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Much of the refuge is grassland hills and prairie with the James River transecting the area forming a series of lakes. 

The James River transects the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge for approximately 12 1/2 miles and creates a series of lakes in the northeast corner of Stutsman County, North Dakota. The largest of these lakes is Arrowwood, approximately 5 1/2 miles long and 1/2 to 1 1/2 miles wide. The lake may have been named by Native Americans who traveled here from great distances to obtain wood for making arrow shafts and bows. Hackberry and oak trees were the preferred species for these items and hard to find in other areas of North Dakota. Native Americans named the area Itazi paha koksj — the place for cutting bows and named the James River the white wooded river or San san san.

Immediately south of Arrowwood Lake is tiny Mud Lake, followed downstream by Jim Lake, which is four miles long and one mile wide, and named for the river that flows through it. Each of the lakes within the Refuge is a natural riverine lake. Spillways and structures were added early in the 1930's to allow for water control and to store water during periods of drought. Before the Refuge was established in 1935, development plans included a playground, 18-hole golf course, dance pavilion, tennis court, and baseball diamond. Today the mission of the Refuge is to provide migration and resting habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife.

In 1872 the Fort Totten Trail was established as a major military route leading from Fort Seward in Jamestown to Fort Totten. The new trail replaced the Stennson Trial which was a more dangerous route and longer as well. Remnants of the trail run through a portion of the Refuge east of Jim Lake, and wagon wheel ruts can still be found in the Grasshopper Hills area. Guide posts were set on high spots southeast of Jim Lake upon which lanterns were hung to guide travelers to the Lees campsite, thought to be located south of the Grasshopper Hills. A fortified camp of several acres is located in the same area along the north Refuge boundary. The site was partially surrounded by shallow trenches to provide protection on all sides. Sod berms were placed in front of the trench to conceal its defenders. Dr. R. G. DePuy, a physician, excavated the campsite and some remaining traces of the trail in 1915. Some of the trenches were large enough to cause the farming equipment problems when digging the sites.

The Legend of Limpy Jack

As with any wild area the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge is not without its colorful characters and legends. The most noted figure in our history is Jack Clayton, known locally as "Limpy Jack." Limpy Jack has been credited with serving as a union soldier, attorney, saloonkeeper, stagecoach driver and secretary of the Sunday school organization. He has also been characterized as a whiskey runner, card player and ruffian. Whatever his occupation, Limpy was a part our history and actually lived for a short time on land that was to become the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge. The remnants of his dugouts, large enough to house a wagon and a team of horses, can still be seen north of Stony Brook.

Incidentally, there are two stories regarding his acquisition of the nickname "Limpy." In one account it is said that the mail agent brought Jack into the Fort Totten hospital in January of 1879 for treatment of severe frostbite. The doctors managed to spare him from the amputation of one foot but removed some badly frozen toes. In another account it was not the freezing of his right foot that got Clayton his nickname. He had limped for years, apparently after having been shot in the leg on the steps of the courthouse in Duluth in 1871. His assailant was an angry companion, against whom Clayton had testified in some sort of court proceeding. Clayton spent his remaining years on the prairies and returned to Jamestown late in the 1800's where his health eventually failed him. He was laid to rest in the McGinnis Cemetery, wrapped in "Old Glory," one of the flags flown above Fort Seward. He died in 1893 and his grave, the exact site of which is a mystery, was rededicated in 2003. 

The Legends of Grasshopper Hills

An area of over one square mile in the SE part of the Refuge is known as the Grasshopper Hills. These hills lie east of Jim Lake and rise abruptly from the surrounding prairie. The base of the hills is nearly cylindrical in shape except for the break made in it by Medicine Lake on the northeast corner. From the tops of these hills one can see the surrounding country for many miles. On a calm June day it affords a beautiful view of Jim Lake with its high bluffs covered in trees, and mirrored in its waters. It was during this month when the tragedy occurred from which these hills derived their name according to the Native American legend which follows:

Many years ago a beautiful Native American woman lived in a village to the north whose father was a white man. She was much sought after by the young braves of her tribe but only Grasshopper, son of a chief, found favor in her eyes. Her father was much opposed to Grasshopper's attentions to his daughter and did everything he could to prevent their marriage. As time went on, there seemed no hope of ever gaining the father's consent and the lovers took matters into their own hands and ran away.

When the woman's father discovered that they were gone he swore bitter vengeance on Grasshopper and went out to find them. After a few days he found their trail, which led to the south, and he set out in hot pursuit with murder in his heart. In the meantime the lovers traveled as fast as they could for fear of being overtaken. One day they stopped to rest in a group of hills with lakes to the east and west. This seemed like an ideal spot as well as a good hiding place and they decided it would be safe to stay here a few days.

One day the father crept up on the couple unexpectedly, as he rose over the crest of the hill and was raising his gun to fire at Grasshopper, his daughter saw him and sprang in front of her lover. The deadly bullet killed them both and the distraught father buried them where they fell. Ever since this tragic event these hills have been known as Grasshopper Hills.

Another ending to this story accounts for the naming of Medicine Lake, located to the northeast of the hills. It is said that the maiden saw her father but was too far away to shield her lover who fell dead at her feet. When she saw what had been done she rushed wildly to the lake saying, "This is medicine for my grief," and hurling herself into its placid waters sank to her death. When the lake gave up its dead the father buried both in the hills and the ideal spot became the tomb of the young lovers.

Another account of the naming of the Grasshopper Hills tells of a band of Native Americans camping within the hills thinking themselves safe from all attacks. But at dawn one summer morning their enemies crept upon them. The survivors said there were such a large number of them that they rose from the valleys like a swarm of grasshoppers and devoured them, as the grasshoppers devour every green thing in a field on which they descend.

Whichever story is true, the hills have been known, since that time, as the Grasshopper Hills by Native American tribes of North Dakota. The name persists to this day.