Friday, April 30, 2010

A Sampling of South Dakotans

FAMOUS AND INFAMOUS. Saints and scoundrels. Odd and ordinary. Cranky and sweet. Folks we’d buy a used car from and a few who … well, never mind. We’ve come across all kinds of characters in the 25 years we’ve been publishing South Dakota Magazine. Some were dead when we started publication in 1985 — but we got to know them just the same by researching and writing about their lives. Others we were able to meet face-to-face.
       Very early on, our editors realized that as we get to know our fellow South Dakotans we also get a reflection of ourselves and who we are as a people — all the talents, habits and peculiarities. The following pages are not a “Who’s Who of South Dakota.”
       They are a sampling of the type of people who live in South Dakota. Nothing more or less.

Candy Man
Tub Rath’s generosity would have been laughed at in some towns, but the women of Wasta (population 72) welcomed his kindnesses. Every Valentine’s Day, Rath delivered flowers or candy to every lady in Wasta. He made similar deliveries on Easter, Mother’s Day and Christmas. When he was healthy and able, he delivered the gifts to the ladies’ front doors; when he was old and connected to an oxygen tank, he honked his pickup horn and the town’s women hurried to the curb with a smile and a thank you. Holidays are quieter in Wasta since Rath died in 2007.

Opening Act
On Memorial Day in 1946, Dr. Warren M. Lee loaded his wife, Margaret, their 18-month-old son and odds and ends of sets and scenery in an old car and headed for the Black Hills to open a summer theater.
       Phone reception was so bad at Coolidge Inn in Custer State Park that Lee remarked, “You could just as well get out on top of one of the mountains and yell...” Wood was the only heat, a central bathhouse provided the only water and electricity was available for about an hour a day. Such was the beginnings of Black Hills Playhouse, now an entertainment staple for mountain visitors.

A Real Cowboy
Casey Tibbs won his first trophy saddle at age 16, and for a time the Kid Wonder was nearly unbeatable. Between 1949 and 1959 he won eight championships from the Rodeo Cowboys Association and ten world championships from the International Rodeo Association; his lifetime total of 42,065 points still stands as a record.
       Tibbs retired from competition in 1964 and launched a second career as a stunt rider for movies and television. When a producer told him he didn’t look the part of a real cowboy, a miffed Tibbs un-retired and won top money at nine of ten rodeos. Having proved his point, he once again retired.

World’s Fastest Woman
Eureka’s Kitty O’Neill set the Women’s World Speed Record in a rocket-car on the Mojave Desert in 1977. But that’s only a speed bump on her resume. She was an Olympic diver, a skilled pianist and one of Hollywood’s most successful and attractive stuntwomen — all despite losing her hearing at five months of age from a high fever brought on by measles. Altogether, she once held 22 speed and stunt records. “A handicap is not a defeat,” she says, “but a challenge to be conquered.” After retiring to Eureka, she took that message to local schools, reaching out especially to students who are deaf.
       O’Neill was a look-alike stunt double for actress Sally Field when both were at the prime of their careers, so she worked in Smokey and the Bandit and other major films. All this has earned her a corner in the Eureka Pioneer Museum and that’s where most of her memorabilia now hangs because when she moved to town a few years ago she decided she didn’t want Hollywood paraphernalia on her living room walls. “I don’t like to be famous,” she said. “I’m actually a very private person. There were a lot of phony people in California, but not here.”

Bridging Cultures Through Music
Paul LaRoche began playing music when he was 15, but he was 38 before he discovered his Native American heritage on the Lower Brule reservation. That inspired him to create music that bridges Indian and non-Indian cultures, which is Brule’s mission.
       The band includes LaRoche, his children Nicole and Shane, Moses Brings Plenty and Clay Bryan. “I’m dedicated to spending the rest of my life doing just what I’m doing,” LaRoche says. “I want to carry a positive message of understanding between two cultures.”

The Town That Cattle Built
Ed Lemmon earned his place in S.D. history as a cattleman and founder of the town that bears his name. In 1900 the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad reached the Missouri River from Aberdeen. For years higher-ups explored a route across West River. They asked Lemmon, who knew the land better than anyone. He appeared with a map of Standing Rock Reservation with a red line drawn across it, curiously running along much of his own land.
       The execs agreed, and Lemmon bought more land with the idea of building a town. His preferred site was in North Dakota, a dry state. “In order to make [Lemmon] a real boom town, the saloon with its attendant evils would have to be tolerated,” Lemmon wrote. So he moved four miles west to the South Dakota border, and the town of Lemmon was born.

All He Needed Was Snow
When Ed Keene was a boy in the 1920s, he skied everywhere in winter. His dad, a miner, knew a Norwegian blacksmith who fashioned beautiful skis from local birch trees. As a young man, Keene pioneered snow skiing as a sport in the Black Hills. “We cut a trail straight up the hill [in the 1930s],” he told us on a snowy day in 1991. “Another guy built some rope tows and we used an engine from a Model A to provide the power.” He said the rope tows worked well, but “girls with long hair would get their hair caught in the pulley,” so in 1952 the first chair lift was erected. “I knew from the go it would take over one of these days,” he said.

Nicollet & Torness
That sounds like a company name. Nicollet and Torness could be investment bankers or the makers of fine watches. But they lived a century apart, and their only connection is that both men loved the same lands.
       French mapmaker Joseph Nicollet explored the region now known as northeast South Dakota in the 1830s. Inspired by the panoramic scenery, he wrote in his journal that he hoped to return to the spot to build a cabin and live in commune with nature.
Harold Torness camped and played in the same hills above Sisseton in the 1930s, and eventually became a banker in the nearby city of Sisseton. He was fascinated by the beauty of the Coteau des Prairies and came upon Nicollet’s journals and papers.
       “Here was a man who thought of northeast South Dakota as I did!” he told us in 1992. “I couldn’t sleep until I read it.” Torness wanted to memorialize Nicollet’s explorations and encourage others to share his enjoyment of the hills so he spearheaded an effort to build the 75-foot-tall Nicollet Tower along Highway 10 on Long Hollow just west of Sisseton.

The Black Hills’ Best Boss
Eight-hour workdays were for slackers in the 19th century, and holidays were Christmas and Thanksgiving. But when workers at Homestake Gold Mine asked for a Labor Day holiday in 1888 their boss closed the mine; he even provided the company’s railroad for picnic excursions. Then he spent the afternoon seeing to the comfort of the riders. The boss was Thomas Grier, and his image is memorialized in granite on Lead’s Main Street.
       Grier was a bookkeeper before becoming superintendent of the mine, which was owned by the well-known Hearst family of California. Homestake’s Labor Day came six years before the U.S. Congress created a national holiday by the same name.
       Grier wasn’t a fan of unions. In fact, he fought his workers over the closed shop concept and other issues. But he was dedicated to improving conditions for workers both in the mine and all over town. He encouraged his miners to buy Homestake stock so they would have a nest egg, and he convinced the Hearsts to build a library, bowling alley, swimming pool, kindergarten, store, opera house and other amenities. When Grier died in 1914 his workers erected this life-size statue.

Philosophy and Fishing
John Alvarez survived a 1994 car accident with a serious head injury — as if a bowl of Jell-O had been thrown onto a sidewalk, he told us in 2006. Three months later he regained his speech and told doctors he wanted to go back to work. “Where do you work?” they asked. He had no idea.
       After he was able to leave the hospital, he and his wife, Dee Ann, moved to a small farm near her hometown of Bridgewater. He cast for bullheads in nearby Wolf Creek. Realizing that fishing was good therapy, he founded My Fishing Pond, which is nothing more than a big, well-stocked pond where youth and adults with handicaps can cast for fish among the cattails and water lilies.

Frank Leahy’s Debut
A sign over Winner’s sports stadium proclaims it to be Frank Leahy Bowl, named for the legendary Notre Dame football coach. Winner was where he developed a reputation as a schemer.
       The Leahy legend began in 1922 when Winner was losing to Gregory 108–0. Just when it seemed the game could get no worse, the ref mysteriously ejected a Winner starter. “What did I do wrong?” he asked. The coach had no alternative but to play an untested eighth-grader named Frank Leahy. Young Frank didn’t turn the game around, but he left the field with a huge grin. After sitting on the bench all season, he’d found a way into a game.
       Years later the truth surfaced: The referee was dating Leahy’s sister, and Frank convinced him that if the score was lopsided, it wouldn’t matter if someone got ejected.

The Long Shot
The odds of a golfer hitting a hole-in-one are about 10,000-to-1. After being fired twice, the odds of Oscar Austad becoming a business success were not much better, but with six kids to feed he agreed to sell golf equipment for a brother-in-law. He realized it would be easier to mail a flyer than knock on doors, and soon Austad Sporting Goods was the world’s largest mail-order retailer for golfers.
       “Bankers are probably the best [customers],” said the Sioux Falls businessman in 1991. Stockbrokers and CPAs are the poorest. “I guess they’re working too hard,” he surmised. He told us the business really took off once his kids convinced him that credit cards weren’t just a fad and he’d better accept them as payment.

Radio Active Man
Bill Evers’ Radio and Engine Museum in Wagner housed hundreds of radios and cars, including a perfectly restored 1909 Brush, one of two in South Dakota. Evers told us about the Brush in 2002: “It has wooden wheels, wooden axle, wooden frame, wooden steering wheel, wooden coil box and wooden run when I got it.”

Combing the World
Beauty was Hazel Mahone’s trade. The descendant of slaves became a popular Huron beautician. Women waited weeks for appointments. But her humanitarian efforts are her legacy. After marrying at age 46, she and her husband began to travel the world, including a trip to Africa to deliver barrels of supplies. On one trip, they found hundreds of refrigerators rusting on a dock because, despite good intentions, no one had electricity. That taught her to be sure that charity reached the poor. “I haven’t made a big splash in the river of life,” Mahone told us in 2007. “I just throw a few pebbles to keep the water moving.”

Black Elk on Harney
Black Elk — a holy man of the Lakota who fought at the Little Big Horn — stood upon the rocky heights of Harney Peak in May of 1931, just as he had done in a vision quest when he was a boy.
       Accompanying Black Elk on that May day were author John Neihardt and his two young daughters, Hilda and Enid. Hilda Neihardt told our readers about the historic hike in a 2001 article. She wrote that the 68-year-old Indian struggled to reach the summit. Once there, he gazed into the bright, cloudless sky and offered his pipe to the west, from whence his power came, and prayed:
       “Tunkashila, Grandfather, behold this pipe. On behalf of my children and my nephew’s children, I offer it, O Great Mysterious One, that my people may live and that the tree may bloom, and that the people may see happy days and the happy land that you have promised.”
       As Black Elk prayed, a little black cloud drifted overhead and a scant, cool rain began to fall. As the drops of rain mingled with the tears running down his face, the holy man cried out: “Oh, make my people live!” As he finished, the cloud dissipated. The rain stopped.

