Mondak Then and now
Just a couple snapshots here of where we’re spending time, these days. Well actually, more than a couple snapshots. But as long as we were trying to show you what it looks like today, why not go all the way with a “then-and-now” comparison. Here’s today’s history lesson on Mondak.
A legendary town with a split personality
You can drive by the remaining buildings across the highway from the Fort Union Trading Post, but it’s on private property now; so it’s not likely you’ll be able to wander the ruins of the town.
The story we ran yesterday on Beautiful Badlands ND was part one of the murder and lynching that made Mondak nationally famous. When it happened in 1913, the gruesome details ran in newspapers from coast to coast.
On the Montana-North Dakota border, 100 years ago, Mondak was split by liquor access: dry on the North Dakota side, but well-liquored on the Montana side. (MidRivers communication has an excellent article here on Mondak.)
It was a bustling town, by any measure thanks to its location: on the Missouri River and the Great Northern Rail line. It was the only town around. Like today, though, it had a hard time attracting the “right” kind of people.
A Thriving community
At its peak, about 300 people lived in Mondak. It serviced a region of about a 20 or 30-mile radius. However, law enforcement was further away in Williston, on the North Dakota side, or Plentywood on the Montana side (with a deputy outpost at Medicine Lake.) So, the town ended up meeting the wants and needs of the basest sort with “bawdy houses,” and saloons. In the above panorama photo, the rooftop of what might be one brothel is in the trees, next to the river. Otherwise, they are not visible from town until night when their red lights were apparent.
Why is Mondak here?
It wasn’t formed to serve liquor to North Dakotans. Some ill-informed writers have posted that on the Internet. Oh well. Mondak’s original purpose was to be a shipping post along the Great Northern Railroad and the Missouri River. Later the GN Railroad built a line south from here to Fairview and Sidney. That’s why the Snowden/Nohly bridge was built about 2 miles upstream. Hundreds of men poured into Mondak to work on the bridge and the rail line. The rail bed required several dozen teams of horses and horse-drawn excavation equipment.
Politically, the influence of the Socialist Party from Culbertson and Glasgow was felt in Mondak. According to the Lewiston newspaper, as soon as the town was established in 1909, the Socialist Party sent organizers to the town to bring in new recruits.
A jail was built in town, and it must have been built strong. It is one of the few remaining structures. Oddly many of the buildings in Mondak were built with recycled lumber from the abandoned Fort Buford military post.
Mondak went on to boast of several main street businesses and shops. A church building was erected on the hill to the northwest of town, overlooking the community.
When the town was about three years old, a school was built. There was enough trade and commerce in town to support a $10,000 brick schoolhouse.
Finding the history of this region is a challenge. Do you know anyone in the area who can help fill in the gaps?
It’s what we do, historical research and content creation. Ask us how we can do it for you.
Mondak’s single claim to fame seems to be the incident of JC Collins — a double murder and lynching. We’ll tell you about the lynching on Monday. Tell us where to send the notice that a new story has been published. Your email address will work. It’s up above on the right.
Mondak did not hold a singular place when it comes to murders and lynching. 1913 was not a good year — such as at Wheelock, Epping, and Ray.
Oh, and if you want a personal presentation of any of the fascinating aspects of the Beautiful Badlands of North Dakota, just ask. We’ll come to speak to your group.