Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Alonzo Edgerton and 1889 South Dakota politics

The name Alonzo J. Edgerton might have been linked with that of Richard Pettigrew or Gideon Moody’s as the first to represent South Dakota in the United States Senate.

“Edgerton was very popular throughout the state and he might have been able to secure the nomination (for U.S. senator) had he pressed hard enough to get it,” stated an article in Volume XXXIV of the “South Dakota Department of History Report and Historical Collections” compiled by the South Dakota State Historical Society.

Edgerton arrived in Dakota Territory in 1881, having been appointed chief justice of the territory’s Supreme Court by President Chester Arthur. He brought an impressive record of service with him from Minnesota, where he served as state senator, regent of the University of Minnesota, United States senator and was appointed the state’s first railroad commissioner. He organized a company of militia and served in the Civil War.

The movement for statehood was already underway when Edgerton came to Dakota Territory. Edgerton served as the president of the second constitutional convention of 1885. Voters in the southern half of Dakota Territory approved the constitution and elected a full roster of state officers. Edgerton and Gideon Moody of Deadwood were elected to the U.S. Senate and Arthur Mellette of Watertown was elected governor.

“Judges Moody and Edgerton were easily the outstanding figures in the convention, both of them slated to serve as the state’s new United States’ Senators later on,” wrote L.W. Lansing of the 1885 constitutional convention in a document contained in the South Dakota State Historical Society – State Archives.

Edgerton, Moody and Mellette went to Washington, D.C., in 1886 to plead the case for statehood before the House of Representatives, according to John R. Milton in “South Dakota: A History.” They were unsuccessful, as the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives feared that the new states would send Republicans to Congress.

The Enabling Act, also known as the Omnibus Bill, signed by President Grover Cleveland on Feb. 22, 1889, authorized constitutional conventions for Washington, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. This act cleared the way for South Dakota to become a state. Edgerton presided over this third constitutional convention in Sioux Falls. Later, the political parties held conventions to select candidates for all state offices.

Edgerton was again a candidate for U.S. Senator, under the banner of the Farmers’ Alliance party. When the time came to select senators for what would be the new state, Republicans Moody and Richard Pettigrew of Sioux Falls received the nod over Edgerton and fellow Farmers’ Alliance candidate Alonzo Wardall.

“When Edgerton refused to push his candidacy and finally withdrew from the contest, accepting the results of the caucus, he was accused by (W.H)  Loucks (of Moody County) of having betrayed the Alliance,” stated the Department of History article.

Lansing wrote that Edgerton withdrew his candidacy when Mellette extracted a pledge from Moody and Pettigrew that they would secure the federal judgeship for Edgerton.

“Edgerton denied that any ‘corrupt bargain’ had been consummated, but Loucks concluded that his acceptance of the judgeship proved he was a ‘traitor,’” the Department of History article stated.

Whatever the truth, Edgerton seemed to have support for being appointed federal judge.

According to an article in the Nov. 2, 1889, Black Hills Weekly Times, published in Deadwood, “By the terms of the omnibus bill the president is required to appoint a judge for the district of South Dakota … The question, ‘Who is the man for this exalted position?’ virtually has but one answer. The answer is, Hon. A.J. Edgerton of South Dakota. The press and the people unite in their opinion that no man in the state stands higher as a jurist, nor is so well fitted for the judgeship by education, and by life-long experience at the bar, on the bench and in the senate as is Judge Edgerton.”

Edgerton served as federal judge until his death from Bright’s disease at his home in Sioux Falls on Aug. 9, 1896.

A notice about Edgerton’s death in the Sioux Falls Press stated, “It was inevitable that a man of his positiveness and with his opportunities should inspire widely diverse sentiments among those with whom he came in contact – and it is therefore not strange that in his active lifetime, while thousands were bound to him personally and politically as with hooks of steel there were those whose relations with him were not so cordial – and he never took any pains to conciliate an enemy. But in all the clash of affairs with which he was connected no one ever alleged against him anything which was an impeachment of his personal integrity. His character as a man and citizen was absolutely above reproach, and there are multitudes throughout this new empire who will experience profound and sorrowful regret at his demise.”

