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Dakota Datebook

A Family Tragedy


On this date in 1901, North Dakotans were buzzing about the accusation of murder against William Barry. Barry was a farmer from Cavalier County who was accused of killing his hired hand. According to the complaint, Barry felt that Andrew Mellon, the hired man, had mistreated Barry’s sister, Mary Ann. It was Barry’s understanding that Mellon had proposed, and Mary Ann expected to marry him. Whether there was a misunderstanding between the two young people or whether Mellon changed his mind, Mary Ann became distraught when she learned the wedding would not take place.

The more he thought about how Mellon had hurt his sister, the angrier Barry grew. He finally decided that the only way to resolve the matter was murder. He lured Mellon into the barn, gave Mellon a few minutes to pray, and gave him the choice of being hanged or having his throat cut. Mellon refused to make a choice. Barry tried to hang him, but Mellon fought back, so Barry went with option B and cut Mellon’s throat.

Barry then gave himself up to the authorities. Newspapers conjectured that Barry would plead temporary insanity. Interest was keen when the trial began in July. Spectators flocked to the courtroom and every seat was filled. Observers described Barry as looking “finer than silk” and unconcerned about the proceedings. His appearance did not give any hint that he was a man who could have committed murder.As soon as the trial got underway, the defense attorney made a motion to remove the prosecuting attorney based on a technicality. The judge denied the motion. Choosing the jurors then began. It was a long process. Some prospective jurors were questioned for as long as two hours. When one man was dismissed, he responded, “Well, I’m glad of that.”

At the end of a lengthy trial, Barry was found guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison. The incident was a tragedy all the way around. Mellon was dead. Barry was in prison, and between being jilted and her brother killing the man she loved, Mary Ann lost her mind. She was evaluated by the Insanity Board at Langdon then taken to the asylum at Jamestown. She died a few weeks later.


Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher



The Washburn Leader. “This Will Probably be the Defense of William Barry.” Washburn ND. 1/19/1901. Page 4.

Bismarck Tribune. Sentenced for Life. Bismarck ND. 9/28/1901. Page 2.

Courier Democrat. “Miss Barry.” Langdon ND. 2/7/1901. Page 1.

Courier Democrat. “The Hearing.” Langdon ND. 7/17/1901. Page 1.

Courier Democrat. “The Barry Murder Trial.” Langdon ND. 7/18/1901. Page 1.

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