Old Andrew Voigt did not
live to see the great reservoir that has inundated his cattle range.
He died in 1939 when Garrison Dam project in North Dakota was still on
the drawing boards.
Today the sporting vacationists
who enjoy Lake Thompson, the reservoir behind Garrison Dam, little realize
that its waves blanket former battle grounds of area tribes, sites of old
trading posts and river forts, and Andy Voigt's Missouri Valley cow country.
Who was Andy Voigt? Some
historians rate him on a par with T.R. (Teddy) Roosevelt of the Badlands,
the Marquis DeMoras of Medora's Chateau, and Sitting Bull of Custer battle
fame. But Voigt's history making was of a different type. He
A member of the Fifty-Years-in-the-Saddle
Club claimed that Voigt lived by the Golden Rule. Indians called
him Brother. With Voigt's era past and the scenes of his activities
buried under a man-made sea, the recalling of North Dakota's yesteryears
tend to revive interest in his memory.
Andy Voigt entered the region
in an emigrant car that rolled westward on a Northern Pacific train about
1900. As the homesteaders special braked to a stop, one spring morning,
the spine tingling jolts heaved Voigt off a baled hay bunk and rammed his
head against a wheel of the dismantled covered wagon. He was aware
that the team hitched in one end of the car was swaying and stomping on
the plank floor to hold balance. Voigt already dressed, clambered
over furniture and boxes to see what he could do to steady the horses.
His murmured reassurances, spoken in German, and the gentle touch of his
hand calmed the horses. Andy picked up their empty wooden bucket
and turned to the car door to look out on a scene of trees, hills, housing
and railroad yards. Other emigrants were leaving the car to stretch
their legs, so Voigt, bucket in hand, dropped down to a cinder pathway
to do the same.
An excited boy was running through
the cars telling people the train was now on the Western side of the Missouri
River. This was Mandan.
"We're in Roosevelt country,
"That's good. Yah, yah,
that's good," he replied.
Back in the early eighties, Theodore
Roosevelt had spent parts of three years at hunting and ranching in Dakota's
Badlands on the Little Missouri. Now that the Rough Riders' hero
had been elected Vice President of the United States the enterprising land
promoters were glamorizing North Dakota's west as the Roosevelt Country.
In the same region cattle barons had grazed Texas herds, vigilanties had
strung up or gunned down rustlers, and the Native Indians had fought to
defend their homeland. The way of life that had made past history
for the big range operators was wiped out by the bad winters of 1886-1887;
bones of dead cattle had been gathered and shipped. Now there was
new hope that homesteaders would resettle and vitalize the region.
Across two empty tracks Voigt
saw an east-bound stocktrain having its engine changed. A big hatted
man in boots and a showy calf-skin vest was walking along the cars carrying
a long prod pole. At times he pushed the pole through the slats to
poke some animal that was lying down in the car to make it get back on
its feet. Voigt sniffed the barnyard stench and he smiled as if it
"Where I get water?" he asked
of the rancher.
Turning his gaze on the bucket-carrying
plowman the rancher's moustache horned down on each side of his tight-set
mouth. The smiling farmer was no welcome sight to the stockgrower.
"I got team in car," Voigt explained,
peering between the slats into the car. "Ah, cows 'n calves.
Why you ship cows 'n calves now? Spring?"
"You interested?" the rancher
asked with a relaxing of features. "I lost my range. Hung on
too long. Should have sold last summer when honyocks started to gobble
up the prairie around me. Now its too late"
He looked and sounded bitter.
"You mean no place left to ranch?"
Voigt questioned in concern.
He nodded his head. "You
wasn't aiming to start a ranch?"
"At Richardton, the Roosefelt
"Roosevelt range is farther west
and its all sewed up. You'd have to go where there are no homesteaders
and lots of open country."
"Where?" Voigt asked eagerly.
"If I knew I'd go there myself."
The engine's whistle was a starting signal. "Water--there's a hydrant
at the feed pens." With that the rancher returned to mount the caboose
The rancher's prediction changed
Voigt's bright mood. To ranch had been the dream of his life.
Had he waited too long?
Andrew Voigt, the eldest son
of William and Theresa Voigt, was born in Saxony, Germany, on February
7th, 1867. In the home country the wealthy landowners dominated farming
and the Voigts were field hands. Andy was twelve the year the family
migrated to America. A census report of 1880 listed the Voigt family
as farm dwellers in Saint Augusta Township, Stearns County, Minnesota.
Andy was attending a country school.
America with its freedoms and
wonders inspired Andy's growing years with a character-moulding idealism.
life in the U.S.A. held a bigness of purpose. A minister told him
it was God's Country.
