Pioneer Days in South Dakota

Submitted by : Jacquie Proctor on behalf of her mother, Rose Williamson, daughter of Clarence Eitel and Lowell Starr; granddaughter of Jacob Eitel and Laura Clodfelter.

Pioneer Days in South Dakota, Published in Volume 30 of an unknown Letcher, Sanborn County newspaper in 1921 or 1922

The Following Interesting Story Is Told By Resident Who Has Been On The Ground Since 1877

(By R.E. Dowdell)

In compliance with requests of editors of the county and promises made early settlers, I herewith hand you a few lines which may be of interest to your readers. The writer feels that he has a good claim to the appellation, pioneer, but is aware that Sanborn County has others who could lay better claim. It was April lst, 1877, that we took up our abode in Dakota Territory sleeping our first night in a wagon-box on the platform of Bramble & Miners warehouse in the city of Yankton. On our initial trip we met at Yankton, then the capital of the territory, Judge Thornton W Brisbine, who later became a pioneer in Sanborn county and whose son Tom M. Brisbine of Artesian is probably the real territorial pioneer, now a resident of Sanborn county, having arrived in Dakota Territory with his parents in 1867, settling at Yankton.

Real Sanborn County Pioneers

In the summer of 1873 G.W. Hunter, George C. Walker and W.E. Taft filed on claims on the Jim river at a spot designated by the Indians as "Big Grove." At this point the original town of Forestburg was dedicated five years later. Here Ross Whalen, W.S. Stuart and A.H. Colton became the pioneer merchants. This spot was made historic in 1864 following the Indian massacre at New Ulm, Minn., when in pursuit of the hostile savages, General Sibley's detachment of the U.S.A. put in the ford on the Jim, known to your readers as Rodee ford. When the first settlers arrived there could be seen on the scaffolds in the trees the corpses of Indian braves whose spirits had passed to the Happy Hunting Ground accompanied by their earthly belongings, saddles, bridles, blankets, tomahawks, bows and arrows of the departed as was the burial custom of the Sioux.

In the summer of 1874 those two pioneers were joined by Cyrus B. Ingham, W.G. Santee and W.R. Belcher, two of whom settled at Brookings crossings at a point known to your readers as John Brown's Mound. The first sky pilot was Reverend John Morris, Episcopal missionary, who filed on a piece of Dakota soil at the mouth of Dry Run just south of the south line of what is now Sanborn county, here he erected the first church (a stone edifice), the first church in this section of Dakota Territory. It was with consternation that these pioneers faced the approaching winters. The buffalo was well nigh a thing of the past and the great herds of a few short years before were reduced to mere remnants and were shy indeed. The antelopes which were plentiful and fine eating in the fall were a poor substitute for meat in the spring.

A Blizzard That Was a Blessing

As a forerunner of a hard winter an October blizzard drove a herd of Texas steers which had strayed from the Indian agency to "Big Grove" for shelter and here they spent the winter, ----- which winter the settlers were not short on beef.

The First White Child Born

Two years passed and no death or birth had been recorded, but on April 4th, 1875, to W.G. and Mrs. Santee a child was born and he was christened Glenn. The Wayside Inn in which Glenn was born stood on the banks of the Jim in one of the most beautiful glens of the famous valley and will long be remembered by all who journeyed up and down the pioneer stage road which passed its door. Few who journeyed failed to pause, ask questions, drink of the sparkling spring water and be refreshed. For nearly three years those pioneers journeyed to Firesteel, a distance of twenty miles, for their mail, but on July 12th, 1875, a postoffice was established at the Santee home and W.G. Santee became the pioneer postmaster and R.F. Alerton the first mail carrier from Firesteel to Forestburg. Three members of that pioneer family are still residents of the county, Mrs. H.B. Rodee and Carl Santee of Artesian and Mrs. Roy Jopp of Union township. William McFarland came in 1875 from Yankton bringing the first herd of cattle to the county. In this year Cyrus Ingham moved his printing plant to Firesteel two miles east of the present city of Mitchell, where he established "The Jim Valley News." During this and the following year came the real test of the pioneer's staying qualities as the grasshoppers left desolation in their wake. The winter of 1876 was open, the Jim losing its scant supply of ice in February. In this year the Black Hills trail west through what is now Jerauld county was surveyed. In the fall of this year W.S. Dubois and family arrived and the following March Peter, a son of W.S., and Thomas Press lost their lives in a blizzard near the Pony Hills west of the present city of Woonsocket en-route to the gold fields of the Black Hills. No tidings as to their fate has e'er been had. The year 1877 ushered in the stampede to the gold fields of the Black Hills and with the bursting of that bubble pennyless men enroute for home indulged in horse stealing and the valley of the Jim seemed to have its full quota of that class.

