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Three Masked Men


On this date in 1911, three masked men held up a Northern Pacific train between Tower City and Buffalo. Armed with revolvers, they collected $500 from the passengers and went to the locomotive. They ordered the engineer to stop the train so they could get off, but he refused. One of the robbers shot the engineer, but he still refused. After being shot again, the engineer finally complied and brought the train to a halt. The robbers jumped off and ran a short distance to a waiting getaway car.

When news of the robbery reached U.S. Marshal James Shea in Bismarck, he quickly organized a posse, which arrived at the train where it remained stopped. Detectives collected evidence and interviewed the passengers and the engineer, who was not badly injured. A description of the men was telegraphed across the state. Other law enforcement agencies also formed posses and joined in the search. The Hope Pioneer expressed concern because the robbers appeared to be professionals, possibly responsible for previous robberies and, if not caught, would probably strike again. With such a large search quickly put into action, confidence was high that the men would be caught in a short time.

That confidence was not misplaced. The newspaper added a last-minute heading to the article – all three robbers had been captured in Melrose, Minnesota.

Another notable spate of robberies took place in 1983, when a man robbed six banks in Nelson County, even robbing one of them twice. When he robbed another bank in Aneta, residents quickly responded, jumping into their cars and pickups to give chase. By the time the robber was captured 65 miles away, over 100 locals were in pursuit. The bank teller was glad it was the sheriff who caught the man, saying: “It’s a good thing none of the farmers caught him, because they’d have torn him to pieces....”

North Dakota banks are still robbed on occasion. In 2015, an oil worker from California was arrested for robbing two banks in Stanley, but train robberies seem to be a thing of the past.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Hope Pioneer. “Three Masked Men Rob Train Near Buffalo.” 20 July, 1911.

The New York Times. “North Dakota Robbers: Risk of Posses and Few Hiding Places.” 17 January, 1983.

Petro Global News. “Oil worker arrested for two North Dakota bank robberies.” 13 September, 2015.