A new serving of shirt pocket du jour

Brookings County Now & Then

People send me stuff.  

I enjoy stuff I find in old newspapers. 

I write stuff down on slips of paper, fragile restaurant napkins or on scruffy corners of newspapers. 

I stuff all that stuff in my shirt pocket. 

Today I’m emptying out the “stuff.” 

I call it my shirt pocket du jour stuff.

It’s Dec. 7, a date that in many minds is, as President Roosevelt said: “A date which will live in infamy.” December 7, 1941, was the beginning of World War II for our country.

One-hundred and one Brookings County men and one woman died in that war. In its aftermath, the Korean “conflict,” seven Brookings County men were killed. Then came Vietnam, where five of our fellow county citizens died. Remember them all.

Gov.-elect Kristi Noem hopes to help Hot Springs develop as a vacation destination for veterans. Great idea. In addition to its many other positive attractions, it has the warmest winters of any South Dakota city.

The town was founded by Fred Evans, the dynamo who made a fortune operating the largest bull train freighting business in Dakota Territory. He put more than 1,500 oxen to work on the Fort Pierre to Deadwood trail and hauled millions of pounds of stuff to the gold fields. 

His Hot Springs town was once “the” place to visit. The National Association of Railway Surgeons, about 1,500 of them plus spouses, rode plush excursion trains there in 1893 from their annual convention site in Omaha, compliments of the railroads. 

Hot Springs in the gold rush days wasn’t Deadwood, where keeping the peace was difficult. On Feb. 12, 1878, Deadwood Police Chief Bill Coffey responded to a letter from W.W. Thorpe, a New York detective who submitted an application for a position on the force. He mentioned he was 5’10” and weighed 227 pounds.

Answered Chief Coffey, “I can hardly advise you to come, for all our services are rendered on horseback, and our horses are nothing more than Indian ponies.”

“Your weight would prevent your riding any of them, and in consequence, you could hardly fill the requirements of this department. I had to discharge one of my best men the other day because he weighed 142 pounds.”

Three items moved recently to the Brookings County Museum’s display in the lobby of the Brookings City & County Government Center weighed more than that. Added to the display was an old school desk, a school bell and a school buildng corner stone. 

Heaviest and most awkward to put in place was the “round” cornerstone that once adorned the city’s second school building, a three-story brick edifice called the Red Castle located about where the Children’s Museum of South Dakota dinosaur roars today.

The 130-year-old corner stone is a likeness of Longfellow’s Hiawatha, and except for a chipped nose, is in excellent condition.

Interestingly, a stone statue, this one of Tetonkaha, who was of Oakwood Lake origin, was a gift of the SDSU Class of 1931 presented at the dedication of Sylvan Theater and placed in a stage niche fashioned for it. Tetonkaha later had her nose bruised by vandals. Her nose is now repaired and Tetonkaha can be seen in Wenona Hall. A bronze replica of her is now in that Sylvan Theater niche. 

Voters in November rejected a plan to raise cigarette taxes. In 1923 the Legislature voted to tax cigarettes and even the paper in which tobacco was rolled. The income was to build public college buildings, including Lincoln Library at SDSU. Once lawmakers discovered it had a cash cow by the horns, the cigarette tax money was no longer assigned to the struggling, and at that time, publicly supported colleges and universities. 

We hear the state is slowly winning the Pine Bark Beetle battle in the Black Hills. The beetles have been around forever. In 1898 some suggested the state buy flocks of woodpeckers to ferret them out from under the trees’ bark. Better minds prevailed. 

Finally, I need help from someone who speaks Dutch. Lowell Vandenberg of Volga a week ago gave the Brookings County Museum a nice sea chest his grandmother packed to take from Barendrecht, the Netherlands, to Volga.

Mrs. Bakker’s husband had died, and John DenOtter of Volga’s wife had passed away. They decided to marry, so Mrs. Bakker and her three boys sailed on the S.S. Rijdam from Rotterdam on Sept. 3, 1910. 

The chest contained all they owned. On it was printed in large letters: “Wed. T. Bakker, p,.a. Mr. J. d.Otter, Volga, Z. Dakota, N. Amerika.” Note the “Z” as an “S” and the “k” in America. What do the “Wed.” and the “p.a.” mean?

If you’d like to comment, email the author at [email protected]


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