Thunder Butte

October 08, 2005

Usta and the Mulloys

Usta was approximately eighteen miles southwest of Thunder Butte and on the Moreau River at highway 73. This was the gathering place for everyone from near and far for dances, celebration of holidays, and rodeos. One year, my parents built a stand where they sold beer and hamburgers. I remember the hamburgers especially because we spent two days grinding up the meat of a freshly butchered steer. I think they got about ten cents for a hamburger and probably the same thing for a beer.

The Mulloys did a great business during these celebrations. Don and Laura Mulloy built and operated the grocery store at Usta. I don’t know who named Usta. I suppose Don Mulloy did. They had a flock of kids, all little girls. I used to think they were the skinniest kids with the dirtiest faces in South Dakota. And, Mulloy wasn’t even their real name. You see, Don and Laura came from Wisconsin, and Don fessed up to the locals years later that he thought he had killed a guy in Wisconsin. Seems that Don hit the guy and he looked like he was dead, so the McNamara (their real name) family lit out for the wilderness—South Dakota—and changed their name to Mulloy.

The Mulloys were a class act. Don used to buy his groceries mostly from the grocery in Faith, tag on a few cents, and resell them at Usta. It is a known fact that he sometimes passed up his profit entirely for some of the poor folks in the area. Come to think of it, I don’t remember any other kind of people. Everybody was poor then.

One of my outstanding memories of Usta was the pet coyote that belonged to the little girls. The closest I ever came to playing with the kids—Nona, Patricia, Shirley and Mary Lou—was when they would show me how the coyote would do tricks. Sure enough, that darn Coyote would do almost anything for those kids. Somebody brought it to them as a little pup. When people were around, they kept it chained to a log. But, as soon as the store closed, off came the chain, and the coyote ran and played with the kids. They used to try to get me to play with them. We would all run down to the river where they played in the mud. I was disdainful of that kind of behavior so our play sessions didn’t last very long.

When World War II came along, the Mulloys—the McNamaras then—closed up Usta and moved to the Los Angeles area where Don found work. He stepped off a train one day and was hit by another train and killed. We all resumed our friendship when I discovered that we were all living in Alameda, California, twenty some years later.

Incidentally, Usta was the white pronunciation of “huste” (sounding something like “Who-Sh-Teh”) in Sioux, meaning "lame". Ed Lemmon, who founded the town of Lemmon, was called "huste" because he had a crooked leg from when a horse fell on him.

--John Crowley
Mike Crowley Saturday, October 08, 2005


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