sponge-like in appearance because of all the
air bubbles that were present when the rock solidified. There are so many air bubbles in
some rocks that it will literally bob to the surface of water if thrown in. Another
interesting phenomenon in the area is gumbo. This is a clay-gravel mix that becomes very
sticky and clumpy, yet slick, when wet. This is the bane of traveling in any kind of
conveyance Š modern cars, horses, people on foot, all get weighed down and clogged up when
trying to cross sections of gumbo. This clay helped the neighboring town of Hebron to
become widely known for its bricks.
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