by Markus Krueger
I was at a long table full of friends at a regular Friday after work get together. John Trelstad mentioned that he just ran across the lyrics to the first song he ever wrote. In 1975, John was asked to write a song about a local double murder that took place in 1873. Some guy named Patrick Sullivan did it, he said. I darn near dropped by glass of “Friday after work juice.” “Patrick Sullivan?” I exclaimed. “The guy who killed Jerry Brennan and Whats-His-Name Fallon?” I was shocked. There is actually a song about this piece of Wild West Moorhead history?
Here’s what happened 150 years ago. Patrick Sullivan was a worker on the Northern Pacific Railway who, sources say, was involved in leading other workers in a strike. Employers frown upon that kind of behavior, so Pat was fired. In the early morning hours of June 29, 1873, sometime between 1 and 4 am, an already drunk Pat walked into John Hanson’s saloon, and who did he see? NPRR section bosses Andrew Fallon and Jerry Brennan. Pat ordered a drink and told the two men that he dropped his watch. Fallon leaned down to look for it. Suddenly Sullivan sliced Fallon’s abdomen open with a knife and stabbed Brennan twice in the bowels. Patrick Sullivan then calmly left the saloon. His victims took hours to die.
John Hanson quickly called for Sheriff Jim Blanchard. Before Blanchard could get a posse together to apprehend Sullivan, though, the slayer walked back into the saloon, took a seat, and turned himself in. The jury found Sullivan insane and sentenced him to the asylum in St. Peter. After a couple years, he was deemed sane again, retried for the murders, and sent to prison in Stillwater. He was in Stillwater Penitentiary either (according to local historian Roy Johnson’s 1950 article) for the rest of his life, or (according to Sheriff Blanchard’s memoir) for a couple of years until he escaped and moved to Ireland.
One hundred and two years later, Fargo-Moorhead was gearing up for their towns’ shared centennial celebration (the centennial for these towns founded in 1871 was oddly held in 1975). The festivities culminated in a play about local history that ran for 5 nights on an outdoor stage at MSUM’s Nemzek Field. John Trelstad, a 22-year-old musician, was asked to write a song about Moorhead’s Wild West days and perform it in that play. He wasn’t a songwriter, but he read the story and put words to music. It was the first song he ever wrote. The second he wrote was about the Flood of 2009, and it raised $4000 for the Salvation Army.
Just shy of a half century later, John plays guitar and mandolin for the band Tuckered Out, alongside his brother Lynn Trelstad and bassist Ryan Haug. Tuckered Out has a regular gig at the Troll Lounge on the 4th Thursday of every month. Go see them!