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Train Robbery


In July of 1911, an overnight trip took a downward turn when a Northern Pacific train was held up. It occurred as the train passed through Tower City; three men described as being of medium height and wearing polka-dot handkerchiefs, went through the sleeper cars of the train and systematically woke up all the passengers, held them at pistol-point and robbed them of whatever they could.

The bandits were in a hurry, and it was reported that they missed out on a great deal of plunder. Still, the men made away with $500 in cash and jewels ... a small fortune in those days.

Next, the robbers held up the conductor and the brakeman, and finally they crawled into the engine, where they demanded that Engineer Olson stop the train outside of Buffalo. He refused, and the men shot him. The Bismarck Tribune reported that one bullet bounced off one of his ribs, while another glanced off his watch. The wounded engineer had no choice but to stop the train.

The three robbers ran out to a waiting car, manned by an accomplice, and they drove off into the gathering night. In the meantime, some tramps who were sleeping on board and had been left alone by the robbers got off the train and ran to get help.

The local telegrapher wired the sheriff and a US Marshall, who hopped on a train in Fargo and rode out to Buffalo, picking up posses as they went ... but the men had escaped.

So, it is no small wonder that another train incident, occurring just a few days later, and reported on this date by the Bismarck Tribune, would cause a panic.

This time, the train was passing the community of Burleigh, about twelve miles outside of Bismarck, when a storm of rocks burst through every window of the train. One rock even struck a woman in the face, knocking her unconscious for a while. That, luckily, was the worst injury of the incident.

The panic lessened when passengers realized the train would not stop in Burleigh, and no robberies occurred. The Tribune stated: "One woman was injured and 200 other passengers badly frightened," but none were stripped of their money or jewels. The article speculated that the stoning took place at the hand of vagrants or mischievous boys.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker

Bismarck Tribune, July 20, 1911

Bismarck Tribune, July 24, 1911