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William Gray Shooting

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Like a scene out of a classic western, on this date in 1889, reports of a burglary and injured police chief hit the papers. William Gray and his partner had burgled Schmidt’s Palace Saloon in Fargo, stealing 18 to 20 dollars, as well as some watches and whiskey. The news article did not explain why the Chief of Police in neighboring Moorhead participated in the investigation, but with the help of an associate from Moorhead, Chief Murphy tracked the burglars and placed them under arrest.

At first, the men consented to be taken across the bridge into Moorhead, but as they realized Chief Murphy had no authority to arrest them in Fargo, they refused to go any further. In response, Murphy sent his associate to get a Fargo police officer, who could make a proper arrest before turning the men over to Murphy.

As they waited, the two burglars became increasingly agitated until Gray pulled out a revolver and aimed it at Chief Murphy head. Murphy grabbed for the gun and they scuffled. The weapon discharged, with the shot striking Murphy in the abdomen. Gray dropped the gun and ran back across the bridge.

A man on a sleigh saw the burglar fleeing. He intervened, throwing Gray to the ground. Murphy, despite his wound, was able to reach the thief, where he put the gun to Gray’s head and fired. The bullet went through man’s eye socket and lodged in his jaw.

Both men were taken to Fout and Porterfield’s Drug Store for treatment and later to the

Moorhead hospital. Not much was reported on the fate of the criminal, though his

wounds were deemed non-fatal.

As for Chief Murphy, he had fourteen perforations in his intestines. The bullet, firmly lodged in his hip, wasn’t removed. It seemed unlikely that Murphy would make it, but after a few weeks, a full recovery was expected.

Dakota Datebook by Olivia Burmeister


Bismarck Weekly Tribune, December 22, 1899, Page 5

The Hope Pioneer, December 28, 1899, Page 3

The Washburn leader, December 30, 1899, Page 5

The Hope Pioneer, December 21, 1899, Page 1

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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