Monday, December 22, 2014

History takes a hit in Deadwood — and maybe Hot Springs?

by Larry Miller

Balancing "historic preservation" with 21st century "progress" can be a dilemma for some folks.

We don't believe all buildings should be saved just because they're old, but sometimes it's not quite that simple.

Take, for example, historic Deadwood, which has lost a bit of ground as a National Historic Landmark, a designation conferred by the National Park Service.  The NPS last month told the good folks in Deadwood that their status as a landmark community has been downgraded from "satisfactory" to "watch" status.

"Historic" downtown as it looked Deadwood in 1888
It seems they don't like the way Deadwood has allowed some folks to tear down old buildings that have been deemed historic.  Now, there may well be a legitimate debate about what constitutes a truly "historic" building and one that simply is old and reflects little about our heritage.

But apparently this downgrade comes — at least in part — following a commitment that First Gold Hotel and Casino made to preserve and restore an old Sinclair service station that was on property adjoining their facility.  It appears they reneged on their commitment, and the building was torn down.

I suspect the good folks at the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre — they're the entity that delivered the bad news to Deadwood — are aware of more details as to why the National Park Service yanked the "satisfactory" status from Deadwood.

And if news reports of the facts contained in the National Park Service report are accurate, we'd have to say shame on First Gold.

But perhaps the bigger blemish should be cast across City Hall in Deadwood.  These are the elected and "hired hands" who should be ensuring that commitments made to the city by private businesses are enforced.

For us, in this instance, there is no dilemma — only a significant lapse of enforcement by city fathers and staff in Deadwood.

Deadwood landmark status downgraded - Rapid City Journal - Nov 14, 2014

While this is certainly a "blemish" on historic Deadwood, it pales beside the issues facing another National Historic Landmark in the Black Hills region — the Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs.

For more than 100 years, Battle Mountain Sanitarium has provided medical care to veterans across the region.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) named this facility a "National Treasure" in 2012.  It is one of the few properties "owned by the Department of Veterans Affairs to be designated a National Historic Landmark."

The Battle Mountain Sanitarium is at the very top of the National Trust's list of "Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places in the United States."

NHPT writes that, "The VA is moving forward with a proposal to abandon the facility and relocate medical services 60 miles away, in Rapid City.  If the VA moves ahead with its plan, it will remove the largest employer in the self-described 'Veterans Town,' as well as leave behind dozens of vacant, historic buildings to an uncertain fate."

If the Hot Springs site is abandoned, it will not only be a loss in preserving our heritage — it will likely be accompanied by the more significant loss of services to veterans in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming who have relied upon the Hot Springs facility for many decades.

That would be a tragic loss.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Alonzo Edgerton 1889 politics of the new South Dakota

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 ofDeadwood 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.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

New DAR chapter honors four area residents

Hank Frawley
Four residents of the northern Black Hills were honored today (9/20/14) by the Daughters of the American Revolution for their individual accomplishments in historic preservation and community service.  They were guests of honor at an afternoon recognition tea at the Whitewood Community Hall.  The event was sponsored by the Catherine Thybo DAR Chapter, which is based in Belle Fourche.

Leading the list of honorees was Henry J. (Hank) Frawley, who was awarded the National Historic Preservation Medal for his long and enduring work in historic preservation.  The 77-year-old Frawley has been a nearly life-long resident of the Centennial Prairie area between Deadwood and Spearfish.  His grandfather Frawley was a frontier attorney in the early days of Deadwood and expanded his interests to mining and ranching.  Once the largest ranching operation in Lawrence County, Hank Frawley has worked tirelessly to preserve significant portions of what remains of the original "Frawley Ranches,"  the Centennial School, a pioneer dugout, and more.   His efforts resulted in the Frawley Ranch being listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

Lynn Namminga
An Historic Preservation Recognition Award was presented to Deadwood resident Lynn Namminga, whose restored Victorian home at 12 Lincoln Avenue is considered one of the "jewels in Deadwood's historical crown."  By the time he bought the home more than 10 years ago, it had fallen into major disrepair.  From the foundation to the roof, major repairs and restorations were made, and the home has been finished and furnished in a manner reflective of elegant homes at the beginning of the 20th century.  (Take a quick photo tour of our Namminga Gallery). Namminga continues to offer his skills for other community restoration projects, and he serves on both the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission and the Lawrence County Historical Society board of directors.

Al Shaw of Belle Fourche and Mary Gallup-Livingston of Whitewood were presented Community Service Awards from the DAR.  Both have long and impressive records of volunteerism in their communities.

Community Service award recipients
Al Shaw and Mary Gallup-Livingston
Gallup-Livingston was a key organizer for the 125th Anniversary of Whitewood's incorporation in Dakota Territory.  She served as chair of the Legacy Committee, which completed a major legacy activity for each month of 2013.  Her volunteerism has ranged from working with both the Whitewood Senior Citizen Association to young people alike.   She was instrumental in getting the "Tree City USA" designation for Whitewood and also is a member of the Genie Club, which provides volunteer genealogical work.  She serves on the board of directors for the Lawrence County Historical Society and was lead writer for Lawrence County Town Timelines.

