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Josephine Kills Grinnell

Today marks the anniversary of George Grinnell’s death in 1888. Born in Maryland, he served in the Army of the Potomac, then ventured west 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, Grinnell included, were abusive of their Indian wives.

The other person in our story is Josephine Malnourie, who was born in 1857. Her mother was Hidatsa, her father a Frenchman.

Josephine was strong-willed and intelligent. At 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 their relationship became poisonous.

One winter day, the couple’s young son wandered from the house, and when Josephine couldn’t find him, she ran to Grinnell’s saloon for help. Grinnell saw it as an opportunity to look tough, and he refused. Luckily, a buffalo hunter got up and said, “No kid is going to die out in this cold if I can help it.” He found the boy, and returned him to his mother, humiliating Grinnell.

By their 7th year together, the couple had three boys and a baby girl. One day Grinnell came home and started beating Josephine while she was holding the baby. Josephine fled with the baby 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 from the horse onto his wife and baby.

The farmers were afraid to interfere because of Grinnell’s gun, so 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, and 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.”

Josephine and her children moved back home to settle in Elbowoods where they thrived. She died in 1945.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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