Lyman County Museum
Trash or Treasure ...
Memtoes and Memories
"When you venture into our Lyman
County Museum do you see what I see; do you remember stories grandpa and grandma
told you; do you imagine as I imagine or do you conclude that it is
just a conglomeration of 'old stuff' or 'trash' or 'junk' that folks have
casually just thrown away?" Is it our "House of Dreams," our "House of
Memories," an irreplaceable "treasure" or is it trash?
When I visit our museum the first thing I notice is the smiling, congenial,
friendly attitude of the folks working and volunteering, ready at a moments
notice to help us find that special item, locate an old homestead, guide us to a
unique exhibit or offer a tour.
As we step inside, I brush by the huge bank safe
and wonder, "how much money did they keep in there, how many notes, patents,
abstracts, war bonds and legal papers were safely protected every night!"
I glance up and see a striking
pioneer woman, likening her to Edith Ammons Kohl posing beside a tiny claim
shack with only essentials: a stove, a tub, an axe and the utter
lack of any comforts and wonder, " how did she survive, where did she find wood
for warmth, water to drink, a friend to talk with, how often did she go to town
and where was the printing press used for printing claim notices."
We shall not forget Dr. Newman and
Ida Mallet who had brought so many of us into the world.
Next, I examined the old Cavite post office and speculate, were there letters
from home, from Germany, Norway, Illinois, or Iowa, from a lover or friend, how
many folks received checks from the government?
The desks, which while governing South Dakota, M.Q. Sharpe and A.C Miller dug
their elbows into as they studied the law or argued with lawmakers concerning
the merits of this or that proposal.
Nearby is the replica of Ward
Dittman's snow plane. How many cattle did it save during the blizzards of '49
and '52? I hear the sighs of relief from the snowed-in families when Ward, Mel
or Deb dropped off the mail which hadn't been delivered for two or three weeks.
Mel Dittman has written a book called "Gumbo Underfoot" which tells the story of
the Dittman family and their many neighbors growing up in northern Lyman
County in the 30's, 40's and 50's. A multitude of familiar names are
interspersed into this wonderful tale.
Pausing, I can almost smell the fresh
baked bread from the Sehnert-Garnos bakery. Someone said, "Hey, look over here."
Here, alongside our collection of political memorabilia was the old Vivian State
Bank vault showing the scars and gaping hole cut into two-inch steel by thieves
during Lyman County's most successful bank robbery.
My eyes tear a bit when seeing the
military uniforms, remembering the sacrifices made by all those who served our
country in times of strife, and silently wonder what their thoughts must
have been as they faxed a dangerous, desperate enemy.
few steps later my spirits rise as I view the assorted wedding dresses happy
young brides wore so many years ago. How they must have scrimped and saved to
buy the material and how Mom and Grandma must have spent hours sewing and
re-sewing so it fit just right. I wonder if the dads viewed the grooms with
anxious skepticism or did they breathe a sigh of relief?
Reaching up, I
try on a few of those Stetson hats, mindful of how much each man loved the land
and cattle, and his many contributions to the community. What were their
thoughts when drought left empty dams and no green grass? What was it like in
the days of no fences, the "Last Roundup" of 1902, cattle rustlers, the elation
when the railroad came and the satisfaction felt when the railcar door
slammed shut behind the last doggie? Or perhaps, they just wore their Stetson to
the Presho Livestock Auction bull sale or as Sunday-go-to-meetin' attire.
Alumni records remind me of the good friends I've known and the great teachers
I move on past the old kitchen and see pa and ma and their eight children
cheerily having breakfast at sunup, talking, teasing and giggling before
hurrying out to milk the cows, feed the horses, pigs and chickens, carry wood
and coal for the stove, dump the ashes, wash clothes and dishes, iron and sweep,
all done with a smile, this was the way of life on the plains for half a
I tiptoe past the parlor and see a
young couple sparkin', just about to hold hands when the music from the Victrola
stops, the young lady shyly asks her beau if they could take turns winding up
the music box. Mean-while, mom is keeping a wary eye on the starry-eyed couple.
I inspect the Indian teepee and
artifacts, marveling at their inventiveness, and silently wonder, why don't they
adapt to our ways, should they maintain their heritage, shouldn't they have
become self-supporting after 125 years?
Appearing both imposing and chilling
stands the old jail cell from the Kennebec courthouse, was this the cell in
which Judge Bartine ordered the ballot boxes locked following the disputed 1922
Courthouse Removal election at Oacoma, or was this where they held one of my
friends for safekeeping after a night of too much partying?
Across the yard, we quietly peeked
into the Sweeney Catholic Church, everyone present is decked out in their Sunday
best and I hear the echoes of the priest chanting the mass in Latin and the soft
musical strains of the old organ. We then proceeded to walk out and appraise the
teams and wagons tied nearby. Just around the comer the first Model T car I had
ever seen, sat glistening in the bright sun, wow! I sensed that we probably
couldn't afford one that cost $399.00, but it was fun to just look it over.
Next we entered the old schoolhouse,
we notice there are no lights, only extra long windows, the kids vary in age and
size, and the stern, young, school marm is conducting math class, a couple
students are scribbling numbers on the blackboard while the others are huddled
together in their desks to keep warm. All behaving properly, for if not, they
would be in more trouble at home.
Remembering that I should pick
up some salt, flour and tobacco to take back to the claim, I ambled over to the
country store to make my purchase. While paying for my supplies I overheard a
couple young men discussing the qualities and virtues of the young school marm,
reminding me again of the good old days.
Yes. there are many treasures in our "House of Memories and Dreams". Come and