Tracker Pixel for Entry

Festivals of history in South Dakota

by John Strand | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Culture | May 29th, 2019

Esmond population 4 - South Dakota Public Broadcasting producer Stephanie Rissler

FORT SISSETON, SD – Everyone knows small towns are disappearing across the Dakotas, few, however, have ever investigated how these ghost towns began and produced a documentary.

In some areas throughout South Dakota the buildings remained strangely intact, but the people were gone as if taken by the rapture during the height of the Cold War.

“Looked like aliens came and just took the people, but left the buildings and the houses,” South Dakota Public Broadcasting producer Stephanie Rissler said. “It was as if 1950 just stopped.”

Texas Town Cemetery sign - photograph provided by South Dakota Public Broadcasting producer Stephanie Rissler

But take the former steamboat community of Texas Town with only the Elmwood Cemetery of Dakota Territory remaining, the town was once a vibrant and important hub for lumber. Settled by escaped slaves from Texas during the Civil War in 1860, the town began to vanish 10 years later when the railroad took away its livelihood.

“There are no ancestors left to interview,” Rissler said. “There’s not much we can show, and you would never know the town existed.”

Texas Town Cemetery - - photograph provided by South Dakota Public Broadcasting producer Stephanie Rissler

Rissler has spent the last few years working on a documentary about South Dakota’s ghost towns, and will reveal her findings during a film screening entitled “Vanished South Dakota: Towns of Yesterday” this weekend at the Fort Sisseton Historic State Park’s 2019 Historic Festival.

The documentary coincides with the State Park’s festival weekend featuring Civil War era entertainment including cavalry and infantry troops, fur traders, teepee encampments, stage shows, songs, music, dances, and other areas of frontier life.

Miranda house and fence - South Dakota Public Broadcasting producer Stephanie Rissler

“Colorful costumes, tall tales, and unique system of bartering will bring history to life,” the State Park said on its Facebook page.

Some tall tales that Rissler uncovered to be true were stories of Calamity Jane, or Martha Jane Canary, and U.S. Marshal Seth Bullock. Calamity Jane, a frontierswomen and professional scout who later participated in William “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West Show with James “Wild Bill” Hickock, was known as a “devilish character” but possessed a generous streak that made her popular.

Esmond elevator - South Dakota Public Broadcasting producer Stephanie Rissler

Rissler discovered that at the end of her days Calamity Jane’s addiction to alcohol and possible lack of funds forced her to “mooch” alcohol from many acquaintances, who then forcibly “helped” her to move to Terry, South Dakota, where she later died at 51 years old of inflammation of the bowels.

“In her last week she died in Terry,” Rissler said. “And someone thought it would be funny to have her buried next to Wild Bill Hickock, which was funny because he despised her.”

Her grave sits beside Wild Bill Hickock’s in Mount Moriah Cemetery at Deadwood.

Wild Bill Hickock's gravesite next to Calamity Jane in Deadwood - photograph by C.S. Hagen

Another frontier legend, U.S. Marshal Seth Bullock, wasn’t only a heavy-handed lawman in Deadwood, he also used his connections with the railroad tycoons to further his own personal interests.

The Ghost Town of Minnesela was once the county seat of Butte County, but officials in the 1880s knew the town needed the railroad to survive. One of the city leaders asked Bullock for help to lobby the railroad, and he agreed. What Minnesela city leaders didn’t know at the time was that Bullock was preparing to offer free right-of-way if the railroad would locate on his land in Belle Fourche.

By 1895, Belle Fourche became the county seat and the world’s largest livestock shipping point; Minnesela became a ghost town by 1901.

South Dakota Public Broadcasting producer Stephanie Rissler has completed dozens of documentaries, but the work behind “Vanished South Dakota: Towns of Yesterday” was prompted by an outpouring of interest on social media, she said.

Minnesela town unknown date - - photograph provided by South Dakota Public Broadcasting producer Stephanie Rissler

During her 23 years of being involved in broadcasting, she has frequently driven by places that few people knew existed.

“I always wanted to go back and do something about these villages and towns and find out the story,” Rissler said.

When her station first produced a 10-minute story about South Dakota’s vanishing towns, she didn’t expect the hundreds of tips that came in afterwards.

