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Brookings County, SD Historical Articles


Basic Brookings County Information 1881 History    




from "Dakota", Compiled by O. H. Holt, 1885


This county lies in the Big Sioux Valley, and in the first tier of counties west of the Minnesota line. It contains an area of 810 square miles, or 518,400 acres. The Big Sioux river traverses the county from north to south, nearly through the central part, and numerous creeks drain the county from either side. Numerous beautiful lakes, several of them quite extensive, are scattered about the surface. Among the most important of these may be mentioned lakes Tetonkaha, Sinai, Oak, Campbell and Poinsett.

The soil is a black vegetable mold, from one to four feet deep, with a good clay subsoil.

Considerable timber fringes the Big Sioux river, and some is also found upon the lake borders. Branches of the Chicago & North-Western Railway traverse the county in various directions.

All kinds of grain yield abundantly. The wheat crop for the past three years has averaged twenty bushels; while in numerous cases forty bushels to the acre have been harvested.

Stock raising is developing as an important industry, the abundant and nutritious grasses affording excellent pasturage.

Brookings, the county seat, is one of the most thriving towns in Central Dakota. It was first settled in 1880, is upon the Dakota Central branch of the Chicago & North-Western Railway ,and has a population of 1,000. Adequate water power is supplied by the Big Sioux river. Brookings is the seat of the Dakota Agricultural College. The buildings have recently been erected at a cost of $25,000, and the college is now in successful operation. The city contains five churches, a fine school building, three banks and three newspapers. Business interests are all well represented.

Volga is a prosperous town, has a population of nearly 600, and is located west of Brookings, on the Dakota Central. It Is quite an important point for the shipment of grain and stock, contains two churches a fine school building, three grain warehouses, a flouring mill, and various other industries

Aurora and Elkton are rapidly developing villages.



HISTORY OF Southeastern Dakota, Its Settlement and Growth,

Sioux City Iowa: Western Publishing Company, 1881




The primary facts concerning the organization of this rich and promising county elsewhere appear. The top-soil is a rich loam, varying in depth from twelve to thirty inches, containing, moreover, a fine quality of sand, thus making it rapidly productive. Good crops result with a comparatively small rainfall. The subsoil is of clay, which holds water nearly as well as an earthen vessel —the best of all combinations, according to authorities—doesn't become soft or mirey. The top-soil rapidly absorbs moisture; the subsoil retains it—thus forming a supply for vegetation to draw from, by capillary attraction, in a dry time. The dews are very heavy. The land lies in long, gentle slopes, making perfect drainage, and not washing by reason of heavy rains—all of which presents most favorable conditions for large wheat raising.


 The county is well watered by streams and lakes, and contains about 1,500 acres of timber. The towns are Medary, Oakwood, Brookings, Elkton, Aurora, and Volga. The town of Fountain, auspiciously begun, was subsequently abandoned in consequence of the suddenly appearing importance of the new town of Brookings.

 Fountain was situated eight miles northeast of Brookings, on section two, in town 110, range 49, and was started in April, 1878, by Dr. Kelsey and J. O. Walker—the latter gentleman being the present proprietor of the Brookings House in Brookings. G. W. Hopp, the present proprietor of the Brookings County Press, came first to Fountain in February, 1879. The town soon contained a two-story printing office, a hotel, two blacksmith shops, a school house, and dwelling houses, besides a Baptist Church organization. Mr. J. O. Walker was the first proprietor of the Fountain Hotel.  The town was named Fountain from several natural fountains, or springs, owned by Mr. Walker, and subsequently sold with his claim by him to A. A. Stevens. Although the exigencies of pioneer growth demanded a different municipal location, yet the country, in and about Fountain, has in no wise suffered from the removal of the projected town, being well settled, well improved, and in every respect a desirable portion of a justly appreciated and richly endowed county.


 A well known, and thoroughly reliable money dealer does not put the general condition and prospects of Brookings County any too strongly, when in a business address to his "constituency" he observes:


 "Impressed by a firm belief in the wonderful development now taking place, and still more largely to be realized in Dakota, our resident partner, before locating in Brookings, made an examination of the southeastern tier of counties—the older and more thickly populated—commencing opposite Sioux City, Iowa, and going up the valley of the Big Sioux River, extending his trip over a range of two and three counties west of the Iowa and Minnesota State lines.


 "Everywhere farm houses dotted the landscape. Towns and villages are springing into being with a rapidity unparalleled; the larger, with populations varying from 800 to 2,500, forty to sixty miles apart, and interspersed between, at distances of six to fifteen miles, smaller hamlets and villages. On the rich bottom lands the grass, swaying in waves, reached above the backs of the horses, and the farmers were busily at work with mowers cutting it by the hundreds of tons, while in the higher portions immence fields of wheat, cut and shocked, awaited the threshers.


 "Brookings County is justly called the 'Banner County of the Sioux Valley.' Situated in the central belt of Southeastern Dakota, it reaches west thirty-six miles from the Minnesota State line, across the fertile valley of the Big Sioux, and extends twenty-four miles north to south. Its surface, in general, is a gently rolling prairie, sloping down to broad and level meadow lands along the streams and river bottoms; nor is it anywhere so much broken as to render it unfit for agricultural purposes. The drainage is perfect everywhere, and such a spot as waste land is unknown. The soil is a rich, black alluvial loam, eighteen inches to five feet in depth, with a clay subsoil on the higher portions, and a gravel subsoil on the bottom lands. The population is from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and Massachusetts, interspersed with a few Norwegians, an enterprising, industrious, temperate people. The rapidity with which they are settling and improving independent of the actual value of the land, makes the security offered for small loans, absolute.


 "Three years ago all was government land, and not 250 settlers in the county. The census of 1880 gives the county 6,200, and it is safe to estimate it now at 8,000. The Chicago & Northwestern Railroal gives us a through line from Fort Pierre, on the Missouri river, two hundred miles west, to Chicago, dividing the county from east to west in two nearly equal sections, while branching off to the north, two lines are now being built, one near the eastern and the other the western boundary, reaching further up the valley to the counties north, and ultimately to connect with the Northern Pacific Railroad. What, therefore, does all this indicate? It means that that unbroken law of settlement which landed first at Plymouth Rock and New Amsterdam, the Virginias and the Carolinas, and which, as new States sprang into being, settled first their eastern boundaries, is but being repeated in Dakota."

 Medary, the pioneer settlement of the county, is located on the east bank of the Big Sioux, one mile from the south county line. Brookings County contains 518,000 acres of land, which, at an average of twenty bushels to the acre, would produce 10,368,000 bushels of wheat annually. The winters, as elsewhere in Dakota, are dry, steady and clear, with good roads and a bracing atmosphere. The clay subsoil is filled with a deposit of lime, that gives great strength to the straw and hardness to the wheat berry. Barley grows remarkably, some fields having yielded fully sixty bushels to the acre. Oats yield profitable crops. The kind, quality and quantities of corn raised would do credit to Iowa and Illinois Potatoes are raised in great quantities on sod-lands, and winter wheat does well. Timothy and clover are successfully grown. Wild grass grows largely—blue-joint, where the fire is kept out, and the best of hay and pasture are afforded. Oxen, cows, cattle and horses have wintered on hay alone. The amount of meadow land is small, in proportion to the rolling prairie; but is fine, smooth and dry, and cuts from two to four tons to the acre. In some places, the grass can be tied over an ordinary-sized horse's back, and is so thick that, when cut with a mowing machine, it leaves a "swathe" as thick as that left by a scythe in ordinary grass.   The water is pure, and the supply is unlimited.


 A Mr. Trygstadt, in the spring of 1869, with his sons, Ole, Martin, Cornelius, Erick and Michael; Ole Gjermstad, and Christopher Ballmeder, of Salem, Minnesota, settled in Brookings County. Two years afterwards, they were joined by Olans Peterson, Oliver Egaberg, Magnus Nacttins, James Hagan and Jocum Olsen. For two years, their postoffice was at Sioux Falls, sixty miles away; but, in about two years, an office was established at Flandreau, twenty miles from their location; and six months later, Martin
Trygstadt received a postmaster's commission—and thus was organized the first postoffice in Brookings County. For the first year, the nearest trading point was New Ulm, and in the fall, a trip was made to New Ulm with oxen, in order to obtain winter supplies. Thus the hardy pioneers underwent hardships and privations—the extent of which can hardly be appreciated at this day—in order that "civilization should blossom as the rose," in Dakota.


 The first business establishment in Brookings County was started by James Natesta in the autumn of 1873. He commenced the mercantile business in a little log house near Erick Trygstadt. His entire stock invoiced fifty dollars. He occupied with his business one corner of the room, the remainder of which was used as a bed-room, kitchen and parlor. The cracks between the logs were not plastered, and it was "nice and cool;" but when the proprietor of this extensive business establishment awoke one cold winter morning, and found two inches of snow on his bed, he concluded about as judicious a thing as could be done, was to "cork up the cracks." The house was some distance from neighbors, and as our merchant was not then blessed with a "better-half," a local chronicler has it that he used to go outdoors for amusement, of evenings, and shout with all his might and main, in order to break the painful stillness of his surroundings. In the fall of 1874, Mr. Natesta removed to Medary.


 A terrific tornado visited Brookings County on Sunday, August 3d, 1879, at about 10:30 o'clock of that night. The track of the storm was about one and one-half miles in width. Great quantities of rain fell, and in some localities, hail. At Fountain, and elsewhere, houses were blown down, grain damaged, property of all sorts strewn about, and a number of people were injured, but, fortunately, none fatally.


 A letter From Charles E. Simmons, dated September 30, 1879, to William H. Skinner, contains the information that "The town on range 46 is 'Verdi;' the one on 49, 'Aurora;' the one on 50, 'Brookings;' the one on 51,'Volga;' the one on 53, 'Nordland;' one on 56
'DeSmet;' the one on 58, ' Iroquois;' the one on 60, 4 ‘Cavour,’ and the one on 61 and 62, ‘Huron.'" Mr. Simmons was Land Commissioner of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company.


 The County Officers of Brookings county at the time of writing are: Commissioners—Martin Trygstadt, Frank Pond, D. S. Bonesteel. Sheriff—T. G. Risum. Treasurer—H. T. Odegard. Register of Deeds— James Hauxhurst.   Judge of Probate—L. L. Jones.

Superintendent of Schools—W. E. Hendricks. Surveyor—F. H Newton. Assessor—P. J. Hagerman, Jr.



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