MRJ Men's Stories - South Dakota Connections

South Dakota Connections

by 
Adrian Juttner

I flew up to Rapid City, South Dakota in February 2002 to take the job of "Tree Doctor" for the state department of Agriculture.  It was cold and there was snow all over the place. I booked a cheap,  spartan motel room on the north side of town.  Not wishing to spend Friday nights in a bar-room, I looked for a synagogue that might be near me and found The Synagogue of the Hills on 40th street nearby.  It was a small place, lay-led, with barely a minion there.  A stocky fellow shook my hand and introduced himself as Art Janklow.  "Wasn't that the surname of the Governor of South Dakota?" I thought. 

My job with South Dakota forestry was connected to a grant from the US Forest Service to work on the Mountain Pine Beetle.  This forest pest had a long history in the Black Hills.  The town of "Deadwood" located in the northern Hills was named after a beetle kill that occurred in the 1870s.  Indeed, one of its most famous residents, Wild Bill Hickock, was shot to death in a bar room as his poker hand cascaded to the floor.  He was holding a pair of Aces and a pair of Eights, which has since been referred to a "the dead man's hand".  Since my college nickname was "Ace"  and the Hebrew word "Eits" means trees - I saw this as a bit of an omen. 

In 1906, the first government-sponsored study of pine bark beetles began in the Black Hills.  To this day, One-hundred and nine years later,  there has been very little progress for practical control of this insect, which is killing millions of acres of Ponderosa pine in the American and Canadian west. 

While a student at the Duke School of Forestry in 1969, I prepared a report for my entomology professor, Dr. Roger F. Anderson, about a group of fungi that can act as an insecticide.  A deep journey into the library stacks revealed that this group of organisms, the Entomophthoraleans, was a highly specialized and fast-moving killer of insects.  One particular species was easy to grow and devastating to termite populations.  By 1997, I was routinely growing and using this fungus in my pest control work in New Orleans.  I hauled active cultures up to the Black Hills and began performing Koch's Postulates with the Mountain Pine Beetle.  By April, I was able to show that my fungus was capable of penetrating inch-thick pine bark and killing the beetle grubs that were growing in the cambium.  Predictably, my job situation deteriorated, so I packed my bags and left in July 2002.  I was so bummed out returning to New Orleans, that I decided to take up the study of Hebrew for my adult Bar Mitzvah.  Hearing this, Art made the same journey for himself.

Seven years later in October of 2009, I got a phone call from Art Janklow II.  By this time, the Mountain Pine Beetle was on the move, swallowing thousands of acres of pine trees and threatening the 40 acres of pure Ponderosa that made up the tree cover of Art Janklow's Mystery Mountain Resort.  Art was offering to pay my expenses to save his trees. So, I rented a Chevy HHR cruiser, loaded it with gear and set off on a 3-day, 1600 mile trip to Rapid City. There were about 60 infested trees on the property.  Each one was capable of spreading new beetles to 200 new trees and destroying them - and bankrupting Mystery Mountain.  Art's options were poor: fell and haul the trees off the property of spray the entire stand with expensive, nasty chemicals - annually.  I sprayed them with my concoction of fungus + a parasitic roundworm mixed with a bit of oil and molasses.  Most of the trees recovered and 2 years later, I returned and had to spray only 40 new beetle "hits".  Art and I would spend evenings talking about Kabbalah, or dining at the Alpine Inn at Hill City, SD and other watering holes. (The Alpine Inn sports a Magen David on the roof.)

In August of last year (2013) I heard that Art had suddenly passed away.  Well - that's the end of this story, I thought.  The connection with the Janklow family has been cut and I'll never return to Mystery Mountain again.  In October, I got a phone call.  It was Art II's oldest son - Art III.  He was booking another treatment for the pine trees of Mystery Mountain.  This time, I took a plane, landing at the Rapid City airport just as an incoming snowstorm shut it down.  My old friend, Darrell, picked me up in his pickup, we loaded with groceries and drove up to Mystery Mountain.  A big snow had us holed up for 2 days, while we cruised the timber outside.  After I treated the trees again (only 13 new hits this time.) Art III and I drove up to Sturgis, SD. Sturgis is the location of the famous August motorcycle rally that brings in a million Harleys every year.  It is also the location of a big National Cemetery.  Art II and his brother, Gov. Bill are both buried here.  Art's marker is decorated with the Star of David - one of very few in South Dakota.   Art II told me that, as his father was dying, he was carrying on a conversation with brother Bill, who was already dead.  AFTER Art II died, he told his son, Art III to call me.  Art Janklow I was a lead prosecutor in the Nurenberg trials of 1945.