<![CDATA[southdakotamagazine.com History]]> (2024)

<![CDATA[southdakotamagazine.com History]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/?rss=Article,history]]> <![CDATA[History]]> Mon, 20 May 2024 00:00:00 -0700 Mon, 20 May 2024 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[Ship in a Bottle]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/ship-in-a-bottle]]> <![CDATA[

By Lance Nixon

German prisoners of war were put to work harvesting beets on Jack Rathbun's farm near Nisland.

The war hit home for the Lungrens on a Sunday in December.

“I can remember the Sunday when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” says Don Lungren of Pierre, who grew up in a German-speaking home near Vale. “We went to church. We came home, and on Sunday, Dad always turned on the radio to hear what the markets were going to be on Monday morning in Sioux City. Most of the time we didn’t have anything to sell, but he had to know what the markets were.”

On that Sunday in 1941, his father tuned in the set, as always; but he might have let it stay on longer than usual. “They were making a lot of noise on that radio, I can remember that — yelling and stuff,” Lungren recalls. “Dad shut it off and he told Mom he was going to see Grandpa.”

Lungren’s father returned with a strict order: “Henceforth, we don’t speak German anymore.”

The attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war against Japan and its ally, Germany. Perhaps because of the mistreatment of ethnic Germans in the U.S. during World War I, and perhaps because of fears that Japanese and German speakers might be suspected of harboring sympathies with the enemy, the family stopped speaking German then and there.

That Sunday the Lungren children also realized Germans were on the other side of the war. And if they had any doubts that Germans were the adversaries, there was more proof. South Dakota would be one of the places where German prisoners of war were stationed as World War II dragged on.

The first prisoners of war arrived in America in May 1942. Historian Arnold Krammer, who has written extensively about the era, notes that not only Germans but also Italian and Japanese soldiers would spend time in American internment camps before the effort ended in July 1946.

“It is remarkable how many people don’t realize that we held nearly 425,000 German POWs (as well as 53,000 Italian and 5,000 military Japanese prisoners) in some 550 camps across the country. They worked in factories, hospitals and brought in the crops since our boys were overseas fighting in the war,” Krammer told us.

In South Dakota, German POWs ended up in parts of Meade and Butte counties doing fieldwork; in Yankton doing bank stabilization work on the Missouri River; in northeastern South Dakota; and in the Sioux Falls area.

“Every farmer in the valley here used German prisoners for a couple years,” says David Rathbun of Nisland, who was about 9 and 10 at the time his family benefited from POW labor in the fields. His brother Grove, four years older, would drive the truck when they went to fetch prisoners from the Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Orman Dam.

The Rathbuns transported prisoners in their 1937 Ford beet truck. An American guard followed in the family's Model A pickup.

“It was an old CCC camp in the ’30s, and the government turned it into a POW camp. It had machine gun towers and barracks and the whole works, big fence,” Rathbun says. “We’d go up in a truck, get a load of German prisoners, maybe 20 at a time, and haul them back to the farm and they’d work. They had to do so much in a day. I’ll give them credit, they were hard workers.”

During threshing, the German soldiers gathered bundles of barley, oats or wheat into wagons. In that era before combines were common, they also pitched bundles into the threshing machine.

With the sugar beets, the POWs took on many tasks: thinning the beets, hoeing them when they were bigger, pulling them and taking the tops off, loading them on trucks for transport to the railroad, where they were loaded on cars and taken to the factory for processing.

There were also prisoners stationed at nearby Fort Meade. The prisoners came from different sectors of the war, Rathbun recalls. “North Africa was the first ones we got. They came in ’43. That’s when we got Rommel’s Afrika Korps prisoners, and they were ornery bastards,” he remembers, referring to the German expeditionary force that fought in Africa under Erwin Rommel, one of Hitler’s favorite generals. “They were the old Nazi type. They stabbed one of their own prisoners, killed him with a butcher knife, up at Orman Dam at the prison camp because he was too friendly with American guards.”

Krammer says such incidents weren’t uncommon, though often concealed by the prisoners. “Almost every camp held a minority of die-hard Nazis who often terrorized the others and sometimes murdered one or two, listing the deaths as suicides.”

The prisoners stayed for growing season, and after harvest were moved to other parts of the country. “They shipped them all out, I don’t know what they did with them,” Rathbun says. “And then in ’44, we got prisoners from Normandy. They were just run-of-the-mill German soldiers. They were different. They were damn glad to be out of that war. They didn’t mind working in the beet fields.”

Krammer cites studies saying about 40 percent of German POWs were pro-Nazi. Eight to 10 percent were considered fanatics in their devotion to the Nazi cause, while another 30 percent were “deeply sympathetic.” But just as Rathbun suggested, many of the German POWs were not Nazis.

The prisoners were given small breaks to split up the hours of labor. “Our place had the Belle Fourche River running through it. If they got done early in their work, the guard would let them go swim in the river, and they really liked that,” Rathbun says.

There were even stories that the guard would take a dip with the prisoners now and then. “He did, actually,” Rathbun confirms. “I saw that happen. The guard went swimming and left a sergeant, German sergeant, sitting on the hillside looking for the colonel.”

Locals would often practice German with the prisoners. “There’s a lot of German around here. Our neighbors were Low German, I think, and the prisoners were High German, but they could understand each other. They’d talk all the time.”

Another mode of communication was the universal language of food and drink. Don Lungren recalls that his parents and grandparents, Germans themselves, coaxed extra labor out of the POWs.

“They would make a big 2- or 3-gallon pail of chicken noodle soup, and man, I’ll tell you, they could pick cucumbers twice as fast. And Grandpa, he made better than that. His bribe was that if they would look at the end of the trees, by the hog house, there would be some beer there if they would get those cucumbers picked today. They had them done by noon, I think.”

After long days in the Butte County beet fields, prisoners sometimes enjoyed a swim in the Belle Fourche River.

Lungren said other locals would do favors for the POWs. “My family and most of the German families always gave them a treat — chicken noodle soup from the old roosters and that sort of thing and beer at the end of the grove in the trees. The guard would come. Grandpa would loan the guard his shotgun and the guard could go shoot pheasants. And because the guard couldn’t get the pheasants home, I suppose Grandma cooked the pheasants and fed them to the prisoners.”

Sometimes the farmers got more than they asked. “Grandma told one of the prisoners she wanted some little cucumbers because she wanted to make baby dills,” Lungren said. His grandmother had business to tend to, but when she got back to the field, the Germans had picked two bushels of tiny cucumbers — far more than she needed. “We had baby dills for years.”

Marian Ruff added that for German-speaking families, even though many of them had immigrated to America from German communities in Russia, it was awkward having German POWs work in the fields.

“My family, like the other German families, was looked down on because of the war — because they were Germans,” she said. “With the POWs, I think we felt sorry for them because of the way they were treated. They would bring this truckload of guys out to the Vale area and they would have two armed soldiers with them with rifles in case they tried to escape. They were supposed to shoot them.”

The guards weren’t just for show, Krammer says.

“There were escapes aplenty, but most were caught within three days,” he notes. But, he adds that many prisoners quickly figured out they would be treated decently in America.

“Those assigned to American farms were well-treated and modern flea markets still have POW-made handicrafts which they gave to the children of farm families,” Krammer said.

That was the case in South Dakota, too, Marian Ruff said. “They were just really happy to get out of the prison situation and do something. Several of them put together some ships inside of wine bottles. We have one of those. One was given to my grandpa. Several of the families that these prisoners worked for ended up with one of these ships inside of a bottle. It always fascinated me because I had no idea how they did it. Someone said to me recently, ‘Well, they sawed the bottom of the bottle and put the ship in and sealed the bottom back on again,’ but I don’t know if that’s what they really did or not.”

And no one knows what it meant to a German soldier, either — building a ship inside a bottle in a prison camp to give to a German farmer in landlocked South Dakota.

David Ruff of Spearfish, Marian’s husband, grew up near Nisland during the war. He spoke German well enough to understand the German POWs who worked for his father and some of the neighbors.

The Rathbun family dog often provided canine companionship for Germans working the fields.

“I often wondered if they didn’t have feelings knowing that they were in a country so far from their homeland and had people there that could speak their language. I think many of the prisoners were quite pleased to find that there were German-speaking people here. They were appreciative of the extra food that was given them and the friendliness of the farmers that they worked for.

“I don’t know if I personally asked one of them or what, but somehow or another in conversation, I learned from them that they were quite pleased with the treatment they were receiving here. I’m not sure exactly where they became prisoners of war, but they mentioned that when they were in France, they were required to drink out of the troughs that the livestock drank out of.”

POWs also made an impact on the other side of the state. Yankton-area historians Lois Varvel and Kathy K. Grow reflected on the German POWs stationed in Yankton in their 2001 book, The Bridge We Built: The Story of Yankton’s Meridian Bridge. They noted that the Yankton Press & Dakotan reported on April 3, 1945, the arrival of the first contingent of German POWs from the Afrika Korps to take part in Missouri River bank protection work. Officials wouldn’t tell the newspaper how many German POWs would come to Yankton, citing policy on POWs, but the newspaper understood they would make up “a sizable force.”

The POWs worked on a project to make sure the main flow of the Missouri River steered clear of the city of Yankton’s water intake. The work had side benefits for the Meridian Bridge. “We had prisoners of war trucked in from Algona, Iowa, and they did revetment work on the Nebraska shoreline. That was their contribution to protecting the Meridian Bridge,” Varvel says.

After the war ended, most of the 375,000 German POWs went back to Germany — but not all stayed there. Some liked what they had seen of life in America. The United States didn’t track the number of former German POWs who ended up immigrating to the land of their captivity; but it was substantial. Krammer notes that John Schroer, a former POW who immigrated to America after being held as a POW in Alabama, estimated about 5,000 POWs made a similar move. Some reportedly returned to South Dakota, too, where the enemy they had fought showed them decency and kindness in victory.

Editor’s Note: The tally of German prisoners of war in South Dakota at any one time during World War II was a floating figure because they rotated in and out of different states depending on the local harvest and other demands. Curt Nickisch, a South Dakota Public Broadcasting journalist at the time, wrote a story for South Dakota Magazine in 2001 in which he reported the number at more than 1,200 POWs through 1944 and 1945. There are also several books available, including Nazi Prisoners of War in America by Arnold Krammer. This story is revised from the March/April 2018 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 20 May 2024 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2491-1716188400]]>
<![CDATA[Homestake’s Pit Ponies]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/homestake-pit-ponies]]> <![CDATA[

By Chuck Cecil

"Old Smoky was hitched to a train of carts, each loaded with gold-laden ore headed to a Homestake elevator 400 feet underground in 1908.

Homestake Gold Mine depended on manpower in its early years, but in 1889 seven horses and 15 snorting mules were sent down its candlelit shafts.

Sometimes referred to as “pit ponies,” Homestake’s horses were lowered into the mine as fillies. The remuda eventually reached about 90 head. Once inside, most of the horses never again saw the light of day, although a few were trundled topside during fires, miners’ strikes and for rare promotional purposes.

Lifting or lowering the horrified horses to or from workstations thousands of feet underground was difficult. The elevator’s small size as well as the horses’ flighty dispositions were not conducive to noisy, rocky rides, so they were bound head to hoof in wide leather strappings. Their eyes were covered to help calm them. The 3-inch-wide harness held them in what resembled a sitting position, like an apple hanging in a stocking. This package of nearly a ton of horseflesh was fastened to the underside of a vertical shaft elevator. The signal was given and away they went, headfirst and squirming. The practice was considered the most humane because there was no pulling force bound to the horse’s neck or head.

Homestake wasn’t alone in its need for underground horsepower, although only a few of the more than 300 other mines in the Black Hills used horses underground. Those four-legged and faithful power sources at Homestake spent their lives in darkness, plodding through dank tunnels, using steel rails and memory as their guides to the ore dumping stations. On 10-hour shifts, they pulled rattling trains comprised of as many as eight, single-hitch, four-wheeled ore carts, each loaded with about a ton of gold-bearing rock.

Every miner was issued three candles to light their way during the long shift; the horses also depended on those tiny flickering flames. Hay, oats and water for the horses was lowered to roughly built wooden stables sited at key points along each mining level. Veterinarians, harness makers and blacksmiths were always nearby if needed. Walking on rough, sharp mine debris meant the horses required regular shoeing.

Not all Homestake horses were destined to a lifelong assignment underground. In the 20-year horse era at Homestake, some lucky ones were rewarded with visits to the surface and temporarily blinding daylight. During an 1893 mine fire, horses working in that area of the mine were brought above ground until the fire was doused.

A miner’s strike in 1906 posed a problem for mine bosses because the strike did not allow union workers to enter the mine, though the animals had to be fed and watered. Until the walkout was settled, all the nearly 90 horses were brought to the surface for an unscheduled vacation. It is said that the horses, once out of the mine, had to be taught how to eat green grass again.

Homestake Mine mascot "Teddy" was born 300 feet underground on May 26, 1902. The colt was named after Theodore Roosevelt, then in his second year as president.

A surprising turn of events occurred in the early morning hours of May 26, 1902 when a colt was foaled at the 300-foot level. Underground births were not expected since all the horses below ground were mares. Apparently one mare had been impregnated before she was lowered to Level Three.

Homestake officials took advantage of the opportunity to impress then President Theodore Roosevelt as well as the thousands expected to attend Lead’s 1902 Fourth of July celebration. The two-month-old foal was brought to the surface. Named Teddy in honor of the president, it became the hit of the holiday. Teddy was never assigned underground work.

To help the City of Lead stage its 1903 Labor Day celebration, a veteran mare named Mollie that had worked in the mine for 14 years was selected to make the trip to the top and be featured in a Homestake Mine display. Her eventual work assignment was not disclosed, but it is doubtful that she was returned to her former purgatory. She probably joined the surface herd, re-learned how to eat grass and enjoyed the rest of her life working daylight hours.

Soon after Mollie’s hoist to sunlight, the last of the horses working underground also made the upward journey. By that time, improved underground transport systems rendered real horsepower obsolete in pit mining. Steam engines were the first mechanized replacement, followed by compressed air, battery and electrical inventions. With each improvement, fewer pit ponies were needed. Gradually, horses were retired and hauled to the surface. The phaseout began in 1908, though horses played a role in the mine’s surface work well into the 1950s.

The mine closed in 2002. Now in its depths is the Sanford Underground Research Facility, where scientists search for neutrinos and dark matter — particles so tiny, mysterious and elusive that brainpower is in higher demand than horsepower.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the November/December 2022 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 08 Apr 2024 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2487-1712559600]]>
<![CDATA[A Historical Treasure Hunt]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/a-historical-treasure-hunt]]> <![CDATA[

By John Andrews

Sarah Hanson-Pareek, the Curator of Digital Projects and Photographs for the Archives and Special Collections at USD, is digitizing the long-lost 1st Dakota Cavalry ledger, which dates to 1862.

WHEN ABNER M. ENGLISH wrote a history of the 1st Dakota Cavalry — the first military regiment ever assembled in Dakota Territory — his time in that unit was nearly 35 years behind him. Still, he remembered with remarkable clarity several stories from the cavalry’s three years of active duty — from their training days in Yankton, to the mundane everyday occurrences of a soldier’s life to their pursuit of Native Americans as part of General Alfred Sully’s campaign in northern Dakota.

He tried to recall the names of all his comrades in Company A, a task that would have been much easier had he been able to find the company’s descriptive book, which contained a full roster of the soldiers who joined along with some scant biographical data. However, English believed the book had been lost, and for decades historians of Dakota Territory and South Dakota — as well as descendants of our first military men and other ardent genealogists — also assumed that was the case. But what was lost is now found and will soon be available to anyone in the world with a computer and access to the internet.

The book is fragile — not surprising considering it is 160 years old. It contains a dozen pages of written names, ages, heights and hometowns or countries. At first glance, it appears to be nothing more than a list, but it has the potential to unlock countless stories that can tell us much more about the early days of Dakota Territory.


AMONG JAMES BUCHANAN’S final acts as president of the United States was signing the document officially creating Dakota Territory on March 2, 1861, two days before the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. That fall, the War Department authorized Gov. William Jayne (Lincoln’s personal physician from Springfield, Illinois and political appointee) to raise two companies of cavalry. As new states and territories were created, they were authorized under the Militia Act of 1792 to raise military units.

Kurt Hackemer, a history professor at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion who researches the Civil War era in Dakota, says those units were raised for varying purposes, largely depending upon geography. “In the South you have militias before the Civil War because of the threat of slave rebellion,” Hackemer says. “As you get into the Industrial Age, in parts of the Northeast and Midwest, militias exist in response to industrial violence. In Dakota Territory, when our militia is founded, it’s for protection because there’s contested land between the incoming settlers and the indigenous population.”

Recruiting stations were set up at Yankton, Vermillion and Bon Homme. As volunteers reported to each community, their vital information was recorded in a descriptive book: name, age, height, complexion, eye and hair color, home state or country, occupation and enlistment date. Company A of the 1st Dakota Cavalry officially mustered into service on April 30, 1862. (Company B, also known as the Dakota Rangers, mustered in at Sioux City on March 31, 1863.)

English, a 25-year-old carpenter from Vermont when he joined, later recalled the first weeks of the Dakota Cavalry’s existence. His reminiscence was serialized in 1900 and 1901 in the Monthly South Dakotan, state historian Doane Robinson’s turn-of-the-century version of a magazine devoted to history and culture. It was republished in its entirety in 1918 in the historical society’s South Dakota Historical Collections. English said the men trained under a regular army soldier named Frederick Plughoff, a 36-year-old from Germany. “His strict discipline was quite irksome but we had enlisted to become soldiers and to serve under the flag of our country and we obeyed all orders and soon became quite proficient in drill and discipline,” English wrote.

He said soldiers were issued old Hall’s carbines, French revolvers and a regulation cavalry saber. “The carbine and revolvers were miserable arms,” English wrote, “the men being in about as much danger in the rear as the enemy in front.” They were soon replaced with Sharp’s carbines and Colt revolvers.

Nelson Miner served as captain of the 1st Dakota. Company A's original roster book remained in his family until the 1980s.

Although the Civil War was raging in the East and cavalry units from surrounding states were called to help fortify Union forces, much of the 1st Dakota Cavalry’s early actions took place close to home. “There’s an interesting misnomer that the Civil War was fought on the Union side by the U.S. Army, and it really wasn’t,” Hackemer says. “There are Army units, but the vast majority of forces raised during the Civil War are state-level units called volunteers in federal service. They are units that are under the authority of state governments who then sign up to serve in federal service, and that’s what the Dakota Cavalry is. They could have been sent east, in theory, to serve in Civil War battles like the 1st Nebraska Cavalry was, but they were kept here for local service because of the threat posed by the 1862 Dakota War.”

That conflict between the U.S. Army and the Santee erupted in violence in Minnesota in August of 1862 and spilled over into Dakota and Nebraska. English recalled that a detachment of 15 soldiers chased several Native Americans on horseback near Sioux Falls in the weeks before Judge Joseph B. Amidon and his son Willie were killed while cutting hay on a homestead claim on August 25. Soldiers and Indians actually fired upon each other in a skirmish near the James River east of Yankton. When rumors began circulating that the Yankton Sioux Tribe planned to join the Santee in war in southeastern Dakota, many residents of the new communities of Yankton, Vermillion and Bon Homme fled to Sioux City. Dakota Cavalry soldiers then helped build the Yankton Stockade, a 450-foot square fortification surrounding roughly a quarter of each block at the corner of Broadway and Third Street (historical markers still note the placement of the four sod and lumber walls).

Soldiers from Company A were also dispatched to Nebraska in July of 1863 following the murders of the five children of Henson and Phoebe Wiseman, who lived on a homestead in the Missouri River foothills south of Meckling. Henson was travelling through Dakota with Company I of the 2nd Nebraska Cavalry, which was under the command of Gen. Alfred Sully and ordered to push the Santee fleeing from Minnesota further west. Phoebe had traveled to Yankton to purchase supplies. She returned home and found her children — ages 16, 14, 9, 8 and 4 — dead or dying. The Yankton and Santee were blamed for the killings, though it was never proven.

In 1864, the 1st Dakota accompanied Gen. Alfred Sully on a campaign up the Missouri River into northern Dakota Territory. They saw action at the Battle of Killdeer Mountain in July, in which Sully’s force of 2,200 soldiers defeated roughly 1,600 Lakota, Yanktonai and Santee under the leadership of Gall, Sitting Bull and Inkpaduta. In August of 1865, a detachment of 24 soldiers from Company B took part in the Battle of Bone Pile Creek near present-day Wright, Wyoming. Privates Anthony Nelson and John Rouse were killed, the only combat deaths the 1st Dakota ever experienced.

Two other soldiers, James Cummings and John McBee, died from illness at the Fort Randall hospital. John Tallman died during the winter of 1864-65 when he crossed the Missouri River south of Vermillion to hunt deer and never returned. A settler found his frozen body lying on the ground and wrapped in a blanket. He was given a military funeral and buried in an unmarked grave on a bluff near Vermillion.

The rest of the 1st Dakota spent that winter in Vermillion, as well. When spring arrived, English wrote, “We rejoiced over the surrender of Lee and were depressed by the news of Lincoln’s death, but our spirits were soon revived by information that we would be mustered out on May 9.” Capt. Hugh Theaker of the regular army arrived to conduct the ceremony. “Then came the last roll call, the usual farewells, and the members of A company were out of the United States service, never as an organization to meet again.”


YANKTON HISTORIAN Bob Hanson was always proud of his family’s long history in Dakota. His great-grandfather, Amund Hanson, immigrated from Eide, Norway, and was among the first settlers in Clay County in the early 1860s. He donated a portion of his land to build the Hanson School, among the first schools in the new Dakota Territory, and in 1862 he joined Company A of the 1st Dakota Cavalry as its bugler. That family connection to Dakota’s first volunteer soldiers fueled Bob’s passion for finding the long-lost ledger.

1st Dakota soldiers helped build the first school in Dakota Territory in Vermillion. The road in the photo is today's Dakota Street. A monument along the road below the bluff marks the spot.

An introductory note to the 1918 republishing of English’s memoir reports that the descriptive book and roster for Company B was donated to the state historical society by the widow of Uriah Wood, a former soldier who had kept the book as “his most precious relic,” but on his deathbed in 1916 insisted it be turned over to the state. The note also laments the loss of Company A’s descriptive book. Historians apparently contacted the War Department in Washington, D.C., but the adjutant general replied that there was no record of it.

Fortunately, a historical treasure hunt was exactly what Bob Hanson loved. He worked diligently in the 1990s to locate the unmarked grave of John Tallman and place a stone there. Though he believed he knew where the soldier was buried, a stone never came to fruition before his death in 2018. He was successful in Yankton, however, where the final resting place of Pierre Dorion, an early explorer and interpreter for Lewis and Clark, is memorialized with a large boulder at West Second Street and Riverside Drive.

We’ll never know how many letters Bob wrote, phone calls he placed or visits he made to others who were connected to the early days of Dakota. But his daughter, Sarah Hanson-Pareek, recalls a conversation with him shortly after she went to work in the archives of the I.D. Weeks Library at the University of South Dakota. “He asked if we still had Grace Beede’s hat box,” Sarah remembers. “He said the missing ledger was in there and not to let anyone know we had it. I think he was afraid that some government archive might ask for it. He thought it belonged here because it was so important to our history.”

Discovering the book in the Beede collection allowed historians to construct its possible life story. It begins with Nelson Miner, the 36-year-old lawyer from Ohio who became Company A’s first captain. Miner was born in 1827 and came to Dakota Territory with his wife, Cordelia, in 1860. When the War Department authorized raising the 1st Dakota, Miner became the recruiting officer at the Vermillion station. After ably leading the cavalry for three years, he was appointed registrar of the U.S. Land Office in Vermillion. Miner also owned the St. Nicholas Hotel and was elected to the territorial legislature in 1872, 1876 and 1878, but died in October of 1879 before his final term expired.

Just as Uriah Wood kept the roster for Company B, it seems Miner held on to its counterpart from Company A as his own “precious relic.” It passed through the family until it ended up with Grace Beede, his great-granddaughter. Beede, born in 1905, earned a bachelor’s degree at USD in 1926 and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1936. She joined the faculty at USD in 1928 and taught classics there until 1970. She donated the Beede Family Papers to the USD Archives in 1985, five years before she died. Today’s Coyotes might better recognize her as the namesake of Beede Hall, a girls’ dormitory within the campus’ North Complex along Cherry Street.


KEEPING THE LEDGER’S location a secret was never a top priority for campus librarians, but Bob Hanson’s rediscovery of it in the late 1980s certainly didn’t make a lot of headlines, either. Still, knowing the artifact is right across campus opens a lot of doors for historians like Kurt Hackemer.

“Having it here is pretty exciting,” he says. “At first glance, things like rosters look pretty boring. But the real value of a roster like this is when you see who is serving in a military unit you can then find those names in other records, and you can start building a story about the 1st Dakota Cavalry that is far more than just what the unit did.”

Among those records Hackemer hopes to utilize is a special 1885 census. Congress offered to pay half the costs of conducting an off-cycle census, but only a few states and territories accepted, including Dakota Territory. While debating its structure, territorial legislators created a special schedule within the census to catalog veterans. “They specifically wanted those settlers to be remembered for posterity’s sake. That was their goal,” Hackemer says. “It is the only census of its kind that you can find at a state or territorial level anywhere in the United States. When I’ve taken my research about this to national conferences, historians are floored. There is literally nothing like it anywhere else in the United States.”

The ledger contains a dozen handwritten pages that record the names, ages, heights and hometowns or countries of the 1st Dakota soldiers.

Comparing the 1st Dakota roster to that census and subsequent counts could lead to countless research projects, articles and books. “I learn a lot more about the men who made up that unit and it lets me ask interesting questions,” Hackemer says. “Who felt compelled to volunteer for military service and why? Who thinks they have a stake in this? There are both native born American citizens and immigrants living in Dakota Territory at the time. Is one group more or less likely to volunteer and why? It can help tell you a lot about the creation and the early years of the territory, and for a historian, that’s exciting. There are a lot more stories to be told there.”

When Bob Hanson located the ledger, he had it photographed for preservation. This past summer, his daughter Sarah — the Curator of Digital Projects and Photographs for the Archives and Special Collections at USD — photographed it again to the highest standards of digital preservation in the country. The archives was awarded a CARES Act grant of $193,000 to purchase new equipment to help make primary source and collection materials available to a larger global audience. “Because of COVID and the inability for researchers to travel as easily, there really is this increased need to get materials online for distance researchers,” Hanson-Pareek says.

The new equipment allows archivists at USD to digitize documents, archival manuscript materials, bound volumes, maps, oversize materials, film and glass plate negatives and two-dimensional artworks at standards that comply with FADGI, the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative, a collaborative effort launched in 2007 to establish common practices and guidelines for digitization. “We’ve never had the equipment to do it justice,” Hanson-Pareek says of the ledger. “But with this grant funding, we have a camera with significant resolution and power to digitize it.”