Balloon Pioneer
By the time we met him in 1987, Ed Yost was retired from Raven Industries, which he’d founded in 1956, and reticent to do any more long-distance balloon flights. He had returned to his original avocation of making hot air balloons on the outskirts of Tea. Yost, wearing blue jeans and smoking a yellow-stemmed pipe with a red bag of Prince Albert close at hand, still looked the part of the adventurer.
       By that time, he was revered as the Father of Modern Hot Air Ballooning. In 1963 he became the first balloonist to cross the English Channel. He gained world attention in 1976 when he sailed across the Atlantic in the Silver Fox. He set eight aviation records on the flight, but fell just short of his goal of reaching the European shore. Fortunately — as you’d expect from a South Dakotan — he had an escape plan in mind. He had designed the gondola like a small boat so when he landed in the ocean he was safe.

Our Iron Man Entertainer
Buy a ticket to a baseball game and you’re taking a gamble. You never know if the game will be rained out. Go see country singer Sherwin Linton and you’re guaranteed a show.
       The Watertown native made his first guitar out of a cigar box and a yardstick, and had his own radio show at age 16. He gained fame and fans with the hit song “Cotton King” in 1966. Now he’s known both for talent and longevity; he hasn’t missed a gig in 50 years, earning him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
       He is as predictable as the Ferris Wheel at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron, where he performs every year on the Centennial Stage.

A Life of Firsts
We located Mildred Ramynke at her rural Peever home in 2004 because we’d heard that she’d been a trick roper, pilot, World War II flight instructor and ground-breaking judge. Certainly, she’d have stories.
       Born to homesteaders on the Standing Rock Reservation, she grew up roping and riding. At age five she also decided to become a lawyer. She became a county judge in 1958 and the state’s first circuit court judge in 1975 when the judicial system was modernized. She was known to be tough, fair and knowledgeable. Dave Gilbertson — now the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court — was a young prosecutor from Roberts County in 1975. One day Judge Ramynke sternly asked to see him in the back room. “I thought she was angry at me,” he told us. Instead, she told Gilbertson that the defendant had a gun. “You can see the bottom of the holster sticking out of his jacket,” she said. The sheriff and the prosecutor jumped the boy. As it turned out, he had a hunting knife in the holster. Gilbertson credited her with not penalizing the youth for the crime of stupidly carrying a weapon into the courtroom. She always kept her cool, and she was always fair, he said.
       “Everything I’ve done I would have done if I didn’t earn a penny,” she told our writer. How many can say the same?

Handicaps ‘Not Important’
Jack Reich, of Isabel, was bornwithout the use of his arms but he learned to drive and was a salesman until he fell asleep driv- ing near Ipswich and hit a tree. His wife, Faith, was killed and he spent a year in a hospital. Now he can stand again, but he can’t walk so he writes novels and paints western pictures using a mouth-held brush and pointer.
       “You do what you have to do and you don’t worry about what’s wrong with you,” he says. “What’s wrong with you is not important. That’s the underlying truth.”

Add a Snack of Frozen Fish Sticks and Make a Day of It
Bob Karolevitz, the Yankton author and humorist, is a true blue lover of all things South Dakotan. Not that everything in his native state makes sense to him — foremost among these being ice fishing.
       “Every time I get the urge to go out in quest of chilled walleye, I practice a simple in-house ritual designed to suppress the yearning,” he explains. “I fill the bathtub full of ice cubes and sit on the edge with my over-shoed feet half submerged. Every so often I dip my hands into the frigid water and then try to thread a needle with my numbed fingers. A half-hour of that and I’ve conquered my insane desire for another year.”
       Karolevitz may be South Dakota’s most prolific author of all-time. He published more than 40 books, ranging from serious histories to whimsical tomes on golfing and rural living. He still writes a humor column for several South Dakota newspapers.

The Hopeless Unromantic
Badger Clark, our state’s first Poet Laureate, loved the rugged, outdoor life, but he was also quite a dapper fellow. With his high, polished boots, meticulously trimmed Van Dyke beard and perfectly knotted tie he resembled a handsome, Old South plantation patriarch. He was also witty and naturally gallant — with a very slight effort he might have been quite a ladies man. There was just one problem. After being jilted early in life, Badger seemed to not give a lick for affairs of the heart. For one thing, any woman who wore lipstick was automatically eliminated from romantic consideration. “I’d sooner kiss a fire hydrant than such enameled lips,” he said. As a working poet, Badger knew he was expected “to grind out something on the subject of love” every now and then. He could do it when he had to, said Clark, “but only after reading up on the subject.”

Lucky or Unlucky?
Depending on your point of view, Don Rathert is either the luckiest or unluckiest man in South Dakota. He’s been bitten by a rattlesnake and a family of black widow spiders. He fought the snakebite infection for 14 years, but lost his leg when the spiders bit. The upside is he survived both attacks. Today he lives in Rapid City with a rock collection that rivals any in South Dakota. Rathert uses the rocks to teach schoolchildren about the state’s geology.

Bill-Paying Pen Collector
Retired farmer Roger Bosse has thousands of pens strung along the walls of his garage in Elk Point. Of all the things South Dakotans collect, why pens? “Well, you know how it is when you go to town to pay a bill and you use their pen,” Bosse explains. “You say ‘nice pen’ and they say ‘keep it,’ so you take it home.”
       Farmers pay a lot of bills. And Bosse has a lot of pens — 10,000 or so when we visited him in 2006.

“60 Minutes” of Fame for Water
Doc Willard worked on nuclear weaponry and the Manhattan Project before arriving at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in the 1940s as a chemistry professor. He loved teaching and tinkering, so after retiring in 1973 he focused on refining his “super water.”
       Willard Water is intended to do everything normal water does only faster. The ingredients are no secret, but they are combined in a way that polarizes the water and rearranges the molecules.
       In 1980 Harry Reasoner of CBS’s 60 Minutes let Doc explain Willard Water and sales skyrocketed. The founder died in 1991 and demand has dropped, but the family-run business in Rapid City still has avid customers.
       Some claim it thickens hair, heals wounds and eases arthritis. The Willard family makes no promises. They just keep mixing water and making money.

An Old Man in Winter
Beryle Seaman lived in a cabin on the Bad River in Stanley County. He helped ranchers and drove to Fort Pierre for cattle sales. We found him in 1997, during a brutally cold, snowy winter. He hadn’t seen anyone in days and the 88-year-old hermit was lonely.
       “If I had it to live over, I wouldn’t live the way I did,” he told us. “But you don’t know any better. My mother died when I was born. Dad was an old German. He didn’t know any better. I was alone a lot. I have been ever since.
       “I wish I had electricity or a telephone. But of course I don’t know how long I’ll stay here. I’ve been here since ’47. I always thought I should get a place closer to town but I never got around to it.”
       Berlye’s simple approach to life touched our readers, who sent him gifts and greetings. Distant relatives helped him move into Fort Pierre, and he died during his first winter in town.

Last Lakota Code Talker
We met Clarence Wolf Guts in 2007 at a Pine Ridge nursing home, humble accommodations for one of South Dakota’s most celebrated World War II veterans. Wolf Guts was an Army code talker. He and other Lakota soldiers “talked Indian” to confuse the Japanese, who were intercepting transmissions.
       When the movie Wind Talkers was released in 2002, Wolf Guts’ service became known, and awards and commendations flowed. “I am a full-blood Indian, and we do whatever we can to protect the United States because we love America,” he told a Congressional committee.

Sheepherder & Philosopher
Archer Gilfillan died 30 years before South Dakota Magazine debuted, which is a shame. The sheepherder/philosopher would have loved to write and interact with our readers.
       After studying Latin and Greek at the University of Pennsylvania, he squandered his investment in a Harding County sheep ranch. But he loved South Dakota, so he stayed and herded for other ranchers for 20 years. All the while, he kept a big journal and eventually became a noted writer and humorist.
       Gilfillan was known for his three Secret Sorrows — ranchers who knew less about sheep than their sheepherders, the notion that cowboys are superior to sheepmen, and women. Of the latter he wrote, “You profess sincere and unbound- ed admiration for the beauties of the opposite sex and you practically lay your heart at their collective feet; and then you meet some individual who combines the poorer qualities of a mama wildcat and a bitch wolf, with a voice like a buzz saw, the temper of a slapped hornet and a disposition that would curdle the milk in four adjoining counties.”

A Showman for Motor Heads
You’ve heard of the Model A and Model T, but have you ever seen a Model N? Or a ’31 Pierce Arrow, or an entire shop full of Mustangs?
Dave Geisler’s Pioneer Auto Show in Murdo has all that and more in 40 buildings stuffed with nostalgia. He also collects railroad memorabilia, rocks and minerals, farm machinery (including the world’s fastest manure spreader), and hours worth of other things to see in one of the world’s biggest private auto collections.
       As we browsed a few years ago, a visitor said he saw two cars there worth $750,000 or more. Dave walked away with a big grin and said, “I get to meet more motor heads!”
       He loves to entertain. He pops nickels in antique jukeboxes and starts a player piano that plunks honky-tonk tunes. He might have made a fortune in a traveling carnival. But his heritage is cars, and you can’t truck hundreds of them from town to town, so people come to him.

Wounded Knee Doc
Valentine McGillycuddy was a frontier physician, adventurer, educator, civic leader, businessman, and reservation administrator. He tended to Crazy Horse in 1877 when the Lakota chief was knifed at Fort Robinson in Nebraska and stayed at the chief’s bedside throughout a long and tense night, administering morphine and providing comfort. He doctored injured Indians after the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. Years later, while living in California, an elderly McGillycuddy served victims of the influenza epidemic of 1918.
       Mathematically speaking, McGillycuddy traveled a shorter distance to heaven than anyone buried between the Appalachians and the Rockies. When he died in 1939, his family received permission to bury him atop Harney Peak, which at 7,242 feet is considered the highest spot in the U.S. east of the Rockies, and thus just a little closer to heaven for a pioneer who performed enough good deeds to surely earn entry.

Today’s Gilfillan: Matthew Trask
If Archer Gilfillan (see previous page) had a camera, computer and modem, he’d be Matthew J. Trask. Known to his Internet audience as “Hubba,” Trask blogs from his family’s ranch in southeastern Meade County near Elm Springs (“population six and 10 on the weekends,” Hubba says). He writes and shoots videos about the travails of ranch life. He’s also a songwriter, compiles the Elm Springs news for the weekly Pennington County Courant and is working on children’s books.

