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, Couse purchased a half interest in a Volga hardware business with Thomas Maguire, soon after buying out his partner. Their store was located in a building supposedly erected by Charles Ingalls on the northwest corner of Calumet and Second in De Smet; early newspaper reports say that the building was constructed by Thomas McGuire and his son-in-law. According to later newspaper accounts, Mr. Couse opened for business in June 1880. Couse ran his hardware store in Pa’s 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 two 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. Exterior stairs to the second floor were enclosed in 1896. An early newspaper account of Couse Hardware is below:
THE HARDWARE HOUSE of E.H. Couse, is an establishment of which a much larger town than De Smet might well feel proud. There are certain features in the business interests of every community, and certain elements that contribute to the success of the individual, the same as a town or city, chief among which, is an enterprising and determined spirit upon the part of the representative of the particular industry or enterprise that is to be pushed forward. That capital is required is also true, abut the possession of capital without the disposition or energy to use it, never did any great thing in building up a town. It is pleasing to note that De Smet contains business men, who have such faith in the town, that they are willing to expend their money in the construction of buildings for business purposes, that are a credit to the town, and worthy examples that are sure to be followed by others. One of the first so to act in De Smet is Mr. Couse, who is the owner of one of the finest brick blocks 44×80, two stories and basement in height, to be found in the Territory. The upper story of this building comprises an opera hall, to which we have had occasion to refer elsewhere in this article, and which, with one exception perhaps is the best public hall in Dakota. The entire lower floor, which is divided into two distinct store rooms, besides a warehouse 36×65 is devoted to the hardware and machinery trade, in which Mr. C does a leading business not only in Kingsbury county, but is one of the most extensive dealers in this section of the Territory. The stock embraces shelf and heavy hardware, tools, cutlery, cook and heating stoves, tin, sheet-iron and copper ware, and in fact all that goes to make a first-class showing. The machinery department is no less complete, embracing nearly everything in the line of agricultural machinery, from a bar to a thrashing machine. Some of the leading article of stock are the Plano Binders, Moline wagons and buggies, Deere & Co’s plows and cultivators, Victory thrashers, reapers, etc. Mr. C. commenced business in De Smet seven years ago, as one of the pioneers, and he is well informed as to the wants and necessities of the people whose interests he always strives to serve. It is not with any design to flatter, when we say, that the more men like Mr. Couse that a town possesses, the better it will be for the town, and none in De Smet have done more, or are doing more to advance the interests of both town and county. – De Smet Leader, March 19, 1887.
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)