End of the Rope…

Written by: Marvin Baker

There’s a new movie showing in North Dakota theaters that was filmed here in the state. It’s called “End of the Rope,” and is about a farm family in McKenzie County that mysteriously disappears.

Evidence begins to surface that a young farmhand of the missing family is responsible. And while the sheriff and the state’s attorney begin an investigation, a vigilante group decides to take justice into its own hands.

The movie is set in 1931 in Schafer, the McKenzie County seat before Watford City existed. It stars Joseph Gray as Sheriff C.A. Jacobson, Chris Bylsma as state’s attorney Sam Taylor and Nick Saxton as the suspect Charles Bannon.

The young farmhand later confesses to the murders on the advice of his attorney and tells authorities where to find the bodies. When word gets out that law enforcement is coming from Bismarck, the vigilantes go into action, break Bannon out of jail and lynch him on a McKenzie County bridge.

It’s not the first time Charles Bannon was suspected of a crime. In 1928, he was accused of arson in a house fire that killed three of the sheriff’s children in the movie. He was never charged in that case.
Bannon came from a broken, impoverished home and was always considered an outcast growing up in the Schafer area.
This is not a low budget film. It runs for 2 hours 19 minutes and has all the makings of a good Hollywood film. It’s well done and is filled with suspense throughout the movie.

“End of the Rope” comes from a book titled “End of the Rope,” written by Dennis Johnson, a former McKenzie County attorney who spent a considerable amount of time researching and writing about the Bannon lynching as well as other pieces of McKenzie County history.

Johnson, who is now deceased, was actually an extra in the film and played an elderly man on Schafer’s Main Street when Bannon was suspected of killing the Haven family.

Gray, who plays C.A. Jacobson, is a very popular sheriff until the fire. He gives up his badge much to the chagrin of the state’s attorney and turns his focus to farm life during the Great Depression and it doesn’t turn out well. In fact, his wife eventually leaves him because their lives change drastically after the fire.

But when he finds out his friends, the Haven family had disappeared, he gets in on the investigation with Taylor and later takes his badge back in an attempt to keep the peace in Schafer.

Unfortunately, the head vigilante has other ideas and even though Bannon was allegedly responsible for killing the sheriff’s kids, he makes his best attempt to protect Bannon so he can get a fair trial.
But the vigilantes break the door down to the Schafer jail, beat Jacobson unconscious and take Bannon to a bridge where he is later hanged.

The jail scene was filmed in the actual Schafer jail that is the last remaining building in what’s left of Schafer, which is about 5 miles east of Watford City on North Dakota Highway 23.

Movies tend to dramatize actual events and “End of the Rope” is no different. But in the reality of history, only the people at the bridge knew who hanged Bannon. Pieces of this story are well documented. Others are obscure and that’s where Johnson’s book comes into play.

In the movie, Sara Jacobson, the sheriff’s wife, is the one who pushed Bannon over the bridge. In local lore, however, it has been said that some people do know who actually did it, but nobody has ever publicly stated it or the name(s) were never leaked.

This movie, which has a lot of similarities to “1923” and “Yellowstone,” is a must see. It’s old west clashing with modern day and sheds a lot of light on an otherwise weird mystery from nearly 100 years ago in western North Dakota.

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