When the waters of the big dam at Pierre called Oahe recede, remnants of the old cow town of LeBeau peek out on the shoreline, reminders of a cattle town that a gunfight killed.
LeBeau was established by Antoine LeBeau in 1875. He put it on the east side of the Missouri River in what is now Walworth County. It was a fur trading post.
But it was perfectly sited to become a cow town, too.
Because by 1904 the government had opened the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Reservations for cattle grazing across the river from LeBeau. Cows grew fat and cowboys flocked to the area for herding jobs.
LeBeau’s future seemed secure. By 1906, a rail line was laid and a rattling train arrived periodically to haul cattle off to eastern markets.
The town’s buildings by then were heated by steam. LeBeau had a hotel, banks, cafes, general stores, doctors and a couple of churches. It had several hundred souls, and I suppose a few heels, too, as have most towns even today.
Big cattle rancher Murdo McKenzie had plans to live there where he would manage his holdings in the Matador Cattle Company. LeBeau was a sure-fire up and comer.
But the rich rancher’s son, Dode, had grown up to be a spoiled brat who lived a wild life that money can often bring.
On a cold December early morning in 1909, after a night of drinking, smart alec Dode got into an argument with the bartender in Phil DuFran’s Angel Bar.
Dode walked across the street to a hardware store and bought a hefty .45 caliber pistol. He headed back into the bar, gun in hand. The bartender saw him coming and shot him dead with his .44.
This naturally didn’t set well with Dode’s doting father Murdo, who after the incident, came to dislike LeBeau about as much as he liked week old fried eggs.
To bring the town to its knees, he changed his cattle shipping point. That spelled the beginning of the end for LeBeau.
Incidentally, the .44 pistol the bartender employed to gun down Dode McKenzie can still be seen in the Walworth County Courthouse in Selby.
But today, seeing anything else of what’s left of LeBeau depends on the Oahe Dam’s water level.
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