Red Willow Lake Resort
HISTORY - Red Willow Lake Resort
The Early Settlers (1880’s):
1 Erik Jakobsen Aa was born February 10, 1853 on the farm "Aa" in Hyen, Nordfjord, Norway. He married his cousin
Ever since leaving their homeland, Johanne had been lonesome for
Their first summer was spent in their covered wagon on the homestead claim, while they prepared their dugout and made their other necessary winter preparations. They broke up two acres of land that first spring and planted wheat by hand.
Seven children were born to Mr. and
Their church was very important to
Red Willow colored their lives. It early became a favorite recreation area for fishermen, hunters, campers and picnickers. One source of income for Erik and Johanne was the sale of milk, cream, butter and eggs to the campers on the shore of the lake. The lake provided much fun for the children. In the wintertime they built a sort of "merry-go-round" on the lee, or skated. In the summer there was boating and swimming, as well as fishing. Cutting lee was an important winter activity. Their daughter
2 Erik and Johanne Jacobson homesteaded on the shores of Red Willow Lake in 1882. They were living in a dugout (“soddie”) on the north edge of the lake in the winter of 1888-89. Their water supply came from a water hole in the frozen lake. A three day blizzard had followed a period of bitterly cold weather. When the storm died down eight year old Ellen (Mrs. Gilbert Gilbertson) and her three year old brother Peter were sent out with their buckets to get some water. Returning from the water hole they saw five or six wolves. Frightened, Ellen and Peter dropped their buckets. Ellen grabbed her little brother’s arm as they ran for their lives. The wolves sniffed the buckets and the children reached the safety of the dugout. It appeared that the wolves were hungry. This story was often told to their children by both Ellen and Peter. (Ellen’s son Monroe Gilbertson and Peter’s sons, David and Donald Jacobson shared this story. Junie Melby is also a grandchild of Erik and Johanne Jacobson).
Red Willow Lake was on the trail which Indians followed in traveling between Fort Totten and Fort Abercrombie. Some traces of this old trail can still be seen north of the lake in a bit of virgin soil, and unbroken little valley on the Jacobson farm.
On one day when Ellen was eight or nine years old an Indian came to the house, peeking in the windows. Johanne went to the door. The Indian asked for a little wood and some cloth. His little papoose had died and he wanted a box to bury it in. Erik and Johanne found scraps of lumber, and bits of cloth even a little velvet, and made a small coffin for the dead Indian baby. The man took the box and left. The Jacobson family often wondered where the baby was buried but never found out.
There were many other Indian visits. One day several Indians cam with two very “odoriferous” skunks on his shoulders. There Indians were hungry so Johanne hurriedly searched her nearly bare cupboards for scraps of bread and whatever else she could find in order to get them to leave quickly.
The Beginnings of Red Willow Lake Resort Area (late 1800’s – early 1900’s):
1 Although Red Willow Lake in northwest Griggs County was not identified as a stopping-off place for transcontinental travelers in the nineteenth century, it was frequented by Indians before that time. Several mounds are located near the lake.
Homesteaders took up land near the lake in the early '80s, and it quickly became a favorite recreation area for fishers, hunters, campers and picnickers. The annual Fourth of July dance is now a tradition. The first such dance was held in 1885.
Two men who saw the possibilities in a summer resort were Mr. Maynard Crane and Robert Cowan of Cooperstown. Crane was in the lumber business and Cowan was Northern Pacific depot agent. Mr. Crane of Cooperstown owned nearly a thousand acres of land, which was south and west of Red Willow Lake. He furnished lumber for Cowan to build, in 1900, the farmhouse on Section 13-148-61, south of the lake, which still stands, home of the present owners, Bill and Vernis Haines.
At one time Mr. Fred Lewis, Mr. Otto Pritz, and Mr. Greenland, organized the Red Willow Association. This was a Joint Stock Corporation, which sold shares to farmers and merchants to improve the recreational area.
