Monday, February 20, 2017

Historic Winchester Firearms featured at Journey Museum

Reported by KEVN:

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Northern Plains history symposium to focus on Black Hills

"Forts, Wars and Treaties on the Northern Plains" scheduled for June 1-3

The Case Library for Western Historical Studies at Black Hills State University in Spearfish and the Fort Meade Cavalry Museum are sponsoring a symposium and tour on June 1-3 that will highlight the region’s rich history.

Titled “Forts, Wars and Treaties on the Northern Plains,” the event will include an opening reception, presentations by Western history experts including Jerome A. Greene, Paul Hedren, Eli Paul, Randy Kane, Mike Her Many Horses, Donovin Sprague and Paul Higbee; a book signing, library tour and an all-day tour of Fort Meade and Bear Butte.

“Regional history symposiums offer the information and stories that bring a fuller understanding to our state’s history,” said David Wolff of Spearfish, vice president of the State Historical Society’s board of trustees and one of the coordinators of the event. "This symposium will look at the history of the Northern Plains, with an emphasis on the Black Hills. The topics to be discussed, especially Indian/White relations and military encounters, have a strong connection to what went on during the settling of Dakota Territory."

“The symposium is an opportunity for scholars and enthusiasts to share insights and knowledge about the multifaceted history of the Black Hills and the Northern Plains, as well as highlight the resources of the Case Library and Fort Meade Cavalry Museum,” said Jay D. Vogt, director of the State Historical Society, headquartered at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.

Other sponsors include the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission, the West River Foundation, South Dakota Humanities Council, BHSU President Tom Jackson, Jr., the BHSU College of Liberal Arts and the E.Y. Berry Library-Learning Center.

For a registration form, click this link:  Forts, Wars and Treaties Symposium.  For more information, visit the website:

Contact Wolff at or Bobbi Sago at (605) 642-6361 with questions.

Monday, February 13, 2017

State Historical Society awards five preservation grants

Historic preservation projects in Arlington, Delmont, Faulkton, Madison and St. Onge have received matching grants from the South Dakota State Historical Society.

“2017 is the 20th year for this historic preservation grants program,” said Jay D. Vogt, director of the State Historical Society. “In 2016 we awarded $108,204 between 11 projects which had matching funds of $291,301. The resulting total public-private investment is $399,505. This program is designed to encourage restoration or rehabilitation of historic properties and is one more way we can promote and protect our history and culture.”

The grants are awarded through the State Historical Society’s Deadwood Fund grant program. Funding for the program is from Deadwood gaming revenue earmarked by state law for historic preservation projects throughout the state. The program is administered by the society’s State Historic Preservation Office at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.

The following projects were the most recent to receive grants to supplement their work:

n Arlington: Arlington Community Museum, also known as the Arlington Masonic Temple, built 1907-1908, $2,378 grant awarded for roof replacement
n  Delmont: Thomas Lenehan House, or The Onion House, built 1902, $20,000 grant awarded for structural and roof repair of onion dome tower 
n  Faulkton: Pickler Mansion, built 1882-1894, $10,700 grant awarded for structural stabilization
n  Madison: Herschell-Spillman Steam Riding Gallery, also known as the Prairie Village Carousel, built sometime between 1901 and 1920, $20,000 grant awarded for wood and mechanical restoration
n  St. Onge: Anderson-Ridley Barn, built 1902, $3,437 grant awarded to repoint mortar on the barn

These new recipients represent a total award amount of $56,515 and matching funds of $236,586. The total public-private investment is $293,101. These figures are reflected in the 2016 statistics above.

Deadwood Fund grants are awarded twice a year with grant application deadlines of Feb. 1 and Oct. 1.  They are reviewed at the spring and winter meetings of the State Historical Society’s board of trustees. For more information on the Deadwood Fund grant program, contact the State Historic Preservation Office at the Cultural Heritage Center, 900 Governors Drive, Pierre, SD 57501-2217; telephone (605) 773-3458; or website

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Celebrating Laura Ingalls Wilder's 150th birthday

