Harry S. Truman tries his luck
A Missouri farm boy who took the lottery trip to Gregory in l911 came to the same conclusion, that the trip in itself should be something to enjoy. He wrote a book of letters to his beloved from l910 til his death in 1959.
This one, dated October 22, l9ll, describes his trip to the great Gregory, South Dakota Homestead drawing:
“Would you like to hear what we did going and coming from notorious Gregory? I am going to tell you anyway because it is on my mind and I shall have to unburden it.”
“To begin with, it was just like riding a crowded street car for a day and a night. We took a sleeper to Omaha going and coming. From Omaha up, trains were running every hour or so all day Tuesday, Wednesday, and until Thursday noon. You see, the R. R. companies from one end of the country to the other give special rates on first and third Tuesdays of each month. We got to Omaha Wednesday morning at a quarter to eight and left at eight. They had to call special police to handle the crowds at Union Station. We managed to get seats in the last coach. There were 687 people on the train and nearly all were nice looking Americans. I only saw about a dozen bohuncks all the way there and back. I never got so tired at looking at yellow cars in my life. The Chicago and Northwestern uses all yellow coaches. We played pitch and seven-up all day, taking turn about at each eating station because we didn’t dare leave our seats all at once. Murray Colgan’s wife fixed us the finest lunch a person could want anyway, so we didn’t go hungry.”
“At nearly every station, we met trains coming back. People on them would yell Sucker! Sucker! at us and men on our train would to the same. One fellow hollered for us to go right on through to a very hot place. It sounded like a good place to be up there, it was so cold.”
“We got to Gregory at about l0:30 p.m. Then began a chase for a place to sleep. The hotel man finally agreed to give us a cot a piece in the waiting room, which was some luxury, I tell you. There were people who sat up all night.
After we’d cinched our rooms we went and registered at the Cow Palace, a wooden shack. It takes about one minute to so it. There were about 20 notaries inside a hollow square. I bet there was more swearing going on there than there will be in one place again. I really don’t know what a Quaker would have done. They didn’t ask you to swear. but just filled out papers-and you were sworn before you knew what was happening. I registered for a soldier friend so that I have a chance to get l60 and half another. There about four hundred claims that are worth from $8,000 to $12,000 each. Of course, I’ll draw one of them. There are several thousand worth from $40 to $4000 depending of course on location.”
“There is an old Sioux Indian on the reservation who is 123 years old. She looks like Gagool in Rider Haggards, King Solomon’s Mines. I didn’t see her but I have her picture.
I saw all of Gregory I cared to in about an hour and a half. It is strictly modern town of about 1500 . . . ..
I am glad I went. I have a good chance to win as anyone. Even if I don’t I had fun enough to pay for the going.”
President Truman lost his bid for a homestead claim in Gregory County, South Dakota in l9ll, but he had seen the west and he knew that the trip itself should be something to enjoy. Who would have guessed that this young farm boy from Missouri, who had participated in the great land lottery would be President of the United States.
In light of what happened to Albert Wood, who did secure a filing on a homestead, Harry S. Truman was a lucky man indeed.
Albert and Addie Wood and their five children ages 2 to ll years came to Gregory and Tripp County, South Dakota from Fort Dodge or Boone, Iowa on May 23, l909 to participate in the great land drawings. Albert Alfred Wood was 34 years of age. He had been a sewing machine agent in Iowa when he decided to try his luck at the homestead drawing.
Imagine the joy in the Wood family when they discovered that out of 100,000 registrants that their name had been drawn as one of the 4000 lucky winners. At last a chance to build a home of their own, no more working for others, a dream come true. They were now a part of the great American west where a man must take care of himself and be free. In the prime of their lives and with a young family they were America’s manifest destiny.
The family of seven arrived on their claim, south of Roseland, (renamed Hamill) South Dakota, on October lst 1909. Within two short weeks the violence of the west would dash their dreams into a bitter and deadly harvest.
I can look out the window of my farm home, not far from where the Woods homesteaded and can imagine that in 1909 there were no roads, no electricity, just prairie, wind and sky. The only trees to be found were along small streams and would soon be harvested for fuel. Even the ancient Indian camps are found only where wood and water were in abundance. Here, these young city folks were facing a Dakota winter, alone, and unprovided for. No Indian in his right mind would spend the winter, in the open, on that vast wind swept, snow swirling plain no matter what shack had been built to protect him from the howling, freezing, sneering Dakota winter blizzard. Dakota nature is sweet and sour. In the spring the clear blue skies, the fresh and fragrant west wind, the small prairie pockets of wild flowers and the rolling hills belong only to those who can see them. But death and nature’s disaster leavens all.