Mail-Order War Bride
Katharina Redlin was the widow of a German officer when Allied Troops occupied Munich in 1945. Already starving, she thought she would be assaulted and killed. Instead, the American troops persuaded her that she was safe and they delivered groceries for her and her child.
       The U.S. troops told her she should come to the United States for a better life, but she needed a sponsor so she participated in a program that helped young women find sponsorships and possible husbands. The pretty brunette’s photograph appeared in a St. Paul, Minn., newspaper and soon her Munich mailbox was overflowing. As she sorted the letters, she was charmed by a note from Alfred Redlin, a Summit, S.D., farmer who said he would build her a house and send her son to college.
       They met at the New York harbor, where Alfred told her he’d rented two rooms and she didn’t have to marry him to stay in the U.S. They married in Dell Rapids on the way home to Summit. Katharina loved farm life, and especially enjoyed tending the Redlins’ popular purebred Hereford herd.
       On Veterans Day and Memorial Day, Katharina often called David J. Law’s Watertown radio show to remind listeners of America’s greatness. “The good Lord put me here,” she said.

First Lady of Flight
She was the 13th student to sign up for Harold Tennant’s class, and after 13 hours of instruction she soloed on Friday the 13th of January, 1928. So much for omens. Nellie Wilhite did just fine, and when she landed on the soggy grass of Renner airfield she became South Dakota’s first licensed female pilot.
       She later obtained a transport license, became a flight instructor and flew with Amelia Earhart – with whom she was a charter member of Club 99, an organization of female aviators. Wilhite’s accomplishments would have been noteworthy in any event. What made them all the more remarkable was that she had been deaf since childhood.

Barnstormer ‘Never Crashed’
Legendary aviator Clyde Ice was working on his family’s Hand County ranch and selling used cars on the side when he decided he’d rather be flying. A farmer in North Dakota had a World War I surplus plane for sale so he made a deal, trading two cars for one biplane. Clyde became South Dakota’s favorite barnstormer. When we interviewed him in 1985, he said he’d never crashed a plane. But readers soon called or wrote to report that he’d crash-landed in their cornfield…on their gravel road…at their airport. Years later when we met one of Clyde’s sons, we mentioned the minor discrepancy.
       “Oh,” he laughed, “Dad never counted it as a crash if he lived.”

The Quiet Governor
South Dakota has seated some rambunctious and long-winded men in the governor’s office. Then there was Merrill Q. Sharpe, whom one wit referred to as the Calvin Coolidge of South Dakota.
       Gov. Sharpe served from 1943 to 1947, and from the first day in office he worked tirelessly to develop the Missouri River. His efforts were rewarded when Congress passed the 1944 Flood Control Act, which authorized the construction of four dams within the state’s borders. Those structures and the reservoirs they created have done more to benefit the state’s economy than any other single program.
       That’s not why we count him among our favorite politicians, though. Alex Johnson, who became the long-serving editor of the Watertown Public Opinion, was a young reporter when Sharpe took office. He said the governor’s press conferences were unique in the history of political discourse. “If the answer was ‘no,’ that’s all he said,” recalled Johnson.
       Silent Cal couldn’t have done any better.

Pack Rat Makes Good
Most South Dakota kids hang out at ballfields, playgrounds or a friend’s house. Jim Aplan frequented the dump. “It was just two blocks from the store [Fischer Brothers General Store in Fort Pierre],” Aplan says. “Whenever the pile got too high, whatever I left, they just shoved it into the river. My family name was Pack Rat. My mother spent her life worrying about her youngest son, me.”
       She needn’t have worried. Aplan parlayed his collector’s instinct into one of South Dakota’s finest collections of guns, books and miscellanea.

The Rancher Who Shoots Cattle
Jean Laughton left a career as a casting director in New York City to be a ranch hand on a spread south of Belvidere. There she captures panoramic photos of ranch life and portraits of cowboys. Laughton has become comfortable with her new setting and her new job skills. When asked for some of her favorite experiences, she replied, “One time I was wrangling horses and I looked up and there were five bald eagles flying over me. Or roping in front of a whole crew and having a good day. That makes me feel pretty good.”

Just Another Road to Nowhere
South Dakota Magazine has published many articles and anecdotes on Peter Norbeck, the well driller who became a visionary governor and U.S. senator. He was instrumental in funding Mount Rushmore, establishing Custer State Park as well as national parks at the Badlands and Wind Cave. South Dakota’s tourism industry owes all to the plainspoken visionary.
       Despite protests that it couldn’t be done, Norbeck insisted on a scenic road to show off the rugged Needles region of the Black Hills. Highway engineers C.C. Gideon and Scovell Johnson said it would require a lot of explosives, so the senator scrounged 150,000 pounds of war-surplus dynamite, and workers created 14 miles of breathtakingly beautiful road that they called Needles Highway.
       When the road signs arrived they read “Needless Highway,” which was either somebody’s opinion or plain bad spelling. Johnson scraped off the offending extra “S” with his pocketknife.

The Funny Family
The first time we saw Crouse & Company Clowns, they were wobbling down the street at Castlewood’s 2002 Fourth of July Parade in three vehicles — a bubblemobile, a fire truck and the famous clownmobile. Kids were cheering and old-timers were grinning.
       Don Crouse started clowning at Willow Lake’s 75th anniversary celebration in 1957. He restored an old Model T, then bolted a post with a saddle on the back and welded the wheels off center so it would wobble. The clownmobile became the center of the Watertown family’s clown act for the next 50 years. “We always figured that car was the mainstay,” Crouse said. “It backfires, bucks and smokes. What could be funnier than that?”
       All four of Don and Dorothy’s children have now joined the act, along with friends and grandchildren. “You’d think they’d be sick of us by now because we don’t do anything different,” Don told us. Apparently, good fun is timeless.

Little Giant of USD
Doc Farber never had children of his own, but hundreds of men across the country consider him a second father. Farber, who taught political science at the University of South Dakota for 38 years and still held influence on campus when he died in 2007, mentored a group that came to be known as the “Farber Boys.” They include broadcasting personalities Tom Brokaw and Pat O’Brien and USA Today founder Al Neuharth. He also left a mark on state government, helping create the Legislative Research Council and lobbying for constitutional revision.
       For most of his life, Farber lived in a house across from the college campus. When we visited him a few years before his death, he was sorting through pictures for a book that was being written on his life. He delighted in showing us the pictures of the students, whether they were famous or forgotten. He remembered all of their collegiate faces and all their names, and what they were “doing now” — as proudly as any father would.

Signs of Success
Wall Drug is one of America’s favorite small-business success stories. Ted and Dorothy Hustead were struggling to keep their little drugstore alive in the Badlands during the 1930s when Dorothy came upon the idea of offering free ice water to thirsty motorists heading for the Black Hills.
       Dorothy, who’d taught literature in Sioux Falls, wrote some cute signs:
get a soda
get root beer
turn next corner
just as near
to highway 16 & 14
free ice water
wall drug

       Ted joked that it was hardly Wordsworth, but he and a local teenager posted the signs. Before they returned from the highway, the first customers had already arrived. The rest is history. Over two million people a year now stop at Wall Drug Store, the world’s most famous pharmacy.
       Ted and son Bill erected billboards of all sizes in a five-state area until Lady Bird Johnson’s highway beautification program outlawed most of them. As you drive across South Dakota, you’ll notice that not only can you fight city hall, but you can even fight the feds—billboards are still popular here, largely because the Husteads actively lobbied to protect them.
       Lawmakers in Pierre were recently debating the aesthetics of 150-foot-tall wind turbine towers when one remarked, “I don’t mind how they look as long as they don’t obstruct our billboards.”

One Man’s Castle
Many South Dakota towns have a castle, that large residence built by an overly optimistic pioneer. Aberdeen’s best example is Easton Castle, built in 1889 by C.A. Bliss, the town’s first banker and a breeder of shorthorn cattle.
       Castles often fall into disrepair and Aberdeen’s was no exception. Telephone poles were propping up the porch when veterinarian Sam Holman bought it for $25,000 in 1967.
       Sam seems like a man who might own a South Dakota castle — tall and burly, a bit on the gruff side. He had a reputation as one of the hardest-working vets in cattle country. He designed his own cattle chute with twin headgates so he could handle six cattle a minute. He once worked 1,100 head in 12 hours.
       His office was in the castle, but “my clinic is between my ears,” he told us in 1992. “I always thought that is where it should be.” Spoken like a castle dweller.

That Fabulous One Guy!
Gordy Pratt is to the guitar what Victor Borge was to the piano. The stand-up musical comic entertains audiences with jokes about the governor and birthing classes and quirky takes on classic songs mixed with Bach and Mozart. He assumes the character of outsiders, looking in with disbelief on South Dakota life. There’s New Yorker Joe Prosciutto and Californian Joe California, who opines, “We sell our houses in California and move out here and buy a county. Three months later, we’re eating tater tot casserole and chicken fried steak and we’ve got a new word in our vocabulary — winter.”

Our King of Rock
While Elvis Presley gyrated his way into the hearts of young girls across the nation, Sioux Falls’ Myron Wachendorf rocked the Midwest. Fans remember him as Myron Lee, and he and his band (the Caddies) played in packed dance halls in the Dakotas, Iowa and Minnesota in the 1950s and 1960s.
       His popularity came when he was still a high school student, and his in-class performance often suffered. One day when he fell asleep in class, his teacher said, “Just let him sleep. He’s making more money than I am.” Because he was just 17 when he got his first recording contract, his mother had to sign the papers.
       Lee and the Caddies last performed in 1992 at a Vern Eide Automobile holiday party. There have been many lucrative but unsuccessful attempts to lure them back on stage. “I’d rather have people remember us as we once were,” he told us in 2004. But he still loved to entertain with music; he was spinning records at wedding dances and private parties in the Sioux Falls area.

A Collection of Sounds
When we met Arne Larson in 1986, he took a big wishbone from his desk and played a few chords of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The bone was apparently used as a whistle in some foreign land, and that was enough to get Arne’s attention. While teaching school in Brookings, he’d amassed one of the world’s greatest collections of musical instruments. In fact, there was hardly any space left in his house when officials at the University of South Dakota welcomed him to Vermillion where he proceeded to teach and, with the expert guidance of his son, Andre, develop a museum. Today the National Music Museum, still under Andre’s direction, is considered one of the best.

Keeper of The Language
Albert White Hat spoke Lakota for the first 16 years of his life. That stopped the day he walked into a Jesuit-run boarding school at St. Francis, because the other Indian kids made fun of him.
       Today just 14 percent of Indians on reservations in the Dakotas speak their native language, but White Hat hopes to change that. When his children entered school, he lobbied for a Lakota language and history program. Finally, in 1970 they told him he could have half of the noon hour “to play your tape and dance.”
       Sinte Gleska University hired him as a full-time instructor in 1983. A heart attack convinced him to commit everything he knew to paper. His notes became a textbook called Reading and Writing the Lakota Language, published in 1999 and still in use today.

A Major Influence
Major John Pickler was South Dakota’s first congressman, elected in 1889. He championed free rural mail delivery, women’s rights and fairness for Native Americans. Guests to his Faulkton house included Teddy Roosevelt and Susan B. Anthony.
       A daughter lived there until 1955, but then it sat empty (except for 2,500 books, 60 boxes of correspondence and Pickler’s original furnishings) for 30 years. Fortunately, the local historical society restored the house, known today as the pink castle.

