Dakota Datebook

Threshing Tragedy

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

 

A headline in the Larimore Pioneer simply stated, “A Horrible Story,” and what followed was a gruesome accounting of an event that began with an accident, but grew into a tale of revenge and murder. On this date in 1884, a threshing crew was operating near Portland on the Goose River, in Traill County. As was usual on the threshing crew, when the bundles were brought in, the worker known as the band cutter would slice open the bundles and another member of the crew, known as the feeder, would pitch the bundle into a open chute that lead to the rotating blades on the cylinder of the threshing machine. But on this day, the band cutter accidently cut the hand of the feeder, who angrily snatched the knife and sliced open the abdomen of the band cutter. The band cutter, knowing he had only moments to live, grabbed his murderer and hurled him into the cylinder of the threshing machine where he was mangled beyond recognition. The band cutter died only a moment later.

 

The details of the event were reported to the editor of the Larimore Pioneer by a man who supposedly had come from the area, so it was very believable – but there were a few problems. In following up on the information, the editor of the Pioneer learned that although the event had supposedly taken place near Portland on December 11th, the people of Portland knew nothing of it. When further investigated, it was learned that the same story had appeared in the Bismarck Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press a few months earlier.

 

So, the actual truth as to when and where the tragedy took place was never learned. However, there was a different tale being told, and which was given enough credibility that it had evolved into a poem written by Cecil E. Selwyn, an old-time resident of Manitoba. In this version, credited with happening in Cavalier County, the feeder on the threshing machine had cast a thirteen-year-old band cutter into the cylinder, and as a consequence, the other members of the crew hanged him. Lynching was a crime, so there would be a need to hide the facts to protect the crew. Although cloaked in secrecy, eventually, through guilt or loose talk, elements of the event had surfaced, giving rise to the tale, but one that always happened, supposedly, over in the next county.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis

 

Sources:

 

The Larimore Pioneer December 18, 1884

Felix Kuehn Personal correspondence

 

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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