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June 26: Accused of Land Fraud

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The Homestead Act of 1862 opened the American West to settlement. Newcomers could claim 160 acres after living on it for five years, paying only a small fee for the land. Along with attracting settlers, the promise of nearly free land attracted speculators who gobbled up large tracts of land and then sold it at an inflated price.

Scammers also arrived on the frontier with a variety of schemes to cheat settlers out of their land. In one such example, Ward County farmer Frederick Nurenberger was accused of scamming several Ohio acquaintances out of their land.

Nurenberger was a Civil War veteran. In 1903, he visited his old home in Ohio to visit family and friends. The government contended that Nurenberger had concocted a scheme to claim a large amount of land by convincing old comrades and widows of veterans to file land claims in North Dakota. He would pay their expenses and filing fees and they would sign the land over to him once their claims were complete. Some of his recruits never made final proof. Others did and transferred their claims to Nurenberger, as planned.

On this date in 1905, Nurenberger was on trial, facing thirteen charges of fraud. The contracts signed by the veterans and widows were entered into evidence. The contracts clearly stated that once their claims were proven up they would sign the land over to Nurenberger. A romance between Nurenberger and one of the widows and their subsequent marriage only increased public interest in the case.

Some of the Ohio settlers accused Nurenberger of cheating them. They said they came to North Dakota to build new homes and did not understand that they would be required to give Nurenberger the land. He was found guilty and faced a prison sentence and a hefty fine, but he appealed the verdict and was granted a new trial.

The case dragged on. There was speculation that the defense was counting on Nurenberger to die before the case was heard, but it never came to that. In the end, with little fanfare and no explanation, the government dropped the case and Nurenberger faded from the headlines.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


  • Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Grand Jury Findings.” Fargo ND. 5/29/1905. Page 2.
  • Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Nurenberger Case Is on Trial in U.S. Court.” Fargo ND. 6/23/1905. Page 6.
  • Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Fraudulent Contracts.” Fargo ND. 6/26/1905. Page 2.
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune. “Faces Jail.” Bismarck ND. 5/17/1907. Page 9.
  • Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Widows May Land Veteran in Jail.” Fargo ND. 5/15/1907. Page 2.
  • Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Land Office Frauds Are Being Investigated.” Fargo ND. 5/17/1905. Page 8.
  • The Evening Times. “The Nurenberger Case.” Grand Forks ND. 2/12/1907. Page 5.
  • The Wahpeton Times. “Nurenberger Case Dropped. Wahpeton ND. 12/28/1908. 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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