This moment in South Dakota history is provided by the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising partner of the South Dakota State Historical Society. Find us on the web at Contact us at to submit a story idea.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"Deadwood Alive" to offer off-season performances

(photo courtesy of LindyLou)

Off-season performances of "Deadwood Alive" are being added for this fall and next spring  in historic Deadwood.  Read all about it in this Black Hills Pioneer story.  To learn about other history-related activities and events across the region, check out our "LINKS TO REGIONAL HISTORY NEWS" in the left-hand column. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Railroading highlights the fall meeting of LCHS

Reed Richards
More than 50 people gathered yesterday (9/21/14) at the Homestake Adams Research and Cultural Center in Deadwood for the fall meeting of the Lawrence County Historical Society.  Balmy weather, a program about railroading in Lawrence County, and another fine lunch catered by Cheyenne Crossing's Stage-Stop Cafe combined to lure one of the larger turnouts in recent memory. Guest speaker for the event was railroad historian Reed Richards  of Spearfish.

Richards gave a photographic tour of railroad history in the county, sharing a myriad of photographs that depict the important role that the rail industry played in the growth and development of the northern Black Hills — particularly as it related to mining.

Born in Deadwood in 1944, railroading seems to have been a life-long passion for Richards, and he recalled youthful activities that exposed him to the many rail routes, depots, bridges, and other infrastructure that once abounded throughout the area.  An attorney, Richards left the region for schooling and a stint in Sioux Falls because of his father's job in 1975, but otherwise has lived in Lawrence County all of his life.

Black Hills & Ft. Pierre train in Elk Canyon
"I've lived in Centennial Prairie since 1975…and still do some legal work, if my client can find me and it's the kind of work that I still want to do," he says.  "I enjoy putting up hay in the summer and studying history and archaeology in the winter."  And his lingering passion for railroad history is quite evident.

His extensive collection of railroad photos spurred much conversation among the attendees. From rail route maps, mines and old bridges to depots and roundhouses, there were dozens of photos that kept most of the group focused on the screen throughout his presentation.  Find a few more photos related to this presentation in our LCHS Gallery.

President Norma Kraemer took a few moments to unveil the new LCHS booklet  Town Timelines of Lawrence County, South Dakota.  The publication has been compiled under the auspices of the Lawrence County Historical Society as part of celebrating South Dakota's 125 Anniversary of Statehood this year.  Mary Gallup-Livingston of Whitewood has served as chairperson of the committee that has worked on the project. 

LCHS "Town Timelines" booklet
The Town Timelines booklet includes information and photos from Central City, Deadwood, Lead, Nemo, St. Onge, Spearfish, and Whitewood. Among those participating in production of the booklet were Rocky Mattson, Donna Watson, Mary Livingston, Cynthia Harlan, Jean Martin, Don Toms, Norma Kraemer, Jeannine Guern, and Joanna Jones.

The booklets have been distributed free of charge to the public libraries in Deadwood, Lead, Spearfish, and Whitewood.  Also, copies have been given to the elementary schools in Whitewood, Lead-Deadwood, and Spearfish, where South Dakota history is taught in 4th Grade.  Individuals interested in purchasing a copy of the booklet should contact the Lawrence County Historical Society.  The cost for the booklets is $15.00 each.  Send an  e-mail to Town Timelines

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

LCHS loses long-time supporter Milton Mitchell

We are sorry to report that  one  of our long-time historical society members,  Milton Mitchell,  died earlier this week (7/21/14) in Rapid City. He was 84 years old.  

A native of Lawrence County, Milton continued a family tradition of ranching in our county.  He was named "Outstanding Young Farmer" in 1959. 

He is survived by his wife, Jacke Mitchell; children Len (Darcy) Mitchell, Le Anna (Dave) Nielsen, Toby Harley and Roxanne Harley; eight grandchildren; ten great-grandchildren; two sisters:  Cheri Miller and Rev. Bee (Quentin) Neufeld and numerous nieces and nephews.  

