Oswald in North Dakota? — Part Three —

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Oswald in North Dakota?

Part Three

by Gary Severson

In the January and March 2000 issues of The Fourth Decade, two Lee Harvey Oswald (LHO) appearances in North Dakota were described by John Delane Williams and myself. My interest in the possibility that Oswald spent time in North Dakota was piqued in November of 1998, when I first ran across information about John Armstrong’s research. [1] As a native North Dakotan, I became intrigued by Oswald’s possible connection to North Dakota. Through research, peripheral data has continued to develop which has allowed a larger perspective to emerge. In this article, I plan to suggest that it is plausible for the information gleaned from the Stanley, North Dakota, interviews to have a basis in reality. To do this I will take a multifold approach, describing events that occurred in North Dakota and people who lived there during the years leading up to the assassination of JFK. There seem to be an unusual number of coincidental connections of people, organizations and occurrences in North Dakota history that may relate to the events of 1963. Is there a connection between Richard Case Nagell’s account of a 9/63, JFK assassination attempt, the Alma Cole letter to LBJ in 12/63, and Aline Mosby’s U.P.I. release of Oswald’s defection to the U.S.S.R.?

Mosby’s U.P.I. Release

The immediate question following Armstrong’s discovery of the Alma Cole letter to LBJ and the Aline Mosby interview of LHO moving to North Dakota is “how could North Dakota possibly have any significance in Oswald’s history, especially in light of the possibility that the abbreviation “N. D.” as used in the interview was simply a typo which should have read “N.O.” for New Orleans instead of “N.D.”? This was found in Mosby’s November 1959, U.P.I. story from Moscow concerning LHO’s defection to the Soviet Union. If we grant that there is enough ambiguity involved in the F.B.I. processing of Mosby’s first and second U.P.I. releases on 10/31/59 and 11/13/59, we can delve deeper into hypothesis one, the possibility that Oswald actually was in North Dakota, or hypothesis two, that a legend was created in North Dakota for LHO whether he or an impostor was there. [2] (These hypotheses are two of five proposed in Parts I and II previously published in The Fourth Decade.) Are there reasons to consider either of these scenarios as plausible? I believe there are.

The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (S.I.S.S.) of Senator James Eastland questioned Abba Schwartz of the U.S. State Department in August of 1964, concerning his knowledge of LHO’s State Department file.[3] Mr. Schwartz, on two occasions during that hearing, denied knowing about any communist activity by LHO in North Dakota. It is interesting to note that the S.l.S.S. chief consul questioning Schwartz was Julien Sourwine. Sourwine appears to be a part of a larger agenda when we consider he was an active player in the so-called Bayo-Pawley raid on Cuba. [4] We must ask if Sourwine’s politics help explain the question asked by him of Schwartz about the reference to Schwartz’s possible knowledge of LHO’s communist activity in North Dakota. Do we simply dismiss this inquiry by Sourwine as an innocent query about Alma Cole’s letter to LBJ on December 11, 1963? In this letter she told LBJ about her son William Timmer and his recollections about meeting a young man named Oswald in the summer of 1953 in Stanley, N.D. [5] Do we also assume that Sourwine was misled by Aline Mosby’s possible U.P.I. typo, and that he was only repeating the misunderstanding of N.O. as N.D.? [6] Did Sourwine believe Mosby’s story that Oswald found Marx’s Das Kapital on a library shelf in North Dakota in 1953? Do these beliefs explain Sourwine asking Schwartz if all that information was in Oswald’s State Department file? Maybe, but are there other reasons to believe North Dakota would be a fertile ground to create an Oswald legend? I say yes and will turn to those reasons now.

