Winner Airport Daybefore Robert Kennedy murdered

Winner Airport Daybefore Robert Kennedy murdered
John and Freya Simpson, Senator Kennedy at Winner sirport -June 1968 primary

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Recollections of the 11TH Circuit Bar


Imagine if you will the small wind swept dust bowl towns of Kennebec, Oacoma, Presho, Murdo , Kadoka, Wood, Witten, Martin, Gregory, Mission   and Winner producing the likes of John G. Bartine, Governor M.Q.Sharpe, Senators James Abnor and John Thune, Congressman Williamson, Conressman Clint Roberts and Ben Reifel and Congressman and then Senator James Abourezk Judges John B. Jones and Pat McKeever, Don G.Grieves, H.P, Gilchrist and Marvin S Talbott , Attorneys General A.C. Miller, Clair Roddewig, Mark Meirhenry, Bill Janklow and Laryy Long and the man who gave  birth to  Governor Janklow, Danny Parish.
 Lawyers like Bill Grady, P.J. Donohue, George Fielding  Johnson and his son  Rick Johnson, Dudley R. Herman, John J. Simpson Wm D.Wernke, Wm F. Day , Jr, Roscoe Knodell,  Claude and Bob Maule, C.E. and Marvin Talbott , John George Day, Freddie Cozad and John Larson ,  J. R. and Claudia Cash and many others interliopers such as Bob Riter, Bob Hofer, Warren May,Ellsworth Evnas., John Lindley ,Horace Jackson, and Pat Morrison  who  will find a place in our  story together with whatever  poetic  license  your author can indulge.

This from a time and a place where dust bowls were so common that  attorney Mick Strain relates the story of his drunken uncle ( we all have one) who when staggering across the wide main street in White River was knocked down and run over by a large tumbleweed . propelled by the cyclonic  winds that only west river can produce.  Mick’s Uncle picked himself  up and hollered for all to hear- “for God’s sake next time honk your horn”!

It was also the Lyman county court system that prosecuted a white man for disturbing the piece and convicted the native American  lady with whom he had  “tripped the light fantastic” of adultery-or so the Danny Parrish story goes.

Of course, to the west, Jackson County had given us Judge H.P.Gilchrist. who sat on the bench in wool worsted suit sans a black robe and apologized to the bar when the Supreme Court finally  “ordered” him to wear a robe. Always kind, never vindictive , H.P. loved lawyers and treated every one of them with the greatest respect as did all of the Judges who served in the 11th circuit   before it was changed to the 6th circuit. Times sure have changed
An  insight  into H.P’s character may be garnered from the fact that he would entertain  friends  at his  Kadoka home for “odd couple” like poker games when his wife was away.
Just like Walter  Mathau playing Oscar Madison  our  dear Judge  would light up a strong and smelly cigar, grab the lace curtain by the window, blow several streams  of  smelly cigar smoke into the lace curtain, smile, nod to his wife’s empty chair  and say “that’s for you dear”.

I had close relationships with Judge H, P, Gilchrist and Danny Parrish his court reporter, Judges John Jones and Pat McKeever as well as John Larson, M.Q’s protégé. and a young Bill Janklow, legal aid lawyer.
Let me tell you about these gents from Lyman, Jones and Jackson , Bennett, Tripp.  Mellette and Gregory counties many of whom, would become legends of West River
M.Q became Governor of course after being elected States Attorney, Attorney General he was a legend in himself.  
If you don’t believe me just stop in the Lyman county courthouse in Kennebec. Now try climbing the steps using the hand rail. Can’t  quite reach it can you. That’s because MQ was close to being a midget and that hand rail was placed at that low level just to accommodate him. And besides wasn/t he the states attorney when it was constructed?
Then  take a trip to the State Capitol and walk from the old main capital to the annex added to the north, notice  anything? There’s a slight incline separating the annex from the capital proper.
Talk about strict constructionist, MQ was Attorney General and he ruled that the main capital building could be added to only if the annex floors were slightly different that the original capital floors.
 M.Q. was father of the  construction of the Missouri  river dams that led to the great lakes of the Dakota.
Jack Stahl editor of the Madison Daily Leader had this to say about MQ:
(copy of editorial  praising MQ.) 