“Everywhere we went people came up with towns we have never heard of,” Rissler said.

“The railroad had so much to do with these towns. A lot of the history is oral history that only families know, and these families are dying out.”

Some of the people she interviewed are over 100 years old, she said.

“While there are people who are sad that these little towns are gone, others are thankful that we are documenting that history.”

Minnesela business unknown date - - photograph provided by South Dakota Public Broadcasting producer Stephanie Rissler


Fort Sisseton Historic State Park 42nd Historic Festival

Admission is $5 per person (12 and over)

Camping on grounds is available for $25 per night, which includes admission to the festival

“Vanished South Dakota: Towns of Yesterday”

Saturday, June 1, 11 a.m. under the Coteau Tent

Sunday, June 2, 10 a.m. in the South Barracks

South Dakota Fort Sisseton Historic State Park

Reservations: 1-800-710-2267 

Recently in:

WATFORD CITY – A reported 10-gallon spill of liquid gold at the Garden Creek I Gas Processing Plant in 2015 – just before the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy – could now be renamed as the largest land spill in human…

The 2019 North Dakota Senior Games begin this Thursday, August 15 and will continue through Saturday, August 17. There are 20 events scheduled for the Senior Games, which take place at various locations around Fargo and West Fargo.…

Thursday, August 29, 6-10 p.m.This Skateshop, 625 1st Ave. N, FargoShop vintage, enjoy a complimentary drink, play some vintage board games, VHS movies will be projected on the wall. It’s predicted that it will be an epic night for all!


The power of song

by Sabrina Hornung

In this issue David Crosby said, “You know, music is like a lifting force. It makes things better.” Truer words have never been spoken. This week we decided to change things up a bit and offer our readers an exclusive music…

Basing Gun Control On Militia Muskets Is NutsThere was a picture of hundreds of colorful backpacks in the Fargo Forum that were distributed to children at the Fargodome a couple of days ago. It was part of the 21st Annual 2019…

To say that this year’s Bartenders Battle was the best display of talent in the six years since its creation would be an understatement and a disservice to not only the bartenders who made it into the competition, but also the…

By Kris Gruberperriex1@gmail.comThe High Plains Reader spoke to Ojata Records and the Dogmajal owner and operator Jeremy Swisher about the ever-growing Grand Forks record store and hotdog shop.HPR: We might as well get the elephant…

If you’ve ever craved an outdoor music festival where you can walk to downtown shops, do yoga or go fishing in between sets, you’re in luck. The Greenway Takeover Festival returns to two stages in the heart of Grand Forks…

By Scott Ecker notharrisonford@gmail.comLast Tuesday I joined many local artists and audience members for Theatre B’s season preview at the Hjemkomst Center. As one of their board members, I see Theatre B regulars very often. …


‘Local American epics’

by Sabrina Hornung

The US Postal Service recently released a set of stamps celebrating the New Deal era post office murals that were federally commissioned during the Roosevelt administration, though the mural that graces the walls of the New…

The annual mainstage summer musical, produced by Trollwood Performing Arts School and sponsored by Bell Bank, opens Thursday, July 11. This year’s performance is Disney’s “Freaky Friday.” Trollwood Performing Arts…

Stand-up comedy is traditionally a one-way exchange. Outside of the odd question addressed to a random audience member, the limit of the spectators’ contribution to the conversation is their laughter at the comedy stylings being…

If you’re from the region you may have sipped, sampled or caught word of a libation often referred to as “red eye” or “wedding whiskey” at some point. In fact some of our friends of German Russia descent swear by it. If…


Yoga on the Farm

by Ryan Janke

Every Thursday evening during the month of June, Mara Solberg is inviting people to come out and try Yoga on the Farm. It is a unique yoga experience that was born from an idea that was proposed to Solberg.“I’ve been with Red…

by Devin Joubertdevinlillianjoubert@gmail.comIt’s that beautiful time of the year that’s filled with seasonal decorations, sparkly lights, warm family gatherings, and delicious feasts. I love everything about this time of the…

Woman is born free and lives equal to man in her rights…The purpose of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of woman and man; these rights are liberty, property, security, and…