Monday, March 28, 2016

Six Shots in the Night

Huron City (1883 Plat Map) Source:
I've written about Huron City a few times here before; and of course Charles Walker wrote about it, making it come alive, in his books Sheriff Charley Brown, and Border Town.  This time, I'm sharing another essay about it written by Jim Benjaminson, that was recently featured in the Pembina Historical Society newsletter.

Huron City is long gone now, but once it was a lively conclave nestled along the border...

Since the earliest days of settlement in what would become Pembina County, many little communities sprang up over the years, many have totally disappeared. Communities such as Hyde Park, Bruce, and Tyner have all but disappeared – leaving behind only the graveyards holding the remains of those early pioneers. Other communities such as Svold, Hallson and Leyden still have a presence, if you know where to look.

During the course of the past years, I’ve given several presentations and each time I’ve asked those in attendance, “Do you know where Huron City was?” Only one person – Ken Gardner – ever raised his hand to reply in the affirmative. Although most of its history has been lost to time, Huron City played a role in Pembina County’s history – most of it, not for the better.

Huron City, Pembina County, Dakota Territory, was located in the extreme northeast corner of the county tucked against the International Boundary to the north, adjoining the Hudson’s Bay company town of West Lynn and the Red River to the east, about two miles north of Pembina.

Newspaper ad for the Half Way House hotel in Huron City
Located on property owned by James H. White, the town-site of Huron City was platted prior to a public auction held September 4, 1879. Advertisements promoting the land sale touted the fact Huron City would be the “terminus of the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railroad and the Manitoba Southern Railroad”, as well as being located on the main wagon road from Winnipeg where a new “International Bridge” would be built, connecting the two railroads.

The fledgling city already boasted Jim White’s saloon. The saloon was unique in that the building actually straddled the border – a red line painted on the floor indicated whether you were on the Canadian side of the border or the U.S. It was here that a Texas train robber was employed as a bartender – an outlaw who would die in a shoot-out in the Pembina post office in November of 1878 while resisting arrest by a deputy U.S. Marshal, who also died as a result of the affair.

White offered “100 business and residential lots – with no use restrictions”. Sale terms included cash payment of 10% of the sale price the day of the sale, with an additional 40% due within one week. The remaining balance could be paid off within one year at “normal rates”. Paying cash for the entire amount the day of the sale got the buyer a 10% discount. The Pembina Pioneer reported sales were good.

Closeup of Huron City platted streets; note 'Wharf St' in NE part of map...
Unlike many of the previously mentioned neighborhood communities, Huron City was platted into lots and streets – Anna Street, Elizabeth Street, Matheson Street, Huron Street and May Street running at an angle (southwest to northeast) with cross streets of First Street, 2nd Street, Third, Fourth and Fifth Streets (only 2nd street was marked with a numerical number, others were spelled out in full) and Wharf Street – leading to the river and presumably a river boat landing.

Article in the October 20, 1892
edition of the
Winnipeg Tribune
In addition to White’s saloon, Dan Rogers was the proprietor of the International Hotel, which along with an attached residence, burned to the ground September 4, 1885. For the “sporting crowd”, there were also two houses of ill-repute, one run by Pearl Gould, the other by Nellie Dunn1. Both establishments closed their doors after an incident the night of October 19, 1892 when a party of men from Emerson attempted to enter Pearl Gould’s but were refused entry. Pearl and her “soiled doves” retreated to the safety of Nellie’s, where the same parties were also refused entry. During the ensuing fracas, an Emerson hotel keeper named John Wagner was shot and killed.

Nellie Dunn was arrested and brought before a Grand Jury at Pembina. Although there was some question as to whether Nellie had actually fired the fatal shot, the jury determined Wagner’s death was justifiable homicide due to threats he had made to harm Nellie. Following the not guilty verdict, Nellie, Pearl and the other “ladies of the evening” were advised it might be advisable for them to return to Canada. Local papers remarked that the Gould name was “more than familiar” to law enforcement in Pembina County.

Although little more is known about Huron City, it remains a unique experiment is establishing a thriving community. Within a few square miles of land encompassing what is now North Dakota, Minnesota, and Manitoba, seven communities were established - Pembina, Huron City, West Lynn, Emerson, St. Vincent, Noyes, and Interapolis. Six had established residences and businesses; five still exist.

Interapolis, Minnesota, which would have been directly across the Red River from Huron City, never materialized. Huron City, Pembina County, Dakota Territory is unique in that it was documented in Pembina County Atlas’ as late as 1909, long after it had faded away to nothing more than a fleeting memory.

1 - A sidelight to the Nellie Dunn story. After she was "invited" to leave the U.S., she ended up in Spokane, Washington, in February 1893; still plying her trade, where she "shot and killed her boyfriend". The locals weren't as understanding as Pembina -- they took Nellie out and lynched her.