November 20, 2020 — When people think of rustling in North Dakota, they usually think of cattle. That crime has a long history in the state, although it is not entirely in the past. As recently as May 2017, a man was charged with stealing four head of cattle. And cattle aren’t the only target. A crime much less familiar is grain rustling!

On November 21 in 1912, the Ward County Independent reported on an attempted theft of grain. Farmer John Bird lived about fifteen miles outside Kenmare. He suspected thieves had been raiding his granary, which was about a mile from the house. Between nine and ten o’clock at night, Bird went to the granary to lay in wait for the thief. Much to his surprise, he didn’t have to wait at all. He rounded the corner of the granary and came face to face with the culprit. The thief immediately opened fire with a revolver, hitting Bird twice in the shoulder. He then fled into the night.

Bird was able to reach his house, and his family sent for the doctor in Minot. Bird was in pain and suffered from loss of blood, but Dr. McClean said that unless blood poisoning set in, the victim was expected to fully recover.

Bird’s neighbors did not take the attack lightly. They formed a posse and galloped off to find the thief. But after searching all night, they came home empty handed. Bird and his brothers had their suspicions about who had taken the grain, which they estimated was about two hundred bushels.

And grain rustling, too, is not just a crime of the past. In 2012, a custom combiner admitted taking a semi-trailer load of corn worth more than $9,500 from a Hazelton farmer. He faced a felony charge. And in June 2017, a South Dakota man pleaded guilty for stealing $9,000 worth of grain from the elevator where he worked.

“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, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.

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