Leith, North Dakota After the Turmoil

Leith, North Dakota

We first visited Leith, North Dakota, in Grant County, about fifty miles southwest of Mandan, in May of 2007. We had heard that it was a shrinking rural community with a few abandoned places to photograph, and we found that to be true, but we could not have known that Leith would become a place of conflict just a few years later when a white supremacist would move-in and thrust Leith into a national spotlight.

Leith, North Dakota

We watched from afar with dread as buildings in Leith were vandalized with spray-painted swastikas and decorated with banners of hate as Leith’s residents were threatened with violence, their community meetings disrupted by vile characters. The apologists for racists like those who invaded Leith would tell you they simply wanted to live in an all-white community, but a simple look at Census statistics reveals there are dozens of tiny rural communities all over North Dakota that are already one-hundred percent Caucasian — not out of hate, but simply by default. They could have easily settled in any one of those communities and lived peacefully. No, these people wanted to impose their will on Leith and the remaining sixteen residents.

Leith, North Dakota

Through several years of turmoil, meetings and demonstrations were held, ordinances were passed and enforced, and the hate-mongers were eventually driven out. We visited Leith again in July of 2015 to see how the town had fared.

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

Terry suggested we should stop in the local bar for a chat and some refreshments to help stimulate the local economy in whatever small measure we could, but we only stayed a short time. After what Leith has gone through, we found smiles in short supply and people apparently (but understandably) wary of strangers. We asked about some of the buildings which once stood in Leith, and the bartender told us many of them were “pushed down and burnt down” after the racists moved on. She described the situation succinctly as “a crock of bullshit.

Leith, North Dakota

The former Leith Creamery building, which once stood next to the home with the red front door, is gone. Intentionally razed for reasons that vary, depending on who you ask.

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

Vacant lots dot the townsite in Leith. Many of the places we photographed in 2007 are now gone. Bad weather limited the amount of time we spent in Leith, so we didn’t photograph everything we’d hoped to.

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

Leith, North Dakota

The Leith Fire Department building is now gone and only the bell remains. We have two galleries of photos from our previous visit to Leith which you can see here and here.

Leith, North Dakota

The racist who started the turmoil in Leith had moved to Sherwood, North Dakota by the time we visited again, and had designs on another town we’ve photographed, Antler, North Dakota. In the interest of preserving our prairie heritage and pioneer architecture, we can only hope they run him out of town, too.

Update: Antler, North Dakota has since followed the same course of action as Leith, demolishing a number of buildings.

Leith, North Dakota

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media.

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38 Comments on “Leith, North Dakota After the Turmoil

  1. Good work by the folks of Leith. There’s currently more than enough hate in America, no need to encourage more of it, nor give it a place to fester. Here’s hoping Sherwood and Antlers are equally inhospitable to these…. “people”.

    • hello town folk’s of Lieth, i just finished watching your plight on PBS, in Florida. being a citizen of this great Country of ours, i just was moved in my spirit to write to you. i’m 68 years old & a Vietnam Veteran.. i’m so sorry evil visited your town, i’ll be praying for healing for everyone living there. to to our Lord, he’ll see you through this! 1st.Sam. 30:18-20, says in part to turn to the Lord, despite what others might say,you also can recover all.! be encouraged . Be blessed!

  2. There’s only one photo of the “jail.” Was that really a jail? Or someone being funny with the sign?

  3. I hope antler has the good sense to push those worthless pieces of crap out of town right away.

  4. Hoping this doesn’t happen in Grace City. I guess the lesson here is be watchful and ready but don’t let it make you unsociable or overly suspicious.

  5. The pictures here show beauty amongst where ugliness once was. I recall that when I was in Boy’s State at NDSU Fargo in 1966, officials had to frequently remind attendees that Nazi paraphernalia was not allowed on their persons.
    The monster still lurks. Thanks for the great article and photos.

  6. My family and I were in Leith on the day of the protest. It was, and still is, a beautiful little town.

  7. I am new to this site. My father is from Shields ND I don’t think there is anything left there as far as buildings go. I am part of Family Search indexing and have indexed quite a few of WWII registration cards and men that were from a lot of the towns on this sight. So sad that the men that fought and died for this country can’t even be remembered by the towns here.

