ROGER WILTZ: A great place to fish and a bit of Geddes historyIt’s too late to make New Year’s resolutions, but I feel if I go nowhere else this year, I want to fish North Dakota’s Devils Lake.
By: Roger Wiltz, The Daily Republic
It’s too late to make New Year’s resolutions, but I feel if I go nowhere else this year, I want to fish North Dakota’s Devils Lake.
I’d also like to knock on doors and try wild hogs in Texas.
Then, there’s Lake Erie walleyes as well as fishing north of the border. I am headed back to Argentina in April, and I’ll tell you about that in a coming column.
Our South Dakota harbors treasures that might otherwise be state parks but for easy access. A case in point would be the incredible Missouri River vista that lies beneath the winding trail that precedes the North Wheeler recreation area.
Go west out of Geddes and take a left above the river. You’ll know it when you see it. “America the Beautiful” and “How Great Thou Art” will ring from your very soul.
Wheeler, now resting beneath the waterline of the flooded Francis Case reservoir, was once the Charles Mix County seat and site of the venerable Highway 18 bridge that now spans the Missouri at Chamberlain. Today the Wheeler area holds a modern recreation area with campground and boat ramp.
Among other things, it is a great walleye stretch.
While I generally fish the Pickstown area as it is closer to home, I’ve noted over the years that fishing a different area seems to add a sense of adventure. Last year’s most memorable outing occurred at White Swan, an area west of Lake Andes that I don’t normally fish. Whether or not you go to North Wheeler, try some different scenery next summer.
It’s safe to say the Wheeler area reeks of history. If those ancient hills could reveal their past, would they tell us of an ancient Stone Age culture, or two explorers and their entourage who passed the site in 1804? What about early lawmen?
Charles Wesley Coles won his bid for Sheriff of Charles Mix County in Nov. 1930. We have to wonder if he knew what he was getting into.
He would deal with everything from chicken thieves to ugly foreclosures. He kept an eye on Skinner’s Hall, the meeting place for the Lake Andes Ku Klux Klan chapter. And then there was Bill Yarish’s pool hall, the infamous Geddes “speak easy” during the days of prohibition.
Other than the “dust bowl,” life was hard on the Dakota prairie during The Great Depression. The Lake Andes Wave frequently reported murders, robberies, and often bizarre suicides that were common place among farmers and bankers.
The general public did not share the fed’s point of view on the manufacture of moonshine. While we don’t know how much of Sheriff Coles’ time was spent chasing bootleggers, we know a raid on an Aurora County operation revealed that Zach Zachariasen, the Lake Andes constable, was involved in the illegal activity.
Either it didn’t fall under Coles’ jurisdiction, or Coles was not about to alienate what help he had, for the highly popular Zachariasen didn’t lose his lawman job.
So much for background.
On a warm early afternoon in Sept. 1932, a man who identified himself as Quinn walked into the sheriff’s office at Lake Andes.
Sheriff Coles wasn’t in, so he told Deputy Sheriff Nels Holmquist that he knew of two men who intended to rob the Security State Bank of Geddes that same afternoon. Apparently the two men had double-crossed Quinn, and Quinn was interested in possible reward money.
Deputy Holmquist advised Quinn to relate his story to States Attorney Paul Kern, and Quinn did so in front of Kern, Holmquist and Wagner attorney F.J. Farley.
It was decided that Holmquist should take Quinn to Geddes, where they would notify bank officials and lay a trap for the robbers.
A man with a shotgun was posted in the bank while Holmquist, Quinn and an unidentified Geddes man — all heavily armed — hid on the second story front porch of the hotel across the street from the bank. The threesome was eventually joined by Sheriff Coles and his Model 92 Winchester .44-40 rifle.
How differently this situation would be handled today.
By 1932, the state of the art brick hospital built in 1917 by Geddes Doctor Fred Fyle had already been converted into a hotel.
The story of Dr. Fyle’s bizarre disappearance in 1925 was related in a feature by me that appeared last year in South Dakota Magazine.
Today, we can still find the bank on the east side of the Geddes Main Street, as well as the old hospital/hotel across the street.
In looking at that building today, we can imagine the armed men waiting in ambush for the bank robbers.
Our story, along with a photo of Sheriff Coles, will be continued next week. Don’t miss it.