Basketball, Water and the Lost City of Elbowoods documentary premiere held

On Monday, May 20, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation hosted an exclusive premiere of Basketball, Water and the Lost City of Elbowoods at the 4 Bears Casino’s Grand Ballroom. 

The documentary, presented by Prairie Public Broadcasting, examined the 1942 Elbowoods basketball team’s State Class B Championship game controversy, and the 60-year effort to declare Elbowoods High School the rightful winners. It also discussed the tragic effects of the Garrison Dam flooding on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

The 1941-42 Elbowoods High School basketball team enjoyed an extremely successful season, winning all but two of their games. In the State Championship game, the Elbowoods Warriors faced off against the Lakota Raiders, losing by one point. 

John Rabbithead, one of Elbowoods’ most valuable players, turned 20 on the day of the championship game and was therefore ineligible to play. Elbowoods’ Coach Leon Wall chose to abide by North Dakota High School Athletics regulations and kept Rabithead out of the game. 

The Lakota Raiders also had an ineligible player, Orlin Billings, who had participated throughout the season, including the final matchup with Elbowoods High School. Billings was 21 the day of the tournament, meaning he had been ineligible throughout the season. 

When news of Billings’ age broke, the state declared that the 1942 championship had no winner. It took nearly 60 years for the North Dakota High School Athletic Association to declare the Elbowoods Warriors the rightful winners of the 1942 State Class B Championship.  

The Basketball, Water and the Lost City of Elbowoods premiere event, led by MHA Nation Chairman Mark N. Fox and master of ceremonies Charlie Moran, honored the 1942 team members and their families. 

Representatives from Prairie Public were also present, including Matt Olien, who served as producer and writer for the documentary, and John E. Harris III, President and CEO of the organization. 

“I want to really thank [Chairman] Mark Fox,” said Olien. Chairman Fox is related to two members of the 1942 team – Isaac Fox, his father, and Sidney Fox, his uncle – and helped the team receive the state recognition they deserved. 

“I grew up listening to elders talking about that championship,” said Chairman Fox. “They were done wrong, and for 60 years it remained that way.”

“Many descendants that come from those team members – those children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren – have excelled across the United States and risen to great levels,” continued Chairman Fox. “Many of them come from these players. I don’t think there is anyone in here who is not related to one of them.”

The 1942 Elbowoods Warriors team members were Harry Grady, John Rabbithead, Charles Blake, Isaac Fox, Sidney Fox, Duane Charging, Harold Oderman, Raymond Weikum and Coach Leon Wall.

The event featured an honor song for the players, and a veteran honor song acknowledging the seven out of nine team members who joined the armed forces. After a short program and meal, the documentary aired for the audience. 

Basketball, Water and the Lost City of Elbowoods is available to view online and for purchase on prairiepublic.org/television/elbowoods. 1942 Elbowoods High School basketball team t-shirts are also available for purchase. Please contact Chey Hart, Chairman Fox’s Public Relations and Special Events Coordinator at chart@mhanation.com or at 701-627-8142.