The Sidney House Swindle

By Dawn Graves


While most people used legitimate means to make their money in Sidney during the gold rush to the Black Hills, others took advantage of people's gullibility, using Sidney's fame for legitimacy.

One story goes that in late 1876, an older man went in to Sidney's post office and rented a mailbox for a friend with the name of J.F. Wilson.

After just a week, the mailbox was flooded with letters. The man who had rented the box was at the post office often, retrieving the many letters which obviously contained money and money orders – so many that Postmaster Dudley became suspicious.

He became convinced something wasn't right when letters came from all parts of the country inquiring about this J.F. Wilson, who had fashioned himself to be the proprietor of The Sidney House – which didn't exist.

These letters included the original letter sent by J.F. Wilson, which told a simple but compelling story: one of the recipient's relatives had died in Sidney of pneumonia, leaving behind a trunk containing valuable items including, of course, two deeds to gold-mining property in the Black Hills.

All the recipient had to do was reimburse J.F. Wilson for the cost of the room the relative had stayed in at the Sidney House, plus the amount paid to the undertaker when their relation died, and Wilson would send the valuable trunk to them immediately.

After catching him red-handed, the sheriff arrested John C. Lee, the man who frequented the post office, and E.W. Morgan, his accomplice. The invented J.F. Wilson and his nonexistent hotel were no more.