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Selfridge Journal
Volume No. 35     Number 17
SELFRIDGE (SIOUX COUNTY) NORTH DAKOTA,
THURSDAY,     JULY 24, 1952.
 
 
 

Frank Fiske

Funeral services were held from the Catholic church in Fort Yates on Tuesday, with Rev. Father Alfred, O.S.B., officiating, for Frank B. Fiske, age 69, writer and colorful authority on Indian history, who passed away at a Bismark hospital, on July 18, after several years of illness.

He was known throughout the Dakotas as an Indian authority, and has lived among the Indians on this reservation since 1889, at Fort Yates. He was born at Old Fort Bennett, in 1882. His father was a soldier there.

Mr. Fiske married Angela Cournoyer, an Indian woman at Fort Yates, and the widow and a married daughter, Francien, survive him; also one sister, Mrs. L. t. McKinstry of Fargo. Burial was made in the Catholic cemetary beside his parents.

He was a veteran of World War I, and served Sioux county for years as county auditor and county treasurer. He also has served for years as chairman of the county Red Cross; War Bonds chairman, and chairman for Sioux county of the Greater North Dakota Association. For years he has served as justice of the peace, and was again nominated for this office at the recent primary election.

Mr. Fiske has operated a photography shop in Fort Yates since 1900. In 1912, he became an assistant river boat pilot on the Missouri river. He was active in river trade for five years. For a time he resided at McLaughlin in 1925, but returned back to Fort Yates.

He recorded Indian legends and vivid Dakota historical background in numerous articles and books. He was in the center of the history-making "Sioux Outbreak of 1890-91. During that period there were nearly 3,000 troops in the field in the Sioux country and some 6,000 Sioux warriors. Orders were given to the noted scout, William F. Cody, better known as "Buffalo Bill," to induce Sitting Bull and several other chiefs to make terms. Buffalo Bill, who was believed to have influence with Sitting Bull, was to proceed to Standing Rock to induce Sitting Bull to come in, with authority to make such terms as might be necessary and if unsuccessful to arrest him and remove him from Fort Yates. Cody arrived at Fort Yates Nov. 28, 1890, where he visited at the Fiske home. Cody was about to undertake the arrest when his orders were countermanded under the belief that military interference was liable to provoke a conflict.

Mr. Fiske was a colorful and prominent character. Among his talents was the ability to play a good fiddle. Many of the numerous friends and pioneers he leaves behind can recall hearing him play the fiddle at dances, events and over radio stations, along with his musical partner in those years, Jack Carrigan.

Fiske enlisted in the army at St. Louis in 1918 and served in World War I. In 1929 he became publisher of the Fort Yates Pioneer-Arrow, and operated it successfully until he sold the paper to its present publisher, J. Bernard Smith, Selfridge.

His 1947 canoe journey was to provide him with data for his major historical work and to provide a highlight for Bismarck's diamond jubilee celebration. He traveled in a 14-foot craft named "Far West," accompanied by William Lemons, a Fort Yates teacher. In 1950, he received the North Dakota art award in New York, having been recognized for his Indian portraits by the State American Art Week Committee.

He also wrote two books, "Life and Death of Sitting Bull" and the "Taming of the Sioux". He was working on another book at the time of his death. Frank as a boy became interested in photography. He soon began building up a collection of Indian photographs, and has the largest collection to be found anywhere. Among his pictures is one of Red Tomahawk which later was reproduced and now is on North Dakota highway markers. He also has in his collections pictures of many famous Indian chiefs.

Among some of Frank's last articles on pioneer day events here, is the following, which he gave us for publications some months ago, dealing with a former Sioux county commissioner, who once killed a man. Here's that article, one of Frank's last:
 

(By Frank Fiske, Ft. Yates, N.D.)

I knew a man who stood guard at the bier of Abraham Lincoln. I was associated with this man in county offices and liked him. He has long since died yet he was the only man I knew who had been close to the great Lincoln.

John Charles Leach was his name.

In April, 1865, Leach was at Norfolk, Virginia, when Lincoln was shot by the crazy Booth with a ".41 percussion Deringer." Four companies of soldiers acted as an escort to the remains of the martyred president.

John Leach was the tallest man I ever knew and had he stood erect he'd have been taller. Still he had to lie about his age in order to get into the Union Army because he was born on Feb. 8, 1847. Crossingville, Crawford County, PA., was his birthplace, but he evidently didn't care for it as he left it for good shortly after his return from the Army.

In 1864 he worked in the woods at lumber camps and stayed on until 1869 when he came west to Sauk Center, Minn. There he met Don Stevenson and they formed a partnership contracting to put in hay at Fort Wadsworth, now Sisseton, South Dakota. In 1871 John came to the Missouri River, at old Fort Rice, with the smell of fresh-cut cordwood still in his mind.

It was not long before Mr. Leach had gained the reputation of being the fastest chopper of cordwood on the river. More than six-feet-tall, strong of heart and muscle, it is safe to say that there were none in those years, nor today, who could equal him. I know that I could not even in my younger days. They said he could "feel" and cut six cords a day, or more.

But Mr. Leach was not content to stop at that, or to rest on his laurels. He had an eye on larger matters and with his friend, the famous Don Stevenson, a partnership was resumed to furnish wood, and hay to posts along the river. They had thirty teams of work oxen and knew how to do the job.

John acted as foreman for a time, then took a number of teams to the Grand River Agency while Stevenson ran another outfit on down to the Cheyenne River Agency.

In the fall of 1872 both outfits returned to Fort Rice and hauled 3,000 cords of wood from a point six miles above to the post. During the following three years the partners cut and furnished hay for the military. There were several skirmishes with the Indians who objected to the taking of their hay, and John wounded one, No-Two-Horns, in the leg and killed his horse. At the Grand River, on the Oak Creek, Rain-in-the-Face shot at John and missed. But it appears that Rain was only playing, that time.

In 1876 the boom was on in the Black Hills so the partners sent a large freight train over the Bismark-Deadwood Trail. There were 60 wagons in this outfit.

In '77, John was at Fort Buford furnishing hay for that lively post at the mouth of the Yellowstone. In the following year he moved up the Yellowstone and Big Horn to put up hay for the new Fort Custer that was built on the hill across from the mouth of the Little Big Horn. His men cut hay on the very ground where the Sioux were camped, the year before, when Custer made them mad.

Leach built the first good house at the Parkin Ranch on the lower Cannon Ball. And then put in a ferry at the Missouri River crossing three miles east of the ranch. In 1884 he started a general store at the ranch, in partnership with Henry S. Parkin, who owned the ranch.

In 1886, John operated a ferry at Fort Yates as he had sold out his store interests to Parkin. Later on, he ran a small store half-way up the bluff where the Cannon Ball joins the Missouri. In this store he shot a man in an argument. John went to Mandan and surrendered to the sheriff but as exonerated of all guilt. But he never did it again.

When H. S. Parkin died, in 1895, his widow sent for John to manage the ranch store. In 1903 he bought the business.

When the Northern Pacific Railroad ran its line south of Mandan to the mouth of the Cannon Ball and thence west to Mott, the town of Solen was established about fifteen miles west of the Missouri. Mr. Leach moved there and started a general store. When the county of Sioux was organized, in 1914, he was appointed county commissioner for his district. Later when I was county auditor, Mr. Leach told me the story as outlined above.

He died in the year 1929 and was buried at Mandan, North Dakota.