Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Harrold was a “ T” Town

The Chicago Northwestern Railroad line runs alongside highway 14 in eastern South Dakota, and as it reached each end of the line during its construction, a settlement sprang up, many of them becoming a town on the prairie, a “ T “ town, one that runs perpendicular to the railroad, pointing south, intersecting with the westward running tracks. Harrold was one of those towns. Established in 1886, it grew quickly to a population of over 300, some people moving there on purpose, some stopping there because they couldn’t afford to go any farther. Then there were families like the Heintzs that were drawn there by shifty land agents and outlandish posters touting the area as a Garden of Eden.

My grandparents lived in Marion, South Dakota where grandpa made his living by delivering the mail, working for a relative in a funeral home, and operating a butcher shop part time. They had just built a new two-story house, fully paid for, when my dad turned ten years old. Life seemed good. They were active in the close-knit community and took part in any events that were happening. Such was the case when there was a meeting at the town hall put on by land agents from Harrold. Families listened to the flowery talk about the rich farming belt, the abundant supply of water, the endless acres of pasture land that was part of Hughes County, and they soaked up the cheap prices and promise of model farms available almost for the asking. Almost. Before long, Grandpa had convinced Grandma to sell their new house and put that money down on land south of Harrold, sight unseen. He was sure this was their big chance to be successful farmers and ranchers. Grandma grudgingly packed up her belongings, gathered her seven kids and climbed into the rail car for the trip to their new home on the prairie.

When they got to Harrold and unloaded, Grandpa couldn’t wait to see his land. They piled into their Model T and headed south. Grandma was getting more nervous by the mile. Finally, the outline of a building rose up from the sea of prairie. Their new home was just over the next hill. As they parked in front of the small ramshackle shack, the object that caught their eye was a boot sticking out of a broken window, and the sound of someone snoring loudly inside the dark room. Grandma didn’t have a gun or any other weapon, if she had she would have turned her fury first on Grandpa then go looking for the land agent who sold them a bill of goods. They never lived on the place, going back to town and living in the hotel. Grandma eventually managed the hotel while Grandpa tried to farm the prairie ground. They never made a go of it, having moved in 1929, just before the market crash and the beginning of the Depression. The land agent always cut a wide swath around Grandma, and she never got over her anger at him for convincing them to sell and move to Harrold. Grandpa again became a mail carrier and butcher, living out his life, dying at an early age, in Harrold. The Heintz family, Grandma and nine kids lived and went to school in Harrold. Six of the kids served in WWII, all returned home to continue life, several remaining in Harrold all their lives. Summers always brought the siblings home to see Grandma, and it was a time of storytelling, memories and laughter. The little town was always home for the Heintz family, no matter where they roamed. I have a 90-year-old aunt who wants to travel from the west coast to see Harrold one more time before she passes. I have tried to tell her there is little to see anymore, but she doesn’t care, she wants to be home one more time.

The history of Harrold, first known as siding #6, is full of family stories of hardship and happiness, of successful businesses and of shady dealings. Its history is interesting, mainly because the people who settled there were interesting. I hope to share their stories with you in the future.

Grandma never did figure out who was sleeping in that shack they bought.