History of Oacoma

Lyman County, South Dakota  Genealogy


80 YEARS AGO    Jan. 25, 1917 Lyman County Argus, Oacoma
Lyman County first opened for settlement Monday, Feb. 10, 1890, when a gun was fired off at Chamberlain to signify that the great Sioux Reservation, consisting of 14 counties west of the Missouri River, was open for settlement.
Land was taken under what was known as "squatter's rights". Terms-$1.25 per acre paid to the US Government and must reside on the quarter for five years; a quarter of land per home site.
    The only settlement in the county previous to opening the reservation, was down-river (southwest) a short distance from Oacoma, called Lower Brule. Many people were employed by the US Government and lived there to take care of the Indians. There were churches, schools, shops, warehouses and offices; a post trader who kept merchandise and a court consisting of Indians before whom the Indians settled their controversies, and a number I of houses and other buildings used for different kinds of work were erected there.
    A provision made by an Act of Congress to open land for settlement. Indians wishing to stay, couldOthers left for the reservation north up-river. The agency settlement remained on the river for several years after the homesteaders came. The Indians were scattered all over the county in separate camps, and came in at stated times for supplies.
    Oacoma was started mostly by a lot that came from Plankinton who took great interest in building up a town. They named the town Sherman. Sherman was short-lived; a dispute among themselves over the interests of different parties caused the US Govt. to require all to move off the site. Soon, another attempt was made to start a town, calling it Gladstone. The parties were again ordered off by US authorities. Some moved a distance north and the site required a name.
    Dr. James Rigg of Plankinton gave it the name O-A-Coma. The Oacoma post office was established at this location with Mr. Rigg as postmaster.
    A land office was established at Chamberlain and there, an application for a town site was filed for the new town of Oacoma.

(Very long history follows. Newspapers on microfilm at Cozard Memorial Library.)

by Florence Holmes Wait, 1961

Oacoma's first school was started the fall of 1895, in a rented store building belonging to Jay Wellman. The first teacher was Miss Myrtle Farmer of Chamberlain. Florence Holmes, just five years old the preceding June, was one of the first pupils, together with Mabel Kenaston, Emily and Agnes Auld and some Hickey children. Parents had to purchase the school books for the children at the Kenaston General Store. Classes were differentiated as "Readers." A child started in the primer then to first reader and advanced according to his or her ability to read.
   School was held the second year in the Fulford building on the south side of Main Street with Bertha Stocks as teacher. Miss Mary Stocks also taught a year or two. Mr. E. E. Morford taught one year. Then the school was moved to a residence northwest of the courthouse. Miss May Griffin of Kimball taught two years until she married Henry Juelfs and moved onto a farm at Dirkstown. Some years later a frame two-room schoolhouse was built in the north part of Oacoma. Mrs. C. S. Brackett of Chamberlain taught two years, also Mrs. (Dr.) Chaney, Miss Bertha Smith, sister of Frank Smith of the Whitbeck Bank. After attending school for 12 years, Florence Holmes was the first high school graduate; and the first graduating exercises were held May 5, 1905, in the Christian Church. Florence wore a new white graduating dress made by her mother and read an essay entitled, "The Value of a Purpose." The school superintendent that year was Professor J. D. Rouse.
   The Congregational Church was organized soon after Oacoma became a town. A minister from Chamberlain drove a horse and buggy over and held services on Sunday afternoons in the Fulford building upstairs hall. The little Episcopal Chapel was purchased after Lower Brule Agency was moved. The Congregational Home Board of Missions helped to pay the $200 and the deal was negotiated through the Episcopal Bishop Hare. The building was located on the south side of Main Street. The Rev. George E. Brown was the first resident pastor. He had a wife and three children, David, Jr., Jack and Helen. Preceding that, the Rev. David Parrin had preached in Oacoma as a summer student pastor. He later married Miss Lora Walker, whom he met there. About 1903, Rev. George W. Dodge, a single man, came to Oacoma and began to hold religious revival meetings in Martins' Store Hall.. They continued for several weeks that summer and Disciples of Christ Church was organized as a result. Two lots on the west side of Lichenstein Street two blocks north of Main Street were donated by a Mr. Lemuel Wait and his wife. A church building was built with some volunteer labor. It was called the Christian Church. In 1933 the little Congregational Church building burned. By that time the Christian Church discontinued so the Congregational Conference negotiated for the Christian Church building which was used for several years, being served by ministers from Chamberlain. About 1960, the Oacoma Church was merged with the Chamberlain United Church of Christ which was formerly called the Congregational Church. Sunday School was maintained in Oacoma for a time, then the building was left vacant. With some alteration it was finally turned into a Fellowship Memorial Hall used by the Womens Fellowship for their monthly meetings.
   One of the first resident doctors in Oacoma was Dr. J. Y. Batterton. He and his bride  came from St. Louis and settled in Oacoma. He started a drug store. Previously "patent medicines" such as "Peruna," "Lydia Linkham's Pink Pills for Pale People," "Swamp Root," "Fletcher's Castoria," "Allen's Footease," along with castor oil, liniments and cough syrup, were to be bought at the general store. After Dr. Batterton moved to Eagle Butte, a Dr. I. Ishkanian, a Syrian by birth, came to Oacoma and was a fine physician. He arrived there in the early thirties. He was a good singer, guitar player and took ardent part in the establishment of the new Christian Church. But some sort of gossip or scandal had followed him and he was forced very unfairly to leave.
Sickness and Funerals
"Consumption," now known as tuberculosis, was very common and "consumptives" went about spitting on the street during their prolonged illness, and mortality ran high as a result. Diphtheria was a dreaded disease and took a great toll of lives of young and old. It was extremely contagious and sometimes several members of one family would succumb to it. Scarlet fever caused the death of many children as did measles, smallpox and whooping cough. Vaccination for smallpox was just being started at the turn of the century.
was not accepted when it was first introduced. The older people were very much opposed to it. Upon the death of a relative or friends, a coffin was purchased in Chamberlain at the furniture store and friends "laid out," that is washed and dressed the corpse as a friendly service. Cloths were soaked in salt peter and kept moist over the face to prevent discoloration. Pennies tied in bits of cloth were laid on the eyelids to keep them closed. A few geranium blossoms picked from house plants were the first flowers used.
   Kindly friends often lined the unsightly open grave with strips of muslin. A baby's coffin was often carried on the knees of relatives to the graveyard. "Setting up" with the corpse was a custom and presumably necessary to keep the face cloths moistened. Several friends gathered at the home of the dead person and stayed up all night visiting, and a lunch was always served about midnight.  Metal ornaments on the top of the coffin were often removed after the funeral to be saved as "keepsakes."
Funeral services
were usually held in the homes with a choir or quartet providing the several songs. Long tear-provoking eulogies, sometimes scarcely recognizable as referring to the departed person, were read at the funeral service. 

    Oacoma history
by barbara speck,  1996

    The town site, surveyed by Newton Gilbert, was completed Aug. 19, 1891, when the 55.15 acres of land received was surveyed and platted as Gladstone while Benjamin Harrison was president.
    The patent for the town of Oacoma was obtained from the US Government July 14, 1893, by Lyman County Judge John G. Bartine, and recorded in Register of Deeds I.N. Auld’s office July 24, 1893. The town became the first county seat for Lyman County (1894). The original courthouse building burned to the ground. It is believed to have been set afire by men who were being tried for cattle rustling.
    The Lyman County Courthouse was eventually moved to Kennebec in 1922, following a near riot as people from Reliance and Iona joined Oacoma in an effort to keep the seat in Oacoma. In an article in the Oacoma Argus Leader, dated Nov. 14, 1922, Kennebec won the right to move the seat to Kennebec by 11 votes. Several county officers in favor of the move were from Kennebec, which made it difficult for Oacoma to defend the ballot boxes which had been secured in the clerk of courts office, who also happened to be from Kennebec and is alleged to have unlocked the doors to his office long enough for the Kennebec men to secure the boxes before the Oacoma men discovered the theft. In a related article in the Oacoma History Book, the following reads: "We stood on the hill west of town and watched as lines of cars taking the county records left for Kennebec when Oacoma lost the county seat."
    Many early travelers and settlers stopped overnight at Oacoma, resting their livestock and horses before starting for Chamberlain and parts east in the mornings, crossing the river by ferry or pontoon in the warm months and over the ice during the winter months.
    Once the area was opened to homesteaders, the town site grew rapidly with such necessities of life as lumberyards (two), two banks, two newspapers, blacksmith shop, restaurants, hotels, drug store, land offices, lawyers, doctor, three grocery and general merchandise stores, fire and sheriff’s departments, a jail, saloons, and of course, the courthouse.
    The town’s first ordinance was for the control of alcohol. Graceland Cemetery dates back to 1890, or earlier. The first school (a two-story wooden structure) burned to the ground in 1907, and school was held in various buildings before the new brick building of today was built in 1925. Parents bought their children’s school books from the Kenaston General Store in 1895. Florence Holmes-Wait was the first person to graduate from Oacoma High School, May 5, 1905. This building was used until closing permanently in 1995.
    Basil Hickey built the first hotel in town; first sidewalks in 1905, on both sides of Main Street; in 1909, sidewalks were built on the east side of Auld Avenue to the railroad crossing, and by 1911, residents were required to build their own sidewalks in front of their property or the town would do it for them and bill them.
    The mail schedule to Chamberlain from Oacoma in 1904, was: Lv. 6:30am, Ar. 7:45am and Lv 6:40pm, Ar 8:10pm.
    In August of 1905, the railroad crossed the river; the first rail service being the White River Valley Rail Service Co. The first telephone reached Oacoma in July; county judge, C.S. Argo; notary, Frank Smith; reg. o deeds, Wm. V. Cullen; county auditor, Chris Mhyre; editor and publisher of Gazette Leader, Wm. Williamson; Lyman County Sheriff, John R. Pickett, and cattle inspector, Leo N. Dunkel.
     First jail, 14’ wide x 9’ high, and the first organized town cleanup in 1906-07. Wm. McManus was the fire chief, street commissioner, city pound master and town marshal, all for $50 per month. The city had purchased a 60-gallon fire engine. Elwood Kentch was appointed town marshal Sep. 3, 1912. Oacoma almost became a dry town Apr. 23, 1910, when 29 people voted against selling liquor and 30 voted for. Also in 1910, the city purchased 220’ of fire hose and a fire department was formed with Frank McManus, chief.
    Some taxes noted include: Bartine’s taxes for ½ block of land in 1907- $75; Peter Dirks was taxed $50 for a diamond ring in 1909; J.E. Stanley assessed $100 for an automobile in 1912; Frank Harmon was assessed for two cows, and Charley Hodgin a tractor, in 1937. A poll tax in 1909, of $1.50 for each able-bodied male 21 and over. And, last but not least, a dog tax of $1.50 for each male, and $2.00 for female dogs.
    A mild earthquake shook the town early in the morning of Jan. 2, 1922. No damage done although some dishes were rattled and spilled onto the floor.
     The city’s artesian water well was drilled in 1936, by A.V. Depue under WPA Docket 7414. A fee of six dollars per year was charged each resident with a tap.
    In 1938, the Oacoma Town Hall was built (from lumber from the old abandoned courthouse) on lots 11, 12, 13 and 14 of Block 13, donated by M.Q. Sharpe.
    The Oacoma City Park committee and many volunteers from the community created the beautiful park Oacoma now has. Part of the equipment found in the park today came from the West Park Campground (1995) located where Cedar Shore Resort sits (NE of Oacoma along the banks of the Missouri River) today. The equipment and picnic shelters and barbecue grills, as well as the two mandatory out-houses, were moved over to Oacoma prior to construction of the resort.
    New water and sewer lines accommodate Oacoma's water system installed in 1994-'95.
       At this time (1996), Oacoma has the distinction of being the fastest growing small community in South Dakota with the construction of two fast-food businesses, three motels, the resort, Chevrolet dealership and western wear store, two convenience stores, two car washes, laundromat and three apartment buildings, all in the '90s!
      By 1998, the city had installed concrete streets throughout the town with the exception of Main Street and a portion of Dougan Ave. Housing development continues in the Priebe Addition north of town and in the village proper. A second campground, Hi 'n Dri,  sits north of the business loop, Exit 260.
     Note - 2008: All main streets in Oacoma are concrete. Many new homes have been constructed along the county road leading north out of Oacoma with an additional small housing development located on the flats beyond the top of the hill. Six houses have been constructed . Cedar Shore Resort has added a convention center to their facility, and the Town of Oacoma built a large beautiful community/convention center at I-90 Exit 260. A Shell station/convenience store, second car dealership and large antiques facility have also been established along the business loop. Oacoma's oldest business, Mueller's Store/Al's Oasis has been enlarged to include a small mall area between the restaurant and expanded grocery store. Oacoma's newest business (2007) is a branch of First Dakota Bank located in Al's


