The Rising Devils Lake and the Minnie H.

by Richard Peterson
Benson County Farmers Press
Minnewaukan, ND
May 3, 1995


With the lake on the rise, interest has been raised about the Minnie H., a steamboat which plied the waters of the lake from July 4, 1883 until the fall of 1908. Different sources give different levels of the lake during that time and as a matter of fact, the US Geological Survey contradicts itself on the levels during that period. One graph shows the 1883 level at 1435, while another graph shows a level of 1439. That 4 feet makes a whale of a difference in the size of the lake. For the 1887 level, one graph says 1427 while another shows 1431.  In her “Highlights of Early Minnewaukan,” Mrs. C.F. Plummer wrote that when the Plummers came to Minnewaukan in 1884, the water reached to the western end of the old fairgrounds. In checking that information against contour maps, the level of the lake at that time had to be nearly 1440.


From about 1890 to 1900 the level of the lake was pretty constant at about 1424 feet above mean sea level, according to the US Geological Survey. Another source, however, says the lake was at 1430 in 1889, so it’s hard to say for sure.


I would tend to believe the higher levels because at its present level of 1433, the water seems barely high enough for a big boat like the Minnie H to dock at Minnewaukan. Naugle’s article says the boat drew 3 1/2 feet of water, which means it would need 4 feet or more of water at the dock. My cousin, Ralph Peterson & I went out in his boat Thursday and measured the depth of the water where the Minnie H dock was. The depth was 4 feet 2 inches, deep enough to accommodate the Minnie H.


Although the Minnie H operated on the lake between 1883 and 1908, it only came to Minnewaukan a few years. The May 17, 1884 issue of the Siftings, the forerunner of the Farmers Press, stated the Minnie H made its first trip to Minnewaukan Saturday. That would have been May 10, 1884. An article in an April 1889 issue of The Siftings stated Minnie H began season’s work. “The new freight landing is six miles down the bay due to low water. Because of low water, navigation between Devils Lake & Minnewaukan is coming to an end. Water in the lake decreased one foot last year.”


The freight landing mentioned might have been on the southern side of Graham’s Island, perhaps Ziebach’s Pass, although Ziebach’s Pass is close to 10 miles from Minnewaukan, not 6. It might have been on the oppose shore in the area of the Dune Howard farm southeast of Minnewaukan, which is about 6 miles distance. We’ll likely never know for sure.


The Ramsey County History Book says the boat made its last trip into the city of Devils Lake in 1889. The Ramsey County History Book says the dock was located where the Minnie H School now stands, but Devils Lake native Jim Davis, who works for the ND Historical Society at the Heritage Center in Bismarck told me the dock was located about where Skyberg’s Meats now stands. In looking at the lay of the land, I think Davis is right. Without the dike protecting the city of Devils Lake, the water would be close to that spot today.


The May 25, 1889 Siftings reported “Steamer Minnie H arrives at Ft. Totten daily at 1 o’clock p.m., departs for Devils Lake City, arriving there at 4:30 p.m. The “Devils Lake City” mentioned here is not the Devils Lake City mentioned in Naugle’s story. It was more than likely Capt. Heerman’s dock near Skyberg’s. But not a word was said about Minnewaukan. Apparently the last time the Minnie H docked at Minnewaukan was 1888, so it appears the boat only serve Minnewaukan for 5 years.


The July 20, 1889 issue of The Siftings reported “Captain Heerman now runs his small boat, the water in Devils Lake Bay being too shallow for the Minnie H.” Heerman’s boats docked at Lakewood after that. The Minnie H, a side paddling steamer, was named for Capt. Heerman’s daughter, Minnie. Minnie’s son, Heerman J. Naugle, wrote the article on the Minnie H which appears in this issue and was first published in the Farmers Press, November 28, 1963. My memory is reaching back more than 30 years, but I remember right, Heerman Naugle gave me that story. I believe he worked at the First National Bank in Devils Lake.


The dock at Minnewaukan was located just to the east of the original main lagoon cell. Pilings from the dock were clearly visible until the 2nd and 3rd lagoon cells were built and I took a picture of them at the time, but I can’t find that picture of the pilings. The T-shaped dock built by Capt. Heerman was large enough to drive out to the end and turn around with horses and wagon. The dock itself was probably built in August of 1884. The lumber for the first house in Minnewaukan was floated ashore in July 1884 because there was no dock at the time. But the August 23, 1884 Siftings reported that the Minnie H arrived at the Minnewaukan “wharf” with lumber for the huge Arlington Hotel.


The dock’s pilings were oak from Lakewood. They were buried 11 to 13 feet in the ground. When they were dug up, some still had bark on them. Many years ago Knowltons, who owned the land, dug up many of the pilings and used them for fencepost.


Naugle’s article tells about Odessa, which was a settlement in Ramsey County. I can’t find Odessa on any maps, but it must have been located in Odessa Township of Ramsey County. There was a settlement called Jerusalem in Odessa Township-perhaps that’s the town to which he refers. Jerusalem is located across the lake east of the present Barry Cox farm in Lohnes Township.


Naugle’s article also mentions Rock Island, which we today call Lakewood.