Title: John Dillon, Lost Bridge (Dunn County [ND]) Survey Work
Collection Number: 2012-P-058
Quantity: 92 items
Abstract: John Dillon, a survey crew chief with the North Dakota Highway Department, kept a photo album of work and non-work related scenes from the 1920's and 1930's. Dillon later became Bismarck office manager for U. S. Senator Milton R. Young. Dillon's album found its way into the possession of Clarence Haggard of Bismarck. Haggard and his brother Ben had been members of Dillon's survey crew. A Bismarck Tribune “FARWEST” article on Saturday, February 4, 1978 used some the photos to illustrate a story about the survey for the “Lost Bridge” in Dunn County. During the time of the North Dakota Centennial, Haggard turned what was left of the album, a loose collection of pages and small photos, over to Dennis Neumann. Flipping through the photos, Haggard gives brief identification to many (Written by Dennis Neumann, 1993). The survey work was highlighted in an article, “Danger, Adventure Marked Early Survey Work on Badland’s ‘Lost Bridge,’” by Mark Kinders in the “FARWEST” column of the Bismarck Tribune, February 4, 1978.
Provenance: John Dillon created the collection, which came into the possession of Clarence Haggard, a member of Dillon’s survey crew, who agreed to allow Dennis Neumann donate the collection to the State Historical Society of North Dakota in November 1993. Neumann provided an inventory to the collection that was maintained while processing the collection and is reflected in this inventory.
Property Rights: The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to this collection.
Copyrights: Copyrights to this collection remain with the donor, publisher, author, or author's heirs. Researchers should consult the 1976 Copyright Act, Public Law 94-553, Title 17, U.S. Code or an archivist at this repository if clarification of copyright requirements is needed.
Access: This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
Citation: Researchers are requested to cite the collection title, collection number, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota in all footnote and bibliographic references.
Transfer: No materials were transferred from this collection.
“Danger, Adventure Marked Early Survey Work on Badland’s ‘Lost Bridge’” By Mark Kinders, “FARWEST,” Bismarck Tribune, Saturday, February 4, 1978
“Clarence Haggard has added a new page to the romantic story of Lost Bridge across the Little Missouri.
Many Dunn County residents are well aware how the concrete and steel span gained its name after a fund-short Depression year Legislature dedicated the 560-foot structure in 1931 but couldn't afford an extension of ND Highway 22 from Killdeer to Watford City.
The result was a virtually inaccessible bridge that for 30 years served only a few ranchers who acknowledged they didn’t need the bridge anyway. The structure kept its unofficial name (it is officially called Pioneer Bridge) even after it was “found” in 1959 when Garrison backwaters made the bridge a key transportation link.
There is another story, though, that could make a great movie scenario. It involves the two-month long escapades of the bridge and road site survey crew and contains all the elements of a rousing adventure yarn – fording a treacherously swollen river, insect swarms, rattlesnakes, baking heat, nervous climbs over the sides of perilously steep ravines, dangerous pranks and rowdy camaraderie.
Haggard, a Bismarck real estate agent, auctioneer and former political orator and candidate considers the survey work through 15 miles of the Badlands ‘the toughest the highway department ever faced.’
He joined the survey in 1929 as a member of one of state’s two fledgling road survey crews. Their job, Haggard recalls, was to locate the roads that would replace the trails, footpaths and abandoned railroad grades that served as roadways through much of western North Dakota.
Haggard was a former wagon team freight hauler on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation who got into the state job after working for former Bismarck city engineer T. R. Atkinson surveying the reservation roads on a contract basis.
When Clarence, then 22, joined the survey, its working conditions had improved. The first year of operation the crews were forced to bed down in tents while in the field. A year later they were allowed to sleep in hotels and eat in restaurants. The pay was $60 per month and vouchered expenses. The highway department's old panel truck and four-cylinder Dodge touring car had been swapped for some shiny 1928 Model A's.
The Badlands survey, though, quickly negated the comforts of the crew. But they were a hardy group, with several who went on to greater fame: survey boss John Dillon, a graduate of the Michigan School of Mines, was nephew of former North Dakota U.S. Rep. P. B. Morton. Dillon left the highway department for the soil conservation service and later managed Sen. Milton Young’s Bismarck office. Fred Oberg of Killdeer left the highway department for the Atomic Energy Commission during World War II. He was the commission's national property director during the Fermi Project that led to the creation of the atomic bomb. Percy Nelson stayed with the highway department and retired to Valley City as did “Red” Nelson. Jim Kuykendall, a Killdeer cowboy, took up ranching next door to Gov. Arthur A. Link. Ben Haggard, Clarence's brother, became a McKenzie County deputy and the first salaried livestock inspector with the North Dakota Stockmen's Association.
