Watford City North Dakota: Celebrating 100 Years
George W. Nohle was a successful pioneer cattle rancher in western North Dakota in the late 19th and early 20th century. He overcame a severe physical disability and was involved in many endeavors in the early days of the West that contributed to the growth and development of McKenzie County.
George Nohle was born in Lowville, New York on March 12, 1866. Nohle was the son of Charles and Wilhelmina (Minnie Schmidt) and one of nine children. His parents had immigrated to the United States from Germany where they were bakers. When they arrived in New York they bought and cleared forty acres of virgin forest land in order to start farming. Nohle spent his youth on his father’s farm. When he became a legal adult he began farming on his own. In 1891 Nohle left New York and went to McHenry County, North Dakota where he worked for his older brother Andrew who had already established a ranch near Towner. After two years working for his brother George began ranching on his own.
In the fall of 1894 Nohle sold his stock and went overland in a wagon to homestead in McKenzie County, settling south of Williston. This was before the county had been surveyed or organized. During this trip Nohle was the victim of a shotgun accident. While getting out of the wagon a shotgun accidentally discharged and the shots struck him in the left arm. The injury was so severe that his arm had to be amputated. This left him handicapped, but in time he learned to do most kinds of work with just his right arm. He became known as “the one armed cowboy”.
Nohle established a ranch about four miles south of Charbonneau, North Dakota and began raising cattle, sheep and horses. He was joined in business by his brother Andrew and they formed a business called Nohle Brothers, Inc. They handled land along with their livestock business. Their sheep business began winding down after the winter of 1903-1904. Sheep died by the tens of thousands in the snow and bitter cold of that winter and put most of the sheep ranchers out of business. Following this hard winter, the Nohle brothers like many others, built up their horse stock. Horses were better able to withstand hard winters and could live through the worst the land could throw at them.
George was the vice president of Nohle Brothers and his brother Andrew was president. Ole Morken, a banker out of Buford, North Dakota was secretary and treasurer of the corporation. The company owned 25 sections of land near Charbonneau, leased many more sections, and ran cattle. The Link children told the story about when Nohle’s cattle would get through the fences and out of one of his sections. They would chase the animals back in and then ride over to the Nohle ranch to report it. For their trouble they would earn a “shiny half dollar” which was a considerable reward in those days. The Link children included a very young Arthur who would later become the 27th governor of the state of North Dakota.
In addition to his ranching Nohle was also involved in many other enterprises. He was Vice President of the Dakota Trading Company in Alexander. He was also instrumental in organizing and held stock in the Alexander State Bank, which was the first bank in McKenzie County. Nohle also operated the stage between Schafer and Buford, North Dakota. In addition to passengers he had the first rural mail contract and carried mail through Cartwright and Alexander. Before the coming of the railroad in 1913 he kept relay teams of horses at Alexander. George Nohle was also a partner in the firm of Nohle and Martell with his nephews C.F. and Eugene Martell. Their company had sizeable land holdings and raised cattle and horses.
Nohle’s ranch was on the trail between Sheep Butte, Buford and Mondak. Before the railroad, early settlers would stay with him and he would extend hospitality giving them food, lodging and hay for their horses free of charge. He turned no one away. Nohle was a compassionate and trusting man. He would happily help anyone financially who needed assistance. Once the railroad came through he didn’t have as many visitors but still provided a place to stop to those who needed it.
Nohle was involved in his local community in ways other than business. He was the school director of the Carbon Township where he assisted in the organizing of three different school districts. Nohle was a member of the Odd-fellows Lodge first in Sidney, Montana and then when a lodge was opened in Charbonneau he became a charter member there. He held all the offices of the lodge except that of the Noble Grand.
At the time of the printing of Volume III of North Dakota History and People in 1917, George Nohle was described as “one of the most prominent, successful and well known ranchers” in North Dakota . He was also considered one of the most progressive business men in that part of the state. In the book’s essay about George Nohle it stated that he was “a typical and picturesque figure of the western plains. He is generous, hospitable and progressive, a splendid specimen of the western ranchman, whose interests are as broad as his own acres and his spirit as free as the air around him”.
George Nohle never married and died at 56 back home on his ranch October 24, 1922 after a long illness. He was buried in the family plot back in Lowville, New York.