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Too Much Horseplay


William Ross loved horses. For his whole life he was a horse trader and handler. Unfortunately, his love of horses grew so big that he became a successful horse thief. That is, until July of 1905. Ross was employed by Thomas Walsh, a farmer in his 60s who lived outside of Willow City, North Dakota. He had a group of very fine and strong horses that Ross could not keep his eyes off of. So, on July 5th, 1902 Ross stole Walsh’s horses after shooting Walsh dead through his screen door. However, Ross was not careful enough and was soon captured. He caved in during questioning and admitted to his crime. He was taken to trial in Bottineau where he was convicted and sentence to hang on this date.

Everything was going as planned until the day before his execution. Ross admitted to a second murder, saying he and a Minot man, Carl Hanson had been working on a ranch when they found Napoleon LeMay, camping overnight with several strong and appealing horses. After LeMay refused to trade the horses, Hanson shot him in the back and they hid the body. Officials were intrigued enough to stall Ross’s execution in order to investigate this new murder. They located Hanson near Williston, and even though he denied taking any part in the murder, Ross’s confession was enough to convict him.

If Ross had been hoping to be let off by releasing this information, his hopes were squashed when they rescheduled his execution for March 6th, 1903. However, Father C.M. Turcotte had begun to visit Ross, and through study and prayer, had him converted over to Catholicism.

It seemed this new faith was helping Ross cope with his impending demise. He is reported to have joked around with many of the jail staff, and continued to read his prayer books right up to the date of his successful execution.

After the hanging, Ross was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in a Bottineau cemetery. A few weeks later, a woman rode into town with a team of horses. She hardly talked to anyone and nobody knew her name, but after she left, there was a tombstone over William Ross’s grave, bearing the word, “BROTHER.”

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas

Works Cited

"http://lemayleooren.tripod.com/id23.html" http://lemayleooren.tripod.com/id23.html

"https://www.ndcourts.gov/court/news/executend.htm" https://www.ndcourts.gov/court/news/executend.htm