A Note from Cottonwood Corners

Edward L. Senn, editor of the Pioneer, a weekly newspaper published in Iona since early 1901 had been denouncing the cattle rustlers and demanding that they be brought to justice.  Because of his strong and persistent pleas for law and order, he had made himself so obnoxious to the thieves that they decided to show their hatred for him.

In 1903 they visited his farm at midnight a few miles from Iona where they set fire to and destroyed every building on the place.  The editor and his family were not at home at the time.  The loss was considerable.

In 1904, Earl King, from Charles Mix County was sentenced to the state penitentiary to serve a term of four years for setting fire to the Senn farm buildings near Iona.  Later that year he was released and taken back to Lyman County on a certificate of probable cause granted by the Supreme Court.

He was released from custody under a bond of $2,500 pending a hearing before Judge Frank Smith, of the Fourth circuit, on his application for a new trial.

In the meantime, King found himself as a defendant in a civil action for damages in the sum of $2,000.  Since he had been found guilty of having destroyed the Pioneer, the editor of the paper instituted the civil action to recover damages.

A December, 1904 South Dakota weekly reported that Senn had sold half interest in the Pioneer to a Mr. Eastly, who planned to move the paper to Sweeney, also in Lyman County.  Senn had plans to begin publishing the Settler in Iona.

“The Pioneer,” the story continued, “has been an earnest and out-spoken advocate of law and order in Lyman County, and, together with the new Settler will continue to make the county atmosphere unhealthy for cattle rustlers and outlaws in general.”

In April of 1905, the sheriff of Lyman County once again took King to the penitentiary in Sioux Falls.  The Supreme Court had recently affirmed the decision of the state circuit court.  It was determined that the burning of the Senn property was an act of revenge on the part of those in sympathy with the cattle thieves, who were opposed by Senn.  King was now required to serve his term.

In July of 1906, the father of Earl King started a petition drive to have his son released from prison.  The Pierre Weekly Free Press, on July 19, 1906, reported that:  “When Sheriff Pickett, the officer who has driven the cattle and horse ‘rustlers’ from Lyman County, made his war upon these men, young King, who evidently had been led into bad company, was rounded up with the rest and sentenced to a term in the penitentiary.  King’s father started the movement for the pardon of his son, and during the last week he has circulated a petition, to which it is said, he has secured the signatures of a large number of persons.  The family, prior to going to Lyman County, lived in Charles Mix County, where the members were highly respected.”

The application for a pardon was denied by the State Board of Pardons in May of 1907.

Senn played a significant role in shaping life on the Dakota prairie as the settlers moved west from the Missouri River.  He was much more than just an interesting character from our past.  He was a teacher, homesteader, newspaper editor, prohibitionist, and author.

To claim 160 acres under the Homestead Act of 1862 settlers had to build a dwelling of at least 12 x 14 feet, cultivate at least 10 acres, take up residency on the land within 6 months, not be absent from the claim for more than 6 months out of the year, not establish legal residence anywhere else, and live on the claim for 5 years.

Once the homesteader had done that, they had to file what was called “Final Proof” and pay a registration fee.  Once that was done, they owned the property free and clear.

To meet the requirement of “Final Proof,” the homesteader was required to publish a notice in the local paper.  In the newspaper nearest the claim, the homesteader was required to publish for five consecutive weeks the names of witnesses who would attest to the truthfulness of the notice.

Each time the “Final Proof” was published, the homesteader paid the newspaper five dollars.  Anyone who contested the notice of the settler paid a publication fee as well.  For many of those early newspapers, this was their primary source of income.

Herbert Schell, in his 2004 History of South Dakota writes:  “An interesting feature of the ‘West River’ homesteading period was the mushroom crop of newspapers which exploited the final-proof notices.  Lyman County alone, within the course of a decade, boasted fifteen different newspapers as compared with the two that serve the county today.  A publishing firm organized by E. L. Senn at one time or another operated as many as thirty-five different newspapers, most of them serving as “proof sheets.”  When the last proof notices were printed in one locality, Senn moved the equipment to a newer community.”

In 1909, Senn acquired his first daily newspaper, the Deadwood Daily Telegram.  His blistering editorials and daily sermons did not make him popular in the community.  He campaigned for a Deadwood free from the vices of drinking, gambling, and prostitution.  He was often defeated; however, he refused to give in.  He always maintained that “one man and God make a majority in any fight.”


Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory-Times Advocate on October 6, 2021

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