Nine-year old Jeanette Rust disappeared west of Underwood, ND, on this day in 1942. It was a Sunday, and her family was picking up a load of firewood and then having a picnic. They were in the Missouri River bottomlands, and Jeanette and her five siblings went exploring in the woods.
At about 11:30, Jeanette’s father, Ernest, called the children to come back for lunch. All came back, except Jeanette. Ernest thought his little redheaded daughter was hiding – to play a trick on him. But, when she still failed to appear, the family began searching for her.
That evening, McLean County Sheriff, Charles Tauer, organized a search party. By Monday, some 300 people – about 100 of them on horseback – were combing through the underbrush. Jeanette was described as wearing a blue dress, a blue coat and brand new tan shoes with anklets. One report described her as “frail,” and many wondered how long she could survive without food.
On Monday night, searchers some 14 miles from where Jeanette disappeared heard distant cries of, “Daddy! Daddy!” But it led nowhere. A German shepherd was brought in from the Ft. Lincoln “enemy alien interment camp.” It made three five-mile circles, each time ending where it started – the place the child was last seen. Each time, the dog would lead into the woods and skirt the riverbanks – but no children’s footprints were found in the mud.
By Tuesday, radio appeals brought fresh recruits. A man on horseback said he spotted a girl emerge from some underbrush a distance of about four blocks away. By the time he closed the gap, however, she had vanished. He couldn’t say whether it was Jeanette or somebody else, but his sighting renewed hopes the little second-grader was still alive.
Some 400 people were now searching, spaced about 10 feet apart and moving methodically forward through the woods and brush for miles around. One found a candy bar wrapper – believed to be Jeanette’s – and nearby, searchers spotted an area where she had possibly slept.
Tuesday night, an unnamed woman from Mercer had a “vision” that Jeanette was 11 miles down river from where she vanished. The Bismarck Tribune reported, “She immediately hurried to Underwood and led a party of searchers, including the girl’s father...and state highway patrolmen, to the place where her ‘vision’ had told her the child would be...It was understood here the Mercer woman is a qualified visionist. She has had previous disclosures, which have proved prophetically accurate, some persons here declared. The investigation of the Mercer woman’s ‘visions’ is indicative of the way all possible clues...are being followed.”
Unfortunately, the vision didn’t pay off. Volunteers began to dwindle due to exhaustion, and on Wednesday, high school students from Washburn, Turtle Lake, Underwood and other towns were called in. By now, nearly everybody doubted Jeanette was still alive, because the weather had turned cold, with rain and snow chilling everybody to the bone.
The Tribune reported, “Ladies from nearby communities served hot coffee, sandwiches and such hot dishes as macaroni, chili con carne and hamburger to their men folk when they came in, worn and cold. Turtle Lake women served one meal Wednesday, Garrison women another.”
On Wednesday night, the hunt was called off. A record-breaking winter storm descended, with temperatures plummeting to 4 degrees in Parshall. With eight inches of fresh snow by Saturday, Sheriff Tauer once more called for horseback riders to search for Jeanette’s tracks. But, it was no use. On the 2-year anniversary of her disappearance, the Bismarck Tribune reported, “Riddle of Underwood Girl’s Disappearance Yet Unsolved.”
The Bismarck Tribune. 22 Sep 1942.
The Bismarck Tribune. 23 Sep 1942.
The Bismarck Tribune. 24 Sep 1942.
The McLean County Independent. 24 Sep 1942.
The Underwood News. 24 Sep 1942.
The Washburn Leader. 24 Sep 1942.
The Bismarck Tribune. 26 Sep 1942.
Valley City Times-Record. 22 Sept 1944.
The Bismarck Tribune. 23 Sep 1944.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm