Dakota Datebook

Enos Stutsman

Monday, February 14, 2005

Today’s story is about Enos Stutsman, the namesake of Stutsman County, where he never actually lived. He was born near the home of Abraham Lincoln’s father in Indiana on this date, Valentines Day, in 1826.

Starting when he was just 17, Stutsman taught school for four years, and then began a life in politics, first as a county recorder and then as clerk of court. In his spare time, he studied law. He passed the bar in 1851 and within a few years migrated to Yankton, where he was the only resident lawyer. When Dakota Territory organized, Stutsman was elected to represent Yankton, and it was he who was largely responsible for the town becoming the territorial capital.

During the second session of the council, he was elected its president, but he resigned in 1866 to become a customs agent at Pembina. It was there that he became friends with Charles Cavileer.

Stutsman’s friends thought he’d soon come back to Yankton, and he did – but now as Pembina’s representative. He had grown fond of the scrappy trappers and traders who thrived up north. Stutsman, himself, was no stranger to overcoming great challenges; he was born with no legs.

In the book, Jamestown, Century of Stories, researcher James Smorada writes, “Stutsman was reputed to be the best shot in a territory where nearly everyone carried a revolver or a rifle. Stutsman was able to draw a bead on a moving target at 50 paces and hit it with certainty, according to peers of the day. His cool aim was countered by a quick temper, however, (and he) was not above brawling when the occasion called for it.”

Smorada recounts one example that made the news. “For some reason,” he writes, “a main street Yankton merchant and Stutsman began quarreling at breakfast. They were the best of friends; they were in the territorial legislature together. And they always had breakfast together at the International Hotel.
“The merchant, Downer T. Bramble, took the occasion to pitch a bottle of pepper sauce at Stutsman. It connected, (and) Bramble left the room quickly. Stutsman swore, wiped the hot sauce from his head and headed for his room and his revolver…

“Bramble headed down the street,” Smorada writes. “He knew he was in trouble and wanted to meet the occasion with pistol and second secured. Both armed, each marched into the street in a direction that would insure a meeting, but each was on the verge of a rational decision.” Smorada summarizes that Bramble felt that killing Stutsman would be bad for business, and Stutsman decided against killing Bramble, because his pistol was clogged from dragging in the mud.

“It wasn’t the first time Stutsman was involved in a scrap;” Smorada continues, “there was another time when one of Stutsman’s political rivals sailed a ketchup bottle in Enos’ direction and had the misfortune of missing him. Stutsman returned the volley with tumblers, cups and the carcass of the bird the two had been eating. As if that was not enough, Stutsman climbed across the table and pressed the attack…The two were led out separate doors to cool off. And when they were led back into the room they shook hands and were nice to each other…”

Stutsman became ill late in 1873 and soon went back to Pembina. There, he died at the home of his friend, Charles Cavileer, on January 24, 1874 – three weeks short of his 48th birthday.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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