The cavalry ledger is among the first historic documents to be digitized with the new equipment, along with a scrapbook belonging to John Blair Smith Todd and a ledger from Cuthbert DuCharme’s trading post. All will be available to researchers online this fall, but for historians curious to see the real thing, the USD Archives — after a long closure due to the pandemic and an extensive renovation project — plans a full reopening in October. Sarah Hanson-Pareek will be there, and her father will be in spirit.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the September/October 2022 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 12 Feb 2024 00:00:00 -0800 <![CDATA[article-2478-1707724800]]>
<![CDATA[Alcester’s Music Man]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/alcesters-music-man]]> <![CDATA[

By John Andrews

DeeCort Hammitt organized the Alcester Community Band in 1921 and directed it for 25 years. Hammitt, an Alcester banker and musician, is best known for composing the state song, "Hail, South Dakota."

WHEN DIGNITARIES GATHERED in downtown Yankton in November of 2013 to officially begin South Dakota’s upcoming sesquicentennial (125th birthday), students from the city’s elementary schools were on hand to sing our official state song, “Hail, South Dakota.” My daughter, Elizabeth, a student at Beadle Elementary at the time, was part of the energetic young chorus. I remember her singing snippets in the car rides to and from school or at home in the evenings and feeling glad that she was learning a bit of our state’s history.

This summer, we were all gathered in our living room. The television was on but not tuned to a program, which meant that after a certain period of inactivity it went to sleep and reverted to its screensaver. Photographs that we’ve uploaded to our Amazon account travel via a Fire Stick and appear as a slideshow during these entertainment downtimes.

As we watched the images roll past, we saw our daughter, dressed in the patriotic red, white and blue dress that my wife had sewn in advance of that gathering nine years ago. I recalled speeches by the governor and lieutenant governor and the swing band that played well into the evening. But Elizabeth remembered none of that.

“What was I even doing there, anyway?” she asked.

When I reminded her that she and her classmates were there to sing the state song, it didn’t jog a single memory. “Hail, South Dakota,” with its lines praising the “Black Hills, and mines with gold so rare,” and our “farms and prairies, blessed with bright sunshine,” was long forgotten.


LAURA BAKER AND her siblings, Jane Allard and Mark, Kurt and Paul Hammitt, grew up immersed in the culture of the state song because it was written by their grandfather, an Alcester banker and musician named DeeCort Hammitt. The five of them grew up in Elk Point, where their parents, Howard and Dorothy Hammitt, had taken on the mantle of promoting the state song. Every spring, the Hammitts would give each graduating Elk Point High School senior a card with a two-dollar bill and a copy of the song. Dorothy called schools around South Dakota to make sure they all had the music and lyrics. “Everybody wanted a copy of it, and every school played it,” Baker says. “Community groups sang it.”

“I remember having to sing it when I was in school,” Allard recalls. “I don’t know when it started to fade away.”

In fact, that’s not something they thought much about until Howard Hammitt died in 2012 and his children found an assortment of photographs and clippings about their grandfather tucked away in the service station that Howard ran for decades. They began to learn even more about DeeCort (pronounced DECK-ert) and worried that his legacy as the man behind South Dakota’s state song might disappear.

Hammitt learned to play piano by ear and provided the sound for silent films shown in his family's movie theater.

Hammitt was born in Spencer in 1893. His father, Franklin, started the town’s drug store in 1888 and worked both there and in Montrose. Franklin was preparing to move, buying a new house, drug store and theatre in Alcester, but he died in 1900, shortly after the purchases became final. His wife, Mae, and their five children still made the move. She hired a druggist and operated the movie theater, where DeeCort demonstrated his remarkable musical abilities to the rest of their new community. He had learned to play piano by ear and provided the sound for silent films.

Hammitt graduated from Alcester High School in 1912 and married Bessie Durkee from Alexandria in 1913. That same year, he composed a song called “The South Dakota Rag.” The Hammitts settled into life in Alcester, eventually raising 11 children. DeeCort worked at the McKellips family’s Alcester State Bank by day and served terms as the city treasurer and assistant postmaster. Music, however, remained his passion.

Hammitt formed the Sunshine State Music Company and continued writing music that found its way into the repertoires of bandleaders like Tommy Dorsey and Lawrence Welk. In 1915, the John T. Hall Music publishing company in New York selected his song “Don’t Take My Lovin’ Baby Away” as the winner in a nationwide songwriting contest with more than 1,500 entrants. Three years later, the Pace and Handy Music Company published a Hammitt song called, “I Want to Love You All the Time.” W.C. Handy, a composer and musician who often called himself “the father of the blues,” said it was one of the year’s best blues songs. His company advertised it as a “beautiful one-step ballad, different than the rest.”

Hammitt organized the Alcester Community Band in 1921 and directed it for 25 years.The group took regular trips to the Belle Fourche Roundup and played for President Calvin Coolidge when he and First Lady Grace Coolidge vacationed in the Black Hills in 1927.Hammitt wrote a piece called “The Roundup March,” and included special lyrics for Coolidge’s visit. The Alcester Community Band earned such a good reputation that it was chosen to represent South Dakota at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933 and 1934.

He also dabbled in radio, forming the Hammitt Radio Company in 1922, just two years after the nation’s first commercial radio broadcast originated in Pittsburgh. The inaugural program included a saxophone solo, a vocal solo, a men’s quartet and a poem recited by his son, Keith. Hammitt created weekly programs for several years, entertaining farmers within a 5- or 6-mile radius of Alcester.

A Chicago hat salesman eventually vaulted Hammitt to statewide prominence. Warner Putnam sold hats and other clothing around South Dakota. In 1941, he discovered that South Dakota did not have an official state song that could be performed at certain functions. He approached the Sioux Falls Argus Leader about organizing a statewide song contest.

The Hammitt brothers, from left: Ralph, Forest, DeeCort and Charles (Chick).

The newspaper assembled a committee of judges headed by Carl Christensen, a professor and band director at South Dakota State College in Brookings. Out of 158 entries, the judges chose six finalists including “Hail, South Dakota,” a renamed version of a Hammitt favorite. “When he read about the contest, he knew that ‘The Roundup March’ would be the perfect song for our state song,” Baker says. “It remained a very popular song with marching bands in the years after 1927. He got a lot of traction out of ‘The Roundup March’ right up until the contest.”

Ballots were printed in all South Dakota newspapers. Radio stations in the state’s largest cities scheduled 30-minute blocks on January 9 and 10, 1942, during which all six entries were played. South Dakotans sent their ballots to the Argus Leader, where staff tallied the results and declared “Hail, South Dakota” the winner. Gov. Harlan Bushfield presented Hammitt with an award for composing the new state song, and the legislature made it official in March 1943.

To honor DeeCort after the contest, he and Bessie were the guests of honor at the South Dakota Press Association’s annual banquet in Sioux Falls. The new state song was performed in public for the first time since the contest concluded. “While Hammitt was pleased with the honor and attention the song received, he said he simply wanted to promote the state he loved,” a newspaper reported.

DeeCort and Bessie moved to California in 1947, where he continued to write and publish music. He operated the C&H Music Store in Sacramento with his son, Orlin, until his death in 1970.


TODAY, 48 STATES have at least one state song. New Jersey never adopted one and Maryland retired its state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” in 2021 because of language that was deemed inappropriate. Tennessee has the most with 10, including “Rocky Top,” which you’re likely to hear throughout University of Tennessee football games. Other states have adopted songs from popular culture as well. In 1979, Georgia chose “Georgia on My Mind,” written by Hoagy Carmichael but made popular by Ray Charles. John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” became a state song of West Virginia in 2014. “Home on the Range” is among Kansas’s three tunes, and Louisianans sing “You Are My Sunshine.”

But since 1943, DeeCort Hammitt’s “Hail, South Dakota” has remained South Dakota’s stalwart single tune, though there have been occasional challenges. “A couple of times they’ve tried to change the state song,” Allard says. “They wanted a newer, livelier and more modern state song. Mom would just send more copies to the legislature.”

While it may not hold the place it once did in the state’s popular culture, it remains an important part of certain musical catalogs. Terry Beckler is a music professor at Northern State University in Aberdeen and commander of the South Dakota National Guard’s 147th Army Band. “I’ve played the state song many times. It’s the last part of a march titled ‘The Roundup,’” he says. “By regulation, military bands should play the last 32 bars of ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ following ‘Ruffles and Flourishes’ for a governor. In South Dakota, tradition has been to play ‘Hail, South Dakota’ instead. We’ve done this for every governor, as long as I’m aware.”

For that, the Hammitt family can be proud.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the November/December 2022 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 08 Jan 2024 00:00:00 -0800 <![CDATA[article-2471-1704700800]]>
<![CDATA[Finding Frank Ashford]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/finding-frank-ashford]]> <![CDATA[

By John Andrews

Aberdeen's Troy McQuillen became fascinated by the work of Frank Ashford at the K.O. Lee Aberdeen Public Library, which owns several oil paintings by the Brown County artist. McQuillen is searching the world for more of Ashford's work, and hopes to answer at least some of the questions that remain about the quiet painter from Stratford. Photo by Stephanie Staab

There’s a painting in the Dacotah Prairie Museum in Aberdeen of a woman wearing a salmon-colored sleeveless dress, a floral print shawl, her left hand drawn to her chest as she gazes off the canvas directly at the viewer. Twelve years ago, when South Dakota Magazine assembled a list of paintings every South Dakotan should see, the late John Day — a widely respected art scholar and then curator of the Oscar Howe Gallery at the University of South Dakota — included Woman with a Shawl on his list of the 10 best paintings ever produced by a South Dakotan.

We know nothing about the identity of the woman and, for many years, very little about the man who painted her, even though Frank Ashford was considered among the best American artists of his time. Ashford grew up near Stratford and traveled the world, painting portraits of governors, Supreme Court justices, a U.S. president and the First Lady and other members of high society. He painted in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, Paris and the banks of the James River in Brown County.

Ashford likely produced hundreds of paintings, many of which have been lost since his death in 1960, several years before a young Troy McQuillen began noticing the few Ashfords hanging in Aberdeen’s public library. Decades later, those childhood memories sparked a quest to find as many of the old artist’s paintings as he can, and maybe learn something about the man along the way. Among his early discoveries? He’s not the first Aberdonian to go looking for Frank Ashford.


Elderkin Potter Ashford was a Civil War veteran, serving with the 23rd Iowa Volunteers at Milliken’s Bend, Vicksburg and Mobile, among other prominent battles. He moved his family to a homestead in Rondell Township, southeast of Aberdeen along the James River near Stratford in 1893. The Ashfords included his wife Cassandra, who suffered from arthritis and spent many years confined to a wheelchair, daughters Grace and Helen, and sons Ward, Fred and Frank, who was born in 1878.

The elder Ashford never lost his sense of patriotism. He hosted a grand celebration at his homestead every Memorial Day. Hundreds of people met to decorate graves at nearby Oakwood Cemetery, then heard speeches delivered from the front porch of the Ashford home. Many locals believed that Frank’s interest in painting portraits of politicians stemmed from those annual gatherings.

Just before he turned 18, Frank left Brown County for the Chicago Art Institute, where he studied drawing under Frederick Frier and John Vanderpoel. After three years in Chicago, he spent a year at the Pennsylvania Art Institute in Philadelphia and another year at the New York School of Art, studying in both places under William Merritt Chase, an Impressionist painter perhaps best known for his portraits.

Ashford's self-portrait.

Following his studies, Ashford established a studio in Paris, where he painted for seven years. He visited home in April of 1912, sailing on a French ship called the Bretagne, which passed through the same North Atlantic iceberg field that doomed the Titanic later that same day. “We passengers aboard could not grasp the full purport of the tragedy,” Ashford told the Aberdeen Weekly News when he arrived in town in May. “It was so overwhelming, and many did not believe it until we reached New York.”

As World War I embroiled Europe, Ashford returned to the United States permanently in 1914. He spent time painting in New York, Minneapolis and Seattle before settling down in South Dakota sometime in the 1920s. A Sioux Falls Argus Leader story from that decade referred to Ashford as, “such a simple, common, everyday person, friendly and unassuming, and not at all what one would think of an artist who had lived in Paris.”

Ashford was briefly married around that time to a model he’d met in New York named Marjorie Rickel, but they divorced in 1929. Locals around Stratford believed the marriage ended because Rickel could not get accustomed to South Dakota’s rural lifestyle and was bitter about supporting her husband, who excelled in making art but struggled with financial management.

Ashford painted several prominent politicians and judges beginning in the 1920s, including Louis Brandeis, chief justice of the New York Supreme Court. He painted three South Dakota Supreme Court justices, as well as governors Andrew Lee and Charles Herreid. He later painted governors Leslie Jensen, Sigurd Anderson and Joe Foss twice, once as a politician and again as a World War II aviator.

His work was attracting an audience. In the late 1920s, he sold 11 oil paintings to be placed around the campus of the Dakota Hospital for the Insane in Yankton (today the Human Services Center). The purchase was an extension of the efforts of Dr. Leonard Mead, the hospital’s superintendent from 1891 to 1899 and again from 1901 until his death in 1920. Mead believed that creating a more welcoming environment through art and architectural beauty would help patients recover. He began an art collection with several watercolors in 1906, and the Ashford oils added to the campus décor.

Perhaps Ashford’s biggest professional achievement came in 1927 when he learned that President Calvin Coolidge planned to spend the summer in the Black Hills. He asked his friend, state historian Doane Robinson, if it would be possible to have Coolidge and his wife Grace sit for portraits. The two exchanged letters, and eventually Sen. Peter Norbeck — among the architects of the president’s vacation to South Dakota — was added. The flurry of correspondence resulted in a sitting at the Custer State Park Game Lodge in July.

Remarkably, Ashford had the Coolidge paintings nearly finished by mid-August. He often said that he only needed to sit with a subject for three to five hours and could finish a nearly life-size portrait in about 10 days. Ashford produced two paintings each of the president and the First Lady. A portrait of Coolidge seated and wearing a light-colored suit and another of Grace Coolidge in a green dress hang in the lodge’s lobby. Another showing the president wearing a headdress and Grace in a red dress hang in the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum at Forbes College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Frank and his brother Fred (right), pictured in about 1940, were among five siblings who lived on the Ashford family's Brown County homestead.

Ashford was happy with his Coolidge work. “The portrait of Coolidge, I think, is one of my best and it pleased him very much,” he wrote to a friend in Seattle. “Mr. Coolidge remarked that he thought it was the most satisfactory portrait that had been painted of him, which I considered a high compliment, as he had been painted by several noted artists.”

The following year, Ashford was commissioned to paint a portrait of William Henry Harrison Beadle, known in South Dakota as the savior of school lands because of his foresight to preserve two sections in each township for schools at a time when speculators gobbled up land at tremendously low prices. To commemorate the 90th anniversary of Beadle’s birth, the Young Citizens League and E.C. Clifford, the state superintendent of schools, created a plan to place Beadle’s picture in every South Dakota school. Ashford would paint the oil portrait and hundreds of prints would be made.

Ashford reportedly painted a portrait based on a photograph of Beadle, but the whereabouts of the original art and prints is a mystery.

Painting opportunities were slim during the Depression, World War II and the postwar years. Growing older and feeling lonely, he went to live with his brother and sister-in-law, Ward and Violet Ashford, in Salem, Oregon, in 1948. He became re-energized by the beauty of the Willamette Valley and painted several landscapes around the Ashfords’ farm. He also opened a studio, where he painted until returning to Aberdeen in 1956.

Ashford moved into the Boyd Apartments on the second floor of the Malchow Building downtown and settled into a routine. He met with locals for coffee and meals, and every afternoon stopped at Plymouth Clothing to visit a group of downtown business owners and friends. When he didn’t arrive on Nov. 21, 1960, they went to his apartment where they found him dead of a heart attack. Ashford was 82.


This story would be considerably shorter if not for the tireless work of Frances “Peg” Lamont. She spent more than a year researching Ashford for a paper presented at Augustana University’s annual Dakota Conference in 1990 and uncovered many of the aforementioned details about his life and career. Lamont served seven terms in the state senate from Aberdeen and was a longtime advocate for historic preservation, women, senior citizens and mental health. She was a founding member of the Dacotah Prairie Museum and Historic South Dakota, helped launch the Northeastern Mental Health Center and was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the Federal Council on Aging, where she served three terms. She remained active in several endeavors until her death in 2008 at age 94.

McQuillen discovered Ashford's Yellow Chrysanthemums at Pomona College in California.

Lamont was visiting the Black Hills with her parents, Fred and Frances Stiles, in the 1930s when she first saw the 1927 Ashford portraits of Calvin and Grace Coolidge hanging at the Custer State Park Game Lodge. It served as her introduction to Ashford, who was never far from her mind, even as she left South Dakota to attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison and found work as a researcher and copy writer for the Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s in New York City.

She and her husband William Lamont, a Harvard-educated fellow South Dakotan, made their home in Aberdeen after their marriage in 1937. The Lamonts became entrenched in life in the Hub City while Ashford painted in and around Aberdeen and Oregon. When he died in 1960, Ashford left 23 paintings in his apartment and the family home near Stratford. Local attorneys Hugh Agor and Douglas Bantz became the executors of Ashford’s estate and struggled to sell the art. They bought several paintings themselves and donated others to the Alexander Mitchell Public Library (today the K.O. Lee Aberdeen Public Library) and the Dacotah Prairie Museum. Lamont ensured that the two Coolidge portraits made their way to Massachusetts. Others have simply disappeared.

Nearly 30 years later, with Ashford fading into obscurity, Lamont began to wonder what became of his paintings. She launched a worldwide search and tried to learn as much about Ashford as could be discovered. “For years, bits and pieces of Frank Ashford’s life had delighted me,” Lamont wrote. “Finally came the time to write about him, but libraries, art schools and records were scarce. The search for Ashford paintings has all the elements of untangling a mystery.” Fortunately, there were still several families in and around Stratford who shared their memories of Ashford. Those interviews, along with a smattering of publications and newspaper articles, revealed a prolific and energetic artist. “It seemed that wherever he stopped, even briefly, and found an interesting client, he established a studio and proceeded to paint with vigor and enthusiasm, turning out untold hundreds of artworks.”

Lamont successfully located several of those paintings, and today McQuillen is continuing her work. He is the owner of McQuillen Creative Group, an advertising and marketing business located across the street from the building where Ashford lived his final years. He also publishes Aberdeen Magazine and wrote a story about his Ashford quest in early 2018. “I used to go to the Alexander Mitchell Library a lot when I was a kid, and his paintings were all over,” McQuillen says. “The images were just burned into my brain. Then as an adult, I started a magazine and got on the library board and really started to wonder what these paintings were about. I learned about his national and international reputation for being a pretty good artist.”

The internet makes searching a little easier, with paintings occasionally showing up on online auction sites such as eBay (a seller in Portland, Oregon, is currently offering an Ashford portrait of a boy in a cowboy outfit for $795). But there remains a lot of sifting through historical paperwork. For example, a newspaper article from the 1950s mentioned that a couple donated two Ashford paintings to Pomona College in Claremont, California on behalf of a friend. McQuillen contacted the school, which had no record of it. But staff at the college’s Benton Museum of Art searched the archives and found a still life called Yellow Chrysanthemums, dated 1916 and signed “Ashford.” The second painting remains lost.

Woman with a Shawl, among Ashford's most famous portraits, hangs at Aberdeen's Dacotah Prairie Museum.

Another elusive painting is The Three Sisters, a critically acclaimed work that Ashford exhibited in Paris in 1912. Records indicate that he kept the painting, and a photograph from an exhibition in Aberdeen during the late 1950s shows it hanging on the wall. But The Three Sisters was not listed among the paintings in Ashford’s estate when he died.

Other works have disappeared even more recently. During Lamont’s search 30 years ago, she documented only five of the 11 paintings that were sold to the Human Services Center in Yankton. When McQuillen inquired in early 2021, he found just three: Modern Madonna, Lincoln the Lawyer and a portrait of former administrator George Sheldon Adams.

For South Dakotans wishing to see Ashford’s work firsthand, a trip to Aberdeen in the best bet. The Dacotah Prairie Museum owns a winter landscape and six portraits: Marjorie (his wife), Fred Hatterschiedt and Ole Swanson (both local businessmen), Woman with a Green Headband, Woman with Coral Necklace and Woman with a Shawl. The museum also has Ashford’s palette, easel, his lamp for portrait painting and his wooden traveling painting case, still filled with supplies.

The K.O. Lee Aberdeen Public Library has Woman in Pink; Abraham Lincoln (based on a rare ambrotype photograph that he owned taken of Lincoln in 1858 and similar to the Lincoln portrait at the Human Services Center); Governor Joe Foss, The Aviator and War Hero; Woman at Piano; and Ashford’s self-portrait, among other works.

McQuillen has also launched a website, which includes photographs of nearly 40 paintings that he has rediscovered, with more to come. “My goal here is that if people or antique stores have paintings by him, then at least they would know who he is and what they have,” he says.

It’s a modest goal to honor an equally modest man, who should always be remembered in South Dakota’s art world and beyond.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the November/December 2021 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 00:00:00 -0800 <![CDATA[article-2461-1701072000]]>
<![CDATA[The Lost 74]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/the-lost-74]]> <![CDATA[

By Bernie Hunhoff

The Sage brothers (from left, Gary, Kelly Jo and Greg) posed for this photograph as a Mother's Day gift before they left port in California for the waters off Vietnam.

There are worse things than being forgotten. Maybe you’re halfway around the world, in the dark of night on the South China Sea, when your ship collides with a much larger vessel.

Maybe you’re a sailor on a nearby boat that attempts to rescue survivors, but all you see is endless water and an eerie quiet.

Maybe you’re a Nebraska farmer listening to the TV news when you hear that the ship on which your three Navy sons are serving has been sliced in half.

Maybe you’re a young wife and mother whose father-in-law telephones to say that your husband — his son — won’t be coming home. You get a telegram from the Navy confirming the news.

A week later, the final note of “Taps” has faded to silence. The burial flags are folded and put away and the sympathy cards have been read and answered; then a lonesomeness settles over great tragedies.

That’s when the survivors contemplate the grace of remembering.


Brookings barber Linda Vaa was the young sailor’s wife who got that phone call from her father-in-law in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War. Fifty years have barely softened the pain.

Linda Vaa, a longtime barber on Brookings' Main Street, strives to preserve the stories of 74 sailors who died in 1969.

She met Greg Sage in the summer of 1964 at the Knox County Fair in Bloomfield, Nebraska, just across the border from Yankton and Bon Homme counties in South Dakota. “My sister and I were walking around the fair when she noticed these two boys were following us. It was the day before school started. Finally, we turned around and started talking to them.” One was Greg Sage, a farm boy from nearby Niobrara. “Greg was very shy,” she says. “We probably dated three months before he held my hand. We were just 17 years old.”

Greg was the second of Ernie and Eunice Sage’s four sons. Gary, the oldest, was a typical first-born: serious and eager to help people. He was also a thinker who liked to read. As the United States became more engaged in Vietnam’s civil war, he told his family that he felt he should fight for his country.

Greg, who played football for Niobrara, was less studious than Gary. Kelly Jo, freckle-faced and artistic, was two years younger than Greg. The Sages’ fourth son, Douglas Dean, had barely started school. The boys and their father spent their days hunting, fishing and farming in the hill country of the Missouri River Valley.


Gary enlisted in the Navy after high school. Greg and Linda married as soon as they graduated from high school, and within a year Greg followed his older brother into the Navy. “Their dad, Ernie, encouraged them all to join the Navy because he thought it would be safer,” says Linda.

Kelly Jo signed up even before his high school graduation. Gary was on the crew of another ship when Greg was assigned to the USS Frank E. Evans, a 376-foot attack vessel commissioned in 1945 and deployed to the Pacific at the end of World War II. Sailors nicknamed it the Grey Ghost because of the way it looked at sea. The Evans was retooled in the 1960s for anti-submarine warfare. As fighting expanded in Southeast Asia, it began deployments there.

“Gary’s ship pulled into base at Long Beach, California, and he came to live with Greg and I for a while,” says Linda. “He taught me how to make a cherry pie. One day, Greg suggested that Gary transfer to the Evans so they could be together. About then, Kelly Jo graduated from high school and came to boot camp in San Diego. They asked him where he wanted to go, and he put down the Evans so he could be with his older brothers.”

Navy policies discourage family members from serving on the same ship, especially during wartime, but it is not expressly forbidden. In November of 1942, five brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, were serving on the USS Juneau when it was sunk by a torpedo in Guadalcanal in the South Pacific. More than 600 sailors died in that tragedy; there were at least 30 sets of brothers aboard.

The three Sage brothers boarded the Evans along with their fellow sailors in March of 1969 at the Port of Long Beach, headed for Vietnam. Gary was 22. Greg was 21. Kelly Jo was 19.


For weeks, the crew of the Evans used their firepower to protect American troops stationed on the Vietnamese coast. When they ran short of ammunition, the 2,200-ton ship was sent to the Philippines to restock before it left for training exercises with the Royal Australian Navy in the South China Sea.

At 3:15 a.m. on the morning of June 3, the Evans crossed paths with the much-larger HMAS Melbourne. Someone described it as a collision between a Volkswagen and an 18-wheeler. The Evans was cut in half. Greg and Kelly Jo were off duty and asleep in the lower berths in the bow. There were reports that their older brother, Gary, was on duty on the stern, which stayed afloat.

The USS Frank E. Evans was a 376-foot attack vessel commissioned in 1945.

“Nobody knows for certain what happened because it was total chaos in the black of night,” says Linda. “But it seems likely that Greg was crushed, because he was probably right where the ship was hit. What we’ve heard is that Gary jumped to the bow to try to find Kelly Jo.

“Gary had a flashlight, and we’ve heard that he went to the top story. There was a ladder blocking a door there and some officers were trapped inside. A dozen people were trying to get the officers out. Gary gave them the flashlight and then left, we think, to go below to look for Kelly Jo.”

Some of the 204 survivors on the stern and witnesses on nearby ships reported seeing arms reaching out from the windows and hearing screams as the bow laid to one side and then, within just three or four terrifying minutes, sank into the dark sea with 74 men trapped inside.

“That is what haunts so many of the men,” says Linda. “One sailor told me he came off duty when Greg went on duty that night. He took a shower and put on a pair of my husband’s underwear because his were at the laundry. He felt the collision, was thrown around and crawled out from under a mattress. He got to the ladder, but the hatch flew closed. Then, someone who had already got off came back and opened the hatch. At last it was his turn to climb off. He thinks he might have been the last one off. He jumped or was thrown into the water and he swam and swam until he found something to hang onto. A small ship came to save him but he told them he was OK and they should go save someone else.

“Those are the stories we hear,” Linda says. “They still hear the ghosts of the sailors who died.”


Ernie Sage finished working the fields of his Niobrara farm on June 3 and went to the house to watch the evening news on CBS when Walter Cronkite reported that the USS Evans had been cut in half. Ernie screamed and his wife, Eunice, passed out.

As soon as he was able, Ernie called Linda, his daughter-in-law, who was living in Omaha with her 13-month-old son, Greg Jr.

