"Laura could see the low swell of land sloping up from the coarse grasses of the Big Slough to the little claim shanty. It looked hardly larger than a chicken coop, with its half-roof slanting up and stopping. The sod stable hardly showed in the wild grasses." In this passage from Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes the Ingalls homestead in Dakota Territory. Of Laura's nine world-famous books, six recall her pioneering experiences in DeSmet, where the Ingalls family moved when Laura was twelve. The beloved author attended school, taught school, married Almanzo Wilder, and gave birth to daughter Rose, all in the tiny prairie town, before moving to Mansfield, Missouri in 1894.
(Check out Laura Ingalls Wilder's homestead in De Smet, SD. While there, take a tour of the schoolhouse and gift shop.)
Hamlin Garland followed in his parents' footsteps and became a pioneer. They accepted the challenge of an untamed prairie; he broke literary tradition by becoming one of the first "dirt farmer novelists." He was among the first to write realistically about the West-and to sell what he wrote to sophisticated publishers in the East. Garland's best-known work is the Middle Border trilogy: A Son of the Middle Border, A Daughter of the Middle Border, which won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize, and Trailmakers of the Middle Border. Main Traveled Books, a collection of his best short stories, is now considered a classic.
The Arthur C. Mellette family came to Dakota Territory from Indiana in 1878. Very early, Mellette joined a movement for division of the territory into two separate states. When Benjamin Harrison (whom Mellette had supported in Indiana political campaigns) became President in 1889, he appointed Mellette Territorial Governor. Only months later, Harrison and a Republican Congress passed the Enabling Act, allowing Dakota Territory to divide and form separate governments. The voters of South Dakota then approved a proposed state constitution and overwhelmingly elected Arthur C. Mellette the first Governor of the new state.
(You can find the Mellette House open for tours May-October in Watertown, SD)
"I remember when there were no fences and the prairie flowers nodded to each other under the winds to the far horizons..." Such memories lured one of America's best-loved painters of the West, Harvey Dunn, back to South Dakota after his career had taken him far from the homestead where he was born. Dunn illustrated national magazines like the Saturday Evening Post and captured World War I on canvas, as one of eight artists with American forces in Europe, before devoting much of the remainder of his life to portraying the struggles and victories of prairie pioneers.
She was South Dakota's first woman legislator, the first woman appointed assistant to the Secretary of State, and the first woman elected to serve as Secretary of State. In November of 1938, Gladys Pyle became the first Republican woman elected to the United States Senate. Ironically, Gladys' suffragette mother, who served as first president of the South Dakota League of Women Voters and who was the first woman nominated in South Dakota as a presidential elector, tried to discourage her daughter from even entering politics and government. Mamie Shield Pyle feared people would think Gladys was "cashing in" on her mother's work.
(You can find the Gladys Pyle House Museum in Huron, SD)
L. Frank Baum married Maud Gage, daughter of prominent suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage, in 1882. Six years later, he moved his family to Aberdeen, in the Dakota Territory, where he opened a variety store. But area farmers, suffering from recurrent droughts, bought little and Baum's Bazaar closed just over a year after it had opened. Then, the first issue of the "Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer" came out-with L. Frank Baum as editor. But hard times continued, subscription and advertising revenues dropped, and he gave up the paper and took this family to Chicago. L. Frank Baum never returned to Dakota Territory, but his lingering fascination with its rugged landscape is colorfully revealed in the opening pages of a children's book he wrote, The Wizard of Oz.
(Check out Storybook Land/Land of Oz in Aberdeen, SD)