Andy learned eagerly from other
people. He did chores on various farms. He gained experience
in hunting, fishing, and boating with other young men on the waters around
the St. Cloud area of the state. Minnesota's colorful history gave
Voigt an image of pioneer life. He wanted to experience it.
Although the region was dairy country, Voigt rode horses and worked cattle
when it was possible. In the old country the American Indian is pictured
as a hard riding, paint and feathered warrior. The reservation loafers
that he saw in Minnesota filled Voigt with compassion for their humble
state. He gave them fish, game and vegetables for which they seemed
"You dumb head!" his father scolded.
"You feel sorry for Indians and fish camp hobos. You are growing
up. Think of your own future--that's what counts!"
It was sound logic. He
saved his wages and made a down payment on a piece of land that later became
In 1889 Andy Voigt and Anna Berger
were married and the St. Augusta community promoted a wedding festival
in their behalf. Older women told Anna she had made a good choice.
Under her management Andy Voigt, a good provider, would become a fine husband.
Years later Anna was to admit that Andy had set ideas and ways and could
be as stubborn as the mule teams he worked in the fields. Since Anna
could not change him she joined in his dream. If they ever intended
to ranch, she reasoned, they would have to go West where land was free.
Andy Voigt had small children
to provide for by the time he made the plunge in 1900. Anna and the
family remained at home until he had a ranch house ready for them.
Voigt's emigrant car was sidetracked
as scheduled at Richardton, a little town seventy miles west of Bismarck.
He was welcomed by friendly people and the optimistic claim shack dwellers
that preceded him. The local land office man showed Voigt his maps
and pointed out the acreage still open to homesteaders, but Andy Voigt
could not be hastened in land selection. He stored his stuff in a
barn, hitched a team to the canvas covered wagon and decided to look the
country over first.
"You might get lost," the locator
argued, "or run into a gun-packing cowman that hates a sodbuster's guts.
You could get way out of touch with me. You could run into rattle
snakes and wolves, Indians and renegades."
"That's good," Voigt replied,
"I like to see wild West."
A week later Voigt's wagon skirted
the rim of the Little Missouri Badlands--the Roosevelt country--and headed
northward over a rolling prairie. The claim shack frontier fell behind.
He saw old log houses with dirt on their roofs, sided by barns and pole
corrals. Some ranches had windmills. Horned cattle stared at
the white topped wagon and raced off at its approach. Sometimes he
met a rider, but little talk was indulged in by these horsemen; they
had little to say.
One drizzling afternoon a cowboy
wearing a yellow slicker rode up to size up the stranger. He advised
a short cut across a sage flat to higher ground. Voigt started across
the sage brush country and soon found himself trapped in gumbo, a clay
that when wet clung to tires of buggies and the hoofs of horses.
The cowboy's jeering whoops came to Voigt as the fellow rode off on a sod
Most settlers were more friendly.
Voigt was warned about flash floods in dry creeks and quicksand found in
shallow river beds. The aspiring rancher lived off the land, shooting
rabbits, ducks, and prairie chickens.
He saw coyotes, wolves, antelope,
and prairie dog towns. He found ranch life to be lonely; ranch
women set out their best dishes when he stopped to visit. They all
wanted neighbors but the ranch could not afford to lose range to a newcomer.
Understanding their situation, Voigt wondered if Anna could adjust to the
lonely country life.
Winding far north the Little
Missouri curved around the Killdeers in its approach and junction with
the big Missouri that flowed southeastward toward Bismarck. From
a vantage point on the Killdeer Mountains Voigt looked upon a vast, empty
prairie basin that reached on to the big Muddy. Wild horses grazed
there. This, he told himself, was where he wanted to ranch.
He followed the horse herd for most of a day before they led to a spring-fed
pool in a gully. Voigt made camp and picked out a house site near
the clear water pool.
The canvas topped wagon box was
slid off on the ground as a site marker. Voigt ran the wagon frame
into the nearest woodland where he cut logs for the building his mind pictured.
It was to be as fine a ranch home as any he had yet seen. He would
build it with his own hands in compliment to Anna and the children.
He hauled three loads of trimmed
logs to the site before he started to frame up the structure. In
June he was well started when suddenly tragedy threatened.
The hot weather had brought heavy
cloud formations over the Killdeer peaks, and now skies darkened ominously
and the temperature dropped. Thunder rumbled, then crashed and sent
bolts of electrical charge at the earth. There came a strong rush
of dusty wind, a sprinkling of big rain drops, and the dry storm moved
Andy Voigt was so engrossed with
the fitting and matching of logs that he smelled smoke before he discovered
a prairie fire racing across the range toward him. He dropped tools
into the pool, mounted one horse and, loading its team mate, rode at a
gallop to a safer locality.
