The Mysterious Murder of O.A. Palmquist

On Thursday, November 12,1914 The Dassel Anchor carried this headline,

The Mysterious Murder of O.A. Palmquist

Dassel People Tremendously Excited Over Cold Blooded Murder

 Last Thursday Of Cashier Of Citizens State Bank Dassel Anchor November 12, 1914

On November 5,1914, the case of the murder of Olaf Palmquist, a cashier at Citizens State Bank in Dassel, caused quite a stir in the area that stayed active for years with no resolution.

Palmquist was shot in the back office of the bank building in the late afternoon.  Nothing had been stolen from the Citizens State Bank, suicide was ruled out by the coroner, George Peterson.

Bill Sisston and
Frank “Whiskers” Carlson
In Citizens State Bank Lobby

Peterson suggested that Palmquist had refused to open the safe, and the killer then shot him ‘in retaliation’.  Robbery was ruled out.  $6,000.00 was visible in the open vault near the office.  The money remained

An inquest was held, 20 witnesses were questioned; however, no indictment was brought forward.  Authorities were unable to come up with any motive for this murder. Palmquist was considered a gentle man who was well-liked by the residents of Dassel.

Witnesses saw a man leaving the building to access a train heading to Minneapolis.  That man, J.G. Barnett, a salesman from Minneapolis, discovered he was being looked at for a person of interest.  He contacted the authorities on his own and was cleared of any wrongdoing. Buffalo Journal, Minneapolis Nov. 1914

This was a triple tragedy for Palmquist’s wife of six months, Della (Madelia) Palmquist.  At the time of Palmquists murder she was pregnant with their son. Her previous husband had committed suicide in 1905, drinking carbolic acid in a building that was next door to the bank in which Palmquist was murdered. The Minneapolis Journal Nov. 8, 1915

A great deal of discourse, rumors and dirty deeds followed the murder for years. 

A newspaper article in the Dassel Anchor on May 27, 1915, accused the Cokato Enterprise of ‘creating cheap gossip’, and distorting information to, ‘Make it appear that Dassel is inhabited by barbarians instead of an enlightened. intelligent and entirely civilized people’ Dassel Anchor, May 13,1915

Another prevalent rumor regarded a woman from Litchfield, Miriam Ingram, who died five months later and was quickly buried. Ingram was sitting in a buggy across the street from the bank at the time of the murder. It was suggested that Ingram was a witness to the murder of Palmquist, and she was murdered to prevent her from speaking of the killer.

Some local speculation claimed that she lived by Washington Lake with two counterfeiters, one of whom was a cross dresser. This, of course, was only an unsubstantiated rumor, and more likely untrue. Other people said that she had lived with a family by Washington Lake since she was eight, and they were kind but eccentric people. (attribution below)

Ingram’s body was exhumed, and a postmortem autopsy was performed at the Dassel City Hall. Her death was ruled to be due to a valvular disease of the heart, chronic mitral stenosis. Dassel Anchor May 6, 1915

Due to the unorthodox burial, the grave digger, Eckman, was fined for shoddy, but not illegal, activity in the quick burial of her body with no medical acknowledgement. (attribution below)

There were suspects talked about by townspeople.

One unfounded speculation was Lem McGrew who was a banker at another Dassel Bank. It was said that the younger McGrew had “no scruples”, and that his” first and second wife walked together behind his casket when he died.

One possible suspect (unfounded) was Frank Carlson, who succeeded Palmquist in his position at the bank. Carlson was a victim of an attempted shakedown by two private detectives in 1917.

The widowed Della Palmquist and her brother-in-law, August Palmquist, of Cokato, were approached by a Minneapolis private detective named Frank Rutz.  Rutz intimated that he had information on the identity of the murderer and would like the Palmquists to hire him to prove the case.  He cautioned them to tell no one in town or at the bank that he was investigating,

He was hired and paid $1,600 in increments.  In order to look like he was working Rutz hired a Minneapolis resident, George Waldorf to follow people around the town, to try and find a ‘goat’ [scapegoat] in the murder. Waldorf was paid $1.00 a day.  He stayed at the Dassel Hotel paying day to day for one year.  He shadowed many people in the area, particularly Carlson.

Waldorf, who spoke with a German accent, was so good at his job, skulking about, watching and listening that it was believed that he was a German spy, in the area for a reason unknown.