4 Red Willow Lake has long been a popular gathering place for family picnics, fishing and swimming. Ambitious men established a summer resort around the shores of Red Willow Lake. Mr. Fred Lewis stated that the going rate for land in those days was ‘$250 a quarter’. Mr. Crane also owned lumber yards in Hannaford, Cooperstown, and McHenry. He furnished lumber for Mr. R. M. Cowan to build the farmhouse on section 13-148-61, south of the lake. It was built in 1900, and still stands today. Mr. Cowan and Mr. Crane were close friends and formed a partnership to erect buildings for the future summer resort. After his wife died, Mr. Cowan remarried a widow, Mrs. Anna Hammer. He then moved to Cooperstown where he was a depot agent for the Northern Pacific Railway.
Fred G. Lewis managed the resort in the 1920's, when Cowan moved back to Cooperstown. Lewis rented the
Mr. Lewis originally lived in Indiana. He came to North Dakota to work as a salesman for an insurance company in Grand Forks. He sold hail insurance in Canada for a two dollar deposit from each party. Since banks were scarce, the money he earned was carried in a money belt with a .32 revolver on the hip. Soon Mr. Lewis wanted a change in jobs, so he went to work as an elevator operator in Aneta, where the average pay was fifty dollars a month. After three years in Aneta, he moved to Binford. He described this town as made up mostly of tar and paper shacks. Mr. Lewis’ main interest in this area was hunting, and according to Mr. Lewis, ‘grouse were very plentiful at that time.’ He raised sheep and cattle on his farm. At one time he agreed to break horses, and to deliver them to a few neighbors. ‘A rancher herded forty five head of horses from Nebraska and was willing to sell them to a sheep rancher for what he thought they were worth. My hired man and I were roping six wild horses in the corral when I stepped into a coil of rope and the horse took off. I was dragged around the corral twice before I could hold onto a fence post and get cut loose.’
In 1928, under Mr. Lewis’ supervision, the foundation for the 100 X 60’ pavilion was laid. The lumber was furnished by Mr. Crane. The walls and roof were not finished for six years.
According to Mr. Harold Bakke, ‘dances were held once a week on the open floor, and gates surrounding the foundation. Tickets were sold for ten cents a dance, and each couple were permitted through the gate, and danced until one number was over.’
Later on, Mr. Cowan politely asked Mr. Lewis to leave, because his son, Mr. Theodore Ledoux Cowan, wished to farm and manage the resort. Eventually Mr. R. M. Cowan and Mr. Crane purchased all the stockholders’ shares.
In 1929, Mr. Ledoux Cowan settled on the lake farm, and remained there for twenty three years. Although he managed the resort for seventeen years, his main occupation was farming. He bought his father’s shares in the business and by the year 1946, he owned fifty one percent of the business, with Mr. Crane holding the remaining forty nine percent.
After Mr. T. L. Cowan’s first wife died of cancer, he remarried a widow, Mrs. Rella Messner. ‘When I came to the farm in 1943, I had to hire electricians to wire the house, since I was accustomed to this luxury in town.’ The farm house was wired for 32 volt capacity, with the power source coming from a motor in the garage.
The source of electrical power for the resort buildings came from a small power house near the pavilion, which consisted of two light plant motors. These can still be used in case of a power failure.
Bill and Vernis Haines Build and Manage a Booming Resort Business (1946 – 1968):
In 1946, Bill and Vernis Haines became the sole owners of the land and resort. Bill and Vernis lived in a comfortable cottage on the north side of the bay, Section 6, N.W. 18-148-60, until Bill Haines purchased the Cowan farmstead in 1951.
By 1946, most of the present resort buildings were already built. Three rooms have since been added to the restaurant, and the old beer joint was discontinued in 1952. The boathouse was built in 1946. ‘The former boathouse was a cook house mounted on wheels, and it was used for the threshing crews.’ Now this building sits on the ground and is used as a bund house for the hired men. The ice house was the storing place for blocks of ice used for refrigeration until 1954. ‘Every winter we cut the ice on the frozen lake with a wood saw and motor mounted on the chassis of an old Ford. This was in turn mounted on a sleigh, and when the saw cut into the ice it propelled itself.’ The blocks of ice were hauled back and stored in sawdust.
