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“Where is my whore*?” Gunderson shouted back — meaning, presumably, Minnie. “I am the boss here and will show you. Get out from here!”
He then picked up a big knife off the table and raised it, yelling for everyone to get out. Udbye put his accordion down and slipped upstairs, returning with a heavy coat draped over his arm.
Meanwhile, Minnie, the 22-year-old whom Gunderson had proposed to two days earlier, went to the table to try to calm him down. But instead, once Udbye had reappeared, he gave him what appeared to be a prearranged signal. The arm with the overcoat came up, spat fire. The bullet, intended for Henry Frishkorn, missed. Meanwhile Gunderson was charging straight at Minnie with the knife.
Then a shotgun roared, deafening everyone. Pellets spattered the wall near Udbye’s head, and the concussion blew out all the lights in the house except for one bulls-eye lantern.
The shotgun roared a second time, and the top of Gunderson’s head flew off and he collapsed, literally dead before he hit the floor. The bulls-eye lantern went out, plunging the house into darkness.
It turned out that while all the adults had been shouting and threatening each other, 14-year-old Emma had slipped into the closet where the shotgun was kept, and quietly loaded it. When Udbye fired at her father, she shot at him, but missed because her mother was standing nearby and she didn’t want to pepper the old woman with stray pellets. Then, Gunderson having gotten dangerously close to Minnie with that knife and clearly intending to use it when he got to her, she let him have the other barrel.
THE SHOTGUNNING, AND the subsequent darkness, put an immediate damper on the growing riot. All parties to the conflict separated for the night. Emma, pale and shaking, had already fled to the boat, and she and the rest of her family retreated to the Thompsons’ house.
The next day, everyone came to Astoria on the sternwheeler Favorite, and the sheriff’s investigation was held. Emma, not surprisingly, was held to have acted in self-defense; but Udbye drew a one-year prison sentence for assault with a dangerous weapon.
AS WITH SO MANY stories of this kind, there are some unanswered questions here. Chief among those is, why did the Frishkorns come to retrieve their personal effects in the dark of night rather than waiting for morning? And the text of Henry Frishkorn’s initial telegram to the sheriff in Astoria has a distinctly disingenuous sound to it. “Two men laid in wait for us in our house,” he telegraphed from the nearby town of Clifton. “We shot one, and the other got away.”
“Laid in wait” ... playing an accordion?
The real story is probably that this was an old-fashioned group fistfight that got out of hand — that the Frishkorns, reinforced with a large posse of supportive neighbors and perhaps braced with a drink or two, came that night to avenge the insults of Gunderson and Udbye with an old-fashioned thrashing. But regardless of that, no one — especially after Gunderson pulled the knife and Udbye started shooting — could blame the frightened 14-year-old girl hiding in the closet for putting an end to it the way she did.