The Wild West was not quite as wild as the movies would have us believe. There were some shootouts, but not nearly as many or as dramatic as portrayed. Most of the events were embellished by popular dime novels and magazines like Harper’s Weekly. There were also bank robberies, with outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Daltons, and the Cole-Younger gang. But bank robberies, too, were not that common. Between 1859 and 1900, there were fewer than ten successful bank robberies reported across the entire frontier west.
Uncommon as the robberies were, the thought of easy money still tempted desperados. On this date in 1904, the Oakes Republican reported on the attempt to rob a bank in Lakota, in Nelson County between Devils Lake and Grand Forks. The citizens of the town were awakened by a loud explosion. Marshal Hurlett grabbed his gun and ran out into the night. He dashed to the bank, but had to retreat when he was fired at. He rang the fire bell to call for help. The townspeople responded immediately, armed with revolvers and shotguns.
An examination of the bank revealed that the robbers had blown off the outer and inner doors of the safe. The marshal had responded before they could open the inner steel box that contained the money. It was so badly damaged that it couldn’t be opened, but the money had not been touched.
Guests of the nearby Grace Hotel had also been awakened by the explosion and gunshots. When they went outside, they came face to face with the heavily armed robbers. The unarmed guests quickly retreated back inside the hotel.
The marshal and the angry citizens were determined to catch the thieves. An impromptu posse chased the robbers, exchanging gunfire. The newspaper reported that several hundred shots were fired. In spite of the pursuit, the bad guys escaped.
The marshal led an investigation the following morning. Tools that had been stolen from the local blacksmith shop were found in the bank. Several thousand dollars remained safely untouched in the inner safe. The robbers had disappeared, and there remains no record of an arrest.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Oakes Republican. “Bold but Futile Attempt to Rob the State Bank at Lakota by a Band of Desperate Highwaymen. Oakes ND. 10/21/1904. Page 7.
Myths of the American West. “Bank Robberies of the West. https://mythsoftheamericanwest.wordpress.com/2015/11/12/bank-robberies/ Accessed 9/24/2010.