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When John Dillinger Came to Humboldt

This bustling little town during the 20's served a large farming community. Saturday night farmers and locals met in the post office-store to buy groceries,dry goods even some farm equipment and also for local socializing. There were restaurants, a bank, hotel, grain elevator, a Great Northern depot, even a gas station. There were hitching posts strategically placed for the farmers horses with their carriages, sleighs, wagons. My family and the Leonard Sylvester family (Laura Hare) and George Hare's family and sometimes others would gather later at my grandmother's home. The conversation would go on for hours and we kids would lie on her living room carpet and finally fall asleep.

In those days communication was lacking.

People were without cars and telephones but some of us did have radios. I distincly remember dad and I squeezing our heads together each with one ear phone to listen to ball games and Amos and Andy with me slipping out as soon as the news came on. A gas station whose owners ( maybe Mr Brown) with vision opened in Humboldt mainly to pick up quite a bit of traffic heading to the huge city of Emerson, Manitoba, Canada about 9 miles to the north.   Incidentally my dad purchased the first car in the area. I recall riding in it full of childish pride when stopping for gas. Soon Humboldt had more Ford cars.

Emerson at that time was the capitol city of the province of Manitoba and later the capitol was moved to Winnipeg. It was a real boom town with several hotels which served also as dining rooms. Small ships came up the Red River to drop passengers off and pick them back up at Emerson. Liquor was plentiful with apparently few restrictions for buying it and for bootlegging it across the border into the U.S. The town was lively, high living abounded.

AN ASIDE : When we were married in 1938, the city officials approached my husband about buying the rather old dilapidated governor's mansion which sat on a beautifully treed half block lot. The city had an indigenous family living in it that they were caring for unable to pay rent and certainly not paying taxes either. Charlie was twenty -five years old, stable, dependable and well trained in construction in every aspect of buiding a home from basement through roof and final finishing except for electricity. This was deep depression and Charlie said I have no money. But they insisted saying give us $20.00 down and pay the balance of their small asking price as you are able. They knew he would fix it up and also be paying taxes. We acquired this property and the city had a burden off their hands.

John Dillinger came into this setting. The best I can remember it was an early fall morning in 1927. A new home and farm buidings had been built between our farm and Humboldt. Now the Minnesota mud highway 75 had some sand on it probably hauled in from the ridge east of Lancaster. My mother decided to walk to town. She was a little past the new Baldwin farm when she noticed this man walking south toward her. He seemed to come from nowhere and kept looking back toward town. She became nervous and walked back to the Baldwin driveway and watched him . Soon a Ford coupe came along with a man and woman in it and picked him up. She then left the driveway and proceeded into town. Upon her arrival she was surrounded by folks who asked if she had seen John Dillinger. Shocked she said she guessed she had and then told them about her experience. They seemed to think he had been hiding under the train depot. With the apparent lack of outside communication I have often wondered how the message of his possible whereabouts reached them.

No doubt the other two had been in Emerson buying liquor but he dare not try to cross the border. Certainly the timing for pick-up had been preplanned.

Following that incident our home had lots of company in the evenings and my dad's hitching post was busy. Naturally the conversation always centered on Dillinger. At bedtime I waas told to retire. Their bedroom was in the downstairs but for me that meant opening the door, closing it again, going up long, steep steps then a right turn and traversing a long hall to my bedroom. Our home was large, with a huge attic with steps leading to it. I was a scared little girl; several times mother found me asleep on the first few steps. Looking back one wonders why they didn't realize how much their talk affected me.

Margaret M Patzer 1-23-03