PIERRE, S.D. – A special program will mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of author Laura Ingalls Wilder.
The free program will begin at 7 p.m. CST on Tuesday, Feb. 7. The program will take place at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre and will be broadcast to the De Smet Middle School using the state’s video conference network. People at both locations will be able to see, hear and talk to each other and the guest speaker. People at other locations are welcome to join the program by telephone or through the state’s video conference network. Please call (605) 773-6006 for more information.
“February 7 marks the author’s 150th birthday. Through Wilder’s books, readers of all ages have experienced what it was like to be a pioneer in the late 1800s,” said Michael Lewis, president of the South Historical Society Foundation. “Her books have captivated readers with the story of the Ingalls family since the first one was published in 1932.”
The program is sponsored by the foundation and the South Dakota Historical Society Press as part of the History and Heritage Book Club, and also the Ingalls Homestead and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, both of De Smet. Birthday cake and several recipes from “The Little House Cookbook” will be served. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Wilder was born in 1867 in Pepin, Wis., and died on Feb. 10, 1957, in Mansfield, Mo. In a speech published in “A Little House Sampler” edited by William T. Anderson, Wilder said she realized that her life represented a period of American history in which the frontier had gone and agricultural settlements had taken their place. She had lived in the phases of the frontiersman, the pioneer, the farmer and the towns.
Wilder’s first attempt at writing her life story was meant for adults. “Pioneer Girl” went unpublished until 2014, when published by the South Dakota Historical Society Press. Wilder said she rewrote her story for children as a memorial to her father. The resulting “Little House in the Big Woods” was an instant success. It was followed by seven more books that told the story of Wilder’s growing up, courtship and marriage.
Joining the program by telephone will be Anderson. The award-winning historian and author has written extensively about the Ingalls and Wilder families. Like many, he became fascinated with Wilder when he was a youngster. His third-grade teacher read Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” to the class and made it interesting. He later contacted Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, for information and visited sites where the Wilders had lived. His first published writing, “The Story of the Ingalls,” was published when he was 15.
Anderson’s talk will focus on his most recent book about Wilder, “The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder.” The letters span from 1894 to 1956 and include correspondence to her editor, readers, husband and daughter.
“The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” “Pioneer Girl” and the Little House books are available at the Heritage Store at the Cultural Heritage Center.
About the South Dakota State Historical Society
The South Dakota State Historical Society is a division of the Department of Education. The State Historical Society, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is headquartered at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. The center houses the society’s world-class museum, the archives, and the historic preservation, publishing and administrative/development offices. Call (605) 773-3458 or visit for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call (605) 394-1936 for more information.
About the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation
The South Dakota Historical Society Foundation is a private charitable nonprofit that seeks funding to assist the South Dakota State Historical Society in programming and projects to preserve South Dakota’s history and heritage for future generations.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Spearfish Canyon State Park proposal spurs more opposition

First announced by South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard a year ago, public hearings on a proposed Spearfish Canyon State Park are drawing lots of interest.

Spearfish Canyon along U.S. 14A
And there doesn't seem to be a lot of support for the concept, which hinges on a "land swap" of state land for U.S. Forest Service land.

Even Forest Service officials expressed opposition to the land swap deal, despite early support from U.S. Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds.

Yesterday (1/26/17) at a public forum in the Spearfish Park Pavilion, the public weighed in on the proposal.  According to the Rapid City Journal, it was a "raucous crowd of about 400 people," most of whom strongly oppose the plan. (Read the RC Journal story here.) 

We were supportive a few years ago when South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks developed and improved the facilities around Roughlock Falls, which would appear to be smack-dab in the middle of the proposed new Spearfish Canyon State Park.  But there was no revelation  back then that state officials would return a few years later with plans for a Spearfish Canyon State Park.

To learn more about the proposed state park, you can take a look at the website Spearfish which was developed by the State of South Dakota.  It provides background information on the project, including information about the master plan, maps, history, and other updates. 