“South Dakota may not yet fully realize it, but they have in M. Q.Sharpe one of the ablest, most farsighted and hardest working governors ever to occupy the Statehouse at  Pierre. And he is doing things.
This week at Omaha he helped to organize and was elected permanent chairman of the Missouri River states committee, formed for the purpose of joint action by eight states in the Missouri Valley in securing all possible benefits through improvement of the stream’s channel, safeguarding it against further disastrous floods, and developing the natural resources along its banks.
South Dakota without question would be a large beneficiary of such a program, but Governor. Sharpe contends the organization must refuse to sponsor any individual projects, but to work for the entire development of the entire Missouri River basin for the purposes of storing water, reclamation, power development and navigation and that all benefits such as revenues from power projects should be shared equally by all of the eight states concerned. 
We had occasion to call on Gov. Sharpe’s office this week just as he was preparing to leave for the Omaha conference. It was our first visit to Pierre  since he became governor.
As we entered his office, which bore evidence on every hand that it was a sanctum of work, the governor was bending over his desk, busily sifting through a stack  of loosely stacked  papers. It was the first time we had ever seen that desk other than stripped clean, save for a lonely pan and ink  well.
A  long  table nearby was covered to an average depth of 8 inches with pamphlets, state reports, bulletins and books. Two ancient bookcases quite out of touch with the states mahogany desks bearing  several heavy Tomes  apparently originating in the governor’s Lyman County law office, gave additional proof that the executive office was a governors workshop.
Even the governor shirt cuffs were slightly frayed, indicating that his coat frequently came off and that the sleeves and been rolled up and down many times.
We could not help being impressed by Gov. Sharp and the humanness of his surroundings, his earnest, interested manner, the diligence and sincerity of purpose with which he has been tackling the business of running South Dakota since he became governor only a few months ago.
Well-informed on the affairs and needs of the state, he seeks out his own information to a large extent rather than depending on others to supply him with it. Not concerned with devoting a large portion of his time to spouting political bombast, of which the public has had far too much from many quarters, Gov. Sharpe, in his beaver like methods, drives to the root of things and statesmanlike manner, making forthright decisions in line with his cool, calm and considered judgment. It is a highly refreshing contrast to see him at work in comparison to some of the politicians who have preceded him in office. Modest almost to the point of being self-effacing, Gov. Sharpe is rapidly proving himself to be a true public servant whose primary aim is working for the development of South Dakota and the welfare of his people without thought of personal political gain or  self  aggrandizement.”

Forgotten by most  everyone  was the memory of M.Q.  But at . the   annual  11th circuit bar meetings   George Fielding Johnson, after tearing up the cards of those who were “desecrating the event by playing bridge”, would lead the assembled  lawyers and wives in a rendition of “Home on The Range” in honor of our great ex-governor M.Q. Sharpe
Of course he was accompanied by Judge Don Grieves who always came with his trusty ukelelee.

But I’m ahead of myself. First let’s talk about
A.C. Miller

A.C. Miller was one of those rare birds, often of a different feather who more than typified the eclectic make up of the Rosebud Bar and the old 11th Circuit of West River, South Dakota

More a politician than lawyer  A.C., a life long Republican,  was elected States Attorney, State Representative and Senator, Lt Governor and Attorney General. He barely missed being the third Senator from that dusty windswept west river political hot bed having been defeated in a close republican primary by Francis Case.  Like his nephew he was also a past President of the State Bar.
His campaign slogan that I recall was “Send A.C. to D.C.”
 After his defeat he  would become a one term Circuit Judge of the 11th circuit. Some say his judicial career was cut short because he forgot that he had to file for reelection.
          A.C. attended every farm auction  there ever was. Legend has it that when he was driving down the highway and two cars turned off on the same side road he immediately followed hoping they were headed for some auction sale where he could politic.

