DEADWOOD | Tootsie the Singing Coyote has come home.
Heralded in the 1940s and 50s as a canine of character, and the critter credited with making the coyote South Dakota’s state animal, Tootsie died in 1959. But an elaborate neon sign high above Deadwood’s Main Street has paid tribute to the celebrity coyote for more than half a century.
Damaged by hail during thunderstorms last summer, the city of Deadwood recently paid nearly $5,200 to have the sign restored and placed back atop of the former location of The Spot Liquor Store at the corner of Main and Lee streets in the town’s historic district.
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“Tootsie is a landmark sign that represents a portion of Deadwood history,” said city Historic Preservation Officer Kevin Kuchenbecker. “Tootsie was a local icon and with her owner, Fred Borsch, the duo toured all over the state and region. She was the animal that was instrumental in getting the coyote named the state mascot.
“It’s nice to have it back up and in good working order,” Kuchenbecker said of the sign.
According to Darrel Nelson, exhibit curator for Deadwood History Inc., Tootsie was captured near Custer Peak in 1947 by Ollie Wiswell. Not wanting to kill the pup for the posted bounty on coyotes, Wiswell instead gave her to Fred and Esther Borsch.
The couple raised Tootsie as part of their family and the young coyote became a fixture at their Main Street liquor store. Fred often dressed her up in a fancy collar and rode with Tootsie in the town’s annual Days of ’76 parade, Nelson noted.
Tootsie’s fame was assured in 1949, when Gov. George Mickelson proclaimed her “South Dakota’s State Animal,” a measure later ratified by the South Dakota Legislature, according to Nelson. About the same time, Fred “Coyote Borsch,” as he came to be known locally, taught Tootsie to howl along as he sang tunes and the unusual duo recorded an album titled “South Dakota Tootsie.”
In 1950, Tootsie was used in advertising promoting the first flight of Western Airlines on its route from Spearfish to Rapid City. Her growing celebrity status led Borsch to take his pet coyote on a 10-state promotional tour culminating in a visit to the White House where her photograph was purportedly taken with President Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon. A special stamp was even issued commemorating Tootsie’s status as a coyote of character.
“Tootsie was a great, active promoter of South Dakota,” Nelson said. And, what made the animal even more intriguing was she would sing along with her owner.
“It’s unusual because that animal does not train well,” Nelson said. “But Tootsie remained friends with Fred, even though she would bear her teeth at people who would pass by.”
Tootsie died in 1959 and was buried behind the Borsch cabin in Galena.
Today, the yips and howls of Tootsie's singing can still be heard at Deadwood’s Adams Museum, where an exhibit tells Tootsie’s story and an old recording allows listeners to relive the past.
“Our visitors do like the recording,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of charming.”