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September 13: Rattlesnake Dan Panko

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Dan Panko was born on this date in Ukraine in 1895. He emigrated to America in 1906 with his family and they homesteaded in North Dakota. A railroad branch of the Soo Line ran near their homestead and young Dan would hop on the train as it went by, ride a few miles, hop off and run back home.

One Saturday morning in June of 1908, when he was 12, Dan caught the train and didn’t get off until he was hundreds of miles from home in Minnesota. Hungry and broke, Dan looked for employment and found a job on a Minnesota farm.

In 1910 Dan decided to go back home. He bought a bicycle and started for North Dakota. After days of hard riding he reached the old homestead and found his family had moved from Morton to Grant County. He also learned that his family had given him up for dead.

The next day, Dan arrived at his family’s new home. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Dan had come back from the grave.

After several months, Dan headed off again. This time promising his mother he’d write. His bike was worn out, so he walked 50 miles to Bismarck and got a job helping the chefs at the McKenzie Hotel. When one of the chefs quit to take a job in St. Paul, Dan went with him.

Dan Panko became a tramp and bum, a professional prize fighter, and eventually, a soldier. In 1917 when the US entered World War I, Dan enlisted and was sent to Europe. He was wounded at Souson and gassed in the Argonne. He was hospitalized for months and would suffer from the injuries for the rest of his life.

In 1926 Dan married Helen Lalka. They returned to the family farm where they had had 2 sons.

In 1938, Dan was elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives for the district that included the Standing Rock Reservation. He fought to improve the living conditions of the Native Americans in Sioux County.

In 1941, He introduced a bill for a 25-cent bounty on rattlesnakes. He caught a dozen rattlers and dumped them out on the house floor, explaining how dangerous the rattlers were, especially to children. He forever after was known as Rattlesnake Dan.

“Rattlesnake Dan” Panko passed away in 1981 at the age of 84.

Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson

Sources:

  • Book, This is My Life by Dan Panko
  • Emmons County Record, March 24, 2016, How Rattlesnake Dan Earned His Name

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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