Dakota Datebook

What About Bob

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Bob Watson was something of a mystery citizen. No one knew him when he first moved to Mandan in 1925. He was slight—perhaps in some ways a little too thin—but cheerful.

He was interesting, too—perhaps because of his experiences. He secured a job at the Nigey hotel as a clerk. Bob worked there for six months, until he got into a dispute with the hotel over telephone charges. So, Bob switched jobs, turning to the pick and shovel tasks of a cement worker. He helped a team tear out the cement paving around town. He was used to changing jobs, and had experienced a variety of duties, including work as a miner and riding in rodeos. In fact, he later provided newspaper clippings that marked him as “the ‘boy wonder’ at broncho busting.” (ibid)But unlike his success at rodeo, tearing out cement didn’t work out for Bob. It was too hard for him, or at least, he wasn’t quite up to the work.

Bob was quite a favorite among the ladies of Mandan. He was friendly, talked with them well, was even perhaps a bit shy around them.

Then came the day when Bob wrote a bad check. The chief of police, Chris Martineson, caught up with him. Bob didn’t fuss—he just made out a good check and paid the fine for his mistake. The chief of police wasn’t quite satisfied, though—there was something that was just not quite right about Bob. So he looked, and then he thought, and then, finally, he called in the Red Cross to verify his suspicion!

And on this day in 1926, more than a year after Bob became a presence in Morton County, newspapers reported the chief’s findings:

It seemed that Bob did have a secret to hide—he was actually Dorothy Halling, a 22-year-old woman married to a man from Montana. Her husband lived on a farm, and she said the farm life didn’t suit her, so she occasionally took off and lived like a man.

She had apparently been wearing boys clothes since she was little, as they allowed more freedom of movement and were less expensive.

It was one more disguise in the theater of life.

By Sarah Walker

Golden Valley American, Friday, Dec. 17, 1926

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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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