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Aug. 22, 1909: City’s bravest woman outwits robber, wolves, ducks

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Crime Updated: April 15, 2013 - 7:01 PM
 
A gripping profile in prairie courage from the Minneapolis Tribune:
 
Minneapolis 

City’s Bravest Woman
Adds to Her Conquests

 
Miss Eunice Albertson Routs Hungry Wolves With Dishpan.

Years Ago She Battled Highwayman and Saved $500.
 
 
  Brave as Eunice Albertson was, I can find no photo of her. You'll have to settle for this haunting image of an anonymous woman carrying pails across a desolate stretch of the northern prairie in about 1900. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)
The most courageous woman in Minneapolis is Miss Eunice Albertson. Fighting a highway robber with her hands and saving $500, fighting wolves alone at night in a prairie shack with a dishpan, hunting wild ducks with stones, are some of the adventures to her credit. During her 58 years she probably has experienced as much excitement and has done as many heroic deeds as will ever again come to the lot of a woman in this no longer wild and woolly West.
 
Newspaper readers will recall the robbery incident of about 10 years ago, when a burly highwayman’s attempt to sandbag and rob a woman of $500 in the woods near Cedar lake turned out to be a complete fiasco because of the woman’s coolness and bravery.
 
Miss Albertson was then, as she is now, housekeeper in one of the large woman’s boarding homes of this city. She was walking through the woods along the north shore of the lake when the bandit slipped up behind her, thrust his face over her shoulder with the command: “Hand over that money!” The woman had the $500, with which she was going to pay some bills, in a pocketbook held by her left hand. On her right arm she carried a large market basket. She faced about and saw that the robber had a handkerchief tied over his face under his eyes.
 
“Take that handkerchief off your face, if you’re going to talk like that,” she demanded without flinching.
 
“Quick, your money or your life,” the man commanded, looking about him furtively.
 
“My life then, you big coward, to come at a defenseless woman in that way; aren’t you ashamed –”
 
Hit With Sandbag.
 
But just then a sandbag came out from behind the man, and the daring housekeeper dropped her basket, clung to her pocketbook, and with the other hand strove to ward off the blow aimed at her. She was not successful and was laid out on the ground by a sodden blow on the side of the neck. She rose in a moment, however, and dove at the man with her bare hands. She pulled open his shirt, scratched his face, struck him over the eyes with her open palms, and, seeing a swamp a few feet away, pushed him back into it.
 
The battle ended by the robber turning in flight, but not before his victim was bruised and bleeding about the face and her nerves so shattered that she has not yet thoroughly recovered.
 
“No, I wasn’t afraid of him,” Miss Albertson said, in telling of the struggle, “I just made up my mind that he wasn’t going to get my money, and he didn’t,” she added triumphantly. “I didn’t have time to think of screaming. It took all my attention to think of pushing him back into that swamp and dragging the covering off his face. I guess that scared him and made him make off.”
 
The robber is still in the “pen” and the woman has made a great deal more extraordinary history.
 
 
  Eunice W. Albertson was listed as an assistant matron at the Woman's Boarding Home on S. 10th in the 1910 Minneapolis City Directory.
One evening, about three years ago, a group of girls at the boarding house dared Miss Albertson to hold down a claim in North Dakota. She accepted the dare, and for the last three years she has been living absolutely alone in an 8 by 10 shack on the open prairie near the Lone Trail reservation, 12 miles north of Williston. The land she homesteaded has cost her in all $1,000. She returned this spring possessed of property worth over $8,000.
 
The Sioux Indians called her “Waneta,” which means “The Lonely One.” There were absolutely no trees in sight and all the water she used had to be carried one mile. Her nearest white neighbor was four miles distant.
 
“Those were great days,” she always begins when asked to tell of her adventures. “It grew mighty lonely at times, and I wished I could run away from the deadly monotony and silence of the country. But once in a while something would happen to furnish excitement enough to last for a long time.”
 
“What is the most exciting adventure you ever had?” she was asked.
 
“I suppose the time I fought the timber wolves with a dishpan kept me wider awake than anything else I ever did up there. It was in the dead of winter, and I had not seen a soul in two months. The snow was piled up over the fences and drifted up as high as the top of my little shack. I went to bed early in order to sleep through the long winter night after bringing in enough wood to keep me warm for at least 48 hours if I should be snowed in. The coyotes began to howl at nightfall, as usual, but I was quite used to them. They never came near the shack. I soon fell asleep.
 
“But later in the night I was awakened suddenly by a new, wilder blood-curdling note that was a cross between a howl and a scream. The scream part of the howl spelled hunger, the raw, ravenous hunger of the long winter when the deep snow covers up nearly everything alive. The noise came nearer and nearer until they were on the other side of the door. I jumped out of bed, threw on a wrapper, and lifting the latch of the door a few inches, looked out. My heart rose into my mouth at the sight of two huge gray wolves almost on my threshold, their long noses pointed to the sky, their mouths wide open, and slender, dripping tongues hanging over their white fangs.
 
Attack Made on Door.
 
