“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Medora in Billings County, North Dakota — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)

Law Enforcement

Law Enforcement Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bill Coughlin, July 20, 2015
1. Law Enforcement Marker
From its formation in 1879 to its official organization on April 12, 1886, Billings County had no county offices or officials. All administrative duties were performed through the Morton County Courthouse at Mandan, some 130 miles to the east.

The absence of a local lawman during the early boom years of Little Missouri and Medora resulted in the towns gaining a wide reputation as hell-roaring Wild West towns. This reputation was exaggerated in the press, but shootings did occur and at least two men were killed in gunfights: William S. Livingston on July 17, 1881, and William Riley Luffsey on June 26, 1883.

Fred Willard, a young man who came to town with experience as a lawman and gunfighter, was appointed a Deputy U.S. Marshal in June 1885, and immediately posted notice that shooting in town was prohibited. With the organization of Billings County the following year, Willard was elected the first sheriff.

The only Billings County officer to die in the line of duty was Sheriff Fred Patrikus, who was shot by a Minnesota fugitive on August 20, 1940. Patrikus died five days later.

Medoraís Hanging Tree
While there is no record of an actual lynching ever occurring in Medora, the town received notoriety for its “Hanging Tree.” The photograph above was taken in December, 1895, in
Law Enforcement Marker image. Click for full size.
By Bill Coughlin, July 20, 2015
2. Law Enforcement Marker
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 Seversonís body in the corral, and without suspicion substantiated the manner of death. While neighbors were dressing the body for burial, however, they discovered a bullet hole in his chest.

Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth proclaimed their innocence, but their 15-year-old ranch hand Harry Roehm confessed that Wadsworth had paid him $200 to shoot Steverson, and was present at the killing. Harry 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 Seversonís death – the jury found the defendants not guilty. Medora residents expressed their 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.

Following the acquittal, Mark Wadsworth and his wife stayed for a short time at Dickinson, then sold their property,
Markers in Medora image. Click for full size.
By Bill Coughlin, July 20, 2015
3. Markers in Medora
Two markers can be found at this location. The Law Enforcement marker is seen here on the right.
and left the area.
(Marker Number 11.)
Location. 46° 54.779′ N, 103° 31.373′ W. Marker is in Medora, North Dakota, in Billings County. Marker is on 3rd Street north of Pacific Avenue, on the right when traveling north. Click for map. Marker is located in front of Billings County Court House Museum. Marker is in this post office area: Medora ND 58645, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Billings County Courthouse (here, next to this marker); CCC Camp (within shouting distance of this marker); American Indian Leaders (within shouting distance of this marker); Western Entertainment (within shouting distance of this marker); Von Hoffman House (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Medora Education (about 400 feet away); Margaret Roberts (about 400 feet away); Hunting and Trapping (about 500 feet away). Click for a list of all markers in Medora.
More about this marker. Photographs of Sheriff Fred Patrikus and the revolver which fatally wounded him appear on the marker. The photo of the Hanging Tree that is described on the marker is also depicted.
Categories. Settlements & Settlers
Billings County Court House Museum image. Click for full size.
By Bill Coughlin, July 20, 2015
4. Billings County Court House Museum
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey. This page has been viewed 174 times since then and 83 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on , by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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