Historic Frawley heirlooms auctioned

Farm Forum

DEADWOOD, S.D. (AP) — Henry Frawley arrived here by wagon train on the muddy streets of Deadwood on July 4, 1877.

Over the next half century, the attorney represented the notable and the notorious, assembled one of the largest private law libraries in the U.S., and built the Frawley Ranch into one of the leading cattle operations in South Dakota.

On March 15, the near century-old remnants of Frawley’s fabled life went on the auction block after being maintained by his family through two succeeding generations, the Rapid City Journal reported.

“If the average human being wanted to go back in time, this is the guy you would want to be,” said Rick Olesen of Dakota Plains Auctions in Lead, the auctioneer charged with selling the Frawley collection. “Henry was an individual who showed up in Deadwood’s earliest days, became incredibly wealthy and was engaged in law and mining interests as well as cattle. This is classic Western history at its best — the real West, the things movies are made of, and this guy lived it.”

More than 300 items from the Henry Frawley estate were slated for the auction, including furnishings and china from his now-gone Victorian residence in Deadwood’s Presidential District, his personal shaving mug adorned with his name in gold leaf and a law library so large it was broken into two lots, Olesen said.

For Hank Frawley, Henry’s 77-year-old grandson, the auction was bittersweet and represented a parting of family memorabilia with which he has lived for his entire life.

“It’s hard, but it’s time,” the aging rancher said. “We’ve done all we can do as far as restoring all the historic buildings on the ranch and there are still a lot of historical items on display in the ranch buildings and barns. But there’s so much stuff that needs to be dealt with one way or another.”

Hank Frawley said he never knew his grandfather, who died in 1927, but says the man’s wide-ranging collection of books provides testimony to a successful attorney who represented magnate Phoebe Hearst and Star & Bulllock Hardware, as well as murderers, miners and merchants.

“I never got to know him because he was dead by the time I was born,” Hank said. “But these items give insight into his personality. He obviously wanted to be the best attorney he could be. He also had a great love of the land and agriculture and he put his money where his mouth was, raising purebred cattle and breeding horses. He built some beautiful barns that were one of a kind that still stand today.”

Though the Frawley-Anderson Ranch was sold to a Denver developer and his German partner a decade ago, Hank and his wife, Molly, have continued to live in the family home. The ranch extends for more than two miles on both sides of Interstate 90 south of Spearfish.

Over the years, the Frawleys have been a critical component in retaining and interpreting Deadwood’s rich and colorful history, according to Carolyn Weber, assistant director of Deadwood History Inc., an umbrella organization that manages the town’s museums and collections.

The importance of Henry Frawley’s legal records is made even more important by the fact the original courthouse burned in the great fire of 1879, destroying all of Deadwood’s early court documents, she said.

“Henry Frawley may have been the first renaissance man in the Black Hills, even beating George Hearst to the punch,” Weber said. “He represented all different types of pioneers, including cattle rustlers, murderers, water and railroad and mining interests.”

Weber praised the Frawleys for donating a vast collection of legal documents to Deadwood History in 2005 — filling more than 40 boxes with historical materials from the town’s earliest days.