NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665

May 28, 1998

Plains Folk: It's Still There

Tom Isern, Professor of History
North Dakota State University

1998 Plains Folk

Bowesmont, a town doomed by the wayward Red River, bought out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and now eliminated, was in eclipse many years before the floods of 1996 and 1997. With the loss of its schools, town hall, businesses and social organizations, it was no longer an effective community.

For the generation from the 1960s to the final demise of the town, though, while Bowesmont was no longer an effective community, it was still an affective community. By that I mean it still held the affections and attachments of hundreds of people, a few of whom still made it home (had residences on the site). Others just called it home.

It's easy for outsiders to look at a place like this and say, there's no town there anymore, you don't have any stores or public buildings. That's a mistake. An affective community is a real thing, even if you can't see it.

Called on to document the history of Bowesmont at the very time the town was being dismantled, my assistant, Julie Humann, had the pleasure of visiting with a number of people who called Bowesmont home. One of them was Richard McConnell, who was living in Drayton.

A result of that interview is what I've been calling "Richard McConnell's Memory Map." (Users of the World Wide Web can see it at the Bowesmont web site, location .) Under Mr. McConnell's direction, Julie sketched in all the places he remembered from his boyhood—from Billy Homer's blacksmith shop on the north end to the railroad section house on the south end. There's the Brusseau barbershop, there's the town hall, there's the McCay drugstore—there's just everything.

When Mr. McConnell instructed Ms. Humann in the composition of his memory map, it was not a clinical exercise, but rather an outpouring of the heart. This was evidence of the continuing power of Bowesmont as an affective community.

Perhaps the most eloquent spokesperson for these affective ties is Winnifred Halcrow Bloomquist, who grew up in Bowesmont, now lives across the river in Minnesota, and writes a column for the Drayton Valley News and Views. Her column, "Goodbye to Bowesmont," might well be handed out in composition courses to teach students the art of the personal essay. It's full of sounds, colors, textures, images of all kinds.

"I said good-bye to Bowesmont one summer evening," she begins. And in the end, "The last colors of the rusty orange sunset were fading from the tall trees and the shadows were dark behind the window to my room."

We don't have to do anything to see that Bowesmont is remembered. Its people are going to remember it. But such potent affective ties do require that the material Bowesmont, the town site itself, be treated with respect, and that its people be allowed to say good-bye, the way Winnie Bloomquist has.

It is good, then, that the Pembina County Commissioners and the Bowesmont Heritage Foundation (made up of former residents and community members) are planning appropriate observances, including a historical marker.

Ms. Bloomquist has given permission for a few lines of one of her poems to be used in the memorial:

The tall grass waves over foundations of old,
And the wind shares the memories of stories untold.
The tall grass waves slowly when the soft winds blow,
And the eyes only see what the heart wants to know.


Source: Tom Isern (701) 231-8339

Editor: Dean Hulse (701) 231-6136