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Friday, August 2, 2019

Just who was Verne Sankey: America's First Public Enemy?

On Tuesday, Aug. 13, Tim Bjorkman will tell the story of a good man gone bad when the History and Heritage Book Club meets at 7 p.m. CDT, at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. Bjorkman, a Canistota resident, is the author of “Verne Sankey: America’s First Public Enemy.”

“Verne Sankey’s name is almost lost to history. But in 1934, as authorities delivered John Dillinger to an Indiana jail, the United States Justice Department announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had just captured America’s Public Enemy No. 1. The Justice Department was not referring to Dillinger, but to Sankey,” said Catherine Forsch, president of the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation.

The foundation is the nonprofit fundraising partner of the South Dakota State Historical Society and the sponsor of the History and Heritage Book Club.

Sankey was born on July 18, 1891, in Avoca, Iowa. His family moved to Wilmot in northeastern South Dakota when Sankey was a boy. As an adult, Sankey and his bride moved to Melville, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1914 to work for the railroad. The family returned to South Dakota in 1931 and bought a farm southwest of Gann Valley. By then, Sankey had become a gambler, bootlegger and bank robber. In 1933, he kidnapped a wealthy Denver man and held him for ransom.

Bjorkman became interested in Sankey when he was a child, listening to two barbers talk about the outlaw. His interest was rekindled when, as an adult, he stopped in Gann Valley and read about Sankey in old editions of the town’s newspaper.

“Sankey was the first – and actually the only – Public Enemy No. 1 ever identified by the United States Department of Justice,” Bjorkman said. “That claim – first made in this book – has never been challenged and corrects oversights and misstatements on the topic of public enemies which entirely overlooked Sankey.”

Bjorkman served for a decade as a judge of South Dakota’s First Judicial Circuit, comprising 14 southeastern South Dakota counties. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion in 1978 and from its law school in 1982. He practiced law in Bridgewater for 24 years. Bjorkman was elected as judge of the First Judicial Circuit in 2006 and re-elected in 2014. Now retired from the bench, he writes, gardens and, together with his wife, travels and relishes time with his children and grandchildren.

Copies of “Verne Sankey: America’s First Public Enemy” are sold at the Heritage Stores at the Cultural Heritage Center and the Capitol, online at www.sdhsf.org or by calling 605-773-6346.

People can find out how to join the program at locations other than the Cultural Heritage Center by calling 605-773-6006.

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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 www.history.sd.gov 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.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Missile Exhibit on Display at Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre

The new exhibit “Silent Silos: South Dakota’s Missile Field” is on display at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.  It opened on June 1st.

A launch control facility in South Dakota is shown under construction. The ground breaking of South Dakota's missile field was Sept. 11, 1961. By 1963 all of the 150 launch facilities (missile silos) and 15 launch control facilities were manned and ready to defend the United States as a deterrent. 

(Photo courtesy Minuteman Missile National Historic Site)
The exhibit will be open through February 2021 and is a collaboration with the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. The two institutions have been working together since June 2018 on the project. 

Featuring never-before-seen artifacts from the collections of the Minuteman site and the State Historical Society, the exhibit traces the development of the Cold War-era missile field in South Dakota to house the new Minuteman missile and later the Minuteman II nuclear weapons designed to shield the United States from Russian missiles. 

From local protests about land use to the life of the missileers who operated both above and below ground, the exhibit employs photographs, artifacts, music, video, oral histories and interactives that bring this complex story to light. The exhibit includes a 1980s-era video game called “Missile Command,” Civil Defense videos featuring a character named “Bert the Turtle” and political advertisements that serve to remind visitors how the Cold War was omnipresent in American culture of the era.  

“It was important to us not to duplicate the exhibit that presently exists at the Minuteman site near Phillip,” said Jay Smith, museum director. “So we worked closely with Minuteman Superintendent Eric Leonard and his staff to ensure that we had a unique story to tell that emphasized different aspects of both the material culture and the human face of the silent silos story.”

Artifacts such as a transport container that once held top-secret control panels, the launch keys that two missileers had to simultaneously turn to engage the warheads and other items will be displayed in the museum exhibit. The exhibit also features oral histories from the missileers who described what it was like to work in the missile field. A menu board from the above-ground barracks will display the sustenance provided the men and women at the site.  

The exhibit also addresses how and why the missile field was closed, the economic impact the missile field had on the economy of western South Dakota, as well as the anti-nuclear and anti-war protests that occurred in South Dakota in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. 

“Simply put, this is a complex story worthy of preservation and public attention,” Smith said. “The impact of the missile field on South Dakota history continues to reverberate through the creation of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site by the National Park Service. The site draws more than 125,000 visitors each year, making it one of the most popular attractions in the state.”