    • My uncle was in WW II. He told me that in some areas of North Dakota, veterans stayed pretty quiet and didn’t share their stories. The reason was that with so many with family ties back to Germany, there were a lot of german sympathizers in some areas. It probably wasn’t the case for my home town of Turtle Lake because most of those with German ancestry were descended from Russian Germans. That is, distinct German communities that sprung up in Russia during the Reign of Catherine the Great (who was German) and whose descendants migrated to North Dakota in the late 19th, early 20th centuries.

      • My dad grew up in Mercer near Turtle Lake. He had some interesting stories about the different ethnic groups in the area. Round about Mercer there was a fairly large community of German/Russians and they would often come to town and do business with the general store my dad’s family ran. They were interesting because even though they were nominally German, they had spent a fair amount of time in Russia and apparently weren’t very “German” anymore…

        • Our family farm is 10 miles from Mercer. When I attended Township School (a mile closer to Mercer) and our teacher was from Mercer, he’d drive us over to the Mercer gymn to play basketball.

          In our area, the last of the one-room township schools were shut down in 1961 (I think). Mercer took a real hit in the 70’s when Turtle Lake and Mercer Schools were consolidated. Since the consolidated school ended up in Turtle Lake, Mercer lost businesses and jobs and consequently population. Town School consolidation was frequently a subject of contention for such reasons. The town that lost the school lost so much more…

          Vernon Keel (Turtle Lake, graduated about 1959) has written “The Murdered Family” about the Wolf mass murder north of Turtle Lake in 1920. He has included a lot about the German/Russian immigrants in the book.

  8. As a person of Swedish ancestry on my father’s side, but with a surname that apparently sounds “Jewish” to racists, the ignorant, and the just plain stupid, I can testify from personal experience to the virulent strain of racism that infests our country. Nothing like becoming the target of some stranger, who knows nothing about you, and getting treated like shit – for being something you’re NOT! That’s a real eye opener. Although predominately European in origin, North Dakota had a variety of ethnic, religious and linguistic groups scattered across her plains. Each small town often had it’s own cultural ‘flavor’. Naturally there were tensions between groups, but in general everyone more or less worked for the common good. Large Co-ops were common. Such a shame to see the white trash of our country attempting to import the twin evils of racism and fascism into what was generally a tolerant and egalitarian society – where a person’s worth was judged not by some bullshit ideology, but by his/her character and actions.

    • There was one person of Jewish Faith in Turtle Lake. He was a business man, always clean shaven, showered daily and he wore a suit to work.

      I remember farmers who came to town with manure on their boots referring to him as “that dirty Jew”. What ignorance! It seemed that the bigots didn’t even think about what they were saying.

      I recall my father practically pinning one guy to the wall for using that term. He took his time to point out the manure on the bigot’s boots and the fact that a lot of farmers took one bath a week. (My Dad included!)

      • Jew or otherwise was the man honest in his business dealings or did he rip the farmers off in some way? Without knowing the whole story neither you nor I can judge anyone in your story. I would have called him a dirty Jew if he were overcharging because he had the monopoly in such a rural area. The reason he was dirty and a Jew. I would also call him a nice Jewish person if he was honest and fair? The reason he was nice and a Jew. So does that mean I am a bigot just because I recognize their background in a description? The reality is everyone is bigoted against something. You are bigoted against those manure covered farmers due to your experience. Being bigoted is natural and actually a reaction necessary for survival. It is only evil when applied to mistreat based on skin color and different ethnicities. I believe the definition of a bigot is a person the is partial to one’s group, race, politics and religion and is intolerant to those that differ. Oops, that pretty well covers everybody!

        • Hopefully this is the end of the discussion. At Ghosts of North Dakota, we do not accept the idea that everyone is a bigot, Edubb. There are absolutes, right and wrong. If anyone wants to have any further discussion about racism or bigotry, this is not likely the place to do it. There are plenty of places to do that on the web.

          • My grandparent were original settlers of Leith. The house featured in the last 2 pictures is their homestead. Roy & Alice Emch. They are buried in the cemetery north west of town.

