A couple weeks ago I wrote about William Larrabee and his trial for desertion from the 7th Cavalry in 1875. A number of people have helped me out so I can now tell the rest of the story.
Larrabee didn’t end up making little rocks out of big ones at the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth. According to the stories that have been passed down he had a friend in a high place.
General Alfred Terry, commander of the 7th Cavalry from its headquarters in St. Paul, knew of Larrabee from his years in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Larrabee had served under Terry and had been wounded five times during that little unpleasantness.
Surviving five bullet wounds would have to be considered a minor miracle given the state of medical treatment of that era.
So Terry gave him a break. According to the stories Gen. Terry commuted Larrabee’s sentence from two years at hard labor at Leavenworth to 10 years on the prairie. By 1876, when his former comrades were riding to the Little Big Horn, Larrabee was setting up a rest stop along the Fort Seward to Fort Totten trail.
He didn’t start the Larrabee Station from scratch. He purchased the “improvements” from Joe Hayes. We have to wonder what kind of improvements they were. The Foster County Centennial book referred to him as “Slothful Joe Hayes.”
Larrabee Station was said to be halfway between Fort Seward and Fort Totten and was the only shelter for miles around. It was probably a bit classier than Limpy Jack’s Dirt Ranch located to its south.
During the summer trains of supply wagons to Fort Totten, as well as mail coaches and stage coaches, made a stop at Larrabee Station. During the winter the mail traveled up and down the trail by dog sled.
And the Larrabee station offered a little hospitality and shelter to all of them. We don’t know how successful the business was from a financial stand point but we do know it established the Larrabee family in the community.
In 1878 the very first edition of the Jamestown Alert includes mention of the family. A brief story on the front page passes on the news that Mrs. Larrabee was recovering from a recent severe illness.
In three years William Larrabee went from a convicted army deserter to a man of such substance his wife’s health is front page news for the first newspaper in the area.
And that is even better than just avoiding a trip to the Little Big Horn with Custer.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy and hearty Thanksgiving from Keith and Jane Norman.