'The first draft of history': how in-depth Press coverage informed a true-crime podcast

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, three linked fatalities occurred on the Western Edge, and The Dickinson Press was there to cover it all in-depth. More than a century later, Dickinson Museum Center Director Bob Fuhrman pieces together the story for listeners of his True Crime Dickinson podcast.

Robert Furhman standing in the Dickinson Museum Center. (File Image/The Dickinson Press)

In 1904, The Press covered an extensive murder trial with a lengthy jury selection process that included 90 people, nearly 50 witnesses and two ranchers who knew one another - one deceased, one accused.

Dickinson Museum Center's latest True Crime Dickinson podcast centers around a Norwegian immigrant turned prominent rancher and the in-depth coverage of his murder trial, plus two other linked fatalities.

"Ole Ziner ... is involved in a family spat in 1890 where one of his brothers dies. Then, in 1904, Olie actually is a murder victim, and the next year, there's another death related to the case," said Bob Fuhrman, Museum Coordinator & Historic Preservationist for the City of Dickinson.

This story, like the others in the podcast, began with The Dickinson Press.

"When I got here three and a half years ago, I was really tickled to find that the early years of The Dickinson Press were included in the Library of Congress' Chronicling America series," Fuhrman said. "They have taken several newspapers throughout the country and digitized spans of them, so The Dickinson Press is online from 1883 to 1917. It's a searchable archive. I primarily used it ... for building research ... but every once in awhile I'll tie into a subject and search and just start to bring together some of what the fourth estate has put together ... We always call newspapers the first draft of history."


He searched the word "murder" and came up with several interesting results.

"It's been a real interesting journey to learn about the local history through those types of research projects," Fuhrman said.

The 1904 trial for the murder of Ziner was covered in-depth by the weekly newspaper The Dickinson Press.

"Rough estimate, they were probably putting over 60% of their news column space to covering the trial," Fuhrman said. "The first week, they cover the selection of the jury - and this is really interesting - they called 65 people for the jury pool, and they go through them all and haven't seated a 12-man jury (it's all men at this time). So they send the sheriff out to find another 10 people, and he literally goes out in the street and grabs people. The sheriff's a pretty smart guy, so he brings 15 back. That takes it up to 80. They go through those 15 and they still don't have a complete panel, so he goes and gets another 10."

A total of 90 people were considered to be part of the 12-man jury, and there's a record of every one of them. A Press reporter covered the jury selection from the court room and wrote a short blurb about each one. They weren't selected for a variety of reasons; some didn't speak English well enough to follow the proceedings; some had business dealings with the victim or the accused; some had opinions about the law.

"It gives us a chance to learn a bit about a lot of people in the Dickinson community. Some of them aren't even just from Dickinson; they're pulled off the street because they're in town to do business," Fuhrman said.

In the second week, the jury heard from at least 47 witnesses in the case, including character witnesses.

"Several of them were recalled more than once during the testimony to clarify items from other people's testimony," Fuhrman said. "It goes on a good long time. The Press is there for two weeks running, covering it all. The Press even gets compliments. The Bismarck paper publishes a compliment on how thorough The Press' coverage is of the case. I was just so surprised to see that kind of detail in a newspaper."


The coverage provides a look into what court proceedings of the time period were like.

There were photographs and maps of the crime scene, and the jury actually went to the crime scene. They were in court six days a week and would even go into evening sessions. The two accessories in the case were incarcerated in Bismarck while they awaited trial in Dickinson, although the crime occurred in what is now Dunn County. The county was not yet organized for government or court.

Ole Ziner was well-known in Dickinson and the surrounding areas - part of the reason it took so long to find a jury.

"Ole ... he and his brothers, they came to Wisconsin when they were very young and moved out to North Dakota in the early 1880's. They eventually filed homestead claims on land. Ole eventually gathered some more parcels together and became a pretty successful rancher," Furhman said.

He opened a meat market in Taylor and one later in Dickinson. He had business in Richardton as well, where he and his brothers attended church. His ranch was in Dunn County on land around Ziner's Butte.

The podcast began during the COVID-19 quarantine when the museum's paleontologist, Dr. Denver Fowler, asked him about it. Fowler had been doing some videos based on their work in the lab.

"Denver and I had chatted about some of these cases before, and some of them are just kind of quirky and interesting. He said, 'Are there any of these cases that you've researched?' So I thought about it, and we did our first one (podcast) on a cowboy shootout down in McGillivray Corner, which is the corner of Villard and Sims Street," Fuhrman said.

You can watch the podcast on the Dickinson Museum Center's Facebook page , their website or coming soon to Youtube.

Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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