And, if you're so inclined, you'll find our views on the proposal at Black Hills Monitor.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Battleship South Dakota launched before Pearl Harbor attack

1941 sound recording of the USS South Dakota christening is available on the South Dakota State Historical Society website

PIERRE, S.D. – Two lacquer radio transcription discs, held in the collections of the South Dakota State Historical Society-Archives at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre, broadcast the June 7, 1941, double christening and launching of the battleship USS South Dakota from the New York Shipbuilding Corporation ways at Camden, N.J.
The digital audio recording of the christening of the South Dakota can be heard on the South Dakota Digital Archives website. Visit and find the link on the right to “USS South Dakota.” A transcript of the recording is also available on the website. The audio recording run time is just over 21 minutes.
The two discs were recently sent to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Mass. The conservation center used its touchless optical scanning technology, called IRENE, to retrieve the sound from the two discs. 
At 1:20 p.m., on June 7, 1941, First Lady Vera Bushfield, official sponsor of the battleship christening ceremonies and wife of South Dakota Governor Harlan J. Bushfield, christened the battleship with a “full-size” bottle of Cook’s Imperial American champagne across the waiting prow of the United States Navy’s newest battleship South Dakota. A second “half-sized” champagne bottle, donated by Pierre resident Genevieve Trask, was also used in the ceremony – a special double christening. 

The U.S. Navy’s newest battleship, the USS South Dakota, awaits its christening and launching at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation ways in Camden, New Jersey, on June 7, 1941. (Photo courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society-Archives)

