Dakota Datebook

Mike Chumack Trial

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


In the spring of 1917, Stark County residents were shocked by a double-homicide that took place near Gladstone, North Dakota. The sensational murders occurred only days after the culmination of another fantastic case, and both involved the same man, a wealthy rancher named James Caldwell. The earlier case involved the identification of a mysterious man claiming to be Jay Caldwell, the long-lost son of James Caldwell. As previously reported on Dakota Datebook, James denied that the mystery man, known only as JCR, was in fact his son. Days after appearing before a judge to insist that the man was not his son, but rather a con-man after his wealth, James fell victim to another sort of criminal.

For years, James and his wife had lived on their large ranch with a 14-year old orphan girl, who they had hired on as a housekeeper. They also employed several hired men, including a 27-year old Russian man named Mike Chumack. In early 1917, Chumack began making advances on the young girl, which did not sit well with his employers. When Mr. Caldwell confronted him in the barn, Chumack shot his elderly employer with a shotgun. He then lured Caldwell’s wife to the barn, and shot her as well. In the months after his capture, Chumack began to exhibit symptoms of insanity, attempting to kill himself and attacking the Stark County sheriff and deputies on several occasions. Due to his raving and attacks, deputies were forced to put the man in a strait-jacket while he awaited trial in the Stark County jail. On August 14th, 1917, Chumack was to stand trial in Dickinson. Deputies were unsure how to transfer the man to the courtroom, as it usually took five or six men to handle him, so they tied him to his cot and wheeled him to the courthouse.

The judge and jury heard testimony regarding Chumack’s sanity for only an hour before the jury was excused to consider their verdict. In only two minutes, the jury’s deliberation was over, and they pronounced Chumack insane and unfit to stand trial.

Surely tired of their hostile guest, deputies lost no time in getting him to the state hospital at Jamestown, putting him on the No. 2 train that afternoon.


Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job



The Bismarck Tribune. Tuesday, August 14, 1917: p. 1.




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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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