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Oakley Crawford was born on this date in 1847; it was an event many people came to regret. Little is known of Oakley’s early years, except that he served in the Civil War and was said to be ordained as a Methodist minister.

Crawford married in New York, but within two years his wife sued for desertion and theft. Crawford spent three years in jail, but after getting out in 1873, he kept on the move, touching down in places like Boston, Salt Lake City, Detroit and Seattle. In his wake, he left countless misfortunate women, business clients – even parishioners – stripped of their wealth.

Crawford used an amazing number of aliases and showed up in these parts as General Arlington Buckingham Ward. In a modern-era story for the Forum of Fargo Moorhead, columnist Curtis Eriksmoen wrote that “Crawford was tall and handsome with ‘steel-blue grayish and expressive eyes.’ Because of his personal charm, he was able to gain the confidence of women and get them to entrust their money to him.” Indeed, when Crawford showed up in Grand Forks, he was on wife number seven, women he simply abandoned when they ran out of money.

Crawford – or “General Ward” – was the toast of the town when he arrived in Grand Forks in 1889. Ericksmoen wrote, “...he became known in social circles as a person with breeding, connections and remarkable accomplishments … Many in Dakota were so impressed … that they began to mention his name as a candidate for U.S. senator ...”

George Winship, founder and editor of the Grand Forks Herald, wasn’t so sure. While getting a haircut in Bismarck, he asked the barber what he thought of Ward. “His name is not Ward,” the barber said. “I shaved that fellow in Seattle under the name of Arthur Worthington.”

Winship decided to put the “general” to the test. When Ward returned from a trip to St. Paul, Winship wrote in his paper: “Arthur B. Worthington, late of Seattle, arrived in this city this morning, after spending several days in the Twin Cities.” This tidbit was meaningless to all but one reader: Oakley Crawford. Knowing his cover was blown, he deserted his wife and skipped town.

Crawford married at least two more women, fathered at least three children, and took his game to the other side of the world. In Australia he wooed a wealthy widow claiming to be a reincarnation of the god Osiris. After defrauding the woman of her inheritance, he was caught, and in 1902 was sentenced to 7 years in prison. Once again, his punishment had no effect. The law caught up with him again in 1917, but he died of a heart attack before going to trial.

(Source: The Forum, Fargo ND, 2004)

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm