Medina’s Thirty-Year Echo: Honoring the Memory of Our Fallen
By David S. Turk, Historian, U.S. Marshals Service
Certain tragic moments in Marshals Service history bear thoughtful
reflection. We memorialize all 246 official line-of-duty deaths. The
unfortunate reality holds that USMS personnel face daily dangers going
after the “worst of the worst” fugitives. This truth resonates brightly
in our heritage. The most recent remembrances are the anniversaries
marking the deaths of Deputy U.S. Marshal Derek Hotsinpiller, on February
16, 2011, and Senior Inspector John Perry, March 8, 2011. Both brave men
were gunned down on missions against armed fugitives.
Tributes to U.S. Marshal Kenneth Muir and Deputy U.S. Marshal Robert
Cheshire evoke historical recollections of their deaths near Medina,
N.D., on February 13, 1983 – some 30 years ago to the day. A third
deputy marshal, James Hopson Jr., was forced into retirement due to
disability from severe wounds sustained in the gun battle. Because of a
few fateful moments, all three men will always be linked to another name
– tax protestor Gordon Kahl.
In the spring of 1981, Gordon Kahl, 63, arrived in his native North
Dakota from Texas, where he worked as a steam operator for an
oil-related business. Federal authorities wanted him on a warrant for
probation violation, stemming from the non-payment of taxes back in the
1970s. Although imprisoned for a year and on probation for five more, he
claimed that his tax protest group was a “church” and therefore tax
exempt, despite no legal standing. He brought his family to North Dakota
and quickly gathered more followers. His group brandished a paramilitary
appearance and came to be known as the “Posse Comitatus.” Kahl had a
grassroots network within the community that was sympathetic to his
Law enforcement had been watching Kahl’s activities in and around
Heaton, N.D. He successfully avoided authorities a number of times, but
information developed about a meeting of his group in Heaton on Feb. 13,
1983. Muir, Cheshire, Hopson and Deputy U.S. Marshal Carl Wigglesworth
worked with local authorities to assemble a roadblock and arrest Kahl
when he headed home from the meeting. A blocking vehicle and a “chase”
car would seal off the road from the front and behind. Cheshire was in
the “chase” vehicle; Muir was at the roadblock in front.
At approximately 6 p.m., Kahl was a passenger in one of two vehicles
leaving the meeting and heading toward the roadblock just outside the
city of Medina. The road rolled over several hills and allowed Kahl’s
party to see flashing police light in time to turn back and avoid the
roadblock. As Kahl’s party headed back, they encountered the “chase”
vehicle. They were armed with semi-automatic rifles and pinned down
Cheshire as he tried to make a stand.
Realizing the danger, Muir took his car to the scene and attempted to
negotiate with Kahl and his supporters. Cheshire was shot, and a
firefight ensued, claiming the lives of Muir and Cheshire, and wounding
Hopson and a sheriff’s deputy.
Kahl and his followers escaped, setting off a nationwide manhunt that
lasted until June. Law enforcement tracked Kahl to Walnut Ridge, Ark.
Despite being well-provisioned, a local sheriff was killed before Kahl
could be stopped. The sheriff apparently shot Kahl dead before
succumbing to his mortal wound. The ensuing firefight ignited the
structure which had a flammable sod roof. It is believed that the
sheriff’s bullet killed Kahl.
Muir, 63, a seasoned deputy who began his career in 1959, had served
bravely during the University of Mississippi riots in 1962. He rose
through the ranks and became U.S. Marshal for the District of North
Dakota in June 1981. Cheshire, 32, joined the USMS in 1978.
USMS Director William E. Hall and U.S. Attorney General William French
Smith met with the families of the fallen USMS personnel and honored
their lives for making the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty.
President Ronald Reagan personally expressed his condolences.
Cheshire left a widow and three small children. Muir was survived by his
wife and three children as well. Hopson retired with a permanent
disability from a bullet wound and has since passed away.
At the 30-year mark, there are many ways to look back at Medina. The
tragedy was not a singular instance, as history has since proven. By
remembering Muir, Cheshire, Hopson and Wigglesworth, along with
Hotsinpiller and Perry in more recent times, we honor their service and
memory. Their deaths remind us of the important work performed by deputy
marshals every day.
Current North Dakota U.S. Marshal Paul Ward may have put it best: “Today
we honor all the law enforcement officers involved who gave all they
could and all they had. Their final act of bravery will live on forever
in the memories of the good people throughout the Marshals Service.”