The survey started in June, Haggard recalls, and the survey crew moved into a bunkhouse on the Figure Four ranch, owned by Vic Christensen. It was Christensen, a respected and successful rancher, who teamed up with Gov. George F. Shafer of McKenzie County, and legislative power Sen. J. P. Cain of Dickinson, to procure the $68,500 to build Lost Bridge.
It was there he met Civil War veteran Dennis Moran during a typical Sunday meal at Christensen's, featuring every neighbor for miles around and "just the best roast beef dinner you ever ate." Moran, hobbled by old age, was one of several lobbyists that pushed the funding proposal through the legislature controlled by “Imperial Cass” County, Haggard relates.
The survey crew's task, Haggard says, was to locate a suitable crossing for the bridge and survey the approaches for a road through Badlands bluffs that plunged several hundred feet down to the river on each side. They had take volumes of notes on the road direction and the angle of approach so highway engineers back In Bismarck could draw blueprints determining how many hundreds of tons of dirt had to be moved.
The terrain forced the crew to conduct all its work from horseback, loaded with heavy sitting stakes, transits, food and a two-quart bucket of drinking water.
Christensen provided the horses, but the crew had to break several of them. The event earned Haggard, an experienced rider, the nickname "Crip." Before the survey start Haggard attempted breaking his own horse. Alter hours of effort had quieted the animal. He recalls he rode it several miles that day. But the next morning he recalls he was so stiff he couldn't walk and was immediately dubbed Crip. He gave up the horse and settled for a dependable cowhorse called "Antelope."
He recalls the month-long work on the north approach through Fort Berthold Indian Reservation was almost uneventful with the terrain selected allowing an easy approach to the river.
As the work there neared an end Dillon called Haggard over to the river and asked him if he could swim. Haggard couldn't but his horse could, so Dillon ordered him to negotiate the river, and inform Dan Beck, who owned the Wilcox-Richard ranch just south of the bridge that the survey crew would be coming across soon to lodge with them, and to bring back a pail of fresh water.
A treacherous current from the "June rise" proved more than Dillon and Haggard bargained for. He and Antelope plunged into the river off a steep bank. The horse immediately sank up to its head while Haggard was chest deep. As the current pushed them down the river Dillon bellowed “stay with him Crip. Stay with him. If he goes down I’ll come in after you.” Haggard continues, “Dillon was damned scared. I wouldn’t say I wasn’t either.
Finally, Haggard felt Antelope’s feet touch bottom. They struggled up the bank and made for the ranch. Haggard’s complaining of the horse’s inability to swim led Beck, who was familiar with the Christensen stock, to recinch Antelope before a freezing swim back. The saddle change did the trick, Haggard says, but neither he nor Dillon forgot the incident. Dillon, who had taken hundreds of photographs during the survey adventure, was too shaken to capture any pictures of Haggard’s first crossing.
The crew soon after headed down to Beck’s. For a time they stayed in the attic of the two-story brick ranch house that still stands by the bridge. But July heat and mosquitoes quickly forced them out. Instead they opted to sleep outdoors on the pinnacle of a nearby butte. “We had to fight rattlesnakes going up and coming down,” Haggard recalls. But they turned the inconvenience into some fun.
They learned the Killdeer mayor, Fred Tucker, was a newcomer to the area “and must have never left to town or something because he had never seen a rattlesnake.” The crew promised him a close up view. Shortly afterwards they located one near the Beck corral, tied some strings to it and put it in a box. The parcel was carried to the mayor’s business, a Ford dealership. Leaving the box on the showroom floor, the survey crew told the mayor to lug on the string. Out came a five food long snake. Haggard laughs the mayor was surprised but not shocked since he had been expecting the visitor.
Antics aside, work on the south side of the bridge was “just rougher than hell” because of terrain. Many sitings were taken dangling over sheer drops off burning hot cliffs. “You would hold the rope in one hand and an instrument in the other. If you let go you’d get killed.”
The worst part of the survey was locating the bridge crossing says Haggard. To take their sightings the crew was forced to wade naked through the river. On the south side they had to cut through a half-mile of thick scrub while wallowing in three-foot deep mud. “I really learned what Oil of Citronella was in a hurry. We used it by the quarts on our skin and clothes to keep the swarms of mosquitoes off. We had a hell of a time taking notes because of the blood on our hands.”
