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Emily Welker, Published February 09 2013

Gordon Kahl shootout; 30 years later: Slain marshal’s son returned to region to practice law

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. – Ryan Cheshire goes to work every day in one of the region’s most charming, whimsical examples of architecture.

The Otter Tail County Courthouse has otters everywhere – picked out in brass on the doorknobs, running along the top of the signs identifying the different departments.

But for Cheshire, the charms of the design are more in the old buildings’ security features.

“I think they’ve done a great job – they’re actually redesigning it to have only one entrance,” he said.

That’s important because Ryan Cheshire, an Otter Tail County prosecutor, was marked early in life by the tensions between law enforcement and the sometimes volatile political views of the people in their communities.

He is the son of Deputy Marshal Bob Cheshire, who was shot to death in 1983 along with U.S. Marshal Kenneth Muir while they were trying to serve an arrest warrant on Gordon Kahl near Medina, N.D.

Ryan was only a small boy when his father was killed 30 years ago. After that, his mother picked up and left the area with him and his two siblings.

“I think that was one reason my family left for the West Coast, to start anew,” Cheshire said. “You can’t let yourself be defined by one event in your life.”

Yet in some ways, that event helped set Cheshire on his ultimate path. Initially, he considered a career in law enforcement, having gotten his undergraduate degree in criminal justice. His mother never discouraged him, he said, but ultimately, he chose a career as an attorney prosecuting criminals instead.

“Obviously, any mom wants their child to be safe,” said Cheshire, who now has young children of his own. “Unlike in law enforcement, I’m not doing it every day – physically every day.”

The risks are still there, however, something Cheshire acknowledges. In 2011, a man convicted in a child molestation trial in Hettinger, N.D., pulled a pistol on a prosecutor and a prosecutor in Minnesota’s Cook County was also shot.

Cheshire said he returned to the region where his father made the biggest sacrifice any law enforcement family can endure partly because he wanted to go to law school at the University of North Dakota. He also still had close family friends in the area.

But there was something bigger, too.

“To just try to help people, to do good,” he said. “You can let the bad guys rule the world. Or you can try to help people – with the God-given resources I have.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541