Did You Know That: ND's Wright a unique historian
Some people make history while others write history, and there are a few who do both. One of those people was Dana Wright, author of at least 10 articles for the North Dakota Historical Quarterly and North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern ...
Some people make history while others write history, and there are a few who do both. One of those people was Dana Wright, author of at least 10 articles for the North Dakota Historical Quarterly and North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains, official publications of the State Historical Society.
Wright also authored a number of articles for North Dakota newspapers and magazines. From 1915 to 1962, he served on the board of NDHS and was chairman of the State Parks Committee where he was responsible for "locating sites of historical interest."
As a member of the North Dakota National Guard, Wright served out-of-country in four military conflicts. As a civilian, he held different jobs including teacher, farmer, railroad engineer, county sheriff, and border patrolman. In his work as a law enforcement officer, Wright was known as "fearless" and was a subject in John J. Floherty's popular book, “Men Against Crime.”
Wright was born Aug. 30, 1878, in Eaton Rapids, Mich., to Monroe Wellington Wright and Clara (Morse) Wright. Monroe was a farmer who saw an opportunity to improve his economic situation by obtaining free land in Dakota Territory. In 1881, Monroe arrived and established a homestead in Homer Township, southeast of Jamestown. After he built a house, his wife and 3-year old son arrived the following March.
"Dana attended the public schools of Jamestown" and did what he could to help out at the farm. At the age of 12, he went to work for a neighbor who had a large sheep farm. He attended high school for three years and, on Feb. 23, 1898, enlisted in Company H of the National Guard at Jamestown.
With the start of the Spanish-American War, Wright was called into active service on April 28, 1898, and sent by train for military training. While passing through western North Dakota, another guardsman pointed out the site where Gen. Henry H. Sibley's troops fought the Indians. This ignited a passion in Wright to learn more about North Dakota history.
During the war, Wright was sent to the Philippine Islands on July 30, 1898,, and was involved in the capture of Manila two weeks later. Wright returned to the U.S. on July 30, 1899. He helped his father with the harvest and later attended an institute in Jamestown to become a teacher.
In 1900, Wright became an elementary school teacher in Sydney, 10 miles south of Jamestown. He also homesteaded near Montpelier, in the south-eastern corner of Stutsman County. In 1902, Wright moved to Jamestown when he was hired by the Northern Pacific to work as a train fireman and engineer. He also remained active with National Guard and was promoted to corporal in 1902 and sergeant in 1903. In 1904, Wright was commissioned a first lieutenant and promoted to captain in 1906 and major in 1913.
Wright spent much of his spare time searching out and mapping the old military trails employed by soldiers during the 19th century. In 1913, he entered politics by successfully running for sheriff of Stutsman County.
In 1915, Wright was elected to the state historical society board and, in 1916, ran for a state in the state House. On June 19, he was called back into active duty to help pursue Mexican bandit Pancho Villa, who had made raids into U.S. territory. While in Mexico, Wright learned that he had won his race in District 23. When the legislative session began on Jan. 2, 1917, Wright was still in Mexico. He was discharged on Feb. 14, but was unable to attend to much of the session because the legislature adjourned on March 2.
On March 26, Wright was called back into the military because of the U.S. involvement in World War I. Fort Lincoln became a training base and he was named post commander from August to Oct. 1. Wright "applied for front line duty with the 89th Division in the Argonne." He returned stateside on June 26, 1919, and was discharged on Aug. 25.
When Wright returned to Jamestown, he was employed as deputy sheriff and, in 1920, was again elected sheriff of Stutsman County. Because he was active as an Army Reserve officer, he didn’t run for re-election in 1921. This also gave him more time to do historical research. Wright was the featured author when the historical society released its first North Dakota Quarterly in 1926.
In 1927, Wright was hired by the U.S. Customs Service and relocated to St. John. Because of Prohibition, some bootleggers purchased booze in Canada that they tried to smuggle into the U.S. Wright's border territory was a 100-mile stretch between St. John and Hannah.
Wright was named chairman of the State Parks Committee in 1933 and was responsible for finding sites of historical interest to be marked and, if necessary, restored. Fargo Forum historian Roy Johnson wrote of Wright, "The state of North Dakota is getting a big bargain historically, chiefly because one of its citizens loves its history and is working diligently to preserve it." Several sites identified by Wright are now designated as state sites include; Palmer Springs, Fort Seward, Streeter Memorial Park, the Gingras trading post, and (Dr. Josiah) Weiser's grave.
In 1941, Wright retired from the customs service and became the superintendent and game warden for the state game farm at St. John. He retired from that position in 1949, from the Army Reserves in 1951 and from historical society board in 1962. Wright died on Feb. 16, 1964. Upon receiving word of his passing, Robert Corey, a columnist for the Minot Daily News wrote, "I wish I could be sure that among the younger generation of North Dakotans there is someone who has half the devotion and half the self-discipline to carry on where he left off."