Watford City North Dakota: Celebrating 100 Years
Andrew Nohle first arrived in North Dakota in 1881. By the time of his death in 1926 he had established a legacy of farming, ranching and community service. He was an integral force in the development of McKenzie County and surrounding areas.
Andrew F. Nohle was the second son of nine children of Charles and Wilhelmina (Schmidt) Nohle who immigrated to Lewis County, New York in 1854 from Germany. Andrew was born in West Martinsburg, New York on October 1, 1858. As soon as he was old enough to work he helped out on the family farm and worked with the livestock. He went to the local country school but his formal education was meager. As soon as he became a legal adult he began full employment with the Richardson Brothers, a wholesale farm produce company in Lowville, NY. It was his boss, L. B. Richardson, who himself had caught the “western fever”, who encouraged Nohle to go out west to North Dakota.
Nohle arrived in Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1881. He was employed by a local hotel for one year, but longed to get on the back of a horse and out on the plains. So, in 1882 he went to Mayville and accepted a working interest with his former New York boss L. B. Richardson along with Charles Sprout and R. M. Prouty who he met there in Grand Forks. They started him from Mayville with a herd of cattle bound for Devils Lake and gave him the authority to make purchases along the way. He drove the cattle to a point along the Mouse River near the present town of Towner. By the time he arrived he had 260 head in the herd. He built his ranch headquarters there. For four years he was part of the Prouty – Nohle Cattle Company with Richardson, Sprout and Prouty. Nohle operated the first cattle business in that area. He continued to ranch there until 1892.
In 1892 Nohle established a ranch near Saco, Montana on the Milk River. During this time, in addition to running his ranch he spent a considerable amount of time in the panhandle of Texas buying and selling cattle to be driven north. His brother Albert joined him in 1885. Albert worked for Andrew for two years before establishing a ranch of his own. Albert drowned in April 1894 while attempting to cross the Mouse River in a row boat. Since Andrew was out in Saco he didn’t learn of his brother’s death until much later after his body had been returned to New York for burial.
In 1897 Nohle started a large cattle and horse ranch one mile east of where Dore, North Dakota is now located, on what was then known as Nohle Lake. When Nohle began to establish himself the area was new and untamed. His cattle ranged up the Missouri River and over the region to the Canadian border. The Nohle Ranch became quite an achievement and an outstanding farm in the Yellowstone Valley. Along with the ranch his property gradually included an extensive farm. At one time Nohle owned and operated 1600 acres of valley land that he brought under cultivation. It was on this farm that Nohle introduced the famous Grimm Alfalfa for the first time. This was the first winter hardy alfalfa and become a standard hay crop still planted today. Nohle was referred to as “The Father of Alfalfa” in the Yellowstone Valley.
Nohle became interested in several other businesses during this time. One of his enterprises was Nohle-Gilberson, Inc., which had extensive interests in land, cattle and horses in Richardson County, Montana. He was the company’s president and Gilberson was the manager. Nohle was president of the First State Bank of Buford, North Dakota and president of the Buford Mercantile Company which organized in 1906. Nohle was also president of the Dakota Trading Company of Alexander. The Alexander Trading Company was the first business establishment in that community. In addition, Nohle was president of First National Bank of East Fairview, which he helped establish. This bank became nationalized in 1913. Over on the eastern side of the Yellowstone River in McKenzie County, Nohle was part of establishing another company with his brother George and nephew C.F. Martell. This company, Nohle Brothers Inc., had widespread land, cattle, horse and sheep investments in that area. In addition to these ventures, Nohle was also president of three grain elevators.
In the North Dakota History and People: Outlines of American History volume III, published in 1917, this was said of Andrew Nohle:
“In a word, he has been one of the most active and potent factors in the development and upbuilding of his section of the state in the line of material progress. His investments have been most judiciously made in lands, in cattle and in commercial and financial interests. The steady development of his business affairs, guided at all times by sound judgment, has made him one of wealthiest men of McKenzie County. Mr. Nohle has given his aid in support of many plans resulting to the benefit of his district in other ways.”
At one point Nohle’s holdings were up to 6000 acres. As Nohle’s holdings and influence grew in the area, he gave more and more of his time and support to worthwhile projects that would benefit eastern Montana and western North Dakota. One of these projects was The Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project for which he made numerous trips to Washington D.C. at his own expense. Nohle helped to organize the Yellowstone School Board, which he also served on. Nohle was instrumental in establishing consolidated schools in the area.
When McKenzie County was organized in 1905 Nohle was appointed a member of the Board of County Commissioners by the state governor. He was elected chairman of the board and was re-elected to office for twelve consecutive years serving as chairman throughout this time. After twelve years he declined to serve in this elective position any longer even though he was encouraged to continue to run for office by community members. He was chairman of the board when the courthouse and jail were built in Schafer. He started road and bridge building in the county and helped establish good business practices throughout the area.
Nohle was described as a good and charitable neighbor. When new settlers came into the area they often found work at the Nohle ranch especially during the busy seasons. He worked to stop rustlers and claim jumpers who harassed friends and neighbors. He helped homesteaders obtain livestock and equipment to start their farming and stock raising. He was compassionate towards those who found themselves needing a helping hand, and at his death held a large pouch of unredeemed paper pledges. During the winter of 1896 and 1897 there were killing frosts. During these years Nohle shipped in cars of corn and oats which he distributed free among the settlers.
Some of Nohle’s life sounds like an old west movie. In 1904 he was shot several times in a gunfight that took place on his ranch. The San Francisco Call newspaper on May 22, 1904 published this about the incident:
“The trouble occurred on the ranch of Andrew Nohle a well-known stockman, over the attempted seizure of a horse bought by Nohle at a forced sale from a man named Sanderson. Nohle with his hired man, and Sanderson with his brother- in- law, drew revolvers during the row and the firing became general, Nohle being shot several times, though not seriously. His hired man however may die, being shot though the abdomen and hips. The trouble originally had its inception over a land contest case, and the feeling between the two stockmen had become almost feudal in character”. Another article says that four men were engaged in the gunfight all receiving wounds.
Nohle was an active stockman until 1919 when other matters diverted his attention and he set up a tenant on his home ranch. Nohle was a charter member of the Odd Fellows of Sidney, Montana, a member of the Masonic Lodge at Mondak, Montana and a member of the Elks Lodge in Williston, North Dakota. He was also a charter member of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
On February 15, 1917 Nohle married Charlotte Freeman who was an old friend from his Mouse River days. They had no children. Nohle died at the age of 67 in Williston North Dakota August 20, 1925.