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Charles McDonald


Charles McDonald was a well-known figure in North Dakota in the early 1900s. He was born in Faribault, Minnesota, on April 25, 1875, and came west of the Missouri in 1879 with his parents. They were among the first to take up a homestead west of the Missouri river.

As McDonald grew up, it seemed law enforcement was in his blood. He was first elected sheriff of Morton County in 1894 and served for four years. In 1902, he was elected register of deeds for Morton County. He was again elected sheriff in 1904 and served until 1908. He was elected state senator in 1910, but only served one session, resigning to run for sheriff yet again. He served until 1916, when he was appointed deputy warden of the state penitentiary. He worked there until 1922, when he was elected one more time as Morton County sheriff.

However, around 1926, he got throat cancer, and in April of 1928, he passed away. Funeral services were held at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Mandan on this date.

A multitude of friends came to the funeral, and afterwards, they reminisced about McDonald and his long career. Some said McDonald’s mere presence could break up near-riots or free-for-all fights; some said that “hardboiled criminals” who wouldn’t confess to attorneys or other officers would “confess meekly” to Sheriff McDonald. He helped solve “dozens of notable crimes.”

The newspaper reported that he was sheriff to his very bones, saying: “Wearing a broad-brimmed black hat, his flowing mustaches a la Custer and the early days, friends often wondered whether his years in office may have made his calling stand out so unmistakenably.”

One friend reported that, during his last year as sheriff in the early part of 1926, he went to Los Angeles to get a prisoner who was wanted in Mandan. While on en route on a train, two men sitting a few seats away approached him. They had made a bet as to his career, and the loser was to buy dinner for all three of them. One guessed he was a sheriff of some Midwestern state. The other guessed he was a sheriff of the movies.

McDonald proudly stated he was “a regular sheriff of Morton County, North Dakota,” and partook in dinner with the two men. During the meal, they offered him a chance to become a “movie” sheriff, through some Hollywood connections. However, McDonald had a prisoner to transport, and later became sick, and it never came to pass.

Nonetheless, the Morton County sheriff would long be remembered for the job he returned to again and again.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker

The Fargo Forum, April 16, 1928
The Fargo Forum, April 17, 1928