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Rustling Ring Sentenced


Ranchers and residents of Williston, North Dakota, anxiously anticipated the outcome of a publicized court trial on this date a century ago. The trial of Pat Cannon, Jud Miller, and William Coleman in Williams County District Court was viewed as the culmination of many years' work, and the "final chapter in breaking up...the famous border horse [rustling ring]."

For years, the trio, along with several other groups of horse and cattle thieves, plagued the ranchers along the border of North Dakota and Montana. Rustlers in the area grew infamous for stealing the animals, then driving them north into Canada and selling them to unsuspecting buyers. Butch Cassidy, one of the most well-known rustlers, set up a system of trails connecting Mexico to Canada. This system, known as the "Outlaw Trail," began just south of Big Beaver, Saskatchewan, north of Redstone, Montana. The trails wound south through some of the roughest and most remote parts of the country. South of Redstone, the trail connected to Miles City, Montana, then crossed the border into North Dakota, heading south again to Deadwood, South Dakota.

In the late 1890s, when the Boer War broke out in South Africa, two hundred and forty-five of Canada's Northwest Mounted Police volunteered for service and were sent there to help. That void opened the door for wave after wave of cattle and horse rustlers who headed north into Canada. Without the protection of the mounted police, Canadian ranchers were at the mercy of the outlaws for a number of years. Using the Outlaw Trail, rustlers were able to move the cattle south, to sell either in the U.S. along the trail, or head all the way to Mexico. When the war in South Africa was over, the mounted police returned to their posts, forcing the rustlers to concentrate once again on the ranches in the U-S.

Pat Cannon and Jud Miller, two of the men sentenced in Williston in 1910, each received ten years in the state penitentiary for their crimes. Their accomplice, Slim Bae, rolled over on the men, and was granted leniency for his testimony. The judge handed Slim a sentence of five to ten years, but then issued his parole immediately. It seemed that the heyday of rustling in Williams county was coming to an end.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Monday (Evening ed.), January 3, 1910: p.2.