After a brief delay, the South Dakota traveled down the ways into the Delaware River. As proclaimed by radio announcer Lewis Fischer, “There she goes … Mrs. Bushfield has just smashed the christening bottle and majestically the South Dakota is going down the ways. You can hear the crowd yelling, the flags are flying and the whistles blowing. It is a magnificent sight.”
The Sioux Falls Washington High School band performed at the event and played “Anchors Aweigh” as the ship drifted into the Delaware River. The band played the national anthem later in the ceremony. 
The main speaker for the event was U.S. Secretary of War Frank Knox. He said, “There are fewer stirring views, nor moving sites, than that which you just witnessed. To see a great battleship leave the spot on the land and take to her native element. And to know that great ship will make a tremendous contribution to the safety of our country and all the people in it is a moving thought.
Secretary Knox emphasized that day on June 7, 1941, exactly six months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the necessity of preparing the military for the future, saying “We must, if we are to play our part in the world of the future, establish and maintain the greatest sea power the world has ever seen and along with that predominant sea power, and auxiliary service, civil supplemented and make it all powerful everywhere.”
He continued, “Unhappily we seem to be living in a time, when affairs are moved by force, when destinies are controlled by force and since we know now that at this time in the world, which for some time in the future we must live. Then we Americans must have that force, which is first essential to protect us in our security and safety and finally to support those elements and those ideals in humanity and civilization that will bring finally peace to this war in the world.”
Knox concluded, “On your behalf I say, to the good ship South Dakota, God go with you, because after all, your mission, the mission for which we built you, is not war, but the prevention of war as God wills. Thank you.”
A recording of the ceremony was made by radio station WCAU of Philadelphia. The recording was sent via airmail to WNAX in Yankton, which broadcast the ceremonies. Arthur J. Smith, program director of WNAX, presented the transcription discs to Governor and Mrs. Bushfield, who then transferred them to the South Dakota State Historical Society. 
The 17th Virginia Class nuclear submarine, the USS SOUTH DAKOTA (SSN 790), will be christened in the summer of 2017. The submarine is scheduled to join the fleet in August 2018.The SSN 790 will be the third boat commissioned with the name “South Dakota.” The first was the Armored Cruiser USS South Dakota (ACR-9). The second was the Battleship South Dakota (BB-57), one of the most decorated battleships in World War Two.
- 30 -
 ~~~~ Story courtesy of the South Dakota State Historical Society
The South Dakota State Historical Society is a division of the Department of Education. The State Historical Society, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is headquartered at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. The center houses the society’s world-class museum, the archives, and the historic preservation, publishing and administrative/development offices. Call (605) 773-3458 or for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call (605) 394-1936 for more information.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

George Blair, B-25 bomber pilot, remembers World War II

by Duke Doering

Writing in a long-ago declassified report, an officer from Sturgis rancher George Blair’s World War II Air Corps Squadron described enemy response as “…meager inaccurate to accurate fire…”

On March 28, 71 years ago, Japanese machine gunners were “accurate” enough to cripple Blair’s B-25J medium bomber, put the 10-ton airplane into ocean off Indo China (today’s Vietnam) and compel Blair to generate a vision of his girlfriend that prevented him from drowning.

As South Dakotans join others across the nation to celebrate Veterans Day, the re-telling of Blair’s Army Air Corps service in the Pacific Theater reminds everyone how the skill, bravery and sometimes luck of this veteran contributed to victory against Axis forces.  Part of the 16 million men and women who served in uniform during that war, Blair also is symbolic of the countless veterans who returned to civilian life to marry, raise a family, be successful in a career and continue to serve, in Blair’s case with four terms in the South Dakota House of Representatives.

Blair was born in 1921 in Pleasant Valley, six miles south and east of Sturgis.  Learning in a one-room school, graduation from Sturgis High School in 1939 and work on a busy family cattle ranch were predictable milestones in his life until the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.  From that point, Blair wanted to support the war effort as a pilot.  However, to be accepted as a flying cadet during the start of the war, at least two years of college had to be part of a volunteer’s academic resume, something Blair lacked.

So Blair traveled to Spearfish and talked with already legendary aviator Clyde Ice.  The largely self-taught barnstormer, air transporter and flight instructor advised Blair to ignore the two-year college requirement because the military would soon be unable to recruit enough pre-qualified potential pilots.  To enhance his eligibility for selection, Ice recommended immediate enrollment in classes at Black Hills Teachers College plus simultaneous evening courses in ground school.  Along with classroom instruction, Ice could provide flying lessons in his two-seat Aeronca.  By March 1942, Blair was in class with nine other College Training Program students and in the air over the Black Hills and surrounding prairie.  Blair also started a courtship with Viola Hays, a college algebra classmate.

Next came extensive physical, mental and psychological testing.  In May, Blair was sworn into the Army Air Corps.  Learning the rudiments of being a soldier-airman followed at Randolph Field, Texas, where Blair was accepted into flight training in October.  His military flight school began at the dual controls of the Stearman Kaydet bi-plane, followed by a second phase in the more powerful and complex BT-13A, the Vulcan Valiant, also nicknamed “The Vibrator” for its ability to shake aviators’ bones plus the nuts and bolts that held everything together.

Commissioned as a 2nd Lt., and wearing hard-earned flight wings in August 1943,  Blair wanted an assignment with the B-25 medium bomber in honor and respect for Lt. Col. “Jimmy” Doolittle, the leader of the nicknamed Raiders who completed a daring bombing mission over Japan in April of 1942, flying the versatile twin-engine plane from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.  Just 16 months after joining the military, one of the Air Corps’ newest pilots and former rancher got his wish.  McClellan Army Airfield in northern California was Blair’s next duty station where he learned the fundamentals of operating the B-25, the winged workhorse that the nation’s aircraft industry eventually duplicated in several variants more than 9,800 times.