  9. I’m saddened by this article. Beautiful photos and I would like to return to North Dakota to explore more of the countryside and small towns. My great grandparents immigrated with siblings to Enderlin and Moore Township in the 1800’s where my grandmother, dad and his siblings were born. It’s so lovely there and I still have relatives living there. They are warm and very hospitable. Thank you for sharing your experience. I sure hope that people in other communities won’t put up with the hatred that some bigots carry around and try to enforce others in their hateful discrimination.

  10. I am so sorry to hear what happened in Leith, ND. It is really sad that people do things like that. I was not happy to see that the person who started the turmoil in Leith has now got his eye on Antler, ND. My mom grew up there, so I know it very well. I certainly hope he gets out of ND. Thank you for the updates!!!!

  11. My mother’s parents were raised in Roulette and moved to Antler and ran the Meat Market 1927 through 1969: Ruth Watkins Fox and Frederick Larsen Fox. My grandfather was a kind man who overtly accepted all people. He was born in Bergen, Norway. His mother was Norwegian and his father was German. My great-grandfather Charles Frederick John Fox (Anglicized in early 1900’s, possibly at Ellis Island) was German. Family stories quote him as listening to Hitler’s rants and saying, “That man ruins the German language!” Most northern European countries had times of religious persecution whether Protestant-Catholic or Christian-Jewish. I like to think my ancestors immigrated to escape that sickness. If the people of my North Dakota childhood were racist, I think it was because of ignorance. My grandfather and his father were horrified by German invasions of World War II. I am familiar with Antler and Westhope from the late 1950’s. I never observed any racial or ethnic prejudice in the community. The communities were insular and were somewhat wary of strangers. These communities were melting pots of Norwegian, English, German, French, Lakota and others. A Japanese farmer had a community named after him: Kuroki, near Antler. Antler had a community church that Christians of many denominations attended together. I would remind everyone that Fascism is a form of Socialism where government has control of industry and has a history of violence. So it is just left of today’s Democratic Party. Radical right is libertarianism. White supremists have always struck me a haters of mankind. I worry when such a group settles in an isolated area. I am heartsick to think that the town of my benevolent grandparents might become the town of white supremists.

    • In my opinion – and I must stress that this is my opinion and I would never suggest that what I speak is the truth, just my opinion : The suggestion that Fascism is to the left of the democratic party is like suggesting that Fascism is to the right of the republican party. Either suggestion is based on a primitive paradigm that implies that we can evaluate politics and government on a one-dimensional scale. Don’t work. Never has. But leads to opportunism that hijacks history for modern-day political gamesmanship. Libertarianism (and I would be a libertarian if I weren’t a Christian) could be said to be to either to the LEFT of the democratic party or to the RIGHT of the republican party, depending on the issue. I am glad that there is agreement that white supremicism is evil. My eldest grandson is the best 17-year-old swimmer in Alaska. 🙂 Also my opinion. Cheers.

  12. In Warren vs. District of Columbia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_v._District_of_Columbia) the SCOTUS ruled the public has no “right” to police protection. The current administration is rabid in their schemes to nullify the 2nd Amendment and confiscate all weapons (not unlike the UK, where now even knives are outlawed). What will be the future fate of towns and communities like Leith, if such were to happen to our right to defend ourselves? The understaffed and underpaid police can’t, or won’t, or may pick and choose whom to assist – or not; what then? If these sorts of people continue to bully, abuse, and threaten others in the community, with no fear of reprisal, where do we turn for solutions? I feel terribly sorry this happened in this day and age, sorry for Leith, and sorry for what is to happen to Antler.

    • That isn’t what the Warren case said (it said the duty to furnish police services is only to “the public at large and not to individual members of the community” and that the response to dereliction of that duty is “only in the context of a public prosecution and not in a private suit for money damages”) and the “current administration” has proposed no such thing regarding weapons.

      This is a fabulous Web site about abandoned places in North Dakota and their history. Leave political commentary out of it, especially distorted or flat-out wrong commentary.

    • By the way, the Warren case is not a US Supreme Court case. It’s from the DC Court or Appeals, the equivalent of a state’s highest court.

  13. A friend and I made a visit there last yr befor the trouble started . Interesting small town .sad there is so many more places like that here in North Dakota and also in South Dakota……. Great pictures.

