Archive for Monday, September 26, 2005

S.D. historical society given 19th century diary

September 26, 2005


— The South Dakota State Historical Society recently received a diary kept by a ranch hand who lived in western South Dakota at the time of the Wounded Knee Massacre.

Henry P. Smith's diary was donated to the society for safekeeping by his granddaughter, June Koerper of Wichita, Kan. The dairy contains his memoirs from October 1889, when he arrived in western South Dakota as a 23-year-old ranch hand, through May 1891.

The diary includes a rare, firsthand, non-governmental account of the Wounded Knee Massacre of Dec. 29, 1890. It is based on information from his older brother, James Benjamin Smith, who witnessed the event.

"I felt the diary needs to be in a place that would value it, rather than having it stuck in a drawer and when I die nobody knowing it existed," Koerper said in a written statement.

Chelle Somsen, archives director for the Historical Society, said the diary was a great addition to the society's collection.

The diary was featured in the Summer 2004 issue of South Dakota History, the society's quarterly journal.

Henry Smith came to South Dakota from Indiana at the urging of his brother, James, to establish a ranch after the Great Sioux Reservation was opened for non-Indian settlement. The brothers' ranch was on the north bank of the White River, east of current-day Interior and Cedar Pass in Jackson County.

The diary records that after warnings of the danger of an Indian outbreak, James Smith and a neighbor on Dec. 26, 1890, traveled 60 miles south "to the seat of war" to learn what was going on.

James Smith returned home on Jan. 2, 1891, and his brother's diary entry that day was particularly long as he related the events of the Dec. 29 massacre.

Minneconju leader Big Foot and his followers fled the Standing Rock reservation after Sitting Bull was arrested and killed. They hoped to spend the winter with the Oglalas in the Badlands but were intercepted by U.S. Army troops outside Wounded Knee. An estimated 300 were massacred when the encounter erupted into violence.


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