Two cowboys squaring off with revolvers, card games gone awry and mid-street shootouts have become synonymous with American frontier history and have been ingrained in the fabric of the Wild West. Many of the most famous tales are nothing more than embellished fables that captured the minds of the masses through dime novels and magazines like Harper's Weekly in the late 19th and early 20th century.
One such story, buried deep in Dickinson’s historic past, has proven to be more truth than fable, according to Robert Furhman, the museum coordinator of the Dickinson Museum Center.
While North Dakota isn’t typically viewed as being part of the Wild West mythology known to most, one incident in the spring of 1888 is the subject of a forthcoming podcast produced by Furhman. The podcast will take listeners back in time to a small railroad town in the Dakota Territory, amid the rolling hills and Badlands near Dickinson, where two cowboys were pitted in a violent fight to the death.
The upcoming live podcast, “True Crime Dickinson: Cowboy Shootout at McGillivray Corner,” will be broadcast April 3 at 8 p.m. on the Dickinson Museum Center Facebook page.
According to Furhman, these uncertain times present a perfect opportunity to recount a bit of Dickinson’s past and share the story of the first Western-style shootout in Dickinson.
“It was really just a desire to give people some content, history related content during this kind of weird time we’re in,” Furhman said. “Obviously, the museum is closed and so trying to put some things out there on the web is probably the best way to reach people.”
The story will focus on two cowboys, Jasper Hultz and Frank Chase. Records show the two men knew each other and despite their acquaintance and attempts at being cordial, tumbled down a path of bad blood. After a long night of liquor and cards, the two cowboys came to a head on a late spring night.
A series of seemingly fate driven events would lead to the two squaring up and a shootout would leave one cowboy dead and another in irons.
Furhman has been researching this historic tale since 2017, and with the help of the Library of Congress has uncovered more than he expected. His research through historical textbooks, newspapers, diaries and more will -- after more than 132 years -- bring the events of that fateful week and day into the homes of listeners.
“The Chronicling American Project provides some newspapers, and there’s some from every state and they’re searchable … and that’s how I stumbled across [the story],” he said. “Newspapers like the Independent Record, out of Helena, Montana, talked about incidents with them before the shooting and then after there were a couple of things that were picked up in the St. Paul Daily Globe, the Mitchell Capital, out of what is now South Dakota, Bismarck Weekley Tribune carried it as well and then the New Ulm Minnesota Weekly picked it up.”
Without spoiling the series, Furhman said that listeners would be shocked to learn how our justice system in the Dakotas wasn’t like it is today and that the typical sequence of events after a crime wasn’t the way things were done -- especially in a small town that was dealing with its first ever Western shootout.
“The thing that grabbed me about the story besides, ‘it’s the first Western shootout in Dickinson,’ was trying to pull together the accurate sequence of events based on the testimony of 10 different people,” Furhman said. “At first I said to myself, ‘Bob, you got the coroner's inquest here, this is going to be great,’ but it was confusing. It really was. The coroner called people as he saw fit, not necessarily knowing what they were going to tell him.”
Furhman continued, “Bringing the story together was the most surprising. Knowing it was going to be difficult, and it was to a certain extent, but it was also fascinating to get insight to how that part of the legal process worked in the Dakota Territory at that time.”
Furhman didn’t share any of the twists and turns of the case, nor information pertaining to the shootout or what charges and outcomes were dealt — and for good reason, a story is best told without the audience knowing the end.
Furhman did share that many in the community would be surprised to know that the shootout took place in a well-known location in downtown Dickinson.
“We’ll be mentioning the location of it at the podcast because there’s a building there today,” he said. “Everybody who knows downtown Dickinson will know the location.”
The podcast will begin promptly at 8 p.m., which Furman said was purposeful, but for those that are unable to watch the live broadcast on Facebook, Furhman stated the live video will then be added to the Dickinson Museum Center Youtube page to be viewed at any time.
“The reason we picked 8 p.m. is because we are talking about some adult type of stuff,” he said. “There’s some violence, we’re talking about activities that aren’t necessarily real wholesome or kid friendly. So we purposefully chose to go into the early evening for this.”
Furhman hopes that with this podcast, the Dickinson community will be able to take their mind away from the current epidemic and question what other kinds of history lurk within the streets, alleys and shadows of Dickinson’s past.
“Maybe some people will drive through the area where it happened and maybe they’ll stop and get out and kind of look at the buildings in the area and say, ‘this was the place,’” he said. “Maybe they’ll start to be a little intrigued about what this town is around them. Maybe they’ll say, ‘Dickinson is not just a place to live, but it’s a place with a lot of history.’”
For more information log onto Facebook.com and check out the Dickinson Museum Center page.