Milton's wife, Jacke, has been the long-time Treasurer for the Lawrence County Historical Society.  He was on hand at our LCHS Spring Meeting in late March when Jacke was presented with an award for her long service to LCHS.

Funeral services for Milton were held Thursday, July 24, at the St. Onge United Church of Christ.  Our condolences go out to Jacke and all members of the Mitchell family.

A memorial has been established with the United Church of Christ in St. Onge.

Read the entire Milton Mitchell obituary from Fidler-Isburg Funeral Chapel.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Map of the Deadwood region before statehood

This is an enlarged section of an 1884 Lawrence County map, showing a few of the mills and mines around the Lead, Central, and Deadwood area.  Toward the upper right of the map (just south of the old Centennial Park Hotel and Post Office) is Cliff House.  We're wondering if that might be the site of what later became known as the Half-Way House between Spearfish and Deadwood.  The map is included in the 1884 Andrea's Historical Atlas of Dakota Territory. (Thanks to the Case Library at Black Hills State University)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Author visits Black Hills for ancestral research

One of our joys at Historical Marker is hearing from folks across the country who inquire or comment about a story – or a photograph – and occasionally share information on a particular topic.

John Lundberg ca. 1889
In May, we received an e-mail from Alabama author Linda Alexander, whose great-grandfather immigrated to the United States in 1880 and would spend several years in the Black Hills as a miner – and a successful one at that.  His name was John Lundberg, and Linda was researching his years in this region.

Linda and her husband came to Spearfish in early May, unexpectedly witnessing one of our spring snowstorms.  She spent the better share of a week poring through documents in libraries, the Lawrence County Courthouse, as well as the Homestake Adams Research and Cultural Center (HARCC), where we were able to meet and visit with her and her.  Linda was well equipped for her research, having already amassed considerable information and photographs, but she was looking for more.

Her abilities in research and writing have been honed through years of work as an author, as well as her passion for genealogy.  Among others, she’s written biographies about Nebraska's Robert Taylor (Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood, & Communism)  and actor Jack Kelly, who portrayed Bart Maverick in the television series Maverick more than 50 years ago (A Maverick Life - The Jack Kelly Story).
And so now she’s on a course of assembling a biography that hits close to home.  John Lundberg was not only Linda Alexander’s ancestor, he was a Swedish immigrant whose exploits in mining earned him and his family a good living.  In fact, he was co-owner of Lundberg, Dorr, and Wilson mining in the northern hills.  He married his wife in Keystone and they would eventually buy a home in Terry, where there son was later born.

We’ll not give away any more of this story, since Linda Alexander has kindly shared with us a “mini-biography” of John Lundberg – along with some photos.

Here’s a link to her biographic sketch of John Lundberg.

By the way, you can find Linda Alexander's books  at,, and  -- I suspect -- a variety of other online sites.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

LCHS finally earns official non-profit status

After many long years of working to achieve non-profit status, the Lawrence County Historical Society (LCHS) has finally been recognized by the U. S. Internal Revenue Service as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.  That official blessing came on May 13, 2014, according to LCHS President Norma Kraemer.

LCHS President Norma Kraemer
"It means that money we receive as contributions, whether as bequests, devises, transfers or gifts, are tax deductible for the donor," said Kraemer.

"It also means that we may apply for grants to accomplish our own projects from organizations that require us to be a 501 (c)(3) organization."  

"While it took the IRS 17 months to act on our application, it was a much longer process by the board of directors of the Lawrence County Historical Society.  It involved incorporation under the laws of South Dakota while our President was Jerry Bryant.  The incorporation was guided by David Wolff and Larry Miller."

The next step, according to Kraemer, was IRS paperwork, which would not have been possible without the work of Treasurer Jacke Mitchell.

"The data she provided me to complete the application was concise, making it easy to fill out the IRS application," Kraemer said.

