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bank. An establishment for the custody, or the loaning, exchange, or issue, of money, and for facilitating the transmission of funds by drafts or bills of exchange. The office of a banking establishment. — Webster, 1882

banknote. A promissory note issued by a bank or banking company, payable to bearer on demand, and intended to circulate as money. Such notes, in England and America, a large part of the currency. In America, they are popularly termed bank-bills. Strictly speaking, a bank-note is not money, but by common usage and general consent it is received and treated as money. — Webster, 1882

bankrupt. A trader who breaks or fails, or becomes unable to pay his debts in the ordinary course of trade; an insolvent trader. Any individual unable to pay his debts; an insolvent. In strictness, no person but a trader can be a bankrupt. Bankruptcy is applied to merchants and traders, insolvency to other persons. This distinction is not preserved in the United States, the tendency being to apply the term bankrupt and insolvent to the same description of persons. In the United States bankrupt law of 1841, repealed in 1843, the term bankrupt was applied to others besides merchants and traders, and in that law the features of both a bankrupt and insolvent law were united. So the features of both systems are united in many of the State insolvent laws. In English law at the time of By the Shores of Silver Lake, bankrupt meant a trader who secretes himself, or does certain other acts tending to defraud his creditors, and deception is clearly a major intent of the story. — Webster, 1882

The patrons of Rev. Royal G. Wilder, to the Kolapoor Mission are respectfully notified that the subscription books to this Mission are left with George Hawkins, Esq., Cashier of the National Bank of Malone, for collection, where it is desired the subscribers will call and pay their annual subscriptions, that the amount may be remitted at the earliest opportunity. – The Malone Palladium, January 25, 1866.

Although a bank was typically one of the first businesses to open in a town, Laura Ingalls Wilder writes little about her family’s dealings with them; in fact, Pa tends to keep his money tucked safely in his fiddle case instead of a bank vault, and all purchases are made with cash. The prosperous Wilder family, however, deposits cash earned in the bank for safe-keeping, and Almanzo opens his first savings account at age nine, a transaction he handles himself.

Bank business and bankers play a key role in setting up young Almanzo Wilder for a future of financial responsibility. This is supported by letters between both Laura and Almanzo to daughter Rose, in which they explain to Rose how hard work and savings allowed Almanzo to be able to own expensive horses as a young homesteader in Dakota Territory, even though “We were at the mercy of the bankers for 10% a year on machinery or 3% a month for anything else.” (Letter from Laura to Rose dated February 5, 1937.)

MALONE, NEW YORK. It is not known for certain which bank or banks in Malone and De Smet the Ingallses and Wilders conducted business with. In Farmer Boy, both Mother and Father Wilder drive to Malone from their Burke farm to deposit large sums of cash earned for the sale of goods. And after Almanzo finds a pocketbook full of cash on the side of the road and returns it to Mr. Thompson, his father takes him straight to the bank… but which one?

Samuel Wead

There were two banks in Malone when Almanzo lived in Franklin County, both chartered during the Civil War. According to Frederick Seaver’s Historical Sketches of Franklin County and its Several Towns (1918), The Farmers National Bank of Malone was established January 1, 1864, with a capital of $100,000. The bank had three presidents during the first four years of operation, with Andrew Ferguson as president during the period covered in Farmer Boy, B.S.W. Clark as vice president, with Darius Lawrence as cashier and Clark Lawrence as bank teller. Darius Lawrence (1822-1913) became president of the bank after several years, a position he held until his death.

In 1914, The Farmers National Bank built a new building on Main Street at Catherine Street. In 1973 the bank name was changed to Farmers National Bank, which served until 1991, when after several mergers, they became Key Bank. The 1914 building is located at 436 East Main Street, and currently houses a law office.

In 1844, Samuel Clark Wead (1805-1876) organized the Franklin County Bank with a capital of $10,000, changing its name in 1850 to the Bank of Malone, which operated on Elm Street HERE; the bank was the one-story stone building just behind the pole in the center of the photograph. Today, a law office occupies the 1881 Wead Library building at 16 Elm Street which replaced the stone bank building and was a gift to Malone by Wead’s widow. The bank closed its doors in 1864 and transferred business to the newly organized National Bank of Malone. Wead continued as president, and operations were moved into a store-front owed by Wead on East Main Street at the corner of East Main and Mill Streets; the bank was on the main floor with offices above. The address today is 420 East Main Street. George Hawkins (1830-1896) served as cashier and W.F. Creed as book-keeper. Bank directors in 1868 were Henry A. Paddock, S.C. Wead, W.W. King, with William Andrus (who was president of the Malone city council in 1868) joining the board in 1870. In December 1885, the National Bank of Malone was taken over by the People’s National Bank of Malone, which opened for business in the National Bank’s headquarters on Main Street in March 1886.

