The life and times of Watson Parker
Published: Thursday, February 7th, 2013
My old friend, Watson Parker, is now a notation in the history books he so lovingly wrote all these years. His dad wanted him to major in hotel/motel management and run the family operations in Palmer Gulch. Wat tried his hand at it but didn't like business much, so he did what nobody wanted him to do; he went to Oklahoma and got a doctorate in history, Western history, in fact, the history of the Old West, to be precise. In those days studying history was a proper pursuit for a young academic but inquiries into the history of gunfighters and cow punchers and Lakota warriors was not.
Wat loved the gold rush stories and the cowboys and Indians of his youth, and he could tell the story about those days better than most. His doctoral dissertation on the Deadwood gold rush left his doctoral committee raving about his wonderful work. Wat walked across the street to the University of Oklahoma Press where the publishers promptly published his thesis as a book and the rest is, well, darn good history.
Anyone who has any serious interest in the Black Hills has to include Watson Parker in the reading list. And anyone who likes Black Hills history just can't resist Wat's funny, stirring, infinitely readable accounts of the way it was back in the day. Wat Parker was among the fortunate few who live long enough to be appreciated by a wide public following in his own lifetime.
Other writers loved Wat and would gather with him and his wife for any excuse, no matter how flimsy. Sitting at lunch with him at the Chinese restaurant he loved in Rapid City was a great way to spend a couple of hours. People would drop by the table to say hello or get a picture taken. Those of us who love to read or write but who had not published our own books would listen intently and quietly as Wat would tell one great story after another about things he knew either through his exhaustive research or things he lived through and witnessed in person. He was, after all, almost 90 years old. That's not very long if you're a tree but it's a long time for a man. Those long years flew by for his friends and ended much too soon.
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