Department: Missoula Merchant Police
(Missoula Police Department) Rank: Merchant Police Officer Tour of Duty: 10 years End of Watch: March 17, 1931 Cause of Death: Gunfire
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 17, 1931, Merchant Policeman Alexander Ross was on a routine patrol of the Higgins Avenue area just beyond the bridge. Ross, a Missoula Police Officer, was assigned to the Merchant Police as his regular duties. This evening Ross was patrolling near the Conoco service station on the corner of South Higgins and Fourth Street.
At this location Ross witnessed two men in a Buick sedan drive away without paying for their gas. He then proceeded into a nearby bakery and phoned the police department to send another officer. As he was on the phone, the sedan returned to the service station. He finished his phone call, telling the desk sergeant to hurry. Rushing across the street he told both men they were under arrest.
One of the men climbed into the car and fled as Ross took the second man, Eddie W. Kernaghan, into custody. As Ross was marching Kernaghan across the Higgins Street Bridge, Kernaghan pulled a pistol from his pocket and fired point blank into Ross. Ross was able to draw his own gun and return fire as Kernaghan fled south across the bridge.
J. Frank Disney, a civilian, was on his way out of the bakery when he heard gunshots. As he was running to assist Ross he encountered Kernaghan. Kernaghan placed his pistol in Disney's face and threatened his life if he revealed his whereabouts. Kernaghan continued south and then into an alley and Disney proceeded to the fallen officer. Ross had his gun in his hand and was badly wounded. He handed Disney his gun and said, "Here son, take my gun. I'm through."
Within a few minutes of shooting Officer Alexander Ross, Eddie Kernaghan of Great Falls was fatally shot by J. Frank Disney and Officer Orville Woodgerd and Officer Oscar Morin. Kernaghan was found hiding under a parked automobile on South Third Street, using the vehicle as cover during the gunfight. He later died at St. Patrick's Hospital, his body riddled with bullet wounds.
Alexander Ross died at Thornton Hospital shortly after the shooting occurred. He completed more than a score of years of service as a peace officer in Missoula. A large crowd of friends, fellow officers and associates gathered at his funeral to pay tribute to the popular officer. Active pall-bearers were Oscar Morin, Gordon Kingham, Henry Morris, F.L. Mattison, Orville Woodgerd and M.W. Kohn. Honorary pall-bearers were Mayor W.H. Beacom and Councilmen Ira Johnston and Lloyd Hague, as well as Fire Chief J.T. Cranney and Otis Warden.
From 1922 to 1925, Alexander Ross was a city herder for Missoula under Mayor Beacom."He was a fine man, and a very efficient officer," Mayor Beacom said."Everyone who knew Mr. Ross was his friend. After 1925, Ross became a merchant policeman and faithfully attended to his duties. Alexander Ross was survived by his widow, three sons (Wellington, Donald and Wallace) and a daughter in Idaho.
In 1977 his grandson, Steve Ross, was hired at the Missoula Police Department. Steve Ross had a long and successful career and retired as a captain. Steve Ross was instrumental in getting his grandfather included on the memorial.