Apr 15, 2021 - Sale 2564

Sale 2564 - Lot 337

Price Realized: $ 688
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 800 - $ 1,200
(WEST--SOUTH DAKOTA.) Isaac E. West. Letter regarding the defense of Dakota outlaw Laughing Sam Hartman. Autograph Letter Signed as "I.E. West" on his letterhead to unidentified "Dear Sheriff." 2 pages, 10 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches; folds, minimal wear; inked stamp of South Dakota dealer James O. Aplan below signature. Yankton, SD, 25 April 1878

Additional Details

This letter was written by attorney Isaac E. West (circa 1838-1900) in Yankton, Dakota Territory, concerning the case of the recently arrested highwayman Samuel S. "Laughing Sam" Hartman, who had been stirring up trouble in and around Deadwood for two years. Legends have Laughing Sam as the survivor of a dust-up with Calamity Jane. West wrote: "I received a letter from Laughing Sam Saturday asking if I had seen or heard from you, that he was anxious to see you &c. What in your opinion ought I to do in this matter? I wish to act fairly and honorably by him, but I am really unable financially to go to Rapid City and incur the expense of hotel bills &c during what may be a tedious trial, with little prospect of remuneration, yet I told him I would do so. If he can raise money to pay expenses only, I will gladly keep my promise & defend him to the best of my skill & ability." Laughing Sam would soon be released on a technicality, but quickly returned to jail for a long sentence.

The letter continues: "Tell Flanner he owes me two letters & that I expect him to either discharge the debt or go into bankruptcy before they repeal the statute." Alonzo Joseph Flanner (1851-1913) had been the first district attorney in Deadwood, and by 1878 had settled in nearby Crook, SD.

The most famous sheriff in South Dakota was Seth Bullock of Lawrence County, but he only served for a few months in 1876 and 1877, and by this point had been replaced by John J. Manning. Perhaps more likely as a recipient would be Sheriff Frank P. Moulton of Pennington County, based in Rapid City where Laughing Sam was being held--35 miles from Deadwood. Regardless of who this letter was addressed to, it offers a pungent slice of old Deadwood.