The boundaries of Lincoln County were established in 1862 when the first session of the Dakota Territorial Legislature divided the Sioux Valley into the Counties of Cole (Union), Lincoln, Minnehaha, Brookings, and Duel. the county was named for Lincoln County, Maine, the birthplace of one of the members of the territorial legislature, W.W. Brookings. Included within the boundaries was the northern tier of townships of Union County, and eastern two tiers of Turner County townships. The boundaries were redefined in 1867 and 1870 to their present location.
Dakota Territory was huge. Created in 1861, the territory extended from Nebraska to Canada, and from Minnesota and Iowa to the Rockies. A census taken in 1861 showed a population of just over 2,000 white people in the entire territory. None of these people lived in Lincoln County. A year later Indian unrest forced the abandonment of the few settlements in the southeastern portion of the territory, with the exception of the territorial capital city of Yankton.
The only marks of white settlement in Lincoln County when its boundaries were defined in 1862 were the Yankton Road, which crossed the northwest corner to the abandoned town site of Sioux Falls, and trapper shanty on the Sioux River where Canton is now located. The next mark of white encroachment was a military wagon road from Sioux City to Fort Dakota, laid when the fort was opened in Sioux Falls in 1865. The road entered the county from the south at the present Eden-Norway township line, angled northwest to avoid the Big Timber (Newton Hills) and crossed Nine Mile Creek where South Dakota Highway #11 now crosses the creek southeast of Harrisburg. The road was a rutty trail with no bridges or culverts. A shorter horse back trail followed a route through Newton Hills and passed the trapper shanty.
The first land claimed in Lincoln County was by A.C. VanMeter in 1864 on the site of the present town of Fairview. VanMeter, who was married to a Sioux Indian woman, reportedly paid the $200 for his preemption with Indian script money. He soon moved to Vermillion and apparently never constructed a dwelling on his claim.
The first permanent resident of Lincoln County was August J. Linderman, a German immigrant from Prussia who first settled in Wisconsin. Linderman filed a claim in 1866 on a tract of timber on the north edge of the Big Timber (Newton Hills) near the military horseback trail. He built a dugout for his home, harvested a few acres of prairie hay, planted a garden, and nailed a box to a post where the soldiers deposited and collected his mail. He simple address read, A.J. Linderman, Big Timber, Dakota Territory.
Also arriving in 1866 were L.P. Hyde and his son Henry from Albert Lea, Minnesota. The senior Hyde took a claim covered with timber on the Iowa side of the Sioux River where the Canton Ski Jump was later located. In order to test the crop capabilities in the vicinity, the Hydes planted a few acres and put up a pole shelter near the present Canton railroad depot. They returned to Minnesota in the fall, leaving August Linderman alone in Lincoln County to keep warm in his snug dugout through the winter.
In May 1867 the Benjamin and William Hill, and the Jacob Sorter families arrived from Missouri. The Hills each took claims near the trapper shanty. In June the Hydes returned with their families, son William now filing a claim on the property cultivated by his father and brother the previous year. Joining the Hydes were the J.Q. Fitzgerald, William Craig, C.H. Swift, W.S. Smith, and the Josiah, James and Abraham Weakley families. Five of these families homesteaded on land near the trapper shanty in Canton Township, Sorter and Craig took claims in Fairview Township.
When filing claims in the United States Land Office at Vermillion, the settlers discovered that there was no county government in Lincoln County and that they were the only residents. J.Q. Fitzgerald circulated a petition requesting that the territorial legislature organize the county. He carried the petition to Yankton and on December 30, 1867 the legislature passed the following act:
All that portion of the Territory of Dakota embraced within the following described boundaries shall be known as the County of Lincoln, to wit: Commencing at a point on the Big Sioux River at the northeast corner of Union County; thence west to the southwest corner of township 96 North, range 53 West; thence north to the northwest corner of township 100, range 53; then east to the Big Sioux River; thence down along the course of said river to the place of beginning. The county seat of said county to be at Canton, on the southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of section 14, township 98, range 49. And that until the next ensuing general election the following named persons be appointed officers of said county, to wit: County Commissioners, August J. Lindeman, Henry P. Hyde and Benjamin Hill; sheriff, C.H. Swift; probate judge and county treasurer, J.Q. Fitzgerald; register of deeds, William Hill; justices of the peace, William Hyde and Werter S. Smith; constable, James Weakley, coroner, Josiah Weakley.
A few observations should be made concerning the foregoing act. First, the settlers could have requested that the name of the county named originally for Lincoln County, Maine, be changed, but undoubtedly they were honored to have the county named for the recently martyred President. Also, the 1862 boundaries were changed to delete the northern townships of Union County, but the six townships on the west were retained until Turner County was organized in 1870. Finally, it might be noted that the officials appointed to the county offices included every male resident of the county over age 21. Two days later thirty-two of the thirty-five residents of the newly organized county gathered on New Year's Day, 1868 at Fitzgerald's sod house, located on what is now the courthouse block in Canton, to celebrate the arrival of the new year and their newly-organized county.
In 1868 more settlers arrived in the Sioux Valley portion of the county. Some, like James M. Wahl, Jacob Holter and John Ovre, walked from Yankton and Vermillion. In June the population of the county doubled when a wagon train carrying twenty-three Norwegian families who had settled briefly in eastern Iowa at Clermont arrived. So that there would be enough forage for their oxen, horses and cattle as they passed through the wilderness of western Iowa, the caravan was divided into two units, piloted by Halvor Nelson and Tollef Brynjulson. The caravan was organized by Nelson who had purchased more than 5,000 acres in the area where Beloit was later located. But most of the Norwegian opted for the free homesteads of Dakota in Canton, Dayton, and Highland townships.