A week later, the family held a private service in the Niobrara Lutheran Church, and then they joined the entire community at the school for a military funeral that was televised. Officers folded four burial flags; they gave three to Eunice, in remembrance of her three sons, and one to Linda. A photographer from Life came to document the terrible grief but the magazine never used the pictures; an editor told the family later that it was just too sad for words or pictures.

Ernie, the father, was quiet and crestfallen. “He was never the same,” Linda says. “I think he felt tremendous guilt because he had encouraged them to join the Navy, but it was only because he thought it was safer. He became sad and depressed, so sad that he forgot he had another son at home.”

Doug Sage, 6, the surviving brother, comforted his father in 1969. The family's grief attracted much media attention.

The elder Sage spent a week at a state mental hospital, and then returned to his wife and son but he never smiled again — not until minutes before he died in a hospital bed at age 79.

Doug was 6 when his brothers died. “Ernie protected him and wouldn’t even let him drive a tractor or do anything where he might be hurt,” Linda remembers. “He didn’t get to grow up in the carefree way his brothers did, and he had to do naughty things to get his father’s attention.”

Linda says it was hard to return to a normal life. Sympathy letters poured into Niobrara from around the country. News reporters came to write about the little farm town that had sacrificed so much for a war that was growing more unpopular with every passing day.

She also noticed that her own toddler, Greg Jr., was being affected. Well-meaning townspeople spoiled him at every opportunity.

Three years after the crash, she and her son moved 120 miles north to Sioux Falls, where she was able to use her late husband’s GI benefits to attend beauty school and barber school.

In 1974, she was cutting hair at the Grange Avenue Barber Shop in Sioux Falls when Spencer Vaa, a Vietnam veteran who was injured in 1969, walked in and sat in the chair for a trim. They married two years later, and adopted a daughter, Sarah Jane, in 1982.

Spencer’s career with the S.D. Game, Fish & Parks Department led them to Brookings in 1978, where Linda went to work for Brookings Barbers. There, they raised Greg Jr. and Sarah.


South Dakota and Nebraska are 7,000 miles from the South China Sea, but the pain of June 3, 1969, could not be healed by time or distance. “He missed his boys so badly, he could never be the same strong man he was before they were killed,” Linda says of Ernie Sage. However, the father found some solace when he heard about plans for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

“Their dream was to go to Washington and see the names of their boys on the wall,” says Linda, “so when I got a fundraising request for the project I wrote back and said we would help, and I asked for the list of names because I wanted to be sure they got everything right.”

When the list came in the mail, she saw that her husband and brothers-in-law — in fact, all 74 Evans casualties — had been omitted. The Department of Defense had determined that they died outside the war zone. “I had to go tell Ernie,” says Linda. “I would have rather taken a shot to the head than tell him. It was like he lost them all over again. He cried for hours.”

Doug also struggled after the tragedy. “He started out with a big family and then he lost three brothers, and in a way he lost his father,” Linda says. Today he lives in Colorado.

The three Sage sailors’ mother, Eunice, found comfort in her deep Christian faith. She regained her good sense of humor and became a source of strength to others. She was as surprised as anyone when she took on a role as comforter to hundreds of men who survived the nightmare at sea.

That began to happen in 1992, when survivors formed the USS Frank E. Evans Association and started to hold annual reunions. Ernie, who died in 1996, never attended the gatherings but Linda and her son, Greg Jr., began to accompany Eunice Sage.

“The first one I went to was in Niobrara for the 25th anniversary,” Linda says. “We met a bunch of the guys then, and I realized they were wonderful people and they really loved Eunice. When they met her, some broke down and cried and said, ‘We’re so sorry your sons are dead and I’m alive.’”

Linda says Eunice would hear none of that. “She shook her fingers at them and said, ‘Don’t ever tell me that again! You’re alive to tell me what happened.’”

Eunice became known as the mother of the association. The Navy veterans took up collections to help her with travel expenses. Every time she arrived, someone would politely suggest that she rest in her hotel room, and she would respond, “I want a cigarette. I want a drink. And I want my boys.” She often remarked that she lost three boys, “but gained a hundred.”

The gatherings taught Eunice and Linda the sadness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “We could see that they all felt guilty — survivors’ guilt. Every year we would all go into a room together, maybe 50 or 100 people or more, and every one of the survivors would tell how they got out of the ship. Every one of them has a story and they are haunted by their memories. They remember the arms reaching out of the windows or the screams coming from men in the water. They can still hear the ship breaking apart. They hear the ghosts.”

She says they all tried to restart their lives, but many struggled with work and relationships. “Many have been divorced three or four times. You would think the reunion would just bring back their worst memories but instead it seems to help because we are the Frank E. Evans family. I hug everyone three or four times, and I hug their wives because I know how hard it is for them, too.”

She knows a veteran who was a radarman, like Greg. “He doesn’t normally like to be around people. He moved to the U.S./Canadian border to be alone,” she says. “He has tremendous guilt because he thinks he should have been able to save someone. But he does come to join us.”

The 2018 reunion was held in the Black Hills of South Dakota, at the Grand Gateway Hotel in Rapid City. Linda says a familiar theme arose there: Why aren’t the names of the 74 Evans sailors on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.? Are they to be forgotten?


Darwin Sietsema leaves his home in Ruthton, Minnesota, every June and travels west into South Dakota. He visits a friend in Yankton, and then follows the Missouri River to Niobrara. After midnight on June 3, he parks his gray Chevy pickup at Farnik’s Market. He walks across the asphalt parking lot to a modest memorial with 74 names inscribed in stone. There he sits for several hours, in the quiet and darkness, reflecting on what he calls, “The worst day of my life.”

Darwin Sietsema was among many would-be rescuers who rushed to help the sailors on the USS Frank E. Evans. Now he makes an annual vigil to their memorial in Niobrara, Nebraska.

Sietsema grew up in Trosky, Minnesota, where his father operated the grain elevator. At age 18, he joined the Navy to avoid being drafted into the U.S. Army. After basics in San Diego, he was trained as a boiler tender. “It was miserably hot in the boiler room, though, so I worked my way into being an electrician.”

In the summer of 1969, he was assigned to join the James E. Kyes, a World War II-era destroyer. He had three deployments to the South Pacific. “Basically, we went from Pearl Harbor to the Philippines to Vietnam and back to the Philippines to Japan and maybe back to Vietnam. Each deployment was six to nine months. Our job was to fire our 5-inch guns in support of the troops. We could fire a quarter mile off the beach and our shells could go 12 miles.” Sietsema says the North Vietnamese had shore guns that could have reached his ship but the Kyes was never fired upon.

The mission was similar to the Evans, and Sietsema says it’s entirely possible that he crossed paths with one or more of the Sage brothers while they were all living in California. However, it’s a certainty that he was nearby when they died.

“I was asleep lying in my rack,” he says of the fateful night. “I thought it was a dream. Then came the command, ‘Man the rail!’”

His ship hurried to the accident site, but they found nothing but the silence of the sea. “We didn’t even know, right away, what had happened. Then we heard rumors that there had been a collision. But the sea was as calm as glass. Right away we launched our motor whale boats.”

As daylight came, the sailors learned the sad news. “On the second day, about a half dozen ships gathered and we had a memorial service at sea. When they played “Taps” it seemed like a haunting echoing sound. I don’t know how it can echo when there’s nothing out there.”

Sietsema remembers that he and his crewmates felt helpless. “There was nothing you could do. It was over with,” he says. But it never really ended, not for him or hundreds of others who were survivors, would-be rescuers, friends and family.


As it became obvious that the Department of Defense was not going to add the names of the Evans sailors to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, the townspeople of Niobrara — who had already created a historical marker to the Sage brothers in 1999 — decided to build a memorial to all 74 in 2016.

“We wanted to make sure their names were on a wall somewhere,” says Jim Scott, commander of the American Legion post. “There are still efforts to add the names to the wall in Washington. I don’t know if that will ever happen. But these men will not be forgotten here.”

Residents of the small Nebraska town of Niobrara, which lies on the South Dakota border near Springfield, vow that they'll not allow the 74 sailors to be forgotten.

He and others raised funds to construct a granite memorial with the names of all the sailors. Their pictures are nearby on a vinyl poster.

An observance of the 50th anniversary of the tragedy was held this year on June 2 at 3:15 p.m., the exact hour of the day when the Evans sank (there is a 12-hour time difference between Vietnam and the Central Daylight Time Zone in the United States).

Sietsema was there, along with many Sage relatives, community leaders and dozens of others from South Dakota and Nebraska. The burly Minnesota trucker spoke briefly about that horrible night on the South China Sea, and he lamented that the 74 young men are not remembered on the wall in Washington.

Martha Atkins, the town’s Lutheran pastor, offered a prayer. “On this day of remembering, we bring forth 74 souls who were lost in service on behalf of this country,” she said. “Lord, we call upon you to embrace those families, those comrades in arms and the many, many friends of those 74 courageous young men into your arms of healing, of comfort and into peace.”


Linda Vaa is now in her 45th year as a South Dakota barber, working at the shop on Brookings’ Main Street. She gives $8 haircuts to military veterans on the last Tuesday of every month.

She is a busy wife, mother and grandmother. She has also collected books, newspaper clippings and photographs related to the Evans, and she stays abreast of continuing efforts in Congress to add the 74 names to the wall.

Encouraging news came this summer when Kevin Cramer, a U.S. senator from North Dakota, introduced the USS Frank E. Evans Act to require that the names be added. Cramer noted that it’s “not unprecedented” to make changes on the Vietnam wall. He said duplicates, misspellings and omissions have been fixed through the years.

The Pentagon continues to oppose such efforts, maintaining its 50-year-old argument that the Evans sailors died too far from the Vietnam battlefields to be counted as war deaths. The government’s designated combat zone, drawn by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, did not originally include Cambodia and Laos.

Linda blames President Richard Nixon. “He was losing favor with the country over the war in the summer of ’69,” she says, so there is a theory that he and his generals were looking for ways to lower the number of casualties. She says she’s appreciative of congressional efforts, but she admits to some cynicism after 50 years. “I think it’ll take a president’s attention to change what started so long ago.”

She commends politicians, organizations and veterans who have worked to keep the memories of the 74 alive. “We don’t want them forgotten,” she says. “Those boys will never grow old, they’ll never enjoy their families. ‘Lest We Forget’ is a motto of the military, and that’s the one thing we can still do for them.”

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the September/October 2019 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 16 Oct 2023 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2458-1697439600]]>
<![CDATA[The Violinist and the Sculptor]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/the-violinist-and-the-sculptor]]> <![CDATA[

By Paul Higbee

Ruth Ann Karlen has traveled across the country to research and preserve the nearly-forgotten history of a woman who contributed greatly to the Crazy Horse carving.

Rapid City's Ruth Ann Karlen believes Dorothy Comstock Ziolkowski Moreton fell through the cracks of Black Hills history.

The two women never met, but Karlen sometimes feels as though Dorothy is sitting in the room with her as she reads decades-old letters. She routinely calls her research subject by her first name. She describes a woman who was an accomplished violinist, writer, world traveler, and force behind the establishment of Crazy Horse Memorial.

“Dorothy was the first wife of Crazy Horse mountain sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski,” says Karlen, who believes the world’s biggest carving might not exist without Dorothy’s early efforts. Karlen can paint a detailed life story, in part because Dorothy’s cousin turned over to her photographs, writings and other documents.

“I would have been happy with a shoebox of materials,” Karlen laughs. “Instead, I got the jackpot.”

And eventually more. Karlen’s investigation has taken her coast to coast, spurred by a graduate history course that she took in 2005 while working as a Rapid City public school librarian. The class stressed how educators can uncover significant history by seeking out primary sources. Karlen’s travels included Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where Dorothy graduated in 1919, and the campus chapel where Dorothy and Korczak exchanged wedding vows in 1934.

Like most women at Vassar a century ago (the all-female school wasn’t yet coed), Dorothy came from East Coast social standing and wealth. Her father was a highly respected surgeon at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, and in 1905 he took his family on an ocean liner to the Far East — an incredibly rare travel opportunity. The trip was only part of Dorothy’s early international experiences. She lived in England for five years with her family, and after attending Vassar she moved to Paris to study violin with the renowned George Enescu.

Her trek into the interior of the American continent — specifically the Black Hills — can be traced to an encounter in Massachusetts after returning from France. She met Boston sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, several years her junior, who later told Dorothy he was sometimes his own worst enemy because of his brash, gruff manner. Dorothy experienced that immediately. Trying to make small talk by telling Korczak she admired two New York sculptors, she heard Korczak scoff, saying that most sculptors he liked were dead, artists of previous centuries who cut images from stone rather than molding clay for bronze statues, as Dorothy’s New York artists did.

Korczak revealed great admiration for one contemporary American sculptor: Gutzon Borglum, who at the time was carving presidential likenesses from hard mountain granite in South Dakota.

Despite Korczak’s antisocial ways, and possibly somewhat because of them, too, Dorothy found herself in love with the young sculptor. The attraction proved mutual, and the president of Vassar himself participated in their wedding because of his friendship with Dorothy. She was 36, Korczak 26, both driven by artistic spirits. Dorothy would play with the Boston Symphony. Korczak always called her Dorrie.

“She was very much an East Coast, proper lady,” Karlen notes. “I’m not sure she owned a pair of slacks.”

Korczak Ziolkowski and Dorothy Comstock were married in 1934. They adopted a daughter, Anne, and moved with Dorothy's mother, Bertha Comstock, to the Black Hills in 1948 as Ziolkowski prepared to begin work on Crazy Horse Memorial. The family is pictured above in January 1944.

An East Coast lady, perhaps, only because she hadn’t yet experienced the American West. But five years after the wedding a dream position opened for Korczak: assistant sculptor under Borglum at Mount Rushmore for the 1939 carving season. Traveling to South Dakota by automobile in that year, of course, didn’t compare to steaming to Asia in 1905, but to some Easterners the adventure didn’t fall short by much. Dorothy’s writing documented the journey.

She described crossing South Dakota east to west — early summer croplands East River that looked like they could use rain, eerily fascinating Badlands and, finally, the splendor of the Black Hills, where they drove “up, up, up endlessly, into the dark pines which had been the sacred temples of the Sioux.” Dorothy called the Black Hills “mystic,” a region where, “anything might happen except the expected — and strange events lost their strangeness.”

For example, Dorothy and Korczak loved the area’s songbirds. Always attuned to classical music, Dorothy identified one “that repeated deliciously the theme of a Schubert Rondo!”

“We led the life of pioneers in Dakota,” Dorothy wrote to former Vassar classmates, “in a log cabin with porcupines, mountain lions, elk and rattlesnakes for company! Every day Korczak worked on the Mount Rushmore Memorial, as Borglum’s only sculptor assistant, and I spent all my dimes in telescopes, watching my only husband dangle on a tiny cable over the cliffs. In the studio below, I did publicity for Borglum, and I wrote a pageant, which was given there for the Golden Jubilee of the State of South Dakota.”

Dorothy’s pageant commemorating 50 years of statehood was part of the Theodore Roosevelt head dedication (each of the four Rushmore figures had its own dedication over the years). “Held on a Sunday evening, it was by far the best attended of all the Rushmore dedications,” wrote historian Rex Alan Smith in his 1984 book, The Carving of Mount Rushmore. Three thousand cars carrying 12,000 people showed up, and that number was dwarfed by a national CBS radio audience listening live.

While Smith wrote glowingly of Dorothy’s efforts at Rushmore, he did not mention her by name in the book — only as “Ziolkowski’s wife.” Researchers today won’t find Dorothy’s name in an anonymous Wikipedia article about Korczak, although the story makes clear he had two wives, the second of whom is named. Those kinds of omissions triggered Karlen’s thinking decades later about what sometimes happens to women in history, especially those from an era when no wife kept her original surname after marriage and often lost even her first name in newspaper accounts.

Before coming to South Dakota, Ziolkowski carved likenesses of great leaders in history. He and Dorothy (pictured) gifted this statue of Noah Webster to the city of West Hartford, Connecticut.

The year 1939 was significant for Dorothy and Korczak for reasons beyond Mount Rushmore. Korczak’s sculpture of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, a musician and Prime Minister of Poland, won first place in a New York World’s Fair competition. Korczak suddenly had the international arts community’s attention. But the summer didn’t end well. Lincoln Borglum, Gutzon’s son and a key part of the Rushmore project, got into a fistfight with Korczak. Lincoln and Korczak made up quickly and, Dorothy later wrote, the pair “are good friends.” But Gutzon decided the men couldn’t work together and dismissed Korczak. The Ziolkowskis left the Hills, not certain they would see them again, and certainly not guessing that the Paderewski sculpture would aid in their return.

Back East, in Connecticut, the two immersed themselves in the lifestyles of professional artists. “Korczak has had no vacation since I have known him,” Dorothy wrote to her Vassar friends. “One piece follows another without so much as a half-day’s interim. We don’t even take weekends off. While he works, I fiddle, for there seems to be a lot of programs to be given.”

Music of another style came into their lives when they formed a patriotic drum and fife corps that performed as New England soldiers and sailors deployed for World War II service. Dorothy’s widowed mother, Bertha Comstock, lived with the couple and crafted authentic-looking colonial costumes.

Korczak himself left for the Army in 1943 and hit the bloody beaches of Normandy in 1944. Dorothy noted that war changed Korczak — made the hardened man harder still. Korczak railed against “what he called the veneer of civilization,” Dorothy wrote, and “was much more intolerant of people in general.” Karlen thinks Dorothy’s ability, well-practiced, to stand as a buffer between Korczak and others was a key to his acceptance in the Black Hills in the late 1940s.

His post-war vision of himself and his family was life in South Dakota or Wyoming; he had accepted Lakota elder Henry Standing Bear’s invitation to create a mountain carving honoring American Indians. Standing Bear had been impressed by Korczak’s World’s Fair accomplishment, and his time in the Black Hills was a plus. The Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming were considered as a site, but South Dakota’s quality granite won out. Korczak selected Thunderhead Mountain near Custer and declared he would shape it into Crazy Horse astride a horse. The land and mineral rights were purchased in 1947. The same year, Korczak built an on-site house, and his family followed him West — Dorothy, Bertha and a little girl, Anne, adopted by the Ziolkowskis (Standing Bear called her Maiden of the Dawn). They were prepared to live in the Black Hills for as long as it would take to complete a mountain sculpture considerably bigger than Mount Rushmore.

Also arriving from Connecticut were half a dozen young women who would volunteer at Crazy Horse Memorial. The drums and fifes and costumes came West, too, for occasional Black Hills performances but, of course, the focus was the mountain. A dynamite blast in June 1948 was a baby step in removing rock to reach carving surfaces — a process that continues 73 years later.

But in 1949, for reasons known only to the couple, the Ziolkowski marriage ended. A year later, Korczak married Ruth Ross, one of the young volunteers from Connecticut. Certainly, there were those who guessed the recently arrived Dorothy would return to New England, but she didn’t. She, her mother and Anne set themselves up in a little house on Franklin Street in Rapid City. Dorothy went to work as a Rapid City Journal writer. She also joined other Rapid City musicians as violinist in a small orchestra and endured an unhappy second marriage.

Divorce from Korczak didn’t mean complete separation from Crazy Horse Memorial. Dorothy watched its development, believed in it fully, and sent encouraging letters to Korczak. Two years before her death she mailed a note to Korczak, saying: “I am always extremely interested and stimulated as I hear of the tremendous progress for which you alone are responsible, and which is your gift to a world in need.” Considering both the sculpture and sculptor to be of permanent historical importance, Dorothy penned a 300-page Korczak Ziolkowski biography (never published).

The Ziolkowskis created a patriotic fife and drum corps while living in New England. The group came with them to South Dakota and is pictured with Henry Standing Bear, the man who convinced Ziolkowski to create a mountain carving in the Black Hills that honored all American Indians.

When it was time for Anne to go to college, she looked west, not east, and selected the University of Arizona. Dorothy and Bertha moved to Tucson with her in 1960. Dorothy played with the Tucson Symphony and gave violin lessons. Bertha died in 1961 and Anne sadly followed in 1968 after developing leukemia. Dorothy passed away in 1978 and Korczak in 1982.

Twenty-seven years after Dorothy’s death, Karlen took that history course and was advised by her neighbor, who had known Dorothy slightly, that the sculptor’s wife for so many years might make a good subject for a paper. Karlen found Dorothy’s obituary and noticed a cousin in Tucson listed as a survivor.

“Nobody’s ever asked about her before,” said Lenci Loring of her accomplished cousin when Karlen phoned out of the blue. She invited Karlen to Thanksgiving in Tucson in 2005. The women spent the holiday going through boxes Dorothy left behind — content Loring later gifted to Karlen.

Back home, Karlen looked up people who had known Dorothy and Korczak as a couple, including journalist Bob Lee. Lee gave Karlen a 1948 Rapid City Journal feature he wrote that mentioned Dorothy’s own artistry and credited much of the Crazy Horse project’s “super-salesmanship” to Dorothy and Bertha, who “showed hospitality-wise westerners how to entertain in a grandiose style.” In 2018 Karlen flew to Vassar, where no one in the alumni office or library knew who Dorothy was. “But they were mesmerized by her story when we talked,” Karlen says. Vassar staff helped her search registrar files and the library to find transcripts and the newsy letters Dorothy wrote to her class of 1919 friends (“Dear 1919,” each begins). Karlen had enough information and perspectives to do occasional history talks in Rapid City and typically found audiences no less mesmerized than the Vassar staff. Now and then, however, she met people who told her she had to be mistaken about Dorothy’s very existence.

She fully understood the confusion. Two generations of South Dakotans knew the second Mrs. Ziolkowski — Ruth Ross Ziolkowski, mother to Korczak’s 10 children, and the iconic leader who stepped up after Korczak’s death to take Crazy Horse Memorial into the 21st century. Ruth can be credited for the decision to complete Crazy Horse’s face, handled millions of visitors from around the world, and fulfilled an educational mission.

“She did a wonderful job,” says Karlen, who met the second Mrs. Ziolkowski a few times before her 2014 death.

But Karlen is making it her task to remind South Dakotans of Dorothy, remarkable in her own right and certainly deserving of a recognized place in state history.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the November/December 2021 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 28 Aug 2023 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2446-1693206000]]>
<![CDATA[Always on Our Minds]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/always-on-our-minds]]> <![CDATA[

By John Andrews

A marker to Jack McCall stands in Yankton's Sacred Heart Cemetery, but does not mark his actual grave. That remains one of many mysteries that still surrounds the man who famously killed Wild Bill Hickok in 1876.

ALEDGERBOOK is tucked away in the archives of the Mead Cultural Education Center, headquarters of the Yankton County Historical Society. Local historians have requested it often enough that museum staff have marked four pages with thin strips of white paper. “JAIL” is written in bold pencil across the top of one.

The book measures maybe 12 by 18 inches, contains some 600 pages and weighs about as much as a cinder block. Its first entry is dated Oct. 23, 1862 and is signed by George Pinney, the second United States Marshal in Dakota Territory. What follows are entries from each succeeding marshal — ranging from correspondence to reporting day-to-day activities of the office — ending on May 10, 1877.

Much of the reading is mundane, unless you’re captivated by expense reports, requests for 2-cent stamps, expense reports, applications for vacation time and expense reports. But there are a few needle-in-a-haystack nuggets that have consistently caught the attention of Yankton historians.

We first learned of the book’s existence from Bob Hanson, a tireless preserver of Yankton history until his death in 2018 and the man responsible for those bookmarks. Hanson was intensely interested in the story of Jack McCall, the man who killed Wild Bill Hickok in a Deadwood saloon, stood trial in Yankton and was executed just north of town. That sad and final chapter of McCall’s life spanned just seven months in 1876 and 1877, but its details have spawned nearly a century and a half of conjecture and speculation. What was McCall’s true motive? Was the crime a power play by territorial and federal politicians seeking a way to finally and firmly assert authority over the Black Hills? And where are Jack McCall’s remains today?

Hanson believed answers — or clues, at the very least — might be found in this book, hence his repeated visits to the Mead. But there’s another twist: two pages that would have contained official correspondence between Marshal J.H. Burdick and officials in Washington, D.C., between April 3 and 9, 1877 — just a month after McCall was hanged — are missing. To Hanson, they were akin to the 18 minutes of missing tape in the Watergate era.

Did the pages simply break free of their brittle binding and become lost among countless other documents? Or were they intentionally removed to forever obscure an incriminating piece of information? Most likely we’ll never know, but it hasn’t stopped people from asking questions. Nearly 150 years after his death, Jack McCall remains very much on many people’s minds.


WE KNOW VERY little about Jack McCall’s life prior to Aug. 2, 1876. Historians believe he was born in 1852 or 1853 in Louisville, Kentucky. He arrived in the Black Hills during the gold rush. One story contends that he entered the Hills as a wagon train driver for “Colorado Charlie” Utter, whose party also included the famed lawman Wild Bill Hickok, drawing the two figures of Western lore together for the first time.

Jack McCall.

Whether that actually happened is its own mystery, but we know McCall and Hickok were in Nuttall and Mann’s Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood on Aug. 2, 1876. Hickok was in the midst of a poker game when McCall approached him from behind, leveled a revolver at his head and pulled the trigger. Hickok died instantly and McCall fled down an alley, only to be apprehended later by a crowd of townspeople.

Since no established court had yet asserted jurisdiction over the Black Hills, crimes were often settled in miners’ courts in which a hastily assembled jury of locals convened to determine the fate of the accused. Such was the scene that awaited McCall the following afternoon in James McDaniels’ Deadwood Theatre. McCall claimed his deadly deed was vengeance because Wild Bill had murdered his brother in Kansas. The jury sympathized (or was swayed by a bribe of gold dust, as prosecutor George May surmised) and found McCall not guilty after a two-hour deliberation.

Believing he’d gotten away with murder, McCall fled for Laramie, Wyoming, where he seemed to relish in telling others that he was the man who had killed Wild Bill. Territorial authorities knew about the notorious crime and believed that McCall’s Deadwood trial held no legal standing. One day May, who had followed McCall to Laramie with Deputy U.S. Marshal Saint Andre Durand Balcombe, overheard McCall’s boasting. Balcombe arrested McCall on August 29 and escorted him to Yankton, Dakota Territory’s capital city.

As he awaited trial, McCall spent the next three months in jail. His cell mate was Jerry McCarty, who had been arrested for the murder of John Hinch in the Black Hills the day before the Hickok killing. The two hatched a daring and almost successful escape in early November. J.B. Robinson, the jailer, was preparing to lock them in their cells for the night when McCarty overpowered him and held him by the throat. McCall then beat him until he was nearly unconscious. They stole his keys, broke their shackles and were stepping out the door when they came face to face with Marshal Burdick and James Bennett, one of his assistants. As Yankton’s Daily Press and Dakotaian reported, in the wonderful language of 19th century journalism, “Marshal Burdick immediately comprehended the situation and placed the business end of his revolver in unpleasant proximity to the heads of the escaping murderers,” who were escorted without incident back to their cells.

