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Putting Phil Shortt to Rest

On this date in 1908, the Devils Lake Inter-Ocean informed readers of Phil Shortt’s funeral, held the previous Sunday. Shortt was well known and liked in his adopted town. The newspaper knew his passing would be of interest. Shortt was only thirty-nine years old and his death was a shock.

Shortt was born in Dexter, Minnesota. He came to Devils Lake in 1893. He owned the Devils Lake Weekly News, editing the paper and writing for it. He was described as “a man of far more than ordinary education and was one of the widest read and best informed of any of the state’s editors.”

In 1898 Shortt temporarily set journalism aside. He answered President McKinley’s call for volunteers to serve in the Spanish-American War. He was First Sergeant in Company D of the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry. One of his most important pieces of journalism was documenting the unit’s actions in the Philippines. He carefully recorded the day-to-day events, a valuable record of North Dakota’s contribution to the war. He was known as the historian of the First North Dakota.

Shortt moved to Ross, North Dakota in 1905 where he was the editor of the Ross Prooter. He and his wife had a son, and all seemed to be going well, but that changed on November 4th, 1908.

On that day Shortt was taking a hike with Dr. Belyea, who had also lived in Devils Lake. They saw a fawn stagger out of the woods and fall into tangled underbrush. They dragged the animal out and could see it had been shot. As they stood looking at the fawn another shot rang out. Shortt fell to the ground, mortally wounded. His last words were, “Doc, I am shot.”

Clayton Yankins of Minot surrendered himself to the sheriff. He was arrested and held on $2,000 bail. Yankins admitted firing the fatal shot. He thought he was firing at a deer, though members of his hunting party warned him that there were men where he was aiming. A coroner’s jury determined that Yankins should stand trial for second degree manslaughter.  He was eventually released for lack of evidence. All the men in the hunting party were fined for hunting out of season.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “Phil Shortt Buried Sunday.” Devils Lake ND. 11/13/1908. Page 1.

Bismarck Daily Tribune. “Man Who Shot Short Released.” Bismarck ND. 10/13/10. Page 1.

The Evening Times. “Hunters Fined.” Grand Forks ND. 11/16/1908. 11/16/1908. Page 2.

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