This week in 1927, president Coolidge was vacationing in the Black Hills of South Dakota in an attempt to escape the summertime heat of Washington, DC. Besides getting his hair cut by White House valet John Mays while sitting rather conspicuously on the porch of his lodge, Coolidge attended to business, some of which revolved around the farming situation. A delegation of North Dakota farmers informed him that contrary to popular opinion, the McNary-Haugen farm relief bill (which Coolidge adamantly opposed) was not a top concern, but rather the early completion of the Great Lakes/St.Lawrence waterway and the diversion of Missouri water to irrigate central North Dakota. And, attending a farmer rally in Ardmore, SD, the president listened but remained silent as Democratic governor Bulow assailed the “Republican tariff” which, if not repealed, would make necessary the sort of “artificial price-fixing” envisioned by McNary-Haugen.
During his vacation, Coolidge also fell for a harmless hoax: his usual acknowledgement of meeting strangers while vacationing was to returns their greeting with a polite bow, and he did not not usually stop for a chat. He broke his rule, however, for the sake of a stranger encountered on the steps of the Rapid City High School, temporary White House office. The stranger wore a hat wider even than the President’s ten-gallon fishing headgear. In his silk shirt and flowing neckerchief clashed vivid colors. He wore high-heeled, embossed riding boots bearing the letters “PUT” in white just below each knee. Not even Hollywood could have produced a cowboy attired in more complete accordance with the traditions of his calling.
The cowboy spoke to the president; the president spoke to the cowboy. Later he asked the cowboy into the Executive Office, where they chatted for some time, presumably about the big roundup which theCooligde was to see the following month at Bellefourche. At length the cowboy departed, having secured that none too readily accorded privilege, a personal audience with the president.
That night, at the Harney House, Rapid City hostelry, the cowboy told newspapermen that he was no cowboy at all but a Chicago hat salesman. The “PUT” on his boots stood for his name—W. C. Putnam. Mr. Putnam, it appeared, had bet a friend that he could get a personal interview with the president. The friend had bet $100 against this happening. Thus Mr. Putnam, who never rode a horse in his life, donned cowboy regalia, hoaxed the president, won his bet and added a brand new traveling salesman story to the world’s collection of traveling salesman stories.