The LCHS board of directors welcomes proposals for projects.  Kraemer says they've set up guidelines to make it an easy process.  Persons with proposals are asked to contact President Norma Kraemer at to start the process.

The Lawrence County Historical Society strives to bring together people interested in preserving, protecting, and promoting the history of Lawrence County and South Dakota.  Membership in the society is open to all and now totals about 145 persons.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A look back: Water Rights in Lawrence County

(NOTE:  The following article was included in the 1981 book Some History of Lawrence County, published by the Lawrence County Historical Society.  Authored by Don Chastain, the story is found on pages 656-658 of the publication.  Some History of Lawrence County may be found in Lawrence County libraries and other libraries across the region.) 

The following is an incomplete sketch of how water was valued by the residents of Lawrence County.  The account, which focuses on one community, is thought to be representative of the County at large. Each community and major industry viewed water as its lifeblood, and each secured, preserved and at times fought for this precious fluid with the same conviction and determination as the one depicted below.

Water has been vital to the people of Spearfish since the area was first settled.  The 1885 City Charter states the intent "to construct and preserve reservoirs, cisterns, wells, pumps, and other waterworks, and to regulate the use thereof..."

The water, which came primarily from Spearfish Creek, was fiercely protected by the Spearfish residents.  An October 18, 1897 article from the Queen City Mail captioned "Spearfish Will Protest," announced the intentions of Deadwood to draw 200 inches of water from the Spearfish Creek for domestic use.  The Mail bitterly attacked what its editor interpreted as a flagrant disregard for legal rights established by early Spearfish settlers.  The paper stated that "as self-preservation is the first law of water it is but natural that our people should interpose a strong objection."  The attack then widened to include Homestake by suggesting that the company should have been enjoined years before from diverting water from Spearfish Creek.  "Because our people have allowed one corporation to rob them," the article proclaimed, "it is no indication that we will tamely submit to a repetition of the dose."

In December of 1897, Belle Fourche entered the protest, first with a letter to the Queen City Mail referring to the large sums often paid for water rights and the length of time many of these rights had been held.  Then, under the caption "We All Kick," the Belle Fourche Bee indicated that everyone in the valley would be "injuriously affected" by any reduction in the water supply.

In one December 15, 1897 article, a Spearfish man was quoted as saying "It strikes me that a man who had to use a Winchester in locating a ranch would use one to protect his right after twenty years' labor and occupancy in making it a home."  On the twenty-second of that month, the Mail again blamed Homestake for instigating the water diversion issue.

1897 had been a dry year, and there would be others.  Climate plus the growing needs of industry and expanding communities would again ignite the water issue flames of hostility.  In February of 1899 Homestake announced its intention to invest one million dollars to construct a system which would divert water from Spearfish Creek to supply water for its mills and for domestic use in Lead, Deadwood, Central and Terraville.  The Queen City Mail related on January 17, 1900 that the Cascade Water Power and Electric Transmission Company had started injunction proceeding against Homestake and the Black Hills Canal and Water Company to prevent them from diverting water from Spearfish Creek.  The following month the J. D. Hardin Syndicate with property along the Redwater and in Spearfish Valley joined the fight to protect Spearfish water.

The battle over water rights existed not only between Spearfish and other communities, but within the Spearfish community itself.  As parties settled in the Spearfish Valley, some established homes along the Spearfish Creek and claimed water rights.  Several neighbors then cooperated to establish a ditch which would supply water needed to irrigate their contiguous farm lands.  As a result, by 1914 eight such ditches existed.  That year saw an unusually dry summer, and as some ditch owners drew more water for their lands, owners of other ditches received little water or, in some cases, none at all.

Joseph Cook and thirteen others brought suit against two hundred and seventy-three defendants, including the Cattle Feeders Loan Association, the Congregational Church Society, the Episcopal Church Society, the Homestake Mining Company, and the Board of Education South Dakota Regents.

