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South Haven Bandit Raid
Annandale Advocate - September 30, 2003
by Church Sterling

South Haven shootout recalled – Citizen posse brought gang to justice

By Chuck Sterling

A hundred Octobers have come and gone since a posse of area citizens chased down and captured a gang of outlaws in a shootout near South Haven.  What’s become known as the South Haven Bandit Raid took place 100 years ago Thursday, October 2.  None of the participants are around to recall the episode, but the original news story from the fragile, yellowing pages of the Annandale Advocate-Post survives.  The event is also remembered in a collection of Minnesota stories.  The backdrop to the raid was a series of thefts in the Annandale area in the weeks before, according to the Thursday, Oct. 8, 1903, Advocate-Post.  “Several cellars were robbed of eatables, and stuff was stolen from the railway construction crew’s car.”  Merle Potter, a reporter for the Minneapolis Star, wrote years later in his “101 Best Stories of Minnesota” that roving gangs of ruffians were terrorizing many communities in the state, robbing stores and farm houses.  “One of these gangs was operating in Wright County, helping itself generously to whatever it fancied,” according to Potter, whose story was reprinted in the 1935 “Condensed History of Wright County.”

Then on Wednesday, Sept. 30, the newspaper said, a stranger picked out a suit at H. Theodore Gunnary’s general merchandise store on Main Street in Annandale and promised to come back for it the next day.  That night the store was broken into and the suit and other men’s clothing valued at $60.20 were taken.  By Friday morning, Oct. 2, Gunnary heard that six suspicious characters were living in a Soo Line boxcar in South Haven and trying to sell some clothing.  He went there, recognized his property and telegraphed the sheriff at Buffalo.  Sheriff W. G. Young, Deputy John Nugent Jr. and county attorney W.H. Cutting took the train from Buffalo and were joined by constables Walters of Annandale and Rinehart Marquardt at South Haven.

They caught one of the men outside the boxcar, then climbed in to arrest the others.  The bandit leader said they would go with the lawmen after having their dinner, the Advocate-Post story said.  “Sheriff Young was just explaining that dinner would be given them at the hotel, when five Colt revolvers gleamed in his face.  “Hold up your hands …, one of the bandits said.  “Get out of this car!”  The sheriff and Nugent were struck on the head with revolver butts and they and Marquardt were disarmed.  Walters had managed to slip away.  The bandit leader fired point blank at Young and the bullet grazed his cheek, lodging in the elevator wall behind him.  Potter told a different version of how the gang got the drop on the lawmen.  A bandit had crept up on Nugent and banged him over the head.  That distracted Young, who briefly glanced away from the man he was covering.  “When he turned back, he found four guns pointed directly at him.  When ordered to throw up his hands, he discreetly accepted the advice.”   Potter also wrote that “the bandits lined their captives up against the elevator and had great sport making silhouettes of them against the building with bullets for artistic materials.

South Haven citizens realized what was happening and chased the gang east down the tracks, the newspaper said.  County attorney Cutting ordered them to stop and fired several shots from a small revolver, but they replied with .45 caliber Colts.  There were no rifles in South Haven, so neighboring towns and farms were phoned and eventually 25 or more armed men responded.  According to Potter, “One party commandeered a hand car and sped down the Soo railroad tracks in the direction the bandits had taken.  Others joined the chase on horseback and buggies.” 

The outlaws had been headed off in a woods near Lake Sylvia by South Haven village president Alex Kersten and his brother Frank, who had outrun them and taken an occasional shot with small revolvers, the Advocate-Post said.  Reinforcements strengthened a cordon around the woods and Nugent led a group of 12 to 15 men in to find the gang.  The bandits fired on the posse, which returned fire.  “A general fusilade followed so quickly that the robbers never got in a second shot,” according to the Advocate-Post.  Potter’s story again told a different version.  “For some time the struggle continued furiously,” he wrote.  The paper reported four of the bandits were badly hurt.  Gerald Shannon, the gang leader, who was the customer at Gunnary’s store, died within minutes.  Two others were slightly injured, one in the leg and the other in the elbow.  None of the citizens was hurt.

The surviving outlaws were identified as Frank Moran, Edward Rice, James Martin, Tom Burns and James Desmond.  They pleaded guilty to assault charges and were sent to Stillwater State Penitentiary.  Several railroad torpedoes and some dynamite were later found in the gang’s boxcar…