Thursday, November 10, 2011
On this date in 1910, reaction was swift to a news story given to reporters in Grand Forks. The story related how C. M. Ziebach, a 107- year-old Indian had been arrested on the Fort Totten Reservation by Deputy U. S. Marshall H. P. Wood. According to Wood, the elderly Indian had been taken into custody for unlawfully introducing liquor to the reservation. Wood’s story pictured Ziebach with pure white hair to his waist and pure white whiskers to his chest. The news item further stated that Ziebach had witnessed the years of greatest strife between the white man and the Indian, and how the proud warrior, now at an advanced age, will be compelled to face a federal grand jury.
When the story was picked up by the Associated Press, it ran in newspapers all across the country and touched the hearts of many. The New York Times stated that Ziebach was the oldest person ever arrested for a crime in the United States. But when the Washington, DC newspapers carried the story, it attracted the attention of government officials. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs was immediately dispatched to Fort Totten to assist the old gentleman and resolve the issue. The resolution turned out to be much easier than he had anticipated – for none of it was true.
C. M. Ziebach was living on the Fort Totten Reservation, but instead of being a 107-year-old Indian, he was actually the middle-aged Superintendent of the Reservation, who was basically unaware of the hoax that Deputy Wood had concocted. Upon learning of the story and its national impact, Ziebach pressed upon Wood to issue a public retraction, which he did willingly. In a letter written on November 17, Wood stated, “The article in The Evening Times which appeared Nov. 2, with regard to the arrest of Major Ziebach … was a canard, pure and simple … (Such stories) are capable however of doing harm at times and I take the first opportunity of stating the story is utterly without foundation.” But Wood’s letter did take a little jab at the news reporters when he included the line, “Such stories generally come from simple minds and are calculated to please only the same.”
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Bowbells Tribune November 11, 1910
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican November 17, 1910