Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Justice in Old Pembina

The story I'm about to share has been shared here before.  While the first version was full of character (based on solid research), this one has  more background as well as details regarding the final showdown...
An outlaw from an infamous gang.  A U.S. Marshall on his trail all the way from Texas.  Their paths meet in Pembina on a cold November day in 1878...

James Benjaminson
Sam Bass gang - Sam in back, on
left; in front, the Collins bros.
William is on left, Joel on right.
[circa 1877]
In the annals of western outlawry, certain names have been etched into the American psyche – names such as Jesse and Frank James, the Younger Brothers, Billy the Kid, Black Bart and Sam Bass, just to name a few.  For the most part, their villainous exploits took place in parts of the country far remote from rural North Dakota.  The closest any of them got to North Dakota was the James Gangs ill-fated attempt at robbing the bank in Northfield, Minnesota and the Bass gangs robbing of seven stage coaches in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Still, the effect of one outlaw’s exploits rippled to the tiny town of Pembina, Dakota Territory in 1878.

Sam Bass was a young Texas outlaw who headquartered himself in Denton, Texas.  Teamed up with the outlaw Joel Collins and four others, the Bass gang staged the largest train robbery in U.S. history (at the time) when they held up the Union Pacific railroad at a tiny watering hole called Big Springs, Nebraska on the evening of September 18, 1877.  Although Bass was considered leader of the gang, law enforcement claimed Joel Collins was the brains of the outfit.  The gang rode into the stop over, made hostages of the station master and several others in the vicinity, cut the telegraph lines and waited.  When the train pulled in for water, one gang member swung himself into the cab of the locomotive and took the engineer and fireman hostage while the others headed for the baggage car.

When they rode off into the night, the gang had relieved the railroad of $60,000 in freshly minted 1877 twenty dollar gold pieces.  Dividing up the treasure, each man had 500 gold coins in his possession – about 35 pounds of gold per gang member.  The group split into three groups of two men, each heading in a different direction.   Word spread fast about the robbery and law enforcement swooped in on the area.  One of the gang members disappeared and was never heard of again (many assumed he had gone to Canada).  Joel Collins and his partner didn’t fare as well, being intercepted by a posse within days.  After a brief shoot-out, both outlaws were dead and $20,000 of the gold coins were recovered. 

Bass and his partner figured two lone riders would be suspicious so they acquired a buggy, stashed the coins under the seat and rode blissfully by the bands of law officers they encountered.  Returning to Denton, Bass enjoyed the high life, spending freely and enjoying a local sort of hero worship.  He had plenty of friends to warn him of approaching trouble and knowing the area like the back of his hand, he could easily hide from pursuers.  Living the high life the money soon ran out and Bass returned to his old ways.  Organizing a new gang, he returned to robbing trains.  Only this time he chose to hit the local railroads – his gang robbing four trains in quick succession within a 25 mile radius of his base of operation.  It was at this point the locals turned on him and his gang.  For seven weeks, the gang was pursued by a company of Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshals and local law enforcement, all to no avail (although an accomplice, “Arkansas” Johnson, was killed in a skirmish from which the rest of the gang escaped).

Bass’ downfall came at the hands of a spy that infiltrated the gang – and by gang member Jim Murphy who betrayed him in exchange for having charges dropped against himself and his father.  The fatal day came when the gang rode into Round Rock, Texas intent on robbing the local bank.  Laying in wait were the Texas Rangers and local law enforcement.  In a brief bloody shootout, one deputy sheriff was killed as was one of the outlaws.  Bass himself was wounded but managed to clamber onto to his horse and ride away.  The trailing posse found him the next day, lying under a tree, still alive but mortally wounded.  Death came to Sam Bass July 21, 1878 – it was his 27th birthday.

Of the participants in the April 10th train robbery at Mesquite, Texas, six of the eight robbers had either been killed or were in prison by the time of Bass’ death.  The robbery had netted each of the bandits the paltry sum of $23 each!  One of the gang – William Collins, was arrested days after the robbery and taken to Austin to stand trial.  He was moved to the jail in Dallas in June where a family friend posted a $15,000 bond to secure his appearance in court—a date he did not intend to keep.

