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Incitement to Murder

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On November 3, 1882, the Bismarck Tribune posed an interesting question:

“CONUNDRUM suggested by the late Grand Forks affair: If one man purposely and willfully kills another man, the killer is a murderer. If a number of men kill a man under the same conditions, what are they?”

A lynch mob had murdered Charles Thurber, an African-American barber, who had been accused of rape. On October 24, he was taken from the jail by a mob. Police reportedly “offered resistance, but were overpowered.” Thurber was tortured and hung from a railroad bridge over the Red River.

The Grand Forks Herald, apparently wanting its readership to imagine wide support for the lynching, quoted approval from several regional newspapers. The St. Paul Pioneer Press not only celebrated the murder, but reported approvingly that the lynchers had originally planned to burn Charles Thurber alive.

Outside the region, the National Republican, the Chicago Tribune, and the Boston Globe praised the act. The Herald's rival newspapers, the Plaindealer and the Daily News, celebrated it, too.

Yet, there were detractors. The Grafton News and the Chicago Inter Ocean were critical. The Toronto Daily Mail's editorial was especially scathing.

The leaders of the lynch mob were well known. Alexander Griggs, namesake Griggs County, led the vigilance committee.

George Winship, namesake of Winship Elementary School in Grand Forks, would profit from the murder. His newspaper, the Grand Forks Herald, which may have helped incite the lynching, also ran extra editions, including a crass advertisement for a store that purported to feature the last words of Charles Thurber.

Railroad director James J. Hill, namesake of Jim Hill Middle School in Minot, gave his blessing to the event, saying he was glad his bridge had been used, and wished he had attended.

Although this case of murder is from 1882, it could be considered an open file since there is no statute of limitations on first degree murder. But every human being who murdered Charles Thurber is long dead. There are, however, corporations still around that might have been subject to charges of inciting to murder. But for that charge, the statute of limitations would undoubtedly apply.

Read the sources for this Dakota Datebook here.

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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