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Unintended Consequences of a Noble Experiment

Updated: Apr 1

Squeezed onto the front page of the June 12th, 1929 edition of The New York Times was a brief article from Orofino under the headline “4 Men Kidnap Idaho’s Lieutenant-Governor; Finally Leave Him and 2 Others Tied to Trees.” The column went on to note that Kinne “was abducted by four automobile bandits this morning and left tied to a tree in the mountains after his car had been wrecked in a wild dash about the country side. He returned home uninjured tonight.” In the following days additional details about this ill-conceived and poorly executed criminal endeavor would surface, documenting just one more example of the lawlessness that came to characterize Prohibition-era America.


William Kinne, elected to Boise only a few months earlier, was returning to his home in Orofino following a trip to Portland when his car was stopped along U.S. Route 12 east of Lewiston by a group of four armed young men. Kinne was forced into the back of his own car by gunpoint, at which time the criminals piled into their newly acquired vehicle and proceeded east at speeds that the lieutenant governor believed topped more than 60 miles per hour. Before the kidnappers could reach their intended destination of Pierce where they meant to rob a bank, a blown out tire threw Kinne’s car into the ditch. Two men making their way along the same route stopped on the scene to offer aid, but when they resisted being kidnapped themselves, the bandits turned to physical violence. Warren Tribbey was shot in the leg twice and Paul Kilde was beaten unconscious before the gang piled all three of their prisoners into Tribbey’s vehicle and made for the cover of mountains and Greer, Idaho.


By late afternoon the criminals began to see the error of their ways, knowing that the absence of a lieutenant governor would not go unnoticed for long, and so the three were taken into the woods outside of Greer and tied to a tree. Although the bandits took their hostages cash and vehicle, they neglected to confiscate Tribbey’s pocketknife in their hurry to make an escape. It took little time to free themselves, and soon Kinne and his compatriots were sharing their harrowing tale in the town of Greer. By nightfall scouting parties were forming to augment the official searches being undertaken by Nez Perce, Clearwater, and Latah County law enforcement. The assembled efforts were so remarkable that newspapers across the country reported on the manhunt. One article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted on June 13th that “a state-wide search was under way today for the four bandits who kidnapped and robbed Liet. Gov. W.B. Kinne…four airplanes and 150 possemen who hunted the official yesterday continued their search today for the bandits.”


It would take two farm boys from Juliaetta, however, to nab the gang of would-be robbers. Exhausted after nearly two days of skulking through the woods and ravines of north central Idaho, the bandits were spotted by 14 year old Ward Alexander and 16 year old Sam Bryant sleeping along the banks of the Potlatch Creek, and Latah County Deputy Sheriff Miles Pierce arrived within minutes to arrest the men. The photo of the kidnappers and their captors above was most likely taken in Juliaetta the following morning, after Lt. Governor Kinne arrived to positively identify the culprits. One nationally syndicated column shared that the man who Kinne singled out as responsible for shooting Kilde “threatened the lieutenant governor’s life if he ‘identified’ him. ‘You may be all right for a while, but wherever you are when I get out of this, I’ll kill you sure,’ officers reported him as saying.” Within a week the criminals stood trial in Lewiston on kidnapping charges, with all receiving multi-year jail sentences. All threats of retribution went unfulfilled, however, because in September of that same year Kinne died in office from complications associated with appendicitis.


Although sensational and worthy of note in countless newspapers, this sort of incident became all too common during the years of the national prohibition of alcohol, 1920 to 1933. Proponents touted temperance as the single most effective way to uplift the moral character of the country and improve the lives of its citizens. Yet the Noble Experiment, as it came to be called, undoubtedly contributed to a rise in organized crime, petty criminal activity, and a host of unhealthy behaviors. You may be familiar with flappers and Al Capone, but how much do you really know about Prohibition? Join the Latah County Historical Society next Saturday, April 11th for its second annual Brews & BBQ, presenting “How to Catch a Moonshiner, and Other Tales from Prohibition Era Latah County.” More details about this fundraising event can be found at www.latahcountyhistoricalsociety.org. A companion photo exhibit will also be on display at the Moscow Brewing Company through April.


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© 2020 by the Latah County Historical Society.

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