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"Frontier Justice in Dakota" - Visual Evidence - Photographs

Photo 1. Little Missouri 1880

Little Missouri 1880, courtesy of Montana Historical Society
Photograph by F. Jay Haynes
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This photo was taken shortly after the railroad arrived at the Little Missouri crossing. By the time the Marquis arrived in 1883, the railroad workers with their tents had moved on west and there were about nine buildings at Little Missouri. The townsite was never platted out so buildings were placed as to be off the railroad right of way but not in any orderly fashion. They stretched from the bridge to the station.

"Crossing N.P. and settlement known as 'Little Missouri', a settlement west of Medora and on the west side of the river. More popularly known as 'Little Misery'."

Photo 2. Medora in 1885 – Little Missouri visible in the background

Medora in 1885, SHSND #B0437
Medora in 1885
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By 1885 the town of Medora had grown quickly. Some of the Little Missouri businesses had started to re-locate across the river to Medora.

Questions for Photos 1 and 2.
1. Compare the photos. How did the layout of Medora compare to Little Missouri?

2. Why would the Little Missouri businesses have moved across the river to Medora?

3. Can you think of other cities where a river is the division? What comparisons can you make

Photo 3. Murder in Masquerade – Jury Hung in Effigy

Jury Hung in Effigy, SHSND #B0321
Jury Hung in Effigy, SHSND #B0321
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While there is no record of an actual hanging or lynching ever occurring in Medora, the town is famous for its "Hanging Tree." This photograph was taken in December, 1895, in the aftermath of a controversial murder trial.

On December 21, 1894, it was reported that cowboy and hunter Ed Severson was killed by a horse kick early that morning on the ranch of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Wadsworth, along the Little Missouri River north of Medora. The coroner found Severson's body in the corral, and without suspicion substantiated the manner of death. While neighbors were dressing the body for burial, however, a bullet hole was discovered in his chest.

Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth proclaimed their innocence, but their 15 year old ranchhand Fred Roehm confessed that Wadsworth had paid him $200 to shoot Severson, and was present at the killing. Fred Roehm pleaded guilty to the murder and on March 28, 1895 he was sentenced to a term in reform school at Plankinton, South Dakota.

The Wadsworth trial was moved to Bismarck in Burleigh County, where Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth provided each other with alibis. On December 21, 1895 – one year to the day after Severson’s death- the jury found the defendants not guilty. Medora residents expressed rage at the verdict by hanging the jury in effigy and displaying a large banner on the side of the de Mores Hotel. An enterprising photographer recorded the scene for posterity. This was the first case filed in Billings County. The preliminary hearing was held in Medora, but a change of venue was granted. The incident occurred at the Bellows ranch about 25 miles north of Medora. This was Wadsworth s ranch. The victim was their hired man.

Over the years people have called several of Medora's large old trees "hanging trees." The one that many visitors remember was in the intersection of Fourth and Broadway. The tree, believed to be more than 100 years old, fell in about 1996. In an attempt to add local color, some people called the large tree in front of the bank and post office buildings on Third Street a "hanging tree." No documentation has been found to prove the story. Pieces of a large tree labeled 'The Hanging Tree" were placed next to the Rough Riders Hotel by the Gold Seal Company [TRMF]. No documentation has been found as to whether the pieces were from the tree next to the Hotel DeMores where the jury was hung in effigy.

Questions for Photo 3

  1. How did the hanging in effigy help the townspeople express their anger? Was that a suitable method of expression?
  2. Why do certain myths persist even when there is no basis in fact?

1/8 miles W and 1/8 miles S of
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west edge of Medora
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downtown Medora, ND 58654
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