The Forgotten Lawmen Part 1
The Forgotten Lawmen Part 1
I was just 23 years old when I was hired as a game warden for the State of South Dakota in 1983. I was assigned to the Moody County Warden District headquartered in the town of Flandreau. My district encompassed roughly 800 square miles of intensely farmed private land in east-central South Dakota.
Although I had extensive experience working seasonal jobs for the game and fish department during and after college, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. In hindsight, it's probably just as well I didn't know. No one said the job of a state game warden was going to be easy. If they had they'd either be a fool or a liar. I find both equally intolerable.
My district included all of Moody County and a small portion of Lake County, which bordered Moody County to the west. It was a relatively busy district despite its small size and population. It was located north of the Sioux Falls metro area, east of Madison, south of Brookings and South Dakota State University, and west of the Minnesota state line.
Whitetail deer and furbearing animals were plentiful as were countless species of waterfowl on a seasonal basis. Moody County was too intensely farmed with too many ground predators to sustain much of a pheasant population.
The Big Sioux River cut the county in half east and west. Despite its narrow channel, dirty appearance, and low, late-summer flows, the Big Sioux River and its unique mixture of woody habitat was teeming with fish and wildlife. The Big Sioux River was teeming with something else. It was teeming with criminals.
I had two main recreational lakes in my district: Lake Campbell southwest of Brookings and Brant Lake north of Chester. Brant Lake was a challenge to work even on a good day. But it couldn't compare to the sheer insanity I routinely encountered at Lake Campbell. I was quickly learning just how dangerous and unpredictable it was to provide law enforcement services to lake users who didn't want a game warden around. Gearing up and heading out to work the Big Sioux River or the lakes on a hot summer weekend or the Fourth of July made me feel queasy, as if I were riding in a Higgins boat just before hitting the beaches of Normandy or Iwo Jima. Not quite, but almost.
At the top of my equipment list was my patrol vehicle, a two-wheel drive pickup with emergency lights and police siren installed. It was further equipped with special switches to kill the brake and tail lights and a military blackout light on the front bumper to add stealthiness while patrolling at night.
I carried a Smith and Wesson Model 66 .357 magnum revolver in a breakfront, or clam shell, holster. I carried two speedloaders loaded with six rounds each and a set of Smith and Wesson handcuffs on my duty belt.
I had a Smith and Wesson 12-gauge pump-action shotgun that as a matter of personal preference I kept loaded with rifled slugs instead of the more traditional double ought buckshot. The Smith and Wesson revolver was extremely durable and reliable enough but its companion piece shotgun was an unreliable, low-bid, short-stroke catastrophe.
One officer fed up with the frequent malfunctions used his state-issued shotgun as a truncheon to kill a porcupine caught in a foothold trap and somehow managed to bend the barrel. He used the rear bumper of his patrol vehicle as a vice of sorts to straighten the barrel but to no avail. The imperturbable porcupine assassin later claimed he tallied higher shotgun qualification scores after he bent the barrel.
Another officer chewed sunflower seeds while on duty and spit the spent hulls out the window of his patrol vehicle as he was motoring down the highway. Many of the spit-soaked hulls blew back inside his vehicle and landed on his uncased shotgun, which was stored behind the driver's seat. So many hulls managed to infiltrate the nooks and crannies of his shotgun over time it was rendered all but useless and the only thin