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May 16: Where in the World is George E. Reed?

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Rumors about Bismarck city treasurer George Reed began circulating on this date in 1887. It was reported that he was thousands of dollars short in his accounts and he was nowhere to be found. It seemed he had departed for parts unknown along with city money.

Reed, who had served as treasurer for five years, was a well-known and popular Bismarck personality. He was seen getting on a train with a suitcase. Some people thought he was going to Canada on a hunting trip. Other people said he was visiting relatives in Milwaukee. Or perhaps he had gone to visit relatives in New York. There was also confusion about the amount of missing money. It might have been four thousand dollars. Or maybe it was fourteen thousand dollars.

When it was discovered that the city bond record was missing, the city council appointed a committee to investigate. The committee came to the conclusion that the record had been in Reed’s possession and that he failed to deliver it to his successor. This made it difficult to ascertain just how much money was missing. The was determined that Reed deliberately withheld the record.

Bismarck residents were in shock. It was hard to believe that such a respectable and upstanding member of the community would be guilty of stealing from his friends and neighbors. In spite of the assumption that Reed had absconded with city money, he continued to have plenty of friends and supporters. They were sure it was some sort of misunderstanding and that Reed would return the money. In July, it was reported that one of his friends from St. Paul had raised four thousand dollars and planned to reimburse Bismarck for the missing money.

The matter was finally resolved almost a year later. Reed returned to Bismarck in March, 1888. He gave himself up and a grand jury charged him with embezzling three thousand dollars. The judge asked him if he had a lawyer. Reed said he did not and he didn’t want one. When the judge asked if was pleading guilty or not, Reed responded, “Guilty.” When Reed reimbursed the missing money, the charges against him were dropped.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


  • Bismarck Tribune. “Where is Reed?” Bismarck ND. 5/20/1887. Page 6.
  • Bismarck Tribune. “Reed Pleads Guilty.” Bismarck ND. 3/16/2023. Page 5.
  • Jamestown Weekly Alert. “City Treasurer Reed of Bismarck.” Jamestown ND. 3/15/1888. Page 5.
  • Dickinson Press. “Dakota News.” Dickinson ND. 7/2/1887. Page 2.
  • Bismarck Tribune. “Council Works.” Bismarck ND. 6/3/1887. Page 8.
  • Bismarck Tribune. “Reed Will Settle.” Bismarck ND. 6/2/1887. Page 2.

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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