Richard Case Nagell and North Dakota

Richard Case Nagell’s story may provide insight into LHO activity in North Dakota. In Dick Russell’s book The Man Who Knew Too Much, there are numerous references to an assassination plot that Nagell became privy to upon infiltrating a New Orleans anti-Castro cell in August of 1963. [7] An Oswald was part of this cell and Nagell tape-recorded these meetings. The as yet unrecovered recordings would verify Nagell’s contention that an attempt would be made on JFK’s life in late September of 1963. Specifically, in other parts of Russell’s book the time frames between 9/24/63 to 9/29/63 and 9/26/63 to 9/29/63 are mentioned. [8]

Upon noticing these references, I remembered JFK had made a visit to Grand Forks, North Dakota, approximately two months before his murder in Dallas. I was 15 years old at the time and was present when JFK received an honorary degree from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. My buddy and I had skipped school that day in order to witness JFK’s arrival. There were already 25,000 people present in the arena and outside around the helicopter landing field when we arrived late on the scene. We made our way unimpeded through the bowels of the arena to where JFK would receive his degree. Surprisingly, we were able to find two seats immediately in front of the podium. There was no visible security along our route through parts of a building that housed many other athletic facilities in addition to the main arena where 12,000 people waited to hear JFK’s speech. The date was September 25, 1963! I had forgotten the exact date for 36 years until I saw Richard Nagell’s story referring to the September 24-29 time frame for an assassination attempt on JFK’s life.

Conservation Tour of JFK- September 1963

From JFK Library in Boston
September 24th leave D.C. (Tuesday)
1. Pennsylvania
2. Ashland, Wisconsin
3. Duluth, Minnesota

September 25th (Wednesday)
4. Grand Forks, North Dakota

Arrived 10:30 a.m., Departed 11:30 a.m.
5. Laramie, Wyoming (University of Wyoming)
6. Billings, Montana.

September 26th (Thursday)
7. Great Falls, Montana
8. Hannaford, Washington
9. Salt Lake City, Utah

September 27th (Friday)
10. Tacoma, Washington
11. Tong Point, Oregon

September 28th (Saturday)
12. Whiskey Town, California
13. Las Vegas, Nevada
14. Palm Desert, California

September 29th Return to D.C. (Sunday)

On September 20, 1963, five days before JFK arrived in Grand Forks, Nagell walked into an El Paso, Texas, bank and fired two bullets into the ceiling in a fake robbery attempt. He calmly walked outside, sat down on the curb, and waited to be arrested. [9] On September 17,1963, Nagell had written J. Edgar Hoover warning the F.B.I. that he had uncovered the September plot on JFK’s life. [10] Nagell’s arrest at the El Paso bank apparently allowed him to be safe in jail if the conspirators wanted to retaliate against him for blowing their cover by writing to the F.B.I. His arrest also had the effect of derailing the plot against JFK because the plotters would assume that Nagell would be talking even more extensively to the F.B.I. about their plans.

So the assassination attempt of September 24-29 during Kennedy’s western states Conservation Tour of 1963 did not happen. But a short two months later assassins were successful.

North Dakota Economics

What geopolitical and economic factors were at work in North Dakota to create a milieu for a presidential assassination? North Dakota’s history as a colony of the Minneapolis/St. Paul wheat milling industry is one of the most significant factors in the shaping of its history from its 1889 statehood to the present. [11] Conditions were oppressive enough from 1989 to 1920 that North Dakota farmers turned to radical socialist political and economic solutions that remain in place today. North Dakota has a state industrial commission, a state bank, and a state mill for wheat processing. These came into being to temper the effects of the big city business interests from Minneapolis/St. Paul. Add to this Senators Gerald P. Nye and Senator William (Wild Bill) Langer from the 1930’s ’40’s and ’50’s and you have an interesting formula. These Senators were leaders in the isolationist anti-war movement called America First, the largest anti-war movement of this century and probably of all American history. [12]

The Non-Partisan League (NPL) was the populist/socialist political movement that North Dakota farmers turned to in the 1920’s to prevent their exploitation by the grain companies. The NPL remained a strong influence in North Dakota until the 1960’s. In 1933, the ND legislature actually debated seceding from the Union. [13] In North Dakota, the joke was that if we did secede from the union we would immediately be the third largest nuclear power in the world because of the presence of the two nuclear missile bases at Grand Forks and Minot. At any rate the profile of North Dakota was on the radar screen of the conservative, anti-communist powers-that-be in American society.

