They used to be people of a small cowtown along the Missouri River. The town used to have lovely rodeo grounds that were well-known across the nation and they used to have tall cottonwoods along the river. The town also used to have a local government. On this day in 1953, however, it did not, and it seemed as though the name of Sanish would disappear beneath the waters of Lake Sakakawea forever.
Just the day before, April 30, 1953, the villages of Sanish and Van Hook dissolved their local governments. Sanish was to be inundated by the waters of the Garrison Reservoir and preparations were already taking place on a wheat field up on the plains for the establishment of a new town. Van Hook was only to be partially inundated, but its trade area would be entirely flooded. The townspeople thought there was no future for the town without that trade, so Van Hook decided to sell out to the Army Corps of Engineers and join Sanish in the new town. It seemed like a good idea since both were small and could join forces and populations to make a modern little city, but egos and hard feelings would soon get in the way.
When the new townsite was chosen, many people in Sanish were unhappy. The businesses from Sanish and Van Hook would have to compete with each other for business and lots, and Sanish wanted to choose its own townsite, not relocate to where the Corps wanted them to. After all, Sanish had to move, Van Hook didn’t. Even more, they would not keep the name “Sanish” for the town! When things did not work out as some of the Sanish residents wished, the disgruntled residents of Sanish decided to band together for what they felt was right. On September 8, 1950, they formed the Sanish Protective Association (SPA).
Later coined a “militant group” by the Minot Daily News, the SPA criticized the wrongs they felt they suffered from the Corps of Engineers and the city of Van Hook. In a letter to Langer, one of the members of SPA wrote:
We do not hesitate to charge that Van Hook did not appreciate the help Sanish gave them to enable the portion of their town to be bought….
Sanish would have been better off it they had refused the help Van Hook asked for. …
… Van Hook proceeded like the proverbial camel who stuck his head in the door to get warm and ended up by entering the tent and pushing his master out.
So we feel as though we have been dealt with unfairly.
Instead of joining these “camels” and other Sanish residents in what would later be named New Town, the SPA moved their families and businesses atop a bluff that now overlooks the Four Bears Bridge. They set up a new city government and lived peacefully in New Sanish until the mid-1970s. Today, Sanish does not have its rodeo, nor its cottonwoods or its city government. But, it did retain its name and the stories of yesteryear when Sanish was in its heyday—a lively little cowtown on the Missouri River.
Dakota Datebook written by Tessa Sandstrom
Lund, Leonard. “Residents of old Sanish don’t want it forgotten.” Minot Daily News, December 29, 1973.
Twenty-fifth Anniversary Celebration Committee. “Sanish Silver Anniversary Jubilee Program.” [n.p., n.p. Copy available at the North Dakota State Library, Bismarck], 1940.
William Langer Papers, 1900-1959, Box 448, Folder 8. Special Collections. University of North Daktoa Chester Fritz Library, Grand Forks, ND.