A Fourth of July celebration was held on the Dakota side of the Sioux where Nelson was building what soon became the Beloit dam. Planned as a welcome for the recently-arrived wagon train, speeches were made by J.Q. Fitzgerald in English and by Hellic Strand in Norwegian. A large sheep was prepared barbecue style for the crown of about 180, the majority of whom were Norwegian. The festivities ended in the evening with a bowery dance at the Elkhorn Tavern in Canton.
In the same year eleven young men from a construction crew building the railroad to Sioux City came searching for homesteads. They took soil samples to Sioux City from the area where Pattee Creek enters the Sioux in the southeast corner of the county. They were told that the soil could not have been better if it had come from the Garden of Eden. They filed their homestead claims and named their town and township Eden.
It is evident that the first settlers were struck by the beauty and richness of the Sioux Valley. Whether they came from east and first viewed the valley from the top of the river bluffs, or over the hills from Sioux City, Vermillion or Yankton, the sight of the lush waist high grass, the tree lined river, and the sparkling streams and springs caused them to proclaim the wonderment, many to the point of tears. While some were less enthusiastic with their first look at the flat treeless terrain away from the valley, the entire county was found to contain deep rich soil, and settlers soon moved in. Based on the number of claims filed in 1869, the Vermillion Land Office reported that Lincoln County had experienced the greatest population increase in Dakota Territory during that year. The decennial census taken in 1870 reported a county population of 712.
Townships bordering the Sioux River were well settled by 1872. Rural post offices were established to the west in Lynn and Grant townships in 1873, and others were opened in all parts of the county by 1877. In 1879 one newspaper reported that there were scarcely any decent homesteads available with the county borders.
Before 1879 when the railroads crossed in the county, the only real towns were Canton and Eden. Eden was moved to the railroad and later renamed Hudson. A post office was opened in Fairview in 1869 and a store was soon built, but several years passed before the town site was actually developed. There were several rural stores and small clusters of businesses scattered at various locations throughout the county. Most of these stores were moved to Worthing and Lennox when these towns were founded along the railroad in 1879. Harrisburg, Tea, Shindler and Beresford attracted other isolated rural post office businesses when they were founded in 1880's and 1890's.
The census of 1880 showed a county population of nearly 6,000, indicating an average influx of settlers during the 1870's of more than 500 per year. This was a remarkable increase, for until the railroads arrived, the only means of transportation to and from Lincoln County was by ox or horse drawn wagon. Further, during the mid 1870's grasshoppers damaged or completely ruined crops throughout the county for five years in a row. Indeed, there was reverse migration because of grasshopper infestations. Many pulled up stakes and moved back east, but not the Norwegians, of whom one writer said , "had no place to go, so they just stuck it out."
While eastern Americans were the most numerous among the early settlers, particularly in the towns, Norwegian immigrants were the largest nationality group to settle in the townships bordering the Sioux River and in Norway Township. German settlers were the largest ethnic group in the Lennox area and in scattered portions of the north central and south. The were concentrations of Irish in the Worthing area, Swiss in Pleasant Township, and Swedes in the southwest portion of the county. The census of 1890 showed a population of 9,143 persons of whom 2,427 were foreign born. Among the latter, 1,324 were from Norway, 433 from Germany, 242 from Sweden, 177 from Canada, 109 from Denmark, 77 from England, 33 from Ireland, 30 from Scotland, and 62 from other countries.
By 1900 the population increased to 12,161 and subsequent censuses reported gradual increases to a high of 13,918 reached in 1930. Thereafter a decline set in, reaching a low population figure of 11, 761 in 1970. This trend was partially due to the effects of the Depression and dust bowl days of the 1930's that caused many farmers to leave their farms. The availability of jobs in World War II industries lured some away to the cities, and some servicemen never returned to Lincoln County to live following their discharges. The decline of small farming since the 1950's also had effect on the population totals.
The downward trend was reversed during the 1970's when the northern part of Lincoln County became a suburban bedroom community of the rapidly growing city of Sioux Falls. the census of 1980 reflected this development, showing changes in population trends and patterns. The population reached 13,942, the highest in the county's history and an eighteen percent increase over 1970. Employment statistics in 1980 from Delapre Township on the southern edge of Sioux Falls showed only forty-three persons employed in agriculture, while 479 were employed in other occupations, most commuting to Sioux Falls. Springdale Township showed similar figures. By contrast, townships in the southern part of the county continued to show lower population totals, and agriculture the chief employer.
The northern border townships of Springdale and Delapre each showed population increases of seventy-two percent during the 1970's, and the northern towns of Tea and Harrisburg grew by 141 percent and sixty-five percent respectively. All of the municipalities showed gains in population. Canton and Lennox attached small industries to broaden employment opportunities during this period. Sioux Falls first extended its boundaries into Lincoln County in 1978 when two residential areas were developed. City planners expect further expansion into the county in the years to come.
The above and foregoing is a direct quote from The History of Lincoln County South Dakota, published in 1985 by The Lincoln County History Committee. Said book is copyrighted and printed here by permission granted by Don Pottratz, Director, on November 16, 1996.
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