Category Archives: Dakota Territory

Two German Grandmothers, Friends & Confidantes

“It’s the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.”
Marlene Dietrich

In January of 2006 I received a message from a woman in Brownsville, Texas. Thankfully I archived copies for future reference.

Her note was fascinating. She included details about my great grandmother and how her family had been friends with mine, even before immigrating to America.

Back in Germany they likely attended church together. Remarkably her ancestors even moved again after settling down, from Wisconsin to South Dakota, to be nearby, according to her note. What’s another 400 miles after crossing the Atlantic and half a continent?

My great grandmother delivered her grandmother’s children. They must have been very close. Thousands of miles and innumerable difficulties could not keep these two women apart.

Mr Hill,

You mention [the name] Fromke i[n] your message. I have then name in my family. My grandmother was from Morgenstern. [S]he went to the Evangelical church in Borntuchen. My Grandfather was from Borntuchen, [K]reis Buetow. [The] Fromke’s came to America around 1895 [and] moved to South Dakota. My grandparents moved from Wausau, Wis[consin] to be near them. Mrs Fromke delivered my grandmother’s babies. I can’t remember their first names but I can research South Dakota records and find out. My grandmother’s maiden name was POCH or POOCH. She used POCH in her obituary. I also have some pictures taken back then I don’t know who the people are but am sure it is [the] Fromke‘s kids. Let me hear from you. Delores Bryan. Right now we are in Brownsville, Texas for the winter . . .

Delores mentioned some old photographs. I didn’t think much about it at the time. Looking through these old notes I realized my oversight and tried writing her again. Unfortunately, the email address was out of date. Using Google and other search tools, I tried to find her. But to no avail.

So I had to give it up. Until, that is, about a week ago, when she wrote to me again after reading a message I sent to a genealogy mailing list. So, we are in contact once again.

She has promised to mail me the photos, so that I can compare and contrast with the photos our family has. I am looking forward to seeing them.

Delores is now 88. I hope to be able to meet her in person one of these days.


The ‘First’ Tornadoes

F.N. Robinson's image of a twister near Howard City, Dakota Territory on August 28, 1884
F.N. Robinson’s image of a twister near Howard City on August 28, 1884

The first images of tornadoes ever captured —at least that we know about — touched down in Dakota Territory, what is now South Dakota, on August 28, 1884.

Unbelievably – considering the cumbersome cameras of the day – not one but two shutterbugs were on the scene.”

Several storm systems converged over the southeastern corner of the Dakota Territory that day, resulting in at least four very strong tornadoes that caused six deaths and extensive property damage. Photographer J.C. Judkin captured a tintype image of one twister that struck near the city of Huron around 3:00 p.m., but the folks Judkin had entrusted it to for engraving ultimately lost the picture.

Meanwhile, in nearby Howard City, another camera buff named F.N. Robinson set up his equipment in the middle of a street intersection with the help of an assistant. The Howard twister was visible for an extended period of time on the horizon as it approached the city, which is probably why Robinson was able to snap three exposures of it. The clouds above the funnel in the one surviving photograph were retouched when it was originally developed, as was the standard practice at the time.

Howard City, now known merely as Howard, is literally just down the road from the site of a family reunion where I’ll be heading in a few weeks.


The Kampeska Trail

A letter to the editor of the Marshall Independent, a paper in Minnesota, recently revealed some South Dakota history. One man remembers a time when railroads ruled rather than highways.

The Kampeska Trail – what is it? It’s an Indian trail from Marshall to Watertown (really from Marshall to Lake Kampeska), about 80 miles.

The road using the same path as the trail “made the two towns.”

People don’t think it was important. Really this is true. Well, the road made the two towns. Before the railroad, Marshall and Watertown were trading centers. Pioneer people went there for supplies. So the people in St. Paul mapped out pioneer roads from Flandreau, S.D., to Fort Ripley in Minnesota.

Then the railroads came.

When the railroad people built the first railroad into South Dakota, they chose the Marshall to Watertown road to lay the track. Did you know the railroad came from Chicago?

I wonder if this route is how my ancestors from Germany made their way to Dakota Territory in 1887.

. . . that’s why the Watertown and Marshall people got it taken out. They wanted tracks to the Twin Cities. Marshall had its large hotels. Watertown had five railroads and roundhouse. First big store was Montgomery Ward. I was there in 1929. I was a kid then – it was so big.

The era of the railroad was replaced by the car and the need for decent roads. Amtrak doesn’t operate in South Dakota, except for a few bus routes linked to the trains, north and south.

Now the highways make the transportation. Think about it. Marshall has U.S. Highway 59, State 23, State 19, State 68 – four highways. Watertown has the Interstate U.S. 81, U.S. 212 and State 81.


Immanuel Lutheran Church and Cemetery

Through the years I’ve asked my mother about the religion of her father’s family. They were German Lutherans. It gets a bit complicated because of theological and doctrinal questions which have led to church splits. I still haven’t sorted it out in my mind.

But yesterday, discovering that my great-great aunt and uncle were members of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Richland County, North Dakota has helped. The church was founded in 1884. It’s just south of Lidgerwood, near Elm Lake. There’s not much else around. It’s still a functioning church, with a congregation, and part of what’s called the Missouri Synod.1

They are buried in the cemetery across the road, Highway 18, from the church. The property may include a rather large parsonage. From what I’ve been able to see via satellite photos, Google Street View, and read online, it certainly appears to be the case.


1. The official name of the denomination is The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The other major group is the Wisconsin Synod.