North Dakota’s Last Lynching

In the early morning hours of January 29, 1931, a mob broke into the small stone jail at Schafer, North Dakota, and seized Charles Bannon and hanged him from a nearby bridge. It was North Dakota’s last lynching.

Bannon, who was 22 years old, was in the Schafer jail to be arraigned on charges he murdered the six members of the Haven family. His father, James Bannon, was also confined in the Schafer jail, awaiting arraignment as an accomplice to the murder.

A farm family disappears The Haven family lived on a farm about a mile north of Schafer. The family had five members: Albert, 50, Lulia, 39, Daniel, 18, Leland, 14, Charles, 2, and Mary, 2 months old. The family had lived on their farm more than ten years. No member of the family was seen alive after February 9, 1930.

Bannon had worked as a hired hand for the Havens. He stayed on the farm after the family disappeared, claiming that he had rented the place. He told neighbors that the family had left the area for Oregon.

Bannon’s father James joined him at the farm in February 1930. Together, they worked the land and cared for the livestock.

Neighbors became suspicious after Bannon started selling off Haven family property and crops. Bannon’s father then left, saying that he was going to try to find the Haven family in Oregon. James wrote a letter to Bannon from Oregon, in which he advised Bannon to watch his step and “do what is right.” This letter later led authorities to implicate James.

In December 1930, Bannon was jailed on grand larceny charges. In the course of the investigation, authorities discovered that the Haven family had been murdered.

The hired hand confesses On December 12, 1930, Bannon gave a statement in which he admitted involvement in killing the Haven family, but claimed a “stranger” acted as instigator.

The next day, in a lengthy confession, Bannon admitted killing the Haven family in a violent fracas that followed Bannon’s accidental shooting of the eldest child, Daniel. Bannon suggested in this confession that he was forced to kill Leland, Lulia and Albert Haven because they tried to kill Bannon after he shot Daniel. Authorites tracked down his father James in Oregon, who was extradited back to North Dakota.

In a final confession he admitted killing the rest of the Haven family after accidentally shooting Daniel because he was scared. Bannon tried to convince authorities that his father James knew nothing about the murders. Nonetheless, the authorities kept James in custody.

Waiting in the Schafer jail On the night of January 28, 1931, a crowd of men in masks arrived at the jail looking for Bannon.

Flickering lights woke Sheriff Syvert Thompson, who lived near the jail, and he went to investigate. The mob captured him and led him away from the jail. The crowd was said to number at least 75 men in at least 15 cars.

The mob battered down the front door of the jail and overpowered the deputy. After he refused to tell them where the keys to Bannon’s cell were, the mob began work battering down the cell door. After the mob broke the door down, Bannon surrendered and pleaded that his father not be harmed.

Members of the mob brought in a rope and placed a noose around Bannon’s neck and dragged him from the jail.

They first took Bannon to the nearby Haven farm, planning apparently to hang him on the spot the family died, but the caretaker chased them off. They moved to the bridge over Cherry Creek and pushed him over the side of the bridge with the noose still around his neck.

Governor George Shafer called the lynching “shameful” and ordered an immediate investigation. The investigation concluded that “the lynching was well-planned in advance” with “three or more leaders, and the noose had been tied by “someone with expert knowledge.” The state investigation, however, was not fruitful: no member of the lynch mob was ever arrested

Bannon’s father, James, was tried for the Haven murders and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He was released by the state in when he was 76-years-old. At the time of the Haven murders, Schafer was county seat of McKenzie County. Today, all that remains of Schafer is a cluster of buildings, including an abandoned school and the Schafer jail building. A sign stands next to the jail, outlining the history of the jail and the events of January 29, 1931.Schafer is approximately five miles east of Watford City on North Dakota Highway 23. From www.ndcourts.gov

Caption: State’s Attorney J.S. Taylor, accused killer Charles Bannon, Williams County Deputy Sheriff Earl Gorden and Sheriff Charles Jacobson

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