Rapscallion!

Mark Twain’s Huck and Jim were adrift upon the Mississippi, deep in discussion. They had recently been joined by two drifting swindlers who claimed to be a king and a duke. Jim doubted their credentials. They were smelly drunkards, he said, rapscallions. Huck replied succinctly, "Kings is mostly rapscallions."

Pelican Rapids had its own brush with royalty. Bogus royalty, to be sure, but as thorough a swindler as any in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Lord Gordon Gordon—as he called himself—arrived in Pelican Rapids in 1870 with a grand plan. He had an option—he claimed—on 25,000 acres of railroad land upon which he planned to settle hundreds of suffering Scot tenant farmers. The emerging village of Pelican Rapids would be renamed Loomis, in honor of a director of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Gordon Gordon pitched camp along the south banks of the Pelican River and took pioneer W. G. Tuttle into his confidence, spinning up visions of a great city. Transcontinental railroads would converge here, on this corner a bank would be built, on this a hotel.

Tuttle was mesmerized. He had recently arrived from Rochester, New York, had taken up an eighty acre claim along the river, opened a small general store, begun building a dam to power a sawmill. Tuttle’s rustic cabin, near the present day site of St. Leonard’s Church, boasted single great luxury—a baby grand piano painfully lugged all the way from the east. Mrs. Tuttle was an accomplished musician and the cabin soon became the center of local cultural activities—such as they were—suppers, dances, even a concert, or two.

Lord Gordon took a look at Tuttle’s dam, deemed it inadequate, demanded it be rebuilt. Tuttle complied. Why shouldn’t he? Lord Gordon certainly had regal bearing, fine clothes, elaborate camping equipment, great vision. Reportedly, he also had a sumptuously outfitted railway car at his disposal, on loan from the Northern Pacific.

The above attributes notwithstanding, there were things Tuttle did not know. First, Gordon Gordon was not a lord at all, having only learned royal ways during a tenure as a butler. Second, he was wanted in England for questioning in a jewel robbery. Third, he had just fleeced Jay Gould, director of the Erie Railroad, out of thousands of dollars—no great crime in itself, since Gould had recently swindled Erie investors by issuing $64,000,000 of worthless stock.

The dam in place and the sawmill running, Gordon ordered Tuttle into the woods. Once the Scots began arriving, they would need lumber with which to build houses and barns. Tuttle hesitated. The woodland in question had been granted by Congress to the St. Paul Pacific Railroad, some of it for a right–of–way, the remainder to be sold to settlers to finance tracklaying. Gordon dismissed Tuttle’s fears. He had an option on the land, rights to the timber. Without adequate verification, Tuttle borrowed money from George Robison of Wisconsin, hired a crew, began snaking logs to the mill, turning out thousands of board feet of lumber during the winter of 1872.

But Gordon Gordon’s time was running out. Certain impatient Englishmen, loath to let the jewel matter rest, hired two thugs to kidnap Gordon and spirit him away to Manitoba, where he might be held pending extradition. They did so, confining the bogus lord in a Winnipeg hotel room, while awaiting papers to ship him back to trial in England. But Gordon wasn’t quite whipped. He escaped, armed himself with a revolver, fled to a remote cabin, intending to hide out until he could slip back into the United States.

He never got the chance. The police tracked him down, and when they were closing in, Gordon Gordon used his pistol—on himself.

The railroad, meanwhile, came looking for their missing timber. Tuttle, already in debt, had no way to pay. To forestall a foreclosure on his sawmill, Tuttle signed it over to Robison, a man he counted among his friends. But the ink was hardly dry upon the deed, when Robison forced Tuttle out and resold the mill to R. L. Frazee. Tuttle held on for a few years, but eventually other creditors foreclosed on his cabin, evicted his family, set his belongings outside in the mud. The fine piano went to a family in Fergus Fall for just enough money to get the Tuttles back east. Destitute and broken in body and spirit, Tuttle died in a New York insane asylum in 1882.

~Roger Pinckney