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Wells Lounsberry


The history of North Dakota includes characters of plucky fortitude as well as individuals of notoriety...and sometimes, these people's lives intersect.

Col. Lounsberry was well-known in the state for his influence and business sense. He served in the civil war and carried "a bullet from the battle of Bull Run." In 1873, he established the Bismarck Tribune, which is the state’s oldest, still-publishing newspaper.

Lounsberry had several children. Wells, one of his sons, worked for the Northern Pacific Railway mail service, but eventually settled in Medford, Oregon, where he grew fruit, and raised turkeys and pigs. He was married and had a family.

This brief snapshot of prosperity and hard work changed, however, around the end of August in 1912, when he was caught in Kansas after attempting to rob a Union Pacific train!

The brief note in the Chicago Day Book daily newspaper reported the news succinctly: "Lone bandit who held up Union Pacific train and was later shot, claims he is Wells Loundsberry, wealthy Medford, Ore., rancher.” Mrs. Wells Lounsberry denied knowing anything about it. North Dakota residents read the accounts with awe as the news broke on this date.

According to reports, Lounsberry boarded the train and had the mail clerks pick out the registered mail. Then he hid, waiting to get off at the next stop. However, the train did not make that mail stop, and he was found and captured by the conductor. He attempted to shoot himself, whereupon he was taken to a hospital in Topeka.

Lounsberry's wife travelled to Kansas to meet him at the hospital, maintaining that there must have been a mistake. However, Lounsberry admitted to a previous unsolved robbery in Red Bluffs, California, where he had successfully employed a similar technique.

The case went to trial in a federal court in Kansas City, where the defense stated that this deviation of character may have resulted from a head injury sustained some time previous when he was involved in a train wreck. Nonetheless, this brazen bandit was found guilty, and sentenced to ten years.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker


Bismarck Daily Tribune, March 20, 1910, p5

The Enterprise (Harlem, Montana), AUgust 29, 1912, p6

Ward County Independent, September 5, 1912, p11

The Evening Times (Grand Forks), January 17, 1913, p1

The Topeka State Journal, August 29, 1912, p1

The Day Book, August 24, 1912, p26

The Topeka State Journal, August 29, 1912,p6