A.C.  was Dick Casey’s uncle and as I grew up in Maduison where Dick’s Dad presented my Dad with an award for fifty years service on the  Madison school board  I knew A.C. before I ever went to law school.
Little did I know at the time that 50 years later I would be trying a case against this legendary west river lawyer- politician.
His friends have said that during the zenith of his career he had a terrible accident that affected his memory. That may be, but I sometimes thought that he, like all resourceful  attorney’s, turned an apparent weakness into strength and when it suited his purpose  he feigned memory loss
Always a speculator A. C. bought the gas station and hotel at Wheeler  bridge crossing on the Westside of the Missouri river  in Gregory county.
When the river was dammed A.C. forgot to have the buildings moved and that historic hotel and gas station now rest at the bottom of Lake Sharpe , appropriately named after his long time lawyer friend M.Q. Sharpe
Stories of A.C. forgetting  his wife  at movies, rallies and swearing  in ceremonies  are almost beyond  belief.
When I was a young lawyer I had worked for Parnell Donohue ( legendary in his own way) in the Attorney General’s office as deputy industrial commissioner. A.C. defeated Parnell .
At A.C.’s swearing in ceremony , knowing me from my Madison roots and the Casey family, he came to me and said: “John I can’t find my wife” “will you help me?
Sure enough we found her all right, he had left her fully dressed for the occasion at their new home on the west bank of the Missouri river on the Oacoma side.
I left the Attorney General’s office in 1960 and joined Dudley Herman in the practice of law at Gregory, South Dakota.

Dudley would tell of the time he was trying a complicated jury trial before A.C.  In the middle of the trial A.C. informed the jury and the lawyers that he was postponing the trial for three days “for personal reasons”.
Dudley told me that the personal reason was that A.C. had forgot about the annual gathering at “fish days” in Plankinton and that he was scheduled  to deliver the address to the annual gathering. “Three days ‘I said  , “yes John. Three days” came the reply.

How selective was his memory?
Consider the good fortune of a Lyman county resident who had been arrested for DWI.
The resident appeared in the courthouse at Kennebec before Judge A.C.  When called before the bar A.C. looked down at the defendant and said
“Don’t I know you”?
“Yes you honor.”
“Last winter when I drove off the road during that terrible blizzard  wasn’t  it you who stopped to help”?
“Yes your honor”
“And didn’t you take me to your home during that raging blizzard”?
“Yes your honor”
“And didn’t you put me up for the night?”
“Yes your honor”
“And didn’t your wife fix me bacon and eggs in the morning”?
“Yes your honor”
“And didn’t you have my car pulled out of the snow drift and have it gassed and ready to go”
“Yes your honor’
Without blinking an eye A.C. cleared his throat looked down at the states attorney and said
“Call your next case”