“I slammed the door shut and dropped the latch. But my fear did not diminish for I knew that my door was very thin and that the latch could be broken off with a little pressure from without. I threw more wood on the fire and examined the rifle I kept standing in the corner. I had never before found any use for the gun, and to my consternation I found that I had forgotten how the thing worked, and that I could not get the hammer set just right.
 
“By this time the wolves were leaping up on the door and the latch was creaking. I crouched back in one corner and, for once in my life, I was thoroughly frightened. I saw the screws in the latch giving and working loose. There was no way to brace the door from the inside. There I was with a no-account gun in my hands.
 
“I saw the latch was about to come off, and in one last mad endeavor to protect myself, I rushed for my bed. I do not know whether I intended to get in it or to wrap myself in the thick clothes; but in my haste I knocked my large dish pan off its nail and it fell banging to the floor. This gave me a brilliant inspiration. I grabbed it, reached for a large iron spoon and raised my hand to beat the pan just as the door fell in and the wolves dropped nearly into the middle of the little shack.
 
“Then how I did beat that old pan! The big brutes fell over each other to get through the door again. I ran to the opening and beat harder than ever, and those animals scooted off over the drifts like a pair of fleeing ghosts.”
 
“But were there no pleasures to the country at all?” one of her audience asked her, after they had discussed this thrilling escape.
 
“O, yes, I had plenty of fun at times. I used to go hunting quite often. No, I never used a gun. I never learned to use the rifle very well, and generally left it at home. I just used stones. I killed wild ducks along a nearby creek in the fall, when they would stop to feed by the thousands, by throwing rocks at them, and I ate them until I grew tired of their flesh.”
 
Her listeners grew incredulous at this announcement, and she answered the questioning eyes thus:
 
“It wasn’t such a feat as you might imagine. I could creep up quite close before the birds would hear me. And then I used to practice throwing a good deal when I walked alone across the open prairie. There was nothing else to do most of the time, and I finally became quite expert in throwing stones.”
 
“What other good times did you have?” we asked.
 
“Well, the last summer I was there the young people about that section of the country got acquainted with me, and every Sunday, they used to drive over the prairie for any number of miles and have dinner with me. We used to have some good times. Most of the people nowadays in that country, you know, are men, young men. Girls are rather hard to find. But somehow the young fellows used to come up every Sunday with a girl apiece, and very often with a pair of chickens or a bushel of apples, too. I had only two chairs, and knives and forks for about two persons, and we ran short of dishes of all kinds on every occasion. But that never bothered us. The young people seemed to like to share a cracker box with each other, and when the gravy was poured over their crisp, brown, fried chicken from a sizzling frying pan instead of from a Haviland gravyboat, they never seemed to mind it. Then there were riding and running contests in the afternoon and sometimes one of them would bring a fiddle. Yes, we often went to Williston to attend a little wedding; but the bride and groom, both hard-working young people, were generally with us at the very next meeting and took no offense at the fun we had over their blushes and shyness.”
 
The last incident Miss Albertson recited (she could tell no more after once recalling the experience) was the tragic story that this “unpainted wilderness,” as it is called, has often given the world.
 
It happened in the terrible winter of 1907, the coldest the Northwest had seen for 20 years. The thermometer had dropped to 60 degrees below zero. The windows in the shack had frozen closed over night so tightly that she had to pry them open with knives heated in the stove. Thirty feed of snow had drifted into the hollows and coulees, and there was little to do but to pile wood on the fire and listen to the bitter wind shriek over the glistening sea of snow. It was on one of these cold days that a Scandinavian neighbor made his way to her house on skis. When she had helped him thaw out his nose he told his sad story.
 
Two miles distant from his place a young school teacher was trying to live through her first winter on the prairie. Her neighbors had visited her and warned her that she had not laid up enough fuel and provisions to last her, but she would not heed them and spoke harshly to them about meddling with her. They left her alone.
 
The visitor could see her shack from the top of the hill where he lived and watched daily for the thin thread of smoke to disappear. That very day it had faded away and the little wooden shelter stood out stark and solitary on the cold, pitiless world of snow.
 
He hastened over to the shack on his skis, broke in the door, and found the young teacher lying dead and frozen on the floor, wrapped in all the bed clothes in the hut. All her furniture had been burned and a box of candles had been half eaten. Miss Albertson made her way over the crust of snow on skis and helped give the girl a temporary burial in the deep snow.
 
Miss Albertson is still a vigorous, well preserved woman and looks as though she might easily take care of herself through any more adventures or hardships she might care to negotiate. Though her hair is white and lines furrow her face, yet the blood of youth still tinges her cheeks and her bright, brown eyes sparkle with fire. She will always look the part she has played as a woman to whom the heroic is taken as a matter of course.
 
 
"Mrs. Brown's boarding house" -- not Miss Albertson's -- at 9th Street and 6th Avenue S. in Minneapolis around 1900, give or take 15 years. (Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library)

 

 
Great Northern tracks skirted the north side of Cedar Lake in this 1898 photo by William G. Wallof. (Courtesy Hennepin County Library)

 

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