Uncle was ‘man of the world’

From our February 2013 issue

By Ed Tollefson Regina, Sask.

I recently enjoyed reading Outlaws and Lawmen of the West. Chapter seven, dealing with Wild Bill Hickok, opened with a scene from the courthouse in Yankton, S.D. When I read that, my heart jumped as memories of many years ago came to mind.

It reminded me of my mother, Mary’s older brother, Uncle Ed. To my mother, there was no one more wise, no one who could drive a car as good, and none who had had as much experience as him. No one who could compare in anything, in any way, with my Uncle Ed. At least that’s how it seemed to me as a little boy.

Mother was the youngest of five children, two brothers and two sisters. All of her siblings were born in Norway, but mother was born in South Dakota. As Edvard Hoem, my second cousin, the author from Norway, stated in his email to me, my mother “was in her mother’s belly when they crossed the ocean.”

Uncle Ed was the only uncle on my mother’s side that I knew. Though as a little boy, I did see Uncle Bastian when mother and I visited South Dakota, I really didn’t know him. He lived with my Uncle Ed’s family and was what today we would call a recluse. Uncle Bastian died in 1935.

Uncle Ed, however, was a different story. He was a ‘man of the world,’ very outgoing. It seemed everybody for miles around knew him. He loved to travel and was somewhat of a horse trader.

Though I don’t think he was an alcoholic, he was known to bend his elbow when with his friends who did. Mother would never have admitted it, but Uncle Ed never tried to keep it secret.

Uncle Ed was a great storyteller, whether or not he liked to embellish them I cannot say, but I used to love to sit and listen to him. At a time of one of his frequent visits to Saskatchewan, I had already at a young age developed a keen interest in the history of the taming of the west.

I can remember how I sat there, enthralled as he told of being in a Deadwood saloon in the Black Hills, and witnessing a gunfight between two men who had some disagreement. As I recall, no one was killed but one man was wounded and the man who fired the shot was charged with attempted murder.

Uncle Ed was called as a witness. The trial was held in Yankton, South Dakota, perhaps in that same courthouse in which the killer of Wild Bill was tried. I don’t recall the outcome of the trial, but it made for exciting listening.

When I read the first few lines about Wild Bill, I thought could this have been the trial Uncle Ed spoke of, but when I got back down to earth again I knew that neither the timeline, nor the circumstances could have allowed it to be so.

Uncle Ed died in 1940.