Shaw is a World War II vet whose list of volunteer activities is also long and diverse.  And having served as ball turret gunner on a B-17, he has never forgotten the plight of less fortunate veterans.  Shaw has chalked up thousands of miles driving a Disabled Veteran's Van for veterans needing to get to Fort Meade and Rapid City.  He has served as part of a military color guard for many years and has been a classroom speaker regarding his experiences.  Among his most gratifying volunteer experiences was serving some 30 years as a member of the Belle Fourche Volunteer Fire Department.   He has been a regular volunteer with "Meals on Wheels" and a long-time member of the Belle Fourche Lions Club, assisting with projects like the picnic shelters in city parks.

This was among the first initiatives of the relatively new Catherine Thybo Chapter of the DAR.  For a few additional photos, visit our Black Hills Gallery.

In 2015, the DAR will be celebrating its 125th anniversary.  Organized in 1890, it is a non-profit, non-political volunteer women's service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America's future through better eduction for children.  It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Black Hills Power gives boost to history project

Deadwood History, Inc. was selected to receive a $1,000 Black Hills Power grant.   The grant will help develop the “You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet: Deadwood” project scheduled for 2015. 

Pictured in the photo at left are (left to right): Mark Rambow, Deadwood History Development Officer, Darrel Nelson, Deadwood History Exhibits Director, Marsha Nichols, Black Hills Power External Affairs and Carolyn Weber, Deadwood History Assistant Director. 

Our future depends on healthy, vibrant communities and opportunities for our friends and neighbors to fulfill their potential. To that end, Black Hills Power makes donations for civic, cultural, social and charitable purposes.

“You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet” will focus on how Deadwood’s visionary leadership in the 1920s left the city with a lasting legacy of historic preservation and economic development.  

The project is comprised of two main components.  The first involves creating exhibits rich with artifacts and historical documents detailing many of the challenges city leaders tackled to ensure Deadwood’s continued economic success.  The second component includes a series of live performances featuring period art, literature, fashion, music and current events taking place across the nation.  

With this project, the audience will become immersed in the culture of the 1920s, thereby giving them a greater understanding and appreciation of how the visionary ideas, innovative problem solving skills and tenacity of the city’s leaders created a Deadwood generations of people have come to enjoy.

(Thanks to Deadwood History for this story and photo)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Montana digs dinosaurs...

by Larry Miller

It was a hot and dry summer afternoon when, nearly 40 years ago, I walked along a hillside in Hot Springs, South Dakota, taking pictures of Chadron State Coillege students, feverishly working at unearthing a collection of mammoth bones. It had been a remarkable discovery, one that would bode well for the community, Chadron State College……and science.

And this week, I learned there’s another paleo-playground just across the border in Montana.  It’s a burgeoning dinosaur business that’s been thriving for, oh, several millions of years. 

Don Matthesen (left) and MSU student Jack Wilson
Montana State University and its Earth Sciences department spiritual mentor Jack Horner (of Jurassic Park fame) have put together “the largest paleontological field program in the country.”  MSU students have hit the road all across the state, and we met one of them this week in Ekalaka, which is nestled in far southeast Montana.

Jack Wilson is an Earth Sciences major at MSU, and he’s one of the young folks who’ve helped the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka become one of the finest small museums in the region.

He and fellow students assist the museum staff in numerous ways, examining and identifying fossils, conducting research and helping with exhibits.  Another MSU student, a graphic arts major, recently redesigned what is now an impressive museum website.  There’s little doubt that these young folks are helping revitalize the Carter County Museum.

Friend Don Matthesen and I have visited a few museums around the area over the past couple of years, and each one has its particular attraction.  However, I confess I was more than a bit oblivious to the museum at Ekalaka, and when he first mentioned it, I hesitated a bit.  But Don and I have found a lot of interesting things during earlier museum treks, so I quickly warmed up to the idea of visiting the Carter County Museum.

The expressway to Ekalaka, Montana
The three-hour trip from Spearfish to Ekalaka took just a bit longer, since we had to navigate through a herd of several hundred cattle on Wyoming 323 about 20 miles north of Alzada.  Having grown up in Nebraska, I'm not unaccustomed to seeing cattle driven across country -- but this was something a bit different.  

It was quite an experience in itself, watching the cattle meander along the road and ditch, prompted occasionally by a pickup and a gent on a four-wheeler, which more often than not is the new steed of choice for ranchers these days.

After arriving in Ekalaka and enjoying a hearty breakfast at the Wagon Wheel cafĂ©, we spent several hours exploring the museum, which offers a real variety of items.  From arrowheads and dinosaurs to pottery, photographs, old newspapers, and well-constructed exhibits reflecting American Indian life on the plains through the era of white settlements by early pioneers.  And the price is right, too:  Free.  Of course, generous contributions are always appreciated!

You can enjoy a brief photographic tour by visiting our Carter County Museum gallery.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Old Fort Meade National Cemetery event well done!

Two afternoon performances of Voices from the Hills offered visitors a grant opportunity to learn more about a few of the interesting people buried at the historic Fort Meade National Cemetery near Sturgis.  The Memorial Day presentations were blessed by wonderful weather and splendid performances by area talent.
Above are Sergeant David Lawson (Randy Bender) and Ellen Gray (Jan Lamphere) who told their stories and shared information about the old fort and days gone by. The goal was to "...preserve our history, and honor those who came here in the service of their country."  By all accounts from the audiences, they accomplished their task!  For a a few photos from the event, visit our Fort Meade Cemetery Gallery.