The museum is open from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. CDT Monday through Saturday, and 1-4:30 p.m. CDT on Sundays and most holidays. Call 605-773-3458 for more information about exhibits, special events and upcoming activities.

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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 www.history.sd.gov for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call 605-394-1936 for more information.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Civilian Conservation Corps in South Dakota


Historical markers across South Dakota indicate the location of Civilian Conservation Corps camps, telling the stories of the CCC and the work done at the camps. But one need only look at our state’s landscapes to know this would be a much different place without the work of the men of the CCC.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a major part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Begun in 1933, the CCC was originally designed to preserve natural resources, provide jobs for single men ages 18-25 and to help their families financially during the Great Depression. Most of the men who worked for the CCC received pay of $30 a month in addition to room and board, with $25 a month sent home to support their families. Later, the allotment going home was reduced and camps were established for World War I veterans.

More than 30,000 men served in the South Dakota corps between 1933 and 1942, according to the website of the CCC Museum of South Dakota, located in Hill City.

The majority of the 50 CCC camps and smaller side camps in South Dakota were in the Black Hills.

Enrollees in the Black Hills thinned forests; planted trees; developed trails; removed flammable debris; built bridges, dams, roads and fire towers; put up telephone lines; landscaped and fought forest fires. According to the CCC museum’s website, fighting fires consumed much of the men’s time because summers were so dry. A fire detail of at least 25 men remained in each camp, prepared to immediately respond when a fire was reported.

The largest and most difficult project undertaken in the Black Hills National Forest by CCC crews was building the stone fire lookout tower at Black Elk Peak.

CCC worker with a "Ben Hur Chariot" at work in the 1930s
All the building materials had to be transported up the mountain.

Approximately 7,500 rocks were hand-picked from French Creek and the surrounding countryside and transported by truck to the foot of the nearly 4-mile trail leading to the 7,242-foot peak. Small two-wheeled carts consisting of half of an oil drum mounted on a short axle were pulled by one horse to transport rocks and other items to the top. These carts, called “Ben Hur Chariots,” could haul only 15 to 20 stones per trip. Pack trains of 10 horses each were used to transport sand and sacks of cement to the summit. On the way up the trail each man carried a board or other light item. CCC workers dammed a spring at the top of the peak to use for water to make cement and mortar.

Some of the lakes in the Black Hills are the result of CCC projects. Sheridan Lake was created after CCC and Works Progress Administration crews built an earthen dam over Spring Creek. Dams built by CCC crews created Horsethief, Stockade, Center and Bismarck lakes. Orman Dam and the surrounding irrigation ditches were rehabilitated by CCC workers.

In Custer State Park, CCC crews built the Pigtail Bridges on Iron Mountain Road, the Norbeck building that served as the park’s visitor center and is now an education center, a lookout station and rangers’ quarters on Mount Coolidge, cabins at Blue Bell and Sylvan lakes, and Grizzly Bear Campground. They also developed five springs with water tanks for bison.

Enrollees developed Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument and Badlands National Park. Some of the projects at Wind Cave involved renovating tour trails, installing an elevator shaft and concrete steps and constructing the park’s water and sewer system. At Jewel Cave, enrollees constructed a headquarters building, parking lot and foot trail. At Badlands National Park, enrollees built the park’s headquarters, a check-in station at Pinnacles, a water system at Cedar Pass Lodge and the custodian’s residence at Cedar Pass.

Although the majority of the CCC camps were in the Black Hills, camps were also located in eastern South Dakota.

CCC workers turned Farm Island near Pierre and American Island near Chamberlain into recreational playgrounds. Among the projects at Farm Island were building a causeway connecting the mainland to the island; picnic areas equipped with shelter cabins; cabins for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Izaak Walton League; and a monument to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. At American Island, enrollees built tourist cabins, a bath house, racetrack, roads and parking areas, and planted shrubs, trees and shelterbelts.

At the CCC camp at Alcester, men demonstrated soil and water conservation. The men planted trees in Union County State Park and established a tree nursery at Vermillion. Tours showing results aided in the organization of conservation districts in Clay, Union, Bon Homme and Lincoln counties.

Camp LaCreek near Martin was part of a national CCC program to develop waterfowl refuges. The CCC and WPA built levees, roads, boundary fence and an observation tower and planted thousands of trees and shrubs to develop the 9,302-acre Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Roosevelt administration directed federal programs to emphasize the war effort. The 77th United States Congress ceased funding the CCC, and operations were concluded on June 30, 1942.
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This moment in South Dakota history is provided by the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising partner of the South Dakota State Historical Society at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. Find us on the web at www.sdhsf.org. Contact us at info@sdhsf.org to submit a story idea.
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Monday, June 24, 2019

Hills properties added to National Register of Historic Places

Eight more South Dakota properties have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, according to the South Dakota State Historical Society. 