Lee’s Best Customer
Trygve Trooien wore overalls as a kid and never stopped. The harder they’ve become to find, the more he’s taken an interest in them. Today the dairy farmer from rural Astoria owns hundreds of pairs, and he occasionally stages fashion revues with local models.
       He explains that there are four categories: “You’ve got your church overalls, you’ve got your dress overalls, you’ve got your town overalls, and you’ve got your work overalls.” He says the typical pair begins as church attire and is gradually relegated to more common use.

World’s Fastest Man
“Smokey” Joe Mendel carried Onida to the South Dakota state high school track championship as a senior, but there were greater days ahead.
       Mendel’s moment came on May 23, 1931, at the state Intercollegiate Conference track meet in Huron. Competing for the Yankton College Greyhounds, he drew a fast lane for the 100-yard finals. He leaped from the blocks, flashed down the track and broke the tape at 9.5 seconds. His time equaled the world record, making a South Dakota farm kid the World’s Fastest Human.
       “I felt like running,” he told us years later.

Populist and Petrified Wood Thief?
Only a silver-tongued lawyer could argue that the museum at 8th & Duluth in Sioux Falls is a 200 million-year-old log house, but that’s exactly the kind of fellow who built it. R.F. Pettigrew was a skilled lawyer and politician who arrived in Dakota Territory as a surveyor in 1869 and became one of Sioux Falls’ biggest builders and boosters.
       He served in the territorial legislature, and became one of South Dakota’s first two U.S. senators in 1889. He was Republican, but joined William Jennings Bryan’s populist crusade for silver in 1896.
       Then Pettigrew heard of an amazing bounty of petrified wood in Arizona. He had tons of rocks sent to Sioux Falls. When President Theodore Roosevelt discovered the damage being done, he convinced Congress to create the Arizona Petrified Forest National Park in 1906.
       Pettigrew intended to sell the rocks, but the plan never crystallized. Some were used in a huge arch at Woodlawn Cemetery (26th & Cliff), and he used other pieces in a 1923 addition to his Queen Anne style home, south of St. Joseph Cathedral.
       Today the Pettigrew House is part of the Siouxland Heritage Museums. Visitors are welcome, but please don’t take the logs — even if you’re from Arizona.

Border Marker
Yankton surveyor Charles Bates marked the 360-mile border separating the two Dakotas with 720 posts in 1892. He and an eight-man crew endured rattlesnakes, mosquitoes and storms — all for just $21,300 in wages. The Yankton Press & Dakotan editorialized that the quartzite markers would “defy the ravages of time until the heavens roll up as a scroll …” A few can still be found today but most have fallen into the sod or been stolen.

Gladys Pyle: Nearly the First
We’re still awaiting South Dakota’s first woman governor. She nearly arrived in 1930 when Gladys Pyle of Huron won the Republican primary. But she didn’t get 35% so the nomination went to the convention. Delegates voted 11 times, and Miss Pyle won seven. The men finally out-maneuvered her in the smoke-filled rooms, and she lost to Warren Green.
       Undaunted, she was elected to finish Sen. Peter Norbeck’s term in 1938, and in 1940 became the first woman to make a presidential nominating speech. When we met Gladys in 1986 she worried that her family’s historic home would be forgotten. Today it’s a popular Huron museum.

Uff Da, Dat’s a Good Un!
Red Stangeland didn’t think Polish people should be the only nationality that had their own jokes, so he started Norse Press in Sioux Falls and sold over 550,000 books, featuring all tings goofy and Norvegian, especially Ole and the long-suffering Lena.
       Ole and Lena got married. As they drew near their honeymoon cabin in the Black Hills Ole put his hand on Lena’s knee.
       Giggling, Lena said, “Ole, you can go farder if ya vant to.” So Ole drove to Wyoming.

First Lady of the Rally
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally evokes many images, but a white-haired old lady isn’t one of them. Pearl Hoel helped give life to the rally and provided a guiding hand for nearly 70 years.
       She and her husband, Clarence “Pappy” Hoel, organized the first rally in 1937. They helped develop the familial atmosphere that sets it apart from similar gatherings. Hoel cooked dinner for all of the 150 riders who attended that first event, and continued to host bikers in her home, garage and yard until she died in 2005 at age 99.

That Slick Dude
Dorothy Mueller told us about the Missouri River flood at Pierre in 1951. Her father was helping sandbag when a “slick looking dude” came by and pointed to a spot he’d missed.
       Her dad told the dude, “If you know so much, why aren’t you helping? Take off that silly coat and get to work!”
       So the dude took off his jacket and started filling bags. Another worker said, “Do you realize who that is? It’s Governor Sigurd Anderson.”
       At the end of the day, the governor shook hands with her dad and told him what a good job he was doing. Anderson is also remembered for throwing hay bales from airplanes to feed starving cattle in the 1950s.
       We met him when he was old, sick and living in an apartment in Webster. He told us he came to South Dakota from Norway with his family. Though he quickly learned English, he had a thick accent. Other kids teased, “The Norwegians and the Dutch, they don’t amount to much...”
       That made him work harder on his speech. He listened to politicians, competed in debate and became one of our most articulate governors.

Painting the Town
Some paint pictures for money. Some for fame. Some to express themselves. Myrtle Twedt painted for the love of a town called Spink.
       She and her family ran the town store and sold Maytag washers “by the carload.” When they sold the store in the 1940s, she drove to Sioux City for art lessons that cost a dollar. She found her own style, and painted more than 100 pictures of life in Spink. She painted farmers at work, the blacksmith’s shop, flower gardens, neighbors’ white houses and, of course, the Spink Store.
       Twedt didn’t sell her work; she decided who should own each canvas and then she gave it to him or her. But after she was featured in South Dakota Magazine in 1992, Ted Hustead asked to buy a painting to hang at Wall Drug Store so she made an exception. The townscape of Spink still hangs in the big store’s main hallway.