Of course, North Dakota politics were not any more monolithic than any other state. The same interests prevalent at the national level had their power bases in North Dakota as well, i.e. business interests vs. agrarian reform interests. The American Communist Party (CPUSA), for example, was interested in organizing farmers. Ella Reeve Bloor, one of the most famous female party members of the century, spent five years trying to recruit members in the Stanley N.D. area. [14] The party had a strong presence among the Mountrail County Finnish population. [15] Lyle Aho, mentioned in Part II of this essay, told of seeing Ella Reeve Bloor, or Mother Bloor, as she also was known, passing out communist literature on the streets of Stanley ND. [16]

North Dakota Oil Boom and the Hunts

In 1951, the first oil well in North Dakota was drilled 20 miles from Stanley, by the small town of Tioga. One of the most visible oil companies working the Stanley area was Amerada-Hess. Hunt Oil of Dallas, Texas, also owned wells in that area. H.L. Hunt was in North Dakota on numerous occasions to meet with the representatives of the North Dakota Geological Survey. These meetings were used to process paper work for leases involving the oil drilling in the Williston Basin, the geological formation where oil was discovered.

My next-door neighbor in Grand Forks was C.B. Folsom, a petroleum engineer with the North Dakota Geological Survey located at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. When I was a teenager, he would occasionally discuss with me his meetings with H.L. Hunt which took place in various locations around western North Dakota. He said all Mr. Hunt wanted to talk about at their business meetings was the John Birch Society and how much he hated John F. Kennedy. After the assassination of JFK in November 1963, and continuing well into the 1980’s, Mr. Folsom expressed his feeling that L.B.J. was behind the assassination. Another geologist at UND during the same period mentioned that a son of H.L. Hunt, William Herbert Hunt, came to his office in the geology department in Grand Forks to discuss company business. Upon examination of the oil drilling records of the Stanley area it is possible to identify exactly which section of land the Hunts were drilling on. Whether these records are revealing of any relationships with specific residents in the Stanley area is not clear, but it does establish the Hunt Oil Company’s presence in the area in the 1950’s when LHO was possibly in the area. One has to assume that the Hunts, because of their vociferous anti-communism, would be well aware of the socialist history of Mountrail County.

North Dakota Prohibition

North Dakota enacted prohibition upon achieving statehood in 1889. The effects of prohibition on North Dakota’s society were corrupting. Unlike South Dakota, which dissolved prohibition by 1895, North Dakota maintained prohibition until 1933. Of course some counties in the state and in Minnesota remained dry until 1947, while a few maintained prohibition until the 1980’s. In any case North Dakota was dry for a period of 44 years. This extended time period, along with North Dakota’s 300+ mile open border along the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, allowed the development of numerous opportunities for bootlegging.

Minot, North Dakota, 50 miles east of Stanley, was known as the gangster capital of the western United States. [19] Stanley and Minot are 50 miles south of the area known as the “three corners” where the borders of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota meet. Because of tighter Manitoba liquor laws, the Canadian liquor industry blossomed along the Saskatchewan border, specifically in the city of Yorkton. There were many loopholes in the Saskatchewan liquor laws which allowed distillers to operate more easily, but it meant their American bootlegging contacts had to meet them at the “three corners” just north of Northgate and Portal North Dakota on the Saskatchewan border. This border crossing from the Canadian border to Minot and to a lesser extent to Stanley became known as “Whiskey Gap” (Highway 52 in the U.S.) (These towns are on the route of the transcontinental Empire Builder passenger train running from Chicago to Seattle. A 17 year old Oswald could have boarded a train in New York City and changed trains only once, ending up in Stanley, North Dakota in 1953.)

The liquor company operating out of Saskatchewan was eventually known as Seagram’s. By 1922 it was based in Brandon and Winnipeg, Manitoba before eventually being moved to Montreal in 1928 and on to New York City later. This bootlegging culture had the effect of corrupting local governments. North Dakota functioned as a colony of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. This meant that organized crime from Minneapolis/St. Paul had an easier in-road into the political scene in North Dakota. The Isadore Blumenfeld (Kidd Cann) gang was an extension of the Meyer Lansky crime syndicate out of Miami. Kidd Cann controlled the Twin Cities rackets in the 30’s and 40’s. This influence spread to places like East Grand Forks, Minnesota, also known as “Little Chicago”. [21] In the 30’s and 40’s East Grand Forks resembled the Las Vegas of the same period. East Grand Forks was described by Ripley’s Believe it or Not as having the most neon lights of any place in the world. The nightclubs with their liquor and slot machines were all illegal, but payoffs first to the county seat in Crookson, Minnesota, and then on to the capital in St. Paul were normal operating procedure. [22] In 1951, the North Dakota Attorney General was indicted for bribery involving Minneapolis/St. Paul slot machine operators who were trying to make North Dakota a total fiefdom for gambling interests. [23] Minot, 200 miles west of Grand Forks continued to be involved in prostitution and gambling until 1969 when the city was finally cleaned up.

