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Thomas H. Ruth

President of Kingsbury County Bank in De Smet.

“For sale: A thorobred Jersey bull two years old. Will sell for cash or on time. T. H. Ruth.” -De Smet Leader, August 23, 1884

Thomas Hudson Ruth was born March 5, 1844, in Carmichaels (Greene County) Pennsylvania. He was educated in the common schools of Greene County and at Greene Academy. He enlisted in the 58th Pennsylvania Infantry in June 1863. Following the Civil War, Ruth moved to Page County, Iowa.

In February 1880, Thomas Ruth moved to Kingsbury County, Dakota Territory. He was among those listed as attending the first religious service conducted in the area, held in February 1880 in the Surveyors’ House (see By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 23, “On the Pilgrim Way”). In her fictional account, Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t mention everyone who attended the service.

The Kingsbury County Bank. June 1880, Thomas Ruth established “A. Ruth & Company,” with A. Ruth (of Pennsylvania) as president. The bank was incorporated in 1886 as the Kingsbury County Bank, with Thomas Ruth as cashier and his brother William H. Ruth as one of the directors. Edwin P. Sanford was hired as cashier in 1884. An article in the April 24, 1886, De Smet Leader read: “At a meeting of the directors of the Kingsbury County Bank it was decided to build a bank building at a cost of about $3000. We have seen a draft of the proposed building, and like the looks of it very much. It will be two stories high, with an east and south front. The material will be brick. Work will commence the first of August.” The former bank building is still standing in De Smet.

In 1879 Thomas Ruth married Lora Galbraith in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania. The couple had no children, although a nephew of Banker Ruth’s made his home with the couple for many years; he was a veterinarian in De Smet as an adult. Mrs. Ruth died August 10, 1893.

July 1880, Thomas Ruth was elected the first treasurer of the De Smet School. In 1889, he was elected as Mayor of De Smet. In 1890 he was elected commissioner of schools and public lands. In 1884, he organized Company E, First Regiment of De Smet, Grand Army of the Republic, and was elected Captain.

In Pioneer Girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that she and Carrie enjoyed walking to school from the claim, but that they had to pass several cows and a purebred Jersey bull belonging to Banker Ruth. Laura and Carrie became lost in the slough one day because they walked through the slough rather than risk an encounter with Banker Ruth’s bull, which had pawed and bellowed at them on occasion. A variation of this ‘lost in the slough’ story is told in The Long Winter (Chapter 2, “An Errand to Town”). When Laura and Carrie told Pa about the bull, he became angry and said he would speak to Mr. Ruth. Banker Ruth did own a Jersey bull, as an advertisement in the August 23, 1884, De Smet Leader read: “For sale: A thorobred Jersey bull two years old. Will sell for cash or on time. T. H. Ruth.”

In 1895, Thomas Ruth married Amelia Bell (born December 1859), sister of De Smet seamstress Florence Bell, both of them daughters of James and Elizabeth Bell of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania. Wilder introduced Florence Bell in These Happy Golden Years (Chapter 16, “Summer Days”). The Kingsbury County Independent reported: “The cards announcing the marriage of Thos. H. Ruth and Amelia M. Bell, at Waynesburgh, Penn., was the first intimation to the people of De Smet that Mr. Ruth had gone east for a wedding trip. The happy event took place on May 1st, and Mr. and Mrs. Ruth came home at once, where they are receiving the congratulations of their many friends. Hon. Thos. H. Ruth, ex commissioner of school and public lands, is one of the well known men of the state, and numbers his friends by the hundreds. His wife is a sister of Mrs. Anson Wright and Mrs. Will Ruth, and was a resident of De Smet in the early days. She will be heartily welcomed back in her new position by old friends. The Independent joins in congratulations, and wishes Mr. and Mrs. Ruth a long and happy life together.”

Banker Ruth’s Home in De Smet. In 1884, Thomas Ruth bought a lot on Third Street in De Smet, where his first home was built. When the original bank building on Calumet was replaced with the block building shown above, the wooden structure was moved to the Ruth lot and became an addition to the house. In 1894 he began extensive renovations to the house in anticipation of his second marriage, but soon decided to have new home built on the site, which was completed around 1900. The Panic of 1893 (see Rose Wilder Lane’s introduction to On the Way Home) which involved so many bank failures didn’t affect the Kingsbury County Bank. The Ruth home was one of the finest in De Smet, often the site of social gatherings hosted by Colonel and Mrs. Ruth. The building was 50×30 feet, two stories, with porches on the south and east. It contained eight rooms with leaded glass windows: parlors, sitting and dining rooms, a kitchen with attached summer kitchen, and four sleeping rooms (and nursery) upstairs. The lawn was seeded to grass, and a large vegetable garden filled the back lot. A windmill and water tank furnished fresh water for domestic use and irrigation for the garden and lawn, and a basement cistern collected rainwater in the basement.

