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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published November 04 2012

Eriksmoen: Grand Forks Herald founder involved in many historic adventures

The man who established the Grand Forks Herald and built it into one of the strongest newspapers in North Dakota lived an adventurous life prior to moving to Grand Forks.

At the age of 16, George Winship was involved in the Indian Wars in Dakota Territory. As a young adult, he got dragged into the conflict between Louis Riel and the Hudson Bay Co. Winship later led a caravan of Red River carts hauling supplies to Pembina and was directly involved with the first stagecoach line in northern Dakota.

George Bailey Winship was born Sept. 28, 1847, in Saco, Maine, to George D. and Abigail (Bailey) Winship. George Sr. was a carpenter who, in 1850, relocated to south-central Wisconsin and later moved west to LaCrosse, along the Mississippi River. In 1857, the Winship family moved across the river to LaCrescent, Minn., where George Sr. worked at a lumber mill. Because the family had financial difficulties, George Jr. quit school and got a job as an apprentice at the LaCrescent Plaindealer.

In 1863, the Plaindealer closed down, and Winship found employment at a brickyard. The work was hard, and he was able to build up his physique. Despite the fact that he was only 16, Winship was able to convince an Army recruiter that he was two years older, and he enlisted to fight in the Civil War. Winship was assigned to Company A of the 2nd Minnesota Cavalry under the command of Gen. Alfred Sully.

He spent much of his military career in Dakota Territory and fought in the battles of Killdeer Mountain and the Badlands.

Following his discharge on April 2, 1866, Winship was hired as printer of the Nor’Wester, a newspaper in Fort Garry (present-day Winnipeg). Late in 1869, the Riel Rebellion broke out, and one of their first acts was to seize the Nor’Wester office and make it the “headquarters for the rebel town guard.”

The provisional government decided to publish its own newspaper and hired Winship as foreman and general printer for their new publication, the New Nation. This paper attacked the dominion government and the Hudson Bay Co.

In May 1870, Winship left Fort Garry for Pembina, where he was employed by A. W. Stiles, the post trader. For Stiles, Winship served as bookkeeper and assistant manager, and he delivered supplies utilizing Red River carts.

At Pembina, Winship met William “Billy” Budge, a former employee of the Hudson Bay Co. who was working in a brick yard.

Winship convinced his employer that Budge should be hired as a cook, and the two formed a close friendship. During this time, the Blakeley & Carpenter Stage began operating a line from Breckenridge, Minn., to Winnipeg.

In 1871, Winship and Budge formed a partnership and built a rest station for the stage line, 14 miles north of Grand Forks. Winship was in charge of caring for the stables, and Budge did the cooking. They also sold poles for a telegraph line being built in the area.

By early 1873, it became clear that these ventures would only clear enough profit for one person, and Winship sold his shares to Budge and returned to his family, now living in St. Charles, Minn.

While waiting for a financial opportunity so he could return to northern Dakota Territory, Winship was hired as a printer for the St. Paul Chronicle.

Meanwhile, the 1872-73 Dakota Territorial Legislature met and created 10 new counties. One of these was Grand Forks County, and the two legislators Winship knew from Pembina, Judson LaMoure and Enos Stutsman, selected him to be one of the three commissioners for the new county.

Winship returned from St. Paul in June 1873 to help organize Grand Forks County, but since it had an insufficient population, he could not complete his work. (The organization was completed on March 2, 1875.)

Winship believed that, in the future, a thriving community would exist at the small hamlet of Grand Forks, and he wanted to be the first to establish a newspaper there. Needing capital to fulfill his dream, he returned to St. Paul and joined his brother Frank as a printer for the St. Paul Dispatch. He later joined the St. Paul Pioneer Press and was taken under wing of Col. Joseph Wheelock, founder and editor of the newspaper.

Early in 1877, he was invited to start a newspaper in Caledonia, a growing community in the southeastern corner of Minnesota. Much of the politics in the area was controlled by a group of “saloon-keepers” who were supported by the existing paper.

On April 8, 1877, Winship released the first of his weekly “folios,” the Caledonia Courier, declaring that he was strongly opposed to political bosses.

Because of his strong stance against the politicians who controlled the community, the paper he created was successful. However, Winship “grew restive” and wanted to rejoin some of his good friends who now lived in Grand Forks. (Budge moved there in 1878, and Alexander Griggs, a man who he hauled supplies for on the Red River 10 years earlier, was the town founder.)

Winship paid a visit to Grand Forks in 1879 and, after three days, was convinced that this was where he wanted to put down roots. The town already had a newspaper, the Grand Forks Plaindealer, but he believed the paper was not representing the views of the common man.

Winship returned to Caledonia, packed up his printing press, and with his wife, Josephine, moved to Grand Forks. On June 26, 1879, he came out with his first issue of the Grand Forks Weekly Herald.

(Next week we will conclude our story about George Winship, focusing on the heated 25-year battle he had with the political boss of North Dakota, Alexander McKenzie.)

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“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net