The 4 journalists with ties to North Dakota who were killed while investigating or reporting
"Did You Know That" columnist Curt Eriksmoen recaps the four deaths that happened between 1864 and 2000.
According to my research, four journalists who lived in North Dakota were killed while investigating or reporting on events or stories locally or around the world.
George Northrup, a correspondent for the St. Paul Press, was killed at the Battle of Killdeer Mountain in present-day North Dakota on July 28, 1864. Mark Kellogg, a reporter for the Bismarck Tribune, was killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn, in Montana, on June 25, 1876. Walter Liggett, a former journalist in Bismarck and Fargo, was murdered on December 9, 1935, while he was in the process of exposing damaging information about organized crime in Minnesota.
Most recently, on May 24, 2000, Kurt Schork, a graduate of Jamestown College, was ambushed and killed in Sierra Leone while working on a story for the Reuters news service.
George Northrup was only 16 years old when he arrived alone at Pembina in 1853. He accepted a position as teacher at a mission school for the Assiniboine, Chippewa, Cree and French students and quickly learned their languages. He then became a successful hunting guide and steamboat operator on the Red River, and was known as the "Kit Carson of the Northwest."
During the Civil War, he was a scout and Union spy who often worked behind enemy lines. After the war, Northrup reenlisted and ended up joining Gen. Alfred "Sully's expedition against the Lakota." Northrup was a scholarly, seasoned frontiersman when the St. Paul Press signed a contract with him in 1864 to cover the latter stages of Sully's expedition into northern Dakota Territory to locate and capture the Lakota Indians who had taken part in attacks on white settlers in Minnesota in 1862.
In late July 1864, Sully's soldiers located a Lakota camp in the Killdeer Mountains and, on the 28th, Sully ordered an attack on the camp — and Northrup was killed with 10 bullets and arrows piercing his body.
Mark Kellogg was an editorial assistant in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Brainerd, Minn., as well as a string correspondent for the St. Paul Dispatch, prior to moving to Bismarck in 1873 to help Clement Lounsberry found the Bismarck Tribune. When Lounsberry learned that a military column, including the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment under Col. George Custer, would be leaving Fort Abraham Lincoln, he agreed to accompany them.
However, when Lounsberry's wife became ill, he sent Kellogg in his place. After filing three reports with the Tribune, Kellogg was killed along with many soldiers at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
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Walter Liggett was a reporter for the Journal and Daily News in Minneapolis and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, prior to 1908 when he worked as a reporter for the Fargo Forum (now The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead). He then edited newspapers in Alaska and the state of Washington and, in 1918, returned to North Dakota to edit the Fargo Courier News and then briefly served as editor of Bismarck’s Capital Daily.
Liggett spent the next 16 years working for various agencies, writing articles for major publications, and editing newspapers in New York City and Minnesota. In 1935, he founded the Mid-Western American newspaper in Minneapolis, which featured several stories about organized crime headed by Kid Cann, who had links to Minnesota Gov. Floyd Olson. Later that year, Liggett was gunned down by a man Mrs. Liggett and a neighbor lady positively identified as Cann, but he was acquitted at a trial one month later.
Kurt Schork graduated from Jamestown College in 1969, and then studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar along with Bill Clinton, who helped get him interested in politics. Schork worked on campaigns for a number of noted politicians in Massachusetts and New York and was appointed chief of staff for the New York City Travel Authority.
He began his journalism career in 1990 by writing for the South China Evening Post, and was hired by Reuters in 1991 to cover the Kurdish resistance in northern Iran. Schork remained in the Middle East for most of the 1990s and became "the most trusted American journalist in that region." In 2000, he and his news crew were ambushed and killed in western Africa.
There have been a number of other notable journalists from North Dakota who reported from dangerous locations who were not killed. The best-known was Eric Sevareid, from Velva. Sevareid was sent by CBS to Paris in 1939 to cover Nazi Germany's invasion of Europe and remained there reporting about Germany's action, until Paris fell on July 10, 1940. He then went to London to report about the Nazi bombing campaign of Great Britain until 1943, when he was assigned to the Far East to cover U.S. action against the Japanese.
Other notable World War II reporters with North Dakota roots were Walter Simmons, who was born in Fargo, and Keith Wheeler from Carrington — both men covered the Pacific front, Simmons for the Chicago Tribune, and Wheeler for the Chicago Sun-Times. Wheeler was seriously wounded in combat and, for his coverage of the war, he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1944. He later reported on fighting in the Middle East in the late '40s and early '50s, wrote a number of bestselling novels and became assistant editor of Life magazine. Simmons was the first U.S. reporter to cover the Korean War, receiving a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1950, and he later became the Sunday editor of the Chicago Tribune.
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Many journalists find their lives in peril when investigating corruption (individually or nationally) or reporting on violent events, including wars. In the past, during the times of global wars, the incidence of reporters being killed went way up, but according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), in recent years, there "is a recurring finding that there are many more killed in peace time situations than in war-stricken countries."
The major reason for this, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, was that reporters are "singled out for murder in retaliation for their work." This can be because of drug lords, organized crime leaders or corrupt government officials. The latter applied to the murder of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. He was a reporter for the Washington Post who was killed on Oct. 2, 2018, allegedly by the order of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The biggest recent concern for a North Dakota journalist occurred on April 8, 2009, when freelance reporter Roxana Saberi, from Fargo, was taken prisoner by the Iranian government and charged with espionage. She denied the charge, but was sentenced to years in prison. Diplomatic efforts by U.S. officials secured her release on May 11, 2009.
A number of foreign governments, often led by dictatorial officials, considered groups of people as "enemies of the people." The officials often did that so that they felt justified for taking drastic actions against those groups. This has often been a prelude to purges, concentration camps, holocausts, ethnic cleansing or Gulag imprisonments. For that reason, I personally became troubled when certain U.S. politicians, in recent years, have claimed that reporters are "the enemy of the people." I have known many reporters, and for the most part they are dedicated to being fair and accurate. Hopefully, that kind of rhetoric has stopped.
In 1950, Winston Churchill warned, "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it." Thomas Jefferson gave us sound advice when he wrote, "A press that is free to investigate and criticize the government is absolutely essential in a nation that practices self-government."
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.