The trial, held in Lawrence County circuit court, lasted seven weeks.  The plaintiffs sued to obtain adequate water but, in effect, lost the case.  The Eighth Circuit Court established a priority for each claimant and further allotted varying amounts of water for each.  The Court stated that when water is not in sufficient supply for all, those rights established first and ranked highest will use their allotment even if others ranked lower are left with no water.

Cook was ranked eighth in priority behind (1) Evans, (2) Ramsdell, (3) Spring Ranch, (4) Evans, Ryan, Gay, Joseph Ramsdell, Smith and Riedrich Cooperative, (5) Walton, (6) Homestake Mining Company, (7) the Brady, Bronson, Jones and Rosenbaun Cooperative.  Several of these claimants were allotted more water than Cook.

The decision was appealed, and in 1921 it reached the South Dakota Supreme Court which reversed the decisions made in lower courts.  The Supreme Court ruled that rank could not be established chronologically.  The Spearfish Valley belonged to the Sioux Indians prior to February 28, 1877, and homesteaders had no legal claim.  On March 3, 1877, just a few days after the Indians had ceded their rights to the Government, the Desert Land Act prohibited future reparation claims.  No one had claimed reparation rights during those few days;  therefore, the lower court's "first come - first served" position was declared in error.

The Supreme Court further claimed that one man should not suffer because another man's land won't hold water.  Nor should large tracts of land receive more water per acre than small tracts.  Therefore the Court ruled that each claimant was to receive one quarter inch of water for each acre, regardless of when the claim was filed, the size of the claim, or the condition of the soil.

The November 16, 1921 issue of the Queen City Mail contended that Cook had won his case.  The paper, calling the decision "revolutionary," claimed that "the Cook ditch owners...will receive ample water for the irrigation of every acre of their lands, ...and they feel amply repaid for the effort, patience and trouble required to attain the end."

The City of Spearfish has its scars from water battles.   In November of 1899 the City was served notice by Joseph Ramsdell that it would be held for damages if water was diverted from the spring branch of Spearfish Creek.

Such action slowed city water use, but in 1930, Spearfihs was granted the right to take approximately 150 inches (2.94 second feet) of water from Spearfish Creek, and in 1954 Spearfish constructed a 550,000 gallon reservoir for its 6000 residents.

While the dust has settled somewhat, the water rights issue may not have forever slipped into obscurity.  In 1975 an article appeared in the Denver Post with the caption, "U. S. Claims Imperial State Water Rights."  You can imagine how that set with folks around here.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Immigrant artifacts shared at LCHS spring meeting

Ronette Rumpca
About 40 people braved some nasty weather to enjoy the spring meeting of the Lawrence County Historical Society last weekend (4/30/14) at the Homestake Adams Research and Cultural Center in Deadwood.  But what's a little snow and ice to South Dakotans in the spring?  We can always use the moisture, right?

Speaker for the event was South Dakota Humanities Scholar Ronette Rumpca from the State Historical Society in Pierre, who provided some keen insight into the varied immigrant groups that settled in South Dakota.

Many immigrants found their way into Dakota Territory in 1863 after passage of the first Homestead Act.  Few places had the enormous ethnic diversity found in early Lead, due largely to the concentration of peoples who had come from near and far to find their fortunes in gold mines of the area.  In his book, Deadwood,  the late Watson Parker observed that 41 percent of the original members of the Society of Black Hills Pioneers were foreign-born.

A "troll doll"
 Although their concentrations were far more prevalent in eastern South Dakota, Scandinavians could be found statewide -- along with Germans, Germans from Russia, Irish, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, and many others.  The wonderful patchwork quilt of ethnic groups was an important part of Dakota diversity -- evidence of that diversity is still found throughout the Black Hills and across the state.

It was an opportunity to not only hear about the immigrants, but also to get a close-up look at many of the artifacts that they brought with them from the old world.  Ranging from Swedish Dala horses and Chinese guardian lions to Norwegian lefsa sticks and other unusual items, many of which were passed among the audience for closer inspection.

