Hiram B. Wadsworth
The people in Billings County, in Southwest North Dakota don’t take kindly to juries that return a verdict they might disagree with. In fact, those jurors might just find themselves “hung in effigy” from the “The Hangin’ Tree” in downtown Medora.
On this date in 1894, Edward Severson was found dead in a horse corral at the Bellows Ranch, north of Medora. Severson was a hunter and ranchhand who worked for the Badlands Cattle Company.
It looked as though Severson had been killed by the kick from a horse, or maybe trampled to death. The coroner was called in to take the body, and without suspicion, he substantiated the cause of Severson’s death.
When the coroner was preparing the body for burial however, he discovered something he certainly didn’t expect; a bullet hole in Severson’s chest!
Hiram B. Wadsworth, the Badland’s Cattle Company manager, told the sheriff that he had witnessed young Harry Roehm shoot Severson. Harry was another of Wadsworth’s ranchnands, just fifteen years old. Roehm pleaded guilty to the murder and because of his age, was sentenced to Reform School in Plankinton, South Dakota.
As events unfolded however, it was soon discovered that the Wadsworths had paid young Harry Roehm $200 to kill Severson.
The preliminary trial for Wadsworth and his wife was held in Medora, but was moved to Burleigh County to give the defendants a fair trial.
On December 21, 1895, one year to the day after Severson’s body was found, the jury returned a verdict: not guilty!
Reports spread throughout Medora that the Wadsworths bought off the jury, just like they bought off young Harry Roehm. Outraged over the jury’s verdict, the residents of Medora hung a large sign across the De Mores Brick Hotel. It called some of the jurors by name, and accused them of being paid off. Hoping the jurors would “roast in hell” was a “tamer” part of the message.
To add to the protest, just in front of the hotel, the covered faces of the jurors were hung in effigy, slowly swinging from the branches of “The Hangin’ Tree.”
Needless to say, the Wadsworths quickly left the area.
Written by Dave Seifert
From the book Home on the Range; Frontier Ranching in the Badlands, Webb Publishing, Minneapolis, MN, 1944, by Harry V. Johnston, as told in Colorful Characters: Frontier Ranching in the Badlands, Echoing Trails, Volume II, Billings County History, Billing County Historical Society, 2003. pg. 808