The fire swept eastward across
the dry grass range, leaving a black expanse behind it. It died down
in a haze of blue smoke at the Missouri River's bank. When Andy Voigt
ventured back to the job his logs, camp, and wagon were destroyed.
Stunned by the calamity Voigt interpreted the terrible event as an act
of God to punish him for dreams of grandeur. Humbled by the thought,
he offered a prayer in atonement and considered a new start.
Minus wagon and logs his only
recourse was a dugout. He fished tools out of the pool and started
to dig a big, square hole in the gully's bank. Hours later the shadow
of an Indian fell across his diggings. He was surrounded by grim-looking
"How, kola," Voigt greeted in
The Chief's eyes fired at the
greeting. He made an arms sweep of the area that accused Voigt of
the blackened range. Andy wagged his head. He used English,
German, and what Sioux he knew to explain what happened but to no avail.
The angry Chief ordered his hands tied and Voigt was marched by his captors
to the Missouri, placed in a boat, and taken a prisoner, across the river.
After some uncomfortable traveling,
due to his bound wrists, they came to the east bank, and Voigt saw there
a peopled area. Here was the agency for the Fort Berthold reservation.
The captive saw old earthen lodges, a ruined stockade post, huts, and tents
of Indians. The natives crowded around the trading post while the
chief took the prisoner to the agent and lodged his complaints. The
agent listened to Voigt's version of the fire.
"Your Sioux talk condemned you,"
the agent said. "The Sioux are the enemy of these people."
When the situation was explained
to the Indians, a chief offered Voigt hospitality while the agent studied
his case. The crux of the matter was that the spring and house site
were on reservation domain and no white man could homestead there.
The Indians on this reservation
were the descendants of the Ree, Mandan, and Gros Ventres people.
These Indians were once a power in the valley but they had been so weakened
by a small pox epidemic that they united for survival, built an earth lodge
village across the river from their former locality, and the government
established old Fort Berthold as their protector against enemies.
The fort was now the agency. Up the valley was Elbowoods, the trade
center, and nearby was the Sacred Heart convent run by nuns for religious
and educational advantages.
The agent explained to Voigt
that the west river side of the region was mostly hunting and horse range
and summer camp ground. He thought a good ranching operation over
there might make more young Indians stock-growing minded. They would
enjoy working horses under responsible management. The agent offered
to replace the burned wagon if Voigt would cooperate.
"You have a way with Indians,"
the agent complimented. "Crow Heart calls you Brother, Mr. Voigt."
"All blood is red," Andy replied.
"We can get along."
Even so Voigt could not homestead
the beautiful spring site he loved. He could file on land bordering
the reservation on the south. A well would provide water. He
could rent grazing rights on the bottom, and this is what he agreed to.
Andy kept Anna informed by letters;
a new log house was being constructed, the Indians were friendly and helpful.
He had bought some breeding stock and a cattleman had loaned him a bunch
of cows to graze for halk the calf crop. Burning off the dry hay--he
told Anna--did not damage the basin grass where cattle, antelope, and horses
now grazed. Voigt shot a big gray wolf from the door of his house
and its skin was being tanned for a rug. Anna and the children waited
impatiently for his letters.
Sixty miles south of the ranch
lay Richardton, the nearest railroad point. It took Voigt three days
of wagon travel to go by prairie trail to town for the furniture stored
there and three days to haul it home. Voigt brought back mail and
supplies for the few ranches connected by the trail. The friendly
courier was dinner-and-night-stop guest at these ranches, for such was
the hospitable custom in the West. The ranch wives wanted to know
when Andy's family was coming out; they happily anticipated another
Anna Voigt and the children arrived
by train in 1902. Andy met them at Richardton with the wagon and
two gentle Indian ponies. The children clamored for rides on the
ponies. To please Anna the young riders were hitched to the rear
of the wagon.
Anna made the log house a home.
She was welcomed at the agency, the convent, and at Elbowoods. She
made a good adjustment to North Dakota's hot summers and bleak winters.
The children, playing, riding, and wrestling with young Indians, learned
the language faster than their parents.
Voigt and Crow Heart were trading
language talents. Andy taught him German and Crow Heart coached Voigt
in Indian. When Anna met the chief, he said, "Wie gates, gooten morgan."
Summers brought camping activities
on Voigt's side of the river. Squaws harvested wild fruit and tanned
hides. They hunted herbs and dried meat into jerky so it would keep
for winter use. As game becames scarce Voigt donated a steer or two
for tribal use. He supplied beef for celebrations and became a standby
supporter of the convent. As success came to him he shared his good
fortune with those in need.