McCall’s trial began on December 5, with Judge Peter Shannon presiding. Appointed to defend McCall were Oliver Shannon and William Henry Harrison Beadle, the man perhaps best known in Dakota history for his passionate defense of school lands. When Marshal Burdick escorted McCall into the courtroom, the Press and Dakotaian correspondent described him as “an evil looking man young in years but apparently old in sin.”

Townspeople filled the courtroom to hear testimony and closing arguments, which concluded after noon on December 6. George Shingle, Carl Mann and William Massie — all of whom were inside the No. 10 Saloon when Hickok was killed — identified McCall as the lone gunman. (According to legend, Massie still held the bullet that killed Hickok. After passing through Wild Bill’s head, it tore into Massie’s wrist where it remained until he died and was buried with it in 1910.)

The defense’s main argument was that Dakota Territory didn’t have jurisdiction over the Black Hills because it was still part of the Great Sioux Reservation, the boundaries of which had been established under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. The jury of 12 men disagreed and found McCall guilty. He was sentenced to hang on March 1. (Curiously, six months after the trial, the Press and Dakotaian reported on a new map drawn of the Black Hills region which placed Deadwood squarely in Dakota Territory. The map caused controversy among those who attempted to claim that Deadwood was actually part of Wyoming. Territorial leaders sought advice from Beadle, the defense lawyer who at one time was also a surveyor in Dakota. He said he was convinced that Deadwood was part of Dakota Territory.)

Longtime Yankton historian Bob Hanson was a tireless researcher of the McCall case.

McCall languished in jail for another two months. During his time in Yankton, his story kept changing. At one point he claimed he’d been drunk. Later, he said a man named John Varnes paid him to kill Hickok. Varnes held a grudge over a disputed poker game, he said.

A few days before the scheduled execution, the marshal’s office received a letter from a Mary McCall in Kentucky asking if the prisoner was her brother. “There was a young man of the name John McCall left here about six years ago, who has not been heard from for the last three years,” she wrote. “He has a father, mother, and three sisters living here in Louisville, who are very uneasy about him since they heard about the murder of Wild Bill.”

The letter seemed to unnerve McCall and may have prompted him to get rid of a document that could have shed more light on the Hickok murder. McCall had been preparing a written statement and asked the Press and Dakotaian to publish it after his death. But the night before the execution he destroyed it.

March 1 was a cold and drizzly day in Yankton. By 9:30 in the morning, a large crowd had gathered outside the jail at Fifth and Douglas. They watched as McCall climbed into a carriage with Father John Daxacher, a Catholic priest, and Phil Faulk, a Press and Dakotaian correspondent. “This mournful train, bearing its living victim to the grave, was preceded and followed by a long line of vehicles of every description, with hundreds on horseback and on foot, all leading north, out through Broadway,” Faulk wrote. “The rain which was falling had moistened the earth and deadened the sound of the carriage wheels. Not a word was spoken during the ride two miles to the school section north of the Catholic cemetery. McCall still continued to bear up bravely, even after the gallows loomed in full view.”

The wooden gallows had been constructed so that the throngs of people who attended could watch as McCall ascended the steps and Burdick placed the noose around his neck. But when the floor beneath his feet disappeared, McCall plunged into a boarded-up enclosure that prevented witnesses from watching the condemned man struggle to his final breath.

Twelve minutes later, two doctors pronounced McCall dead. His body was placed in a walnut coffin and buried very nearly on the spot. Jack McCall’s life ended, but his legend in Yankton was only beginning.


A WEEK BEFORE we examined the U.S. marshal’s ledger book, Jim Lane visited the Mead museum to do the same thing. Lane is a local historian who has doggedly researched the Hickok killing and McCall’s time in Yankton. “I’ve got a book written,” he says. “But it’s all in my head.”

A sign proclaiming Yankton's role in the saga of Jack McCall stood along Highway 81 before finding a home with the Yankton County Historical Society, headquartered at the Mead Cultural Heritage Center, where local historian Jim Lane researches McCall's time in Yankton.

Lane’s interest in the ledger book centers more on the scruples of Marshal Burdick, the man in charge of the McCall execution, than any nefarious actions on the part of territorial politicians. “We don’t have a really good accounting on the McCall thing,” Lane says. “Burdick was a real reluctant guy. U.S. marshals weren’t Matt Dillon. They were political guys who took these jobs because it was a good way to make money on the frontier. He came under some fire and there was an investigation into his spending, right around that time frame.”

Hanson’s suspicions ran deeper. He believed there may have been a plan to kill Wild Bill Hickok so that federal marshals could swoop into the Hills, arrest the murderer and conduct the trial in territorial court, firmly establishing influence over the Black Hills. He turned to the book hoping to find clues. “Bob loved a good story, and he had a lot of fun with it. He kind of pushed the conspiracy theory,” Lane says. “When they hauled McCall back to Yankton, the territorial capital established legal authority over the Black Hills. That’s the case that does it. That’s when they say that if there’s going to be a trial out here, it’s going to be decided by Dakota Territory. Bob was a little bit right with the theory that they wanted this to happen. But I don’t think anyone assassinated Wild Bill Hickok for political means.”

There’s no smoking gun in the ledger book, either, though two of the bookmarked pages show that discussion of authority over the Black Hills was lively during the summer of 1876. On July 10, Marshal Burdick wrote to Attorney General Alphonso Taft regarding warrants that had been issued for the arrest of miners who brought whiskey into the Black Hills, still regarded as Indian Territory. Burdick’s position seems quite clear: “The Black Hills region as you are perhaps aware is located upon what is known as the Sioux Indian Reservation, within the limits of the Second Judicial District of this Territory, the Court being held at Yankton.”

Burdick said he had dispatched two deputies to arrest seven or eight men accused of bringing whiskey into the Hills, but that only one could be located. The others had escaped and probably could not be apprehended “by peaceable means.” He had requested military help from General Philip Sheridan, commander of the Military Division of the Missouri, but given the obliteration of Lt. Col. George Custer and his 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn just two weeks earlier, he suspected no help would come.

“Any doubts which may have been raised in regard to the legality of the treaty under which the present Reservation was set apart I imagine has nothing to do with these cases. The United States Court here has never held that it is Indian Country,” Burdick wrote. “The people in the mining regions are firm in their belief that the Indians have no longer the right to prevent them through the action of the Government from occupying that section and working the mines. I state the fact without any reference to its correct basis.”

Still, he sought guidance. “The warrants in my hands are in proper shape for an offence clearly punishable under the Section referred to and are forced upon the indictments found by a qualified Grand Jury. I desire therefore in view of the peculiar circ*mstances which I have detailed to have your advice as to whether or not I shall proceed to execute them at all.”

The signature of U.S. Marshal J.H. Burdick, which appears many times in the historic ledger.

Two weeks later, in another letter to the attorney general, Burdick reported that his request for military assistance had indeed been denied, but he also provided more details about his interest in the Black Hills. In February, he dispatched a deputy and a posse to the Black Hills to apprehend several men, one of whom was accused of a murder at the Standing Rock Indian Agency. The lawmen captured only one, who was tried, convicted and punished in the Yankton court. “The expenses of this posse were included in my accounts for the Spring Term of Court at this place and upon my accounts being presented to the Court for approval by law the Judge struck out all that portion of the account relating to the expense of the posse and refused to approve them. I referred the matter to the Hon. the 1st Comptroller and he refused to audit the account although he virtually admitted its legality saying he would not look into an account which the Judge refused to approve.” Clearly, questions remained regarding what the marshal could and couldn’t do in the Black Hills.

Another marked page helps us to find the tangible reminders of McCall’s brief existence in Yankton. In September of 1865, Marshal L.H. Litchfield wrote to Secretary of the Interior James Harlan to ask again for a jail. He referenced a previous letter in which the secretary claimed that no request for jail space had ever been received. But Litchfield was insistent. “At the time I made the request I stated distinctly that the United States had no rooms suitable for the confinement of prisoners. There never has been in this Territory any rooms used for this purpose,” Litchfield said. “The Judges and myself could not complain of the unsuitableness of rooms, but we did complain that there were no rooms, and that prisoners had to be confined at a military post or in a county jail of Iowa, either of which is more than sixty five miles distant from here.

“I wish the Department to distinctly understand that no rooms of any description have ever been provided or rented in this Territory for the safe keeping of prisoners. But there is great necessity for such rooms.”

Perhaps Litchfield’s entreaties resulted in construction of the federal jail on Linn Street, the facility in which McCall spent at least some time in custody. A tidy brown house sits on the lot today, just a block west of Broadway Avenue, the main north/south thoroughfare through Yankton.

McCall was also held in the relatively new county courthouse and jail, a large brick structure at the corner of Fifth and Douglas. Later, it was a lodge for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows but has since been converted into apartments. Its owner reported that before renovations, sections of bars could still be seen in the basem*nt.

The building where McCall stood trial was part of the St. Charles Hotel, built in 1870 at Third and Capital. A portion of the building at the very corner of the intersection was rebuilt in 1891, but wings to the west and north — which included a courtroom where the trial occurred — remain. It also has been converted into apartments. A historic marker was placed on the east exterior wall along Capital Street in 1960. Its language, describing the courtroom’s location “directly back of this marker,” is to be interpreted literally.

Jack McCall stood trial on the second floor of the brick building at Third and Capital in downtown Yankton. The location is prominently marked.

A second marker stands at the intersection of 31st and Broadway near Yankton’s soccer fields. In 1877 this was the place where hundreds of people watched Jack McCall hang. The area has been graded and built upon several times through the years as Yankton gradually expanded to the north, but Lane believes the gallows were built somewhere in today’s Highway 81 right of way near the southbound lanes.

Perhaps the most intriguing mystery surrounding McCall is the location of his gravesite. Four years after the hanging, construction began on the Dakota Hospital for the Insane. McCall’s body, along with several others that had been buried in the pioneer cemetery, had to be relocated. When they opened McCall’s coffin, onlookers were surprised to discover that he’d been buried with the noose still tied around his neck.

McCall was moved to the Catholic cemetery, adjacent to the city cemetery. Over the years, his gravesite became a tourist attraction, much to the chagrin of the city’s Catholic leaders. Local historians say that in the 1930s, Father Lawrence Link, who served Yankton’s Sacred Heart Church from 1895 until his death in 1946, supervised a third relocation of McCall’s remains. This time, he was buried in an unmarked grave in Sacred Heart Cemetery along Douglas Avenue, where he lies today.

A headstone claims to mark McCall’s grave, but in fact it threatens to eventually muddy the historical waters. It was placed in 2017 when the Amazon television show Fireball Run passed through Yankton. The premise involved teams of people traveling through communities on missions or adventures that allowed them to see and experience unique aspects of each city. When the city’s Catholic priests balked at placing a headstone at the actual gravesite, a marker was set inside the adjacent city cemetery instead. The inscription on the stone reads, “Here lies Jack McCall,” but it was placed on a spot where the legendary outlaw definitely does not lie.

The real location of the gravesite is a closely guarded secret. Local legend says that no more than a few people at a time know exactly where it is. Bob Hanson was one of those people, and he remained coy about it, even among his closest family members. “Before he died, he told me where McCall is buried, but I think it was to throw me off the trail,” says Sarah Hanson-Pareek, Hanson’s daughter and a library archivist at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. “I’m not sure if I got the true account.”

A true accounting of anything surrounding Jack McCall would be difficult to put together. “There are so many trails that lead off this story that just haven’t been followed,” Lane says. “Everyone’s done Hickok and Calamity Jane to death. Nobody really looks at McCall because there hasn’t been much there. But we should be hopeful that the current interest in genealogy and clues such as the Mary McCall letter might lead to new discoveries.” Easier access to materials online, such as digitized newspapers and ancestry websites, could help further investigations.

Then there’s the ledger book. Is the paucity of information simply due to the time that has passed, or is it at least partly intentional? What of missing pages 509 and 510? Lane is convinced. “I don’t see any evidence of anyone cutting pages out,” he says. “It just ended before it got to any of the stuff that we were interested in.”

With Jack McCall, it seems there will always be more questions than answers.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the March/April 2021 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Tue, 01 Aug 2023 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2440-1690873200]]>
<![CDATA[Rocky Road]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/rocky-road]]> <![CDATA[

By Paul Higbee

Photos by John Mitchell

In some places, the modern Spearfish Canyon Highway closely follows the route of the old Spearfish Canyon railroad, especially approaching Spearfish Mountain from the south.

THE JOKE ALREADY felt stale when I was a teenager in Spearfish: “No one grows up on the wrong side of the tracks here because there are no tracks.”

No tracks, no whistles, no rattling train cars through Spearfish nights. When the town lost rail service of any type in 1933, its population was under 2,000, yet Spearfish ranked as the biggest community in the United States where no locomotives rolled. Most people didn’t seem to care. During the same decade in which Spearfish said goodbye to trains, it gained mail and passenger service by air and developed an outdoor drama (Black Hills Passion Play) that would soon draw 100,000 travelers annually who were “tin can tourists”— packed into automobiles.

Within just a few years, the Spearfish Canyon railroad became a Black Hills legend: the train that had to be tied down at stops so it wouldn’t roll away down the steep grade, a friendly rail service that dropped off passengers at their favorite fishing spots in the morning and picked them up again in the afternoon, the transportation that President Theodore Roosevelt selected for his sons so they could access the rugged West.

This summer I spent two beautiful but futile days searching for signs of the railroad in the canyon’s heart. I splashed along Spearfish Creek’s banks hoping to see just a piece of one of the 33 railway bridges that crossed this water and its tributaries. Nothing. The railroad boasted that by necessity it built remarkably well in the canyon, that “ties are bedded in rock the whole way.” Probably so, but in the heart nothing survived a railroad salvage contractor in 1934 and the relentless erosion that is the essence of any living canyon.

Out of the canyon’s heart, on its fringes, I’ve seen photographs of surviving abutments for great trestles that dropped trains off Bald Mountain and into the canyon, but I haven’t found them myself yet. In Spearfish a cycling and walking trail utilizes the old rail bed. A feature all Spearfish Canyon highway drivers recognize is a cut through which they pass 3 miles from Spearfish, considered by many to be the canyon’s north entrance. Originally, the cut was blasted for Grand Island & Wyoming Central trains (later known as the Burlington & Missouri River, or just the Burlington).

The first locomotive steamed through that rock cut and into Spearfish in December of 1893. Engines had to be powerful to handle the steep grades but were limited to 25 mph when moving passengers and 15 mph when passenger cars and freight cars were combined.

The Burlington’s interest in the canyon stemmed from a series of proposed mines and ore processing mills that investors believed would utilize new technologies to extract gold and other precious metals. These canyon mines did indeed take form, but their production lives were short. The canyon railroad also carried passengers seeking tent camping, berry picking and steep hikes to spectacular vistas. There had been no outcry against sacrificing natural splendor to make way for mines and mills. Prior to the railroad, very few Black Hills people knew anything about Spearfish Canyon. Even in the town of Spearfish, only the most intrepid game hunters ventured into the canyon because its lower end was tightly packed with great boulders.

Spearfish-bound passengers from Deadwood knew they were more than halfway to their destination at Elmore and that they had descended into the canyon proper.

Thanks to the Burlington, Spearfish Canyon burst into consciousness. Modern South Dakotans don’t like reading early Black Hills historian Annie Tallent’s racist views, but it’s hard to dispute that in 1899 she wrote a perfect description of riding the rails through Spearfish Canyon: “A trip over this marvelous piece of mountain railway — up the dizzy heights to the extreme summit of Bald Mountain, around a labyrinth of lofty crags in perfectly bewildering curves, and a plunge down into and through the most beautiful canyon in the world (the Spearfish) — is a revelation of grandeur and beauty unsurpassed and the treat of a lifetime.”

Six years later passenger James Doyle wrote in Spearfish’s newspaper, the Queen City Mail, that the canyon, “has no common place in it. It everywhere plays homage to omnipotence.” And much of it could be observed, through all seasons, from the comfort of passenger cars. Changing seasons, others noted, could sometimes be experienced in a single day due to the variance of elevations along the route. It wasn’t out of the question for passengers to board at Deadwood in a spring mist, encounter drifts and even blowing snow in the canyon’s middle, then step into summer-like sunshine down the grade at Spearfish.

An industrial aspect of the line remained through its four-decade history, chiefly lumber and wholesale deliveries to Spearfish, and farm produce and livestock shipped up the hill from Spearfish. But by the time the railroad merged into the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy in 1904 there could be no doubt that excursions were the main function. Recognizing that the average patron was now more likely to board with family members than livestock, the line stressed safety. “The passenger takes no risk when he rides,” read company publicity. “The history of the line proves this. Collisions are out of the question because there’s nothing with which to collide. One train has the canyon to itself all day.”

While no other train could cause a wreck, engineers had to watch for boulders that came bounding down the canyon walls. There’s no record of one hitting the train, but now and then passengers were asked to climb out and help clear the tracks of rocks.

It was about 40 miles one waybetween Deadwoodand Spearfish, but just asoften the rail line wasreferred to as a 32-mile run— thedistance between Englewood and Spearfish. In the early 1900s, round trip tickets cost about $2.50. Passengers boarded at Deadwood’s Depot 47 on Sherman Street, a couple blocks east of the Franklin Hotel, in the morning and arrived in Spearfish early that afternoon. The Spearfish depot was a wood frame structure where the community’s main fire station stands today, on Canyon Street. By mid-afternoon the train had been turned around and was headed back up the canyon. Today, almost universally, the railway is recalled for its Deadwood to Spearfish and back runs, strangely inefficient because the geography forced the engine to actually steam in the direction opposite of its destination much of the trip.

Remnants of trestles that were part of the Seven Mile Bend can still be found near Annie Creek. The train dropped (or climbed) 800 feet in elevation over those 7 miles.

Less well remembered is the fact that passengers could disembark and connect with another Burlington train at Englewood. That route (today the Mickelson Trail) took them south through the heart of the Black Hills and, in many cases, out of the Hills to distant cities.

Spearfish Canyon developed as a destination in its own right with construction of overnight lodging early in the 20th century. Deadwood’s Glen and Doris Inglis first opened the Glendoris Inn (now the storied Latchstring Inn) mid-canyon at Savoy where the train passed dramatically over a trestle across Spearfish Falls. Later, Martha Railsback and Maude Watts journeyed into the canyon by rail, bought the inn and brought it to full fruition. Sometimes elfin-sized, bewhiskered gold prospector Potato Creek Johnny greeted rail passengers at the inn and played his fiddle late into the night.

The canyon railroad had a role in one of South Dakota’s boldest engineering and construction feats ever between 1909 and 1912. Homestake Gold Mine diverted creek water through Spearfish Canyon’s west wall by way of 23,862 feet of tunnels it cut through solid rock. The diverted water spun turbines in a new state-of-the-art plant at Spearfish, generating electricity that powered mine operations for the next 90 years. The canyon rail bed was a reference point that surveyors used in determining the tunnels’ course, and the rails delivered drills, laborers and supplies. Canyon rail passengers were among the first to notice Spearfish Creek’s diminished flow in the lower canyon after the power plant went online.

A bit later Homestake built a second, smaller hydroelectric plant in the canyon, with water mostly channeled to it through an above-ground pipeline. Today, people sometimes mistake the pipeline path, visible along a ridge north of Savoy, for the old Burlington bed.

In the 1920s, Spearfish Mayor James O’Neill advocated for an automobile road through Spearfish Canyon. In fact, his enthusiasm led him onsite to work with the road crew some days after funding was secured. This first version of the Spearfish Canyon highway opened with ceremonial dynamite blasts and a speech by Gov. William Bulow in August of 1930. Hard as it is to imagine today in narrow parts of the canyon, the highway and train co-existed for two years and nine months.

Then on May 20, 1933, according to railroad records, “Engineer Steinberg and Fireman Kaup” made what proved to be the Spearfish line’s final run. Three days later a raging Spearfish Creek wiped out rails and bridges. In July, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy filed a request with the Interstate Commerce Commission, seeking to abandon the line rather than rebuild. The Queen City Mail grumbled and Spearfish gasoline retailers stepped up to state they got better rates for customers when their product was delivered by rail. But the railroad had no difficulty documenting it was losing money, and called passenger service “not important,” because travelers preferred “moving principally over the highways.” That was exactly what Mayor O’Neill had sensed a decade earlier. The Commission authorized abandoning the lower 25 miles into Spearfish but told the railroad to continue serving mines in the Bald Mountain vicinity.

In coming years Spearfish leaders sometimes contemplated re-establishing a rail connection, not through the canyon but by way of a northward spur to Belle Fourche. Nothing came of it. Then in the 1960s the community decided it wanted to be an interstate highway town. Leaders were successful in getting Interstate 90 routed past town in the 1970s, just as new Catholic priest Father Eugene Szalay arrived. As a hobby, he sought out people who recalled the old canyon line and preserved their stories.

Apparently no one confessed to Father Szalay what the railroad knew: Poachers at least once “borrowed” hand cars to sneak out-of-season bucks from the canyon. Much of what the priest heard came from former employees who recalled their canyon railroading as a grand outdoor adventure. Roger O’Kieff, for example, was hired at age 14 and sometimes tied one of those hand cars to the back of the train. He was pulled along until spotting snow or rocks to be cleared away from the track. Then he cut himself loose to tackle the job.

That would have been a dream job for any teenager during the golden, but short-lived, era of railroading through Spearfish Canyon.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the September/October 2019 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 13 Feb 2023 00:00:00 -0800 <![CDATA[article-2430-1676275200]]>
<![CDATA[Larger Than Life]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/larger-than-life]]> <![CDATA[

By Bernie Hunhoff

Buffalo County farmer August Klindt was photographed on a Colorado main street while performing with the circus.

“How tall are you?” was a question August Klindt probably was asked a hundred times a year. “Six feet, 14 inches,” he sometimes answered, or “five feet, 26 inches.” He probably had a dozen such quips depending on the day and the inquirer, because he was a practiced politician and performer. He left South Dakota in the 1920s and 1930s to perform in circuses with sword swallowers, tattooed ladies and a three-legged woman. But he tired of the freak shows and came home to farm and run for elected office before eventually retiring to Wessington Springs.

“I remember him walking the streets when I was a little boy,” says Craig Wenzel, Wessington Springs’ retired newspaper editor. “I was a kid and he was 7 feet, 2 inches, and when I looked up at him he seemed as big as the sky itself. He wore a 10-gallon hat, like a Hoss Cartwright hat, and he liked to take it off and place it on our heads. It landed on my shoulders and the hat itself never touched my head.”

That hat now hangs in the Wessington Springs museum, along with other memorabilia from the Gann Valley Giant, including a ring he wore (a 50-cent piece, which measures nearly an inch in diameter, fits inside).

South Dakota has spawned other tall men who’ve achieved celebrity status. Mitchell native Mike Miller (6-foot-8) played NBA basketball for 17 years and is now an assistant coach at the University of Memphis. Mitchell Olson, a Vermillion farmer’s son, grew to 7 feet and parlayed his height into a spot on the 2001 Survivor: The Australian Outback reality TV series. He’s now a singer, songwriter and entertainer based in Sioux Falls.

Nate Brown Bull is lesser-known but even taller. He grew to a height of 7-feet-1 on the Pine Ridge Reservation and was a star basketball player for Little Wound High School, graduating in 2015. Foot injuries have interrupted his efforts to launch a college hoops career but he’s still hopeful.

The Gann Valley Giant always had time for children. In about 1940, he posed with Dennis Younie, who grew up to become a popular auctioneer in Buffalo and Jerauld counties.

Who knows what the future might hold for these modern-day giants of South Dakota life? It’s unlikely that they’ll join a circus or run for sheriff but — like all of us, short and tall and in between — may they be remembered with the same fondness that the people of Jerauld and Buffalo counties still share for their Gann Valley Giant.

A baby named August was born March 23, 1894 to Henry and Anna Klindt. His parents were of average height, as were his sisters, Lydia and Hazel. A brother, Henry Jr. (later called Prince) was tall but he never reached August’s legendary height or weight.

Mr. Klindt was born in Germany in 1850 and studied to be a doctor, but his education didn’t qualify him for the medical profession in the United States so he immigrated to Dakota Territory. He settled by Elm Creek in Buffalo County, about 3 miles west of the tiny community of Gann Valley.

Little is known about the young giant’s childhood. As he grew (and grew and grew) to adulthood, he stayed on the farm until he eventually succumbed to invitations to join the circus as one of the “freaks” in the traveling shows popularized by P.T. Barnum in the 19th century.

Klindt traveled and performed with a three-legged woman, a two-headed man, a tattooed woman, a sword swallower and others with unusual appearances or talents. To earn extra cash, he hawked 25-cent rings that fit his big fingers. Klindt told the Sioux City Journal in March of 1930 that he liked the work, except for trips to the South where he said malaria “gave him the shakes.”

However, that quasi-positive response may just have been the story of a polished performer. Klindt’s niece, Rosemary Hof, remembers hearing that her Uncle August wasn’t fond of being on display, though there’s little doubt that he got along famously with fellow performers and curious spectators. “He was a very friendly man who always had a big smile,” says Hof, who now lives in Walla Walla, Washington.

Klindt worked for the Sells Floto and the John Robinson circuses in the 1920s and 1930s, good work at a time when Buffalo County and all of South Dakota were mired in drought and depression. He parlayed his show business contacts into a short stint as doorman at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a Hollywood movie palace still operating today.

Klindt eventually quit show business because of his personal distaste for the exploitation of people with unusual features or physiques, as well as the mistreatment of elephants and other beasts. Later generations came to share this opinion, which led to the demise of such circuses.

Klindt never left Buffalo County for long. He soon utilized his people skills to launch a hometown political career. In 1928, a year after his father was killed in a farm accident, he ran for county judge. The Evening Huronite plugged his candidacy in an article that began, “If size adds prestige to a judge on the bench, August Klindt, Gann Valley, reputed to be the largest South Dakotan, should speak with authority …”

The newspaper described Klindt as, “a single man, 35 years old, 7 feet tall, weighs 350 pounds, wears size 16 shoes [and has] a 22-inch collar. He has toured the country with well-known circus troupes and has played roles in Hollywood film studios.” It’s unlikely that the newspaper editor revealed the heights and weights of the other candidates.

Klindt lost that race, but 10 years later he ran for sheriff, seeking to succeed Morris Nelson, who stood just 5 feet tall and weighed only 125 pounds. As often happens in politics, voters went from one extreme to the other and elected Klindt, who stood at least 26 inches taller and weighed nearly three times as much as Nelson.

((img|august-klindt-6-6-22-5.jpg|width=360)) ((img|august-klindt-6-6-22-4.jpg|width=360))

August's destiny as a tall man became obvious at an early age. Family photos show him quickly outgrowing his brother, Henry Jr.

“Law breakers will want to watch out for a man measuring 7 feet, 2 1/2 inches, and that weighs 325 pounds when they are trying to escape the law in Buffalo County,” read another article in the Nov. 24, 1935 Evening Huronite. But the giant’s law enforcement career was uneventful. He was a model of Sheriff Andy Griffith, 20 years before there was a Mayberry. Nobody can recall any stories of confrontation during his tenure.

Klindt was re-elected to a second term in 1942 and served until 1945, when he hung up his badge at the age of 51 and returned to full-time farming.

