Forbidden Sweets, the Next Generation

There were a few side-notes I’d hoped to get around to in the story about theatrical offerings in Virginia City in 1864, but I ran out of space and time, hence the two-parter.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s “Richelieu” rests in mothballs these days, but a few of us have a passing familiarity with one of his other works, “The Last Days of Pompeii,” and we can all quote two of his deathless lines, whether we’re aware of their origin or not.  “The pen is mightier than the sword” is from “Richelieu,” and “It was a dark and stormy night” is the famously vapid opening phrase from his novel “Paul Clifford.”  We know it today as the first sentence of many of Snoopy’s literary efforts in the comic strip “Peanuts.”

It seemed a bit strange even to me that while relating an anecdote about the “adultery without adulterous intentions" of that star of the Western stage Miss Virginia Howard, I was suddenly reminded of the death of young Malcolm Granstedt, the last Republic County pioneer to fall victim to Indian raiders.  I’ll explain how I got there from here.

In published histories the boy's surname is usually given as Granstadt, the name Republic County historian Isaac Savage uses in his condensed version of the killing, which happened at New Scandinavia in early June 1869, after Tall Bull’s Cheyenne Dog Soldiers finally raised their camp and left the Republican Valley.

The next morning the sentry on the hill left his post, his services no longer being needed, as was supposed.  Two boys, however were put to watch the settlers’ horses, grazing on the townsite.  Presently two Indians were seen swiftly riding down the ravine east of town. One of the boys saw their approach in time to run towards the house. The other boy, Malcolm Granstadt by name, was still at his post, till with a clubbed pistol, he was first knocked down, and then shot and killed. The horses, five in number, were driven away, and never recovered. 

In his alternate version of the story, eyewitness Harry Wallin does not refer to the victim by name but only as “a boy twelve or thirteen years old” who “was in charge of five horses.”  Wallin did recall hearing a distant gunshot followed by the impact of a bullet striking the wall of the Colony House where he sat eating breakfast with his wife, but insisted that the Indians ran the boy down and speared him in the back.  When someone finally carried Malcolm inside the house, Mrs. Wallin saw that he was bleeding internally and that she could do no more than hold him and try to comfort the dying boy while he struggled to draw his final breath.

Outside of Isaac Savage’s history, the name Granstadt does not seem to occur in Republic County documents.  On the other hand, there were at least a dozen Granstedts among the settlers who fled famine-stricken Sweden and came to Republic County in 1868.  

That was the year two boys, Malcolm and August Granstedt showed up in what would soon be known as Scandia, Kansas.  Malcolm’s life was cut short by the encounter with Indians the following year, but even eighteen-year-old August had only a few more decades to live, though that was long enough to let him marry Caroline Olson and become the father of eight children.  

August's son Theodore was the father of Irene Granstedt, the girl from Scandia who would change her name to Greta and become a well-known film star, even if, like Miss Virginia Howard, Greta Granstedt was less famous for her body of work than for leading an interesting life.  She first made headlines a year after her family moved to Lakeview, California, when at the age of fourteen she shot her boyfriend for taking another girl to the church social.  The boyfriend eventually pulled through, and after some time in a reform school Greta was ordered to leave town.


I haven’t made a final tally of Miss Virginia Howard’s trips to the altar, but Greta married eight times, first at the age of sixteen, the same age Virginia Howard was when she married actor P. C. Cunningham.  Four of Greta’s marriages ended in annulment, most of them after the discovery that her new husband already had a wife.

Greta carried the additional burden of being associated with bad news which she did not cause.  Her roommate in San Francisco was Bessie Haley, the adventurous young woman who disappeared with her new husband, Glen Hyde, when they tried to run the Colorado River in 1928.  The newlyweds had met on board the steamer that took Greta and Bessie from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  The year after Glen and Bessie Hyde vanished, Greta reconciled with her parents, who boarded the steamship San Juan to visit her.  It was evidently on their return trip to Los Angeles that the San Juan struck a tanker, capsized and quickly sank, killing seventy-seven.  Among the dead was Greta’s mother.

Greta appeared in a few prestigious productions, such as “Street Scene,” (1931), “The Enforcer” (1951), and “Desire Under the Elms” (1958), but spent most of her career performing in “B” pictures and television.  Two of her later credits are for episodes of “Perry Mason,” small roles in “The Case of the Lurid Letter,” and “The Case of the Wednesday Woman.”

In “The Case of the Wednesday Woman,” she is mistakenly credited as Greta Granstadt.  

I realize that I have done her no favors by associating her with another piece of bad news which she had nothing to do with, the killing of Malcolm Granstedt, who I assume was her grand-uncle, at New Scandinavia in 1869.  The girl cannot catch a break.    

© Dale Switzer 2023