Category Archives: South Dakota

Watertown City Hall

Using Google Alerts has helped remind me of important topics in my research without having to remember them. Today I received a notice for my search on the name Fromke.

It was regarding my mother, who left a message of condolence at the Wight, Comes & Sogn Funeral Chapel (of Watertown, South Dakota) website. My mom was an acquaintance of Lauretta E. (Mrs. LaVoid) Hoff and remembered her working with my grandfather, Oscar Fromke.

. . . I remember her working with my dad at City Hall. She was very kind to my brother and me when we would go up to see Dad. It was always exciting to go into the vault with them for coffee breaks. Good memories for me. I am sure she will be missed by all who knew her.

My grandfather was city auditor for many years and county auditor for a few.

Lauretta was employed for the City of Watertown as a Deputy City Auditor from 1959-1973, and then was City Finance Officer. She also served a term on the South Dakota Retirement System board in Pierre. She was a member of the first board of the Community Foundation and served from 1979-1990.

She was interred at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Watertown, SD, where my maternal grandparents are also buried.


My Great Uncle

In early September, with a couple of friends help, I interviewed (on video) my great uncle, who turned 95 this summer. It was partly inspired by StoryCorps and my goal of starting a non-profit (the Center for the Study of Family History) focused on genealogy, saving family items of historical interest, and retelling the stories of the common man, in this case, relatives. I have several projects, from video interviews to books, in the works.


The Great Conflict

Tecumseh is a man who’d I like to know more about. It’s not that I have any great appreciation of him or of his culture. He is certainly a captivating figure. However, my interest is personal. You see my ancestors, the Hills and the Tidds, were wrapped up into this narrative when Tecumseh was alive and well. Everyone on the Ohio frontier, the newcomers and the natives, was competing for land and life.

In 1810, James Hill, Samuel Tidd, and their families set out for the wilds of what was to become Logan County. They settled, first, somewhere near the Mad River. In 1811, Tecumseh began to wage what was to be his final military campaign. It was named for him, simply Tecumseh’s War. When war with Britain came again in 1812, Tecumseh’s maneuverings merged into the much greater conflict. Still living near the Mad River, that same year the Hills witnessed the birth of Samuel, son of James and veteran of the Mexican War.

According to the endpaper maps in A Sorrow In Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh, there were Indian villages all around what was to become Indian Lake, near Roundhead Township in Hardin County, where the Hills have lived since the 1800s:

Wapakoneta was named after a Shawnee chief and was the birthplace of astronaut Neil Armstong. A treaty was signed there in 1831, resulting in the remaining natives being relocated to Kansas. Blue Jacket’s Town is now the site of Bellefontaine, the county seat of Logan County. It was named for Blue Jacket and destroyed in 1786 during Logan’s Raid at the outset of the Northwest Indian War. Wapatomica, the second village with this name, met the same fate as Blue Jacket’s Town. It was obliterated during Logan’s Raid.

I couldn’t locate the current name of Leatherlips’ Town, but did find information on Leatherlips, a Wyandot chief known for “the strength of his word.” He was much more accommodating of the settlers, particularly as he grew older. Sadly, he was sentenced to death by Tenskwatawa, brother of Tecumseh, for ceding away Indian lands and executed by tomahawk in 1810 near Dublin, Ohio. Today it’s known as the headquarters of Wendy’s.

Other placenames I couldn’t match yet are: Tawa (Could this be Ottawa, Ohio?), Upper and Lower Piqua, Girty’s Town, Stiahta’s Town, Stony Creek Village, Sekunk (apparently now Columbus), Mackachack, Deer Creek Village, Pigeon Town, and Piqua Town.

Fort Greenville is now just plain Greenville and where a critical treaty was signed. Fort Jefferson was nearby, but I haven’t been able to find anything about it at the moment.

Years ago I bought a biography, Tecumseh: A Life, by John Sugden. Right now, it’s sitting in storage, buried among other books in boxes. But I did sit down years ago, right after receiving it in the mail from one of those book clubs, and read most of it, if not all. From what I can remember it was a good read.

While at the downtown library, I found a copy of The Lance and the Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull for sale in the Friends’ bookstore, and this is what set me on this little adventure. Immediately upon opening it, I noticed the endpapers, maps of the delicate situation in the Dakotas in 1890, three years after the immigration of my Fromke relatives to northeastern South Dakota.

