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Cuthbert 'Old Paps' DuCharme was one of many colorful characters in South Dakota's past. His trading post rests in Geddes' city park.
Cuthbert "Old Paps" DuCharme was one of many colorful characters in South Dakota's past. His trading post rests in Geddes' city park.

Reminders of Our Outlaw Days

Oct 10, 2012


Every region has favorite outlaws and villains but few have the outlaw-rich history of Dakota Territory and South Dakota.

Those who came to Dakota Territory were either bravely adventurous or very desperate. The faint of heart did not leave family, friends and comforts of home for a dangerous and uncertain existence. South Dakota remains the center of the American frontier, and we are surrounded by remnants and reminders of territorial history.

Furthermore, descendants of some of our most colorful characters still live here. Last year I helped write a South Dakota Magazine article on outlaws. We featured a man who had lured investors to the Hills by switching mineral samples. The suckers realized they had been duped when miners processed 3,000 tons of ore and extracted only $5 in gold. It's a good story, but one of our readers took offense. "My grandfather was not a crook!" wrote a nice lady from West River. It turns out her ancestor was also a pillar of the Rapid City community.

Other reminders of our outlaw past remain in every corner of the state. In Geddes the cabin of fur trader Cuthbert DuCharme sits in the city park. DuCharme, called "Old Paps" because of a talent for whiskey-making (Papineau is French for whiskey), lived along the banks of the Missouri River. His roadhouse boomed when Fort Randall was established, and wild parties were held every night.

On the other side of the state, a tree used for hanging three accused horse thieves still stands on Skyline Drive in Rapid City. The tree died long ago, but the trunk is now embedded in concrete, a grey reminder of an era when hangings were punishment for a crime that might not merit a prison sentence today.

One of those killed that night was a teenager. His two traveling companions admitted their guilt, but declared to the very end that the boy was innocent. Some Rapid Citians felt there was a curse on their city because of the boy's hanging.

Yes, our past is hard to escape. A new gravestone now marks the Gregory County burial site of Jack Sully, the famous Robin Hood of the Rosebud country. The shackles worn by Lame Johnny on his last stagecoach ride (vigilantes stopped the coach and hanged him) are now split between the State Historical Society in Pierre and the 1881 Custer Courthouse Museum. Potato Creek Johnny's 7.75 ounce gold nugget can be seen at the Adams Museum in Deadwood. And you can still sleep at Poker Alice's house in Sturgis.

Reminders of our outlaw history are all around. South Dakota Magazine recently published a book, South Dakota Outlaws and Scofflaws, about the colorful characters who settled Dakota Territory. The book also points readers to historical places that can still be visited today — like Old Pap's cabin and the hanging tree. For more information, call us at 1-800- 456-5117. 


07:51 pm - Thu, October 11 2012
Jim said:
South Dakota is a great place for anyone interested in history.So many sites that are interesting,accessible and free.Your scofflaws book is an excellent guide to a bunch of them.
06:23 am - Fri, November 16 2012
iyiiieoe said:
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09:22 am - Tue, December 11 2012
Rose winkler said:
I heard those story's when growing up. My dad was with Forrest services in blackhills we live in spearfish. My father stills talks about.
06:04 pm - Mon, June 23 2014
Sandy Dougherty said:
Old Paps, Cuthbert DuCharme is my great great grandfather. I heard many stories of him and his Lakota Indian wife, Theresa Latina La Compte, from my mother. We are all part of the Cheyenne River Sioux. A wonderful place to bring the family to see their roots. We are here in SD to do just that. Going to see Paps store tomorrow. It is the oldest standing commercial building in the state of South Dakota.

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