Privately owned cottages around the lake numbered nineteen in 1946, this number has increased to eighty-two at the present time. In 1955, Mr. Haines built a narrow private road extending south and west around Red Willow Lake. Land lots are leased to cottagers by the year.
In 1951, the Rural Electric Association of Finley, built power lines for the resort, farm, and cottages. Since the total bill is charged to Mr. Haines, he is responsible for interpreting the meter readings cottagers turn in during October.
Famous bandleaders and politicians have visited and performed for crowds at the resort in the past. ‘There was a speaker’s platform located between the café and the pavilion, where, in 1918, Mr. William Jennings Bryant made a speech. In fact, every governor of North Dakota has made a speaking appearance here.’ At present the governor usually addresses the people gathered for the Annual Rural Electric Association meeting every June.
The baseball diamond used to be a heavily wooded area just east of the pavilion, Section 8, N.W. 18-148-60. ‘In 1948, we used a steel wheeled tractor and masculine brawn to pull out all the trees and stumps.’ Mr. Haines organized his own baseball team in 1951, and invited other teams from surrounding counties to play. In 1958, the State Babe Ruth Baseball League began in North Dakota.
Bill Haines was elected president of the League in 1960, Mr. Bruce Anderson of Valley City was elected International director, and Mr. Leroy Anderson of Binford was elected secretary. There are two teams representing Red Willow, thirteen year olds, and fifteen year olds. In 1968, both Red Willow Lake teams won the state championships. Thirty boys were chosen from Griggs, Nelson, and Steele counties to make up these teams. Two physical education majors at Valley City State College were chosen to coach the teams. Men and women’s softball teams from Griggs, Eddy, Steele, Foster, Barnes, and Nelson counties play ball four nights a week. Two tournaments are held each summer and the winners receive trophies.
Roller skating is held every Wednesday and Sunday nights. Any group of ten or more people can skate at any time.
In 1963, a special fence ten feet high was erected for a bison pasture. Mr. Haines purchased three bison cows and one bull from Mr. George Torrison of Warwick. New calves are born every spring, and the herd now number twenty three. The purpose of the bison is for tourist viewing, but I suspect that father keeps them as pets, especially when he himself has been able to hand feed a few of his favorite cows…”
Bill and Vernis Reflect on 50 Years of Resort Ownership (1946 – 1996):
6 1996 marked an important milestone for Bill and Vernis Haines – they celebrated 50 years as owners of Red Willow Resort. Vernis is from the Tolna area and her maiden name is Hoveskeland. Bill was born in Kansas and raised in Colorado. They met in California where he was working for Douglas Aircraft. He later went into the service. He was also an excellent pitcher for the Los Angeles County and Orange County baseball teams. He has some of the top averages in the area. They met on a blind date, going to the Hollywood Palladium where they heard music by Harry James.
The couple was married in 1943 in Las Vegas. Bill decided he wanted to get out of California because there were too many people there. They came to North Dakota and Vernis was chaperoning a group of girls in a tent at Red Willow when they learned the place was for sale.
There were several people interested in buying the resort, which had been owned by Maynard Crane and the Robert Cowan family from 1898-1946. A group of area farmers and businessmen formed a Red Willow Association and attempted to operate the resort, but found it was not feasible due to the depression years. Lois Brown’s grandfather, Fred Lewis, operated the resort for the Association and lived in the house where the Haineses now live. The home was built in 1900.
Crane and Vernis’ grandfather, Ole Hoveskeland, were good friends, and when Crane learned that Vernis was a Hoveskeland he decided it was they who were going to have the opportunity to buy the resort because he said if a Hoveskeland bought it, they would take care of it. The Haineses bought the resort August 9, 1946, and immediately took over the running of the resort and finished out the summer season.
The first cottage on the lake was built in 1901 by Lieutenant Governor Bartlett, who died in 1906. Nels Bartlett of McVille, who was David MacMillan’s grandfather, then bought the cabin. The Haineses have many abstract titles to the property which document many interesting details.
The restaurant at Red Willow Resort was first built in 1917. It was much smaller than it is at the present time. The original structure contained three horseshoe-shaped counters to sit around. The Haineses have built on to the restaurant four times over the years.
