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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


North Dakota's darkest history

Posted 9/25/18 (Tue)

When we look back on North Dakota and Dakota Territory history, we see that some amazing things have happened to bring this state to where it is today.

Along the way, however, there were some rough spots; the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, Elbowoods and Sanish going under water and the Grand Forks and Minot floods.

But that isn’t the darkest part of our history. Instead it’s lynchings.

• In the first of three high-profile lynchings, a mob of Grand Forks County  residents hanged Charles Thurber before he had a chance to go to trial.

Thurber, a black man, was arrested in 1882 for the rape of two women that included a young Norwegian woman. Both occurred in the Buxton area.

One night, an angry mob broke Thurber out of the Grand Forks County jail and hanged him on a railroad bridge over the Red River.

In 1997, the city of Grand Forks granted Grand Forks Central High School $500 to create a plaque to memorialize Thurber. The council wasn’t condoning his actions. Instead, it was stated that Thurber should be memorialized because he didn’t get justice.

• On Nov. 13, 1897, there was a lynching in Emmons County that made national news. In fact, the Sacramento Daily Union had a front-page headline that stated “Lynching in North Dakota.”

What happened was three Indians from the Standing Rock Reservation crossed the Missouri River where the town of Winona used to be. They searched the countryside for alcohol and when they didn’t find any at the Spicer residence, they killed the entire family of six.

Because the current county seat in Linton didn’t exist at that time, the three men were taken to the Emmons County jail in Williamsport. They were held in jail and later sentenced.

And just about the time the Supreme Court granted them a new trial, a mob of 40 rode into Williamsport on horsebacck, entered the jail, took Alex Coudet, Paul Holytrack and Philip Ireland, reportedly told them to prepare for death and lynched them on a butcher’s winch.

According to the Sacramento newspaper, the bodies remained hanging in the Williamsport town sqaure for about 24 hours until the coroner arrived because nobody else wanted to cut them down.

• The last lynching to take place in North Dakota happened in January 1931 in Schafer, which was once the McKenzie County seat before Watford City existed.

On Jan. 23, 1931, a masked mob broke into the Schafer jail, snatched 22-year-old Charles Bannon and hanged him from a nearby bridge.

Bannon had been held in the Williams County jail in Williston but was transferred to Schafer to be arraigned for six murders of the Haven family.

Bannon’s father James, was also awaiting arraignment as an accomplice to the murders.

The Haven family lived on a farm about a mile north of Schafer. The family had six members: Albert, 50, Lulia, 39, Daniel, 18, Leland, 14, Charles, 2, and Mary, 2 months old. As of February 1930, the family had lived on their farm more than 10 years. They owned household goods including a piano and a radio as well as “considerable livestock, feed and machinery.”

No member of the family was seen alive after Feb. 9, 1930.

Bannon had worked as a hired hand for the Havens. He stayed on the Haven farm after the family disappeared, claiming that he had rented the place. He told neighbors the family had decided to move to Oregon.

Bannon’s father joined him on the farm in February 1930 and that year they seeded the crop, tended to the livestock and harvested the crop.

In October 1930, neighbors began to get suspicious when Bannon began selling the Havens’ property and crops.

On Dec. 12, 1930, Bannon confessed to killing the entire family after accidently shooting the eldest son. In his confession, he said he killed the family because he was scared.

An apparent mob of about 75, used a battering ram to break down the jail door, lock law enforcement into the cells with Bannon’s father and literally drag Bannon out of the jail.

It was reported that Bannon was taken to the Haven farm so that he could be hanged on the very spot he committed the murders. But after the caretaker ordered the mob off the property, they went to a nearby bridge and shoved Bannon off the bridge with a noose tied around his neck.