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Grandpa The Bank Robber

Dec 19, 2011

I still chuckle about the family historian who wrote many years ago that her grandpa was a well-known fellow who died quite suddenly from a neck injury suffered from falling off a horse. It seemed he had just given a very short speech in the shade of a tree in the town square when the horse bolted.

The historian didn't add the fact that her grandpa's neck somehow became tangled in a rope that was tied to a tree branch.

But I shouldn't be amused because the executed man was somebody's grandpa. He must have done something bad. Maybe he stole a horse. But he probably did some kind deeds. If nothing else, he fathered a child who had a child who cared enough to try to whitewash his reputation.

I'm reminded of all this because our Nov/Dec issue featured a very popular article we called "Outlaws and Scofflaws of South Dakota." I've always wanted to use the word Scofflaw on our our magazine cover, and finally after 27 years of publishing we found the opportunity.

The story has been a big hit with most readers, but we've heard from a few family historians who are not pleased that we presented great-uncles and grandmas in such a dark light. Just this morning I received a letter from a woman who wrote, "While I've become acccustomed to (name withheld) being portrayed in a negative light, he did a lot of positive things during his years in the Black Hills."

Point made. Every South Dakotan — every man and woman who ever lived — is more complex than could ever be explained in a few paragraphs of a family history book or in our magazine. So enjoy reading about our outlaws and scofflaws, but let's all remember that many of them were husbands and fathers and friends and neighbors, and that their good deeds might have more than compensated for the banks they robbed, the horses they stole or the worthless mines they sprinkled with gold dust.


07:31 am - Tue, December 20 2011
Laura Johnson said:
I was afraid this was going to be about Mike Rossiter.

Complexity is what makes people interesting, isn't it? If we were all quiet, mild-mannered and saintly, where would we get our stories? Maybe I would feel differently if my relatives had ever done anything spectacularly rogueish. The worst the Johnson family had to offer was Great-Grandpa Johnson's brother Will, who fled the state and moved to New Orleans because he'd helped himself to someone else's cattle.
08:03 am - Wed, December 21 2011
Ed Goss said:
Mom's cousin spent time in the county lock up for DUI back in the 50's. Sheriff's wife cooked meals for prisioners and Sheriff Bob took the meals to the cells. One evening the cousin says as his meal is delivered wait a second and he then picked the cell door lock opened it and said I'll take my supper this way. He and Bob understood each other.
03:55 pm - Wed, December 21 2011
Scofflaw said:
How long does it take to transition from shameful family secret to amusing ancestral anecdote?
07:27 pm - Wed, December 21 2011
Bernie Hunhoff said:
I woulda thought a 100 years would have been enough to make the transition, but apparently not. I know there's still an arrest warrant for my great-great-grandpa from when he left German in the 1870s, but I'm just glad he escaped. There are only a handful of Hunhoffs left in Germany, but thanks to him (or blame him if you wish) we have expanded like mosquitoes here in the USA.
12:10 pm - Tue, February 21 2012
Dave Pyle said:
I love the use of the word "scofflaw". As a former educator and teacher of English on the K-12 and College levels, I had never used nor seen the term used. Thanks and now I have to use it today again.

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