Wednesday, April 2, 2014

On the Road to Bathgate, Act 4e: More on Ike Foster's Tenure as Sheriff

Sheriff I. J. Foster
Official Photo
My grandfather, Isaac J. Foster, served two, two-year terms as sheriff of Pembina County, North Dakota, from 1911 to 1915.  Since February, when we wrote at length about Ike's law enforcement career and his other devotions to public service, we've come across additional material on Sheriff Foster's tenure, which we offer here.

Here is a photo portrait of Ike from a Pembina County history book that lists and pictures of Pembina county sheriffs through the its date of publication. I don't know what you think, but the dude looks sheriff tough to me.

Bismarck Tribune, June 28, 1911
The first additional news item is on legal machinations prior the Ernest Stewart murder trial. As may be recalled, the state's attorney ran into serious evidentiary problems during the presentation of the prosecution's case. The defense was not required to proceed. The charges were dropped for the lack of sufficient evidence. The prosecution's inadequate preparation, failure to substantiate a charge of murder, and its late change of heart, is particularly perplexing, now we can see that from the beginning the defense had fully disclosed its theory of the case and litigation strategy.  
BATHGATE, N. D., June 28. -- The line of defense that will be employed by Ernest A. Stewart, former immigration officer at Neche, N. D. and who was arrested yesterday in Winnipeg charged with the murder of Phillip Worrall, was indicated by him in a statement to Sheriff Foster of Pembina county today.  
Stewart declares that the skeleton [of the alleged murder victim] that has been found and identified as that of Worrall is not, as a matter of fact, that of Worrall. Active preparation for this defense was made by Stewart this morning when he employed James Burke, a Bathgate attorney, to represent him. Stewart will make a hard fight for freedom and denies absolutely that he is guilty. In discussing the identity of the skeleton supposed to be that of Worrall, Stewart says the clothes found are not those worn by Worrall when he disappeared.
Whomever planted this news story made sure to mention Stewart had a wife and 16 year old daughter. Stewart's assistant is painted in a sympathetic light as well, another good litigation tactic, for potential jurors read papers. It may be recalled, that "family man" Ernest A. Stewart disclosed, the day after the prosecution dropped the case, he had months previous secretly divorced his faithful and fawning (during the trial) wife.

In North Dakota, wheat is the currency of the realm. That is the medium a conniving farm hand used to rob his employer of what he was due. Albert Gordon (later corrected to Gardiner and then Gardner) gave new meaning to the term "walking around money."

Bismarck Tribune, December 22, 1911
GRAND FORKS, Dec. 22. -- Sheriff Foster of Pembina county arrived in the city to take in charge Albert Gordon, who was arrested in this city charged with obtaining money under false pretenses.
Gordon was employed by Joseph James, a farmer near Bathgate, and had been sent to the elevator at Bathgate with two loads of wheat. The wheat was delivered, but contrary to his employer's orders he secured the money for it. Gordon drove back to the farm, quit his job, settled up with his employer and started for Grand Forks.
Mr. James learned that he had been paid for the wheat and started on a search for his dishonest farmhand. His description was given to the police and he was apprehended shortly after he arrived in the city. When taken to the city jail Gordon denied all of the accusations. The sheriff at Cavalier [Isaac Foster] was communicated with and Chief of Police Lowe was instructed to search the man and hold him.
Captain Sullivan "frisked" the man and and finally located two wads of bills in the toes of Gordon's shoes. One wad contained $60 and the other $25. With the finding of the money the man confessed to stealing it and admitted he had sold his employer's wheat. 
Confession in hand, the evidence firmed up rapidly and the wheels of justice moved swiftly in this case of the stolen wheat.

           CHARGED WITH 
               TAKING GRAIN

Bismarck Tribune, December 29, 1911

 BATHGATE, N. D., Dec. 29 --Albert Gardiner left the employ of Ben James on the plea that his mother was seriously ill and took the evening train for the south. That evening Henry A. Williams, who was also in the employ of Mr. James on the Tynder farm, came in and notified Mr. James that Gardiner had taken a load of wheat to Backoo and sold it. Mr. James telegraphed the police at Grand Forks, who arrested Gardiner on his getting off the train at that point and he was brought back to this place by Deputy Sheriff Sonderman. He had a preliminary hearing before Justice Howard, was bound over to the district court and in the absence of bonds was taken to the Grafton jail. He made the statement that he was not the only one interested and that he and Williams had sold two loads of wheat and divided the money.Williams was arrested and on appearing before Justice Howard waived examination and was also sent to jail at Grafton in the absence of bonds. Both of the men confessed to Mr. James that the wheat had been taken by them so the cases seem pretty clear. States Attorney McMuchie was here and conducted the cases for the state.
Then less than three weeks after the crime, and initial arrest, Gardner was sentenced and imprisoned.

Bismarck Tribune, January 5, 1912



Brought Albert Gardner to State Prison to Serve One Year and Six Months for Grain Theft.
Late last evening I. J. Foster, sheriff of Pembina county and Guard Fred Radke, arrived here and delivered into the hands of Warden Hellstron, Albert Gardner, a young German farm hand who confessed to stealing $135 worth of wheat from his employer on December 24th and who was sentenced to the penitentiary for one year and six months.
Another man, Henry William, who has a wife and six children, was implicated in the theft and is now out under $500 bonds for the same crime. He would not plead guilty and his case will come up later in district court. 
"Both," Mr. Foster said, "were in the deal and stole about $135 worth of wheat from the owner of the farm, Benjamin James, and sold it." 
"Judgment was swift and sure in this case," he continued, "and Judge Kneeshaw came over from his home and quickly helped the matter along."
The Bismarck Tribune published, on the same day, a folksy note about Guard Radke.