The pavilion was built about 1920 and cost $5,000 to build. The first hardwood floor cost $600 and was shipped to Binford, then hauled out to the resort in wagons pulled by horses. After that floor wore out, it cost the Haineses $5,000 to lay a new oak floor.
In the beginning, Bill had three men working for him full-time in the summer. Vernis had six full-time women and a few part-time workers to handle the restaurant area of the business. The work day in the restaurant went from 8am to midnight. There was no running water and Vernis said, “We were kept busy running for our water.: Bill kept two 1500 watt Kohler light plants running for power, one for the pavilion and one for the restaurant. He also cut ice from the lake in the winter and filled the ice house which was located behind the restaurant. The structure is now used for storage.
There are now 14 full-time employees who live at the resort and up to 25 people are working at the resort on the weekend and for special occasions. The pavilion is rented out for wedding dances and other occasions. There are no longer and boats or paddleboats for rent.
At first, the cottage leases were $25 per year. The rate gradually went up over the years, but not at the rate it maybe should have. Bill explained, “We had a business analyzer come in one year and look over our place and he said we never charged enough for our lease rate. We should have charged far more than we did.”
When the Haineses took over the resort, kids could roller-skate for two and one-half hours for 35¢. The parents could enter the pavilion at no charge to watch. The music for skating was from records. Once in a while a group from the Rainbow Gardens in Carrington came over to put on a skating show. Penny and Patty Haines always had a number in the show. The current charge for skating at Red Willow is $1.50.
There were many big name musicians who performed at Red Willow during the early days. Performers included Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Morrow, and Billy May, Sammy Kaye was there three times. Harry James played at Red Willow in 1969. Vernis said, “We lost $1,000 when he came to play. We thought it was something that we heard him on our first date, them had him here to play years later. After losing that much money on Harry James, we decided not to have Sammy Kaye back again. He called us after that and told us not to change a thing out here.”
Some of the other entertainers who performed at Red Willow over the years included Dick and DeeDee, Paul and Paula, Supremes, the Grass Roots, Tommy James and the Shondels, the Johnny Holm Band, the Ventures, Bobby Goldsboro, Bobby Vee, and the Beach Boys, plus many more. The Kingsmen came and Bill took them all over the farm and they rode horses, went out in the pasture and petted a bull, swan, and boated. Bill said, “They finished a show in South Dakota, drove up to the resort, played around here all day, and then put on a great show that night, without having any sleep.”
The first band at Red Willow was Wen Schun. The first name band which played in 1948 was Freddy Martin. The piano player and singer was Merv Griffin who now owns network television shows. Ray Anthony played at the resort and his singer was Mamie Van Dorn. Yonnie, a now-famous pianist, played with Chameleon twice at the resort.
There used to be all night dances from 8pm to 4am on July 3 and 4. Vernis said, “I used to like to dance more than I like to eat. Now, I like to eat more than I like to dance!” Laddie Pecka & His Band have played at Red Willow over the Fourth of July for 45 years and will be playing again this year (i.e. 1996) on July 4, but only from 8pm to midnight.
Red Willow Resort was the first place in North Dakota to have rock ‘n roll music. In 1954 Bill and Vernis made a trip to Chicago with Doc Chinn who was president of the National Ballroom Association. He managed the Crystal Ballroom in Fargo. They went to Chicago and were going to go to different establishments and listen to bands. The first place they went had Bill Haley and the Comets entertaining. They were playing “Rock Around the Clock.” Vernis said, “I heard that music and just fell in love with it and we didn’t go to another place that night. We stayed right there and listened to that band. We came back to North Dakota and I called the William Morris Agency and said we wanted rock ‘n roll music out here.”
The rock ‘n roll continues at Red Willow. July 3rd (i.e. 1996) Jarrod Thomas of XL-93 will be playing rock ‘n roll from 10pm to 1am. The all-night dances are a thing of the past. Another tradition at the resort is the fireworks. This year (i.e. 1996) the fireworks will be lit over the lake July 3 at 10:30. Another tradition at the resort is the annual arts and crafts show over the Labor Day weekend. This year (i.e. 1996) the show is scheduled for September 1.
