Sunday, January 18, 2015

Saloon Manslaughter: The Rest of the Story


It all started with a trade:  One hat, for one bottle of whiskey...

If there's one thing I've learned writing this blog, it's that history often reveals itself slowly, despite doing what you feel at the time is due diligence researching a subject.  New records become available that were not present the first time around. People come forward with information only they were privy to.  Etc.

Such is the case concerning a particular murder that occurred in St. Vincent in 1899.  The new records came in the form of old newspaper accounts now available through the Library of Congress.  The new information came from an old friend of this site, Jim Benjaminson, of the Pembina County Historical Society.

When you read the accounts below - along with the links to earlier posts on this subject - you will get something very rare for local history of a small town nature:  As complete a picture about the subject as could be expected.  A rare treat, indeed...
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George Bates Murdered While Intoxicated
Wednesday morning (March 8, 1899) the news went mouth to mouth that George Bates had been found dead in his house. The details as they began to develop were highly sensational. Mr. Bates was addicted to excessive drinking. When under the influence of liquor he was apt to quarrel with his family. On Wednesday afternoon he had trouble of this kind. Later, he went to St. Vincent. What happened there is still somewhat contradictory at this writing. 
Wednesday morning, Mrs. George Bates came downstairs and found her husband lying on the floor with every evidence of having been severely pounded. She hastily summoned Register of Deeds Chisholm from the office nearby and upon examination it was found that Bates was dead. He had a hole in his skull near the right temple from the effects of a blow of some kind and his face was badly bruised and had been bleeding profusely. As nearly as the facts can be gotten at they are as follows:
Last night at around 11:30pm, two young men from St. Vincent, Minn. just across the river brought Bates home and deposited him on the floor. They then notified Marshal Moorhead, who went up to see Bates. He found him apparently sleeping off the effects of a booze and did not arouse the family. This morning as above stated he was found dead. 
Bates’ collar and a piece of his shirt were missing and this morning they were found in front of a saloon in St. Vincent kept by John Smith. Smith denies any knowledge of the affair, except that several Pembina parties were in a row in front of his saloon last night, but he had a badly swollen right hand and fails to account for it. He has been placed under arrest to await the verdict of the coroner’s jury. 
George H. Bates, the deceased, was a heavy set man, aged about 50 years. He leaves a wife and two grown daughters in this city and one son, who resides in Grand Forks, who are much respected by our citizens and have the sympathy of the community. 
Mr. Bates was naturally a bright man and but for his unfortunate habits would have been a prominent man in the community. In past years he had occupied responsible positions and has been well off peculiarly. He was for some years a customs officer at St. Vincent. 
John Smith, the saloon keeper, over whom hangs so dark a cloud, has an excellent family, consisting of a wife and three children, one of the latter being a young man of about twenty one years of age. 
Reprinted from the Pioneer Express, in the St. Thomas Times - March 17, 1899, Vol. XVII No. 42
A further note – Later Smith was given a preliminary hearing and arraigned for manslaughter, to be tried at the next term of the criminal court at Hallock, Minn.
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Bismarck Weekly Tribune, March 24, 1899
Courtesy:  State Historical Society of ND and
the Library of Congress' Chronicling America
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From the Neche Chronotype
April 1, 1899

Pembina Pioneer Express [May 26, 1899]
Source:  Library of Congress' Chronicling
America: Historic American Newspapers
The trial of John Smith, the St. Vincent saloon keeper, who is charged with having caused the death of George Bates at that place a short time since, and which was to have taken place this week, has been postponed owing to the serious illness of the defendant. It will be remembered that at the time of Smith’s arrest one of his hands was found to be badly lacerated, as a result of the row in which poor Bates received the injuries that cost him his life, so it is claimed, and blood poisoning having resulted, his recovery is thought to be extremely doubtful.
Pembina Pioneer Express [December 29, 1899]
Source:  Library of Congress' Chronicling
America: Historic American Newspapers
Smith attempted an appeal, but to no avail.  In the end, the case was remanded back to the county for sentencing.

As it turns out, he got off pretty light, mainly because his fellow citizens were very understanding due to the circumstances...

Pembina Pioneer Express [January 12, 1900]
Source:  Library of Congress' Chronicling
America: Historic American Newspapers