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Midland area pioneers & a bit about Diamond A

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Well-known member
Feb 21, 2005
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Another good story from Roundup Years

submitted by Jennie M. Russell, wife of founder of Midland, SD.

"I'll always remember that flood when the drownings happened up at Rifenberg's in 1905. My mother ran the hotel in Midland. Also built a small house near the dipping tank where she fed the men when they came there to dip the cattle. At the time of this flood, my sister, Grace Earl, went up to the little house to serve the men their meals for the day.The river came up so quickly the boys got the girls out as soon as they could. Just barely out in time when the house floated away. Tom Jones and his roundup boys were camped up on the hills north of Midland. Tom felt the girls might be there (at the little house) so at the break of day, he went down to see if they were there. He found the girls and boys about frozen on the hilltop near the river, so took them to the roundup camp where they got warm and gave them some breakfast. As water and mud were knee deep, he brought the girls and all the cowboys to mother's for dinner. My husband,
Charlie Russel, and Tom Jones were very close friends. Tom came into the country a little later than Charlie did. Charlie came from Buffalo, New York to Pierre during the capital boom in 1888 or '89. In the spring of 1890, he settled where Midland is now located. He started a store and built a small hotel which my mother ran for 17 years. Mr. Russel and I were married in '95. Our first daughter, Grace, was the first white child born in Midland. If I had the ability, I could write a book on the things both my mother and Mr. Russell did for the people in the early days.

Many a poor ( I think she means "poor" more in the sense that there was no doctor available than financially poor) woman came in from the plains asking Mother to help bring her new baby in to this world. Mother was a good nurse. If they had the money, they paid her a little something, if not, she did it anyway. Whe never turned them down. Many a coffin Mr. Russell built out of rough lumber, padded and lined it. He helped bury the dead and even wrote up a sermon once in a while and Mother and we three girls would nearly always sing hymns. The minister only got around about once in six months. Mr. Russell was anything but a cowboy, but he loved the West. While he would do anything for them, they knew he was a tenderfoot, but they couldn't pull anything over on him. And I know they respected him all the more for it. Many times as we grew older, we would talk over the early days and say they were the happiest times we ever spent."

Here is the story of Mr. Russell who died in 1941, so this was written prior to that time. He was a pioneer Midland business man and the longest continuous resident of the town and local area. He platted and organized the town of Midland in 1890, one of the earliest towns in the area, soon after the territory was closed as reservation and thrown open to white settlement.

"The early days in the west river country were the best, but there are still lots of opportunities for the person who is willing to work", Mr. Russell stated.

When the reservation was opened to settlement it was expected there would be a great influx of settlers, but they did not come for nearly 15 years after that, sometime after a railroad bridge was built across the Missouri at Pierre. Russell freighted his goods from Pierre and opened a store.

"My customers were ranchers, cowboys and Indians,. There was lots of business, too." The old Spotted Tail trail from the Rosebud reservation north went through Midland and the Sioux trade was quite steady.

"People who have milked a few cows, raised feed, and farmed a little through all the drouth years have been able to keep above water "(financially). There are a few have stuck by that life and made good", Russell maintains.

Midland, for many years was one of the leading cream shipping points after the railroad arrived from Pierre in the fall of 1906. That was the real beginning of the homestead cavalcade which ended some four years later and then reached an anti-climax in 1911 when one of the driest years in the west river history sent them scurrying back east!

When Russell arrived there were few inhabitants and those were mostly Anglo's married to Indian women and their families. There were no fences between the White and the Cheyenne Rivers. Freighting over the Deadwood trail had ceased by then, but the remains of freighters' winter quarters, corrals, dugouts, haystacks--could be seen. This area along Bad River was a favorite spot for bull team owners to winter, for the tall native grasses furnished plenty of feed.

Russell for several years was the largest farmer in the region. His "large" farm was planted to 20 acres of corn and potatoes. "We had lots of drouth years, three or four in a row, but there was little suffering. People didn't farm much then. Most of the cattle were owned by big outfits and they managed to shift them to the best parts of the country." (That was open range area then).

No doors were ever locked and nothing was ever stolen, Russell recalled. He was fond of the early days, but believed with the return of normal seasons, the present stock raising with supplementary farming is best for the country. "Milk more cows" was his chief advice to the ones who wanted to get along (survive on their land).

Mr. Russell remembered that during summer, nearly every week someone from the past dropped in to say hello. He recalled the previous summer a cowboynamed Amadee Rousseau, whom Russell had not seen for 42 years called on him.

Amadee Rousseau was born in Quebec, Canada, Nov. 11, 1871 and came to our present state in 1880 with his parents who settled a few miles below Pierre on the Missouri river near the mouth of Medicine creek. Rousseau, once a post office and trading post, was named for the family.

In 1893, Amadee Rousseau was united in marriage with Victoria Claymore, and moved to a ranch south of Cheyenne Agency. Here the family, including 6 children, resided until the ranch was sold to Burton C. Mossman in 1919. The Rousseau's then moved to Eagle Butte. He was employed at various times by the Diamond A Cattle Co. In later years he served as deputy sheriff of Dewey county. Being an old-timer on the reservation, he had a wide acquaintance among both whites and Indians as part of the territory opened to homesteading. The 1898 brand book shows Amadee's post office is shown as Fairbanks, with the brand 4X--.

A family note: Tom Jones' daughter, Hazel, stayed with Mrs. Russells' mother to attend school for her earliest schooling. Hazel was born in 1896. Her parents lived about 10 miles, and across the Bad River from Midland.

The Russells still have descendants in the Midland area. I remember Jenny Russell. My grandma Calhoon, who came to the area as a bride from her homestead near Okaton, SD about 1908 may well have been attended at childbirth by Mrs. Russells' mother, as my grandpa had a Livery Stable in Midland during the early years of their marriage before moving ten miles south east to their ranch.

A family tale we are trying to research is that Mr. Russell and Tom Jones dug up and collected the bones of a 30 foot long dinosaur of some sort TJ had found in an area south of Midland. They shipped it to the Smithsonian. While in Washington DC, we tried to find out about this, but failed in the time we had. One employee grew up in Charles Mix county and volunteered to try to find out, but said it would be a huge task because of the volume of such material received there.

Thanks for posting this story, MRJ. It was definitely a different lifestyle in those days than it is now. The hardships of the old-timers paved the way for their decendants to live an easier life. It used to be that I thought I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I appreciate today's high standard of living. Having lived in the mountains on a hunting camp for three months in 1971, I got to experience a bit of complete pioneering and at the time, I enjoyed it immensely. Even at that time, my philosophy was that two of the "modern" conveniences that were most taken for granted were ice cubes and toilet paper. :)

Electricity and indoor plumbing are two innovations that certainly make life more enjoyable. It would be hard to read in the evenings, with nothing but kerosene lanterns for light.

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