Grasslands Ghost Town: Trotters, North Dakota

Trotters, North Dakota

You’ll find Trotters nearly thirty miles north of Beach, North Dakota in Golden Valley County, just outside the official boundary of the Little Missouri National Grasslands — a boundary visible only on maps. On the ground it’s clear, this part of the prairie is nearly pristine. Trees are nearly as scarce as people, and prairie grasses with blooms of yellow and purple rule the landscape.

Trotters, North Dakota

Trotters was settled in 1903 near the source of Smith Creek and Francis “Lee” Trotters became the first Postmaster one year later. In his book “North Dakota: Every Town on the Map and More,” Vernel Johnson says Lee had to carry the mail every day from Wibaux, Montana, twenty-five miles to the southwest, without pay for an entire year to get a Post Office assigned to Trotters.

Trotters, North Dakota

In 1959, Leonard Hall took over as Postmaster, becoming the final person to hold the position and the last resident of Trotters. The town site shown here has been empty for over a decade, but the church is still used by area residents. Someone once told us that Mr. Hall would leave the gas pump unlocked at night and locals who needed gas could fill up on the honor system.

Trotters, North Dakota

Trotters, North Dakota
Trotters, North Dakota

Hi, fill ‘er up and check the oil, please.

Trotters, North Dakota

Trotters, North Dakota was featured in our hardcover coffee table book, Churches of the High Plains.

Trotters, North Dakota

In his book, “North Dakota Place Names,” Doug Wick says Trotters is one of North Dakota’s most remote towns. In terms of highway driving, it certainly is. County Road 16 is a two lane blacktop and runs north-south through Trotters, and it’s virtually the only link to the rest of the state with no intersecting highways, railroads or rivers. Grassy Butte, a similarly remote town just thirty miles to the east, is more than ninety minutes away by car, requiring a trip around the rugged and beautiful valleys surrounding Beaver Creek and the Little Missouri River.

Trotters, North Dakota
Trotters, North Dakota

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Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp copyright ¬© 2015 Sonic Tremor Media

20 Comments on “Grasslands Ghost Town: Trotters, North Dakota

  1. Thanks for the great photos. I really enjoy them. You’re doing such a great job at capturing the essence of the place. In some weird way it appeals to me, the vastness and emptiness of the landscape, sorta like being on the ocean. Then the Fantasies commence, of living way out there, somewhere on the plains, watching the stars rotate through the night… But eventually reality sets in, and I reevaluate the luxury of living in a land where, in theory at least, you can go virtually naked 3/4’s of the year! And I grudginly accept the presence of the tens of millions of other fellow humans, my ‘neighbors’, all of us together hugging the coastline of this vast continent…

    Richard Freeberg
    Napa, CA

  2. Visited Trotters a few times years ago. Loved it. Too bad it is gone. Mr Hall was a great guy.

  3. Some years ago the wife of a friend of mine drove me from Dickinson to Trotters, where I was to meet her husband & a few others to hunt grouse in western ND. We arrived a bit early and enjoyed the ambience of these buildings. At some point I checked the outhouse for critters and — finding none — I can attest that it worked just fine. I recall we hunters visited Marmath & a few other garden spots on that trip. I thoroughly enjoy seeing the Ghosts pics as I have been to many of the places.

  4. My brother worked as a truck driver for the road crew which paved the road through Trotters in the late 80s or early 90s. He was fascinated with Leonard Hall and I got to go with him one day to meet him. Mr. Hall had dozens of hats, each printed with a different “role” he played for Trotters… He had Fire Chief, Police Captain, Sewer Maintenance, Post Master, Snow Plow Driver, Trotter Lawn Maintenance, etc… He was a hoot and had many stories, maybe some were stretched a bit, but I could have sat and listened to those stories for days. He had served as the trotters Post Master since 1956.

    Leonard Hall died in 2001 in Sidney, MT. His obituary can be found at:

    • I received a letter from Mr. Hall in the spring of 1959 as a response to my pen pal request as a 7th grade English project. I recently wrote the story of that experience and the kind man who indulged a young girl’s request.
      I love Trotters even though I’ve never been there.

  5. Wish I could see the price on the gas pump and wonder what the last time it was use and what the price of gas was back then. Stunning photo’s and as always the trip to this website doesn’t disappoint. Wonderful work guys keep it up!!

    • Blowing the pump photo up as large as my computer will do, the first number in the price appears to be a 7.