In addition to the skating, lake activities, and dances, baseball and softball for all ages has also made Red Willow famous for a great distance around the area.
Bill and his dad built “Bill’s Field of Dreams.” They started clearing the land in 1950 and the first game was played on the field in 1952. Heifer Stadium up on the hill was established some years later. Bill played in the men’s league until he was 65 years old. He was a pitcher for the team.
Women’s tournaments started at Red Willow in 1952. Red Willow was also the beginning of the state 13-year-old tournaments, which ended up going national and then international. Red Willow was also the place of the first co-ed softball league and tournament.
Red Willow hosted the State Babe Ruth Tournament for nine years. Seventeen teams participated in the tournament and to house the players, the Haineses rented the Bible Camp, had four teams in the pavilion, had players in six cottages of their own, and also housed some players in the Odd Fellow Hall in Binford. They fed all the participants breakfast free of charge.
Some years ago, there was an average of 860 games played at Red Willow during the season, which ran for three months and two weeks. Now (i.e. 1996) there are tournaments every weekend. Every Thursday there are 19 teams of girls in league play from an area which covers from Mayville to Grace City and from Lakota to Glenfield. Tuesday is men’s play. Wednesday is Babe Ruth and Friday is a mixture and make-up games. Mondays are also reserved for rain-out days.
Bill Haines was inducted into the North Dakota Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988. Bill and Vernis were both inducted into the Babe Ruth Hall of Fame in Lakota August 4, 1995, at the state tournament. Both were also inducted into the State Softball Hall of Fame in 1995.
In addition, the Haineses raised cattle, then buffalo for 22 years. They had 65 head of breeding stock in buffalo herd. When they sold them, they went for less than $200 each. Now, a buffalo sells for $2,000 or more. They also kept 28 head of horses for two years and rented them out. Bill explained that they quit that because so many people didn’t know how to handle horses.
Through the busy years at Red Willow, Bill and Vernis Haines raised five children. Patty and Butch Stokka live near the resort and have four children, Mike, Matt, Ann and Mari. Two of the children are working at the resort. Penny lives in Mayville, was recently married to Austin Kramer, and has a cottage at the resort. Billy and his two daughters, Billie Jo and Ashley, live in Mayville. Bob lives in Fargo, and Jack and his wife, Lisa, and daughter, Alexandra, live at rural Absaraka. Vernis said, “We never would have been able to keep the place going without all the help from all the kids and grandkids. They have helped in the spring and fall and all times in between.”
The Haineses have hired hundreds of kids over the years. Vernis added, “They’re like our own kids, too.”
The Haineses say the reason they have kept operating the resort all these years I because they love kids, it certainly hasn’t been for the money. Teenagers are their favorite age of kids. Vernis said, “We love the local people. We have so many wonderful memories - - people com e back here and reminisce about earlier times. My first recollections of Red Willow go back to when I was five years old. Red Willow seems like a spiritual place to me.”
Bill added “We’ve kept Red Willow a place for the local people. We’ve had third generation roller-skaters here and also playing ball. Some of the girls have skated with their grandmothers’ skates. Not the boys, though, they’re too hard on the skates and they don’t last that long.”
Vernis added, “And now you know the rest of the story!”
William H. “Bill” Haines passed away March 9, 1997
Patricia Haines-Stokka passed away January 22, 2011
Remember not the pathos of our plight
Or the tears of our too-youthful end.
Mourn us not, for we became a light,
Eden shining still through deathless night,
On all who first pure love would comprehend.
Judge us not, although we chose to die,
Undone by beauty such as few have known,
Love so perfect one could not reply
In words less meteoric than its own.
Each life must wend its way towards death and pain.
Though we died young, our story will remain.
- Romeo and Juliet
1Red Willow Lake, Griggs County History, Griggs County, North Dakota, 1879-1976
2Griggs Courier (date unknown)
3On The Shores of Red Willow Lake “Your Neighbor’s Story”, historical file, Griggs County Public Library)
4History of Red Willow Lake (Patty Haines-Stokka, Fall 1968)
5 Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial
6Griggs County Sentinel-Courier (June 28, 1996)