from Suzzanne Kelley, PhD; Publisher at NDSU Press
Imagine my surprise to open The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and find its announcement that it has “been here for 127 years,” showcasing their longevity with a shootout in Medina. It’s been a while since this ad appeared, and even longer since NDSU Press published the hard story of Bitter Harvest: Gordon Kahl and the Posse Comitatus, Murder in the Heartland, by James Corcoran, in 2005. Bitter Harvest is based on Corcoran’s Pulitzer Prize nominated coverage of the murders of three U.S. Marshals by a militant tax protest group.
At the time of Bitter Harvest‘s publication, I was working on my PhD in history and holding an editorial fellowship with the publishing arm of the Institute for Regional Studies (now NDSU Press). I was planning a drive out to Kulm, ND, to conduct an interview for my dissertation, and Dean Tom Riley (now retired), who was director of the press at that time, asked me to shoot some pictures near Medina, where two decades earlier a deadly shootout occurred between the law and anti-taxer Gordon Kahl and other members of the Posse Comitatus. Federal marshals died, Kahl’s son was mortally wounded, and Kahl made his escape. (I won’t tell you how this story ends except to say it’s not pretty.)
There was not much to photograph that told a story, to my way of thinking. But Riley assured me that the cover designer would make something of my pictures. And so she did, capturing the stark stretch of highway where the shooting took place.
From the book’s publicity copy, we learn: “James Corcoran tells the story of Gordon Kahl and the Posse Comitatus, using captivating narrative and vivid imagery. Sunday, February 13, 1983, was a sunny day in Medina, North Dakota–a seemingly peaceful church-going winter day. But hate politics were broiling in secret locations and the Heartland provided cover for those who wanted to take the law into their own hands. ‘Something terrible, and terribly important, was taking place,’ writes Corcoran. Ever a page-turner, reflect again on this story of violence and how a group of people can construct an alternative version of the law and the truth.”
1983. Not that long ago. A story still relevant today, even as it makes an appearance in a newspaper ad.
Movies, documentaries, and songs followed in the months and years–some showing Kahl a villain, some making him out as a martyr.
Bitter Harvest was first published by Penguin Press published in the 1990s and then by NDSU Press in 2005 with a new foreword by North Dakota journalist Mike Jacobs, former publisher of Grand Forks Herald.
Bitter Harvest: Gordon Kahl and the Posse Comitatus Murder in the Heartland is available at our online store.
Altered Lives: Stories from the Medina Tragedy, documentary by Prairie Public, 2016
Death & Taxes, documentary, 1993