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Medina Shootout

2/13/2004:

Twenty-one years ago today, there was a shootout between Federal Marshals, Gordon Kahl and other members of the Posse Comitatus on a road east of Medina.

Gordon Kahl was born in 1920, the oldest of five kids. He is described as being musical, loving to hunt, a practical joker and an excellent mechanic. He was a teenager when World War II broke out, and he was anxious to join up. After failing his physical, he tried again and joined the Army Air Corp in 1942, becoming a tail-gunner and flight engineer on a B25J bomber. He flew 57 missions and received 19 medals, including the Presidential Unit Citation.

After the war, he presented his new bride, Joan, with a 20-guage shotgun as a wedding present, and they settled down on 160 acres near Heaton. Kahl tried college, but dropped out, because he thought his teacher was a communist. He tried a government farm-training program, but quit when they suggested he borrow money to buy things he felt he couldn’t afford. Then he joined a Farm Subsidy Program, but dropped out, because he felt he could make more from a crop than from the government paying him to keep his land fallow.

By the 1960s, Kahl began to feel that the government had changed since the war, and he didn’t like it. In 1968, he sent a letter to the IRS saying he would no longer pay Federal Income Tax and became the state coordinator for the anti-tax group, the Posse Comitatus.

About this time, the FBI started investigating him, and two years later he was brought up on tax evasion, lost and spent 9 months in prison. He was given 5 years probation after that, but he still refused to pay his taxes, so the IRS filed a lien on 80 acres of his land and prepared to serve a warrant on Kahl if he showed up for the auction sale.

The sale was uneventful, but matters got sticky after a subsequent series of arrest attempts failed.

The only place Kahl went without his gun was the grocery store, and it was proposed that this be the way to take Kahl without casualties. But on February 13th, 1983, lawmen converged at a roadblock set up to snag Kahl as he came home from a Posse meeting at a vet clinic in Medina.

Kahl was tipped off, and a shootout commenced east of town. It’s still not clear who shot first, but when all was said and done, two marshals were dead, three others were wounded, Kahl’s son Yuri was down, and Kahl became a fugitive.

Casselton native James Corcoran wrote in his 1990 book, Bitter Harvest, “The violence in Medina, North Dakota, wounded an entire community. Lifelong bonds were broken over conflicting sympathies about Kahl; families were ruptured. Some thought Kahl was a cold-blooded murderer, a terrorist taking the law into his own hands.

Others thought he had given those representing a gluttonous, interfering government precisely what they deserved... the trial of Kahl’s wife and son became a battle for the soul of the heartland, as the chief of counter-insurgence from the Posse Comitatus threatened to storm the courtroom and ‘finish the job Kahl started.’”

On June 3rd, 1983, Gordon Kaul was killed in a final shootout in Arkansas. His story was later made into a TV movie and a documentary called “Altered Lives” by Matt Olien for Prairie Public Broadcasting.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm