Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Great Western Cattle Trail


Peggy Ables, Betty Olson and Paul Higbee kicked off the season for the Spearfish Area Historical Society on Sept 2, 2014 at the High Plains Western Heritage Center.   Over 80 people were in attendance.
Did you know that the cowboys who ran cattle from Texas to South Dakota were, for the most part, 13 and 14 year old boys?   (answer:  they were)   Did you know why they went so far north as South Dakota?   (answer:  because after the Civil War, the livestock needed to be grazed and the short-growing season in SD locks in nutrients in the grasses for cattle).   Did you know that Great Western Cattle Trail markers were dedicated this July 2014 at the Heritage Center in Spearfish and at the Tri-State Museum in Belle Fourche?   (answer:  Yup! They were.)

Western South Dakota can claim a large part of the history of the Great Western Cattle Trails that ran from Texas and New Mexico through Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska and ended in Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota.  Peggy Ables told stories of this year's July event hosting the Great Western Cattle Trail Association members.  Betty Olson told of her legislature that was unanimously approved for an un-paid holiday in South Dakota on the 4th Sat in July to celebrate the Day of the American Cowboy.   Paul Higbee described how many, many cowboys came to the area on a cattle drive and then decided to stay and live in Lawrence, Butte and Meade counties.  Some of them included Tom Gay, Zee Russell, Leo Russell, Billy Sutton, and Slim McNutton.
See three original saddles from the cattle trail and learn more at the High Plains Western Heritage Center.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tour and History of Centennial Schoolhouse



The May 6, 2014 program for the Spearfish Area Historical Society was held at the Centennial Valley Schoolhouse, followed by a discussion by Hank Frawley back at the Spearfish Senior Citizens Center.   The tour group packed the schoolhouse on the cool, rainy evening.  


The one-room schoolhouse has been restored all the way down to the maps and the chalkboards on the walls and the desks and pot-bellied stove. They added an outhouse and two century-old, cast-iron merry-go-rounds and a cast-iron slide for authenticity.   

The schoolhouse was restored by Denver developer, Daryll Propp, German partner Mike Kreke representing Douglas Holdings, and supported by monies from the Outside of Deadwood Grant Program. 

Centennial Schoolhouse was originally built in 1880. 


In recent years, second grade students from Spearfish move their studies to the schoolhouse for an entire day.   Although their follow-up written comments are mostly about the cast-iron merry-go-round, the experience of living and learning as their great-great grandparents did is likely one they will remember.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Quarnberg & Wendelken Families in Dakota Territory


Riverside Mill, Dakota Territory 1880 (hand-painted photograph)
The April 1, 2014 program of the Spearfish Area Historical Society featured the stories of the Hans & Minnie Quarnberg family as they crisscrossed Dakota Territory from 1869 to 1913 to settle in Belle Fourche and the Ralph & Anne Wendelken family, who set up farming in Spearfish Valley Redwater Hill in 1922.    Approximately 72 people attended the program led by the Jack Wells family (Jack, MaryAnn, Richard, Linda, and Allen).   MaryAnn is the granddaughter of Hans Quarnberg and daughter of Ralph and Anne Wendelken.
From friendly Indians buying flour from the mill, to watching an ice flow taking down the railroad drawbridge in Chamberlain, to a motorcycle falling backwards down a hill in the Badlands, the stories were plentiful.
Hans Quarnberg
Tri-State Mill, Belle Fourche 1929
Hans Quarnberg was an innovator and entrepreneur, building two water-powered flour mills near Vermillion and one in Cascade Springs before he was 35.   He managed a mill in Chamberlain and then bought the mill in Belle Fourche at age 58, incorporating as Tri-State Mill.  

With two of his sons, Tri-State greatly expanded throughout the northern hills and Rapid City areas.   

Hans kept innovating and, at age 67, located a new water source for Belle Fourche and built a canal and hyrdro-electric plant for the mill.    At age 72, he opened a clay pit and started up a brick factory Black Hills Clay Products Company in Belle Fourche.
Wendelken Dairy of 40 Guernseys on Redspear Farm
Ralph and Anne Wendelken farmed at the northern end of Spearfish Valley (Redspear Farm).  

The Wendelken Dairy provided milk to much of the area from 1923 to 1940's.  

An eight minute original film from 1937 of life on the Wendelken farm concluded the program.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Railroad Photography in South Dakota


Dakota Southern at Yankton in 1873
Rick Mills shared a collection of photographs of earliest (1987) to current railroading in South Dakota.   Eighty-three members of the Spearfish Area Historical Society enjoyed the varied collection at the Spearfish Senior Citizens Center on Mar 4, 2014.  Rick Mills is the Executive Director at the South Dakota State Railroad Museum in Hill City. 


Burlington Northern at Spearfish Depot late 1890s
Rick took the audience through the photographs explaining when, where and how each picture tells the historic tale and becomes significant to South Dakota's past.  The first photograph was of the first train in South Dakota, the Dakota Southern at Yankton in 1873 which connected Yankton to the existing railway network in Iowa.  Another showed the Chicago Burlington & Quincy train at the Spearfish Depot headed for Spearfish Canyon to Englewood in the late 1890s.  There were oh, so many more.

Visit the South Dakota State Railroad Museum at 222 Railroad Ave Bldg A in Hill City, follow their website at sdsrm.org, or give them a call at (605) 574-9000.   Share a story or a photograph with Rich Mills and staff at the museum.



Rapid City to Huron with sun effects

Friday, March 7, 2014

Mormon Cricket Invasion in the 30's

The Feb 4, 2014 program on the "Mormon Cricket Invasion in the 30's" was presented by Doris Schenk, Rocky Courchaine, and Betty Haiar to 61 members of the Spearfish Area Historical Society at the Spearfish Senior Citizens Center.  The invasion of millions of crickets hit the Sundance, WY area in 1937 following a record dry year in 1936.  The oversized Mormon cricket is not really a cricket but is a katydid, getting its name from an infestation in Utah where the arrival of a flock of seagulls saved the Mormon crops from complete devastation.  Mormon crickets move in a mass, hopping but cannot fly.  They bark like a Chihuahua.  Local actions were taken by building trenches and low 6" fences to stop the advance so that killing by pesticide could work.  The pesticides used were 1) banana oil and arsenic, 2) recycled oil, and 3) carbaryl, the active ingredient in Sevin.  Mormon crickets are cannibalistic and a poisoned cricket would weaken and quickly be eaten, poisoning the cannibal, and on and on.  People working near the arsenic did report feeling ill.  By 1938 the cricket invasion was under control.  Mormon crickets haven't totally left the Sundance area as Rocky reported that small but noticeable numbers were spotted only a few years ago.

Doris Schenk made these comments for the website posting:
             This program came about when Jane Carlstrom who does the Peak at the Post column for the BH Pioneer put a news note from 75 years ago in 1938 "They took down the Mormon cricket fence".  Someone was curious and asked Laurie Hayes "What is a Mormon cricket fence?"  Laurie asked me if I knew what it was and I did and she asked if I would do the program. 
             My Mom had saved pictures of Mormon crickets from the front page of the Sundance Times and I had made a copy for Ellen (Crago) Mueller who had grown up near Beulah, WY.  Ellen had done some research on Mormon crickets and she sent me a copy of her paper in 1996 which I used as a resource for the program.
             I remember, as a 4 year old, seeing the crickets on the road and in Sundance along with used oil in the road ditches there.
             The people who helped with information and displays were:  Betty Haiar (notes from her mom's diary 1937-1938), Rocky Courchaine (displays from Crook Co Museum), Donna and Randy Sachau (photos of crickets from the internet put on a DVD, Alice Pattinson (diamond willow can carved by the CCC boys and given to her in-laws, Dorothy Honodel (pictures from the Lawrence Co Extension Office), John Whalen (good information and a piece of the metal from the cricket fence, Paul and Violet Smith (good information from the cricket file she had created at the Sundance library).  Also thanks to Donabel (Nickelson) Ross, Carl Anderson, and Claire & Maxine Ripley for their help.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hold-up of the Spearfish - Miles City Stage


Ninety people braved a cold, snowy night on Jan 3, 2014 at the Spearfish Area Historical Society program to hear Paul Higbee tell the tale of the Miles City to Spearfish stage coach robbery on a similarly cold, snowy night in Feb 17, 1894. 

The stage coach was an open buckboard with no passengers and it was carrying U.S. Mail holding cash.  The stage was coming from Miles City headed to Spearfish at about 11pm on a Saturday night and was about where BHSU campus is now when they turned a corner and two gunmen stepped out. It was dark with no moonlight.  Ernest Flynn was the driver.  The gunmen had pistols.  One was tall and the other short.  The tall man told Ernest that he didn’t want to hurt him.  He said he just wanted the mail, then asked for Ernest’s money, his watch and his tobacco.  Ernest gave all up to the robber and then asked for his tobacco back and got it back.   After reporting the robbery, the authorities went to the site but the snow had covered all tracks.

The Post Office assigned the case to employee M.C. Fostness from Des Moines who arrived a few days later.  The first suspects were two strangers in town, one tall and the other short.  But, they had a good alibi as they had just gotten employment in Deadwood.  The second suspect was a businessman from Sundance who had broken into a barn and pawned a watch.  It turns out the watch was not the stolen watch, so he was cleared.  The third suspect was driver, Ernest Flynn, himself.  M.C. Fosnes set up an elaborate “dummy envelope” planted on the appropriate delivery line.   Ernest did not take the bait and was cleared also.

Finally, a year and a half later, a jail talker spilled the truth about what had happened and the robbers were convicted within 30 days.  Tom Pitts was the talker and happy to talk.  Ulysses Pitts was his cousin.  Ulysses, his wife, Sally, and her son had moved to a rented farm near Beulah.   They took in a border whose name was George Hayes.  George fell in romantically with Sally.  It was a small farm.  They had no money so Sally set up the idea to rob the stage and tried to get Ulysses and George take up her cause.  The first night failed as Ulysses and George came back saying it was too cold.  Sally was mad and three nights later, the robbery occurred. 

The trial took place in Sioux Falls against Ulysses and George.  Sally was not charged.  Ulysses got five years, spent one year in the penitentiary and then got out on a pardon by President McKinley.  George spent eight of his life sentence in the pen.  Sally and her son were not seen again.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Tom Matthews' Personal Touch in Rennovating Matthews Opera House


On Dec 2, 2013, the Spearfish Area Historical Society meeting was held at the Matthews Opera House.  Fifty-seven people came out on a night when the roads were icy and the snow was flying.  Tom Matthews shared his personal history and his and the community efforts to renovate the Matthews Opera House fifteen years ago.   Paul Higbee introduced a 10 minute video of the history of the Matthews Opera House; the video was commissioned for the 2006 Matthews Opera House centennial celebration and was also shown on SD Public TV.   TIE Media Services produced the video with Paul Higbee, Julia Monczunski and Ryan Phillips participating.
The Matthews Opera House was built and owned by Tom Matthews' great-grandfather, Thomas N. Matthews, and owned by the family until 1946 when the building was sold to Mike Kelly.   Tom grew up in and around the building.  George Wagner was the caretaker when Tom was a young boy when the building was no longer used for its original purpose as a theatrical stage.   Instead, it was used for various extraneous activities such as roller skating by the light of a single 60 watt bulbs dangling high up from the center dome, a dance studio, dance hall, gymnastics, basketball court, and even a shooting gallery where the target was hung up on stage.  Tom remembered many fun and rambunctious times in the Matthews.

A major part of Wyoming history was the Johnson County Cattle War in April, 1892 between the homesteaders and open range ranchers.  After the war, ranchers were in need of someone to ship their cattle out and Thomas N. Matthews provided that service with a team of cowboys.  The profits allowed Thomas to expand his business interests into Spearfish and Sundance from his main ranch in Gillette, WY.  The idea for a theater came from a women's group where one of the women had seen the Crystal Theater in Gonzales, TX, the town known for the first skirmish of the Mexican American War.  The Matthews Opera House building is frequently called the "Matthews Block" because the original adjacent sandstone building was called "the block" and the name stuck when the theater was built.
Thomas Matthews originally paid $50,000 to build the Opera House which opened on Dec 3, 1906, with a political farce-comedy called "The Lion and the Mouse".  For its first 10 years, many traveling repertory companies paid repeated visits to packed houses of 300 people.   By 1917, "moving pictures" came in to the Opera House and live performances became less frequent.

By the mid 1980’s it was determined that serious restoration work would be needed to preserve and protect the Opera House if it were to reach its centennial year.  The Spearfish Downtown Association took the first step and formed the non-profit Matthews Opera House Society.   The building was leased from owner Mike Kelly with a 95 year, rent free agreement that the restoration would proceed on a timely basis. The first restoration phase was completed by 1989. Work continued into the 90’s and was completed by the end of 2006, the official centennial date of the opening of the Matthews Opera House. 
The renovation itself took a tremendous effort by many, many volunteers.  Practically everything needed repair.   Tom Matthews and his wife, Theresa, had started a doll hospital in Indianapolis when they lived there to attend college.   The experience they gained in antique repair came in to play in helping renovate the Opera House.  The center dome was painted by Dick Dubois and Theresa Matthews.  All reliefs were originally made of plaster of Paris and easily crumbled.  The right side box was badly damaged and Tom had the left box removed so that it could be carefully replicated to create a new right box.  Tom also found the original color "red" in the wall just to the right of the metal column on stage.   The floor was sanded and refinished with good results, but now the floor is so thin that it can never be sanded again. 

Today the Matthews Opera House hosts live theater, staged musical productions and many local events.  Today's seating maximum is 270 compared to the original narrower seating to hold 300.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Runge Shares History of Spanish American War Memorials in Lawrence County

Michael Runge - City Archivist for Deadwood
On Nov 5, 2013, Michael Runge presented "An Overview of Lawrence County Spanish American War Memorials" to an audience of 62 people at the November Spearfish Area  Historical Society meeting.  Michael is an anthropology graduate from the University of Wisconsin and is currently the City Archivist for the City of Deadwood.
There were four Spanish American War Memorials given to Lawrence County, two in Deadwood and two in Spearfish.  

Spanish American War Cannon in Deadwood
The first to arrive was the bronze cannon placed in front of the old high school in Deadwood on July 8, 1899.  It is still there although the school is now the elementary school.  Investigating the history of the cannon, Michael Runge found the cannon's serial number and contacted the Spanish National Archives who handily responded.  The cannon originated at the instruction of Queen Isabella II in a letter dated 1861, requesting its shipment to the Philippines.  A year later, the cannon was built by the Royal Foundry in Seville and was shipped around the Horn of Africa and Cape of Good Hope to Manilla Bay.  The Spanish American War began in 1898 when the Battleship USS Marine was sunk and on April 25 war was declared.  By April 30, South Dakota had 1008 volunteers, with 62 from the Northern Hills. The war was quickly won and approximately 1200 cannons were captured.  The mayor of Deadwood at the time was Sol Star and Sol and a group of businessmen requested a cannon to celebrate the 4th of July and also welcome home the First Regiment of SD Volunteers for the Spanish-American War.  Although the cannon arrived late on July 6, on July 8, 1889, it was dedicated in a ceremony led by a citizen dressed as Uncle Sam.
The second memorial to the war is a hollow cast white bronze statue currently located in Spearfish Park in front of the log building.   In 1899, women from Spearfish organized to obtain a monument to honor two soldiers who had lost their lives in the Spanish American War.  They raised money at community events in Lead, Deadwood and Spearfish.  Phoebe Hearst was a major benefactor.  On Oct 3, 1900, the statue was originally placed at Rose Hill Cemetery but it was later moved to the city park.
In the spring of 1905 at the Spearfish Normal School under Fayette Cook, two Spanish American War cannons were requested and the graduating class put together funds to build a base and later place the cannons in front of Woodburn Hall.   In 1942, the students under Dr. Jonas wanted to support the war effort and gave up the cannons for scrap metal.
USS Maine Shell
The last memorial is the smallest of the four, but the story brings us to modern times.  The memorial is a shell from the Battleship USS Maine sunk in Havana Harbor, Cuba.   In 1912 it was salvaged and hauled to Key West.   A year earlier, in Deadwood, the Sherman Street Fire burned an entire block, leaving space for a new park.   The city requested a piece of the USS Maine, and received a 30 inch 500 lb. shell.  Since the item was so small, it was originally discounted and placed with the bronze cannon at the old high school where it was forgotten for decades.   In 2011, Michael Runge found it there, submerged in the dirt next to the cannon.  They rolled the shell to City Hall while investigating further.  Then the thought came "Was this a live shell?" and an investigation followed.  The DCI bomb squad took an X-ray of the shell and found out that it could be a live shell with rear percussion detonation capability.  Michael Runge called in Ellsworth AFB and their bomb squad responded within one hour.  They took the shell to the rubble site and used 1.5 lbs of C4 explosive to detonate the back end of the shell, creating a quarter-size hole.  In 2012, the artillery shell was dedicated to its current located in Deadwood Park.