The listed properties are the Chambers Dugout in the Belle Fourche vicinity, the Roosevelt School in Belle Fourche, the First Presbyterian Church of Groton, the Solomon and Martha Hann Homestead near Nemo, the Haakon County Courthouse in Philip, the Jackson Boulevard Historic District in Spearfish, the Perkins Congregational Church near Springfield and the Dickens Round Barn in the Worthing vicinity.

The National Register is the official federal list of properties identified as important in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering and culture. The State Historic Preservation Office of the State Historical Society works in conjunction with the National Park Service, which oversees the National Register program, to list the properties. 

"South Dakota's history is rich in American Indian culture, pioneer life and change," said Jay D. Vogt, state historic preservation officer and director of the State Historical Society at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. "The more than 1,300 state individual properties and districts listed on the National Register are important for their role in South Dakota's culture, heritage and history. And when properties get listed, it shows that their owners take pride in their role in preserving that culture, heritage and history."

Buildings, sites, structures and objects at least 50 years old possessing historical significance may qualify for the National Register, according to Vogt. Properties must also maintain their historic location, design, materials and association. Listing on the National Register does not place any limitations on private property owners by the federal government. 

Following is more information about these newly listed properties.

Chambers Dugout, Belle Fourche vicinity
The Chambers Dugout, built around 1885, is located on private property in Butte County. It is listed for its significance as a homesteading-era housing type. Born in Paris, France, in 1859, John Chambers came to America with his parents about 1860. The family moved to the Black Hills in the 1880s, and Chambers filed a claim on his homestead along Hay Creek not long thereafter.

Roosevelt School, Belle Fourche
The Roosevelt School was built in 1921. Located at 1010 State St., it is listed as significant for the educational role it played in Belle Fourche.  The original portion of the school was a rectangular shape. In 1929 an L-shaped addition gave the school its current T-shape. The Roosevelt School served as a high school and junior high school for 73 years. The building is currently undergoing rehabilitation to complete its transformation into the Historic Roosevelt Events Center.

Jackson Boulevard Historic District, Spearfish
The years of significance for the Jackson Boulevard Historic District in Spearfish are 1882 to 1961. The district is significant for the variety of architectural styles it features. It is a good representation of late 19th and early 20th century residential architecture, which is a testament to the growth and prosperity of Spearfish during this period.

First Presbyterian Church of Groton 
Located at 300 N. Main St., the First Presbyterian Church of Groton was built in 1912. It is listed for its architectural significance as an excellent example of Gothic Revival architecture adapted to fit changes in Protestant worship practices. It is also listed for its modified Akron plan with the Sunday school located adjacent to the sanctuary and separated by a movable partition.

Solomon and Martha Hann Homestead, Nemo vicinity
After emigrating from Finland around 1889, Solomon and Martha Hann established a claim on the land that would eventually become their small farm in the Black Hills Forest Reserve. Located at 21732 Hann Pl., their homestead is significant for its vernacular log architecture and as a representative of an early Finnish homestead in the Black Hills.  The Hanns provided food to the large mining industry in the northern Black Hills. Miners depended on local farmers since the delivery of supplies from the outside was limited due to the rough terrain and other logistics.

Haakon County Courthouse, Philip
Built in 1930, the Haakon County Courthouse is located at 140 Howard Ave. in Philip. It is significant for its Art Deco architecture and as a representation of Haakon County’s political and governmental past.  Originally, the courthouse leased the old wooden Philip schoolhouse. When their new building was completed, it brought hope to the citizens of Philip despite deteriorating economic conditions.

Jackson Boulevard Historic District, Spearfish
The years of significance for the Jackson Boulevard Historic District in Spearfish are 1882 to 1961. The district is significant for the variety of architectural styles it features. It is a good representation of late 19th and early 20th century residential architecture, which is a testament to the growth and prosperity of Spearfish during this period.

Perkins Congregational Church, Springfield vicinity
The Perkins Congregational Church was built in 1901. Located at 31205 409th St., this property is significant for architecture as a rural Gothic Revival wood-frame church in Bon Homme County.  The Perkins Congregational Church Society was organized in 1900 and formed by settlers of mixed ethnicities including English, German, Scandinavian (Danish) and Dutch. The frame church was the first and only church built in the hamlet of Perkins.

Dickens Round Barn, Worthing vicinity
The Dickens Round Barn, located at 27882 473rd Ave., is listed for its architecture as a rare, surviving clay tile round barn. Built in 1917, the barn is listed under the South Dakota Round and Polygonal Barns and Pavilions (1995) Multiple Property Listing.  Additionally, the Dickens Round Barn represents a unique trend of mail-order barn plans specific to Lake, Lincoln, McCook and Minnehaha counties in southeastern South Dakota around the Sioux Falls area. The building embodies the distinctive characteristics of the last stage of round barn buildings in South Dakota. Defining features of this property type include hollow clay tile construction, true round plan, round interior silo and a self-supporting roof not requiring extra supports except for the silo.

