Henry Frawley: Pioneer Lawyer and Rancher
Deadwood History, Inc. holds the Frawley Legal Collection, a group of documents created and used by pioneer lawyer, Henry Frawley.
Courtesy: Hank Frawley Jr.
Born in New York in 1851 to immigrant parents, Frawley arrived in Deadwood in 1877, about a year after completing a law degree with the University of Wisconsin. Frawley came west hoping to establish a practice. Interestingly, he arrived on the same wagon train that brought W.E. Adams and John Hunter; both would go on to become influential citizens and businessmen in Deadwood in their own right. The three men developed a lifelong friendship from this chance encounter.
Practicing law for several years on his own, Frawley eventually teamed up with his first partner, Edward L. Kohen. Their law firm, Frawley and Kohen, flourished and Henry developed a reputation as a great orator with excellent delivery in the courtroom. Henry practiced law alone again after the dissolution of Frawley and Kohen in 1881. From then on he practiced alone until forming a partnership with John P. Laffey in 1894.
Additionally, at times, Frawley practiced with several of his brothers, six of whom were also lawyers.
During his impressive legal career in the Black Hills, Frawley was responsible for representing several major companies as well as notorious criminal cases.
He was responsible for the legal counsel of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy railroad; assisting them in establishing rail lines throughout the area.
He represented the Golden Reward Consolidated Gold Mining Company, procuring mining and land rights which would be integral to that company’s success. He also represented the American National Bank and the Hidden Fortune Gold Mining Company.
Henry Frawley’s papers accumulated during his legal career are housed at the Homestake Adams Research and Cultural Center. Over the past several years, the collection has been rehoused, described, and made available in a searchable database for researchers. The Frawley Legal Collection provides a great insight into the history of Deadwood and the interesting legal cases that existed here.
Aside from an immense talent and much success in the legal field, Frawley had other interests which drew his attention, specifically agriculture. After marrying Christina Anderson in 1890, Frawley began taking a more serious interest in ranching. Christina was the daughter of a successful rancher and dairyman who owned land in Centennial Valley, an area of agricultural land located between Deadwood and Spearfish.
In 1892, Frawley acquired his own land in the valley, eventually merging the two. His business acumen is exemplified by the growth and success of this land. He began purchasing numerous farms and homesteads surrounding his own, and at its peak size, the Frawley Ranch comprised over 3,000 acres. The ranch had many unique buildings, including sandstone barns, a log cabin, a country school, a hotel which later became the family’s residence, and at one time served as a stage and wagon stop.
Christina took over the operation of the ranch after Henry’s death in 1927 and the land remained in the family for decades, surviving the Great Depression and developing a reputation for producing good cattle.
The ranch was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1977, with a portion of land remaining in the ownership of Henry’s grandson and some sold to developing interests.
Ultimately, Henry Frawley had an incredible influence on the history of Deadwood and the Centennial Valley. His endeavors in the legal field were a great benefit to his clients, and his business acumen with agriculture allowed his ranch to survive where others had failed.