 Written by Ben Brave. Taken from SD archives, 1943

     The town site of Oacoma grew up near the Lower Brule Indian Agency in the south central section of South Dakota. The agency was located on the flats and foothills two miles west of the Bice property, southwest of present-day Oacoma. Approximately 1,400 Lower Brule Sioux Indians were encamped there. The historic Lower Brule Indian Agency Cemetery can be seen at the bottom of the west hill out of Oacoma. The main agency house (Atey Api Ote) was used for officer’s quarters where business matters and treaties took place.
    Near the agency, a village of about 100 log cabins, an Episcopal Church, a Mission house, shops, office, warehouses and trader post and a school stood. Originally named Nobleton, then Sherman, and finally, the name was changed to Gladstone as indicated on many abstracts of property in the west half of Oacoma. On the east side of Gladstone, (Aug. of 1890) the US Govt. established a post office named Oacoma.
    Sept. 11, 1888, commissioners came and were welcomed at the agency headquarters for the great treaty of the Grand Sioux Reservation under the Cleveland Administration. The chiefs signed or touched the pen and went to other reservations in all of Dakota Territory. July 1, 1889, Atey Api Ote opened headquarters for Rep. Commissioners, Gen. Crooks, Senator Warner and Gov. Foster who had been sent for required signatures for a majority (75% of male Indian population) for approval to move the reservation. July 4, there was a celebration at Chamberlain and there was a great gathering of both white and red people.
    When the Indian Reservation was moved 40 miles north, all buildings were sold or torn down. The officer’s quarters building was sold to the highest bidder, a Mr. Luke C. Hayes who sold it to a Mr. Kenaston who removed it to Oacoma to a place where Iron Nation used to locate. It was later remodeled and became the residence of Judge and Mrs. William Williamson, Congressman. It is perhaps the oldest and best known house, and worthy of recognition in Lyman County. Williamson’s sold the house to M.Q. "Ted" Sharpe, former Governor of South Dakota.
     The reservation was moved and the following winter, 1890, the great Sioux Reservation was opened for settlement. The people rushed across American Island and the site of Sherman/Gladstone/Oacoma.




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