Oscar Subby and the Broadway gun battle

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 6, 2002

For nearly 60 years, Oscar Subby, a former Albert Lea police officer and Freeborn County sheriff, lived with a bullet firmly lodged in his upper body.

Saturday, April 06, 2002

For nearly 60 years, Oscar Subby, a former Albert Lea police officer and Freeborn County sheriff, lived with a bullet firmly lodged in his upper body. How this Danish immigrant received this unwanted souvenir just over a century ago is based on one of the city’s wildest gun battles. And what happened on South Broadway Avenue during an early fall evening 101 years ago was for a few minutes was more like an incident one might expect to take place in a frontier town further west in the nation.

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Subby was born on Feb. 14, 1875, in Rodly Lolland, Denmark. His family came to Albert Lea when he was 5. Oscar attended the local schools, then worked for four years at the Brundin Bros. Packing Co. In 1899, he became a member of the Albert Lea Police Department.

On the evening of Oct. 2, 1900, Subby was on duty. He was informed that a man was in the 100 block of South Broadway Avenue brandishing a pistol. Subby decided it was his duty to intercept this individual and to quietly disarm him.

The man with the pistol was named John Hare. He was described by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, author of the 1911 History of Freeborn County book, as a &uot;demented man.&uot; A 1960 Tribune article said Hare has been a patient at the state hospital in St. Peter and was arrested earlier in 1900 for threatening the life of a neighbor,

Subby approached the man with the pistol and reportedly said a few words in a quiet voice. Hare fired his pistol and the bullet struck Subby in the left side just below the heart, penetrating nearly to the spine. The wounded police officer fell down on his right side and was unable to use his pistol.

Hare continued to walk south on Broadway. What took place during the next few minutes was pure confusion. Police Chief J.J. Sullivan and another officer took cover and fired several shots at Hare. A small crowd came to the scene and a few folks evidently joined in as participants in the gun battle. Hare fired his pistol a few times to discourage the gathering crowd from getting too close.

Near the courthouse Hare shot and severely wounded William H. Jones. Historical accounts are somewhat vague as to how Jones obtained a pistol and if he had taken a shot or two at Hare. Jones was then the proprietor of the Albert Lea House, a small hotel and eating place located at 323 S. Ermina Ave., near the M. & St. L. Railroad depot.

Hare paused near the courthouse to reload his pistol. Someone, and again historical accounts are rather vague on this detail, shot him in the head. The local gunbattle suddenly ended with three wounded men; two (Hare and Jones) in serious condition, and one (Subby) in fair condition.

Hare and Jones were taken to the nearby hospital operated by Dr. Nissen, Both wounded men died the next day.

An undated essay in the files of the Freeborn County Historical Society, written by Donald Whitcomb, says:

&uot;Meanwhile, at the hospital, Subby was being treated and Jones was dying. Jones only lived a few hours and his dying words to Policeman Subby, who was at his side were,’Take care of my wife and children.’ Subby carried out the dying man’s request to the fullest by marrying the Widow Jones.&uot;

Subby soon returned to duty as an Albert Lea police officer. And on Dec. 30, 1903, he married the widow. Lillian Peterson Jones, and became the stepfather of her son and daughter. The couple later had two sons.

In 1904, Subby was elected Freeborn County Sheriff, a post he was to hold for 10 years.

In the early 1910s, Subby became involved with the Albert Lea Grader Mfg. Co., a firm located a block east of the present United Employees Credit Union. The 1914 city directory lists Subby as both sheriff and as the president of the foundry firm which made horse-drawn road graders and drags. (Their motto was, &uot;Light enough for two horses; strong enough for six horses.&uot; The Albert Lea Grader Mfg. Co. had a rather short history and faded away by 1920.)

After serving as the county’s sheriff, and while he was president of the grader firm, Subby became involved in an ambitious construction project which he and several others thought would really promote the city’s central area. His partners in this project were Alex Erickson, president of the Albert Lea State Bank, and Henry J. Harm, owner of Harm’s Jewelry, 211 S. Broadway Ave. The trio decided to build what was to be the city’s tallest structure for many years at the comer of East William Street and South Newton Avenue.

This structure, initially called the Erickson-Harm-Subby Office Building in 1917, soon became known as the Home Investment Building. In later years the structure was called the Hyde Building, the Nel-Sa Building, and is now the Lea Center.

Yet, for many years there was another very unofficial but descriptive name – the six-story building.

Subby became the manager of the Home Investment Co. and its big building, a position he was to hold until his retirement.

The former police officer and county sheriff died on July 8, 1960, with the bullet slug which he had received nearly 60 years earlier still in his body.