A brother to outlaw Joel Collins who had participated in the earlier Big Springs train robbery, William Collins jumped bail and headed north, roaming across several states before eventually ending up in Pembina, Dakota Territory working as a bartender in Jim White’s saloon, a unique watering hole that straddled the border.  A red stripe painted on the floor designated which country a patron was in – the saloon on the U.S. side of the line, with the kitchen and sitting room on the Canadian side.  Known to the locals as William Gale, Collins befriended a local man, Robert Ewing, finally telling Ewing his real name and confiding he had a wife living in Dallas.  Gale/Collins asked Ewing to write her a letter, which apparently Ewing did.  One can only speculate but it is assumed authorities were watching her mail.  It wasn’t long before a deputy U.S. marshal arrived in Pembina looking for Collins.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Breadcrumbs of a Life: P.N. Tri

From 1920 "Farm Boys & Girls Leader".
Organized in 1919, it was the start of what
would be known as the the 4-H club of the
same name.  It's fun to read the origin of
the club, and the meaning of the name...

I was recently told that "...P.N. Tri was a world renowned beekeeper and featured in apiary magazines. They shipped honey all over the world!"Well, of course that meant I had to see what I could find out.

The online record is slim, but I did find one article where P.N. Tri was quoted as wintering his bees in a potato cellar!  Not much to go on, but interesting...

According to the Red River Valley website, P.N. Tri, or Peter Nicholas Tri, came to St. Vincent in 1915 to be Superintendent of Schools.

Later he worked at the Humboldt School, as you can see in the magazine article clipping at left.  In this 1920 article, the St. Vincent Fair is referred to as the 'county fair'.  I have never been clear if it was officially the county fair at one time or not, but this is one occasion where it appears it may have been...

1 - The little birdie's name was Michael Rustad...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Mosquito Swarm
[Click to see closer...if you dare!]

The newspaper article excerpt below describes a truly horrifying situation. I hate to think of the suffering the poor animals had to endure, ending in their deaths...

Many horses have died in Kittson County the past week or 10 days.  Recently, examination of one of the dead animals showed the presence of hundreds of mosquitos in the lungs of the animal. This year the pests are in evidence by billions. The rural sections, where grass is growing, is simply alive with huge swarms of them. It is presumed horses could not breath without inhaling hundreds of them, which in turn set up infection, killing them.
From: Kittson County Enterprise (1937) - Which was ironically the same year that the first definitive work on mosquitoes in Minnesota was written by Dr. William Owen of the University of Minnesota.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Grand Old Lady

So many children entered through these doors

The sign is blank.  The steps are mostly buried, a railing rises from the earth.  A gibbet of sorts protrudes from the front.

 It's obvious that just about everything needs help.  Roof, siding, windows, foundation.  The "Grand Old Lady" of St. Vincent, that housed so many young souls on their journey of learning, deserves better.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tales of St. Vincent:

Rev. Kimberley's Grandson

In my eternal quest for stories and history about my beloved hometown, I came across a former resident's grandson1 who lives in far off Oregon.

Here is a story the grandson remembers being told about...
Yes, I am the grandson of Rev. James Kimberley.
My father grew up in St. Vincent. I've never been there, but he told me many stories about growing up there. I think their house had a white picket fence around it. My father told me that when his parents were gone for the day, he was to rake up all the leaves. He had some matches and set little piles of leaves on fire, then stamped it out. It got bigger and bigger and the stamping didn't work. It caught the fence on fire. half of it was burned when his parents came home. He hid upstairs under their bed. His father found him and in his British accent said, "I say, Gurney, are you there?"  He responded, "NO!" His father was not amused. He caught hell for that one.  
 [as recalled by Ogden Kimberley, shared with me February 26, 2011]
1 - I think Rev. K would like that his grandson is a bagpiper!

Monday, August 08, 2011

Memories of a Humboldt Native

Anthony "Tony" Merck
Humboldt Depot agent
This reminicense by Margaret Matthew Panzer is full of memories and names of old Humboldt in the way a poem about the town was.  As you will read, there was a lot of community and fellowship as people strove to make a good life for themselves and their families, but there were also hard times (such as during the Depression)...
...My parent's farm was a little over a mile south along Highway 75 and we often walked to town and even to church on Sunday morning when the weather was pleasant.

Though my dad had a hitching post in our yard the only time I really remember a sleigh ride was on Thanksgiving when we went cross country to Len Sylvester's farm to enjoy the day. Lots of good food and crowding around her pot belly stove, playing the piano and working on the Charleston steps were all fun.

We did ride in a school bus in nice weather and a large sled during the winter weather.

Humboldt had been built on both sides of the main highway. East of the highway was really only about four large blocks. There seemed to be wide spaces between homes as some blocks had a home only on the corner.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

A Bad End

After all he did for the town, he ended his days sadly...
Daniel F. Brawley was an early settler to St. Vincent.  He was involved in many aspects of building the town early on.

The above news blurb appeared in a Manitoba newspaper in the late 1800's, sharing news of the sad end to Mr. Brawley...