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The Death of Two Lawmen


Clinton J. Miller was an adventurer. Setting out from Indiana in his mid twenties, he roamed the west following the rumors of gold, first to Colorado and then to Montana. He came to Bismarck from Helena, Montana in 1872 and the following year he was appointed Sheriff by the Burleigh County Commissioners. He was a Mason, a church-goer and was never married. Shortly after he was appointed sheriff, he was selected to fill the post of Deputy US Marshall of Dakota Territory.

Another early lawman was Charles McCarthy. He was approximately thirty-six when he came to Bismarck. Previously, he had been a clerk of court for Judge Kidder in the First Judicial District in Dakota Territory, and prior to that he had run a successful hotel in Sioux City, Iowa. He had twice been elected to the Territorial Legislature. When he first arrived in Bismarck, McCarthy went into business cutting wood for Fort Abraham Lincoln as well as conducting a livery business. He was an active member of the community, a Catholic, with a wife and two children. With the vacancy formed by the appointment of Clinton Miller to the post of Deputy Marshall, McCarthy ran for Sheriff of Burleigh County and won.

Deputy Marshall Miller and Sheriff McCarthy were responsible for keeping the peace for a large area of what is now North Dakota. Hundreds of people were pouring into the area, taking up homesteads, working in the railroad yards or on the steamboat docks. Many more were coming through on their way to the Black Hills in search of gold. Claim jumping, shootings, running liquor on the reservations and all of the trappings of lawlessness on the frontier were found within their territorial duties.

On this date in 1874, the people of Bismarck, who only the day before were relieved that one of their more notorious citizens, Jack O’Neil, had been gunned down in front of a saloon, were disheartened to learn that Deputy US Marshall Miller and Sheriff Charles McCarthy were dead. It appears that Miller and McCarthy had gone up the river on a sleigh to serve a summons on some witnesses and on their return trip had fallen through thin ice where an air pocket had been created by the swift current. The men, the horse and the sleigh had been swept away.

Both had served only a few months in their positions as lawmen, but Clinton Miller and Charles McCarthy were among the first law enforcement officers to die in the line of duty in what is now North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Bismarck Tribune December 23, 1874

Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, Volume I, 1906