George Waldorf sent anonymous letters to Carlson by mail and slipped under the bank door.  Carlson was told in the letters that “they” knew what he had done, and he needed to “come across quick or they would prosecute.”  Carlson traveled to Minneapolis to see if he would be followed.  He was and notified the police.  Waldorf was subsequently arrested and after “being made to talk” gave up the name of his employer Frank Rutz.  They both were arrested and sent to Litchfield for arraignment in the matter. (attribution below)

Rutz was fined $50.00 and sent to Stillwater prison June 21, 1917, for one year. No information is available concerning judgments against Waldorf.

Interestingly after Rutz had spent his year in prison he returned to Dassel. The Dassel Dispatch of September 1,1920 reported


Alleged Detectives Work Results in All Sorts

Of Unfounded Rumors in Neighboring Towns

After months of Rutz (now called Root) and his partners movement about town enough interest was once again raised that a Grand Jury was held on December 6, 1920 to reopen the case. Twenty five witnesses were called. The Dassel Dispatch reported on December 12, 1920


Renewed Agitation of Past Few Months and Activity of Alleged Detectives Bring No Results


A Dassel Dispatch article on June 14, 1922 reported the detective had again returned to town. Root and associate Calhoun were requesting money to reveal important information regarding the murderer in the case. They were met with disregard and were told that they would receive payment upon receipt of credible information. They provided no information and did not appear in Dassel again.

In 2003 three letters which had been found stored in an old chicken house owned by Ralph Peterson were donated to the History Center.  These letters were correspondence to Carlson in 1917 from J.J. Welch of the Minneapolis branch of Pinkerton.  Welch had been contacted by Carlson regarding the letters that he had received.  Welch was instrumental in helping to discover the miscreants who were causing trouble in Dassel.

Sadly, according to the writings of Roland Dille, the Palmquist’s son, Ostler, died sometime in the 1950s or 1960s, He had become a undertaker in a western Minnesota town. During a blizzard he was unable to get his hearse on the road, so he took his station wagon to a nearby town to pick up a deceased person. On his way back he became stuck in the snow. To get his chains from the car he took the body out of the wagon and laid it upon a snowbank. A patrol officer stopped to check and discovering that Ostler had been drinking arrested him. Ostler committed suicide in jail.

Della Palmquist never remarried. She passed at the age of 89 at the Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis. (Roland Dille Storys of Dassel, unpublished)

Still no word has come forward with any name or motive for the murder.  This is a mystery that Dassel may never find an answer to but still creates interest in our small city 109 years later.

Attribution noted, Reported by Jeanette Servin following Presentation by Phyllis Carlson, Dassel Historian on April 5,1990 to the Dassel Historical Society “As I recall Hearing it”

Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce Chief John, White Wolf, Smith

In our Dassel History Center archives, we have a picture of Magnus Johnson with an unidentified elderly Native American man. It seemed odd that such a striking man had no name. I did a reverse image search and came up with pages of information on this ancient gentleman.

Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce known to the white population as Chief John White Wolf Smith was a Chippewa Tribe member may have been born in 1784, and who died in 1922 at the age of 138.

Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce had a few differing accounts of his early years.  He states that he was between the ages of 7 and 10 the year “the stars fell from the sky” It has been surmised that this was 1833, widely believed to be only the Leonid Constellation Shower that lit up the sky from the east coast to the west coast.  However, the massive Meteor Storm of 1833 was caused by the orbit of the Temple Tuttle Comet passing near Earth.  This is an occurrence that happens about every 33 years.  This comet puts on quite the show. The normal yearly November Leonid Meteor Shower is caused by the Earth passing through the debris caused by the comet.  The Temple Tuttle Comet Storm would have happened back in 1799 which would be in line with him being born around 1784.  He may have been 15 at the time. 

Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce remembered the battles the Chippewa had with the Sioux prior to the turn of the 19th century.  The Sioux and Chippewa have an oral tradition of territorial battles.

Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce remembered the events of the War of 1812.  He told people that he participated in the war.  That would put him in his late 20s.

He claimed to have met the Schoolcraft and Cass exploration party which passed through the Cass Lake area in 1822.

No matter his birth date, Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce lived a full and eventful life.

Born in Cass Lake, Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce grew up in a time that was still amenable to the life of a native man living in a natural area of the country.  As a young man and older he hunted and fished the woods and lakes of the area. 

