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August 9: Bank Robbery Mix-Up

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In early August in 1930, a group of armed, unmasked men robbed the Dakota National Bank and Trust Co. in Bismarck. They walked in around 2:30pm on August 7, forced customers and staff in the bank to lie on the floor, and then looted the vault. They locked the employees and customers in the vault, then left. After a few minutes, the employees liberated themselves and their patrons.

Charles Whittey had the misfortune of entering the bank during the holdup. He described the men as a group of four, “one large and the other three small,” all dressed in overalls. It was believed four went into the bank, and one stayed outside, making for a total of five robbers. Everyone said the men were between 30 and 35 years of age.

The robbers were seen by a newsboy who thought they fled in a Durant touring car with a Kansas license plate. This information was broadcast by all available means to the surrounding territory. Airplanes were sent up to search for the robbers.

With the region alerted, reports began to come in. Officials in Wahpeton sent a report that five men in a black sedan refueled there and headed for Minnesota. From Wilton came a report that “a car passed through at high speed.” The town of Wing reported the same. And from Steele, a suspicious looking car passing through town.

And on this date, the Bismarck Tribune published a report from Mahnomen, Minnesota, that four men at a hotel had been mistaken for the bandits. The hotel clerk had heard the description of one large man and three smaller. He reported such a group, but it turned out to be heavyweight boxer Angus McDonald with three companions.

“When the party prepared to leave [the hotel] … they were surrounded by an armed posse. It took 45 minutes of talk and a search of their bags to prove a case of wrong identification.”

The robbers had taken around $75,000; about a third in cash and the rest in bonds. Since the bonds were registered, the robbers couldn’t use them. The bonds could be duplicated, and insurance covered the cash. Furthermore, there were no injuries or casualties. Things could have gone much worse.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


  • The Bismarck tribune, August 7, 1930, p1
  • The Bismarck Tribune, August 8, 1930, p1
  • The Bismarck Tribune, August 9, 1930, p1

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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