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Smokys: Fire, Ashes and Hope, Out of the Ashes We Will Rise

Ruth Wiechmann
for Tri-State Livestock News
A fire at Smoky’s Bar and Grill in Meadow, SD on Sunday, March 1, 2020. Responding fire departments included Bison, Lemmon, Meadow, Grand River, and Prairie City, from as far as 30 miles away.

Smokys Bar and Grill in Meadow, SD, has been serving area cattlemen and serving as a local landmark for over a hundred years. Owners Andrea Block and Shiloh Lorius were going through a routine morning, Sunday, March first, when their phone rang. It was Perkins County Sherriff, Kelly Serr, asking if Smoky’s was on fire. A passing motorist had noticed smoke coming from a window and called the Sherriff’s department.

“It was so unreal,” Andrea said. “We almost felt like someone was playing a joke on us. Shiloh ran outside and saw the smoke and we knew that Smoky’s was, in fact, on fire.”

Shiloh ran over with a fire extinguisher but it was too late. Smoke had already filled the building and he was unable to enter. Local fire departments from Lemmon and Bison responded to the situation and battled the blaze all day.

A fire at Smoky’s Bar and Grill in Meadow, SD on Sunday, March 1, 2020. Responding fire departments included Bison, Lemmon, Meadow, Grand River, and Prairie City, from as far as 30 miles away.
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The fire proved a challenging one partly due to the unique construction of the building and also because of the weather that day. High winds increased the risk of the fire spreading to Shiloh and Andrea’s home and made containing the blaze difficult. Part of the building was constructed with creosote treated railroad ties that created lots of black smoke. The dining room was built with no windows, so fire crews ended up cutting a hole in the wall with a chainsaw in order to get access. They were not able to enter the other part of the building because it was downwind from the fire. In the end, the building was gone and very little in the smoking rubble was salvageable.

Over a hundred years of history went up in smoke.

This ad from a 1906 newspaper welcomes visitors to a saloon that would eventually become Smoky’s bar and grill. Image courtesy Horace Seim
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Smoky’s was originally known as the Green Front Saloon. Built in 1893 in the fledgling pioneer town of Seim, SD, the Green Front helped to quench the thirst of the Cresswell cowboys who rode the Grand River country keeping an eye on the thousands of head of Texas cattle under their care during those days of open range. Jim Brumley, the original proprietor, worked for the Cresswell Cattle Company, also known as the Turkey Track, due to their brand resembling the track of a wild turkey. Located on the forks of the Grand River, Seim was the first town with a post office in what is now Perkins County, and it was one of the main stops on the Bismarck to Deadwood stage route. Supplies and mail were freighted to Seim from Dickinson and New England, and most of the businesses in the town were owned by Cresswell men.

A combination of factors took businesses away from Seim: spring floods in 1907 and the Milwaukee Railroad’s decision to lay track along the North Dakota/South Dakota border saw most of the businesses from Seim moved to the fledgling ‘Tent Town’ that became Lemmon. Livery barns, banks, undertaker, newspapers all picked up, literally, and left.

The Green Front Saloon was moved to Meadow, SD in 1910. It went through a number of proprietors over the years, but the one whose name stuck was ‘Smoky’ Sebastian who dubbed it ‘Smoky’s.’

“Smoky and Olga were quite the couple,” recalled Dave Lensegrav, a Meadow area rancher. “She made the best malts; in the ‘50’s a malt was a big, big treat! Smoky’s had the only phone in the community at the time, so if someone from out of the area needed to get ahold of you they would call Smoky and he would come out and relay the message and you’d follow him in to return the call.”

Andrea and Shiloh purchased the business in April of 2016.

“I started waiting tables at the Busted T in Lemmon when I was thirteen,” Andrea recalled. “I’ve worked in the restaurant industry all my life. It has always been my dream to own a restaurant and it has always been Shiloh’s dream to own his own business. His family is just four miles east of here, so we knew we would never have another opportunity to be this close to his roots.”

Rhonda and Dave Lensegrav (far left and far right) donated the value of the average of their bulls to help Smoky’s rebuild. (Andrea and Shiloh, Smoky’s owners are pictured in the middle). Courtesy photo
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Shiloh and Andrea have found many ways to serve the rural, ranching community besides their standard menu.

“Andrea was good about making specials,” Dave Lensegrav said. “Smoky’s was nice place to go have a bite after a long day of working cattle when you were all played out, and maybe your cook had been out there helping you all day and was played out too.”

The last post Andrea made on Smoky’s Facebook page just hours before the fire broke out was announcing their annual calving special, 10% off meals to go during calving season.

“They are OUR ranchers,” Andrea said. “When the weather sucks or the market sucks for them it sucks for us too. We very much support the cattle industry; we wouldn’t be possible without them. They aren’t just customers, they are friends, neighbors; they helped us get our dogs safe and helped move my mom’s table out of our house during the fire. They showed up to help us sift through the rubble and clean up the site after the fire too.”

Smoky’s has provided most of the meals at Faith Livestock Auction in recent years, and Andrea and Shiloh have cooked for a number of local benefits, set up a canned food drive, and made a point to donate proceeds from meals purchased to programs at the Bison school.

Now it’s their turn to be on the receiving end as several donation sites have been set up and fundraisers are planned to help them rebuild Smoky’s.

Dave Lensegrav donated the average of his bulls sold recently at Faith.

“They’re good people, and we wish them the best,” he said.

Rebuilding is going to take a lot of careful planning. Meanwhile, Andrea and Shiloh are preparing to finish their garage so they can serve meals prepared in a food truck that Dickey’s in Rapid City has loaned them.

“We’re going to set up a bar and tables inside and build picnic tables and a horseshoe pit outside; basically have a barbeque party all summer,” Andrea said.

Meanwhile she is keeping busy dealing with state and county offices to get inspections and licensing in order and making sure everything is legal.

“Everyone I’ve talked to has been so helpful,” she said, “Even when I called five times in one day!”

In the midst of the devastation, Andrea is keeping her chin up.

“We have this motto,” she said. “Out of the ashes we will rise. It’s going to take a lot of work and time but we’re up to it. Every dime donated is being saved for rebuilding. We found a few things in the rubble that we saved to put in a shadow box that will go on the wall in the new Smoky’s someday to remind us of what happened.

“We’re alive and we’re thankful for that. I’m an EMT and Shiloh is a member of the Meadow Volunteer Fire Department, so first responders are very close to our hearts. We know those crews were putting their own lives in danger the day of the fire and we are very, very grateful that nobody was hurt. We’re thankful for our community; they are the best people in the world.”


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