He became a celebrity; his photo used by local photographers as a stylized image of Native American life.  These photos were made into postcards and cabinet cards. Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce traveled for free by rail through the Cass Lake area selling these cards to travelers.

Two years before his death he appeared in a film called “Recollections of Ga-be-nah-Gewn-Wonce,” which toured the country.  He made many trips by rail and foot to Duluth. Everywhere he traveled he was welcomed as an elder and a storyteller. Four years prior to his death he visited a “Big City”, the twin cities for the first time.  Later that year he visited the Chicago Automobile show.

After he returned home to Cass Lake, he spent time greeting visitors to town as well as selling more cards. Six months prior to his death he moved in with his adopted son Tom Smith. He still engaged visitors but did not often leave the home.

Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce was married eight times, although he had no natural children. He did adopt Tom Smith.

He was active up to a week prior to his death from Pneumonia at his son’s home.

Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce is buried at the Cass Lake Cemetery.

Dassel and Nuclear War

On September 26, 1983, the United States was involved in what was called a cold war; a period of difficult relations between the United States, our allies (The Western Bloc) and the Soviet Union and its allies, (the Eastern Bloc). Historically this time span was from March 12, 1947, beginning with the announcement of the Truman Doctrine, to December 26, 1991, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It was a scary time here in the mid-west. We were targeted as possible nuclear bomb fallout areas due to missile silos in neighboring states. I remember clearly watching a news program of then Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev table declaring “We will bury you”

He did not bang his shoe!

(Although I was only 4 and I remember him pounding a shoe. THAT never happened, so I am not sure how I acquired this memory)

Back to that fateful day in September of 1983 false alarms of up to 5 nuclear missiles aimed upon Russia by the United States were reported.

From Wikipedia, “On 26 September 1983, during the Cold War, the nuclear early-warning radar of the Soviet Union reported the launch of one intercontinental ballistic missile with four more missiles behind it, from bases in the United States. These missile attack warnings were suspected to be false alarms by Stanislav Petrov, an officer of the Soviet Air Defense Forces on duty at the command center of the early-warning system. He decided to wait for corroborating evidence—of which none arrived—rather than immediately relaying the warning up the chain-of-command. This decision is seen as having prevented a retaliatory nuclear attack against the United States and its NATO allies, which would likely have resulted in an escalation to a full-scale nuclear war. Investigation of the satellite warning system later determined that the system had indeed malfunctioned.”

Bomb Shelter in Minneapolis 1953

This was our country’s most serious scare since the 1962 Bay of Pigs incident.

Minneapolis, under the assumption that a large city would be a likely target went into high alert mode and quickly completed an in-process system for evacuation of the city residents to rural country safety. A rather naïve plan had been worked on for several years. People would be told to pack as though you headed for a 3-week camping trip and to take along extra socks, a thermos, a crowbar, and credit cards. The plan’s working was based on a 3-day warning of a possible strike, with the assumption that people would need to be gone only 1 to 3 weeks until negotiations averted the war.

Boys Building Bomb Shelter in Minneapolis

And here is where Dassel came into play. Meeker County was set as a site to house up to 31,00 people from Minneapolis, Osseo, and Maple Grove, for up to 3 weeks, with Dassel anticipated to house 2,700 of them. At that time, we had a population of 1,066. Meeker County emergency Service director at the time, Bill Nelson, said, “We may be feeding people turkey for two weeks, but we can do it.”

Dassel had 23 public fallout shelters listed. They included the basement of the Evangelical Covenant Church slated to house 432 people and the basement of the Holm Brothers Hardware slated to house 21 people. The hardware store basement “barely measures 20 ft square and is cluttered with boxes of metal ducts” Star Tribune article, Kevin McCarthy 12-5-83

Bungalow Inn being moved from Darwin to Dassel…not a large cafe

Bill Nelson said of the hardware store basement “they’d almost be on top of each other…. it’s going to stink like Hell. But again, it is survival we are talking about.” Asked if he would want to spend a minimum of a week in the store basement Norman Loven, the hardware store owner said, ” It depends on who you are going in with.”

The Bungalow Inn, a café of the time was designated as one site to provide food for the Dassel based evacuees. According to the Star Tribune article, the owner’s son, did not know of the designation at the time of being told by Mike Kaszuba, the author of the article. Kevin stated that he did not think it could be done. The café normally served about 60 people a day, with five booths.

