Newspapers reported on the outcome of a very public trial on this date in 1900. In the case of the State of North Dakota vs. Freeman, Mr. Freeman of Valley City was acquitted of charges of two counts of physical assault with a firearm and attempted murder. Although these were very serious charges and a shotgun was involved, the acquittal met with grand approval by the residents of the city.
The incident in question began the previous summer, when Mr. Freeman hoped to entertain his stenographer in his home. Word of Mr. Freeman's date with the popular secretary spread quickly, and soon two rivals, Tom Leine and H. R. Hitsman, heard of the engagement. Hoping to ruin Freeman's chances with the woman, the two men agreed to bombard Freeman's apartment with loud music and solicitations on the evening in question. The newspapers called the men "rubberneckers" for their untoward interest in Freeman and his date ... a broader use of the term than one would hear today.
Freeman turned Leine and Hitsman away from his door multiple times before finally losing his temper. He ran into his home and grabbed a double-barrel shotgun from the wall. Then, with scarcely a second thought, he fired upon the men in his yard and managed to wing them both. Though the two sustained only minor injuries, authorities quickly arrived to the scene. Leine and Hitsman viewed the incident quite differently than Mr. Freeman and were quick to file charges against the man, believing their lives to have been in danger. Residents of Valley City, quite against the so-called rubbernecking, quickly sided with Freeman and hoped for a speedy acquittal.
Rubbernecking at the turn of the century referred to the act of sticking one's nose in another's business. The term comes from the act of gawking, in which one may crane one's neck to view something, such as a car accident or arrest, a meaning that continues today. Believing people should always mind one's own business, residents of Valley City viewed the acquittal as an affirmation of their disapproval and hoped the verdict would prevent future incidents.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Saturday (Evening ed.), Dec. 15, 1900: p.1.