In the photo, the National Bank of Malone building is circled, and the 1848 Paddock block can be seen just across the Salmon River to the west, the lighter colored building near the center. The building had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and it was believed to be the oldest former commercial building still standing in Malone. Sadly, the building burned in recent years and has been torn down. As the story told in Farmer Boy includes Mr. Paddock as a key character, it’s suspected that the Wilders must have banked here. Note from the newspaper advertisement transcribed above that Reverend Royal Wilder, James Wilder’s brother, was a bank patron.

Bankbook. In Farmer Boy, when Almanzo Wilder deposits the $200 he was given for returning Mr. Thompson’s pocketbook full of cash, the banker gave him a small printed book in which his savings deposits and withdrawals would be recorded. This part of the story is not included in the Farmer Boy manuscript and was probably fictionalized to reflect something that occurred in general in the banking industry at the time. Neither the Farmers National Bank or the National Bank of Malone had a savings department until the National Bank of Malone was the first to add one in the fall of 1873 – paying 5 percent interest compounded every six months on deposits remaining untouched for at least three months.



DE SMET, SOUTH DAKOTA. Although there were four banks active in the early decades of De Smet history, only two were in operation during the Little House years.

Thomas H. Ruth

Kingsbury County Bank was organized in June 1880 with Thomas H. Ruth (1844-1908) as cashier and A. Ruth of Pennsylvania as President. Thomas was the only resident member of the firm and had entire control of the business, which served both De Smet and Volga. The bank was first housed in a wooden building that stood on Block 3, Lots 8-9, original plat of De Smet; it can be seen in the 1884 birds-eye drawing. In addition to doing a general banking business and providing loans for purchases of real estate at 8 percent interest, Banker Ruth sold insurance through the Orient Insurance Company of Hartford, Connecticut.

In December 1885, the bank was incorporated under territorial laws with an organized capital of $200,000, and a paid up capital of $50,000. At incorporation, stockholders elected the following board of directors: A.W. Newman, John Armstrong, W.E. Broadbent, A.N. Waters, Thomas H. Ruth, Herbert H. Cooley, and William H. Ruth. The board named A.W. Newman (of Trempealeau, Wisconsin) as president; William E. Broadbent (of the firm Loftus & Broadbent) as vice-president, and Thomas H. Ruth as cashier. Many of the same board members organized Dakota Loan and Investment Company, which continued the loan business previously run by Alfred Waters, doing a general real estate and chattel loan business. Edwin P. Sanford (he married Mary Power in 1889) was hired as clerk in 1884, but soon was promoted to cashier, with Thomas Ruth taking the position as bank president.

In July 1886, the wooden bank building was moved onto lots on Third Street, and Kingsbury County Bank began construction of a new solid brick two-story bank building, 25 x 50 feet in size with steam heat and a corner entry facing southeast. Half the ground floor served as the bank; the rest was private offices that were rented out. Dr. H.C. Hunter’s office was upstairs; he was the doctor who arrived just after Laura and Almanzo Wilder’s son was born in 1889.

In May 1900, the bank joined the National Banking Association and changed its name to De Smet National Bank. The directors included Thomas H. Ruth, Daniel H. Loftus, and William H. Ruth. The new bank name was painted above the second story windows to join the large word “BANK” painted above the first floor bank windows at this time, as can be seen in the photo. Thomas and William Ruth both retired in August 1907, and Edwin Sanford moved to Bellingham, Washington, to accept a job as teller in the Bank of Bellingham. A.W. Stone (who ran the bank in Erwin) took over as president of De Smet National Bank, with F.M. Andrews hired as cashier and A.S. Alquist as bookkeeper.

In May 1912, De Smet National Bank (Ruth’s bank in Block 3) and the First National Bank of De Smet (John Carroll’s bank in Block 4) were consolidated as De Smet National Bank with business conducted out of the Carroll building. This is why you can find the De Smet National Bank name on two different buildings in old photographs. The part of the building on Block 3 that had been used by the bank was taken over by De Smet Music Store. The former Kingsbury County Bank building is still standing at the corner of Calumet Ave. S.E. and Third St. S.W.

