Who was the first white woman in Hand County?
While going through past issues of The Miller Press to glean items for “Retrospect,” the following article was featured in the May 7, 1914 issue.
As we enter another winter season, the article is a reminder of what the very early settlers faced.
That time and tide wait for no man or woman was again made manifest the evening of April 24, when a party of old friends walked into the home of Mrs. Chas. Sheppard to surprise her upon her 65th anniversary of her birth.
And this honor to one of Hand County’s most estimable ladies is of special interest and importance than usual, because of its historical value. Mrs. Sheppard has the distinction of being this county’s first known white woman settler. And best of all, she has been a continuous resident for nearly 34 years.
In the summer of 1880, the old Winona & St. Paul railroad, taken over by the C&NW, was pushed through from Huron to Pierre. There was not a settler along the line at that time. The only one known to be in the county then was Levi D. Haines and family, who claimed to live in the Wessington Hills. He was so generally considered to be a horsethief and outlaw, that he was known in early days as Horsethief Haines. And he took no exceptions to the title. He was somewhat migratory, however, and had several places of rendezvous between the Hills and Yankton.
When the railroad passed through Hand County, the first section, or siding, established was Siding No. 3, on the east bank of Turtle Creek, just east of St. Lawrence. In October of 1880, Mr. Chas. Sheppard came there with his wife, three sons and a little daughter, and took charge of the section. Siding No. 2 was at Wessington, and Siding No. 4 was at Ree Heights, so that Mr. Sheppard’s track went half-way to each of these points.
The Sheppard family took up their residence in a small building south of the track, nearly opposite the present home of J.M. King, and began their duties, which soon became of the most trying kind.
Their first winter was one of suffering and privation. It was one of the two known big-snow winters, when the prairies were covered with several feet of snow.
The last train came through early in December 1880, and then all attempts to get through were abandoned. The Sheppard family ran out of groceries and all necessities, even thread, and had to repair their clothing with strings. Their main food was salt rising bread and—as they humorously remark—snow broth and level scenery, because the snow filled the hollows and draws until everything looked perfectly level.
But this heroic family, with the aid of Providence, lived through it all and watched the snow go off in great floods the following spring.
In May 1881 they watched the smoke of the first repair train coming west for two days before it reached them, bringing an end to their long vigil and short rations.
Mr. and Mrs. Sheppard still live in St. Lawrence.
A pioneer organization was formed by the old timers present at the surprise party. It is their purpose to meet once a year to perpetuate their memories of early day incidents.