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Minot's First Murder


Minot was officially founded in 1886, the year Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn, the Statue of Liberty arrived from France, Geronimo surrendered, and Coca-Cola went on the market.

Because it grew so fast, Minot soon became known as “The Magic City.” And, like all lively railroad towns, Minot developed a respectable part of town and a not-so-respectable part of town. In one section were about 45 brothels, saloons and dance halls, and in another were orderly houses and churches, with the first Mass being celebrated in 1884.

Early on, the seedier residents garnered quite a bit of attention. On August 27th, 1887, three of the six men elected to the City Council were saloon owners, and Minot quickly became a “wet” city – despite the city’s first murder having taken place in a saloon less than three weeks earlier.

On August 8th, a two-bit cowpoke named Roxy Queal borrowed about $35 from a Grand Forks card shark named Shang Foster. Queal told Foster he had a “dead sure” poker game, and he’d repay not only the 35 dollars but also a share of his winnings.

Jack Stoughton, Shang Foster’s friend, told the Grand Forks Plaindealer: “The money was given [to Queal], and instead of entering on the ‘dead sure game’ he bought some articles of wearing apparel with a portion of it, and used the balance to get on a roaring drunk.”

According to Mark Timbrooke of the Ward County Historical Society, Foster found out what happened to the money he loaned to Queal and caught up to him in Doyle and Lynch’s Saloon.

They fought, and Foster warned Queal to pay him back, or a “graveyard would be started in Minot with him.”

Stoughton said the deadline was 4 o’clock that afternoon. With the money gone, and the whiskey probably still doing its job, Queal took the bull by the horns. That afternoon, he borrowed a revolver, found Foster in the White Elephant Saloon, and shot him point blank in the face. Queal then walked to the bar, so the story goes, and slugged down a drink before heading for the woods.

Timbrook says Queal ran and hid in the Minot railroad yards, and Deputy Sheriff John Swanston found him in the woods along the Mouse River and arrested him. Queal was held for trial but escaped from the Burlington Jail. He was recaptured the following spring in what is now the state of Washington and was returned to Minot. Apparently, Judge William Francis believed Queal shot Foster in self-defense, because he gave him only four years for manslaughter.

But that’s only part of the story. Shang Foster was buried in the old North Hill Cemetery, where the Minot Airport is now located. Later that night, a local doctor and a druggist dug him up and brought him back into town. Then, they submerged Foster’s body in a large vat of water and boiled off his fleshy remains, which – as the story goes – they buried in a side street.

Several days later, people passing by a local dentist’s office noted a fresh, new, human skeleton hanging in the window. In that era, it was common for medical people to obtain skeletons for medical study – although in this case, it seems it was more for display.

Either way, if things had gone as Shang Foster threatened – that his adversary would end up in the graveyard – it would have been Roxy Queal’s bones hanging in that window, not his own.

Sources: Baker, Marvin. “It all started in the 1880s.” Minot Daily News. 16 Jan, 2005.

Grand Forks Plaindealer. 10 Aug, 1887.

Timbrook, Mark (Ward County Historical Society). 2004-05.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm