Select Page

March 30th, 1847 – On This Day in Sioux Falls History, we wish Happy Birthday William Doolittle, early resident of SF and engineer on the Worthington to Sioux Falls train line.  One of the highlights of Doolittle’s time in Sioux Falls was when helped RF Pettigrew register a deed in Sioux Falls sometime back in 1873.  Settle in this is a good one!

There was a tract of land in the middle of downtown Sioux Falls that Pettigrew wanted to build on, but the owner of the land had since moved to Minnesota!  So Pettigrew hopped on a train and tried to find the man.  He learned that the deed holder had passed away, so Pettigrew visited the man’s oldest son and purchased the deed for $20,000.

What Pettigrew didn’t know is that there was a man in Minnesota who claimed to have purchased the deed directly from the father before he passed away.  The man was intending to make a trip back to Minnehaha County that week to register his purchase with the land office.

As fate would have it, Pettigrew and the man were on the same train from Minnesota to Sioux Falls! Somehow they each became familiar with the others intention of registering their deed for the same tract of land!

Knowing that the person who registered their deed first would at least have some advantage in court, Pettigrew concocted a plan, but he needed Doolittle’s help!  Once the train reached Valley Springs (just about 10 miles east of Sioux Falls) Doolittle, the engineer of the train, declared that the steam-engine didn’t have enough water to pull the train all the way in to Sioux Falls.

Doolittle disconnected just the engine from the train and left all of the passengers sitting back in Valley Springs… all of the passengers except RF Pettigrew who had paid Doolittle to pull this stunt so he could ride back to Sioux Falls ahead of his competitor!  So the lone steam-engine came to Sioux Falls, filled up its water tanks, and headed back to Valley Springs; while Pettigrew slipped off to the land office to register his deeds.

More than an hour later the steam-engine along with the rest of the passenger train pulled back into town and unloaded.  The other man made it to the land office just to have his deed called into question due to the fact that an exact replica had just been registered by another man less than an hour before!

RF Pettigrew stood smirking across the street! Upon further investigation the man had also used the wrong kind of ink on his deed, and would have to return to Minnesota and get a new deed and a signed affidavit from the Original Land Owner certifying that the date of his purchase was before that of Pettigrew’s – however with the Original Owner having passed away and the Owner’s Son on Pettigrew’s side (to the tune of $20,000), there was no hope for the other man!

All he could do was threatened to sue the railroad company for damages of $50,000, do to the stunt Doolittle pulled.  When the boss threatened to fire Doolittle for bringing this litigation upon the railroad company, Doolittle said, “If firing me will help put it to bed, that is what you should do.  But I think if you hear the whole story you won’t want to fire me.”  Doolittle told his boss the whole story.  Upon realizing there was really nothing the man could sue over, the boss asked Doolittle to take a 30 days paid leave, to appear like he had been fired, long enough for the man to leave town, then he could come back to work!

Happy Birthday William Doolittle, I know at least RF Pettigrew is proud to have had you as a neighbor and early pioneer of Sioux Falls!