Dakota Datebook

The LaBonte Curse

written by Merry Helm

January 28, 2019 — Have you heard of North Dakota’s LaBonte curse?

Back in 1972, four men from Grafton were the world champions in the sport of curling for a little less than five seconds. They were Bob LaBonte Jr., Ray Morgan and “the Aasand brothers,” Frank and John. It was the third year in a row that a North Dakota team advanced to the world championships. In 1970, a different Grafton team won fourth in the world, and in 1971, a team from Edmore won the bronze. The gold eluded Grafton’s ‘72 team only because of an accident.

The world championships were in Germany that year, and the Grafton boys were playing Canada in the finals. When Canada’s last stone failed them, they took off their gloves to congratulate the Grafton team, and LaBonte leaped into the air to celebrate their 9 to 8 victory. Unfortunately, when he came back down, his legs slipped out from under him, he slid on the ice, and he brushed against Canada’s stone just enough to give the opponents another point. An extra end (or inning) was required to break the tie, and Canada ended up with the gold. North Dakota’s winning streak was over – hence, the LaBonte Curse.

The Last Lynching

written by Merry Helm

January 29, 2019 — The last illegal execution in North Dakota happened in Schaefer on this date in 1931 when a mob seized prisoner Charles Bannon and lynched him a half mile from the jail.

About a year earlier, in February, people had begun to notice that they hadn’t seen the Albert Haven family around. Bannon had just started working on the Haven farm, and when people asked him about the family, he said the Havens had gone to Oregon and that he was now renting the place. Friends thought it was strange that the family of six would just up and move without a word – and they had left behind a lot of their belongings.

By October, neighbors became suspicious when Bannon started selling off the family’s property. Bannon’s father, who had been helping his son take care of the farm, left about that time, saying that he was going to try to find the Haven family.

On December 2, James Bannon wrote to his son from Oregon, saying he couldn’t find the family, and he advised Charles to be careful and “do what is right.”

Soon after, authorities jailed young Charles for grand larceny and realized there was more to the story. Over the next few days, Charles broke down and, through three conflicting confessions, admitted that he had killed the family nine months before. On about February 10, the boys had been out milking cows when he and 18-year-old Daniel Haven got into a teasing match. He pointed his gun at Daniel and – he said – accidentally shot him. He got scared and then killed 14-year-old Leland, too. When their parents came out to investigate, Charles also ended up shooting them, as well as 2-month-old Mary and 2-year-old Charles.

Rumors flew, including one that Charles stabbed Mrs. Haven 15 times and then cut her in pieces in order to get her out of the house. It was also reported that the two year old was named after Bannon. It’s difficult to determine the truth, because Charles never went to trial. His confessions state that he shot Mrs. Haven outside and buried her, as well as the others, first in a haystack and then later around the farmstead. Bannon also maintained that he acted alone and that his father knew nothing about the killings. Nevertheless, authorities found James and put him in custody.

The father and son were moved to Schaefer, five miles from Watford City, the night of January 28. Arraignment would be the next morning. Sometime after midnight, approximately 75 men in masks broke into the jail and overpowered Deputy Sheriff Pete Hallan. Sheriff Thompson came out to investigate but was too late.

The mob battered open Charles Bannon’s cell door, dragged him out and locked the two lawmen into a cell with the elder Bannon and another prisoner.

The plan was to lynch Bannon on the farm where the family died, but a caretaker chased them off. So they hanged him from the Cherry Creek Bridge a half mile from the jail. Mob members were never identified, but there was a move to bring back the death penalty after that. It was reasoned that friends and neighbors of the Haven family knew that Bannon couldn’t be executed, so they were forced to take matters into their own hands. The measure didn’t pass.

And Bannon’s father? He claimed he had no knowledge of the murders – just like his son had said – but he received life in prison. He was pardoned 19 years later.

Henry Clay Hansbrough

written by Merry Helm

January 30, 2019 — Today is the birthday of Henry Clay Hansbrough, who was born in Illinois in 1848. President James Polk’s opponent for the presidency, Henry Clay, attended the wedding of Elisha Hansbrough and Sarah Hagan. As he rode off, he suggested they name their first boy after them. And they did.

The Hansbrough family could trace their roots on American soil back to 1640. Young Henry was preparing for college while living on his father’s farm in Kentucky when the Civil War broke out, closing Henry’s school.

The family moved to San Jose, California, where Hansbrough instead learned the print and newspaper trade. After working for The Chronicle in San Francisco for some time, Hansbrough had a short stint in the business in Wisconsin, but then relocated to Grand Forks where he established his own newspaper, The News.

In 1883, he sold it and moved to Creel City, in Dakota Territory, where he established The Interocean newspaper.

Hansbrough’s writings have revealed that he was in good stead with railroad tycoon, Jim Hill, who helped him out with an unusual favor. Hansbrough had become an adamant opponent of Heber Creel, the town’s founder, so he petitioned the U.S. Postal Service to open a second post office named “Devils Lake” in his publishing house. The Postal Service granted the favor and, a grand palatial building trimmed with Italian marble was erected just a few hundred feet away from the post office that already existed. It was put into use on January 10, 1884.

Operating under completely different names, the two offices caused a lot of confusion. There were also some threats, and a few months later, the Creel City Post Office closed its doors. To add insult to Heber Creel’s injury, residents voted that same year to change the town’s name to “Devils Lake” and, after incorporating, they elected Hansbrough the new mayor!

Henry next got into politics. In fact, he was the first person to represent the new state of North Dakota in the 51st Congress in 1889. Following that term, he served as U.S. Senator for 18 years.

In 1933, when he was 85, Hansbrough visited his friend and fellow maverick, Senator Gerald Nye, with an unusual request. He pointed out Nye’s Senate office window and said, “When I die, I want you to bury my ashes under that elm tree.”

Several months later, a shoebox arrived in Nye’s office. It was against the rules to bury anyone on the grounds, but Nye gathered some friends under the elm tree, said a prayer and scattered Henry Clay Hansbrough’s ashes; making him the only person to have an eternal resting place on Capitol Hill. His headstone is an elm tree that Nye always claimed was, from then on, healthier than any other tree on the Hill.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.

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