In 1912 Clara Mills visited Huff, North Dakota to attend an all-night dance. During a lull in the party the 17-year-old’s friends requested she make potatoes for them. As Miss Mills moved to pull a pot off the stove, she crumpled to the ground and died instantly.
The Bismarck Daily Tribune described the uncanniness of the girl’s demise: In such a case it seems almost as though the Grim Reaper has slipped, and the wrong flower garnered for the Master. Indeed, Miss Mills had never shown any signs of heart trouble, although that was the malady to which the coroner attributed her death.
The departed’s friends and family demanded proper investigation into the matter, particularly into Miss Mills’ dealings with a mysterious, jealous man she had mingled with the night before. Whether there was foul play or the Grim Reaper was not mistaken remains a secret to this day.
“When I was 16, my great-aunt gave me an ancient newspaper clipping about Clara Mills,” said Paulette Bullinger, author of Nothing Hidden. “She told me she knew her personally, that there had been a love triangle, and that she was certain Clara had been poisoned. She was adamant on that last point, but wouldn’t tell me any more about it. It always intrigued me – that this murder took place right in my hometown.
“My interest in the story of Clara Mills, as well as the history of the Bismarck-Mandan area and the people who created it, motivated me to write Nothing Hidden. I first published my historical fiction novel as an eBook with the help of Knuckledown Press, and then printed it in Bismarck to support local business.
“Nothing Hidden is about love gone wrong, as well as the bootlegging that used to go on in our area. It tells the stories of common people a century ago and the way they lived their lives, right down to their farming practices and how they started their cars. The oldest person to read the book was 100 years old. She loved it because for her it was like going back in time.
“It’s interesting how readers interpret the story depending on where they live. On the Huff side of the river, everyone thinks they know who the characters are based on. People on the other side are just as certain they have it figured out too – with their own list of different candidates. So many conflicting theories, even though it’s only fiction!
Nothing Hidden is available at Pride of Dakota stores in the Bismarck-Mandan area. You may also order your copy directly from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the quiet landscape of the Upper Great Plains in North Dakota, good people keep up appearances as they navigate the waters between Heaven and Hell, through holy works, and by imbibing in the spirit of bootleg moonshine. It’s a place where love triangles cross rivers and religious lines at the same time, and when a lover is spurned, the local medicine woman can join herbs and the fruits of the land into a potion that can cure anything – perhaps even a broken heart. In a landscape with few places to hide, it’s a place where there’s Nothing Hidden, but even murders can go unsolved – for generations.
By David Scheller