In their senior years the sons
of Andy Voigt recalled exciting wolf hunts they joined in as boys.
Wolves and coyotes killed young cattle, horses and sheep and had to be
destroyed. The Indians and other ranch neighbors joined the Voigts
in the hunts. Sometimes they brought running dogs.
To cattle growing, Andy Voigt
added a line of Percheron horses. A fine stallion was brought West
and the investment paid off as there was a demand for the heavy type teams.
In time Voigt introduced sheep to the region and it opened another field
of opportunity and profits. He bought and leased acreage to take
care of his needs, and he plowed sod and planted it to wheat that had its
good and bad seasons. The grain was hauled to Richardton for milling
There were the usual hard times.
They weathered bad winters and troubles that evaporated when coinditions
bettered for the family. The remote ranch life had many disadvantages
and hazards. When Clara, a daughter, arrived prematurely Andy had
to deliver the child himself. The tiny babe, weighing only two pounds,
was wrapped in cotton and cradled in a shoe-box. She was almost too
weak to nurse. Against great odds, loving care saved the infant's
life and she survived.
Educations and morals were important
to the children's future. The Sacred Heart convent was kept in operation,
largely by Voigt's aid, to provide schooling and training for the children.
Voigt's children played with Indian youngsters and, later on, one of Andy's
sons was to marry a fine Native woman.
Voigt's log home was located
fifteen miles north of Holliday. Through the years more settlers
located in the west river region of Mercer County. It produced such
postoffice points as Ree, Defiance, Bailey, Hanks, Krunthal, Sofia, and
Golden Valley; yet when Voigt's home was destroyed by fire in 1912
Andy and Anna decided to move to the east side ot the river. A comfortable
new house was built four miles north of Elbowoods and it served Andy and
Anna the rest of their days.
The east side of the Missouri
had developed more rapidly than the west. A Soo Line railroad terminated
at Garrison and it made a fine shippers' market for products of ranches
and farms in the area. With sons looking after ranch affairs on the
West side ranch Andy Voigt took up wheat farming in his new location.
His teams broke sod on extended acreage and some seasons the grain yield
was of good quality and return. Being able to store when the market
was low, Voigt carried over crops for later, richer rewards.
The Voigt's produced seven sons
and two daughters. During harvest time a dozen more hands were added
to the family that Anna and the girls cooked for. In their day there
was no modern, labor saving equipment for the sewing, patching, cooking,
baking, washing, ironing, and scrubbing done by homemakers on the range.
Anna and her daughters offered no complaints.
Mrs. Voigt died in 1931.
Her family had grown up. Some of the boys started ranching on their
own and the two girls were married. Her death left Andy, the master of
the home, a lonely old man.
These were the years of the drought-stricken
Thirties. Dust blizzards whipped across fields, carrying away top
soil and planted seeds. Grass withered and livestock did not pay
its way to market. The West had never seen the likes of such disaster
conditions before. It went on and on for years with little hope or
change for the better.
Such adversities touched Andrew
Voigt's heart and he sincerely grasped the opportunity to alleviate the
distress of his neighbors. He became the humanitarian of his region.
He fed, counseled and staked people needing assistance. The banks
had closed, adding to the aura of calamity; folk in need came to
Voigt. No one was denied what help he could render.
Crow Heart called him, "Big Hearted
Whiteman Can't Say No," and that pretty well described him. He used
his resources to serve others.
When Andrew Voigt died, July
17th, 1939, he left no empire building industry as a monument of his success.
He was a commoner with a dream that he lived and cherished, leaving its
memory as a legacy to humanity.
In his last years there was talk
of the great lake project that was achieved in 1956 and now covers his
old ranching area and most of the Missouri Valley in that section.
Garrison Dam is 210 feet high and 12,000 feet long, and is rated the largest
earthen dam in the world. Lake Thompson behind it extends 200 miles
up the valley and is fourteen miles wide in places. The dam and reservoir
were the dream of engineers that recreationists of the present and future
will long enjoy.
In 1965 the two daughters and
four of Voigt's seven sons were living. They are Joseph Voigt, Minot,
N.D.; John Voigt, Shield, N.D.; Edward Voigt, Werner, N.D.;
and William Voigt of Whitefish, Montana. Daughter Mrs. Peter Bosch
lived at Bismarck, N.D.; and Mrs. Carl Schetter at Donnybrook, N.D.
Mrs. Martha Voigt, a daughter-in-law, living at Wapeton, N.D.
In 1962 Andrew Voigt was elected
to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center, at Oklahoma
City, Oklahoma, on the recommendation of North Dakota's leading citizens.
Andy Voigt will remain one of the state's unforgotten history makers.