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W.A. Brubaker

AIR #99
March 6 & 10, 1966

Family banks may be on the wane numerically across the country, but Terry’s State Bank - the bank that started in a poker game - is a family bank. W.A. Brubaker, back in 1905, was watching a poker game in Medora, ND, when one of the old ranchers sitting in asked him, “Why don’t you start a bank in Terry? They need one out there. ” So Brubaker started a bank out there. He was not a banker by occupation or background or training, but he was equal to the challenge. Now his three sons run the bank.

A few years later a young Easterner, interested in hunting buffalo, showed up in the badlands country. The great buffalo herds, by that year of 1883, had been pretty well wiped out, so a guide was a necessity, but the stranger, before he ever attempted to find a guide, had two counts against him: Not only was he a New Yorker (which was bad enough); he even wore glasses! Glasses may have attained some degree of respectability in the East by that time, but on the Frontier anyone wearing them was definitely suspect. As a result, the other guides would have nothing to do with the would-be hunter, and it was with no little reluctance and with considerable misgiving that Joe Ferris (son-in-law of W.A. Brubaker) finally agreed to perform that service for Theodore Roosevelt on his first buffalo hunt.

Joe Ferris made probably the first prediction that Teddy Roosevelt would some day be president. A feature appearing in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune in 1943 describes how he happened to make that prediction:

“A yellow dust pall hovered over the flag-draped streets of the little cow-town of Dickinson, Dakota Territory. It was late in the afternoon of July 4, 1884, and the tiny frontier hamlet was concluding its first Independence Day celebration. All day long the thinly-scattered prairie settlers had poured into the town, filling its streets and bars to overflowing: homesteaders with their sunbonneted wives and innumerable children crowded into crude buckboards; tanned cattlemen and cowhands mounted on agile ponies; stolid, blanketed wrapped Redskins, openly curious at the palefaces’ strange ceremonies. It had been a day of rude and simple sports - wrestling, foot racing, roping. But to these pioneer men in the terrible isolation of lonely homesteads, it had been a blessed respite from monotony.

“Not for years were the great sister states of North and South Dakota to be carved from the territory and made a portion of the Union. Not yet could they feel themselves a part of the nation they were helping to build with their toil, tears and sweat. Perhaps that was why even the bars were empty when the final event on the day’s program was reached - the first Fourth of July address in the history of the lonely frontier outpost.

“It was not an impressive scene. Rough planks, laid over upended beer kegs, provided seats for the feminine portion of the audience. Most of the men slouched against nearby buildings or squatted cowboy-fashion on the dry earth. In the background, the lines of tethered ponies pawed and fidgeted at the hitching posts. On the rude, bunting-draped rostrum, the orator of the day fidgeted as nervously as any pony. He was a stranger to most of the crowd, a short, slight young fellow in his twenties, who had come from somewhere in the East a year or two before. He was a deputy sheriff, now in the nearby cattle town of Medora. And - most of the audience thought with sinking hearts - he didn’t look like much of a talker.

“But with the youthful orator’s opening phrases the crowd fell silent. In the eager, intense features and the shrill, penetrating voice there was something that commanded attention and respect. As they listened, even tipsy cowhands filled to their neckerchiefs with ‘red likker’ were caught in the spell of the young man’s bold and vigorous speech. To the gnarled homesteaders and their drab, toil-worn wives who huddled on the rude benches, he drew with quick, vigorous strokes a portrait of an America such as they had never dared dream of. With the magic of his speech he peopled the barren plains with towns and cities, and foretold the future of the prairies as the breadbasket of a continent.

“In his puckered, intense countenance was the calm certainty of a clear vision and a sure faith, as he sketched for them the pattern of a nation’s future - a nation whose broad acres and teeming peoples stretched from sea to sea, a beacon-light of liberty and progress for the oppressed of all the earth.

“In the thunder-crash of applause that followed the youthful orator’s peroration, young Joe Ferris leaned over and spoke to the man sitting next to him. ‘Say,’ He said excitedly, ‘I bet the deputy’ll be president some day!’ In the crowded bar room that night, the cowhand was telling about it. ‘And would you believe it?’ he chuckled, ‘that fool Joe Ferris says the deputy’s going to be president when he grows up!’ The bartender flicked his towel at an imaginary fly and eyed the grinning cowhands sourly. ‘Maybe Joe ain’t such a fool as you think,’ he said. ‘If the deputy DON’T ever get to be president, it won’t be because he’s afraid of the job. Did I ever tell you what I saw him do over in the saloon in Medora?’

“’No, tell us,’ chorused a half-dozen eager voices. ‘Well, it was one night last fall. A few of the boys were in the place having a sociable card game. The deputy was there, too. But he wasn’t playing. Just sitting quiet behind the stove. And then in comes this tough guy.’ The bartender paused and grimaced disgustedly at the recollection. ‘He was tough, too,’ he continued. ‘And full up to the ears with red likker. Nothin’ else would do but that all the boys in the house should have a drink with him. And to prove he meant it, he laid his hardware plumb on the bar, where anybody otherwise inclined could see it. Well, the boys all moved up pretty fast to name their poison, and they were busy drinkin’ it when this tough hombre spots the deputy sitting behind the stove. ‘Hey, you,’ he yells, ‘Why aren’t you drinking? Don’t you like my company?’ And he picks up his gun and starts for the deputy. Well, I didn’t see what happened very clear; but the next thing I knew the tough hombre was sitting on the floor holding his chin, and his gun was lying on the floor across the room. ‘No, ’ the deputy says, casual like, ‘I don’t like your company. ’ And that’s all there was to it.’ The bartender paused and eyed the cowhands for a moment. ‘Except,’ he added, ‘that he hasn’t had any trouble with tough cowpunchers since.’

“The punchers grinned. ‘All right Old Timer,’ one of them chuckled, ‘We’ll even let him be president, like Joe Ferris says, if you want us to.’ ‘I think Joe always was a little optimistic,’ said a clear voice behind them. The cowhands turned, grinning sheepishly, to face the smiling young deputy sheriff who had walked in unseen. The deputy tossed a bill on the bar. ‘Go ahead, fellows,’ he said, ‘If I’m going to be president I ought to buy a drink. It’s too bad, though, that my sponsor, Joe, isn’t here to get in on it.’

“It was a long time before young Joe Ferris ceased to hear the last of his frontier presidential candidate. The great blizzards of 1887 wiped out the stock of most of the smaller Dakota ranchers - and among them was the herd of the fearless young deputy. He gave up his ranching activities and drifted away to other adventures.

“The slow wheel of the years turned on, and Joe Ferris heard now and then of his former friend, sometimes by letter, sometimes word of mouth. He was reported in Texas, the Philippines, in New York. Next, he had received a high governmental post in the nation’s capital, where he was rapidly becoming a prominent national official.

“And 17 years after that memorable Fourth of July in the little cow-town, Joe Ferris had his revenge on the friends and neighbors who had twitted him about his youthful and impulsive remark. It was a letter, signed by the deputy sheriff himself:


My Dear Joe:

No telegram that I received pleased me more than yours, and I thank you for it. Give my warm regards to Mrs. Joe, Sylvane and all my friends,

Sincerely yours,

Theodore Roosevelt,

The Medora President.”

The original of that closing letter, dated November 10, 1904, and sent by the President of the United States to Joe Ferris (actually, the letter is addressed to both Joe and Sylvane) on that memorable occasion is carefully preserved in the safe of the State Bank of Terry.


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