Tootsie, the Singing Coyote

Courtesy Jeff Jacobsen and Jeri Fahrni
Courtesy Jeff Jacobsen and Jeri Fahrni / Courtesy Jeff Jacobsen and Jeri Fahrni

In the late 1940s, Fred Borsch found himself the owner of a rather unlikely pet after he volunteered to raise a stray.

Deadwood native Ollie Wiswell found a coyote pup at Custer Peak in 1947. Although there was a bounty on coyotes at the time, Wiswell couldn’t bring himself to kill the young animal, so he collected the baby coyote and brought her to his home. Borsch—who lived in Galena but owned a liquor store in Deadwood—and his wife Esther took in the pup, deeming her "Tootsie."

Courtesy of Jeff Jacobsen and Jeri Fahrni

Like most coyotes, Tootsie had a penchant for howling—but when she started in, Borsch would join her, eventually training her to “sing” by changing the pitch of her howl as he did. Word of Tootsie's operatic stylings grew quickly, and the once-abandoned coyote found herself with quite the fan base. Borsch began to tour the state with her, riding in parades and making personal appearances. She even cut a record with Borsch called South Dakota Tootsie and helped Western Airlines launch a new route from Spearfish to Rapid City.

Tootsie was so popular that Governor George T. Mickelson proclaimed the coyote the state animal in 1949, and also considered her for the state license plate. (She lost to Mount Rushmore.) But the crooning coyote’s fame wasn’t contained to South Dakota. Tootsie’s talents were so well-known that Borsch took her on a 10-state tour, including a stop at the White House, where it’s said she charmed President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon.

Sadly, Tootsie passed away in 1959 following surgery to remove a tumor, but she still lives on in Deadwood—if you know where to look. The first place is a neon sign downtown that pays tribute to both Tootsie and her owner. Though the sign itself depicts the singing coyote, its placement is a nod to Fred Borsch, whose liquor store once stood on that very location.

And to hear Tootsie in action, you need only stop by the Adams Museum to listen to a recording of her "songs" and see photos of the pup during her heyday.