This Is What Life Is Like In A Town Without Women

Williston, North Dakota

Photo: Robert Johnson — Business Insider

When a contact I made in Williston, North Dakota called me Monday night telling me there’d been another male rape, I wasn’t sure what to think.I’d heard the same story, from a different source, when I visited the town earlier this month to investigate the North Dakota oil boom. While the story didn’t really have the ring of truth, I figured it was worth chasing down.

There’s a reason people refer to the Northern Plains oil towns like Williston as something like the Wild West.

Check out pictures of the town with almost no women > 
A ton of men are flocking to small towns for work, where there’s a shortage of law enforcement, and very few women.

While I was in Williston, I met women who arrived with their husbands, women who were born in town, and women who came to work. There weren’t many of them, and the ones I spoke with were all very aware of their small numbers.

And they all knew who Sherry Arnold was.

Arnold was a school teacher born in Sidney, Montana — a small town that sits atop the Bakken oil field just like Williston. The two towns are about 45 miles apart, which is spitting distance in that part of the country.

Arnold was jogging one morning in January near her childhood home when she was kidnapped and killed by two workers fresh from Colorado looking to make their fortunes in the oil boom.

When arrested outside Lonnie’s truck stop in Williston, the workers said they were so drunk they couldn’t remember where they had buried Arnold after snatching her. They still haven’t found her.

I first heard about Arnold from Crystal Keaster, 28, who came to Williston in September from Alaska, and the oilfields of Prudhoe Bay, to open a small coffee stand called C Cups Espresso in Williston.

“This is like the pipeline days in Alaska,” Keaster told me as we huddled in her small stand and she brewed cups of coffee for drivers that pulled up to her window.

“It’s like 80 to one, women to men, and I’ll admit to having my concealed weapons permit.” She finished making a cafe mocha for a bearded roughneck in an F-150 and turned back to face me. “As a woman, you can’t be too careful.” She shrugged. “It’s just a matter of time before something happens.”

Keaster, like the women I met at a church potluck, said they no longer go to Walmart alone–and rarely leave home without boyfriends or husbands.

There’s just enough concern that rumours, like the male rapes, have taken a life of their own. A call to the Williston Police found that they agreed.

The police said the rape rumours, both male and female, keep popping up with no explanation. They say there’s nothing to back it up, and have had no reports of sexual assaults in the past six months. Which is pretty good for a town that’s grown from 12,000 to 30,000, and possibly better than most.

Another lingering rumour is that women are being followed to their cars in the Walmart parking lot. There’s no proof of that either, but Erin Ling, a waitress at Lonnie’s truck stop explained her reason for that to me while I was there.

“The police,” she says, “don’t want people to know what’s going on.”

Crystal Keaster came from Alaska to open her own business. It sits beside a man camp housing oil workers in Williston, North Dakota

The man camp is called Black Gold and houses 900 workers

A man camp can range from someplace with, nice buildings like this

To a parking lot crammed full of campers

To something in between

The largest camps house up to 5,000 men in one location

Tammy told us when she first started at DK's, the guys could get to her, and she's seen other girls break down in tears, but the rumours are way overblown

DK's has legal gambling, a punching machine, and a metal detector at the door

Men are staying everywhere there's a roof. This shot is through the fly specked window of a deserted mill.

The nicer man camps have laundry facilities

Some couches in a common area

But even here, women have to strongly stake out their limited turf. This is the ladies room off the laundry area.

Guys live everywhere, and even bring their dogs

But are so busy with 100-hour work weeks that they barely have time to do their laundry and cook for themselves

And with the ongoing oil boom, more men are certainly on the way

People from across the country are coming to Williston for work

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