This all seems like an innocent plan, slightly bereft of common sense based on today’s knowledge of the way our world operates. Dassel residents, this plan is not in effect today, the logistics would be next to impossible.

We have approximately 3 storm shelters in Dassel today; the city hall restrooms, the school, and the trailer park has a shelter for the park residents. These are focused on storms rather than nuclear safety. Times have changed, we are smarter, but are we wiser?

King’s Hill or the Dassel/Darwin Park

Our Dassel/Darwin Park has a long history in our area.

View to the North

At 160 acres this is the largest park in Meeker County, located 2 ½ miles west of Dassel on Highway 12. The park has a sliding hill which provides a beautiful lookout over the area, restrooms, 6 ½ miles of trails for hiking, cross country skiing, and horseback riding. 


I absolutely love this park. Many of my hiking hours have been spent here, yet I have not seen every offering this wonderful nature area has to offer.

Way back in April 1897, on an April evening, our hill caused quite a buzz in the community. A few gentlemen spotted a bright light in the sky above Dassel. The light stopped over our village for a short while, then moved farther west towards King’s Hill (Dassel/Darwin Park) The lights brought quite a gathering. They stood, watching as the lights moved towards the top of the hill then landing to sit for about 20 minutes. The area was later examined, and it appeared as though a heavy vessel had sat upon it. It seems an honor that the saucer picked our hill to visit. (Source: Dassel Stories by Bill Ward)

The park later became a ski hill and a sledding hill (at one time boasting a pully system to help sledders and skiers return to the top so far away. Currently it is a walking trail, horse trail, rest stop, and a wonderful site for cross country skiing.

Personally, I have never seen evidence of aliens, although I have come upon plenty of evidence of horses. The park is a site for a geo-cache, but I won’t tell you where.

Standing upon the crest of the hill I tend to let the wind rush about me as I soak in the amazing panoramic view of lakes, woods, farms and a large blue sky.

View towards Washington Lake

I do not know why it was called King’s Hill, but I advocate for that name to be restored. So much more fitting, King’s Hill it will always be to me.

The Big Top in a Small Town.

Imagine the excitement when a circus comes to town.  In the days before flyers are posted on poles and buildings, and appear on kitchen tables, having been brought home with eager hope for a trip to the Big Top!

Children hum with anticipation, pulling out any possible coins they may have saved over the year. Businesses plan to close for the day, farmers will do their chores early, the circus is coming, the circus is coming to town!!!

From Water for Elephants

*In 1884 The Col. Giles Great American Two Ring Circus travelled to town, with 65 wagons full of delight for the villagers viewing, parading through town, previewing the coming excitement. They quickly set up, strong men pulling the ropes of the Big Top up above the tall poles. The canvas was set, and the show was on. There were lion tamers, sideshow acts, *candy butchers selling candy, sundries, and souvenirs from stands.  With two big tops the entertainment was doubled. Trapeze acts brought breathless gasps under one tent while dancing elephants with costumed riders entertained under the other. The populace was wowed.

*The next morning the Col. Giles circus loaded back up to head to their next stop in Glencoe, MN.  The wagon that held the lion veered off the road and headed down the hill towards Pigeon Lake.  Luckily the lion did not escape, and was unharmed, and soon the circus was on its way

*Other circuses came to town, WW. Coles, Forepaughs, Sells Brothers, Gollmar Brothers, John Robinson and the Campbell Brothers.  And eventually the Ringling Brothers brought their show to town.

Circus day was a holiday, one looked forward to every year.  An opportunity for just a little bit of tawdry glamour to grace the streets of Dassel.

Circuses have changed over the years; the glitzy appeal has been overshadowed by our awareness of humane treatment of performers and animals alike. We have learned much and changed much. But still, the excitement was an unquestionable part of growing up in a small town many years ago.

Author’s Notes

* Candy Butcher Definition, I was also confused!

*Much information was received from Those were the Days by Oscar Lindquist

*All dramatic interpretation was my own.

Ah! The Fair Days of Summer.

The Merry Go Round

As a child I remember street fairs in the small town where I was raised. These street fairs were magic. Ferris wheels reached to the sky, cotton candy, games of chance, little ducklings in ponds, watermelon eating, pies, produce, tables of sparkling jars of canned goods and preserves, and barns full of farm animals. The smell, lights, sounds of those brilliant summertime memories have never left me.

Street Fairs were a tradition in small towns around the country. Our city of Dassel was no exception to that tradition.

Beginning in 1875 Dassel hosted monthly fairs in conjunction with Cokato; first Saturday in Cokato, third Saturday in Dassel. The fairs, sometimes called Marken, were an opportunity for farmers to bring in produce and animals to sell. Local stores would hold sales, bringing merchandise out into the streets to sell at a discount. City avenues were blocked from traffic, with street corners being dedicated to games of chance, food vendors.

The monthly fairs continued for 20 years, eventually morphing into a yearly fair beginning in 1905.

Here was the magic, roaming carnivals brought ferris wheels and carousels equipped with gaudily painted horses and swans.  Games of chance set up to lure eager young men away from their coin to supply girlfriends with teddy bears. Children ran about, fingers sticky with cotton candy, their cries of delight punctuating the sounds of the fair.

Animals were brought to display; their coats brushed to a sleek shine. Produce, crops, and preserves were presented. Quilts, embroidery and art adorned walls. All participants hoped for bragging rights by taking home a prize ribbon at the end of the fair

Couples danced to the sounds of traveling dance orchestras, the soft sound of violins weaving a romantic melody in the air.

Eventually the fair moved to the site of the present ball field, animal barns were built, sturdy structures as placement for animal exhibits, poultry, sheep, cattle, hogs, horses, as well as those rows of sparkling canned goods, local art, quilts, home goods.

County fairs became a place of yearly gather, a looked to social event. Our Dassel fair was no exception.

After a time, in 1929, the fair moved to Litchfield, eventually to its present site at the Meeker County Fairgrounds. The Dassel Fair site was sold with buildings to Haapala and Pride seeds.

Though the fair is no longer here, the history, music, colors, and sound will forever live in my imagination.

Lake Washington was hopping

Recently someone asked me if I knew anything about Lake Washington in Meeker County. I had to say, “nope, I know nothing’.

Trails End resort. Boating, fishing and fun.

From The Lake Washington Improvement Association I learned some geographical facts.
“Lake Washington is located between the cities of Dassel and Darwin in Meeker County, Minnesota.  The lake covers 2,639 acres with 10.6 miles of associated shoreline. The lake is relatively shallow with a mean depth of 8.6 feet, maximum depth of 17 feet and is known for its walleye and bass fishery”.

The Association does wonderful work improving the lake, protecting its shorelines and water. However, I went further afield to learn about the romantic history of the lake.

I have asked people, searched records at the museum, looked online. So far this is the information I have gathered.

I learned that Lake Washington was hopping back in the day. It held a number of resorts, some dance halls, fishing, picnics, swimming, boating, happy gatherings and wholesome fun.

Washington Lake Cottages…I could spend the summer!
Leonard Benson Storing Ice for summer sales

The Idle-Wave Pavillion offered dancing to the music of The Dream Orchestra and Entertainers on Friday nights. They advertised new decorations, a fine dance floor, and fine music for an enjoyable evening of dancing and romance. C. Oscar Broberg provided real recreation with a morning or evening fishing trip for visitors to the Meeker County oil well (more on that another time). He said that Lake Washington was where a fella could always find hungry pike, pickerel, sunfish crappies and bass. He supplied boats and cottages for rent at a reasonable rate! You could spend time at Trails End Lodge, the Cottages, Gordan’s resort, Billy Millers Resort and do some more good dancing at the Avalon.

A few reputable sources mentioned that there may have been a little bit of bootlegging happening with visits from the gangsters of Wisconsin and Illinois. Money was made!

Swenson Cabin being dismantled for move to Forest City Stockade to be the Doctors house

The lake had profitable Ice Houses before electricity came through, men cutting blocks of ice in the winter and storing the ice in insulated buildings for summer sales. Farms were many, log cabins more prevalent. In fact, the Swenson family cabin was dismantled in later years and rebuilt at the Forest City Stockade.

The Clifford Farm

I often wish I could be a tourist back in the day, the early 20th century, the prohibition days, pre-World War II. Maybe I could have been a flapper or a bar owner. Maybe I could have spent long summer evenings just floating in a rowboat on the lake or sitting on the shore watching the multitude of stars above.

I miss those days in which I never lived.

Picnic on a lazy summer afternoon

Coming to Dassel

Meeker County Townships have an incredible History. Follow along to learn more.

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Tilly Evan Jones

“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.” ~Mary Oliver

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