I am almost always tempted by books for sale, especially when I can find some sort of justification, usually a ‘personal’ connection to me, something I can use in my family research. Yet, I have made a sort of personal pledge to declutter my life, and to accomplish this I simply have to stop buying so many things, including books, at least until I build my own library or something. So instead, I decided to check the library catalog, and sure enough, there were actually two copies sitting on the shelves, a hard cover and a paperback.

The Black Hills and the area’s history has always been of interest to me. I’ve been to see Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial many times. And these visits were all family-related, perhaps a death, but more likely a reunion.

What did settlers think about these Natives being so close and perhaps ready to pounce? In 1890 was Sitting Bull a serious threat? Watertown is only a little more than 200 miles from the western reservations (map) while the Lake Traverse Reservation of the Sisseton–Wahpeton Oyate lay just to the north.

Supposedly Frank Hay wanted to head from Lake Preston west to the Black Hills and raise cattle. For some reason, he never made it, instead remaining a farmer in Kingsbury County until his death from cancer in 1903.

So, clearly, studying and understanding the Native mindset and their history is crucial, as they are intertwined in the lives of so many of my ancestors.


Was Uncle Herman an Insane Commie?

While celebrating my mother’s and my own birthdays, which are a day apart (literally separated by 99 minutes) I mentioned that one of our relatives, Marjorie Bunde, had sent me a packet full of material some time back on the family, including a neat photograph of my great uncle Herman Fromke when he was a child, perhaps ten years old or so.

Oscar and Herman worked at the State Bank of Grover for many years. Grover, South Dakota is a tiny place to the southwest of Watertown. I think Oscar began working there as a cashier in 1916, while still a teenager.

In 1921, three men drove up in a Buick, stormed the little brick building, ordered the two employees there into the vault at gunpoint, and made off with about $900. A man with a car gave chase, following them to the town of Hayti, but then ran out of gas. Eventually a group of men in cars searched the area, but to no avail.

At least two newspapers reported on the robbery: the Watertown Public Opinion and the Lake Norden Enterprise. At the time I typed and posted these stories I thought Grover was in Grant County, but it is, in fact, in Codington County.

Later, perhaps in the 1950s, for some reason my grandfather, Oscar, committed his older brother Herman to a sanitarium, and, understandably, apparently never discussed it, at least with my mother.

However, my mom has discussed this with a relative named Hilda. Hilda mentioned that perhaps Oscar may have discovered that Herman was guilty of embezzlement from the bank. Then, the theory goes, Oscar arranged for him to be sent to a sanitarium to avoid prosecution, perhaps in some sort of deal with local authorities.

Yet, the theory does not fit the timeline. The bank closed in the late 1920s, probably in 1927. Herman went to the sanitarium, the Yankton State Hospital, years later, likely long after any charges could be filed because of the statute of limitations. For a time it was known as the Hospital for the Insane. Conditions were less than ideal, even horrific, by some accounts.

After a few years confined in Yankton, his sister Hattie Fromke and her husband Rudolph Noeldner somehow got him released. What effect this all had on the relationship between the two brothers, Herman and Oscar, is not known, nor how it may have affected his health. Herman died in 1961 at the age of 70.

Although the reasons remain unclear to me, after posting the news stories, which are clearly out of any copyright restrictions, Marjorie asked that I remove them, stating that it was still a controversial subject in the area. She still lives in South Dakota, in Florence. Controversial with whom I don’t know. This is from 1921. I just don’t quite get it.

What I found even more curious, especially with all of the embezzlement conjecture, was Herman’s support of the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union. His name is on a list of donors in an ACLU book, The Fight for Free Speech. It was published in 1921, the same year as the bank robbery, although this is probably just coinincidence. I discovered this doing a search on Google Books. Because he used his initials quite often — ‘H. A.’ or ‘HA’ — it can be difficult to track things down, as I sometimes forget to go beyond the standard ‘Herman Fromke’ in my searches.

So was Uncle Herman a communist? How did his leftist sympathies develop? From where did these ideas originate? And did he have a mental breakdown at some point? What caused it? Was he really insane? Was it temporary?

Also in 2005, I posted Herman’s obituary at Ancestry and on a few mailing lists at RootsWeb.