Jim Keyser remembers the Klindt farm as a simple place in a simpler time. “He farmed a little, not really too much,” says Keyser, who now lives in Wessington Springs. “To begin with he had a team of horses and a wagon and an F-20 Farmall tractor. He raised a couple of pigs and some chickens. He never had electricity in his house. He had a wood-burning stove and a kerosene lantern.”

While that may seem like extreme rural poverty today, Keyser said it wasn’t unusual in the 1950s. “When I was little, maybe 6 or 7 years old, I used to walk over to his house to see what he was doing. We’d sit and talk. Sometimes he would let me help him put straw around his rhubarb plants or clean out the chicken house.”

He recalls the giant as a patient man. “Not too many kids know how to put straw around rhubarb, but he taught me,” he says. “I probably walked over there three or four times a week. If he wanted to take a nap, he’d tell me, ‘It’s time for you to go, now.’”

Keyser says Klindt kept a tidy house and yard, and he was not a hermit. “I think he liked the solitude of the farm but he also liked people. He used to ride into town with us on Saturday nights. I remember one time he asked if I had my allowance, and then he reached in his pocket and took out some pennies and filled my two hands. I’ll never forget the size of his big hand covering both of mine.”

Other neighbors also remember giving the giant rides to Wessington Springs. “He had me figured out,” laughs Fred Knight. “We lived 3 miles north of his farm and he could see my car’s cloud of dust from far away so he would be standing by the mailbox looking for a ride. I had a ’55 Plymouth and the car would tip toward the ditch when he got in. His knees were up higher than the dash. I don’t remember him ever owning a vehicle, he just hitched rides.”

Knight says the giant dwarfed his little red Farmall tractor. “I went by his place one day and all I could see was this man going up and down the field. You couldn’t see the tractor because the corn was too high but you could see August gliding over the corn.”

“People liked him,” Knight says. “He was just a big cowboy who wore a big Stetson hat and these big bib overalls. When he got to town, he talked to everybody walking down the street.”

August Klindt posed for pictures on a rock levee near the family farm. His father died from injuries suffered while building the dam in 1927.

Brookings journalist Chuck Cecil, who was raised in Wessington Springs, says he and other youth always hoped for a sighting of the giant on Saturday nights. He says Klindt cut a “wide swath through the crowd.”

“He wore the biggest bib overalls you ever saw. The legs had been elongated with material that didn’t match and the suspenders had been over-suspended and were over-taxed. We all got awfully quiet when he walked by. We hoped he wouldn’t see us and maybe step on our car.” The giant drove his tractor short distances from the farm, perhaps to Gann Valley or to the Ray Etbauer ranch where he filled water bottles because his own well water was not fit to drink.

Kenneth Wulff, the Buffalo County highway superintendent and proprietor of a little gas station and store in Gann Valley, says everybody liked August Klindt. “When I knew him he never had a car. He drove an old Farmall Regular tractor. Maybe getting in and out of a car was too hard for him. He would drive over to have a visit with us and get some eggs and milk, maybe, and have a meal. He survived with what he had. Nobody had much in those days.”

Klindt made some spending money by occasionally helping neighbors on their farms. One family remembers that he slept on a bed with a chair at the foot to hold his feet. He gathered with the family every evening to sing songs and tell stories.

Storekeepers at Habicht & Habicht in Huron helped dress the giant. They ordered the largest overalls they could find, but even then Klindt needed several inches of material sewn to the bottom of the pant legs, resulting in a cuffed look.

Eventually, the giant left his farm for the comforts of Wessington Springs, where he rented a room in the Hotel Pheasant and often ate his meals at Aggie’s Cafe.

“It was a big hotel, a wooden structure on Main Street, and sort of a retirement place for old guys,” says Wenzel, the newspaperman. “They had a room at the hotel and would sit on their rockers on the front porch at night and watch the street.”

Rosemary Hof, the giant’s niece, also remembers her uncle’s stay at the Pheasant. “He was my mother’s brother, and they stayed close. As a small child, he would always reach out to shake our hand and as a little kid his hand was five times the size of mine. It was kind of a scary feeling, having your hand enclosed in his but he was also very gentle.”

Hof’s family still owns property in Buffalo County. “I try to go back once a year to visit Wessington Springs, my hometown. In our travels, sometimes we run into other South Dakotans who don’t know much about my home area unless you mention the Gann Valley Giant. They’ve heard of him.”

The Gann Valley Giant had several titles. The Sioux City Journal billed him as the Biggest Farmer in South Dakota and the Tallest Mason in a 1927 story. In the circus he was simply called The Large Man.

A contemporary of Klindt, Johan “John” Aasen of Sheyenne, North Dakota, was billed as the tallest man in the world. One report listed him as 8-feet-9, although his actual height was never officially determined. Aasen profited from his physique much more than Klindt; he played a role in the Todd Browning cult classic Freaks in 1932, and also performed in Charlie Chan at the Circus. However, he lost his wealth with the stock market collapse of 1929 and then suffered numerous health issues before succumbing to an infection in 1938. To pay medical bills, Aasen had willed his body to Dr. Charles Humberd of Barnard, Missouri, who later hung the skeleton from his living room ceiling.

Klindt and Aasen lived in an era when Americans were the tallest people in the world. However, as childhood health care and nutrition improved around the globe, people from other countries did more than catch us: today Americans rank 40th in height. People in the Netherlands, Latvia, Estonia and Denmark are tallest.

Today, the average American male stands 5 feet 9 1/2 inches tall, shorter than a century ago. Experts blame our height stagnation on fast food, lack of health care for poor families and overall wealth inequality.

Klindt was never wealthy, not even by Buffalo County standards. Still, he reached the age of 73 before dying in June of 1967 while visiting his brother, Prince, in Aurora, Oregon. His remains were returned to South Dakota and buried alongside his parents at Spring Hill Cemetery near Gann Valley.

There’ll come a day in the not-so-distant future when he’ll be forgotten — like most of us — but 51 years after his death he remains a gentle giant and a country celebrity to everyone who ever stared at him on the streets of Wessington Springs.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the July/August 2018 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 06 Jun 2022 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2407-1654498800]]>
<![CDATA[Goodnight, Mrs. Pierre]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/goodnight-mrs-pierre]]> <![CDATA[

By Lance Nixon

Pioneer radio broadcaster Ida McNeil used her microphone to creatively assist rural South Dakotans who had limited opportunities for communication in the 1920s and 1930s.

Winter settled into the West River country as if it had come to stay. Ranchers couldn’t escape from their own yards for the drifts. Even the mailman couldn’t make his rounds. It was the 1950s, and communication was the first casualty of bad weather.

“The roads were completely blocked. We were having lots of snow that winter, and we hadn’t had the mail for well over a week,” recalls Phyllis Fravel, who still lives in the Orton Flat area near Mission Ridge.

Fortunately, ranchers had one slim connection to the outside world. Several times a day, a woman’s voice came crackling across all that cold and distance in the friendly static from radio station KGFX. Many listeners couldn’t have said who she was — she never gave her name over the air but once, from the time she started broadcasting in 1922 until the time she sold the station in 1962. They called her Mrs. Pierre.

Her name was Ida McNeil. She was a widow by then, broadcasting from a studio in her house in Pierre, just the way her husband, Dana, had taught her when they were puzzling out this new gadget, radio, together. One of the things she quickly learned is that people needed public service news — if the post office was planning to use extraordinary measures to deliver the mail, for example.

“Carl Kerr decided to deliver the mail by airplane and he told us through the radio — Ida McNeil — that they would be out with the plane,” Fravel recalled. “Cecil Ice was the pilot and Carl Kerr was the mailman. They landed just a short distance from the house and he left our mail and some of the neighbors’ mail at our place.”

For Fravel, watching a ski plane land on her ranch because Mrs. Pierre had said it over the radio was nothing unusual. It was just the way people communicated about many things, including the doings at Orton School, where Fravel herself had been a teacher. You talked to Mrs. Pierre; she talked to central South Dakota.

Residents who remember her said Mrs. Pierre was invaluable, inventing a service that didn’t exist before radio. “I would make up a message and get it to Ida McNeil, and she would put it on the radio that we were going to have a party on such and such a date. That’s the way we got the word around,” Fravel recalled. “If there was somebody that was in town and got stranded, they would send a message that as soon as the snowplow got out, they would be home.”

“She was a groundbreaker. There was nothing to model after,” said Mark Swendsen of Pierre, chief executive officer of Ingstad Family Media, the company that has owned KGFX since 1968. “She had a keen sense for what the community needed.”

And the community stretched far and wide. Carol Jennings recalls that when she was growing up on a farm south of Highmore, about an hour east of Pierre, her parents were always tuning in to KGFX. “I remember Mom had the radio on all the time to listen to ‘Ma Pierre,’ they called her.”

They listened because the news was curiously intimate. Ida McNeil carried messages from wedding parties worried about forgotten dresses and from sons in the Navy who’d come down with diphtheria, asking KGFX to pass word to the family back in the Plains that everything was going to be all right.

“She did a great service for the people in this area at that time,” adds Betty Harding of Pierre. “What they appreciated so much with KGFX is that she would give the hospital report and tell who had had a baby, who was in the hospital, who was being discharged.”

Mrs. Pierre couldn’t pass a message from one party to another because of federal rules. But what she could do, and did, was announce it to everyone. An article by Ida B. Alseth in Coronet magazine in March 1947 described why that sort of news item mattered to central South Dakota: “There are some 221,000 persons in Mrs. McNeil’s listening audience, and they seldom miss one of her broadcasts. For them, KGFX is not just another radio station; it’s an over-sized country party line where they may listen in for the latest bits of news and gossip — and often a deep chuckle.”

A chuckle, and maybe a sigh of relief. “During the bad winters, Mrs. Pierre was a vital thing for the whole community. Everybody listened when she came on. They counted on her,” said Willie Cowan of rural Pierre.

“I don’t know what my Virgo horoscope would say, but it seems to me I must have been born under a star of communication — which included rivers, railroads and radio, from the Mississippi to the Black Hills,” Ida McNeil said at the outset of a speech she gave in 1970 to the Minnilusa banquet in Rapid City, where she moved in the 1960s after she had sold the station.

“My mom was the oldest of five girls and her father was a riverboat engineer. That’s how they got to Pierre,” remembers Richard McNeil, the younger of Ida’s two sons, now 92 and living in Rapid City.

Mrs. Pierre was born Ida Anding in 1888. In 1896, Chicago Northwestern railroad officials asked her father to go to Pierre to supervise the overhaul of the machinery of a steamer, the Jim Leighton, Ida told in her speech. The Jim Leighton is well known in local history as a ferry that operated between Pierre and Fort Pierre. Ida and her sisters and their mother came out to Pierre that June and found the South Dakota capital hot and dry.

Eventually Ida went to work for what was then South Dakota’s Department of History from 1906 to 1921 as clerk, legislative reference librarian and finally as an assistant to Doane Robinson, secretary of the South Dakota State Historical Society, who saw that she found her niche in state history in small ways. She left there about the time she married a widower from down the block, Dana McNeil.

KGFX, the 12th radio station to be licensed by the federal government, was operated from the big McNeil house on West Broadway in Pierre. Radio was such a new concept that the local newspaper reported on some of Ida's unusual broadcasts, especially when she assisted rural families in times of crisis.

“My dad was much older than my mom. She was his second wife,” Richard McNeil says. “He got his interest in things electrical when he was in high school. He grew up in Clarence, Iowa, on a farm, and the railroad had a siding there. They parked a boxcar there with a guy who was a telegrapher. My dad learned to read code, and when he got out of high school, he got a job as a telegrapher with the railroad and gradually moved west and ended up in Chadron. He was involved in a lot of the railroad building in those days.”

But telegraphy was a 19th century invention; the next big thing had already arrived. “When he got to Pierre, he got interested in amateur radio,” his son said. He also became interested in Ida, who was about 20 years younger.

As Ida told in her Rapid City speech in 1970, “On June 16, 1916, Dana McNeil was licensed by the U.S. Department of Commerce to operate a radio station he had built. The call letters were 9 Z P, later becoming 9 C.L.S., with 200 watts of power. We were married in November of 1921 and my radio work began in February of 1922.”

And it all began in the McNeil home — what some Pierre residents remember as the big yellow house at the top of the hill on West Broadway in Pierre.

Dana taught Ida to read Morse code, and then they experimented with her broadcasting voice. Because Dana had moved into a position as a conductor on the route between Pierre and Rapid City, she started transmitting short messages to him; soon they learned that others were listening.

As Ida told in her speech, “One morning a young woman came to see me and asked me if I would tell her mother by radio how she was getting along after the operation she was to have at the Pierre hospital. Of course I did — but thereupon all the patients wanted me to tell their folks how they were doing. At first the doctors were dismayed and thought it was unethical to make such public announcements, but eventually when they found what a useful service it was they gave us their complete cooperation.”

Ida’s hospital report became a big deal in the middle of South Dakota. “Her main thing was ‘resting fairly well,’” says Loretta Cowan, of rural Pierre. But there were variations, open to interpretation; such as ‘doing as well as expected.’ “If she said that, you might be in a little bit of trouble,” Cowan said.

It wasn’t all public service announcements and weather. There was live local music, too. Danny Hall of Fort Pierre remembers when he was asked to sing and play guitar on KGFX when he was about 10 years old in the 1950s. The station’s most important days came with the flood of 1952, Ida later recalled. And the greatest honor might have come when McCall’s magazine announced in early 1957 that Ida was one of seven women in radio and TV who had won the McCall’s Golden Mike award for 1956. Ida was recognized for service to the community. “The personal impact of her broadcasts is so great that her listeners, among them Governor Joe Foss and Mayor A.E. Munck of Pierre, refer to her affectionately as ‘Mrs. Pierre,’” the magazine reported.

Newspaper clippings stored at the state archives show what a stir Ida’s broadcasts made. Radio was so new that even the newspapers reported on what the McNeils were broadcasting.

The Potter County News noted on Jan. 20, 1926: “In giving the hospital report Tuesday, the Pierre radio station announced the birth of a child to Mr. and Mrs. Jay Eidom of Forest City. Another item broadcast was that a Highmore school teacher had passed away from the effects of small pox and that the school at Highmore had closed as a result.”

The Pierre Daily Dakotan carried this item on Feb. 15, 1926: “Philip, S.D. — An unusual use of the radio was made near here when Mrs. R. B. Trenchard of Milesville was notified of the death of her father at Janesville. A telegraph message was sent to the McNeil broadcasting station at Pierre and was broadcast from there. It was picked up by receiving sets in the vicinity of Milesville and Mrs. Trenchard was notified. She left the next day for Janesville to attend the funeral.”

The McNeils’ station became KGFX on Aug. 15, 1927. It was approved as a 200-watt station, and the 12th amateur station licensed by the federal government.

“We made no charges for any of our radio services until 1932 and only once, on my 50th birthday, did I ever announce my name,” Ida recalled. “I would have felt very self-conscious to that all day long, since practically all the announcing was mine.”

The station started a longer broadcasting schedule and commercials in 1932. Ida became sole director after her husband died in 1936.

The McNeils’ eldest son Robert — who retired as a colonel after a military career that included teaching at West Point — also became interested in broadcasting. Richard, the younger, was more interested in the technical aspects. “That was the founding interest for me in becoming an electrical engineer,” he says. He taught at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City for 35 years.

Through the years, many newspapers — Pierre, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, even the Minneapolis Tribune — sent writers to watch Ida do her thing. She sold the radio station in 1962 to Black Hills Broadcasting Co. and subsequently watched as it grew to a 10,000-watt station. Ingstad bought it in 1968 and the family has owned it ever since.

South Dakota State University recognized Ida as a broadcast pioneer in 1970. Her peers elected her to the South Dakota Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1972. She died in August 1974.

Perhaps the greatest reward for Ida Anding McNeil as a broadcaster might have been the work itself. Perhaps that’s why she snapped back into her old role in her 1970 Rapid City speech.

“I will never forget the solemn wonder I felt at the marvel of radio — knowing that your voice, unseen, was reaching people far away, perhaps with a message of comfort or cheer,” she said. “Perhaps I should close by saying what I have said for many years — ‘This is Station K.G.F.X. at Pierre, operating on an assigned frequency of 630 kilocycles, now leaving the air. Goodnight.”

And to you, Mrs. Pierre.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the November/December 2017 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 28 Feb 2022 00:00:00 -0800 <![CDATA[article-2395-1646035200]]>
<![CDATA[The Ironman Governor]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/the-ironman-governor]]> <![CDATA[

By John Andrews

Editor’s Note: Former South Dakota Governor Frank Farrar died on Oct. 31 at age 92. We visited him in his Britton office during the summer of 2018 for this story, which appeared in our May/June 2019 issue.

Just a few black and white pictures hang on the walls of Frank Farrar’s office. They are nearly the only reminders that a visitor finds of Farrar’s political career, which included six years as attorney general and a single, two-year term as governor of South Dakota. Politics was just one chapter of Farrar’s life — a chapter that ended nearly 50 years ago.

Frank Farrar, a lawyer from Britton, was South Dakota's attorney general from 1962 to 1968 and governor from 1968 to 1970.

Instead, when you walk in the door of First Savings Bank on Main Street in Britton, head to the back and hang a couple of rights, you’ll find Farrar at his desk, focused deeply on the paperwork before him and surrounded by dozens of medals, plaques, posters and certificates commemorating his athletic prowess. The former lawyer, attorney general, governor, banker and businessman has completed 36 Ironman endurance races. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride, and a full marathon. He’s also completed several triathlons and other smaller races — all since turning 65 and on a leg held together with nails. “I’m not much of an athlete,” he says, with a slight grin. “More of a plug horse.”

At age 90, he’s still active as chairman of Performance Bankers, Inc., which oversees banks in several states. Dozens of banker’s boxes stacked in the hallway outside his office serve as proof. It’s a career he launched in the wake of a financial crash in the 1980s. Farrar bought struggling savings and loan institutions in small towns, rehabilitated the balance sheets and then sold them back to members of the community. He’s bought and sold banks from New Mexico to Montana to Indiana. “But I’m not a banker,” he says with a wave of his hand. “I just have outstanding people working for me.”

What of his career in law and politics? Nearly three generations ago, the lawyer from Britton launched a successful campaign for attorney general of South Dakota, and after three terms was elected governor in 1968. “I wasn’t much of an attorney general,” he says, almost predictably at this point in our conversation. “I had outstanding assistants. When I had a really difficult case, I picked the best lawyer in South Dakota, put them on the payroll and had them try the case. And we never lost.”

If there were a gold medal for modesty, you might find that on Frank Farrar’s wall, too — or tucked into the back of a desk drawer, more likely.


The Britton into which Farrar was born on April 2, 1929 was home to about 1,300 people. The Marshall County seat, tucked into the northern reaches of the Coteau des Prairies, has seen population fluctuations over the decades, but by and large Britton has withstood the outmigration that has preceded the demise of many other South Dakota small towns; around 1,250 people still live there today.

Main Street, running north and south through town, remains busy. The Marshall County Prayer Rock Museum anchors the corner of Highway 10 and Main Street; a mural by Adam Eikamp that honors the town’s history greets travelers entering Britton from the east. Jean Amacher and her daughter, Kelsi Heer, do brisk business at their boutique called Dizzy Blondz. Movies still screen at the historic Strand Theater; its bright red, white and blue façade stands out on the east side of Main among the surrounding brick buildings. The brick hospital in which Farrar was born still stands, though health care services have moved to the Marshall County Healthcare Center Avera on the southeast side of town. Farrar’s office inside First Savings Bank is across the street at the end of the block.

The Farrar family, which included (from left) Sally, Jeanne, Pat, Anne, Frank, Robert and Mary, moved into the governor's mansion in Pierre in early 1969.

Many South Dakotans are descended from homesteaders who emigrated from Europe in the 19th century, but Farrar can trace his maternal ancestry to George Soule, who crossed the Atlantic as an indentured servant on the Mayflower in 1620, signed the Mayflower Compact and helped establish Plymouth Colony. Shortly after he was elected governor in 1968, the Soule family historian documented Farrar’s lineage and included it in the 70-page newsletter sent to family members around the world.

Legend says another Farrar ancestor had a run-in with Abraham Lincoln, when the future president was piloting boats along the Mississippi River. “Our family was involved in boating, and they didn’t think this guy would amount to anything,” Farrar recalls with a chuckle. “They got into a fight over a girl and Abraham Lincoln threw a solid ear of corn at him. He was scarred for life.”

Eventually, Farrar’s parents — Virgil and Venetia Farrar — found their way to a homestead near Newark, a long-forgotten village 9 miles north of Britton and just a half-mile from the North Dakota border. Farrar attended school in Britton, where he became an Eagle Scout, was elected student body president and played football, which had life-long consequences.

During a game in about 1946, Farrar took an awkward hit to his left knee. A knee replacement procedure would have been the perfect fix, but such an operation didn’t exist 70 years ago. Instead, doctors at Mayo Clinic gave him two options: amputation at the knee or plastic cartilage nailed into the bone. “I said, ‘I’ll take the nails.’ My mother didn’t raise any smart children, but I was smarter than that.” The nails are still there, even after a left knee replacement in 2017. “They’re not hurting anything,” he says, nonchalantly.

Farrar dreamt of becoming an engineer, so he applied to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City. The school replied with an aptitude test, which Farrar completed and returned. “They sent a note back,” he recalls. “‘We sure appreciate your interest in our school, but you’re in the lower percentile and we don’t think you should be engineer.’ So I went to the university.”

That was the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he studied law and was again elected president of the student body and of his fraternity. He graduated in 1951, and two years later he married Patricia Henley, a farm girl from Claremont. The Farrars raised five children and remained close partners in life until Pat’s death in 2015.

With a law degree in hand, Farrar set out to find work, but prospects were slim. “That put me on the map to do something,” he says of his success at USD. “But when I got out of school I tried to get a job, and nobody would hire me as a lawyer.”

Farrar’s parents were living in the state of Washington at the time, so he and Pat moved west in 1955. Farrar took a job with the Internal Revenue Service as a state gift tax examiner. When Pat’s father was diagnosed with cancer, the couple moved back to South Dakota. Farrar was elected Marshall County Judge in 1957 and state’s attorney in the fall of 1958.


Four years later, at age 33, Farrar became the youngest person in state history ever elected attorney general. He investigated abuses in the insurance industry, resulting in a complete rewrite of the state’s insurance laws. His dogged prosecution of corporate officers and his tough stance on drug and narcotics violations engendered a broad base of support, which translated into a successful bid for governor in 1968.

The Governor and First Lady helped celebrate South Dakota's 80th birthday in November of 1969.

It was a turbulent time to take the helm. Protests against the Vietnam War popped up throughout the country, including in South Dakota. Farrar and members of his administration were attending a national governors meeting in New Mexico when they received word that a riot had broken out back home. Farrar quickly returned, only to discover that he had a personal connection to the disturbance. “One of my staff members was in the riot, so I politely fired him. I said, ‘We don’t do riots.’”

Farrar hoped to avoid more unrest when the fate of Thomas White Hawk landed in his hands. White Hawk was an 18-year-old student at the University of South Dakota in 1967 when he murdered Vermillion jeweler James Yeado and raped Yeado’s wife.

White Hawk had been sentenced to death, but after becoming governor in 1969, Farrar commuted his sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Tensions were rising on South Dakota’s Indian reservations, and the American Indian Movement had been created during the summer of 1968. Farrar hoped the commutation would quell any further violence. “I wanted to give him the death penalty. I believe in the death sentence,” Farrar says. “But I got more than a thousand letters from Indians saying if you give this guy death you’re discriminating. I said to myself, ‘They think I’m prejudiced.’ So I gave him life without parole, with the addition that as long as I lived I’d go to the parole board to ensure they didn’t let him out. I kept my promise. He was there 30 years, and whenever the parole board met I’d send a note: Do not let him out. And he died in there in 1997. I did that for the Yeado family.”

Farrar met many of the same challenges that subsequent governors have faced, including funding for education, health and welfare programs (which made up 85 percent of his budget for the 1971 fiscal year). He also tried reorganizing the executive branch (which ultimately occurred in the mid-1970s after he left office), tax reform and a program to help settle disputes between rural electric cooperatives and privately held companies. Pundits thought that controversies surrounding these and other issues led to his defeat in 1970, a 55 percent to 45 percent contest against Democrat Richard Kneip, a wholesale dairy equipment salesman and state senator from Salem. But Farrar believes the reasons were much simpler. “One was the war and the other was the economy. It went down right during the time of the election,” he says. “Oil went from $3 to $30 a barrel. We went from 32 Republican governors to 21.”

Farrar left the state capitol in 1971 after a single, two-year term as governor and never again sought political office. He’s lived the longest (48 years) of any South Dakota governor after leaving office. But he still remains connected to state politics. Former attorney general Marty Jackley sought and received Farrar’s endorsem*nt during the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary. And as we sat in Farrar’s office on an unseasonably cool and cloudy August morning, his cell phone buzzed with an incoming call from Dusty Johnson, then campaigning for South Dakota’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. “He can wait,” Farrar said, and silenced the call (sorry, Dusty).


Farrar re-entered the private sector by resuming his law practice and eventually getting into banking. A financial crisis in the 1980s led to the demise of hundreds of small savings and loan institutions throughout the country. He founded Performance Bankers, Inc., and became adept at buying them, turning them around and then selling them back to members of the community. He also believes in financial education. “I sponsor and pay for a program to teach high school students how to take care of their money, what a FICO score is, what a credit card is, and how important it is to stay out of debt,” Farrar says. “It takes 6 to 10 years if you go bankrupt to get out again. Wherever I have banks I sponsor and pay for that program.”

At age 65, Farrar began competing in triathlons and Ironman competitions, including the Scheels Dakotaman Triathlon at Lake Alvin in 2015. Photo by Jon Klemme.

Perhaps the achievements that garner the most attention these days involve endurance races that he travels the globe in which to compete. Farrar has always believed in the importance of diet and exercise. As governor, he often swam across Lake Oahe. Occasionally, he could be found practicing with the Pierre Governors high school basketball team. One old black and white photo shows him and Pat and their children riding bicycles around the capital city. “If you properly exercise and have the right diet, you’ll live a longer life and a more comfortable life,” Farrar says. “But exercise really does not lose weight. Food loses weight. So our problem in America is food. But the beauty of exercise is that it’s great for people who have to be on medicine. There’s really no reason to take all these opioids that are killing people if you do those two things: exercise and eat properly.”

Farrar would have been a triathlete at an early age, but the races didn’t exist until the early 1970s. Still, in his early 60s, he got involved. Then he set his sights higher. “I was doing all of these little sprints, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I work myself up to an Ironman?’”

Since making that decision, he’s competed in 36 Ironman events, most recently the 2018 Grand Final on the Gold Coast of Australia. He’s been one of the very few competitors in the 85-89-year-old division. “If nobody shows up I win. If they do show up, then I’m last,” he says.

