The War to Evade All Wars
John Stupard was a ranch hand in the lower knife area of Mountrail County. But John, the Canadian transient, was a very uneasy ranch hand. Europe was entangled in the Great War and John did not want to be involved. The United States had remained neutral through much of it, but this day in 1917 would be the last day of official peace in America, and John Stupard would soon have more reason to be worried.
On May 18, 1917, the Selective Service Act was passed by Congress, and this meant John would no longer have a choice but to become involved should his number come up. He decided to make himself scarce, and whether he knew it at the time or not, he’d soon start his own war at home just to stay out of the war in Europe—a war to evade all wars, so to speak. It was not long before John was called up. John, of course, didn’t show up to the local draft board and as time passed, Mountrail County Sheriff Henry Slaughter, the Sheriff’s brother, Fred and Don Alger set out to bring him in. John, however, had disappeared and it was well into 1918 before sightings of the deserter were reported. The sheriff followed each lead, but John managed to evade capture each time. Soon, unable to work for fear of being found, he began robbing stores and houses to support himself. It was also a means of arming himself as ammunition and firearms were the majority of his plunder.
Finally, in late August 1918, the Sheriff and his posse got a reasonable lead on John. It was reported he was staying in a cabin five miles southwest of Stanley. The Sheriff and his posse surrounded the cabin, only to find it empty except for $70 worth of stolen goods. John would not have left these goods unless he was in a hurry, they thought, so they must be hot on his trail. The posse fanned out to search, but as darkness closed in, their identities were shrouded from each other. Then, Fred Slaughter spied a shadow and called out to who he thought was John. He received gun fire for a reply and a gun battle ensued. Both men emptied their rounds and wounded each other before calling out for help. Both, however, were calling out to the same people for help—the gunfight had been between Fred and another man of the posse! The real culprit, meanwhile, had escaped and continued his evasion and thievery to avoid going to war.
With two of his men wounded because of this deserter, the Sheriff grew frustrated and retrieved the help of two bloodhounds. It was not long before they picked up on his scent and they spotted him hiding behind a rock. The Sheriff and Don Alger yelled for him to surrender, but John’s reply was a volley of gunfire as he ran, dodging from rock to rock as Don and the Sheriff opened fire. The night would once again aide John’s escape, however, as he ducked into the brush of a coulee. Once again, the posse tried to close him off in the coulee, but the darkness offered cover for John and he escaped on a stolen bicycle. John disappeared for another month. He was finally spotted and arrested in Minot in October. We do not know if his punishment was war or jail, but we do know the escapade of John Stupard, the deserter had finally come to an end.
By Tessa Sandstrom
Sikes, Don. “The John Stupard Story,” Tales of Mighty Mountrail, Mountrail County Historical Society.