Still going strong | TSLN.com

Still going strong

"Old Hats & New Boots" is the theme of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association (SDSGA) 125th Anniversary celebration.

Ranchers from around the region will don a good hat and a clean shirt for the rare and rich opportunity to discuss ways to better the cattle industry. This year will offer a special chance to also celebrate, honor and reflect upon "125 years of leadership, history, memories, and stories" of the multitude of astute cowmen who have positively impacted their industry across those years of heroic change. The meeting will be in Rapid City Sept. 22-23.

SDSGA's past presidents include bankers, mayors, sheriffs, horse traders, fur traders, new immigrants, brand inspectors, lobbyists and rustling-ring busters – all infused with a strong determination to preserve, promote and perpetuate the livestock industry within their state. Grassroots cattlemen have worked hard to support and implement the positive ideas and improvements.

Forty-four forward-looking stockmen from the Territories of South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska originally organized in late October of 1880. Black Hills Stockgrowers (forerunner of the SDSGA) was formed Thanksgiving Day in 1880, boasting some 40,000 cattle among their membership the following spring. By May, members had embarked on their first organized roundup across Territorial Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana; an event written up by the Black Hills Weekly Journal in June, 1881. Pioneer Dakota range legends including Ed Lemmon and James "Scotty" Philips helped create the Western South Dakota Stock Growers Association, officially incorporated in South Dakota in 1883, which became South Dakota Stockgrowers Association through a name change in 1937.

"Well do I remember the day Sam, Lon and I boarded the Northwestern train in Hot Springs," Bill Wyatt wrote in 1948, reminiscing about Sam Moses and Lon Godard. "Ed Lemmon and Frank Stewart got on at Buffalo Gap. Others joined us at Fairburn and Hermosa, bound for Rapid City to meet cattlemen from all parts of the Black Hills, for the purpose of organizing a Western South Dakota Stockgrowers Association," According to "Last Grass Frontier," by Bob Lee.

It is not clear if this was February 20, 1892 or April 21 of that year when the permanent organization was effected. There is a general belief that the association was founded by 13 men. The April 21, 1892 meeting was the first official meeting. H. A. (Lon) Godard was elected president, Fred Holcomb, vice president, and F. M. Stewart, secretary-treasurer.

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In his farewell speech to the organization President Godard (1892-96) said, "I believe it is necessary to throw around this organization every support that is in our power to the end that the advantages occurring to the membership will become so apparent that every man who owns a hoof of branded stock will be brought to fully realize the necessity of being one of us."

The day book of the South Dakota association reveals payment of salary to Joe Elliot for detective services on many dates. But it all seemed to end in April of 1896.

That coincides with the story told by Ed Lemmon that Elliott disappeared while in the employ of the association.

Craig had sent the gunman into the region around Devil's Tower to investigate some butchering and then he was to go over to Sundance to buy some cattle for the VVV. While in the vicinity of the Tower, he was recoginized by some old Johnson County War enemies.

They commandeered his horse and saddle and set him off across the plains afoot, warning him that he wouldn't be walking away the next time he was found in the country. He was not heard of again until 1936 when Ed Lemmon unexpectedly came across him at Nampa, Idaho, where he was living under an assumed name.

Lemmon quoted Elliott as saying he had walked over 400 miles to Laramie after his encounter with his old enemies. He had married in Idaho upon his return from a few years in Alaska when Lemmon met him in Nampa. He had left the country in such a hurry that the association still owed him a month's wages. Lemmon said he would try to get the money for him. The association's financial statement for the period June 1, 1936 to June 1, 1937, note the payment of $125 to Joe Elliot for "services." Some 40 years had elapsed since Elliott had been around to collect his own wages.

South Dakota adopted a state brand and marks committee law on March 7, 1897 as Godard had recommended the previous year, and established the first state-wide registry of brands.

Under the 1897 law, everybody had a right to adopt a brand for their exclusive use by filing it with the Secretary of State for a fee of $1.50.

The first South Dakota State Brand Book was issued during the winter of 1898-99 and Stewart was still chairman of the brand committee.

Preventing cattle and horse rustling and reprimanding thieves is still a priority for the organization.

