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Spicer Family Murders


One of the state’s most heinous crimes took place in Emmons County on this date in 1897. In 1959, William Fischer, editor of the Emmons County Record, explained: “When North Dakota became a state, its constitution outlawed the saloon, but many saloon operators continued their ‘underground’ operation – and their places of business were known as ‘blind pigs’.”

It was reported that on Feb. 14, 1897, Frank Blackhawk and Alec Coudot (also written Alex Coudotte) tried to get alcohol from a blind pig in Winona, across the river from Ft. Yates, but the proprietor told them a Mr. Pepper, the town drayman, had moved his stock and hidden it for him. That night, the two men went to Pepper’s home and asked where the liquor was hidden.

Fischer writes, “It is believed that Pepper told them it was stored in the cellar of the Spicer home. It is further believed that this place was pointed out to them as a joke, because Spicer was known to be a religious man, who, although he was not an ordained minister, sometimes preached.”

It was alleged that Blackhawk and Coudotte along with George Defender and two young boys, Phillip Ireland and Paul Holy Track, went to the Spicer farm three days later. Fischer writes, “Spicer was cleaning his barn when they came. The callers went into the barn and watched while Spicer hauled out a few loads of manure with his wheel barrow. The visitors had with them a muzzle loading shotgun and, with this, shot Spicer in the back on one of his trips out of the barn.”

Fischer wrote that one man then lured Mrs. Spicer to the barn, where she, too, was shot. In the house were her mother, her adult daughter, Lillie Rowse, and two grandchildren. Fischer writes, “The killers...entered the house and killed Mrs. Spicer’s elderly mother with (a) club. Next they tried to enter the room where Mrs. Rowse had taken refuge with her twin sons. She seized a shotgun and clubbed Coudette across the chest... Paul Holy Track then went into the room, and Mrs. Rowse swung a broken-bladed hoe at him, striking him on the head, cutting a hole through his hat brim and inflicting a wound on his forehead. She tried to swing again but the hoe caught on a wire stretched across the room, after which she was overpowered and beaten to death with a table leg. The killers then murdered the two babies, raising the total of deaths to six.”

After several days of speculation, the men named in Fischer’s story were in custody. Historian Frank Vyzralek writes, “The five told conflicting and constantly changing stories; but when particularly damaging confessions were extracted from the two youngsters, Emmons County officials decided to use them as state’s witnesses to proceed first against the older men.

“Court opened in a tiny courthouse at Williamsport, then the Emmons County seat...with Alex Coudot as the defendant,” Vyzralek says. “An all-white jury lost no time in convicting him of first degree murder. By this time, however, a considerable amount of talented legal help had rallied to the Indians’ defense, and while the county began proceedings against the second defendant, George Defender, Coudot’s conviction was appealed to the state supreme court. To the surprise of nearly all the white community the second trial ended in a hung jury, and a few months later another thunderbolt struck when the supreme court ordered a new trial for the first defendant.”

It was immediately speculated that all the defendants would end up going free, and on the night November 13th, 1897, a 40-man mob broke into the jail, grabbed Alec Coudot and the two boys, and lynched them from a cottonwood slaughtering frame. It was the state’s first and only multiple hanging, and the only hanging to ever occur in Emmons County. The other two prisoners were spared only because they were being held in Bismarck that night; the charges against them were later dropped.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm