Little of the money taken in 1885 court house robbery found

Solomon Porter was the county treasurer at the time of the great court house robbery in 1885.

When he arrived at his office Saturday, May 30, he found that the safe had been rifled and about $13,000 was missing. The door to the vault, the safe door and the inner safe door all had been opened but he saw no signs of forced entry. Now, to reach the inner safe One had to open two combination locks and one lock with a key. That meant that the safe had been cracked either by a professional safe cracker or someone who knew the combinations and had access to the key.

No clues had come to light when register of deeds, John Hultgren, had left his home in Mamre Township Sunday evening, ostensibly to go to Willmar that evening to see a doctor, because he wasn’t feeling well. When no one in Willmar had seen him, suspicions turned in his direction, and a $300 reward had been put up for his capture. A Chicago detective, whom the sheriff had retained to help on the case, confirmed his suspicions, Hultgren was arrrested by Marshal Lien when he returned to his home Wednesday.

When he was questioned by several county officials, he stated that he couldn’t return the money because he didn’t have it. The accounts he gave of his actions left a lot to be desired, and he resigned as register of deeds on Wednesday morning, June 3.

An examination of the records showed that $7,861.62 was missing.

County Treasurer Solomon Porter was criticized for not depositing county funds daily, but his bondsmen paid the county’s losses without question.

He didn’t have to, since he had no liability for the theft, but Porter turned over all his property to the bondsmen, because he felt he was responsible for the loss. He also continued to make payments to the bondsmen for most of the rest of his life, until every cent of the county’s loss had been repaid to the bonding company.

Hultgren was tried and convicted on the robbery charges, and he insisted that he didn’t have any of the money in question. He was sentenced to the state penitentiary where, from time to time, he made confessions which purportedly gave the location of the loot. Officials followed up on all of them, but no money was found in any of the places he had given. In one “confession” he told of putting cash in a gopher hole. There were quite a few others, none of which proved out.

The only money ever located was found when a horse in Hultgren’s stable broke through the barn floor where the silver coins had been stashed.

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