Grandson still honors sheriff

Gar Jorgensen on his recent visit to Fairmont.

A grim bit of Martin County history still has an effect in the modern day, preserving one man’s interest in the Fairmont area.

On Sept. 8, 1931, Martin County Sheriff Guss Jorgenson was killed in the line of duty. Eighty-eight years later, his grandson, Garwood “Gar” Jorgensen of Wyoming, recently visited the area to honor his grandfather’s memory and to take in the small town atmosphere that has captivated him over the years.

Gar first visited Fairmont as a 20-year-old, 50 years ago, as recorded in the Sept. 3, 1969, edition of the Sentinel. He shares his story about that moment, and why he continues to be drawn to Fairmont despite his family’s sad encounter.

“I came here to the newspaper office to look at the old newspapers when my grandfather was killed,” he said. “He’s always been a sort of heroic figure in the family. My parents grew up here and were married, but they moved to Los Angeles and I’d never been here before. So I came back to see the newspapers and tried to find out where he had been killed.”

Guss Jorgenson was gunned down on the Roy Pygman farm in Nashville Township following a confrontation with Nicholas Rodriguez, a beet worker on the farm.

Unfortunately, Gar’s first visit did not help reveal the location, due to the fact that Pygman was a renter, and the farm was never registered to him.

In keeping with tradition, Gar also arrived this year with a bit of style, riding in on a motorcycle, just as he did 50 years ago.

“When I first came, I rode a 350 Honda [motorcycle] from L.A. and it took me a week to get here,” he said. “At the time, I thought that was a big motorcycle, and now 50 years later I’m back on my motorcycle. I’ve been back previously in 1999, as a sort of 30th anniversary, also on a motorcycle.”

That visit proved fruitful, as it helped Gar solve the mystery of exactly where the event occurred.

“At that time, I sent a letter to the Sentinel and asked that they publish it requesting that if anybody remembered the incident and if they knew where it was, that they would write to me,” he said. “Well, I got about 16 letters from people around the area, and one of them came from people who were currently living at the farm where he was killed.

“Well, I met a few people (in 1999), and met the old police chief and was finally able to go out and see the farm where he was killed. I met the two young sons of the farmer who were present when my grandfather was killed. They were in the single digits at the time, but they had no phone so their father sent them running to the neighboring farm to call it in.”

Gar shared that he is thankful for the Sentinel’s help over the years, noting that the story of his first visit helped reconnect him with family in the area.

“After I left that first time (in 1969), I went up to Minneapolis and my mother called me and said, ‘Get back down to Fairmont,’ because her aunt had seen the article that was written in the paper about me and she wanted to see me. The guy I had talked to went out onto the street in front of the Sentinel and he was stopping people and asking if they remembered Sheriff Jorgenson and the shooting incident. Enough of them did and he decided to put an article in the paper.

“I was also able to go see the old Sheriff’s Office, which was part residence and part jail, and met the sheriff at that time, who showed me around and some of the records. Back then, if you were elected sheriff, your whole family was elected sheriff. My grandmother took care of the books for the office and cooked for the prisoners and all that kind of stuff.

“In looking at those record books, from the date that my grandfather became sheriff and through the next five years was all in my grandmother’s handwriting. She had very unusual, distinct handwriting.”

Gar also shared that visiting the area caused him to fall in love with the people and the atmosphere.

“I grew up hearing all these great stories about Fairmont, and I thought seriously about retiring here,” he said. “But our roots are in California and this would be a little bit far from family.

“I like the small town part of it, the history of my grandfather and being a small part of that. I love it here,” he said.

Gar shares that he would like to continue making trips to Fairmont in the future.

“I still have one relative here in town, and I would also like to get here on the 100th anniversary of [my grandfather’s] death, which is 12 years away. I’ll be 82, however, so I don’t think I’ll be riding my motorcycle then.”