Clay County Old Settlers past shows commitment to history

Clay County Old Settlers past shows commitment to history Editor's note: The Clay County Old Settlers Association, Clay County's oldest organization, will no longer be meeting for its annual gatherings. This history represents the final chapter of the group.

by, Leone Christopherson

The Clay County Old Settlers, once called the Pioneers, was organized in 1886 with the first meeting held in the Hans Lyman Burgess grove just south of the Fairview Schoolhouse.

According to the Dakota Republican, the group organized with Franklin Taylor elected president, S.C. Fargo, vice-president, Eric Burgess, secretary, C.G. Shaw, treasurer, and J.L. Jolley, historian. The executive committee included C.N. Taylor, Wm. Shriver and H.L. Ferry, to meet in July of each year with programs of historical addresses.

The first address was prepared by Franklyn Taylor and read by his daughter, Ethelda Ufford. Records cannot be found of the early years of the organization.

Microfilms of the Dakota Republican and Plain Talk and information gathered at the W.H. Over Museum, the Vermillion Public Library, the I.D. Weeks library at The University of South Dakota and visits with many individuals have given the information for records kept by this organization.

Interesting to note is that subscriptions to the Plain Talk in 1897 cost $1.50 per year, cattle market was $3.50 to $5.25 per cwt Grocers and department stores were J.A. Carsons General Merchandise, Grange and McVickers, Lee & Prentis, Dunlap Bros., Fritz Lass Bakery and Restaurant, Bergeson 2nd Hand Store, Chandler House Hotel, Alexander Lumber Co., Olson the Tailor, Stenson Mens Clothes, Lotze & Co. Jewelry and others.

The Dakota Republican was the largest and oldest South Dakota newspaper, Dr. Collins was a dentist, Dr. J. Clark was an eye specialist in the Chandler House, G.G. Palmer and Co. was the drug store, McCaul & Webster had the elevator and Ole Iverson had the hardware store. Herbert S. Schell had a book, Clay County Chapters Out of the Past. The Clay County Old Settlers Association was the oldest continuous organization in Clay County.

The Pioneers of Clay County met at the Waldorf Hotel in August, 1943 with E.E. Collins, president and secretary Hugh Lee. W.H. Lawton and others were present. Emily Pratt was elected Queen of the Pioneers. Collins conducted an historical feature and facts history of South Dakota, with Alice Cope as secretary. Pioneers present were Helga Myron, Iver A. Iverson Severt Myron, Will Collar, E.L. Collar, Mrs. G.A. Pratt and Mrs. Chas Kimball who were among those introduced who had arrived before 1864.

In August, 1944, Dr. W.H. Over invited the Pioneer organization of Clay County to meet in the Pioneer Room at the University Museum. Dr. R.F. Patterson was speaker and the Chamber of Commerce served treats of ice cream and cookies.

In August, 1945, E.E. Collins, president, introduced Mrs. L. Pierre, a guest from Elk Point and introduced older members, Isabelle Beatty of Meckling, Mrs. W.R. Russell, Mrs. W.B. Smith and Mrs. Will Dawson of Vermillion with Margaret Ufford leading the singing, accompanied by her mother, Mrs. Frank Ufford.

Tributes were paid to departed Pioneers and Iver Iverson introduced his daughter, Beatrice Iverson, who read a paper written by her sister, Alice, about her father's early life in Dakota and Mr. Fargo told of the life and ideals of Mr. Iverson.

Officers for 1945-46 were Will Lawton, chairman, Dr. George Jordan, vice-chairman and Hazel Erickson, secretary.

Dr. Jordan was also chairman for 1947 and the meeting was held in August in the Vermillion High School auditorium. The school bell called the meeting together and E.E. Collins, a teacher of many who were present, held an old fashioned spelling bee. Oliver Johnson and names of early settlers of the city of Vermillion and Fairview Township were reported by W.L. Lawton. W.R. Cleland told of life in Spirit Mound Township.

Special guests were Dr. George Meyer, Detroit, MI, formerly director of medicine for the N.Y. Central Railroad, and his brother, Wilbur Meyer, Cleveland, OH, with a bond company. They left Vermillion in 1895 and reminisced about their early years in Vermillion. Other guests were Mr. and Mrs. Albert Johnson of Garfield Township. She was the daughter of Peter Aust, a Vermillion butcher in the early 1800s.

In 1948, the financial report showed an income of $16.77 and expenses were $13.48. That year the association met in Prentis Park with Vermillion High School Band concerts and a barbershop chorus from Wakonda and Vermillion. U.S. Rep. Karl Mundt was speaker and awards were given to recognized Clay County residents. Oldest person present was Burgo Burgess and the oldest twins present were Nellie Palmer Wright and Ella Palmer Richardson.

With the name of the organization changed to the Clay County Old Settlers Association, the meetings continued in Prentis Park. In 1950 Irene O'Connor of Burbank was presented as Miss South Dakota. President I.D. Weeks and George Mickelson also addressed the audience.

The next year, the Hon. Sigurd Anderson, governor, spoke. Bill Gibson was editor of the Plain Talk. Meetings were held in the band shell of Prentis Park.

In 1952 Gertrude Jean Shaw, graduate of the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin H. Shaw Jr., gave a cello solo. She was the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Walker, Vermillion pioneers. Meetings now were held in the Fraternal Order of Eagles club rooms. In 1956, Herbert S. Schell, dean of the USD Graduate School and USD professor of history, spoke on the "Heritage of the Past in Clay County". He also has written several books on South Dakota history.

The next year Dr. Mark W. Delzell, dean of the USD School of Education addressed the group on "Education in South Dakota for the Last 60 Years." Carolyn G. Nelson read the "Story of School District No.1." written by Francis Hyde and Mrs. Struble of Centerville, recalling events in the life of her father, Gus Nirgren.

In 1958, Dr. R.F. Patterson, mayor of Vermillion, gave the address "To be Born an American is an Accident, to Live as an American is a Responsibility, to Die as an American is an Obligation."

The year 1959 was the centennial year for the city of Vermillion and a parade was planned. A telegram was read from S.D. Sen. Karl A. Mundt. Greetings were received and the speaker was the Hon. George McGovern, congressman from the East River District of South Dakota. Mrs. Martin Weeks Jr. gave a program with the Clay County Chorus singing.

Meetings continued to be held at the Eagles with a dinner and recognition of Clay County residents following the business meetings. In 1983, the association began to meet at the Vermillion Senior Citizens Center with former Clay County residents returning.

The year 1997 was the 100th anniversary. The meeting was held at Pro's with the usual dinner, program and giving of awards to honored guests.

The 2001 reunion of the Clay County Old Settlers Association was held Sept. 16, 2001 at the Vermillion Senior Citizens Center. This was the last meeting of the oldest continuous organization in Clay County. Following the dinner, awards were given and photos were taken of the honored guests.

The 2001 officers were Betty Jensen, president, Arlis Johnson, vice-president, Linda Sorensen, secretary, and Jean Mockler, treasurer.

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