When I left the Attorney General’s office after A.C.’s  election I joined Dudley R. Herman in the practice of law in Gregory, South Dakota. At that time with George F. Johnson on one legal side of the street and Dudley Herman on the other, Gregory was the hot bed of the Rosebud's, if not west rivers  trial bar.
          Little did I know that I would soon be the last attorney to challenge the old timer, A.C. Miller?
          That story need some background  preparation.
          In the 1960’s Winner was the gambling capital of South Dakota and northern Nebraska... It would remain that way until  our Attorney General and the South Dakota State Treasurer were caught by an erstwhile reporter visiting a local illegal gambling joint during the opening of pheasant season.
          During its heyday it was said that just as many head of mortgaged livestock passed over those poker tables at the Stockmen’s, Pheasant and Peacock Bar and the VFW club as were lost to blizzards, floods and rustlers combined.
          Sometimes the whole calf crop would be lost in one night of  a “friendly game".
          Once, Ted  Daughters, the colorful owner of the Winner sale ring came to my office for my advice. He stated that a local Clearfield area rancher had sold his calf crop at his barn and  having lost in a poker game signed over the check for the whole calf crop at the poker table.
          Much chagrined, the next day he tried to stop payment on the check, but since it was signed and about to be negotiated he needed Ted Daughters to go to the bank and stop payment.
          A product of the old west, Ted refused indicating the rancher had lost fair and square.  And if he wasn’t any good at poker it was not Ted’s fault
          He asked me if he would be responsible. I told him no that the check had been negotiated and he need not stop payment.
          Needless to say the rancher never sold his calf crop at Ted’s sale barn ever again. Knowing Ted I don’t think it bothered him  and these  would be his words “one god dammed bit:
.Our story relates to a time when Winner was not only the gambling capital but the Pheasant capital as well.
Hunting lodges and imported pen raised pheasants  and money grubbing  hunting bargains were unheard of  at the time. Winner was invaded with  a mixture of rich and poor all willing to celebrate the greatest opening day event in the United States.
Bars would load up with booze, girls and gambling devices of every description. It was one great big celebration for  everyone.
It seems that several of the local citizens imbibing at Glen McCoy’s Stockmen’s bar were invited by Archie Frantz to  shoot some “wild hogs “ on the white river bottoms at his ranch.

For those of you who have spent a wild Saturday night in Winner, prior to the Attorney General’s  visit you can guess what happened next.

Glen Mc Coy owner of the Stockmens Bar, Perley Fast who operated the new bowling alley that had been built by Roy Metzger, and several  other great white hunters invited themselves to the “white river bottoms” to hunt those ferocious wild hogs that Archie Frantz had told them about.

Little did they know that a Mr. Christianson, who lived across the white river on the Lyman county side claimed those  :wild hogs” as his own private property.  Hearing the whoops and hollers and shots of our partying Winner boys he called the sheriff and had them arrested.

Perley drove his car and swore that he never shot anything and for that matter never had a gun. He was arrested anyway.

The  great white hunters found their way to the Herman and Simpson law office in Gregory SD. Dudley Herman and his fellow Gregory lawyers thrived on Winner’s trouble.

Since Perley maintained he never shot and had no gun Dudley agreed that we would sue Christianson for false arrest  of we won.

Dudley stalled the case until the “corpus delicati” of the crime disappeared. The local sheriff had taken the “wild hogs” to the West Side locker owned by soon to be elected Mayor, Paul Blomstrom.

Some how those hogs just vanished from the locker, and the case was dismissed. Some say the County forgot to pay for storage – well believe what you will- they disappeared as quickly as those cattle that were herded across Winners poker tables.

Shortly after the disappearance of the "corpus delecti" Glen McCoy announced he was starting a free wild hog party and celebration at the Stockmens Bar. It turned into an annual event.

I split with Dudley and he got me to try the case of Fast vs. Christianson in Lyman County.

H.P. Gilchrist was the Judge, Dan Parrish was the court reporter and none other than A.C. Miller was the lawyer for Christianson.

H.P. Gilchrist had succeeded A.C. as Judge in the old 11th circuit. Some say that the reason H.P. Gilchrist became Judge was because A.C. had forgotten to file for re-election.

Gilchrist was a Judge who epitomized my generation. He  like  Fred Winans  and Fred Nichol were among the fairest Judge in the entire State.

Let me tell you just one example.
After Dudley had successfully defended many ranchers who had been charged with rustling by the Stockgrowers association they hired him to prosecute a very old rancher in Mellette count who was represented by Ramon Roubideau. Gilchrist was the Judge.

Dudley felt that he was losing the case so in his argument to the jury he told them to never worry “that if they found the old gent guilty he, Dudley Herman, would personally see that the defendant never spent a day in jail.”

Ramon erupted and all hell broke loose. The jury, having faith in Dudley’s promise dutifully found the old man guilty.

When Ramon had finished his fulminations after the jury verdict, Gilchrist called both lawyers in his chambers. “Don’t worry” he told Ramon, “I am going to make Dudley keep his promise" and thereafter he never set the matter ever for sentencing. Technically the old man was found guilty, but there was no record because H.P. would never sentence him.