Ten days were suffered in the woods. Each day at meal time the crew would leave the mire and jump into a horse watering trough at Beck’s, “boots and all,” wash the dirt off and walk into the house sopping wet.
Haggard says the remainder of the survey continued without event. Despite efforts by Dunn Center to still have the bridge located to the north of that town, Killdeer residents prevailied.
On July 4, 1932 Gov. Shafer, a contingent of dignitaries from the North Pacific railroad and 3,000 residents viewed the dedication delayed one day by severe rainstorms.
According to The Tribune, “the Dickinson band furnished a program of music, Company K of the North Dakota National Guard drilled and performed maneuvers. This was followed by a sham battle in the foothills surrounding the structure.”
Haggard never returned to the bridge until 1973. After the project’s completion he worked on surveys at Williston and Max.
Haggard laughs heartily recalling how he lost his job with the department though an incident at Max while surveying U.S. Highway 83 to Minot. As part of their job the crew was supposed to plat their sightings during evening hours. If they put it off weekdays they were expended to accomplish the tedious task on Sundays.
“Dillon was pretty teed off at us on Saturday and told us he was going to Bismarck and that we had to stay at Max and finish the plats on Sunday. Well we got up early Sunday and found us a bootlegger down at the end of town and drank beer all morning. It was tough beer, a lot like whiskey today with a real kick. By 10:30 a.m. we were pretty loaded. We walked past the old fire station that’s still there. Its doors were open and it had this bell mounted on the top with two pull cords.
“I guess I started the idea, but I don’t know if Oberg or I rang the fire bell first. The natives were in the three or four churches in town. We could see the doors fly open and people swarm out to run and see where the fire was. Well, it gave them the laugh. They kind of passed it off. But we didn’t leave it alone. We rang the bell again. Not as many came, but they were really upset. We figured we should probably leave town. So we got into the highway department Model T and headed for Minot.”
He chuckles as he continues, “There was this garden at the town with several rows of cabbage. Well I…drove down the rows and knocked all the cabbage heads off and sent them flying.
Someone said we’d better go back, so we did and put the cabbage by the garage, we really had the people all stirred up by that one.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but the justice of the peace had his office across the street from the hotel. Some of us were watching the street to see how safe we were when two big burly guys came out of the justice’s office carrying papers. Two of us ran out the back door, but they circled around and caught us. Meanwhile, Oberg wasn’t feeling well and fell asleep and they never arrested him.
The next day Haggard and a compatriot were sentenced to the county jail for 30 days for drunk and disorderly conduct. Dillon could have gotten us out of it, but we had the people so irritated he just thought better of it. We were really mad because we wanted to get out of town on Sunday but he wouldn’t let us. We thought we would get even with Dillon,” he chuckles. “I guess we showed him.”
BOX / FOLDER INVENTORY
2012-P-058-01 L to R - Sonny Oberg, Mynover (?), Chief of party John Dillon for preliminary survey crew, ND Highway Department, Dodge touring car, ca. 1924
2012-P-058-02 Preliminary survey crew - truck loaded with tents and other equipment and provisions, ca. 1924 (Caption from The Tribune article: “NORTH DAKOTA'S fledgling road survey crews… travelled with a complete field kit while on the road in 1928, including tents and kitchen”).
2012-P-058-03 L to R - Sonny Oberg, John Dillon, Mynover - preliminary survey crew
2012-P-058-04 Preliminary survey crew
Lost Bridge Survey, June-July 1929
2012-P-058-05 Staking butteside
2012-P-058-06 Staking butteside
2012-P-058-07 Staking butteside
2012-P-058-08 Staking butteside
2012-P-058-09 Staking butteside (Caption from The Tribune article: YOUR HIGHWAY department survey crew members often dangled precariously over cliff sides clutching a rope in one hand and stakes or sighting poles in the other. ‘If you let go you’d be killed,’ recalls Clarence Haggard. July heat made the bluffs burning hot. Haggard says the hill pictured…was removed entirely when the approach to the bridge was graded for the highway.”
2012-P-058-10 Riverbottom path, brush cut by hand (Caption from The Tribune article: “The center clearing to daylight is now the centerline of Lost Bridge and N.D. Highway 22.”)
2012-P-058-11 L to R - Sonny Oberg, Percy Nelson, Red Nelson, and Clarence Haggard with machete (Caption from The Tribune article: “THICK BRUSH, insect swarms, and three-foot deep mud were common in the river bottoms where the crew spent 10 days hacking through underbrush while taking bridge surveys, Clarence Haggard…at right, clenched a machete between his teeth for dramatic effect.”)
