Friday, November 13, 2009
A retraction issued by Deputy United States Marshal A. B. Wood was sent to the Associated Press and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at the United States Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. on this date in 1910. The retraction, although a serious matter, was the result of a practical joke gone awry. It concerned the Indian agent at Fort Totten, Major J. M. Ziebach. Deputy Wood and Major Ziebach apparently had a history of playing jokes on one another, but Wood’s attempt to best Ziebach on this occasion nearly resulted in criminal charges for him, and unemployment for Ziebach.
In a news conference with reporters in Grand Forks, Wood told the story of a Major Ziebach at Fort Totten who was arrested for illegally selling liquor and charged with public drunkenness. Wood described Ziebach as a “whiskered, 107-year old Indian…with his boots full of booze.” Wood hoped that the story would circulate to Ziebach, and that the two would share a laugh over the depiction. Unfortunately, the story circulated much further than the Deputy had planned, ending up on the Associated Press wires. As an AP item, the story was published in papers all over the country, and it created quite a stir at the Department of the Interior in Washington as officials wondered how an agent of the government could be charged with such serious offenses.
The Commissioner of Indian Affairs was dispatched to look into the matter. He traveled to North Dakota and showed up at Major Ziebach’s front door. Ironically, the story had not reached Major Ziebach, who was surprised to hear of the charges. The commissioner, on the other hand, was just as surprised to see not an elderly Indian with his boots full of booze, but the middle-aged Ziebach, sober as could be.
The matter was soon figured out, and Deputy Wood was urged to make a quick retraction of the story and apologize. The Deputy did just that in a telegram to both the Associated Press and the Department of the Interior, explaining the story as a “simple canard.”
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Thursday, Nov. 17, 1910: p.10.