The family built a small shelter to protect them from the fiercely fickle Dakota winter. They must also put up hay before the ground became covered with snow.
On October 9, 1909, a neighbor, Chris Pringle ate his meal with them and helped Albert Wood mow hay. On the same day two men came on the Pringle claim and Albert Wood ordered them off the land. Later that same day Wood and Pringle rode to the Gregory Land Office to file on the claim that Wood had run the two strangers off. They were shocked to learn that the claim had already been taken. They then went to attorney McDonald’s office in Gregory where they met John Langan.
John Langan was a former Scout for the United States Calvary in the Indian wars. Langan accosted Wood and stated: “Are you the one who chased my boy off?” Wood admitted he was and Langan replied, “Well, I am coming up there to build a house and you won’t chase me off.”
Pringle and Wood then went to the office of attorney A.J. Wilson and employed him. The following Monday Pringle left and did not return.
Mr. and Mrs. Wood mowed the “south forty” the following week and while mowing she stated that they saw some one taking hay from one of their stacks. She stated that her husband got his gun and fired over that way to scare them off.
On Saturday the 16th of October her husband saw some men near his hayrack. Albert took his gun, and left. Mrs. Wood said she heard one shot and one shot only.
After waiting for him to come to breakfast she got uneasy and started to look for him. She found three men on the Butte east of her claim, but could not find her husband.
After waiting a time she went to look again and her husband waved to her from the foot of the Butte. He asked her for water and told her he was “shot through the heart”. Mrs. Wood stated that her husband told her that “he had fired at them, but was just trying to scare them”. He also told her that all three of the men fired at him. Albert Wood died in her arms at the foot of the Butte, just east of Snow Dam. Mrs. Wood then waved to the three men, she talked to them and they sent Wood’s wagon to Mr. Miller and Mr. Moss for help.
Mr. Ross, Mr. and Mrs. Kloke, a neighbor just to the south, took the widow to the Moss homestead.
Mrs. Wood indicated that her husband had an Army Springfield rifle that used 45/70 cartridges.
In a conversation with Mr. John Langan he told Mrs. Wood that he had shot her husband. Mr. Langan told her he held up his gun and asked to talk to her husband, Langan told her that her husband would not talk but shot at him. Langan told her that after her husband shot at him he killed her husband.
A William F. Kloke of Spencer, Nebraska testified that he was erecting a residence on his daughters claim on Section 15, 101-74 and had known Albert Wood prior to his death.
While shingling the roof he heard several shots and thought the shots were a “bluff game”.
Later one of the Langans came and asked him to help Mrs. Wood take her husband into his home.
He found Albert Wood dead about 80 rods from his house. He saw a 45-70 single shot rifle in Woods house and several 45-70 shells in Woods pocket.
He testified that by “bluff game”, that on the week previous Frank Langan and Leo Hannan had gone to Margaret Langans claim to get hay for their horses and while there Wood had shot at them 4 times and that he saw Wood shoot.
On the following day he had heard the decedent tell Frank Langan to “stay off that place unless you want trouble”. Kloke testified that at the time of both shootings the Langans were at Margaret Langans place.
Windsor Doherty was the prosecuting attorney and he charged John Langan, Frank Langan and Leo Hannan with murder.
Oliver Lamereaux and Don A. Sinclair were the bondsmen for John Langan, who was released on $1,000.00 bond by County Judge L. B. Callender.
John Langan took the stand and testified in his own defense that he had shot in self-defense. P.J. Donohue a pioneer lawyer of Bonesteel (father of former Attorney General Parnell J. Donohue) testified as to John Langan’s good character and reputation for truth. Langan was found not guilty by the all male jury. 10
Chapter Thirteen End Notes
1. Kingsbury, George W., History of Dakota Territory, S.J. Clark Publishing Co Chicago, 1915, Volume III, p. 505.
2. Ibid. p. 505.
3. Ibid. p. 506.
4. Ibid. p. 506.
5. Ibid. p. 506.
6. Ibid. p. 504.
7. D.C. Poole. Among the Sioux of Dakota: Eighteen Months’ Experience As An Indian Agent. New York D. Van Nostrand, 1881.
8. History of Dakota Territory, p. 506.
9. Dear Bess, The letters form Harry to Bess Truman 1910-1959, Edited by Robert H. Ferrell, W.W. Norton Co., N.Y. and London, pp. 53-54.10. State v. Langan et al, Tripp county clerks of courts file