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THAT REMINDS ME: ‘I shot him,’ the popular GF doctor reportedly replied

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Most people who live in Grand Forks have heard bits and pieces of the story of Dr. H.M. Wheeler.

Some of the information gathered recently for a display here is from the Northfield, Minn., news archives.

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A pioneer physician in Grand Forks, Wheeler is long remembered for helping to foil the Jesse James gang’s bank robbery in Northfield. That was on Sept. 7, 1876, when Wheeler was a student of medicine at the University of Michigan and home for a break in Northfield.

He was sitting in front of his father’s drug store in the afternoon, he later said. He saw the first three men ride up the street, tie their horses and go into the bank.

He ran to get a gun and was involved in an escalating battle, shooting one gunman in the chest.

To this day, there are stories about Wheeler using bodies from the raid for laboratory study back in Ann Arbor, Mich. And more stories about Wheeler eventually bringing the skeletons to Grand Forks.

The Wheeler saga is retold in displays being set up in the Myra Museum of the Grand Forks County Historical Society. And an opening is planned as a special event at the museum on Sunday, Sept. 14, according to Leah Byzewski, museum director.

The event will be a chance for people to come and learn more about Wheeler, she said. “We hope people will share Wheeler stories not commonly known and join us for coffee and treats.”

The Wheeler display will include the actual carbine rifle used in the gun battle when he shot and killed outlaw Clel Miller. Also on display will be the Smith and Wesson pistol Wheeler carried for the rest of his life because of threats from Miller’s family.

And there will be Wheeler’s certificate of membership in the Dakota Medical Society, his marriage certificate to his second wife, Josephine, and his hand tooled Masonic trunk.

These artifacts are on loan to the museum from the local owners, Gerald Groenewold and Connie Triplett.

When Dr. Wheeler died in 1930, there was a headline in the Northfield News saying, “Northfield Bank Raid Hero Dies.” His body was brought from Grand Forks, where city offices had been closed in his honor, and where hundreds were reported to have paid tribute in services at the Masonic Temple.

Wheeler came to Grand Forks in 1881 and practiced medicine here. He was briefly the first dean of the UND medical school. He served on the City Council and as mayor of Grand Forks from 1918 to 1920. He was grandmaster of the territorial Masonic Grand Lodge of North Dakota.

Wheeler was born June 23, 1854, at Newport, N.H. He moved with his parents to Northfield in 1856. He earned his medical degree at the University of Michigan in 1877. He later studied at the College of Physicians in Chicago and at Columbia University.

He married Adeline Murray in Northfield. She and an infant daughter died in June 1881. The following month, Wheeler went to Grand Forks, where he practiced medicine until his retirement.

He married Josephine Connell of St. Cloud in 1884. She died in 1914. He later married May McCulloch in 1922. She survived him along with a son, Henry Mason Wheeler Jr., who was almost 6 when Dr. Wheeler died.

The longtime doctor had his offices over the Trepanier Drug store in downtown Grand Forks. He is said to have been modest about his role in foiling the bank robbery.

But there were stories saying that Wheeler had the skeleton of Clel Miller, the bandit he shot in the street battle. The reports continued to say that arriving one morning at the laboratory with a cadaver from Northfield, Dr. Wheeler asked a freshman to help him carry it into the building. The young man asked the senior medic where the body had been obtained.

As the story goes, the doctor said, “I shot him.” And the freshman fainted. 

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