  14. You can visit the Leith website at: http://www.leithnd.com for a peaceful look at how it is today.

    For those who want all the photos and documents and news stories from the past you can visit my news website at: http://www.grantcountyndnews.com/newsarchivesleith.htm

    You can also see all the videos of the attempted takeover by Craig Cobb as well as what he is up to now on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/user/teamsix6

    I am the Leith Website Developer and Media Relations Representative as well as one of Cobb’s terrorizing victims.

    Several Leith residents and myself recently visited with the citizens of Antler, ND where Cobb is once again attempting to take over another North Dakota town. A video of that meeting is available to watch at: http://www.grantcountyndnews.com/videoantler.htm

    There is much to say about the evil that we (myself, the mayor and a city councilman) ran out of our county and thanks to the cowardly prosecution of Cobb by the current States Attorney he is now Sherwood, ND’s unfortunate mess.

    The Grant County ND News Dot Com website is at:

    It should also be noted that I do not get paid for any of this.

    Thanks to all of you for your comments.

  15. We’re so sorry for what you had to endure. What beautiful, rock solid, salt-of-the-earth people you are (I was raised in semi-rural SD, also lived in semi-rural NE, so I might be a little bit biased), determined to drive out evil. May God grant you peace now, and keep Antler in the shelter of His wings. –Milwaukee

  16. I’m just watching the documentary on the crisis about the racists that tried to take over Leith, but were fortunately unsuccessful. I understand they’re gone now. Good people must do what they can, within the law, to get these folks out of their community. They’re not there for any good reason. They just want a place to gain a foothold and strengthen their cause of hate and destruction against any people they don’t consider to be “white” or on their side. Good people can never be indifferent. Other very rural and small communities around the country have to be aware of groups of people who may be settling in around them.

  17. I watched the documentary, about the evil that tried unsuccessfully, to take root in Leith. I was impressed with what the good folks of Leith accomplished. What a horror your town had to endure! I pray that only peace, and happiness are able to take hold, from here on out. So sorry that you had to tolerate that kind of torture. I hope that we, as American people, can figure out a way to stop any organizations that are hateful, from ever accomplishing their disgusting goals. It is scary how far this animal was allowed to push, before he was arrested.

  18. welcome to leith, another good show on PBS, watched it more then once, i wont mind driving thru leith, may consider retiring there some day

  19. The yellow house is my grandparents homestead. Roy & Alice Emch who are buried along with many other family members in the leith cemetery. They were original settlers of the town.

  20. An interesting website of I’m assuming a peaceful community marred by hateful people. The Cobb story did reach us in the UK. To be honest I’m amazed such small places exist, more so that online its described as a ‘city’. A small hamlet to be sure. Just goes to show how modernity can pass by places in the landscape, whilst negative aspects of human nature can arrive and destroy people and places.
    Regards from Aberdeenshire. Scotland

    • Just thought I should clarify; I grew up in a town with no stop lights in Northern Wisconsin, same region of America: we were all aware that our town wasn’t what most people would describe as a town. And that’s okay.

      However, up in our area, terms like town and city are legal terms describing the locale’s relationship to the regional county government. Our town council is the one that organized the local snow plow service, for example, a crucial service in winters that can reach -35C/-30F.

      In terms of modernity, my town had fiber optic internet, faster speeds than Google Fiber, before Google Fiber existed. This while being a place with similar pioneer-era buildings as Leith, still in active use, for the town hall along other uses. There are a variety of economic and social organization reasons why our local co-op could afford to install that; and we’ve been glad of the opportunity, because it has allowed people with online businesses a chance to live in the country alongside us as neighbors, who might not otherwise have been able to.

      But I think it’s important to point out that modernity doesn’t pass any place, time affects all places equally. What happens is instead that the trappings that we associate with modernity appear differently in different places, or not at all: and the reason why yes, or why no, is ultimately usually always just an economic problem.

      We’re not Amish, we’re just poor. Yet rich in spirit, and we all do as best we can with what we have. I would imagine that that is not so unfamiliar to you, really, there on your side of the sea.

  21. Pingback: Leith, ND: A home away from home - Grain Designs

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