  6. I was stationed in McKenzie County as a highway patrolman in 1981. The Captain in Williston told me to go drive the entire county to get to know the area. McKenzie County is 66,000 square miles. I turned down Highway 16 at Sather Dam, which at the time was a state “gravel” road. I stopped at the little store in Trotters. The guy at the store said he hadn’t seen a deputy down his way in months. When I told him I was with the State Patrol he said he hadn’t seen a trooper in years. Definitely off the beaten path.

  7. Leonard Hall was my great uncle. He was quite the story teller – even a cowboy poet. I remember him typing away on his old typewriter, always coming up with a new poem or story. I even went to cowboy poetry conventions with him and heard him read some of his poems.
    My grandparents had a ranch about 12 miles away so from Trotters so we would stop in at the store to get the mail or to visit. We’d get a bottle of soda and a snack and settle in for conversation with Uncle Leonard. It was never dull, often quiet, but never dull, in the the beautiful badlands of western North Dakota…

  8. Leonard Hall was my husband’s great uncle. I have heard many of the family stories but I was never in his presence as he was called home before I was a part of the Hall clan. My husband and I were married in this church in 2003 and danced the night away on the decaying asphalt in front of the store. For a few brief hours the population of Trotters was near 100 and every one of our guests had to use the out houses. We put a new roof on the store this Fall, too bad these pictures were taken before then, it matches the church and makes them a nice pair. My husband, 4 kids and I live up the highway 12 miles and keep a watchful eye over our beloved Trotters.

  9. I spent my summers on my grandparents ranch, it was such a treat for a young girl to get to drive to Trotters and get the mail, grab something grandma really didn’t need at the store and visit with Leonard, enjoying a bottle of Strawberry Nehi. Great memories, my heart will always lie in Trotters area and with the wonderful people that lived there.

  10. Lee Trotter was my great-grandfather. We (John, Elsie, Sparky, Tom and I) lived about 30 miles down into the badlands on the Little Missouri River, but I went to Bible School in that church several summers and we went past every time we went to Beach. Leonard Hall was a good friend. At that time I didn’t know Leonard did cowboy poetry. I do cowboy poetry now but I moved away from there in 1961.

  11. Wow, what a flood of emotions hit me seeing those photos. The number of times my sisters and I would ride with Mom to go get the mail or if we had been good maybe a candy bar on the way back home from Sidney. Had my first 3 Musketeers with a pop, in a glass bottle, sitting right next to that old handrail. My siblings and I knew anytime we stopped it was going to be for awhile. Uncle Leonard and our current chauffeur, be it mom or his brother, my grandpa, would be chewing the fat for awhile. Us kids would run around finding pop cans, chasing grasshoppers, playing with Uncle Leonard’s many nick-naks, or get roped into helping clean out his basement or mow around the post office.

    It was a sad day when Uncle Leonard had to move to a nursing home and we just got our mail from a regular mail box, still about 11 miles from home none the less. Hard to believe its been as long as it has already. Sure makes me miss the Bad Lands, some of the best years of my life!

  12. Before mr hall had the gas station and store my great grandparents mr and Mrs. John Erving Metcalf had it. My dad John Lloyd still has their postal stamp from trotter

  13. Francis Trotter was my grest grandfather on my mother’s side. They delivered mail by horse back and wagon. And had one of the earliest wagon trains hauling supplies out west.

  14. There is a small farmsteam (long abandoned) just about 1/3 mile SE from the church behind the hill. I happened to spot it on a satellite view on my first visit to Trotters. Worth a walk through. Whenever I see old houses that were surely built in the teens or twenties (100 yrs ago), I have to remember that even the smallest of old shacks was some wife’s dream home and that many peoples lives were shaped (positive and negatively) in those walls…

  15. I received a letter from Mr. Hall late spring 1959 as a response to my pen pal request that was a 7th grade English assignment. I’ve written a story about the experience that includes his letter. I’ve never been to Trotters, but I’ve loved it and the kind man who indulged a young girl’s request for 60 years.

  16. My grandparents homestead in what was called Blue Shale or Trotters, ND. My father was born in a sod shack in Trotters, ND, in 1918. His father contracted the flu epidemic. His mother rode horseback to a hospital in Montana, to get a doctor for him. She ended up hemoraging and pasted away. As my father was only 2 months old at the time. My grandfather had 132 acres that he was going to do stock farming on. Needless to say. He gave it up and moved back to Ohio.

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