N.D. Nostalgia: Ghost Riders

by | Jan 9, 2023 | Youth Rodeo, Playdays, Shows, Culture, Horsemanship & Training

Ghost Riders preparing to perform [Photo: submitted]

Some seventy years ago, a World War II Marine Lieutenant hailing from Bottineau County in North Dakota returned home from the South Pacific.

His dream, at the time, was to form a league of Lansford youth horse riders. He visioned them performing marching drills and routines like the Marine Corps squad staged. However, the twist was it all had to be maneuvered and accomplished on horseback.

 Former Marine, Jack Sidener, Leader of the Lansford Ghost Riders [Photo: submitted]

Jack Sidener, an avid horseman, rancher, farmer, and World War II Marine Veteran, enlisted 20 youth riders from the Lansford area into the newly formed horse club called the Ghost Riders. Sidener and his palomino stallion known as ‘Laredo’ led the young horsemen through practices of mastering routines and valuable horse skills, all the while, working in synchronization to be able to perform at local events in and around northwestern North Dakota.

A good crowd was present at the Ghost Rider Show in Minot [Photo: submitted]

Having entered the Marines in 1942, trained as a fighter pilot, and assigned to the 4th Marine Fighter Wing, Jack and his outfit were active in the Pacific and based at various places including Guam and Ulithi.

With this background, leadership became a survival skill for Jack. The guidance worked well with various horse and rider combinations all put together in one place. Working with animals that can’t speak our language and youth at different levels is no easy task.

The Minot Daily News once wrote of the talented troop on horseback, “Shades of golden west and the era of the Calvary marched onto the Minot State Fairgrounds when the Lansford Ghost Riders performed in front of the grandstand two evenings prior to the Barnes and Carruthers State Fair Revue of 1954. Banner bearers flanked patrol leader, Jack Sidener, as the 20-member patrol performed their precision drills and squad formations for fair-goers.”

 Jack Sidener with an unidentified rodeo queen [Photo: submitted]

Jack’s nephew Mike Sidener said, “The Ghost Riders went on to host horse shows annually in the Lansford area, but the highlight of their time in the saddle was when Walt Disney Studios came to Lansford to film the group and had a segment on the Walt Disney television show. The studio sent a copy of the film to Lansford later, and the public was able to watch the film at the Lansford movie theater. Unfortunately, the film was lost in a local fire some years later.”

[Clipping from the Minot Daily News]

Youth would ride into town from area farms to town where the golf course is located currently. Mike said, “There were a lot of people that rode horses in the early 1950s. Kids were anywhere from 6 to 18 years old when they joined and some rode up to 18 miles round trip to make practices.”

The Ghost Riders were significant to the community and important at the time. Lansford youth were introduced to performing at places such as the North Dakota State Fair, parades, and local county fairs. They performed weekly throughout the summer and helped in a search and rescue mission in 1954 when a little boy disappeared in the Powers Lake area. The Ghost Riders were part of 200 some horsemen that could cover country and miles that vehicles and people on foot couldn’t. The ending was sad, but it demonstrated the connection of horses and community involvement.

 Lansford Ghost Riders march in parade in Minot, 1954 – Jack Sidener is leading [Photo: submitted]

Even the mothers of riders were involved in designing and sewing the white shirts with black fringe. The ‘ghostly colored’ uniforms also had matching white pants and black felt cowboy hats.

[Photo: submitted]

The Ghost Riders made headlines and were featured in many publications, such as the Minot Daily News and even national publications like Horse Lover’s Magazine in 1954. The group is also a 2023 ND Cowboy Hall of Fame nominee.

[Cover of Horse Lover’s Magazine]

[Page from Horse Lover’s Magazine]

In 1956 Jack and his only sibling, R.T., were tragically killed in a car accident that summer. Ironically, the brothers were picking up flowers for their parents’ wedding anniversary. Between the two, they left behind ten children.

“Jack was a positive influence because of what he did for the kids in Lansford. It’s impressive that someone took initiative to do this and help 20 to 25 kids at a time on their horse and go places with them to perform,” added Mike. “The Lansford community helped take care of the family he and his brother left behind, and the Ghost Riders are far from forgotten.”

Other Ghost Riders not included on this list were: Guy Feland with horse named Stogy and Jana Feland with horse named Buck (both from Antler, N.D.)

The Ghost Riders brought a different spirit and excitement to the small community up north. The youth horsemen loved being a part of something bigger than themselves according to locals.

Groups like this represent the history and qualities of current North Dakota horsemen. Taking initiative in a thought, unaware if it would work or fail, spending quality time with the youth in a community, and making it all happen on a horse is part of the remarkable qualities of what North Dakota is composed of.

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