Dakota Datebook

For the Birds

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


In November 1961, the city of Grand Forks removed two trees that stood outside the Dacotah Hotel. It was a simple task and only took a few minutes, but it still resounded with unorthodox controversy.

The trees, a box elder and an elm, had been on the chopping block for more than a year. The city said the trees were a traffic hazard, being located along the south wall of the hotel in a concrete traffic island, which stuck out into the street on First Avenue North. They were a nuisance, according to the city.

Keith Bacon, owner of the Dacotah Hotel, did not think so. The trees had been growing there for the last 60 years, and he took the tree removal case to North Dakota’s Supreme Court, hoping to repeal the decision.

Bacon’s case was not successful, though, and the case was brought one last time before the Grand Forks City Council, where the vote on the tree removal was decided, after a 7-7 split vote, by the mayor. The trees were to come down, which they did, early in the morning. Afterward, Bacon had a flag on the front corner of the hotel flown at half-mast.

But that wasn’t the end of it, as the Grand Forks Herald reported on one additional consequence: “It’s about the birds, an estimated 5,000 sparrow-tenants of the tree branches, who were due for a surprise … when they find they’ve been evicted.” Observers supposed the birds had been able to get a little heat from the hotel by roosting there.

By reports, the feathery refugees were disgruntled to see the trees had vanished, but they tried to stick it out for the night. Some locals even placed three Christmas trees where the box elder and elm had sat, for the sake of the birds, but those too were removed the next morning by the city. And on this date in 1961, the Grand Forks Herald reported that the thousands of sparrows took up residence in a new spot—two trees near a service station run by Jack Wylot, on the edge of the county courthouse lawn.

He didn’t want the sparrows, but there was nothing he could do. Those trees were owned by the county. And that was for the birds.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


The Grand Forks Herald, November 27, 1961, p.1, 10

The Bismarck Tribune, Tuesday, November 28, 1961

The Mandan Pioneer, Monday, November 27, 1981, p.1

The Grand Forks Herald, November 28, 1961

The Grand Forks Herald, November 29, 1961

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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