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The Last Moments for Hans Thorpe


This date in 1900 started with a rainstorm that ended in a cold and dreary morning. Despite the weather, a crowd had already trickled into Minot’s courthouse by 5:00 am. They gathered in the hallways of the jail cell, many by special invitation, some just curious, to see the last moments of Hans Thorpe, who was the only man legally hanged in Minot.

However, at 5:00, Thorpe himself was still asleep, not to wake until then-Sheriff Carroll woke him at five to six. His death warrant was read; he dressed quickly, and took a lit cigar with him to his death, just on the outskirts of the town.

Thorpe had been sentenced to death by hanging for killing his young wife, purportedly out of jealousy. At the end of his trial, held in April, he asked for the death sentence. He reportedly smiled when he received his wish.

Before his scheduled time of departure, he wrote out invitations to friends and neighbors; one read, “I hereby kindly give you an invitation to be present at my execution, which takes place here on the 14th day of September, 1900. I remain yours sincerely.” He verbally invited guests to his “party,” as well—all invitations that many later said that they wished they hadn’t accepted. Many of them paid for their invitations, and Thorpe used the money to purchase whiskey, tobacco, candy, and other such items.

Forty years later, Sheriff Carroll, who had cared for Thorpe while he was in prison and waiting for his life to end, said that the man was a good prisoner, and that he asked only for whiskey. “I had plenty of whisky on hand from the piggers and so his requests were usually granted,” Carroll said – piggers referring to people or places selling illegal booze.

Ward County Judge William Murray visited Thorpe as well. Murray was responsible for the design of the trapdoor on the platform used to execute Thorpe, of which the Minot Optic newspaper said, “while practically simple, is without doubt one of the most perfect working devises of the kind ever employed.”

In the end, Thorpe hanged at 6:30, sharp. He seemed to die instantly. They cut him down after ten minutes.

The Minot Optic reported, “Hans Thorpe is no more. … He met death bravely and to all appearances willingly gave his own life in exchange for the one he so cowardly took.”

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker

The Minot Optic, September 14, 1900
The Minot Daily News, September 14, 1940