On this day in…

Rustling Ring Sentenced

By Jayme L. Job

January 1, 2018 — Ranchers and residents of Williston, North Dakota, anxiously anticipated the outcome of a publicized court trial on this date a century ago. The trial of Pat Cannon, Jud Miller and William Coleman in Williams County District Court was viewed as the culmination of many years’ work, and the “final chapter in breaking up … the famous border horse [rustling ring].”

For years, the trio, along with several other groups of horse and cattle thieves, plagued the ranchers along the border of North Dakota and Montana. Rustlers in the area grew infamous for stealing the animals, then driving them north into Canada and selling them to unsuspecting buyers. Butch Cassidy, one of the most well known rustlers, set up a system of trails connecting Mexico to Canada. This system, known as the “Outlaw Trail,” began just south of Big Beaver, Saskatchewan, and wound south through some of the roughest and most remote parts of the country.

In the late 1890s, when the Boer War broke out in South Africa, two hundred and forty-five of Canada’s Northwest Mounted Police volunteered for service and were sent there to help. That void opened the door for wave after wave of cattle and horse rustlers who headed north into Canada. Without the protection of the mounted police, Canadian ranchers were at the mercy of the outlaws for a number of years. Using the Outlaw Trail, rustlers were able to move the cattle south, to sell either in the U.S. along the trail, or head all the way to Mexico. When the war in South Africa was over, the mounted police returned to their posts, forcing the rustlers to concentrate once again on the ranches in the United States.

Pat Cannon and Jud Miller, two of the men sentenced in Williston in 1910, each received ten years in the state penitentiary for their crimes. Their accomplice, Slim Bae, rolled over on the men, and was granted leniency for his testimony. The judge handed Slim a sentence of five to ten years, but then issued his parole immediately. It seemed that the heyday of rustling in Williams county was coming to an end.

Guy Gets Out

By Jayme L. Job

January 2, 2018 — North Dakota Governor William Lewis Guy left office on this date in 1973, nearly twelve years after he first began his tenure in 1961.

Guy’s governorship is remembered most for the amount of progress made during his time in office. He helped to establish eight regional mental health districts, reducing the patient load at the State Hospital by over 75%, and he also created the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, North Dakota’s highest honor. He brought a number of industries to the state, including sugar beet refineries and large-scale coal-fired power plants. During his tenure, the state’s Interstate highway system, Minuteman missile sites, the anti-ballistic missiles site and the Garrison Diversion Project were all completed. He also organized the five-state Old West Trail Tourist Loop working with the Midwest Governors’ Conference. And it was Guy who proposed the creation of the North Dakota Heritage Center at Bismarck.

Serving two two-year terms and two four-year terms, Guy remains the state’s longest-serving governor.

Big Bread

By Merry Helm

January 3, 2018 — In January of 1957, the Brownee Bakery in Fargo turned out the world’s largest loaf of bread. They worked on it for 12 days before getting it right, and after 17 failures, they finally produced the perfect loaf.

Some bakers pride themselves on bread that’s light as a feather, but this record breaker weighed a whopping 375 pounds. It’s not clear where they got a pan or an oven big enough to handle it, but the final product was six feet long and two feet high.

Northwest Airlines flew it to Minneapolis, where it was sold at auction for $855 during a banquet honoring North Dakota. The project was a promotion cooked up by the Greater North Dakota Association, with proceeds going to charity.

Three hundred seventy-five pounds of bread … that would take a lot of baloney.

Drinking Evidence

By Jayme L. Job

January 4, 2018 — An unusual case of missing evidence occurred in Cando on this day in 1904. The story begins a few weeks earlier in Bisbee, North Dakota, when authorities broke up a blind pig operated by a father and son by the name of Gilmer. The father and son were brought to the jail in Cando until their case could be heard in the courts. Clerk of Court Peck requested Professor Ladd of the North Dakota Agricultural College to perform an analysis on a quart of moonshine that had been taken as evidence.

Professor Ladd conducted his analysis, placed the bottle into his office vault, and went into another room to enter the bottle and Ladd’s analysis into the court’s records as exhibit A.

While Peck was away, the court’s janitor, Paul Gransaulky, came into his office to tidy up. Gransaulky saw the bottle sitting on a shelf in the vault, and thought that “…he’d go in and take a look at it.” Moments later, Deputy Henderson walked by Peck’s office and saw the janitor drinking the evidence, a tag reading “Exhibit A” still dangling from the bottle. He went into see Peck and “…asked him if he knew that the janitor was drinking that stuff in the vault.” Peck, outraged, dashed to his office to find the bottle completely empty.

Fortunately for the Gilmers, since the evidence was destroyed it could not be used in the case against them when court convened on January 18.

Fargo in the Timber

By Merry Helm

January 5, 2018 — Fargo had been bustling five years before it was officially incorporated on this day in 1875. When the railroad headed west, there was a flurry of speculation to determine where it would cross the Red River, because it was forecast that the crossing would be the site of the next large city.

To deal with spring floods, surveyors had found the highest place to cross the river, at what is now Moorhead, but they had to keep it secret so the railroad could buy the land before anyone else did. As a subterfuge, they leaked word that the crossing would be farther north, and almost everybody believed them and moved up to the Elm River. But several thought it was a trick and daily patrolled the riverbanks for signs of a different site being chosen. Sure enough, someone spotted activity where Fargo now lies, and there was a quick rush to claim land there.

It soon became a mess to determine who actually owned the land at and around the crossing. Congress had issued a land grant to the railroad, three settlers legitimately staked claims to it, and there was also a group of squatters hired by the Puget Sound Land Company living on it – all maintaining that they were the rightful owners.

In the meantime, two towns sprang up. About a quarter mile from the river, General Rosser organized “Fargo on the Prairie,” with almost 100 people living in fifty tents outfitted with all the amenities. A contingent of the army lived there, as well, and law and order prevailed.

Down near the riverbank by the ferry landing, was another tent village called “Fargo in the Timber.” This was an entirely different story. Gordon Keeney, Fargo’s first postmaster, wrote, “The only thing Fargo in the Timber had in any great quantity was a fair quality of whiskey. This whiskey was usually drunk from a tin cup, and it is generally supposed that whiskey from a tin cup is more enlivening than if drunk from a glass. Whether this be so or not, Fargo in the Timber was a particularly lively place, and it was seldom, day or night, that someone was not trying to work off a “tin cup jag”…

Needless to say, the two Fargos didn’t get along. General Rosser had nothing but contempt for the timber folks, and the riverbank squatters looked for any opportunity to irritate him.

Remember that land squabble? Well, it turns out that Fargo in the Timber wasn’t owned by any of the three that claimed it. It was Indian land, and in February 1872 a detachment of troops from Fort Abercrombie made the squatters move back across to Minnesota. Those engaged in selling liquor were arrested … and their whiskey went back to Fort Abercrombie with the soldiers.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at

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