Edward H. Couse
Early hardware merchant in De Smet.
Calumet Avenue is being graded with the sand and gravel from Mr. Couse’s basement. — The De Smet Leader, May 8, 1886
Edward H. Couse was born in Otsego County, New York, April 1, 1830, one of eight children born to Caroline and Henry Couse. In 1844, the Couses moved to Illinois, then in 1853, to Dodge County, Minnesota Territory. Edward returned to Illinois to marry Lydia (Lydie) Eaton on May 3, 1855.
Edward and Lydie lived in a cabin on Edward’s Dodge County preemption claim in Wasioja Township until the Civil War broke out. Leaving his farmland unbroken, Edward joined the Ninth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry as a first lieutenant and an adjutant, having been appointed to this position by the governor. Couse served for three years, participating in numerous battles and was wounded during the Battle of Nashville in December 1864. He was discharged at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, at the end of the war.
In 1867, Lydie and Edward adopted Letta Mary Davies, daughter of a soldier who was killed in the war. Lettie was given every advantage and was educated in the common schools of Minnesota, excelling in mathematics and penmanship. These opened the way for a career among books and records, first in Kingsbury County, then in the abstract office in Brookings. Lettie studied law and was admitted to the bar, and her opinion on land titles was considered equal to any attorney in South Dakota. Lettie was married three times and had one daughter, Florence. Lettie died in January 1908 and was buried in the De Smet cemetery.
In 1879, the Couses had moved to Volga, Dakota Territory, then on to De Smet as the railroad reached the town. Formerly a miller, Edward purchased a half interest in a hardware business with Thomas Maguire, soon after buying out his partner. Their store was located in a building possibly built by Charles Ingalls on the northwest corner of Calumet and Second in De Smet. In her handwritten Pioneer Girl memoir, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that the Ingalls family lived in this building after moving out of the Surveyor’s House and prior to moving to her father’s homestead. Mr. Couse ran his hardware store in this building until late 1885 (the wooden structure was then moved to Poinsett Avenue and served as a residence for many years; it was torn down in the 1920s), then Couse had a large brick building built on the two corner lots. Upstairs was the Grand Opera Hall (44 by 78 feet), the first floor being divided into three rooms: hardware salesroom, heavy-hardware salesroom (stoves, plows, etc.), and a tin ship with an elevator which went from a basement barbershop to the Opera House on the top floor. For a time, some government offices were located in the basement of the “Couse Block,” shown in the early photograph above.
Edward Couse was a prominent and well-respected citizen of De Smet, serving as Kingsbury County’s first treasurer. He volunteered to organize events and debated at Literary Society meetings. In 1906, he hosted an “Old Settler’s Camp” around his house in De Smet for Old Settler’s Day, providing “hay for horses, shade for buggies, and cold water, all free.” [De Smet News, June 8. 1906] An admirer of Abraham Lincoln, Couse was active in the movement to preserve the cabin in which Lincoln was born.
Laura Ingalls Wilder mentioned Mr. Couse in The Long Winter (Chapters 9-10), but only to place his hardware store on the corner of Second and Main (Calumet) Street; she passed it when walking home from school. After their marriage, Laura and Almanzo Wilder must have visited the Opera House on occasion, as entertainments, meetings, graduation ceremonies, and funerals were often held there. Couse retired from business in 1902 and sold the building in 1917. From 1927-1957, the building was used by J.C. Penney as a department store; it was then purchased by Tom Ward as a Variety Store. Today, his daughter Patti operates Ward’s Store & Bakery in the building. Upstairs (not open to the public), the original tin ceiling is still in place over 100 years after its installation.
Lydia Couse died June 22, 1916. Edward Couse died December 18, 1916. They are buried in the De Smet cemetery.
Couse’s Hardware (TLW 9-10)