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Strange SOS


A strange story was reported out of St. Paul to the Fargo Forum on this date in 1909. The United States Post Office district headquarters there received a strange and alarming telegram from North Dakota that they hoped to clear up. The telegram spoke of a murder taking place on the far western prairie, in the remote tiny town of Leipzig, North Dakota.

Leipzig, in 1909, was a town of about one hundred inhabitants. Located in Morton County, its main form of communication with the rest of the world was a daily mail train that ran between the town and Glen Ullin, the county seat. The town did, however, have a post office and a postmaster, Mr. Shattuck.

Shortly before noon on this date, however, something appeared to be very wrong at that post office. Mr. Shattuck had a telegraph sent to Postmaster M. G. Fosnes in St. Paul, stating simply, "Man nearly killed in my office. Help wanted." Mr. Fosnes had no idea what to do or how to help the man, who was over five hundred miles away. More to the point, he had no idea why Mr. Shattuck would write to him for help.

Mr. Fosnes sent a quick telegram in reply: "Tell Postmaster Shattuck at Leipzig that he must appeal to the local authorities to preserve the peace and deal with the disturbers thereof." Receiving no immediate response, Mr. Fosnes called the post office at Fargo to report the incident. Eventually, someone reached Mr. Shattuck's son, who explained the situation. Apparently, Mr. Shattuck had been awakened from his slumber the night before by men calling him from outside. Thinking there was some kind of emergency, he leapt from his bed and ran into the night. In the alley between the post office and his home, he was struck over the head and knocked unconscious. The culprit was later apprehended for the crime, but the man was a drifter without any apparent motive for knocking the postmaster out. Mr. Shattuck, meanwhile, seemed to make a quick recovery upon waking and went hurriedly to telegraph St. Paul about the incident. As it turned out, however, Mr. Shattuck was not yet in his right mind, as he later did not remember sending the telegram, or the words he wrote.

And one wonders what the telegraph operator thought as he sent a message about attempted murder from the pajama-clad Shattuck!

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. Friday (Evening ed.), December 31, 1909: p.2.