Dakota Datebook: Long-haired Morgan
September 9, 2019
During this week in 1884, a post office was established at Morganville on the old Bismarck-Ft. Stevenson stage route. In actuality, Morganville was nothing more than a farm located on the west edge of what is now Beulah, in Mercer County.
The owner and postmaster was an unusual man who went by various names: Frank C. Morgan, Morgan Spencer and Long-Haired Morgan.
Nobody seemed to know where he came from, but that he was well educated was apparent. Perhaps with a romantic notion of the western frontier, he had chosen a lifestyle of hunting and trapping. He was colorful and somewhat eccentric, wearing his black hair long and flowing. He always carried a bowie knife, an object that later led to a significant event in his life.
Morgan lived on Spring Creek in a cabin built of logs, rocks and sod. Inside, a trap door opened into a 300 foot tunnel, which ended in thick brush along the creek bank. With no explanation of the tunnel’s purpose, some neighbors began speculating Morgan was running from the law. Whether he was or not was never learned, but several years after Morgan established his post office, he disappeared.
In the early 1890s, Long-Haired Morgan abruptly reappeared with a traveling entertainment show. Now his black hair was tied back with a red bandana, and he dressed in heavily-fringed buckskin coats and gleaming black high-topped boots.
Having honed his skills, Morgan had put together a perilous knife-throwing act. His show booth consisted of a wall of planks, against which stood a pretty woman – his new wife – with her arms horizontally outstretched. Morgan would step back eight paces and select a bowie knife from his prop table. Then, one by one, he outlined her body with eighteen knives.
Morgan moved on with the show and reportedly wasn’t heard from again. However, word drifted back to Mercer County in the 1890s that his aim had tragically failed on one occasion– killing his wife.
In other news, on this date in 1920, the “Bismarck Tribune” published the following: “An empty county jail is proof that Burleigh county people are either very good or very clever. The jail has no prisoners from this county in its cells and has not had for some months. Several prisoners from a neighboring county are being kept here for safety.
“The district court calendar is all clear, as far as any prospects of filling the county’s jail are concerned, according to Charles J. Fisher, clerk of the court. The city police cell is empty,” the story continued, “and only a few stray ‘bums’ have occupied it through the whole summer. While a relatively large number of people have been brought into court and paid fines, the police have had slight use for the city lockup.
“But an empty jail has its disadvantages as well as benefits. For example, with a nice full jail there is always plenty of labor to clean up the courthouse yard, sprinkle the lawn, and do all manner of odd jobs. But now the jailer must do this himself.”
The story finished with, “No one offers any explanation for the present shortage of criminals. Prohibition cannot be blamed, as the state was dry before this year.
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.