2012-P-058-12 Start of brush cutting on bank of Little Missouri River
2012-P-058-13 River crossing at exact spot where Lost Bridge was built
2012-P-058-14 John Dillon, chief of party, on side of bluff
2012-P-058-15 Wilcox-Richards ranch building near Little Missouri River - later the Dan Beck ranch
2012-P-058-15A Wilcox-Richards ranch building near Little Missouri River - later the Dan Beck ranch, same shot taken in late 1980s
2012-P-058-16 Clarence Haggard crossing Little Missouri River on horseback (Caption from The Tribune article: “Haggard is shown making a return crossing after a treacherous fording attempt across the swollen river”).
2012-P-058-17-19 Survey crew on saddle horses supplied by Vic Christianson of the Figure 4 ranch near Watford City. Rode 8 - 10 miles per day from ranch to survey site. (Caption from The Tribune article: “THE LOST Bridge survey crew…included, left to right, Ben Haggard, who became a McKenzie County deputy sheriff; Fred Oberg, who became a national property manager for the Atomic energy Commission; Red Nelson, who retired from the highway department, Haggard, and Percy Nelson, who stayed with the highway department until retirement.”)
2012-P-058-20 Clarence Haggard near transit (Caption from The Tribune article: “COWHORSES GRAZED passively as surveying work was conducted in remote regions of the Badlands.”)
2012-P-058-21-21A Ben Haggard at transit
2012-P-058-22-23 Ben and Clarence Haggard catch “green” horses for the experienced crew members at the Christianson ranch .
2012-P-058-24-25 Clarence Haggard was thrown twice while breaking horses to be used for transportation to survey sites - Christianson ranch. (Caption from The Tribune article: “Bismarckers Clarence Haggard earned the nickname ‘Crip’ after his attempts to break a saddle horse for a two-month adventure surveying the site for Lost Bridge across the Little Missouri north of Killdeer.”)
2012-P-058-26-27A Ben Haggard breaks same horse that his brother Clarence had tried a week earlier
2012-P-058-28 L to R - John Dillon, Sonny Oberg, Clarence Haggard with jug, Percy Wilson, Red Nelson, Dan Beck, Beck boy, at Wilcox-Richards (Dan Beck) ranch. (Caption from The Tribune article: “The road survey crew took time off to celebrate the Fourth of July…”)
2012-P-058-29-29A Rattlesnake at Beck Ranch
2012-P-058-30 Rattlesnake on string
2012-P-058-31 Sonny Oberg - survey crew member
2012-P-058-32 Bed bugs and mosquitoes at Dan Beck ranch forced survey crew to move outdoors and sleep on cots atop the knoll at center right.
2012-P-058-33 Wake up time atop the "bedroom" knoll - Clarence Haggard at left, and Percy Nelson
2012-P-058-34 Unidentified bather 1n Little Missouri River
2012-P-058-35 Unidentified duo
2012-P-058-36-40 Unidentified badlands views
2012-P-058-41 Unidentified badlands view with snow
2012-P-058-42 Unidentified range view with cattle
2012-P-058-43-44 Unidentified corral view
2012-P-058-45 Unidentified view of horse riders and car
2012-P-058-46-50 Unidentified branding scenes
2012-P-058-51 Houses at Hamberg, ND, May 26, 1932
2012-P-058-52 Unidentified river ice break-up scene
2012-P-058-53-55 Unidentified winter prairie scene
2012-P-058-56-57 Unidentified scene - truck and car on flatbed railcar
2012-P-058-58 Unidentified scene - car pulled by two horse team
2012-P-058-59-60 Unidentified coal shovel loading scene
2012-P-058-61 Unidentified scene - oil tanker railcars
2012-P-058-62 Unidentified scene - road oiling truck
2012-P-058-63-64 Unidentified scene - road graders asphalt paving
2012-P-058-65 Unidentified duo
2012-P-058-66 Unidentified group photo
2012-P-058-68-77 Unidentified, all male, group outing
2012-P-058-78-82 Unidentified small group
2012-P-058-83 Unidentified body of water
2012-P-058-84-87 Unidentified mixed company group outing
2012-P-058-88 Unidentified duo
612 East Boulevard Ave.
Bismarck, North Dakota 58505
State Museum and Store: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. M-F; Sat. & Sun. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
We are closed New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
We will also be closed on Christmas Eve this year.
State Archives: 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. M-F, except state holidays; 2nd Sat. of each month, 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
State Historical Society offices: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. M-F, except state holidays.