John H. Carroll

January 17, 1880, while living in Brookings (he had run a general merchandise store in Fountain before the railroad was surveyed and failed to go through the town), John H. Carroll (1849-1926) filed on a homestead in Kingsbury County, the NE 28-111-56. His claim was one involved in the Cameron land fraud case, so he relinquished it and filed on the SE 28 the following year, platting part of his land as De Smet residential lots in June 1882. All of his claim lies inside the city limits today; the Ingallses house on Third Street is located on a lot platted in what was designated “Carroll’s Addition to De Smet.”

In March 1880, John Carroll was appointed postmaster of De Smet and the following month as Clerk of Courts; his first office was the Charles Ingalls building, which he rented from Ingalls when the moved from town to their homestead. In April 1882, Carroll purchased Lot 8, Block 2, original town of De Smet, the lot originally sold to William Cooke in May 1880. The building on this lot became both the Post Office and Carroll’s insurance office, and in December 1882, he established The Bank of De Smet, doing a general banking business and specializing in farm loans. John Carroll served as president, and his brother, Walter N. Carroll, was cashier. Deciding to concentrating on banking, he resigned as Clerk of Courts and Postmaster in 1884.

In October 1885, John Carroll purchased the Ingalls lot and store building for $600. He began construction of a brick building on the Ingalls lot, which was 26 x 60 feet in size, two stories with a full height basement. The bank occupied the entire first floor and contained a large fire-proof vault with time lock. A special feature was two large unusual stones which Carroll discovered among the boulders brought in for the foundation; these he sent to Sioux Falls to be polished and they were placed on the north and west faces of the building for interest. Carroll also had a block of polished Sioux Falls jasper set in the corner of the building. The building is still standing at 201 Calumet Avenue S.E., with these stones still in place.

With the new building, the bank name was changed to First National Bank of De Smet, incorporated in December 1885 with J.H. Carroll, J.E. Smith, W.H.H. Phillips, W.N. Carroll, and W.E. Whiting as directors. John Carroll was president, W.H.H. Phillips was vice president, and Walter Carroll was cashier. In March 1809, John Carroll retired from banking, opening a real estate office in De Smet, but moving to Florida after a year. He sold his business to a bank in Mitchell, with S.E. Morris, president; Lewis Shuster, vice president; and O.P. Williams, cashier. The bank was in charge of the cashier, who hired help as needed.

In 1912, as stated above, two De Smet banks  (originally Ruth’s bank and Carroll’s bank) were consolidated and renamed De Smet National Bank.  A.W. Stone (who ran the bank in Erwin) took over as president, with F.M. Andrews hired as cashier and A.S. Alquist as bookkeeper.

In May 1926, De Smet National Bank failed, and was closed by the directors for liquidation by the comptroller of currency.  In June 1928, Peoples State Bank (see below) moved into the vacated De Smet National Bank building, occupying the building for thirty years.

When John Carroll purchased the Ingalls lot, he sold his original bank lot to Alfred N. Waters, an attorney who organized the Dakota Loan and Investment Company. Thomas Ruth of Kingsbury County Bank was president, Waters was secretary. Other officers were W.E. Broadbent, J. D Pierson, and William Ruth. Waters came to De Smet with the railroad, opening a law, land, and loan business in partnership with A.A. Anderson, who sold out in 1883. In 1887, Alfred Waters and Charles L. Dawley (who married Florence Garland) purchased the entire interest in Dakota Loan and Investment Company and the two took full control of the business.

In 1888, a new brick building with white stone trimmings was built on Lot 8, Block 2. It was 25 x 70 feet, fronting west and south, two stories high. The front office was 22 x 33 feet and housed Dakota Loan and Investment Company. The next year, a third bank was established in De Smet, the Germania State Bank, with Eli Cole, Jr.  as president and Lewis F. Altfillish as cashier. The bank took over the loan and investment space on the main floor of the Waters building.

In 1918, Germania State Bank changed its name to American State Bank, but it discontinued business in 1925. In 1926, Peoples State Bank of Erwin moved to De Smet, occupying the Waters building until the Carroll building across the street was available. The Waters building housed a number of different businesses since then, and is currently Heritage House Bed & Breakfast.


bank (FB 2, 10, 13, 19, 28, 29; TLW 18-19; LTP 11, 16, 24; THGY 20, 29; PG)
bankbook (FB 29)
banker (PG)
banknote (FB 28)
bankrupt (PG)
Ruth’s bank (THGY 20); see also Thomas H. Ruth
Banker Ruth (TLW 18-19; PG); see Thomas H. Ruth
cashier / clerk (FB 28-29; THGY 20)