Milton and Jacke Mitchell
An outstanding buffet luncheon was served by Dave Brueckner and his staff from the Stagestop Cafe at Cheyenne Crossing.

A special presentation was made to long-time society treasurer Jacke Mitchell of Spearfish.  An engraved coffee mug -- noting her significant contribution to the society -- was presented by LCHS president Norma Kraemer.

By the way, you can see more photographs -- and in higher resolution -- by following this link to our LCHS Photo Gallery.

There was also a reminder of the forthcoming spring tour to the Hydro-electric plant in Spearfish on Sunday, May 18th.  The tour will also include a downtown walking tour of the historic Spearfish Commercial District.  Watch this site for details!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"The Sampson of the Black Hills"

Maurice Walsh
Maurice Walsh was a native of Limerick County, Ireland, who came to the Black Hills in1876, arriving in Deadwood in time to help lay out the town on April 26, 1876.

Walsh undertook many things during his lifetime that brought him a reputation for being the "strong man" of the Black Hills.  En route from Cheyenne, one of the horses died on the trail, which made it necessary to pull one wagon by hand.  Walsh, along with several others, did the job, taking 21 days to accomplish the unbelievable chore.  Walsh continued to Deadwood where he got a job operating a placer mine for seven dollars a day.

There he lived in a cave under a bank.

He was in Deadwood at the time Preacher Smith was killed, and years later was to reveal that he felt the good preacher had been done in by gamblers who felt their livelihood threatened by "Bible-toting" Smith.

In 1877 Walsh homesteaded near Spearfish but then went to work in the mines at Central City.  It was there that he performed a feat of strength that added to his reputation as the "Sampson of the Black Hills."

As the story goes, he was offered $125 to clear a site for the building of a hotel.  The area was covered with spruce trees and thick underbrush.  He engaged the help of one man and a wheelbarrow.  The helper dug around the base of the trees and then Walsh, using his powerful arms as a stump puller, jerked the trees out by the roots.  By 6 p.m. that day the job was finished, and he went to collect his $125.  The man who had hired him objected to paying $125 for just one day's work, but Walsh told him, "You'll pay me according to the agreement or I'll twist you like I did the trees."  One look at the six foot plus, 240-pound man convinced the employer.

Walsh was married to Mary Lynch at Deadwood in 1891 and the couple moved to Redwater ranch, and later to Spearfish.

(Excerpted from the Deadwood Pioneer Times, May 26, 1976 and reprinted in the 1981 LCHS book  "Some History of Lawrence County")

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Bernie Williams Awards announced for 2014

Deadwood History Executive Director Mary Kopco behind three of the winners of the Bernie Williams Awards.  They are (l-to-r) Kashton Dillman, Kaitlyn Martin and Alex Pearson
Deadwood History, Inc. has announced winners of the 2014 Bernie Williams Award. 

Bernie Williams was a strong supporter of the communities of Lead and Deadwood, an advocate for children and a dear friend of the Deadwood History museums. When she passed away in 2009, Bernie left a legacy in hope and historic preservation. The Bernie Williams Award for History honors her legacy by offering a full calendar-year scholarship to all Deadwood History youth and family programs for the winning students.

Lead-Deadwood students in grades K-8 were asked to submit a piece of artwork, using any type of art media which reflects a favorite part of living in the Black Hills. 

Six winners were chosen this year. Kindergartener Eain Bender, second grader Connor Bender and third grader Kashton Dillman all used acrylic paint on canvas for the artwork submitted. Second grader Kaitlyn Martin used construction paper and markers for her creation, as did fifth grader Alex Pearson, and sixth grader Jazclynn Ortiz created her project with colored pencils. All work submitted was very unique and artistic. The artwork will be on display in the Pioneer Room at the Adams Museum through February 28, 2014.
Congratulations to Eain, Connor, Kaitlyn, Kashton, Alex and Jazclynn. Deadwood History is deeply grateful to the late Bernie Williams for inspiring our youth to treasure their communities, art and history. 
(Thanks to Rose Speirs)