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The Unsuccessful Arsonist

On this date in 1895, it was announced that Jacob Aaron had been taken into custody by Canadian authorities. Aaron was wanted in Grand Forks for arson, accused of trying to burn down the home of a police officer. He had made threats against Officer Ziskin, promising to burn down the policeman’s home.

Taking the threats seriously, police closely guarded Ziskin’s home. In March, Aaron proved himself to be a less than competent arsonist. One night, convinced he wasn’t being watched, he doused the roof and sides of the house with kerosene. He lit a piece of wood and threw it up on the roof. But it missed the kerosene and the fire went out. He started another fire near the kitchen door. When the police came out of hiding to arrest him, Aaron made the first of many escapes.

Grand Forks Police Chief Ryan discovered that Aaron had fled to Turtle River. Ryan followed him to make an arrest. When confronted, Aaron ran and Chief Ryan shot him in the hip. Aaron still got away. His sister aided his getaway to Canada. The pair had to make the trip in slow stages as Aaron’s wound was quite painful.

Chief Ryan learned that Aaron had been admitted to the hospital in Morden, Manitoba. He and the State’s Attorney traveled to Morden where they met with Canadian authorities. Aaron was arrested at the hospital and was held there while extradition papers were prepared.

Extradition was a slow process. It wasn’t until December that Canadian authorities finally gave their approval.  It seemed the affair would soon be at an end. But the course of justice didn’t run smoothly. Aaron escaped from custody three times! He was recaptured every time and finally moved from the hospital to the Winnipeg jail. Eventually he was brought back to the United States.

In January 1896 Aaron pleaded guilty to the arson charge, admitting that he tried to burn down Officer Ziskin’s house and barn in revenge for being arrested for stealing goods from the Great Northern Railroad. Aaron was sentenced to ten years in prison, which he served with no further escapes.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Pioneer Express. “After Aaron.” Pembina ND. 11/22/1895. Page 3.

Hope Pioneer. “Arrested.” Hope ND.11/22/1895. Page 2.

Courier Democrat. “Tuesday Nov. 5.” Langdon ND. 11/14/1895. Page 2.       

Courier Democrat. “Monday Dec. 10.” Langdon ND. 12/19/1895. Page 2.

Washburn Leader. “Unsuccessful Again.” Washburn ND. 11/21/1896. Page 2.

Hope Pioneer. “News in Brief.” Hope ND. 1/17/1896. Page 2.

Jamestown Weekly Alert. “Jacob Aron [sic].” Jamestown ND. 3/25/1895. Page 5.

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