Capone was here
Thanks to a Mexican drug lord I’ve never heard of, I have fodder for this week’s epistle.
Drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, even though he’s rich as a foot of manure with drug money, and armed to the teeth, and ensconced in a hillside fortress somewhere south of the border, has been named Chicago’s Public Enemy Number One.
El Chapo is only the Windy City’s second Public Enemy Number One ever.
The first was Al “Scarface” Capone.
Scarface and South Dakota weren’t exactly joined at the hip back then, but maybe, just slightly, at the little toe on rare occasions.
One link is that while Capone was scooping in millions of tax free dollars in Chicago selling billions of gallons of illegal booze among other nefarious dealings during prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s, his older brother was out here on the flatlands working as a pistol-packing federal agent, making comparative peanuts enforcing federal laws against the manufacture, transport and sale of liquor.
To distance himself from his younger brother’s nasty reputation, James Vincenzo Capone adopted the name Richard James Hart after a popular movie star cowboy, William S. Hart.
Federal Agent Hart became known as Two Gun Hart because he carried two holstered pistols while on his liquor busting raids.
You may know that Al Capone’s business and that of Bugs Moran clashed on Valentine’s Day in 1929.
As that was going down in a Chicago garage, Al’s older brother was duking it out with bibulous Frank Yancey after Two Gun found a 100-gallon still and a cache of booze at Yancey’s Rosebud ranch.
Yancey challenged Two Gun if the agent would take off his set of pistols. Two Gun Hart obliged and the rancher was beaten badly, ending up with an overnight reservation in the Rosebud Hospital.
Two Gun Hart also worked the Timber Lake area.
Public Enemy Number One Scarface also earned a footnote in South Dakota history when the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce, having gotten word that Chicagoans didn’t want Scarface in their city, publicly invited him in 1930 to move his bootlegging headquarters to Rapid City.
It was supposed to be a joke, and was intended to gain national press and call attention to the Black Hills, then largely ignored by tourists.
Understandably, South Dakotans didn’t take kindly to the invitation.
Dour Governor William J. Bulow promptly dis-invited Scarface, and South Dakota citizens chastised the Rapid City organization, too. Probably not from this public pressure to stay away, but for other reasons, a smiling Capone publicly turned down the invitation.
Capone’s other tie-in to our state was in the early 1930s as Prohibition was bowing out. Gigantic whiskey stills were discovered, one in northern Clay County and the other on a farm near Ellis west of Sioux Falls.
Each still turned out 1,000 gallons of good quality whiskey a day. Building such moonshine extravaganzas was expensive, and everyone suspected Scarface Capone as the money man.
Proof was never found, but four of those arrested at the stills had recently arrived in South Dakota from Chicago and spoke English with a pronounced Italian accent. There were also other unsubstantiated clues.
It is doubtful Chicago’s new Public Enemy Number One, drug king El Chapo, will be invited by the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce to move his Mexican drug operation to Rapid City. The Black Hills is no longer an unknown among tourists.
For another, El Chapo isn’t a U.S. citizen.
Then again, verification didn’t discourage the Rapid City Chamber in the 1920s from sending a letter to the Vatican suggesting it relocate in the Black Hills.
Of course, Pope Pius XII wasn’t a U.S. citizen either.
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