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Two Men Hang

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Two men were executed in North Dakota on this date in 1900. Their cases were unrelated.

On March 19th, James Jenkins and his son, Ira, reported that August Stark had frozen to death in a coal mine near Wilton. The father and son were the mine operators, and Stark an employee.

The victim showed signs of having been dragged to the spot where he was found. When the Jenkins men were separately interviewed, they told contradictory stories, and both were charged with murder.

The states attorney believed it was Ira who killed Stark, and Ira went on trial. His father testified that his son had admitted robbing and killing Stark, but the younger man denied it and accused his father of getting drunk and strangling Stark, but doctors said the body showed no sign of being choked. The jury found Ira guilty and the judge sentenced him to death.

Ira spent his last hours cursing and blaming everyone but himself. As he went to the scaffold, he puffed on a cigar and maintained his innocence. A handwritten note was later found in his pants pocket – in it, Ira admitted his guilt.

Almost due north from Wilton, Hans Thorpe climbed to his Minot scaffold, also with a cigar in his teeth. A crowd was on hand to see Thorpe’s execution. He had even sent out invitations.

Thorpe came to North Dakota two years earlier, in 1898 and ran a store in Minot with his brother. He met and married a pretty teenager named Ida Johnson, but within a year, there was trouble… Thorpe was irrationally jealous every time Ida left the house.

On December 1st, 1899, Ida went next door to visit a Mrs. Johanson. Thorpe, coming off a weeklong bender, followed Ida and shot her in the head as she sat in a rocking chair; he then shot himself but managed only to destroy his right eye. The doctor who treated him found that Thorpe had third-stage syphilis – a side effect of which was insanity.

On May 10th, Judge David Morgan found Thorpe guilty and sentenced him to die in what would be Ward County’s first and last legal execution. Thorpe was smiling and cocky as he climbed the scaffold. He joked with the editor of the Minot Optic and then dropped to his death.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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