Farrar has also completed more than 380 triathlons, both sprint (750 meter swim, 20 kilometer bike ride and 5 kilometer run) and Olympic (1.5 kilometer swim, 40 kilometer bike ride and 10 kilometer run) distances. He attributes the vigorous exercise to saving his life several decades ago.

In 1973, Farrar was in a business meeting in Pierre when he felt a lump on his neck. Doctors at Mayo Clinic diagnosed him with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and told him he had two months to live. “I said, ‘What are you talking about? I don’t even hurt.’ But he said, ‘At your age, and based on what we know, you’ve got two months. We’ll give you chemo.’ I was doing triathlons and kept doing them. I took chemo and kept swimming and in six months I was in remission. The doctors were amazed. I attribute it to exercise and attitude.”


Farrar was surrounded by athletic medals and plaques in his Britton office.

Life in Britton these days is exciting, yet simple for Farrar. “I get up, I work out, go swimming. I work all the time, every day including Saturday and Sunday.”

A few days after we left Britton, the town unveiled a historic marker commemorating the 50th anniversary of Farrar’s inauguration, although he didn’t mention it during a 90-minute interview. Jean Amacher told us about it later at Dizzy Blondz.

The town was also preparing for Harvest Days, Britton’s annual summer celebration, and Farrar expected that many of his five children and nine grandchildren might soon arrive for the festivities. “They’ll probably all come roaring in here because it’s a fun time,” he said.

Farrar envisions many more Harvest Days, triathlons and Ironmans in his future. “You can control your life, and life is beautiful,” he says. “I want to live forever. I don’t want to die. I put in my will, ‘If I ever die…’”

Frank Farrar turned 90 on April 2. If you ask, he’d probably say that he will be a poor nonagenarian. Let’s hope he’s right.

Editor's Note: This story is revised from the May/June 2019 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 01 Nov 2021 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2377-1635750000]]>
<![CDATA[West Friends]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/west-friends]]> <![CDATA[

By Paul Higbee

Black Hills lawman Seth Bullock led the efforts to build Friendship Tower, a memorial to his friend Theodore Roosevelt near Deadwood. Photo by John Mitchell

TheMountRoosevelt Friendship Tower Trail, says Black Hills National Forest North Zone Archaeologist Michael Engelhart, can be thought of as an easy “tiptoe into the woods.” For children, or adults unaccustomed to long Black Hills hikes, the trail is a mile-high, 0.6-mile loop that’s moderately rugged and gains altitude as it passes through pines and aspens. It offers vistas of the northern Black Hills and adjacent plains.

The site is also a step into local and national history, a perfect tribute to President Theodore Roosevelt, who knew these hills and plains well, and labored hard to preserve all western lands.

The trail leads to a 35-foot-tall rough-hewn stone tower, a structure that some observers liken to an artifact straight from medieval Europe, or a gigantic chess piece. In fact, the tower was the nation’s first memorial to Roosevelt, erected in a flurry just months after the 26th president died in 1919.

Pushing aggressively for the memorial, as soon as he learned of Roosevelt’s death that January, was Seth Bullock — former Deadwood sheriff, marshal, Rough Rider, U.S. Forest Reserve superintendent, and posthumously the inspiration for a character in HBO’s Deadwood TV series. Photos taken at the tower’s July 4, 1919, dedication reveal Bullock looking unusually weary and drawn. Working with the Society of Black Hills Pioneers, Bullock had obtained land on Sheep Mountain 3 miles northwest of Deadwood, renamed it Mount Roosevelt, led the memorial tower’s construction, and organized a high-powered dedication program — all while battling intestinal cancer. Bullock died on September 23, 12 weeks after the dedication. He was 70.

Yes, the tower officially memorialized the president. But it also stood in testament to two remarkable friends — Roosevelt and Bullock — and people alternately called it the “Friendship Tower.” The stone structure has endured for more than a century, though in that time the elements took their toll. But a recent restoration and rededication project led by the U.S. Forest Service has encouraged hikers to traverse the trail and once again visit the magnificent monument that forever links two of the West’s most intelligent and hard-nosed characters.

Bullock and Roosevelt met while the future president was ranching in northern Dakota Territory. They remained friends the rest of their lives.

Bullock was born in Canada in 1849, moved to Michigan with his family, and hoped to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War, but it ended before he was old enough to enlist. At age 20 he embarked on a different kind of adventure to Montana Territory’s gold fields.

His biographer, David Wolff of Spearfish, writes that despite Bullock’s thirst for rugged outdoor adventure, he had taken school seriously and grown up to speak softly and properly like an educated gentleman. Wolff added that Bullock was strong-willed, “with firm opinions to match. He befriended people he saw as equals and ignored those he looked down upon.”

Except when people he looked down upon were outlaws that he arrested as a Montana and Dakota lawman. He believed they impeded vital progress in the West. After nearly a decade in Montana, Bullock rode into Deadwood, part of the great Black Hills gold rush that boomed in 1876 (ironically, the courts would eventually determine the gold rush itself was outlawry, because the Black Hills were reserved for the Lakota people in 1876). For a few months he served as Deadwood sheriff.

Among the people that Bullock ranked as his equal was Roosevelt, nine years younger than himself and a New Yorker. After Roosevelt’s first wife Alice died, the future president sought solace in Dakota Territory. In the process, he became a cattleman and jumped into civic affairs as fledgling units of government took form. An enduring legend claims that Bullock and Roosevelt first encountered one another as each was pursuing the same horse thief. Wolff, however, believes the pair met along the Belle Fourche River in 1892, and that when Roosevelt announced he was currently serving as a federal civil service commissioner, Bullock was impressed. While that story isn’t as colorful as the one involving a horse thief, it points to the men’s mutual belief in government and civil authority as means for moving the West forward.

Beyond that, what cemented the Bullock-Roosevelt friendship? According to Roosevelt, Bullock was a man who could always get him to laugh, and that counted for a lot in a life touched by personal sorrows and the immense pressures of the presidency. A story Roosevelt loved was the time the two men were in London, and Bullock approached a stuffy-looking Englishman and asked him the name of a nearby “creek” — knowing full well it was the River Thames.

The men were in London because Roosevelt wanted, “Britishers to see my typical ideal American.” That, to Roosevelt’s thinking, had to be a westerner. After he remarried and had sons, who grew up in New York and Washington, D.C., Roosevelt sent the boys on South Dakota vacations so that under Bullock’s tutelage they would become westerners, not greenhorns.

Seth Bullock is pictured at the While House with President Rooseveltduring a reunion of Roosevelt's Rough Riders.

In Bullock and Roosevelt’s minds, the toughest westerners were working cowboys. The men successfully advanced an idea to send mounted cowboys — Rough Riders — into combat during the Spanish-American War. These cowboys mostly hailed from the Dakotas and neighboring states. Although he was 50, Bullock jumped into the Rough Rider adventure, and volunteered to do so again at age 70 during World War I.

As had been the case in the Civil War, however, Bullock missed seeing combat in the Spanish-American War. But Roosevelt did, making his famous charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba that became a key to launching his national political career. He was elected vice president in 1900 and assumed the presidency following President William McKinley’s assassination in September 1901. Just nine years had passed since Roosevelt, on horseback along the Belle Fourche River, had introduced himself as a federal civil service commissioner.

Much later, in 1927, President Calvin Coolidge would bring the federal government’s executive branch to South Dakota for three months when he established his “summer White House” in the Black Hills. Yet no American president understood the state more intimately than Theodore Roosevelt. To use modern terminology, Roosevelt was “hands-on” in executing policy in South Dakota, including reclamation that would create Belle Fourche Reservoir and his 1902 order for stock growers to remove unauthorized cattle grazing on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian reservations. The resulting 1902 Roundup is legendary today, but at the time was seen chiefly as reflecting the president’s concern about reservation lands that were being damaged by overgrazing.

Likewise, Roosevelt worried about limited timber and water resources in the Black Hills. So did Bullock, who noted that all local industries were dependent on those resources and that their loss could turn the Black Hills into “a desert.”

This concern prompted Roosevelt, as vice president, to convince McKinley that the president should appoint Bullock supervisor of the Black Hills Forest Reserve — today the Black Hills National Forest. This Reserve, established in 1897, had already made history as the site of the nation’s first federal timber sale — about 30 miles south of what would become Mount Roosevelt. This regulated sale of timber to loggers was a big step as national forests everywhere embraced a multiple-use philosophy, with private industry playing a role in forest management.

Still, there were plenty of Black Hills people appalled by the thought of the federal government asserting itself into a forest they considered their own. Roosevelt sensed correctly that South Dakotans would accept Bullock as the face of the Forest Reserve over an outside bureaucrat. Roosevelt settled into the White House confident he had the right man — based in Deadwood — to fight fires, chase timber and game poachers out of the forest, handle timber sales, and encourage replanting efforts that would rejuvenate overcut forests (it was later determined that the Black Hills usually regenerate pine growth naturally).

Gen. Leonard Wood and Seth Bullock posed in the foreground of a photo during the dedication of the Friendship Tower. Around 1,000 people attended the ceremony.

In 1906 the president named Bullock, who had secured a firm place in history as a pioneer forest manager, to the South Dakota U.S. marshal position. Bullock set up his office in Deadwood; the westerner had no intention of living in Sioux Falls, the established base of operations for marshals.

Roosevelt chose not to seek re-election in 1908 and regretted it immediately. When he attempted to regain the White House in 1912, Bullock — still South Dakota’s marshal — campaigned for him. But Roosevelt’s comeback resulted in little except a badly-fractured Republican Party and a bullet left lodged in the ex-president’s chest after a campaign trail assassination attempt. Later, Roosevelt’s rigorous exploration trek to South America left him ill and injured, further compromising his overall health. Bullock contracted his cancer at about the same time.

But World War I proved to be the saddest struggle for the friends. President Woodrow Wilson nixed their hopes to reorganize the Rough Riders for combat in Europe. In July 1918, Roosevelt’s son Quentin died in an aerial battle over France. Six months later, Roosevelt himself passed away in his sleep at age 60.

The Society of Black Hills Pioneers and Deadwood civic leaders liked Bullock’s idea of honoring Roosevelt permanently in the Black Hills, but believed the memorial should stand in Deadwood, not miles out of town up a very steep grade. A revised plan could allow visitors to step off the train in Deadwood and walk to the site. Bullock dug in his heels and successfully made the case that Roosevelt’s chief legacy in the West was preservation and protection of lands. Bullock wanted visitors to experience those lands, to climb a winding metal staircase in the tower and survey them as far as their eyes could see.

A thousand people made their way to the tower’s dedication on Independence Day. The program Bullock arranged was, appropriate to the man being honored, awash in Republican politics. Gov. Peter Norbeck, whose natural preservation philosophy mirrored Roosevelt’s, spoke. So did Gen. Leonard Wood, Roosevelt’s Army commander during his San Juan Hill charge 21 years earlier. Wood was preparing to run for president himself, on a platform Roosevelt would have approved. Wood, in fact, came close to winning the Republican nomination in 1920.

In the 1920s and ’30s, automobile tourism surpassed vacation travel by rail into the Black Hills. Deadwood’s municipally owned Pine Crest Tourist Park catered to those new-era tourists and sat within hiking distance of the tower. For locals, the spot was a popular picnic venue when a road took their cars right up to the structure. The great Deadwood forest fire of 1959 nearly wiped out the town; flames came within a half-mile of the tower. In years following the fire, school groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and others made trips to the tower to gaze across charred hillsides and absorb the destructive fury of wildfire. Some youth on these field trips grew up believing Mount Roosevelt had always been Forest Service land and the tower a fire lookout.

In fact, the Society of Black Hills Pioneers transferred the site to the Forest Service in 1966. By that time, it seemed every Black Hills teenager had access to a car, and some of them discovered Mount Roosevelt to be a dark, secluded destination for underage beer parties. Some mornings broken bottles littered the tower’s base. The Forest Service closed the road leading to the tower, and for safety removed stone steps that took people into the tower. The interior metal stairway was also blocked.

When visitors reached the top of Friendship Tower, Bullock wanted them to enjoy a sweeping view of the Black Hills that he and Roosevelt both loved. Photo by John Mitchell

More damaging than glass was water — season after season of rain and snowmelt that slowly broke down mortar between the tower’s stones. Brett Ewald, Forest Service archaeological technician, says the situation never reached the level of “benign neglect,” where a site begins a slide into complete deterioration. “But,” he says, “the Forest Service did come to a point where it had to reassess how it managed the tower.”

A condition survey in 2001 was the start of a sequence that saw the tower added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, and then survey recommendations were gradually fulfilled, including stabilizing the base, replacing the exterior stone steps and unblocking the metal interior ones, and working up new visitor interpretation. The loop trail from the parking lot was fully developed, and a metal cupola added to the tower’s top to improve drainage.

The site was rededicated exactly 100 years after Bullock’s original dedication. Some local people who attended admitted it was their first visit, while others declared decades-long affection for Mount Roosevelt.

It’s fair to say that the memorial has never won the national attention that Bullock hoped, but another Black Hills monument certainly has. If Bullock had lived another 20 years, he surely would have attended the 1939 dedication of his friend’s likeness on Mount Rushmore. Had someone asked if Roosevelt really merited inclusion with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, there’s little doubt that Bullock would have defended his old friend, whose granite gaze now falls forever over the rugged land that they both so loved.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the May/June 2020 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 18 Oct 2021 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2374-1634540400]]>
<![CDATA[From Coach to Congress]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/from-coach-to-congress]]> <![CDATA[

By Paul Higbee

Jim Abdnor (center) coached Kennebec's Legion baseball team before embarking on a state and national political career.

Jim Abdnor talked constantly, but no one in Kennebec had any inkling that their baseball coach would ever go to Washington. Two decades before he ran for the U.S. Senate in a race that drew national attention, Abdnor was simply a kind-hearted farmer who volunteered to coach the Legion team.

Nobody doubted his baseball smarts. He told Jim Cooney to try playing catcher, a position that didn’t appeal to the 9-year-old. But Abdnor, who would eventually gain a reputation as an astute spotter of green talent, recognized something in Cooney.

“I played baseball until I was 19 or 20,” says Cooney. “Always a catcher.”

Coach Abdnor chattered non-stop at the ballpark. And he talked at the coffee shop and the grain elevator and the school. He avoided gossip, however, and he never ranted when things went bad in a ballgame. In those years, the late 1950s and early 1960s, Abdnor almost always dressed like a working man in khaki pants and a green shirt. “It was like he had three sets of the same clothes,” Cooney recalls. The coach wore a mitt during practices but, in his late 30s, he was a bit too stocky to demonstrate proper fielding.

Abdnor eventually became a familiar figure in other South Dakota towns along old Highway 16 — Oacoma, Reliance, Presho, Murdo and Kadoka. He soon grew to understand and appreciate the culture of rural America. He inherently understood that the independent spirit and work ethic that defined the towns could also be found in many of the young people who grew up there.

Abdnor was born in 1923, the son of Sam and Mary Abdnor, immigrants to South Dakota from Lebanon. The couple farmed and ran a Kennebec store. They weren’t the only Lebanese-Americans working hard for a living on the West River plains. Their good friends, Charlie and Lena Abourezk, owned the Abourezk Mercantile store at Mission. The two families got together regularly for Sunday dinners of traditional Lebanese food and to listen to records of music from the homeland.

Abdnor's parents, Sam and Mary, were Lebanese immigrants who sold groceries in Lyman County.

What’s more, the Abourezks also had a son named Jim, a few years younger than Abdnor. In time, the remarkable careers of the two Jims paralleled each other in uncanny fashion.

As was often true of children in immigrant families, Abdnor found sports as a way to absorb American values and cultural understandings. His Kennebec friends and neighbors were never too busy to support their teams. They also had political connections beyond what you might expect in a town of 400. Kennebec was home to U.S. Congressman William Williamson when Abdnor was a child, and M.Q. Sharpe — governor when Abdnor was a young man. The Lyman County courthouse sat on a hill on the south side of town, and the state capitol at Pierre was only an hour’s drive to the northwest.

Abdnor believed small communities had value, but he knew the economics of rural America were challenging, so he supported the Kennebec grain elevator and civic organizations that moved the town forward. As his political career grew, he made certain to use the Kennebec post office for his mailings — boosting local postal numbers. And it seemed almost as if he kept a roster in his hip pocket of the next generation of movers and shakers.

“If it were not for Jim Abdnor there is no way I could be doing what I’m doing today,” said current U.S. Senator John Thune in a eulogy for Abdnor in 2012. Abdnor first took note of Thune as an outstanding Murdo High School basketball player. While South Dakotans recall Abdnor as anything but flashy, Thune remembered “an understated charisma about him and an optimism that anything was possible.”

People responded to that throughout Abdnor’s life. He left Kennebec to earn a business degree at the University of Nebraska and served two years in the Army during World War II. Then he came home to help run the family businesses, teach history at the high school, and begin a 20-year stint coaching baseball. Soon another kind of work with young people put him on the road, in his spare time, building a network of Young Republican clubs. After World War II, both Republicans and Democrats recognized shifting South Dakota demographics and took action to strengthen their voter bases. In fact George McGovern — who will always be linked with Abdnor in South Dakota history — was crisscrossing the state to rebuild the Democratic party at about the same time Abdnor was connecting with young Republicans.

In 1956 Abdnor decided to seek a seat in the state legislature. Simultaneously, he knew he had to go to work on a very personal problem — a speech impediment that caused him to slur certain words. He feared that people meeting him for the first time in Pierre and elsewhere might think him drunk. Abdnor enlisted the help of a high school teacher, who understood speech problems, and he read books aloud, watching for problem words. His speech improved, although he never defeated the impediment completely. Eventually it became an endearing characteristic for many constituents and political contemporaries who understood that only a remarkable person could speak so poorly and still get elected to office.

He entered the state senate at Pierre in January of 1957, a time when the legislature was all male and not known for transparency. Committee meetings could be closed to the public at the whim of the chairman, and lots of deals were sealed in smoky rooms down the street from the capitol at the St. Charles Hotel. In both state and federal government, Abdnor always told friends in Kennebec, he disliked seeing colleagues vote against their principles in order to win votes later for another bill.

Abdnor in the legislature could be counted on to support public works (especially water projects), electric cooperatives in their territorial fights with public utilities and agricultural development.

Abdnor was reelected to the legislature five times and became president pro tem of the state senate. He ran successfully for lieutenant governor in 1968, following in the footsteps of A.C. Miller, another Kennebec politician and his personal mentor.

As president pro tem of the South Dakota senate, Abdnor handled ceremonial duties while also delving into tough governmental issues.

Then in 1970, his friend who shared his first name and Lebanese heritage, Jim Abourezk, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat. He would represent the state’s old Second Congressional District (generally West River), and it could have been the two Jims running against one another that November. Abdnor sought the Republican nomination for the congressional seat but lost in the primary. Immediately, supporters urged him to try again in 1972, including Phil Hogen, an attorney who had just moved to Kennebec after completing law school at the University of South Dakota. Abdnor knew Hogen from a decade before, when he worked to get Hogen — then a Kadoka High School student — a position as a state senate messenger.

Hogen was among those who campaigned hard for Abdnor, and his story was typical of many volunteers and staff. They met Abdnor as young people and were committed to him for life. “He had a remarkable rapport with young people, and I’m not even sure why,” says Abdnor’s friend and Kennebec attorney, Herb Sundall. “I only know he could sit down and talk to them like no one else I ever saw. Jim never had children himself, never married, so maybe that had something to do with it.”

Abdnor and his young campaigners won the 1972 congressional race. Abourezk, after just 24 months, vacated the Second District seat and ran successfully for U.S. Senate. Abdnor reported to Washington as the only Republican member of South Dakota’s congressional delegation, consisting also of Democrats Abourezk, Sen. George McGovern and First District Congressman Frank Denholm.

He quickly needed to assemble a Washington staff. He soon had a Red Wing shoebox full of applications, many from Capitol Hill professionals who had been working for just-defeated members of Congress. Abdnor, though, decided he wanted his Kennebec friend and campaign organizer, Phil Hogen, to serve as his administrative assistant.

“Jim, I don’t want to do this,” Hogen remembers telling Abdnor when first asked. “But I changed my mind, and the two years I was in Washington were exciting. We’d been there 45 days when AIM occupied Wounded Knee, and we got to be on a first name basis with lots of people in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the FBI.”

Hogen quickly came to understand he worked for a man who hated paperwork but loved people. “Lots of politicians go home and walk along the street, glad-handing and smiling at everyone they meet. But Jim did that with everyone he met, not just constituents who could vote for him, and he became very well known and liked in Washington.”

Abdnor watched the Watergate scandal engulf Washington from an unusual perspective in 1973 and 1974. Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford became a personal friend, and Abdnor saw Ford quickly elevated from Congress to vice president and, soon, to president of the United States. Three months after Ford replaced Richard Nixon in the White House, South Dakotans re-elected Abdnor, even though Republicans fared poorly nationwide due to the Watergate repercussions.

“For South Dakotans he was the personification of goodness in a rural state,” says Kay Jorgensen of Spearfish, who also grew up on the West River plains and served in the state legislature. “People saw his entire goal being to make individual lives better.”

In Washington, Abdnor was as comfortable shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth as he was on the baseball diamond back in South Dakota.

The state never knew a more accessible congressman, Jorgensen added. “He was someone you could always call. Often he answered the phone himself. And if you agreed or disagreed on an issue, it never affected the friendship.”

But even Abdnor’s most loyal friends wondered if the old coach was up to the challenge of running against George McGovern for U.S. Senate in 1980. McGovern had been the Democratic nominee for president eight years earlier, carried tremendous clout in Washington, and was a polished speaker and debater. How would Abdnor fare in a debate against George McGovern?

As it turned out, McGovern’s debating skills went for naught. The old baseball coach did the political version of an intentional walk: he declined all debates. Rather, he said, he would let his conservative record speak for itself. The national press took notice of the race, partly because of McGovern’s stature and partly because a Republican win would confirm that the party was making a strong comeback six years after Watergate.

Perhaps because it was so high profile, the 1980 Senate race split South Dakota communities and families, at least temporarily. “Although Jim’s mother, Mary, was my godmother, and his uncle Albert was my godfather,” wrote Jim Abourezk in his biography, “I never let that divert my attention from what I could do to campaign — unsuccessfully — for George McGovern.”

Abdnor won a landslide victory, claiming 58 percent of the vote, thanks in part to the Reagan revolution that swept across South Dakota and the national political landscape in 1980.

Though he declined debates during the campaign, Abdnor was not a silent senator. Three weeks after taking office, he spoke powerfully on behalf of a new group of individuals whose lives he hoped to make better. In the House of Representatives he had been an advocate for quality veterans’ health care. Now he discussed a particular category of veterans whose needs were just creeping into national consciousness: former Vietnam War prisoners whose problems, especially mental health issues, might not be evident for years. If symptoms did appear, Abdnor asserted, these veterans deserved prompt attention without waiting to prove their needs stemmed from the war. “We have waited for too long,” he said, “in addressing the unique and often severe problems former prisoners of war and their families face because of their internment and their services to their country.”

Abdnor especially appreciated his appointment to the Senate Appropriations Committee. He was sometimes asked how that worked for a fiscal conservative. “I didn’t spend any more money,” he later told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “I just tried to make sure South Dakota got its fair share. I don’t know of any other committee where I could have had as much influence.”

Overseas tours exposed Abdnor to cultures far removed from life on the South Dakota plains.

But he was unsuccessful in winning a second senate term in 1986. His support of the 1985 Farm Bill certainly cost him votes at a time when South Dakota farmers were suffering economically, losing their farms in some cases, and generally skeptical of federal agriculture policy. Gov. Bill Janklow had challenged Abdnor in the Republican primary. Abdnor prevailed over Janklow but the party was divided heading into the general election.

The old Abdnor-Abourezk connection re-asserted itself. Abdnor was defeated in 1986 by Tom Daschle, Abourezk’s former legislative director. Daschle would go on to serve three senate terms before being defeated by Abdnor’s protégé, John Thune, in 2004.

After leaving the Senate, Abdnor was appointed by President Reagan to lead the U.S. Small Business Administration. He served until after Reagan left the White House in 1989, then came home to South Dakota. He remained a sidelines force in the state Republican Party, and played golf. “Not very well, though,” Sundall says. “But he was always buying a new club that would make him the next Jack Nicklaus.”

He even formed a friendship with his 1980 opponent, George McGovern, who also spent many of his sunset years in South Dakota. “They didn’t agree politically but they respected one another’s honesty,” Sundall says. “Jim said when George told you he would do something, he did it.”

Abdnor also rekindled his love for youth baseball. He lived in Rapid City for several years and was a regular presence at games of the national powerhouse Post 22 American Legion team, even traveling to out-of-town games and out-of-state tournaments.

Baseball diamonds are where many South Dakotans had their last encounters with the senator from Kennebec. He would talk baseball, applaud the good plays and grab the hands of friends old and new.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the November/December 2018 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 16 Aug 2021 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2362-1629097200]]>
<![CDATA[The Real Hero]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/kenneth-scissons-the-real-hero]]> <![CDATA[

By Roger Holtzmann

The World War II heroics of Rapid City's Kenneth Scissons became wonderful content for comic books of the era.

Superman crash-landed in a Kansas wheat field in 1938. Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and their archenemies soon followed, and together they ushered in the Golden Age of comic books.

George Hecht and the Parents’ Institute swam against the superhero tide by launching True Comics. Hecht and his editorial advisory board published 84 issues from April of 1941 through August of 1950, believing that children might also like stories that were exciting and factual. Each issue carried a banner that proclaimed, “Truth is stranger and a thousand times more interesting than fiction!”

Hecht celebrated real live heroes: World War II raider Jimmy Doolittle, baseball star Stan Musial, inventor Thomas Edison and President Theodore Roosevelt. He found another in Sgt. Kenneth Cuthbert Scissons, a Lakota-English-Norwegian soldier from Rapid City who became a one-man army during World War II, a man the Nazis specifically targeted for capture, and a man whose seemingly superhuman exploits made him the epitome of Hecht’s real comic book stars.

Scissons was born on a ranch south of Colome in 1915, but came of age in Rapid City, where his father, John, worked for the Warren-Lamb Lumber Company. His Lakota lineage stretched back to his grandmother, Hannah Mule, twin sister of Little Big Man, the renowned Oglala Shirt Wearer from Crazy Horse’s band.

Scissons attended Rapid City Indian School through sixth grade, navigating the sometimes-treacherous ways of boarding school. “Dad said a lot of the bigger boys picked on him when he first started,” says Ruth Ahl, Scissons’ oldest daughter. That stage soon passed as Scissons proved to be a natural athlete who excelled at every sport, including boxing.

Wearing a bull snake necklace was likely tame for Scissons, who took heavy fire from Nazi troops during one particularly harrowing battle.

In seventh grade Scissons transferred to public school, but his formal education didn’t end well, according to Sharon Schaefer, Ahl’s younger sister. “What I picked up is that he was part way through his senior year and got into it with his basketball coach,” Schaefer says. “After that he just said, ‘I’m not going back.’”

Scissons’ first job was at Warren-Lamb; he spent 10 hours a day shoveling sawdust into boxcars, and was happy for the opportunity. “Times were tough,” he later recalled. “If you ever stopped and put your shovel down somebody else would pick it up, then you no longer had a job.”