During night training missions, Blair and fellow students sometimes flew over Los Angeles where intense spotlights constantly scanned the skies.  Blair still remembers getting “great advice” from instructors who cautioned the students to ignore the searing lights by looking down at the instrument panel and never outside.

Once qualified in the B-25, Blair was transferred across country to Columbia, S.C., for six months of additional flight training.  By April 1944, Blair was cleared to join an operational bomber unit.  He became part of three crews that flew shiny B-25s from a base in Savannah, Ga., back to his bomber starting point in California.  The crews remained there for a week preparing for an island-hopping journey to Hawaii, Christmas Island, Guadalcanal and, eventually, a maintenance facility at Townsville, Australia, where the aircraft were painted in combat colors and retrofitted with newer machine guns.  The first tactical duty station for the newly qualified aircrews became Biak, New Guinea, where Blair and his colleagues learned the fundamentals of in-theater operations and launched their first combat mission against a Japanese airfield.

All returned unscathed from their first taste of battle.  Blair still can recall, “While we were dropping the bombs, I noticed some black spots occasionally appearing in front of me.  It took a few seconds, and suddenly I realized they were shooting at me.”  For nearly a year, he flew 46 more combat missions with the 501st “Black Panthers” Squadron of the 345th Bombardment Group, moving operational bases closer and closer toward Japan.

On March 28, 1945, Blair was part of a large mission that involved aircraft from all four of the Bomb Group’s squadrons.  In his routine report,  1st Lt. Issac Baker, the squadron’s assistant intelligence officer, wrote the primary target for that day was to intercept a shipping convoy that had been sighted moving north in the Indo China Sea, with a secondary target of any land installation on the coast. By the time Group leaders got the formation over the anticipated ocean target area, no ships could be found.

They turned inland, with Black Panther aircraft assigned to sweep 60 miles of coastline from Phan Thiet to Phan Rang.  Three flights of B-25Js found the My Thanh rail yard, dropping 27 bombs at maximum speed from very low altitudes and strafing the area with .50-caliber machine gun fire.  Return fire from the defenders was not heavy, but it was enough to create a crippling oil leak in the starboard engine of Blair’s plane and pepper another Black Panther aircraft with holes.
Blair made a quick decision to shut down the 14-cylinder Wright Cyclone engine and “feather” its propeller to avoid further damage.  Flying 15 more miles back to the mainland became a swiftly discarded option.  If they landed safely, all would immediately become prisoners of war.  Ditching at sea or landing on an unoccupied island were alternatives, with the more realistic hope that a U.S. submarine would be in the area to provide rescue.

Writing a summary of the attack the next day, Baker tersely described the few known details: “Plane 175 (Blair’s plane), hit by ack ack was forced to go on a single engine and when last seen was flying on a single engine at 1,230/I [altitude] 15 miles off Cape Faux Varella on a 102 degree course.  Pilot radioed squadron leader that everything was under control and he was trying to make it to Two Island.”  He then goes on to identify Blair and five additional crewmen as “missing.”

What Baker did not know or did not report was the tense radio traffic drama in the sky in the minutes after Blair’s bomber received enemy fire.  The leader of a different Black Panther flight quickly learned that Blair’s aircraft was in trouble and radioed the surfaced submarine U.S.S. Guavina that was patrolling in the area.  Blair started transmitting a “Blue Fish, this is Blue Flyer,” message to contact the sub.  The Guavina’s signalman then provided its location to Blair on the radio frequency his crew was monitoring.  Ditching at sea, as close to the 311 ft. vessel as possible, became Blair’s best option.  “We never had any practice ditching an airplane,” the longtime rancher ironically recalls, a maneuver impossible to rehearse with a land-based aircraft.

As the bomber started skipping across the ocean waves, Blair hit his head on a gunsight and was knocked unconscious.  The plane settled into the water and temporarily remained afloat, an unconventional landing that Blair says was, “more luck than skill.”
Within minutes, Blair regained consciousness and joined the other crewmen who were able to escape from the soon-to-sink aircraft.  Blair was on the wing of the plane for a few moments before it went under, struggling to inflate both sides of his life jacket.  Just half of the jacket filled, a perilous circumstance that nearly killed Blair as he fought “to get in sync” with the 10-foot swells that covered the airplane as it went to the floor of the Pacific Ocean.  Tailgunner Staff Sgt. J.R. Richardson made it out of the fuselage but told a crewmate that he could not swim and was not seen again.

Wave after wave covered Blair’s half-supported body each time he tried to breathe.  Exhausted, Blair remembers thinking, “just quit.”  He laid in the water, ready to surrender, “when, I looked up in the sky and saw my girlfriend - in color - just her shoulder and her head.   I thought, if I am ever going to see her again, I better start fighting for my life.”

Still struggling, Blair estimates no more than two minutes later, a crewman from the Navy sub was in the water next to him with rope that pulled them both to the safety of the boat. Others who survived included the co-pilot, navigator, engineer and radio operator.  The sub buttoned up and headed east for San Marcelino, Philippines, the home base of the 345th Group where Blair continued to heal from the 13 stitches he received to close the gash on his head.

The attack on the rail yard became Blair’s last combat mission.  By then he had exceeded the 100 points necessary for departure from the front lines of the war in the Pacific.  Back home in Meade County, discharged from the Air Corps and married to his “vision” girlfriend Viola Marie.  

Members of the Blair family are shown in this 1995 family photo.  Left-to-right are:
Gayle, Mary Beth, Nancy, Jerry, George and Viola, Jeff, Kathleen, Janet, and Ann.

The couple soon was busy with post-war life, eventually raising nine children and managing the ranch.  Viola passed away in 2002, just a few months before Blair was honored to receive a belated Purple Heart medal during a surprise, family arranged ceremony.  Blair, now 95, continues to live on his ranch in Pleasant Valley.

(Editor's note:  Our thanks to Duke Doering 
[shown at right] for sharing this fine story
 and associated photographs.  You can take a look at
 all photos related to this story