May 9, 2019 — James Flater, son of a New Rockford blacksmith, had an excellent record as a gunner aboard the American battleship U.S.S. Oregon — he was able to hit his mark eight out of ten times at a range of four miles.

On March 19, 1898, the Oregon departed San Francisco for Cuba, where war with Spain was brewing. A month later, the fate of the ship became uncertain; it had failed to stop in Chili for more coal, and if it was now in the Straits of Magellan, it was fighting a terrific storm. Another concern was the crew didn't know the war had officially begun. The movements of the battleship had been revealed in newspapers, and it was rumored a Spanish torpedo boat was lying in wait somewhere south of Rio de Janeiro.

On this date, Flater's family reported they'd learned the Oregon had safely reached Cuban waters. The ship's 14,000-mile journey so inspired the nation, it threw its support behind a new project — the construction of the Panama Canal.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.

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