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Buffalo Springs

Such a little school, and it had two songs.

Mabel Hoth wrote the “Buffalo Springs Pep Song,” to the tune of “Because There’s Something About a Soldier.”
Oh! The team from Buffalo Springs
Makes the ball go through the rings.

And Alice Joyce wrote the “Buffalo Springs High School Song” to the tune of “Home on the Range.”
And down by a pool we have founded a school

And christened it Buffalo Springs.

You drive by the site of Buffalo Springs today–an old Milwaukee Railroad town, its site just south of present Highway 12 in Bowman County, North Dakota–and there is little to excite curiosity. One building survives, a two-room former café that was composed of two homestead shacks joined together and stuccoed over. Look closer, and there’s the town pump.

Standing on such ground, can you see, hear, or even just sense the life that once teemed there? I think I can. I think places like this, with only meager material remains, speak. I’m not talking about ghosts in any conventional understanding of such, but rather the human sense of place, something one can cultivate by opening up to it. The apparently wide-open spaces of the Great Plains are covered, in fact layered, with articulate places.

Still, I am a historian, and I welcome the stories and documents that give flesh to the spirits of place. Charity Fries, of Scranton–daughter of the Buffalo Springs depot agent–has told me stories of the place, and now comes her letter atop a big red scrapbook in a big brown package.

The scrapbook was compiled by Melvin “Red” Ingebretson and Roba Ingebretson, who arrived from Wisconsin in 1933 to breathe life into the school by the pool. Red was Superintendent and also taught math and science. Roba taught the history, geography, and literature. During their tenure in the mid-1930s the school expanded from two to three rooms and graduated its first high school class. You can tell the kids loved the Ingebretsons, because they wrote stories about them and made fun of them. One joke began with a second-grader playing school, and the mistress of her class remarking, “Well, Margery, I suppose you’re the teacher.” To which the lass replied, “I’m not smart enough to be teacher. I’m only the superintendent.”

Red Ingebretson was the force behind an ambitious athletic program, at the heart of which was basketball for girls and boys. The Duchesses and the Dukes made the ball go through the rings, but not that consistently. While they did well against the Gascoynes and the Marmarths of their schedule, playing in the Southwest Conference organized by Ingebretson, larger schools like Hettinger or Bowman dealt them some hard losses. You get the feeling, though, that when Red lectured the players it was character and improvement that mattered more than wins and losses, he believed it, and so did they.

It was in kittenball (softball) that Buffalo Springs excelled, with both a high school and a town team. Red got the local merchants to throw in for floodlights, so night games could be played on the school grounds. Could the Dukes hit? The table of batting averages for 1935 shows two of them batted .750.

Plays, dances, debates, play days–look at these photos, these mimeo flyers, these posters that plastered depots up and down the line. No wonder I hear voices.

There’s something about the Dukes
That is fine, fine, fine.

 

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