A Community Center

The Santee home in those days was indeed the community center and that family will be known in future history as the pioneer family of the county. Here the first child was born, the first postoffice established, and here in the county lives Sanborn county's oldest living man Carl J. Santee, and the county's pioneer school girl, Mrs. H.A. Rodee.

Real Farmers Come

The year 1879 witnessed the arrival of real farmers. Preliminary surveys of three railroads which were to traverse the fertile valleys of the Sioux, Vermillion and James rivers, stirred the hearts and minds of the farmers of the states to the east, who no longer viewed this as the "Great American Desert" but who had come to realize that it was in fact soon to become the greatest bread and meat producing section on the continent, poured in in great numbers making this the land of their adoption.

Settlement East of the Jim

With this new influx settlement east of the Jim began. Among those whom we recall as coming in that year were H. Ashmore, Richard Hughes, Gus and Ben Denton, J.F. Berry, A. McCumber and sons William and -----, Ross Whalen, A.H. Colton, W. Stuart, George C. Terunlizer, A. McGilvary, Ephriam Corlis, G.C. Stoughton, J.J. Langley, S. C. Connor, F. Caldwell, George Arnold, Wilson Wise, George B. Weston, Angus McGilvary, E.A. Barker, J.E. Shuart, Thorington W. Brisbine and sons, T. M., Frank R., and William. Of this group of "seventy-niners" Wilson Wise was the first to bring his family. Most of those settlers were victims of the hardships of the winter of '80-'81. Wilson Wise had secured his seed wheat for the coming spring all of which was passed out to snow-bound pioneers, who with the use of their coffee mills converted it to life sustaining food.

Forestburg Re-located 1881

Reported location of the S. M. division of the C.M. & St. P. railroad prompted the removal to the present site. Some contended it would cross the Jim further north and on this supposition a little band of enthusiasts, headed by such enterprising citizens as L. N. Loomis, C. P. Grove, L.O. Libby, J.E. Carpenter, Mr. Woodruf and others started the town of Milwaukee Junction which for one brief year was bristling pioneer village, on section 7, Silver Creek township.

New Forestburg Makes Strides

The year 1881 saw new life in the county seat town to be: business building sprang up; stocks of goods arrived and the report that the town was to have a newspaper caused additional stir. This report was confirmed when in midsummer H. S. Douglas, a man of newspaper experience from the city of Waterloo, Iowa, arrived with a printing plant and on September 8, 1881, the first issue of the "Miner County Advocate" made its appearance. From the first issue it had a wonderful advertising patronage, not only locally but from Mitchell and Huron business men. During the season of 1882 Forestburg had grown to a thriving town of more than three hundred people. So hard was the task of hauling lumber from the far distant railroads that navigation of the historic Jim was ushered in. Bonesteel and Long arrived with two carloads. L. B. Rich opend up a yard with six carloads and T. M. Brisbine and other Oneida citizens indulged in a consignment, all of which was brought from Huron via the placid James. These cargoes arrived early in 1882. The following year witnessed the great arrival of homesteaders with their families, also the laying of the rails and arrival of the trains into Woonsocket from Mitchell on the south and Madison on the east. The first station agent at Letcher was Ed. Welch, F. E. Brady opened the station at Diana (now Artesian), F. J. McMillan at Forestburg. We do not recall who opened the station at Woonsocket.

Historical Association Suggested

I do not know when I shall next feel in a reminiscent mood but this I do know that were I to write of the happenings from the days of county division, 1883, to statehood in 1889, a true history of those events, which would embrace the firght to a finish between this and Miner county; the attempt to steal on the part of the latter and to hold on the part of the former the records up to date, the bogus appointment of a dual set of officers for the new county of Sanborn, the litigation and conflict of authority growing out of the same; the bitter fight between Letcher, then in possession and Woonsocket and Forestburg seeking to get possession, of the probable county seat, would indeed interest all who were then residents of the county, no matter where living today.

It is up to the sons and daughters of the territorial settlers to see to it that the history of the county of their nativity shall be written and properly preserved and to that end there should be held a county picnic this summer at which gathering a historical association should be organized into whose custody books, papers and articles touching on the county's history might be entrusted and preserved.

Robert E. Dowdell,

A Pioneer of Butler Township.

Copyrighted for Sanborn County 2002

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