This vigorous aggregate of cattle, sheep and horse ranchers from across the state work together for the continued success and viability of independent livestock producers, and expect more than 200 families to attend the landmark SDSGA Anniversary, Convention and accompanying Trade Show.

You never know what will happen at an SDSGA Convention – the late Ken Halligan, who wore the President's hat when the 1990's rolled in, proved that. "He always laughed about it," Ken's daughter Linda Gilbert remembers. "He said state convention as President was filled with responsibilities, things to do and much for him to remember. Once, when he was visiting with one of the cattlemen about an important matter, a little boy ran up, jammed a rope in his hand and said, 'You haft'a rope the dummy now.' So he turned around and pitched a loop, caught the dummy, returned the boy's rope and went on with his conversation. The kids continued with their dummy roping (provided to help children enjoy the convention) and before Ken knew it the lad was back with the rope, commanding, 'You haf'ta rope it again!'" This happened a couple more times, hardly interrupting the cattlemen's business talk, but the punch line was Ken's sheepish chuckle afterward, "Guess what – I won the dummy roping! I never won a roping before in my life!"

Daughter Linda laughs, "I've seen him walk into a corral full of horses and quietly pitch the houlihan to catch out every mount." From an Irish clan who sold cows and pooled their money for passage to America when rulers started confiscating cattle for taxes, Halligan was bred to lead independent stockmen. "Dad was in WW II, and being in foreign countries made him realize you have to be organized," Linda says, "and he had a strong sense of community. He lived to be 92 and in his last two years he put his thoughts together for a little booklet titled LOOKING FOR GRASS AND WATER. He was instrumental in starting the Casey Tibbs Center at Fort Pierre, so after family members had a copy he donated the rest of them to the bookstore there."

Octogenarian Dan Lindblom, a retired stockman reared by stockmen, married to a stockman's daughter for 61 years so far, with a son and grandson still ranching, lives near Rapid City. Involved with SDSGA since 1961, Dan believes improved brand inspection is one of their greatest contributions to the cow business. "I was on the Brand Board several years, but I thought the hijacking of that by Governor Rounds was a mistake … took a good program and put it in the hands of the state government. Now as far as many of us can tell it's not like it used to be … investigation is definitely not the same. I had a lot of respect for some of those old timers that headed it up in the beginning.

"One of the things I most enjoyed in my association with the Stockgrowers were the years I worked with Jack McCulloh. He had a brilliant mind – aggravated some people no end – but I got a kick out of working with him; some in local government, some in Pierre when he lobbied and we worked together. One thing we worked hard on was to get ag land assessed on productivity and finally got a bill through, in the early '90s sometime."

Lindblom's cattleman concerns are ongoing, including dwindling numbers of ranches, and the rise of national organizations. He says, "I was for the beef checkoff and helped work for it locally. The NCBA (National Cattlemen's Beef Association) has turned it into a fund for them and they fight every attempt to open up the visibility of the funds.

"Another big concern I have," Lindblom continues, "is the global roundtable for sustainable beef. My estimation of that is that it will put cattle producers under the same servitude the pig and chicken producers are in right now!"

SDSGA Region 5 director Mark Tubbs of Edgemont shares those concerns, proving his comment that "SDSGA members pretty much see eye to eye. This organization is grassroots-driven, from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. It's very important for us to increase our membership and especially to get the younger people involved," Tubbs says.

As to urgent and critical challenges facing beef producers Mark comments, "I think probably the biggest need is to establish country-of-origin labeling. At least 80 to 90 percent of consumers want to know, and it would enable us to create a fair, stable market. We must be steadfast and make sure 'domestic' is correctly defined. We also need to address this overreaching federal government on trying to regulate everything about agriculture, without understanding," Tubbs notes. "And tax issues, all the way from local to federal government. Tax laws have helped inflate land values. People can sell at high prices in distant states, then come here with big money – tax regulations lead them to reinvest in land, which drives our valuations and taxes up."

Set aside September 22-23 to help SDSGA celebrate 125 years as a grassroots organization whose individual producer members determine issues of importance to the state's livestock industry.

Leo Hamm, who chaired SDSGA 1980-1982, said, "It was a great experience, and I got to meet a lot of wonderful people. The unfortunate part is, we are still fightin' the same damn battles we were 30 or 40 years ago."