Law and Order

George Herbert Rahier, wife Hattie (Trafton), children Nellie Myrtle George Alvin. Hattie is holding baby Doris. Photograph was taken in front of their home in Busti Township in April 1910. Their log home has wooden eve troughs and hand split cedar shingles. An addition was added as family grew. There is a homemade vise in front. It was constructed with a three foot tree trunk. There is a saw slot lengthways in the stump. Using to separate at the bottom & a bolt at the top to be tighten to hold items. ~ Knotts Family Collection.

1911 Murder of George Herbert Rahier - Part I

The unsolved murder of George Herbert Rahier has been a family story for generations. Though it is not exactly my family, I believe I can claim some ownership because my grandmother’s sister married a nephew of the victim.

George Herbert’s father is also named George (as well as a few other Rahiers) so I will continue to use his middle name for clarity.

The Murder

On Wednesday July 19, 1911 George Herbert left his wife and three children at their home in Busti Township, northeast of Effie, with the promise of a blueberry picking holiday if the berries were ripe. Such an event meant they would bring everything with them that they needed to harvest and can the berries. A hopeful expectation was to preserve one hundred quart jars to be used in the winter.

Hattie Rahier wasn’t surprised when her husband hadn’t returned by night fall. With no way to communicate, the couple had an understanding that his trips to the woods, whether for game, fish or fruit, could also take him to visit his sister or one of the other relatives who lived nearby.

George Herbert did not return the next day, and by that night Hattie began to worry. By Saturday evening the rest of his family and many friends agreed that something must have happened. Checking with the outlying neighbors yielded no sightings so a search party was organized for Sunday morning. It was thought that he had lost his footing as he crossed the log jam at Camp Two and fallen between the logs. The log jam was examined very carefully without results.

The following day the search party grew, and the perimeters were widened. “By this time many people came from all directions through the woods, all being accustomed to woods travel. Nelson Phillips Jr., better known as Pete, found George’s packsack so the search was centered near that place and the body was located. After examining the body, the searchers found two bullet wounds. The coroner was called and everyone concerned insisted on an investigation.” [On the Banks of the Bigfork (1956) by Dorothy Manske]

The body of George Herbert was found on Monday July 24 which would have been his 36th birthday. After the preliminary inquest conducted by Sheriff Riley, Coroner Herreid and County Attorney Phinney at the home of Ole Paulson, in Busti Township, it was decided that a full inquest was necessary.

The Rahier Migration

George Herbert was one of the many Rahiers who homesteaded in Itasca County. Born in Wright County, Minnesota, he was about 15 years of age when his parents, George and Pauline (Maurice), moved to Scandia Valley, Morrison County. Here they homesteaded on a quarter section of land. George Herbert worked with his father to clear the property and establish a farm. He was in his early twenties when he met Harriet “Hattie” Nora Trafton. Shortly after Hattie’s seventeenth birthday they got married. The couple lived with George Herbert’s parents and his younger siblings for several years.

When land was made available for homesteading in northern Itasca County in about 1901, there were quite a few young men from Wright County, where the Rahiers still had relatives, who were interested. Hordes of single and married men, including some of George Herbert’s relatives took the train to Deer River (as far north as it would go at the time) with the intention of working in the woods for the winter and finding a 160-acre parcel to file a homestead on.

In fact, by 1903, there was quite an influx of Rahiers in Itasca County. The Itasca News noted that on January 22, “there was a family got off from the train Thursday that created a gaze of curiosity owing to the great number of children in it. At a glance everybody knew they were going up into the woods to make a home, and, as there were some good sized girls among them, naturally some of the homesteader’s boys were immediately interested thinking they might be lucky enough to have the new comers for near neighbors.” The large family group headed by John Benjamin Rahier checked in at the Northern Hotel in Deer River. Before the end of the day, Mr. Rahier had a new granddaughter. Addie was born to Joseph and Mary Rahier at the Northern Hotel.

It wasn’t until a few years later, when additional land opened for homesteading, that George Herbert and Hattie were in a position to establish a place of their own. Hattie was pregnant and did not accompany her husband when he went north as her previous pregnancies had been difficult. She had lost a baby before and after the birth of her daughter Nellie. Hattie wanted to stay where there were doctors and a hospital in nearby Little Falls.

On July 29, 1904 George Herbert filed a homestead entry on 160 acres in Twp 62-25. The following spring, he moved Hattie, Nellie and the baby George Alvin to the cabin he had constructed. Several years earlier his Uncle John Rahier and several sons had each settled on homesteads in the same and adjoining townships, so the young family was glad to be near others they knew.

According to the 1910 United States Census, there were 25 individuals with the surname Rahier living in Busti Township, and that is not including the Rahier females who married into the Merrifield, Knotts, Guthrie and Hill families, and their offspring! “When John Rahier of Annandale settled in 62-26 he assured the people many of his relatives would follow, for as he so often said, ‘there are more Rahiers than you can shake a stick at.’”

[From The Last Frontier (1942) by Brigit Anderson]

The Inquest

The body of George Herbert was transported to Bigfork. The inquest and post mortem began on Wednesday July 26. Relatives from Morrison and Wright Counties had traveled to Bigfork where George Herbert would be buried. Shortly after the body was released on Thursday, the funeral was held.

Murder Shown By Post Mortem

Duluth News Tribune 7-27-1911

“Deer River, July 27. – That George Rahier, the Big Fork homesteader, found dead in the woods, was murdered instead of accidentally shot was established this afternoon by Coroner Herreid and Dr. Hanley of Deer River who held a post mortem examination on the remains. This disclosed beyond all question that the man had been shot twice and by a revolver instead of a rifle, as had been supposed.

“Attorney Harry Phinney of this village is now at Big Fork representing the county attorney’s office and investigating, and arrests are expected soon. Suspicion points strongly to two men who, it is said are known to have been enemies of Rahier and have had trouble with him before.

“It was at first thought that Rahier was shot while bending over and that the bullet entered his head and came out under his arm. The post mortem examination by the doctors showed instead that he had been shot in the head and again under the arm, the latter bullet passing through the lung and emerging at the other side. Both wounds were caused by a .38 caliber revolver bullet. Coupled with the fact that the body had been dragged some distance and partly concealed behind a windfall makes the murder theory the only plausible one.”

Family and friends had no idea who would want to cause harm to George Herbert. They were anxious for the investigation to yield results and hoped that the murderer would be found and tried.

The Duluth News Tribune ran a follow up story on July 28, 1911.

Arrests Expected in Big Fork Murder Case

“Sheriff P.T. Riley left today for Big Fork, the scene of what is supposed to have been a murder and which resulted in the death of George Rahier. Details of the developments during the day that have reached here have been meager, but two arrests are expected at any time now and it is understood the sheriff went there for that purpose.”

Part II examines the investigation, and how the suspect, Edward Erdway appears to ‘get away with murder.’

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