Now that you know Gilchrest’s character let’s proceed to the case of young John Simpson versus the old pro ex Attorney General, Lt Governor, candidate for the US Senate  A.C. Miller

A.C. tried every little trick that only a trial attorney would know. He placed his chair next to the seated jury panel and all through the trial would whisper sweet nothings to them that were just our of ear-shot of the Judge.
“I’m you friend and neighbor and Simpson isn’t from around here” he would whisper. “He’s a stranger and I am not”
When I wanted to show an exhibit to the jury and the clerk could not find it for me, Dan Parish would whisper to me:”John look in A.C.s pocket.” Sure enough the exhibit favorable to me had been crumpled up and stashed in A.C.’s pocket

But perhaps the best display was when A.C.  asked a question, I objected and the Judge sustained the objection. Non plussed A.C. repeated the same question three more times with the same ruling.
Finally A.C. turned to the jury and announced for all to hear “You’ll remember I was a Judge long before Judge Gilchrist took the bench”.

BAM  Giklchrist nearly broke his gavel and ordered us all into his chambers.
 A.C. took the scolding without saying a word, but he constantly stared at  an old safe that was in the corner of the chambers.  He never took his eyes off that safe.
When the Judge asked A.C. if he understood the admonition A.C. answered by  pointing  at the old safe and said “ they are in there”.
Parrish in his court reporter fashion slammed his pen on the desk and shouted “ Just what are you talking about?/”
“My wife’s  war bonds” Now this was 1964 and A.C. had been looking for them for nearly 30 years  “ They must be in that old safe” he muttered.
As usual A.C. had not heard a word the Judge said -or did he?

The Lyman county jury returned a verdict for the defendant. If memory serves me a future Congressman, Clint Roberts was on that jury.

After the jury was discharged Dan Parrish   motioned  for  me to look at the signed jury verdict.
In true Lyman county fashion below the verdict they had written “But don’t do it again”

The last day of the trial we had driven  to Kennebec in Parley’s car. “You Drive  home’ he said.
While   shifting gears I glanced down the steering column. At the bottom neatly strapped to the column was a holster holding the gun that Perley swore he never had..
Shortly thereafter A.C. stopped at my office. “Come on John. I’ll buy lunch”  We had a great time visiting about the case and I told him about the hidden gun. He laughed asked for the bill, crumbled it into his pocket and walked out not bothering  to stop at the cash register.
          “They must have forgotten to give us a bill” I declared and paid the last lunch A.C. never bought for me.
(Copy of editorial will be furnished on request.)

Oh yes, if you have any stories about the lawyers or judges  of the old 11th kindly forward them to me at

A.C. Stories submitted by Travis Lewin and Bob Frieberg

John, Finally got the site open; you write well; am enjoying the stories.  One A.C. Miller story that either you did not know about or if you did was too kind to repeat it; during his candidacy for one of his runs for Congress he had to visit a rancher far away from his home town; he drove out; did his business and when asked to stay for supper, gladly agreed. A.C. did not skip a free meal. After the supper he was invited to stay as some friends were coming over; A. C. said he would like to do so but thought his wife who was out in the car might worry. May be apocryphal but he did have an ability to forget things. Travis

John:  I was only weeks out of the army and trying to get started in practice here in Beresford with my dad.  One morning about 8:30 AC walked in the front door, came into my office and sat down.  I had never seen him in person, although had probably seen a picture or something because I knew who he was.  He wanted to know where his brother, Martin (Marty we called him) was.  Marty practiced in Beresford, also, having taken over the practice of JW (Bill) Kaye, some several years earlier.  Kaye moved to Mitchell.  AC told me that he was AG and that Marty was going to buy him breakfast.  But since Marty had not yet opened his office I could buy him breakfast.  He ushered me across the street to Mac’s Café, had his breakfast and thanked me for inviting him!  I paid.  To the best of my recollection I never spoke to him again.  Bob


1 comment:

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