Gregory County was created by the first legislature of 1862 and was named for J. Shaw Gregory, a member of that body, who resided at Fort Randall. He was employed as a trader at the fort by Captain Todd.
The first session of the South Dakota legislature on March 7, 1890, passed a law which provided for the annexation of unorganized counties to an organized county. This was done for the levy and collection of taxes. Gregory and Todd counties, both located just west of Fort Randall on the Missouri River were attached to Charles Mix County.
The first recorded mention of organizing Gregory County was made in late 1892. The Pierre Weekly Free Press on December 1 of that year reported that Governor Arthur Mellette passed through Mitchell enroute to Charles Mix and Gregory counties. “. .. he will make a tour of Gregory County on the Sioux reservation to look into the matter of the organization of that county.”
Early in 1893 it was expected that a large colony of forty-eight Missouri families would be coming to the Rosebud to establish farms. Gregory County had not been organized yet; however, a petition had been sent to the Governor asking that it be organized and the prospects were that this would be done in the spring.
The exact location of the state line between South Dakota and Nebraska west of the Missouri River had not yet been determined. The Omaha Daily Bee on August 18, 1893 reported that: “The survey of the state line bids fair at the present outlook to leave the town of Fairfax, S.D., on the Nebraska side. Fairfax has been the leading aspirant for the county seat of Gregory County, S.D.”
Late in 1894 all of Todd and a considerable portion of Gregory counties was opened to settlement. Because of a difficulty between South Dakota and Nebraska as to the location of the boundary line between the two states in this area west of the Missouri, both counties had not been surveyed.
Settlers sent a petition to Washington urging that the land be surveyed, as they were compelled to remain as squatters, not knowing the true boundaries of their homesteads. In March of 1895 it was reported that work on the survey of Gregory and Todd counties and the Fort Randall Military Reservation would begin as soon as the weather permitted.
While surveying the meridian line between Gregory County and the Rosebud Reservation, it was found that some of the settlers had located much too far west. About sixty of the squatters found themselves located on the reservation. They had put in crops already and made improvements to their farm. Authorities in Washington were petitioned to permit them to remain where they were until their crops had been harvested.
The Mitchell Capital on January 3, 1896 with the headline of “Delayed Surveys” reported that: “Efforts are being made to have the plats for that portion of the ceded Sioux lands lying within Gregory County, south of Chamberlain on the Nebraska line, filed in the United States Land Office in that city at the earliest possible moment.”
The land was opened to settlement in 1890 and was almost immediately all settled upon. Although they had been on the land for nearly six years, the fact that the land was not surveyed until recently prevented them from making entry at the land office. Many of them had improvements on their land to the extent of several thousand dollars.
The suvey of Gregory and Todd counties would not be completed and the plats filed in the United States Land Office until early in 1896.
A SPECIAL NOTE TO READERS — After I submitted my second column on the selection of the county seat for Gregory County to Cheryl last week, it dawned on me that I should take a few minutes and explain the source of the information for this topic. It must be pointed out that there are no books, pamphlets, or even newspaper articles which are available that tell the complete story from the late 1880’s to 1920. Nothing has been found explaining the entire story of the fight to determine the site for the county seat.
Even the two outstanding South Dakota historians of the early 1900’s, Doane Robinson and George Kingsbury, did not write a full-length history of this saga. In fact, in his Encyclopedia of South Dakota, Doane Robinson in 1925 wrote: “The story of county seat removals has not been comprehensively written nor at all from an unprejudiced standpoint. In view of the strenuous methods employed by the excited contestants it is doubtful if the real merits in any given case can ever be established.”
With this in mind, you need to know the source of my information. For several years I have been searching for anything that I could find on this subject. In the process I searched almost 4,000 pages of different newspapers from Nebraska and South Dakota that were printed between 1880 and 1920. The number of pages that were available on this topic was evenly divided between the two states.
These newspapers have been digitized by the Library of Congress and are available free-of-charge on a website which allows the user to select papers by state and date. At this time, no newspapers from Gregory County have been digitized.
My references for this series of columns on the location of the county seat are over six hundred copies of newspaper stories and especially the numerous books by Robinson and Kingsbury. I have far too much material for the paper so Rich, Bev, and I will later need to put together a program for the Gregory County Historical Society.
AUTHER– Clarence Shoemaker originally published in Gregory Times Advocate on Dec.23,2020