An Uplifting Experience
Sharon Weron Fisher was a girl in Bowdle when a 1955 tornado carried her and her horse 1,300 feet, sailing over several fences, before setting them down unharmed. She held the record for longest distance carried by a tornado for 51 years until a Missouri boy topped it in 2006. Today Fisher keeps an eye out for twisters from her home in Dakota Dunes.

Defending His Art and His People
By 1958, Oscar Howe was one of the world’s most celebrated young Indian artists, so when judges at an Oklahoma art show derided his submission he sent a letter defending his art and his people.
       “Are we to be held back forever with one phase of Indian painting, with no right for individualism, dictated to as the Indian always has been, put on reservations and treated like a child, and only the White Man knows what is best for him,” he wrote. “Indian art can compete with any art in the world, but not as a suppressed art. I see so much of the mismanagement and mistreatment of my people. My father died here about three years ago in a little shack, my two brothers still living there in shacks, never enough to eat, never enough clothing, treated as second class citizens. This is one of the reasons I have tried to keep the fine ways and culture of my forefathers alive, but one could easily become a social protest painter. I only hope the Art World will not be one more contributor to holding us in chains.”
       Howe died in 1983, two years before our first issue. But readers always ask where they can find prints of his work.

There was Life in the Old Town Yet
Alvin Carlson was the last man living in Trojan, but nobody seemed to notice. The tiny Black Hills mining town had officially ceased to exist in 1959, and some in Lead had taken to promoting it as a ghost town. That’s when Carlson visited the Chamber of Commerce. “I told those people if they didn’t stop tellin’ folks this was a ghost town that this old ghost was gonna start shooting a few people. They’d come here with out-of-state license plates, walk in, snoop through my stuff and just take it. I come unglued when people take my stuff and that’s when I decided to move the whole town back down the road a ways.”
        And board by board, that’s exactly what the ghost of Trojan did.

The Last Gurney
When executives pushed Jay Gurney and his father out of their famous family nursery business in 1977, they thought it was the last they would see of them. “As I gathered up my things I was told I would never work in the business again anywhere and if I started my own business with Gurney in the name, they would sue me,” Gurney says. “I said, ‘Well, we’ll see.’”
        He and his dad, Sid, opened a greenhouse just blocks away from the corporate nursery, and they were sued for using their own surname. But they persisted; today the corporate growers are long gone from Yankton, while Jay and his family still sell nursery stock from gardens on the east edge of Yankton.

Politicians and their Like
Rose Bower was a reformer first and an entertainer second. The rancher’s daughter from Hermosa fought for prohibition and suffrage.
        She traveled by rail, stage, wagon, bobsled and horseback to tiny hamlets and major cities with her activist message. When she reached a town, she found an auditorium or street corner and then circulated handbills to gather an audience.
        Men were her targets because only they had the right to vote. She advertised her skill with the cornet to draw crowds. “Music is the easiest and quickest way in the world to reach a man or a woman’s heart,” she said. “Quell their antagonism by sweet strains, get them in harmony with you, and they’ll be for you.”
        She also entertained with expert whistling; she could imitate a wide variety of birds. Once won over by her talent, most of the crowd was ready to listen to her views.
       Eventually she returned to the family ranch on French Creek. When she grew older, she retired to Rapid City where she wrote hundreds of letters to the editor on gambling, alcohol and civic duty. Guess which sides she took.

South Dakota’s largest collection of historical cowboy hats and boots is tucked away in Frank Day’s bar and restaurant in tiny Dallas. After visiting his establishment in 1994, we told our readers not to bother looking for a sign because there wasn’t one. But Dallas is small enough that you can just try a few doors.
       Day came to Dallas in 1946 when he was discharged from the Army. He went broke in the bar business twice and changed locations a few times, but he never closed his doors. Through it all, he collected walls full of cowboy memorabilia — everything from photos to hand-carved canes, guns, a bear coat, spurs and bridles. He had hats worn by Casey Tibbs, Chan Gurney, Baxter Berry, Clint Roberts and other celebrities. He and his wife lived in several rooms behind the bar.
       After Day was featured in the magazine, we stopped to visit and saw a big sign over the front door that read FRANK DAY’S BAR. “That’s a nice sign, Frank,” we said.
       “You know, I didn’t know I didn’t have a sign until I read it in your magazine,” he said. “I just never used the front door I guess.”
       Frank has died, but his daughter Shelly still runs the family bar and museum.

Nearly Coyote-napped
The Rileys have been mountaineers since 1876, but Emmett Riley nearly didn’t survive infancy. He was born on the family farm near Rochford in 1921. One day soon after, his father wrapped him in a blanket and sat him on the edge of a field as he plowed. He turned at the far side in time to see a coyote dragging the blanket and baby into the underbrush. Fortunately the coyote surrendered, and Emmett grew up amidst a mining, forestry, tourism and agricultural boom in the Northern Hills. As an old man, he gave us a tour of his childhood haunts and told stories of Jack Dempsey’s mine, Dora DuFran of the Buffalo Gals and Calamity Jane. “She was an ugly woman,” he said, as respectfully as it can be said.

From the January/February 2010 issue of South Dakota Magazine. Call 800-456-5117 to order this issue or subscribe online.


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