Henry Luce and North Dakota

Another interesting bit of history concerns a 1927 graduate of UND, Edward K. Thompson, who went on to become the managing editor of Life Magazine from 1949 to 1967. As long as Thompson stayed within the ideological parameters of Henry Luce, Life’s owner, he was given a free hand to run the magazine. Thompson said, “1 realized very early on that Luce didn’t care how you voted, as long as you didn’t vote Communist.” [24] If Thompson had a fault, it was that his boundless energy resulted in his micro-managing the magazine. [25] Interestingly, the Bayo-Pawley raid on Cuba involved Life Magazine in that pictures of the raid were printed in Life. That particular issue helped pay the costs of the raid and other incursions like it.[26] C. D. Jackson, Luce’s publisher, had a more visible hand in the arrangements with the Bayo-Pawley raid, but it is certainly interesting to speculate about possible roles Ed Thompson may have played. The Bayo-Pawley and other raids on Cuba subsidized by Luce, were explicitly designed to challenge Kennedy’s steps towards detente with the Soviet Union. [27] UND gave Mr. Thompson an honorary degree in 1958, just as it gave JFK an honorary degree in 1963. Mr. Thompson passed away in 1996.

Hopefully continued research into North Dakota history will provide further support to strengthen claims that Oswald was in North Dakota. Perhaps if events in North Dakota can be pieced together and related in a larger context, we can discover the forces present in Dallas.

Notes

1. Patoski, J. N., “The Two Oswalds”, Texas Monthly. November 1998. pp. 135 & 160
.
2. Newman, John. Oswald and the CIA. Carol & Graf Publishers. 1995. Chapter 2 and Chapter 5.

3. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, 1963-65, 1232-1233.

4. Scott, Peter Dale. Deep Politics and the Death of JFK. University of California Press. 1993, p. 116.

5. Cole letter to President Johnson. December 11, 1963. FBI file. Minneapolis 105-2464; Dallas 100-10461. Reprinted in Robertson, J. (1999) Denial #2. Volume Two. The John Armstrong Research. Lafayette, IN: Author.

6. Lee Harvey Oswald Sightings. (1999). Dallas, TX: JFK Lancer.

7. Russell, D. The Man Who Knew Too Much. Carol and Graf Publishers. 1992 Preface, p. 21.

8. Ibid. p. 163, 241, 408, 412.

9. Ibid. p. 444-448.

10. Ibid

11. Robinson, F. History of North Dakota. University Nebraska Press. 1966. pp. 220-22, 272-78, 338-39.

12. Kaufman, B. America First. Prometheus Books. 1995. pp. 18, 19, 20, 21.

13. Interview of Claude Crockett, April 7, 2000. Son of North Dakota legislator involved in 1933 debate.

14. Ella Reeve Bloom papers. Orin G. Libby Manuscript Collection. University of North Dakota. Collection #920, accession # 83-1226.

15. Voting Records. Mountrail County Historical Society. Stanley, North Dakota.

16. Interview of Lyle Aho by John Williams and Gary Severson. 8/3/99

17. Anderson S. Interview with Gary Severson. 12/17/99

18. North Dakota Geological Survey Core Laboratory records. University of North Dakota, Grand Forks. provided July 1999.

19. Gray, John. Booze, The Effect of Whiskey on the Prairie. MacMilliam of Canada. 1972. p. 143.

20. Ibid.

21. Zimmer, L. interviewed by Gary Severson 4/00

22. Daily, M. interviewed by Gary Severson 4/00

23. Omdahl, Lloyd. Insurgents. Lakland Color Press.1961. pp. 60-64.

24. Martin, Ralph. Henry and Clare. G.P. Putnam and Sons. 1991. p. 176.

25. Wainright, Loudon. The Great American Magazine. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1986. Chapter 9.

26. Scott, Peter Dale. Deep Politics and the Death of JFK. University of California Press. 1993. pp. 55,113.

27. Ibid. p.55.

 

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