When Warren-Lamb cut back during the Depression, Scissons joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and was posted to a camp near Hill City. He stood a stout 6 feet by then, and had energy to burn. At day’s end, when the other workers clambered into trucks for a ride down the winding mountain road to their base camp, Scissons would set off cross-country, racing over the rugged mountain terrain on foot.

“He ran so fast he thought his heart was going to burst,” Ahl says, “and he was always at the camp, leaning against a tree, smoking a cigarette when they got there.”

Scissons met Melvin “Tuffy” Cory while he was with the CCC. One day Cory showed Scissons a picture of his sister, Evelyn. “My dad looked at the picture and said, ‘This is the woman I’m going to marry,’” Ahl says. “Everybody thought he was nuttier than a fruit cake.” Scissons had the last laugh, though; he and Evelyn met in the spring of 1937, and were married two weeks later.

Evelyn’s parents didn’t learn of the wedding until a relative sent them a clipping from the Deadwood newspaper. “My mother was working in Mitchell at the time,” Ahl says. “Grandma and Grandpa Cory drove there to see her, and Grandma said, ‘Well, hello Mrs. Scissons.’ My mom tried to explain things, and told them Dad was a Sioux Indian. Grandma Cory started crying and said, ‘Are you going to live in a tee pee?’”

Grandma Cory’s worst fear was never realized: the newlyweds’ first home was a snug one-room house that Scissons and his father built on New York Street in Rapid City.

Scissons hunted and fished in the Hills to put food on the table, and supplemented his CCC income by playing in a band for dances held in Hill City; he played saxophone, clarinet, piano and guitar, thanks to lessons he took at the Indian School. These attracted rowdy crowds, and Scissons felt right at home.

“One night Mom and Dad were walking down the sidewalk, and some guy wouldn’t step aside after Dad said excuse me,” Ahl says. “The guy said, ‘I’m not stepping aside for any damn Indian!’ Dad hit him so hard he flew into the middle of the street. A couple days later the police came to the house and told Dad that the guy had not regained consciousness, and if he died Dad would be charged with murder.

“Thank God the guy came around.”

Scissons and his wife Ruth were married two weeks after they met.

Scissons joined the South Dakota National Guard in 1936. After basic training he was assigned to the headquarters company of the 109th Engineering Regiment in Rapid City.

Scissons signed up for a second hitch three years later, a perilous moment in history. Germany overran Poland in the fall of 1939, plunging Europe into a war that many Americans feared would soon be at their doorsteps. Scissons and every other volunteer surely understood that the Guard might soon require more of them than one weekend a month, but they signed up anyway.

“Dad was extremely patriotic,” Schaefer says. “He believed in doing whatever was necessary to protect the country. That was how he was raised. You were loyal.”

With war on the horizon, Scissons and five other soldiers from the 109th — Leroy Anderson, Jerry Gorman and Richard Griffin of Sturgis, Bill Turner and Andrew Hjelvik of Lead — volunteered for federal service and were shipped overseas almost a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. They were among a contingent of Americans who trained with elite British Commandos and took part in raids on occupied Europe, the idea being that they would rejoin their old units when U.S. forces formally entered the war. Their combat experience would season the mass of green troops.

Scissons tried to transfer into the Army Rangers, an American battalion modeled on the Commandos, when it formed in mid-1942; his athleticism and outdoor skills would have fit perfectly within the unit, which specialized in operations behind enemy lines. However, the Rangers only accepted single men.

When the Allies invaded North Africa on November 8, 1942, Scissons was put ashore at Algiers, Tunisia. His first taste of combat came during a raid against the German-held airfield at Bizerte — a mission that blew up almost immediately when the attackers met heavy resistance and withdrew. Scissons was with a squad assigned to safeguard the force’s line of retreat, and their part of the plan also went sideways: they got ambushed and were embroiled in their own firefight.

“[German soldiers] pinned us down with tommy-gun fire from the ridge,” Scissons said in an account of the engagement carried in the Rapid City Journal and dozens of newspapers across the country. “I told our leader our only chance was to go around the hill and clean them out.”

Scissons and his comrades had to cross a stretch of open ground to get where they needed to be. “I didn’t stop to look behind me [as I ran] but when we reached a creek bed only five of our original 12 were left,” he said. “We got halfway up when we ran into more tommy-gun fire and lost another man. As we were down to too few to take the ridge we decided to withdraw.”

Scissons and Guy Wright, of Oklahoma, provided covering fire while Jerry Gorman and another soldier started back down the hill. When German soldiers rose to fire, “we really went to town on them,” Scissons said. “It was like popping off squirrels … every time I pulled the trigger over went a German.”

Scissons earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military decoration, in just over 4 minutes that day. His account of the firefight sounded much less heroic than the official citation:

“Upon the ambush of his unit by the enemy, Private Scissons, seeing two of his comrades attempting to crawl to safety, did, without regard for his own life, engage the enemy with his rifle and draw their entire fire upon his position. Only after his comrades reached safety did Private Scissons attempt to withdraw, having accounted for approximately ten enemy soldiers. His coolness and courage under fire, and his desire to sacrifice himself, if necessary, for the safety of his comrades are a profound inspiration to members of the Armed Forces, and reflect the highest traditions of our country.”

The Nazis dubbed Scissons "Mustachio Commando" because he always wore a handlebar mustache.

Most of the attacking party died or were captured that day, and the airfield suffered no damage. Scissons and his squad managed to escape through country “swarming with groups of Germans,” he recalled. By the time they made it to friendly territory four days later, Scissons had lost, “everything but the shirt on my back, but what I missed most were the pictures of my wife and three-year-old daughter Ruth.”

Scissons’ story didn’t need embellishment to earn him a Distinguished Service Cross, but True Comics tweaked the tale for their young readers. In its version, the Bizerte raid was a smashing success, Scissons talked like an Indian from a western movie and he was a sergeant rather than a private; the last was a forgivable inaccuracy, as he seldom remained one or the other for long.

Scissons earned four Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, in addition to the Distinguished Service Cross, during his time in service. He was a good soldier in every respect but military discipline — a shortcoming that could be attributed to his pugnacious character, the very quality that made him an exceptional warrior.

“Kenny was a one-man army over there,” said Chuck Cory, who served with him in Tunisia. “He’d leave base and we’d never know when he was going to come back.”

Scissons infiltrated enemy outposts, struck silently, and then left a calling card to demoralize the rest. The Germans paid Scissons the ultimate compliment by hanging wanted posters of him across Tunisia; they dubbed him “Mustachio Commando” because he always wore a handlebar mustache.

When the Allies landed at Anzio, Scissons was asked to penetrate enemy lines and capture Germans for interrogation, an assignment he called his worst of the war. Month after month of mortal danger and operating on his own left him with little patience for rear echelon types, even those who outranked him.

“Dad went through hell over there,” Ahl says. “My understanding was that he had several court martials. My mother said she always knew when he was fighting because it was Sgt. Scissons. When he was back at base it was Pvt. Scissons.”

Scissons returned from overseas in the spring of 1945, but his first stop wasn’t Rapid City. “Dad spent six weeks at a base in Texas,” Ahl says. “He was a trained killer, so they thought they had to mellow him out, I guess … you don’t just come right back to your family after something like that.”

Scissons entered law enforcement as a conservation officer with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. After 20 years, he finished his career as a criminal investigator with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Scissons died on September 9, 1973. Ahl received many condolences upon her father’s death, including letters from Gov. Richard Kneip and longtime South Dakota promoter Almon “Hoadley” Dean. “I had the greatest respect for your father,” Dean wrote. “He was a gentleman, a patriot and a true warrior, held in high esteem and respect by all who knew him.”

No hero — real or fictional — could ask for a better epitaph.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the May/June 2019 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Mon, 14 Jun 2021 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2354-1623654000]]>
<![CDATA[Saving the Graham House]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/saving-the-graham-house]]> <![CDATA[

By Sue Speck

The Mentor Graham house in Blunt, once home to Abraham Lincoln's teacher, is in danger of demolition.

Ramshackle and neglected, the Mentor Graham house in Blunt is far removed from its heyday as a tourist attraction and point of pride in the Hughes County town of 350 people.

Graham was the schoolmaster in New Salem, Illinois, where he worked with Abraham Lincoln to refine his speech and make the 16th president one of America’s most eloquent leaders. He moved to tiny Blunt as an old man in the 1880s and lived there just four years before his death in 1886. Now Graham’s home — Blunt’s claim to fame for more than a century — is in danger of demolition.

The Lincoln/Graham relationship dates back to the 1830s when Lincoln joined New Salem’s debate society. The divisive issue was slavery, and Graham and his fellow debaters encouraged the aspiring anti-slavery lawyer to enter politics. Lincoln often stayed at Graham’s home for work or to visit. Graham tutored him on grammar and the two studied late into the night. Lincoln then taught himself law and began his political career.

Lincoln’s inauguration, where Graham sat on the platform with new president, was the proudest day of the teacher’s life. The day the president was assassinated in 1865 was among the saddest. Graham was said to have never recovered from the loss.

Free land in Dakota Territory under the Homestead Act — signed by Lincoln in 1862 — beckoned to Graham’s son, Harry Lincoln Graham. In 1882, the aged teacher joined his son, and Lincoln’s namesake, for a new start.

The family bought a boarding house, staked land claims, built a house and planted trees. Harry and his wife, as well as Graham’s daughter and granddaughter, also carried on the family mantle of teaching school with Graham assisting.

One November day in 1886, the 84-year-old educator died when he was out for his daily walk. He was buried in Blunt, but descendants later moved his body back to Illinois.

The house he left behind was opened to the public as a tribute to the man who taught Lincoln, a tourist attraction and an inspiration to students. “Every year we took a field trip and came over here,” says city councilman Randy Pool, himself a retired teacher. “When you walked in, there was always a plate of homemade chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookies. All the kids got a cookie.”

But that was when the town still had caretakers who lived in the home and served as tour guides. “They appreciated it and took care of it,” Pool says. “In its day, this was an immaculate building. The yard was taken care of. There were flowers planted. But those days have come and gone.”

City councilman Randy Pool peers through the windows of the Graham House, long closed to visitors.

Eventually, the town could no longer find caretakers to live in the house that lacked modern conveniences. The city painted it and fixed the roof, but it soon fell into a state of disrepair. “When we ran out of finding caretakers, that was the downfall,” Pool says. “That and the floods.”

Two creeks meander through Blunt, and floodwater overflowed onto the floors of the house several times. Harnessing and diverting the water became a priority for the town. And there were other priorities such as streets and sewers that needed work as well, says city finance officer Trudie Feldman.

The house fell further into decay over the nearly 40 years it was vacant. The trees that Graham planted became overgrown, hiding the home until the city decided to clear the branches, reminding the community of the home’s history and significance.

So the town decided to clean up the house, too. But years of neglect come at a cost. The foundation needs to be repaired and the house raised out of the danger of floodwater. Then it has to be restored.

The city applied for a grant, but it was denied. Now council members are looking at other options. If they can’t save the house, ideas include repairing it just enough so people could look through the windows without entering or tearing it down and putting a monument in its place.

“You don’t want to see something like this destroyed, but when you have exerted as many possibilities as we have to try to find money to fix it …,” Pool says. “You’re looking at well over $100,000 to restore it back to where people could be in it. Now, you could put $40,000 into it and have a building that you could never go into. Does that building mean as much to people who would stop as it would if you could go in to look at it?

“It’s kind of a no-win situation. I don’t want to see it torn down, but I don’t want to see it fall down, and that’s not too far away.”

For more information on the Mentor Graham house or to donate, call Feldman at (605) 295-0486.

Mon, 03 May 2021 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2347-1620025200]]>
<![CDATA[Our Case for History]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/our-case-for-history]]> <![CDATA[

By Paul Higbee

Leland Case lived and worked around the world, but always considered South Dakota home.

Young South Dakotan leaves home, heads east to Chicago, earns a masters degree in journalism at Northwestern University and lands a job writing for the New York Herald’s Paris edition. The year is 1927 and he loves Paris, where he interviews Charles Lindbergh just after the aviator makes history by flying solo across the Atlantic.

Conventional wisdom might tell you the South Dakotan would never return to his home state after Paris, might not even give South Dakota another thought. But there was nothing conventional about Leland D. Case. After a year in France, he was back in the Black Hills, researching a man he considered a true Christian martyr, Methodist preacher Henry Weston Smith, found murdered outside Deadwood in 1876. Most historians believe Smith’s attackers were Lakota defenders, although alternative theories have circulated over the years. In 1929 Case published a pamphlet about Preacher Smith, read widely by locals and Black Hills travelers alike. If the name Preacher Smith still resonates among South Dakotans, Case deserves a big part of the credit.

“If you put Leland Case on an unchartered jungle island at midnight,” said his friend and colleague Herman Teeter, “he would discover a Methodist connection by dawn.”

That might surprise contemporary Leland Case fans who think of him primarily as a historian of the American West, or perhaps as a newspaperman and national magazine editor. And Case does have fans, more than three decades after his death, in part because he left significant legacies on two South Dakota university campuses.

For all that, however, he is regularly confused in discussions for his older brother, Francis H. Case, who represented South Dakotans in Washington, D.C., for 25 years as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

But back to the Methodist Church. That was the institution that brought this remarkable family to South Dakota from Iowa in 1909, when Leland’s father, the Rev. Herbert Case, accepted a position at a Sturgis church. Leland, 9 at the time, never forgot the trip, crossing the vast treeless prairie by train. His family had arrived in the West. That meant two things — adventure and treasure. He found both when the Cases took up residence on a little farm at Bear Butte’s foot. Leland and Francis, sometimes accompanied by one or more of their three sisters, explored the butte’s draws and scaled its heights, hunted small game and found souvenirs that included cavalry buttons and artillery remnants from nearby Fort Meade maneuvers.

The Cases became friends with their neighbors, the Bovees, who ranched Bear Butte acreage. The butte was sacred ground to many Great Plains Native peoples, but in those years federal law forbade practice of Native religions. The Bovees snubbed their noses at the government, said the butte was theirs, and any Native people were welcome to pray and participate in religious ceremonies. It was South Dakota defiance of federal policy at its best. The Bovees’ young neighbor, Leland, grew up to write of the Lakota culture as something alive in the contemporary world, not just historical memory, in ways that would startle national audiences in coming years.

Case worked to establish The Westerners, clubs across the nation dedicated to study and celebration of the Midwest. At a Westerners function in Hot Springs, he displayed a bison skull, the symbol of the organization.

The Case family later lived in Mitchell, Hot Springs, Spearfish and Rapid City. Not surprisingly, the children grew up to enroll at South Dakota’s Methodist college, Dakota Wesleyan at Mitchell. That included Leland, although after a couple years he transferred to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He graduated from that school but then, as always, headed back to the Black Hills. He wrote for the Rapid City Daily Journal (Francis had bought into the paper’s ownership) and then the Lead Daily Call before Northwestern University beckoned. By this point it was apparent that Leland and Francis had evolved into remarkably similar men — journalists professionally, and thoroughly engaging personalities who were persuasive both in person and in print. What’s more, each was fearless. Francis’s sometimes-adversary in the U.S. Senate would be Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson, and often colleagues cowered before Johnson. Not Francis Case. As for Leland, if he found himself or an institution he was part of disparaged, he’d likely show up on the critic’s doorstep and ask for an explanation.

Among institutions sometimes disparaged in the 1930s was Rotary International, the network of community service clubs. In 1930, a year after publication of his Preacher Smith pamphlet, Leland began writing for The Rotarian, a Chicago-based magazine sent to club members worldwide. Within months he was named editor and for nearly 20 years published quick-paced features, delving into everything from sports to science, but mostly themed around the idea of ordinary people doing extraordinary things for their communities. As Americans struggled through the Depression, Case believed it was vital for everybody to polish skills that would benefit the community as a whole —very much in line with Rotarian philosophy. That felt small-town and unprofessional to some Americans who considered themselves well educated and perhaps elite, including author Sinclair Lewis. Lewis had dismissed Rotary clubs a decade earlier in his classic novel, Babbitt, so he was perhaps overdue for a visit from the editor of The Rotarian. According to Jarvis Harriman, who published a fine Leland Case biography in 1994, Lewis told Case sure, come by for a talk, fully intending to send the editor on his way after a few minutes. But Lewis found Case so engaging that the men talked for hours, and Lewis agreed to write a story for The Rotarian. It was a classic Leland Case encounter.

Other writers came much easier, including South Dakota poet Badger Clark, who found a national audience through The Rotarian. Babe Ruth, H.G. Wells, and Winston Churchill were published during Case’s time at The Rotarian’s helm. Case considered it imperative that Albert Einstein’s byline should appear in his magazine. He met the scientist at Princeton, New Jersey, and found him courteous but leery. Other American journalists and editors had mangled his words — not intentionally, Einstein knew, but because he thought in German and his concepts were, to say the least, complex. Case proposed what he called a “new idea” in magazine composition.

He would submit questions in writing to Einstein, involve a translator, and build a feature from the scientist’s typed responses, unaltered. Einstein joined the long list of people who found it impossible to say no to Leland Case. “Quite frankly,” Case later wrote, “I recall working up no feature that generated more personal satisfaction.”

Leland Case's artifacts are preserved at Mitchell's Dakota Discovery Museum, the former Friends of the Middle Border Cultural Center advanced by Case in the 1930s.

But even when working with personalities who would go on to be regarded internationally as 20th century giants, Case’s thinking never strayed far from South Dakota. He traveled home regularly, accompanied by his wife Josephine, a musician and teacher he met in Chicago. In South Dakota, Case worked on his brother’s political campaigns and spent time, in the 1930s, in Mitchell successfully advancing his idea of a Friends of the Middle Border cultural center. Part of the Dakota Wesleyan campus, it would preserve the arts, humanities and artifacts of the Great Plains which, at the time, appeared in danger of blowing away completely during the Dust Bowl. Carl Sandburg and Laura Ingalls Wilder, fellow Midwestern writers who felt the same urgency for cultural preservation, agreed to sit on an advisory board.

In the 1940s Case wrote a popular Black Hills travel guide, revised and reprinted over the years by the Black Hills, Badlands and Lakes tourism association. The same decade, with Chicago friend Elmo Watson, Case founded The Westerners, a network of clubs (or “corrals”) across the country where members met, ate, drank and swapped tales about the Old West. Amateur historians who discussed family lore were as welcome as academics and published authors. Many corrals still celebrate the West today.

In 1950 Case left The Rotarian and soon had an idea for National Geographic Magazine. How about a feature combining Black Hills history and travel tips? National Geographic wasn’t about to say no to Leland Case writing about his favorite place. It assigned him a photographer. Case visited significant locales and looked up old friends, including the Bovee family at Bear Butte.

National Geographic ran the feature in its October 1956 issue. Rather unfortunately, the magazine titled it “Back to the Historic Black Hills,” a play on Doris Day’s popular Black Hills song three years earlier. The story’s content was less playful. Of the region’s history Case noted: “A single lifetime bridges it — Custer to Coolidge, gold stampede to uranium rush, Sioux travois to jets at Ellsworth.”

But most striking about the feature, read more than 60 years later, is Case’s anecdote about a contemporary Lakota man, fined $25 in court for some infraction. Case quoted the man telling the judge, “I owe you $25. You owe me for the Black Hills. When you pay me, I pay you.” Nearly two decades before the matter exploded into national consciousness, who but Leland Case was telling Americans that the federal government had seized the Black Hills and owed compensation?

By the time the story was published, Case was once again behind an editor’s desk in Chicago, producing a new Methodist magazine called Together. Under Case’s leadership it grew quickly to a circulation topping a million. Like The Rotarian, its writing style was easily accessible and fast moving. The magazine featured profiles of personalities both well known and every day. Tips for activities that families could enjoy together were a staple.

In 1962 Case’s world changed when his brother, Senator Case, died in office, hit by a heart attack. Leland was 62 years old and the loss seemed to tell him that if he had projects he hoped to wrap up, now was the time. Over the next few years he began looking for a college or university that would work with him to establish a Western studies library.

Case retired from Together magazine in 1965. He and Josephine spent most of their time in Tucson, Arizona, partly because the climate was good for a respiratory condition Leland developed, and also because they liked Arizona. But Case’s search for a school that would support his project drew his thinking back to South Dakota, once again. He would contribute his personal history library, materials about the Case family (including some of his father’s sermons) and dollars to establish a history scholarship. He would encourage colleagues to donate their personal libraries, too. Case struck a deal with Black Hills State in Spearfish, in the center of the region where significant Western history played out.

Case's personal office has been recreated at the Dakota Discovery Museum in Mitchell with artifacts and books brought from Tucson, Arizona.

Case told Spearfish newspaperman Art Mathison, “I was in college here, even though nobody knew it.” His father worked in Spearfish in 1917, Leland’s junior year in high school, before the community had a high school. As was common practice in state college towns then, students wishing to pursue high school diplomas were granted credits if they succeeded in college courses. Case was proud of his success, academically and socially, among older students, and the experience seemed to spark the love he always had for colleges and universities.

The Leland D. Case Library for Western Historical Studies, located within Black Hills State University’s E.Y. Berry Library-Learning Center, was dedicated in April of 1976. Case delivered a heart-felt speech, calling for volunteer “field historians” who would help determine “how bits and pieces of Hills history may be saved from fire, flood, and the city dumps.” Like the old editor he was, he had story tips for historians willing to tackle overlooked history, including the Black Hills’ many connections to the Alaska gold rush. Another story waiting to be told, he said, was how the Black Hills National Forest pioneered federal policy about scientific tree cropping (today his library houses the Black Hills National Forest Historical Collection). Later, Case told Mathison that historians might be better off forgetting Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Poker Alice and Fly-Speck Billy, and focusing on more important figures.

Leland and Josephine visited Spearfish several times after the library’s opening, and Black Hills State awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1980. Case didn’t stop researching and writing until the very end of his life. He died in 1986, at age 86, in Tucson.

There are spots across South Dakota where anyone who knows Leland Case’s story can’t help but sense his spirit: Bear Butte tops the list, along with any clapboard Methodist Church on the prairie, and any ridge overlooking the Middle Border plains that recovered beyond his hopes after the Dust Bowl. But a special spot is his recreated office in the Dakota Discovery Museum, the modern name for his Friends of the Middle Border center in Mitchell, on the Dakota Wesleyan University campus.

There are furnishings, photos and artifacts from his Tucson office, and best of all some of his books that reveal his many passions. Volumes on the shelves include Black Elk Speaks, Louis L’Amour novels and books detailing vigilante justice, Chicago history and South Dakota’s role in World War I. And not surprisingly Case collected books that approached the Methodist Church from every angle — John Wesley’s life, the church’s roots in England and development across America, Methodist poets, and even a guidebook to Methodist tourism.

“Leland’s interests were vast and varied,” says Bobbi Sago, special collections librarian and archivist for the Case library at Black Hills State. She calls the library “a tremendous legacy from a fascinating man. It is a wonderful gift to the residents of South Dakota.”

Case was a driven man who understood American culture and who never doubted that South Dakota’s contributions were important to the nation’s character. His brother’s name may be more prominent in state history. On the other hand, Leland Case sat at his typewriter and composed much of that history.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the September/October 2017 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Tue, 29 Dec 2020 00:00:00 -0800 <![CDATA[article-2324-1609228800]]>
<![CDATA[The Murder of Patsy Magner]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/the-murder-of-patsy-magner]]> <![CDATA[

By Roger Holtzmann

Patsy Magner's scrappiness served him well as a young boxer, and through life. He parlayed his sporting prowess into the gambling and liquor arenas of early-day South Dakota. Photo courtesy of the Dakota Territorial Museum.

Cold cases are often neatly resolved within an hour on television. In real life, they mostly stay cold. Families mourn without resolution. Perpetrators remain at large. Communities wonder whether a killer walks among them. Such was the murder case of Yankton’s Patrick “Patsy” Magner.

David and Mary (Creighton) Magner came to America during the great Irish migration of the 19th century. They married in Woodstock, Illinois, where David earned his living as a shoemaker. Patrick and his elder brother Michael were born in Illinois, but they came of age on the frontier because, like many of his countrymen during that era, David Magner was a restless soul. In 1872 he headed for Yankton, Dakota Territory, and set up his cobbler’s bench.

David passed away two years later, when Patsy was 7 years old, leaving Mary to raise two young boys. “Little is known of [Patsy’s] growing-up years,” wrote historian Bob Karolevitz, “but by his early 20s he was already a professional fighter.” Magner compensated for his slight build with ferocity, a characteristic that came to the fore during his most notable bout — in 1899, before a crowd of 500 at the Sioux City Athletic Club — against one-time world featherweight champion ‘Torpedo’ Billy Murphy.

“In the first round Magner used foul tactics, and Murphy also began to rough it,” reported the Sacramento Record Union. “In the second, when the police intervened, the men were fighting like dogs on the floor of the arena.”

Prize fighting was illegal in Sioux City, so Murphy, Magner and the fight’s promoters were hauled off to jail. This wouldn’t be the last time Magner ran afoul of the law. Almost by default, boxing put him in touch with unsavory types, especially gamblers; it is easy to see how he drifted into schemes and ways mentioned with disfavor in the statute books. From then on almost all of Magner’s various enterprises, even the strictly legal ones, had a whiff of malfeasance about them. His murder shocked Yankton, but few people in town would have been entirely surprised that he came to a bad end.

Yet he was always a popular, charismatic figure. In a rose-tinted recap of Magner’s life after he died, the editor of the Yankton Press & Dakotan wrote that, “many older citizens remember when, during his pugilistic career, he used to walk down the street and, seeing a group of boys pining to get into the theater, would pay the admission for the entire crowd.”

Magner did have one legitimate outlet for his athletic ability. Yankton’s fire brigade in the 1890s was organized around five hose teams, “and competition among these was very keen to see who could recruit the most prominent citizens,” according to the Yankton County History. As a well-known fighter, Magner would have been a prize recruit, and he was no mere show horse. At the South Dakota fireman’s tournament in 1896 Magner served as captain of Yankton’s winning hose cart race team, and he personally won the 100-yard foot race.

From the 1890s through the early 1900s, Patsy Magner split his time between Yankton and Sioux City. Both he and his brother Michael, who were 31 and 33 at the time, were listed as members of their mother’s household in the 1900 federal census. Michael’s occupation was “merchant,” and Patsy’s “button maker,” which is either evidence of a mother in denial or an inside family joke.

Michael and Patsy’s true occupation was operating saloons in Yankton and Sioux City, and they acquired their place in Sioux City after the previous owner was gunned down in the street. “Nobody ever connected them to the crime, but that was the kind of environment they operated in,” said Jim Lane, a Yankton native with a decades-long interest in Magner’s murder.

After Patsy Magner lost his farm in 1915, he bought this small house located along Old Highway 50 near Yankton.

Gambling went hand in hand with the saloon business, and not always harmoniously. Magner was hauled into court multiple times on related charges, most notably by T.D. Becker, who lost $12,000 in what he claimed was a rigged faro game.

