September 15, 2020 — According to the dictionary, yegg is a slang term for: a thief, especially a burglar or safecracker.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

It was on this day in 1923 that several quick-moving yeggs made the headlines, which read, “Safes Blown in 2 North Dakota Banks; Bandits Get $5,000 Loot – Vaults Damaged by Explosives: Currency, Silver and Liberty Bonds Taken by Yeggs.”

Early that morning, between two and four robbers cut the telephone wires on the east and west side of Golden Valley, about 80 miles northwest of Bismarck. They also cut the Northern Pacific telegraph wires. Their target was the Farmers Bank of Golden Valley.

A newspaper report read, “Persons living near the bank reported today that they heard two explosions in the bank between 2:30 and 3 a.m. today, but thought the noise was caused by neighbors shooting at marauding cats and paid no more attention to it.”

The robbery wasn’t discovered until W.A. Maurault, the cashier, went to open the bank that morning. As the robbers had planned, someone had to drive seven miles east to Zap in order to report the crime, since all the communication lines were down.

It was thought that the bank robbers had driven west in a red getaway car. This news reached some people who had driven to Golden Valley from Kildeer soon after the time of the robbery; they contacted the State’s Attorney to say they had met a car matching that description and that it was “tearing along the road at terrific speed.”

News of another bank robbery came out that same morning, reading, “Yeggs last night blew open the vault in the Coulee State Bank, (11 miles SE of Kenmare), rifled the contents in the safety deposit boxes and fled after a futile effort had been made to open the safe containing the currency and other valuables of the bank, according to word received in Minot this morning. The loss as a result of the robbery is unknown.”

As in the Golden Valley heist, all wires leading into the little town of Coulee were cut before the robbery took place. In both cases, there was a significant amount of damage from explosives.

It was speculated that two of the safecrackers had actually been in custody just ten days earlier. Fred Rover and Theodore Dvorak had been arrested in McLaughlin, S.D., for robbing a store at McIntosh on the Standing Rock Reservation. The two men admitted they were guilty, and they were jailed in McIntosh, just south of the North Dakota state line.

Meanwhile, investigators realized Rover and Dvorak matched the descriptions of two perpetrators who had earlier robbed a bank in Hebron. The case against them was strong, so Morton County officials set out for McIntosh to pick them up. But by the time they arrived, the two men had escaped. A dragnet was dispatched, but Rover and Dvorak slipped through. They had since been spotted around Werner, near Golden Valley, but not apprehended.

If all three robberies were carried out by the same people, they had traveled from the south edge of the state, to the north edge, and then back down to the middle before they were last seen heading west.

“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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