Justice served or the perfect crime

When Anoka County was organized in 1857, there were only about 2,000 people in the community.

Law enforcement was the responsibility of the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.

On Jan. 11, 1860, the county recorded its first homicide.

Michael Durgan and his wife Ellen ran a tavern in a three room log cabin on the old Red River Trail, today’s East River Road.

On the fateful evening, Charles Dunphey and Thomas Tripp were drinking in the establishment after a day of hunting.

Ms. Durgan testified that after six or seven whiskeys Dunphey and Tripp accused Mr. Durgan of stealing a mink pelt from them.

A confrontation ensued and Durgan was left dead as a result.

Tripp and Dunphey were tried separately.

In one of their trials, Ms. Durgan testified that Tripp knocked Mr. Durgan to the ground and Dunphey jumped on him, battered him with his fists and trampled him with his boots.

Knives, an axe and a rifle were brought out next.

Ms. Dunphey was forced to flee the cabin with the couple’s infant and seek help from a neighbor.

Dunphey was found guilty of murder and a separate jury convicted Tripp of manslaughter.

Dunphey was sentenced to hang for a crime that the presiding judge described as “bloody and revolting — the most revolting crime in the history of the state.”

Tripp was given seven years.

A 1905 article from the Anoka Union says that both men were allowed their freedom in exchange for enlisting in the Army at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

The story on Dunphey seems to run cold from there.

There’s no record of him as having enlisted from Minnesota and no information found about him after the trial.

A more talented historian than I could possibly pick up the trail, but you’re stuck with me for the moment.

Tripp is shown as mustering into the First Minnesota and listed as missing and likely killed at Bull Run.

When I first came across this story, my initial reaction was to wonder if Tripp simply deserted and took his freedom when it was presented to him.

So how likely is that Tripp walked away?

There are lots of examples of deserters during the war on both sides.

It was certainly easier in the 19th century, before photo ids, Social Security numbers, etc., to change a name and start over.

One local man who did just that was William Cogger, who enlisted with the First Minnesota.

He was slightly wounded at Antietam and decided to walk away. He was not fond of his commanding officer, so he went to a nearby farm, changed out of his uniform and left.

He later re-enlisted under the name William Champion and joined the 21st Pennsylvania. After the war was over, Cogger returned to Bethel Township and was known to people by that name, even though the Army considered William Cogger dead.

It wasn’t until he was in poor health in 1908 that his story became public when he attempted to claim his pension benefits.

The specifics of that part of the tale are confusing at best, and too detailed to include with this story, but the point is that we have a known example of a soldier that walked away from the Union Army.

There are hundreds of other examples of this type of thing from the Civil War.

So is it possible that Tripp, following the chaos at Bull Run, may have been presented with the same opportunity that Cogger had after Antietam?

One final tidbit before I leave you to ponder the answer for yourself.

In 1930, Hannibal Groat, an Anoka man, described an incident around 1905 when a horse was stolen from the Stockwell farm.

The horse was traced to Iowa and where it was found and returned.

The man Groat identified as the thief was none other than Thomas Tripp. It could have been time playing tricks on his memory, but maybe not.

On May 31, the Anoka County Historical Society is opening a new exhibit on the Civil War called All for the Union and later this summer it is publishing a book titled “Keepers of the County: Crime and the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.”

These stories can be found in both.

Editor’s note: Todd Mahon is the executive director at the Anoka County Historical Society.

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