In the course of their protracted legal wrangling, Becker “proceeded to catch the saloon men in a violation of the law [by] hiring Claude Klegin and William Grensel, minors, to purchase liquor from them,” reported the Sioux City Journal. Before the merits of that case could be argued, Magner was found in contempt of court and fined $200; to make matters worse, his attorney, after two hours of “a most bitter denunciation of Becker,” was forcibly removed from the courtroom.

Magner’s checkered history was no obstacle to landing a gambling concession in Bonesteel during the land lottery of 1904. He operated a saloon and managed to thrive while the bad men ran riot; an article in the Norfolk Weekly News-Journal asserted that “crooks reaped a rich harvest of $75,000 for their three weeks trouble. Patsy Magner made $20,000.”

Yet when the town’s troubles multiplied and its citizens sought help they turned to Magner, who adroitly managed the transition from big-time gambler to municipal savior. Account after account of the conflict hailed him for his role in returning control of Bonesteel to “the respectable element.”

Magner shot himself in the foot during the commotion, but in the flush of victory no one seemed to care. He traveled to Sioux City on the same train as Chief Clerk John McPhaul, and according to the Sioux City Journal, the crowd that greeted them, “gave the gambler who cleaned out the town … an ovation upon his arrival.”

George W. Kingsbury published Volume IV of his epic History of Dakota Territory in 1915. He included a short biography of Patsy Magner that made no mention of gambling, liquor or anything unsavory. Kingsbury’s Magner was a progressive farmer who followed “advanced scientific methods” and sent more cattle and hogs to market than all but a few producers in the state.

Magner started with 160 acres in 1902, according to Kingsbury, and added to his holdings until his ranch comprised 520 acres, “on which he has one of the finest sets of farm buildings in Yankton County or in South Dakota.” What Kingsbury neglected to mention was how that increase occurred.

“Magner came into [his land] the old-fashioned way,” Lane says, laughing. “He married Maude Paul, who owned it.”

Maude A. Paul grew up on a Nebraska homestead. After moving to Yankton she purchased a 320-acre farm — an unusual step for a single woman in that era — and ran it successfully before she married Patsy in 1905. Kingsbury conceded that Maude’s, “knowledge of agriculture and stock-raising is equal to that of her husband,” but that assessment would seem to be a considerable sop to Patsy, who was more familiar with saloons than barns.

Nonetheless, Patsy did find ways to contribute to the bottom line. “One of the stories my dad told me was that Patsy used to pay his workers at the farm in cash, then he’d play cards with them, and a lot of times win it back,” Lane says. “Well, one week these two brothers cleaned house, beat him pretty bad, and he flew into a rage. They had to hide out in a cornfield until he cooled down.”

Patsy and Maude also owned a thousand-acre grain farm west of Yankton, but when the census taker came around in 1910 Magner listed his occupation as “liquor wholesaler.” He and Mike operated what they called a “Family Liquor Store” on Yankton’s Third Street, while Patsy and another partner owned a saloon in Bonesteel, where he carried on as he always had.

On Jan. 27, 1910, Bonesteel’s city commission met to discuss whether Magner’s liquor license should be revoked. They were charged with, “selling liquor to men who were blacklisted by their wives [and] carrying on gambling in a rear room,” according to the Norfolk Weekly News-Journal. He managed to retain his license after a vote by the commission, but that result led to one alderman bitterly denouncing another for yielding to Magner’s pressure.

Patsy Magner wrangled a gambling concession in Bonesteel, where the 1904 land rush attracted 104,000 men.

Magner’s career as a big-time farmer was short-lived. In 1915 he and Maude mortgaged their home place, perhaps to raise money and expand to take advantage of the spike in commodity prices caused by war in Europe. Whatever the reason, it didn’t pan out. Their farm and its fine buildings were sold at a sheriff’s sale just three years later; they moved to a small property on the east side of Yankton, and Patsy began raising show horses.

Worse yet was on the horizon. Prohibition came to South Dakota in 1918, two years before the nationwide ban took effect. Magner’s liquor store and saloons had to close, which likely abetted what happened next. Trapped between their accumulated debt and diminished income, Patsy and Maude were forced to declare bankruptcy in 1921.

Magner listed his occupation as “manager of a soft drink parlor” on the 1930 census form. Given his record, it is difficult to believe he spent the Roaring Twenties serving Yoo-Hoo while fortunes were being made in illicit liquor, especially considering the wide open situation in Yankton, where the county sheriff was reportedly in league with the bootleggers.

In any event, Magner opened a card room and beer parlor, the Blue Fox, in the spring of 1933, just days after President Roosevelt signed a law allowing the sale of 3.2 percent beer. Prohibition ended later that year. To Magner, it must have seemed that happy days were indeed here again.

Patsy Magner's death was reported beneath a headline which spanned the Press & Dakotan’s front page on Dec. 31, 1934: “Patrick (Patsy) Magner, well-known businessman, age 65, was instantly killed about 10 o’clock while sitting in the parlor of his home … peacefully listening to the radio and talking with his wife.”

A coroner’s inquest was convened the next morning, and the first witness was Maude, who appeared “stoically calm” as she testified. “Mrs. Magner said her husband jumped from his chair as he was hit and said, ‘What the H--- is going on here!’ and that as she started to arise from her chair two more shots were fired at her.” Patsy managed to stagger into the bedroom, where he collapsed and died within minutes. Maude ran onto the highway and flagged down a passing motorist, who called the sheriff.

Sheriff William Hickey had little to offer when he testified. He used string to determine that the shots were fired from outside, through a window, but the ground was frozen and so yielded no footprints. All he found at the scene were four casings from a Colt .32 automatic.

Magner’s funeral, officiated by Msgr. Lawrence Link, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, was held at his home. By the Press & Dakotan’s reckoning, “the procession to the cemetery was a mile long.”

That very day the newspaper published a fire-breathing call-to-arms entitled “Smoke Out The Rat.” In the good old days, wrote the editor, men confronted each other “on the street, in plain view of the town’s people.” Magner, in contrast, was slain from the shadows by a perverted, cowardly rat, “the most stinking, furtive, unsocial and unclean [form] of animal life …. We wish to insist that this is more than a murder. It is the beginning of an obnoxious form of crime that must not be permitted. This ‘rat’ must be found and destroyed.”

By chance, new sheriff William J. Limpo and new state’s attorney Frank Biegelmeier took office one week after the murder. They vowed to vigorously investigate the case, and the county commission offered a $500 reward. But days, then weeks and months went by with no progress.

Scant physical evidence was no impediment to rampant speculation, of course; as with many murders, the first suspect was close to home.

“Grandma said Maude did it,” Lane says. “That’s my family tradition.”

Don Tucker and his wife, Ava, have restored the Magner home east of Yankton. Tucker points to the window through which the murder happened in 1934.

Patsy and Maude had a notoriously stormy relationship, according to this theory. Maude either did it herself or hired a guy, who left town right after the murder. In line with that explanation, the .32 caliber gun that was used indicates an amateur job rather than a big-time criminal conspiracy, according to Lane. “It’s not a very powerful weapon. A professional hit man probably wouldn’t choose it as his first option to shoot through a window.”

Magner’s past and current business dealings provided ample material for rumormongering. At the inquest, Maude testified “that her husband had intended to dissolve his partnership in [the Blue Fox Saloon] with Fred Fincke,” according to the Press & Dakotan. “She said there had been friction between the two men for some time and that the dissolution was to have taken place that very day.”

Fincke wasn’t called to testify, “and was not questioned by officers aside from being asked if he knew of any acquaintances who might possibly have had a motive for the slaying.” If he had any suggestions to offer they led nowhere.

Fred and Maude, as Patsy’s widow, sold the Blue Fox soon after the murder. That may have been Magner and Fincke’s plan all along, but it’s doubtful everyone in Yankton accepted such a benign explanation. Not when it became known Aage Christensen was the buyer.

“My dad was a big bootlegger,” says Aage’s son, Marvin ‘Pal’ Christensen. “He was partners with the sheriff. They did business all over Iowa, South Dakota and a lot of Nebraska.” Christensen senior owned a barn that served as the pair’s warehouse during Prohibition. “Whenever there was going to be a raid by the state they’d always let the sheriff know. So then he’d call my dad, and he’d get everything cleaned up before they came.”

Christensen went to work as a bartender at the Blue Fox after Prohibition ended. Buying the bar made for a simple transaction on both sides, but Frank Yaggie, one of Aage’s lifelong friends, couldn’t shake the idea that there was more to it.

“When Frank was on his death bed he called me in and said, ‘You know, I got to get this off my chest. We always thought your dad shot Patsy Magner,’” Christensen says. “So I told him, ‘Frank, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I doubt it.’ Then he died about 10 minutes later.”

Don and Ava Tucker now live in the house where Patsy was murdered. The house and its matching red-brick barn have both been beautifully maintained and restored. Tucker raises Rhode Island Red chickens and goats on the property, which sits on the eastern outskirts of Yankton.

Tucker is well-acquainted with the Patsy Magner story. “He was sitting right where I sit to watch TV,” he says. “I figure it’s safe enough. It’s not like lightning is going to strike twice in one spot.”

Tucker has had many conversations about Magner over the years, including several interesting discussions with Jerry Bienert, now deceased, a long-time county commissioner and storehouse of local history.

“Jerry said he tried to follow up [Magner’s murder] and figure out who did it, but he just kept getting stonewalled,” Tucker says. “It never went anywhere.”

Bienert did come across a rumor that the shooting was over Patsy Magner’s involvement with a young woman from a well-connected Yankton family, which could explain why the investigations always stalled.

So it goes when a crime remains unsolved. Every theory sounds plausible to someone, and they all have only one thing in common.

“Somebody just did it,” Tucker says, “and went on with their life.”

Editor’s note: This story is revised from the January/February 2016 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Tue, 03 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2209-1567494000]]>
<![CDATA[Minnilusa Links Old and New]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/minnilusa-links-old-and-new]]> <![CDATA[

By Paul Higbee

Rapid City's Minnilusa Pioneer Museum preserves all things Western. Pictured here is former museum director Reid Riner. Photo by Johnny Sundby.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the January/February 2015 issue of South Dakota Magazine. In 2017, Reid Riner left the Minnilusa and moved from Rapid City to Arizona . He passed away in a car accidentnear Phoenix in 2018. To order a copy or tosubscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

MUSEUM OBJECTS CAN sometimes speak more powerfully than words. Stroke Doc Middleton’s saddle at the Minnilusa Pioneer Museum in Rapid City. Feel the tooling, sniff the horn and let the leather scent transplant you to the open range.

That’s the very saddle the outlaw Middlelton used an 1893 cowboy race across the prairie, from Chadron to Chicago's World Columbian Exposition.The mansure couldride, although it appears he cheated in this race andperhaps also used the saddle for cattle rustling.

Which brings up an important point.The Minnilusa collection documents the pioneer history of the Black Hills, and Rapid City especially.The western frontier drew a wide range of opportunists, most of them honorable and some anything but.To fully understand the frontier, which has been both glorified and marginalized by media professionals over the decades, it is important to let these objects speak as they will.In other words, an artifact'spresence here isn't meant to say its original owner has been elevated as a role model for future generations.

That being the case, Peter Lemley's boots, hat and Winchester carbine are here.He, like Middleton, was part of the vast open range cattle business of the late 1800s, and can be ranked as one of the meanest cusses to ever walk Rapid City's streets.Lemley hated the Lakota people, was part of the civilian militia that played a role in events that led to the Wounded Knee tragedy, and it's been rumored he had his own son murdered.The son's offense? He loved animals and Lemley feared he was soft.

"But you never know what the restof the story will be when you find someone like that in history," notes museum director Reid Riner."Something good came out of even Lemley's story.Another son grew up to be a well-known Rapid City physician who started the Lemley Foundation.It's still supporting charitable work today."

Officers of the Sweeney Hose Company in Rapid City used this silver speaking trumpet to direct firefighters. The trumpet dates to 1888.

Juxtaposed betweenthe Middleton and Lemley exhibits is a photo cutout of Gus Haaser, a cattleman Riner considers a remarkably moral man."Haaser came from Norway, and he doesn't really look like a cattleman, but he made himself into a good one," Riner says."He wrote that he never saw the horizon in Norway, but thatSouth Dakota was nothing but horizon."

Gold mining usually grabs most of the attention when historians discuss Black Hills pioneers, and it is represented at the Minnilusa museum.But the industry Middleton, Lemley and Haaser were part of (honorably or otherwise) was integral, too, particularly in Rapid City."Beginning with the open rangeherds that came up from Texas, cattle brought in the dollars thatchanged Rapid City from a place of log structures to one ofbig stone business buildings," Riner says.Indeed, the town grew from 202 residents in 1880 to about 2,000 when South Dakota achieved statehood in 1889.

STILL,RAPID CITYgot off to a rocky start in 1876.On display here is the pocket compass John Brennan used, and the surveyor's chain, when six blocks were laid out in February of that year. In the middle of that area Rufus "Pap" Madison built a little rough-hewn cabin, destined to play a big role in the Minnilusa museum's own history 50 years later. In 1876, it was amazing the cabin survived as Lakota warriors repeatedly attacked the fledgling town.They werefully justified in their outragebecause Rapid City sat illegally on land set asidefor the Lakota people by federal treaty. By late summer most of the town's original pioneers had fled 200 miles east to Fort Pierre.

They returned in force in 1877 when the government assured them the treaty had been changed — an issue that remains in dispute more than 140 years later. Never dreaming future generations could possibly question their right to the land, the first Rapid Citians rolled up their sleeves and built homes, businesses, Gothic Revival churches of many denominations and schools.Among the schools was an institution of higher learning, the territorial School of Mines.In the middle of this rush ofconstruction, Grace French, a 26-year-old artist trained at Boston's School of Fine Arts, stepped off a stagecoach in 1885.French made Rapid City her home for the rest of her long life, and today the Minnilusa PioneerMuseum displays many of her paintings and sketches.Her art documents the beauty of the Black Hills before roads and other development encroached, back when Rapid City felt like a tiny village nestled in the foothills.

Grace French is just one of the artists and storytellers remembered by this museum.Others include poet Captain Jack Crawford, early photographer Jack Collins, historian Annie Tallent, and husband and wife newspaper pioneers Joseph and Alice Gossage.The Gossages made the paper known today as The Rapid City Journal into western South Dakota's premier paper, and in time Alice played a key role in launching the Minnilusa Pioneer Museum.

UNLIKE MANY HISTORICAL exhibitionsacross the West, the Minnilusa doesn't dwell extensively on bawdy enterprises, although it notes madam Dora DuFran ran a house of ill repute in Rapid Cityin addition to her Deadwood and Sturgis franchises.There's more emphasison above-board businesses that filled those big buildings cattle money built.

Soldiers stationed at forts around Dakota Territory may have carried firearms similar to this 1877 Colt single action .45 revolver.

"In interpreting mercantile businesses, it's effective to tell the stories of the personalities behind those stores," Riner says.And to be sure, downtown Rapid City claimed larger-than-life entrepreneurs.Cattleman Peter Duhamel's in-town job was overseeing a massive downtown store, andnearby he manufactured his famous Duhamel saddles.Tom Sweeney was a name known by everyone across western South Dakotaand sizeable sections of Wyoming and Montana.That was because of signsand handbills that read simply, "Tom SweeneyWants to See You."Once drawn into his big Rapid City store, customers weren't disappointed.They could buy everything fromtrousers to a freight wagon.

Sweeney didn't claim the only localslogan well known a century or more ago."Learn to say Cyco Cigar," read old print ads, referring to a tobacco product manufactured by Rapid City's own Gate City Cigar Company.Other earlymerchandisethat hasfound its wayinto the museum include a wicker purse, fine china and a Red Wing butter churn. Most intriguing is the museum's collection of patent medicine bottles and packaging."People came to Rapid City from places where there were no doctors, and if there had been, they couldn't afford them," Riner says."So they saw patent medicines as their best options for staying healthy."

Lots of those patent medicines contained alcohol, Riner adds, so customerscertainly felt better after a dose or two — for a little while. It's unlikely the modern Food and Drug Administration would have seen much merit in Dr. Hobson's stimulant, described as a "wonder drug promising to'cure while you sleep' whooping cough, croup, bronchitis, coughs, grip, hay fever, diphtheria & scarlett fever."But for ranch families living 100 miles from a doctor, knowing the "wonder drug" sat waiting in the kitchen cupboard brought comfort.

By the 1920s, Black Hills pioneers were passing away and, in too many cases, taking their stories with them. Communities suddenly took great interestinmonuments, celebrations and museums that would record pioneer names and adventures.That decade Spearfish unveiled its 11-foot-tall stone"Memorial to Spearfish Pioneers, 1876 - 1926." Deadwood launched its Days of '76 festivities in 1924.In 1926 inRapid City, Alice Gossage, the newspaper owner, put money andher considerable community cloutbehind an effort to repair and move Pap Madison's 1876 cabin to Halley Park, just west of downtown."The story is she just walked into a city council meeting and said it had to happen, and soit did," Riner says.

Richard Hughes, one of the bestBlack Hills historians and himself an 1876 pioneer, wrote this poem inscribed on a slab outside the cabin:

I was built in the olden, golden days,

When this was an unknown land;

My timbers were hewn by a pioneer

With a rifle near at hand.

I stand as a relic of 'seventy-six,

Our Nation's centennial year;

That all may see as they enter the Hills,

The home of a pioneer.

Not only was the cabin a museum artifact, it became a museum itselfafter items collected by the recently formed Minnilusa Pioneers' Association were displayed within."This society," wrote Hughes in the late 1920s, "organized to preserve data and relics of the early-day West River country andBlack Hills area, has in its membership many descendants of pioneers."Those early members decided touse a Lakotaterm for their association's name, one meaning "rapid water." When translated to English it gave Rapid City its name.

This pocket watch with human hair fob was fashionable in the 1800s. Jewelry made with hair was often carried as a tribute to lost loved ones.

While the Pap Madison cabin can be considered the Black Hills' first history museum (it predated Deadwood's Adams Museum by four years), it wasalso one of the smallest.For decades most of the relics collected by the association were stored in a warehouse.Beginning in the 1930sthe cabinshared Halley Park with theU.S. Department of the Interior's world-classSioux Indian Museum, a collection of Lakota artifacts placed in a new stone building built by the Works Progress Administration.In 1956 a new wing was added to that building, space that allowed the Minnilusa Association to take artifacts out of storage and intoexhibits.

"In 1956, in the minds of some people, an Indian institution and a pioneer institution didn't seem to belong together," Riner says.But in Rapid City it worked,and nearly 60 years later the two museums still co-exist under one roof, although not in Halley Park.They were among four museums that remained independentyet moved into the Journey Museum complex in 1997 (the others are the South Dakota Historical Society's Research Center and City of Rapid City'sDuhamel Plains Indian Artifact Collection).The Pap Madison cabin trailed behind, arriving in 2012.It standsin front of the Journey.

Riner became involved with Minnilusa in 2004.He grew up next door to Rapid City in Black Hawk, then left the state for 16 years for work and education.He earned a master’s in Public History at Arizona State. He enjoyed visiting the Journey Museum during trips home, and was ready to return to the Black Hills to stay when theMinnilusa position opened.Riner inherited a strong organization with a solid endowment and a collection that now numbers more than 6,000 artifacts, of which 30 to 35 percentare on display at any one time.

A West River cowboy made this horsehair bridle and rein set sometime in the 1880s.

The museum is also home to a collection of8,000 to 10,000 photographic images, most scanned into a digital format.The collection is proving itself invaluableto historians, publishers and individuals hoping to learn more about their Black Hills roots. Well-known Black Hills photographer Johnny Sundby serves on the Minnilusa board and helps manage the photos.Among his favorites are thosedepicting the towns of Pactola and Sheridan before reservoir waters claimed the sites, Rapid City's nearly forgottenAlfalfa Palace, mines, flume trails,Rapid City's first airplane flight in 1909, and development of Mount Rushmore and the Hotel Alex Johnson. "We're always looking for original prints people may have," Sundby says."They can take home a cleaned-up image wherescratches, discoloration and tape marks are gone."

Riner considers Rapid City's true pioneer years to have been from the 1870s until 1934 and 1935, when manned balloon flights into the stratosphere (documented well by the museum)moved Rapid City intothe nation'sconsciousness in a new way.

But that doesn't mean the spirit of old-fashioned town-building ended at that time.In fact, Rapid City's downtown redevelopment over the past decade is unmatched regionally, resulting in Main Street Square,artsvenuesand new dining and retail.There's increased emphasis on pedestrian access, ways for visitors to park their cars and move through what Riner describes as an evolving "cultural campus,"linking the museum to the civic center, historical district, public art and library.

"We've got the seeds for growing cultural tourism,"he says, "and a city government committed to making it happen."

It's happening even without Alice Gossage barging into meetings anddemanding action.

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the January/February 2015 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Wed, 17 Jul 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2199-1563346800]]>
<![CDATA[South Dakota’s Death Valley]]> <![CDATA[http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/south-dakotas-death-valley]]> <![CDATA[

By Colin Kapitan

Major League Baseball has long been known for its blend of interesting and controversial characters. One of the most interesting of the pre-1920 era was Deadwood native James "Death Valley" Scott.

Scott was enshrined in the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in 1985 for his nine years of excellence as a big league pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. He is unquestionably the most successful pitcher among native South Dakotans.

Scott was born in Deadwood on April 23, 1888. His father, George, was a weatherman and telegraph operator for the government. The Scotts moved to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation west of Mobridge and later to Lander, Wyoming. It was in the country fields around Lander at the turn of the century where Scott first found the joys of hurling a baseball past aspiring hitters.

Scott refined his pitching skills as a one-year college student at Kansas Wesleyan. He also spent one summer at Oskaloosa, Iowa, pitching for a semi-pro team. In 1908, Scott signed on with a Wichita, Kansas, team in the Western League. After only one season of professional baseball, he was sold to the Chicago White Sox and made his debut in the big leagues and celebrated his 21st birthday just days apart. He spent nine years in the majors, all with the Sox.

Scott's first appearance in a major league game was indicative of his career to follow. He won his debut 1-0, and he was glorified in print the day following by noted sports journalist Ring Lardner, who covered the game for a Chicago newspaper.

In his 1909 rookie season, Scott went 13-12, through his won-loss record is somewhat misleading. He pitched five shutouts that summer and was on the losing end of five 1-0 games. Scott lost four other games by a 2-1 score. It was the harbinger of his career.

The following year, Scott posted a 9-17 record for the White Sox. He spent that winter in Imperial, California, and upon his return for the 1911 season, he was quickly dubbed "Death Valley" after the legendary desert character called Death Valley Scotty.

The next two seasons were so-so for the tall, burly 235-pound, right-handed pitcher. In 1911 he was 12-11 and the following year only 2-2 as he saw limited pitching time.

But over the next three seasons, Scott was as good as any pitcher in major league baseball. In 1913, he was not only a 20-game winner but a 21-game loser for a second division ball club. He fashioned an outstanding 1.90 earned run average and highlighted the year in a game against the St. Louis Browns when he struck out 15 batters, including six in succession. Scott pitched in 48 games and totaled 312 innings that summer.

Scott's hard luck pitching was perhaps personified in the 1914 season when he pitched a no-hitter .... and lost. His record was 16-18 that year, and his toughest loss occurred on May 14 when he shut out the Washington Senators on no hits for nine innings only to lose the no-hitter and the game, 1-0, in the 10th inning.

(According to no-hitter historian Dirk Lammers, in 1991, the Committee for Statistical Accuracyamended itsdefinition of a no-hitter, "declaring it a game of nine innings or more that ends with no hits." Scott's "no-hitter" was officially wiped from the record books, along with 49 other such games that had been played throughout the history of Major League Baseball. Learn about them at Lammers' website, www.nonohitters.com.)

His biggest season was 1915. Scott won 24 games in 35 decisions and led the league with seven shutouts. This was also the year that he was on the mound when Detroit Tiger Hall of Famer Ty Cobb's 35-game hitting string came to an end.

Scott's record slipped to 9-14 the following year. In 1917, he was 6-7 with a sparkling 1.87 earned run average when he left the team in the middle of the season and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was the first major leaguer to do so. He later earned a commission as a captain before his discharge in 1920.

His major league totals for nine years read 111 wins, 113 losses, 26 career shutouts and a 2.32 career earned run average. Scott's career was noted by his character and sportsmanship almost as much as his superb curveball and deft pickoff move to first base.

Scott was one of the first baseball players to form a link with the world of show business. He and White Sox teammate Buck Weaver were married to two of the four Cook Sisters, whose singing act was the talk of Chicago in those days.

In 1914, Scott took his turn on the mound as the White Sox and the New York Giants spent the off-season touring places such as England, Paris and Tokyo. He even pitched before the Pope at the Vatican.

It was while Scott was at war that the famous Black Sox Scandal occurred. It involved eight White Sox players who contrived with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. In his later days, Scott confided to his son, "Had I still been with the team in 1919, it never would have happened. When I found out about it, I would have reported it for the honor of the game.”

Scott returned to baseball after his military service, but not to the White Sox. He refused an invitation because of conflicts with team management. Instead, he finished his professional career in the minor leagues, pitching four seasons with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League and two years for the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern League.

In 1923, Scott needed permission from Pacific Coast League president W.H. McCarthy to wear a mustache on the playing field. Such facial hair had long been taboo in pro baseball. Scott grew the mustache as a result of a winter Canadian hunting trip. It quickly became a good luck piece, as he pitched a no-hitter in one of his first games that year.

His playing days ended the summer of 1927, when he suffered a broken leg. Scott remained active in baseball, working as an umpire in the Southern League. In 1930, he became one of the few big-league baseball players ever to return to the majors as an umpire, working for three National League seasons.

During his minor league days in the Pacific Coast League, Scott worked winters in the movie studios. Following his retirement from umpiring, he went to work full time with such major studios as Warner Bros., RKO and Republic Pictures. He retired in 1951 and died on April 7, 1957 in Palm Springs.

Although he left South Dakota at an early age, there was a return of sorts in 1939 when his son, Jim Scott, Jr., pitched for the Northern League Sioux Falls Canaries under manager Rex Stucker. Years later, the younger Scott compared his own and his father's pitching skills. “I was a thrower,” he said. “Dad was a pitcher.”

Editor’s Note: This story is revised from the November 1986 issue of South Dakota Magazine. To order a copy or to subscribe, call (800) 456-5117.

Thu, 02 May 2019 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[article-2183-1556780400]]>
<![CDATA[southdakotamagazine.com History]]> (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Edmund Hettinger DC

Last Updated:

Views: 6258

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (58 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Edmund Hettinger DC

Birthday: 1994-08-17

Address: 2033 Gerhold Pine, Port Jocelyn, VA 12101-5654

Phone: +8524399971620

Job: Central Manufacturing Supervisor

Hobby: Jogging, Metalworking, Tai chi, Shopping, Puzzles, Rock climbing, Crocheting

Introduction: My name is Edmund Hettinger DC, I am a adventurous, colorful, gifted, determined, precious, open, colorful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.