Bismarck Tribune, January 5, 191w
Fred Radke, who came to this city last evening as assistant to Sheriff I. J. Foster is one of the bonanza farmers of Pembina county and has 1000 acres under cultivation. He is also one of the believers in up-to-date methods and keeps his farm up to the highest state of production possible and gives much of his time to study scientific ways and means of farming.
He was very much pleased with the city of Bismarck and said that it had grown beyond his expectations. Also that the spirit of progress is a live wire here.
I. J. Foster used the occasion of taking into custody two prisoners who had stolen more conventional valuables, to lament the absence of a jail in Cavalier (a central location where the county seat had recently moved from Pembina).
Bismarck Tribune, December 23, 1911
Sheriff Foster of Pembina county was in Bismarck yesterday, having in charge two prisoners, Peter Kline and Ray Buell, who were found guilty of breaking into and robbing a store at Drayton, N. D., and stealing fifteen watches and other valuables.
Kline got one year and the other 18 months in the penitentiary here.
"We have no jail in our city," said the sheriff, "but we keep our prisoners in the Grafton jail and we have none now, but expect to have a prisoner [Albert Gordon] tomorrow who stole 75 bushels of wheat from a farmer.
"We expect to begin the work of building a new court house and jail early next spring and have it completed by the coming fall. It will cost about $150,000. Everything up in our section of the state is in good shape."
The following week the state capital newspaper noted that Sheriff Foster "made a complete jail delivery" when he brought to the state penitentiary in Bismarck the last of his prisoners "to serve time for robbing stores at Drayton."

Bismarck Tribune, December 29, 1911

Bismarck Tribune, January 8, 1912
The absence of a proper jail was no bar to county officials settling in their new Cavalier digs. The Bismarck Tribune said all of the county officials were comfortable in their new home.
CAVALIER, Jan. 8, -- All of the county officials are comfortably, if not commodiously settling in their respective offices and ready to take care of the country's business. All are more or less behind in their work, owing to the removal from Pembina. Auditor Felson and Treasurer Gibson are occupying the same office rooms while Register of Deeds Roadhouse and Sheriff Foster have a suite of rooms in the rear of the building -- also working together. Clerk of Court Winslaw and Judge Vick occupy the upper floor and Superintendent of Schools Burley has a house in the same block but on another street, and States Attorney Short has an abstract office over the shoe store next the Farmers and Merchants Bank.
Johnson is still janitor of the "court house."
That summer Sheriff Foster let it be known he was upset about "the blind pig operations" in Pembina county. He wanted to wipe them out.
Bismarck Tribune, July 9, 1912
If one were to assume this rant foretold Ike's appointment to the state Sanitary Livestock Board, where he was charged with eradicating infectious disease among stock animals, one would be totally wrong. A "blind pig" operation is a low class speakeasy. Speakeasies were so named because patrons and purveyors would speak softly about such operations so as not to alert the police or authorities of their existence. A "blind pig" operation is so named because proprietors would charge customers for the dubious privilege of observing a freakish animal, such as a blind pig, and then offer liquor for "free," to evade taxes on or prohibitions against the sale of alcoholic beverages.  

Pembina county's spate of thefts and the highly publicized murder trial in 1911 were followed by a dry spell in 1912.

Bismarck Tribune, July 12, 1912
Bathgate Pink Paper: Sheriff Foster informed us that there had not been a single jail prisoner in this county for the first six months of the year. We asked Ike whether it was because the sheriff was a little easy or because our people was so law-abiding. He laughed and said it was not his fault for in prisoners there were fees for sheriff and for his sake he wished somebody would start a mild sort of row some place. We have a right to feel, as Sheriff Foster does, a pride that our people are so unanimous in desiring the ways of peace and that they show so much respect for the law of the land in which they live.
As will become clear when we publish additional posts on Isaac's auctioneer/real estate and farming/ranching careers, the sheriff's post, while intense at times, was very much a part time job. Ike's auction business, in particular, boomed during his tenure as sheriff.

I. J. Foster was up for re-election in 1912.  He ran unopposed, which encouraged ticket splitting.

Bismarck Tribune, October 30, 1912
As an offspring of the 11th and youngest of Ike Foster's kids I would like to thank heartily Mr. Wardwell for his grudging support.

After the elections, the Bismarck Tribune published the statewide roster of recently victorious officials in the 50 counties across the state. Isaac is designated below as a "d." in Democrat, for the office of Sheriff. 

Bismarck Tribune, January 11, 1913
Ike's party fought upstream that year. Statewide, offices were 83 percent filled by Repulicans and 17 percent Democrat.  

With the drought in criminality, we have but a single new item from Ike's second term as Sheriff.  

Bismarck Tribune, December 12, 1913
Edward Donnelly of Bathgate was arrested on complaint of his wife for drunkeness and non-support, earning him the honor of being one of the first occupants of the new county jail.  

As for what is coming next, within the next week or so we should finish an extended post on my great uncle George S. Foster -- politician, lawyer and banker. Our research has also uncovered sufficient material to write posts on my Aunt Bina and Uncle Adams (I originally despaired of finding any materials on Adams). I'll publish on Adams later this month. The materials I have on Bina are from the first half of her far too short adult life.  I have leads on second half materials, but following up on the leads involves using the inter-library loan system to get microfiche reels transferred from Bismarck, before going through them page by page, which will take some time.


  1. Looks like such a different world in N.D. versus Las Vegas, NV. You guys can actually show legit pride in your sheriffs! I have nothing but disdain for ours out here. Corruption in arrest practices, use of force, entry into the police department, etc. plague our once great city. The list goes on and on.