“The Duke of Sanborn”

All sorts and types of men appeared on the scene when Dakota Territory was settled.  Unfortunately, not all were the strong, upright and industrious settlers of that period.  It was the age of the “promoter”.

One such individual appeared in Sanborn sometime in 1881.  An Englishman, he dressed and acted the part and by inference indicated that he was a duke, or something.  His name was J. Gwynne Vaughn.  He soon became known as “The Duke of Sanborn”.

The Northern Pacific Railroad survey had been completed to the town of Newport (Melville) and was in the process in a northwesterly direction.  The survey had passed a mile north of a community being promoted by Richard Sykes.  Sykes found himself with a rival in the person of J. Gwynne Vaughn.  Vaughn had platted the town of “Gwynne City” on the Pipestem River, only a short distance from the Sysketon Community.  This was the first platted town in Wells County.

The town site was surveyed by George Taylor, a form regular army soldier and with a long connection with the U. S. Secret Service.  The plat was file in Jamestown on May 12, 1882.

J. Gwynne Vaughn proceeded to have the plat lithographed in colors and then added to the plat, a mighty river, the Pipestem, which showed steamboats plying between Gwynne city and Jamestown, with loading docks at the foot of Main Street.  Banks, A city Hall, a school and other buildings were shown, all of course, non-existent.  Railroads were shown as radiating from the city.

These lithographs were made into posters and were circulated throughout the eastern states with advertisements of the golden opportunities awaiting the eager investor.

The Advertising copy read as follows:

Gwynne City!

Devils Lake Region!

The Metropolis of Wells County!

Situated on the Pipestem River, in the midst of the best wheat lands in Northern Dakota.  A large hold will be commenced in this town at once.  Also general stores and livery stable.  Now is the time to purchase lots in this rising and prosperous young town.  Great opening for a lively newspaper and a rare chance for Doctors, Lawyers, and Businessmen generally; on the line of the branch of the Northern Pacific Railroad; $20,600 will be spent on buildings on this place before June.  English capitalists have taken hold of this town and have decided to boom it.  Those who have already purchased lots can congratulate themselves.  It is the coming city in Northwest!

J. Gwynne Vaughn seduced a number of parties into investing in lots and business locations and he was riding high on his profits.  Needless to say, when an investor arrived in Jamestown to look over his investment in Gwynne City, J. Gwynne Vaughn was not to be found and no one in Jamestown knew where Gwynne City was located.

One day he returned to Sanborn from a trip east to promote his non-existent city.  As he stepped off the train he was met by two gentlemen who turned out to be detectives from England’s Scotland Yard.  He was arrested and forthwith returned to England to stand trial for crimes he had committed before leaving that country.

Many years have passed and still no steamboats whistles are heard on the “mighty” Pipesteam River.  Gwynne City is but a memory and a dusty plat on file in Wells County Courthouse.