Dakota Datebook

Josephine Kills Grinnell

Friday, May 7, 2004

Today marks the anniversary of George Grinnell’s death in 1888. Born in Maryland, he served as a spy for the Army of the Potomac, then ventured west with a military wagon train to Fort Berthold. There, he made a living as a “woodhawk,” selling firewood to river steamers.

Grinnell quickly learned about “women of convenience” and took an Indian woman for his wife. Unfortunately, many white men were abusive to their Indian wives, expecting them to serve and submit without question or complaint. Grinnell was one of these men.

The other person in our story is Josephine Malnourie, who was born in 1857 in Like-a-Fish-Hook village. Her mother was Beaver Woman, a Hidatsa, and her father was a Frenchman who owned a trading post at Fort Berthold. Josephine’s Hidatsa name was All-Goes-Out.

Josephine was strong-willed and intelligent. When she was 19, she wanted to study at the Hampton Institute in Pennsylvania, but her mother was against it. So Josephine left in the middle of the night; she was one of the first students to leave the reservation to pursue higher education.

After three years of schooling, she returned to Fort Berthold. She caught George Grinnell’s eye, and he soon discarded his first wife to marry Josephine. The couple moved to Williston, where Grinnell ran a saloon. To his chagrin, Josephine refused to be submissive, and, after some years, their relationship became poisonous.

One winter day, for example, the couple’s young son wandered away from the house, and when Josephine couldn’t find him, she ran to the saloon for help. Grinnell saw it as an opportunity to look tough, and he refused. And – in a testimony of his true character – Grinnell threatened to kill anybody who helped Josephine find his missing child.

Luckily, there was someone willing to risk it. George Newton, a buffalo hunter, got up and said, “No kid is going to die out in this cold if I can help it.” Newton walked out, found the little boy, and returned him to his mother. Grinnell’s humiliation made him all the more dangerous.

By their 7th year together, the couple had three boys and a baby girl. Grinnell’s pattern of abuse had escalated, along with his drinking. One day he came home and started beating Josephine while she was holding her baby. Josephine managed to get out of the house and run to a field where men were plowing, but Grinnell got on his horse and came after her.

He tried to hit her with the butt of his gun, but he was too drunk. He fell off the horse onto his wife and baby.

The farmers were afraid to interfere because of Grinnel’s gun – Josephine was on her own. The couple struggled… then Grinnell fell silent. Around his neck, he wore a leather thong with a sliding knot. Josephine had strangled him with it.

Few people were saddened by his passing. In fact, a few days later, a coroner’s jury gave its verdict: George Grinnell “came to his death through an act of Almighty God, by the hand of His agent, Josephine Grinnell.”

Well, God’s 31 year-old “agent” took her children back home and settled in Elbowoods. To her great credit, All-Goes-Out did more than just survive… she thrived. And she realized her dreams for her children. She died in 1945.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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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