For more information on the National Register or other historic preservation programs, contact the State Historic Preservation Office at the Cultural Heritage Center, 900 Governors Drive, Pierre, SD 57501-2217; telephone 605-773-3458 or website history.sd.gov/Preservation (click on National Register of Historic Places in the right column).

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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 history.sd.gov for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call 605-394-1936 for more information.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

D-Day program set for Tuesday at Cultural Heritage Center

A critical turning point in World War II will be the focus of a program this Tuesday, June 4, at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.

Dr. Benjamin Jones will tell about the D-Day invasion of France by Allied forces in a program beginning at 7 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, June 4. Everyone is welcome to attend the free program.

“June 6 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Without the D-Day invasion, the Allies may not have defeated the Nazi forces in Europe,” said Catherine Forsch, president of the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation. The foundation hosts the program and is the nonprofit fundraising partner of the South Dakota State Historical Society.

D-Day at Normandy Beach - June 6, 1944
On June 6, 1944, more than 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops stormed 50 miles of Normandy’s beaches in northern France. The D-Day invasion, officially called Operation Overlord, had been years in the planning.

The invasion was carried out along five sections of beachfront codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

The D-Day invasion began before daylight on June 6 with paratroopers landing inland on the Utah and Sword beaches to cut off exits and destroy bridges to slow Nazi reinforcements.

The troops who stormed the five beaches faced not only the enemy, but bad weather. Rough seas made landings difficult. Many regiments came ashore far from their target destination. Anticipating an Allied invasion somewhere along the French coast, the Nazis had constructed the Atlantic Wall, a 2,400-mile line of bunker, landmines, and beach and water obstacles.

The heaviest fighting occurred at the Omaha and Juno beaches. The first waves of American fighters at Omaha Beach were cut down by German machine gun fire, and the first lines of Canadian troops at Juno Beach were also gunned down.
All five beaches were secured by June 11, however.

Because in part by the massive influx of troops and equipment, D-Day marked a turning point in the war. Less than a year later, on May 7, 1945, Germany signed an unconditional surrender.

Jones is the secretary of the South Dakota Department of Education. He has a doctorate in history from the University of Kansas. He retired from the United States Air Force after 23 years at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He has been an assistant professor of history at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He served in Afghanistan twice. Jones is the author of “Eisenhower’s Guerrillas, the Jedburghs, the Maquis, and the Liberation of France.”

Jones was dean of the College of Arts and Science at Dakota State University in Madison before leading the S.D. Department of Education.

The program is part of the History and Heritage Book Club sponsored by the foundation. The foundation sells several books about World War II in the Heritage Stores. They include “Dancing with Colonels,” “Lucky Stars and Gold Bars” and “Reveille for Sioux Falls.”

People can join in the program from locations other than the Cultural Heritage Center. People need a laptop or desktop computer with a camera, mic and speakers, and an internet connection using Google Chrome as their IE browser. Arrangements to join the program need to be made at least two days in advance by calling 605-773-6006.

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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 www.history.sd.gov 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, March 8, 2019

SDSHS lists early auto licenses/dealers online


The State Archives of the South Dakota State Historical Society recently added to its website searchable indexes to motor vehicle licenses issued from 1905-1911 and automobile dealer licenses issued from 1913-1919. 

Visit the State Archives website at history.sd.gov/archives. A link is found on the Collection Indexes page to Automobile Licenses/Dealers.

The first auto license was issued to Jason T. Bigelow of Flandreau in March of 1905. The vehicle had a 4.5-horsepower Olds Motor Works engine and featured signals of a gas lamp and bell.

An automobile license with South Dakota plate number 6834 was issued to Konrad Stiffler of Worthing in August of 1910. The car had a 12-horsepower engine and included signals of both a horn and lights. (Photo courtesy South Dakota State Historical Society-Archives)
The Secretary of State’s office issued the motor vehicle licenses from 1905-1911. The records, contained in two leather-bound volumes, include the license number, automobile owner’s name, town, make of motor, vehicle horsepower and available signals on the automobile.

“We’ve received a fair amount of requests from people with old license plates looking to connect the plate with the owner and vehicle,” said South Dakota State Archivist Chelle (“SHELL-ee”) Somsen.

Auto dealer licenses were also issued by the Secretary of State. The auto dealer records date from 1913-1919. Information includes dealer name, license number, town and county, date and year the license was issued, and types of cars sold at the dealership. 

Volunteers with the State Archives were tasked with adding the information into a searchable database.

“We are thankful to the volunteers who’ve worked on this project the last few years,” said Somsen.

For more information, contact the State Archives, located at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre, at 605-773-3804 or archref@state.sd.us.

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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 visitwww.history.sd.gov for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call 605-394-1936 for more information.