The Ruths had one son, Edwin James Ruth, born in De Smet on February 2, 1902. Thomas Ruth retired from banking in September 1907. The De Smet News reported: “De Smet National Bank Change — The above bank this week passes in to other hands, and Thos. H. Ruth and Wm. H. Ruth, the founders, retire to private life. The Ruths came here in 1880 and on June 1st of that year opened the Kingsbury County Bank, a private concern. It proved successful from the start, and in 1885 it was incorporated under the state laws. In 1900 it was changed into a National bank and the name changed to the De Smet national Bank. Not withstanding De Smet and Kingsbury County have seen some hard years during their history, so conservatively has the bank been run that it has never passed its yearly dividend, and today it stands as a monument to the Ruth way of doing business.” The Ruths spent the winter of 1907 in Florida in hopes that Mr. Ruth’s failing health would improve. Sick most of the winter, he returned to De Smet in April, where his health continued to decline. He entered the Battle Creek (Michigan) Sanitarium in early July, and although he was thought to be improving, he died there on July 29, 1908. Following her husband’s death, Mrs. Ruth rented the home on Third Street to Frank M. Andrews (1872-1929), and she and Edwin moved to Amelia’s old home in Pennsylvania. Like Thomas Ruth, Frank Andrews was a banker (he replaced E.P. Sanford as cashier at De Smet National Bank) and he served as mayor of De Smet. Prior to purchasing the Ruth home, Andrews owned a large tract of land on which he had intended to build; this property was donated to the city and became Washington Park. De Smet’s Andrews Avenue is named for Frank M. Andrews. The house was sold in 1929 for “$1 plus other valuables,” and was at that time divided into apartments. Open air porches were removed and a screened porch that had been added on the northeast corner was enclosed to provide a side entrance to the apartments. Banker Ruth’s former house is still standing; it was renovated in the 1990s and serves as Prairie House Manor Bed & Breakfast.

COL. THOMAS H. RUTH. Thomas H. Ruth was born at Carmichaels, Pa. March 5, 1844, the eldest of six children. He attended common school and later the Greene academy. In 1863 at the age of 19 he enlisted in Company C, fifty-eighth Pennsylvania Infantry, and at the end of his enlistment returned to his home.

In 1868 Mr. Ruth went to Page county, Iowa, where he engaged for a time in buying cattle, later moving to Greenfield and started an abstract office, writing a complete set of books.

In 1880 he came to De Smet and in June of that year was instrumental in starting the Kingsbury County Bank, his brother, William H., being interested with him. The little bank has grown to be one of the solid banks of the state, and to Mr. Ruth and E.P. Sanford, the cashier, is due the credit. In 1886 the bank was incorporated, and a few years ago made a national bank. Mr. Ruth was connected with it until a year and a half ago, when the stock of the Ruth brothers was sold to A.W. Stone and others, and the management passed out of his hands.

Mr. Ruth in 1889 was elected mayor of De Smet and filled the office acceptably. In 1890 he was elected to the office of commissioner of school and public lands, the first under the new state constitution, and two years later was re-elected. His four years administration of that important office showed his ability along those lines. – Mr. Ruth was always a republican, and until recent years took an active part in politics. – In 1885 Co. E., Dakota National Guard, was organized and Mr. Ruth chosen captain. For twelve years he was connected with the National Guard, filling the offices of captain, major and colonel. On the election of Andy Lee in 1896 Col. Ruth made way for a democrat. He was a member of Harvey Post, G.A.R.

In 1879 Col. Ruth was married to Miss Lora Galbraith, who died in 1893. On March 1, 1895, he was again married, his bride being Miss Amelia M. Bell, of Carmichaels, Pa., who with a son Edward, six years old, survive him.

More than a year ago Col. Ruth’s health began to fail and last winter was spent in Florida. The climate there did not appear to agree with him, he being sick for several weeks. Since then he gradually failed and a month ago went to the sanitarium at Battle Creek, Mich, accompanied by his wife. He got no permanent relief there, but grew gradually worse until death claimed him on Wednesday afternoon, July 29. The remains were taken to the place of his birth for interment in the family lot.

Col. Ruth will be missed in De Smet where for twenty-eight years he was one of its leading business men and an honored citizen. Although always conservative in business matters, and in the matter of public improvements, he did his share toward the upbuilding of his town and county. The relatives who are left to mourn his death have the sympathy of a very large circle of friends and neighbors. -De Smet News.

The following biography of Mr. Ruth was published in 1898:

COLONEL THOMAS H. RUTH, president of the Kingsbury County Bank and ex-mayor, is one of the most prominent and influential citizens of De Smet. He is wealthy, a large property holder, and one of the leaders in municipal affairs in the flourishing city where he lives. Colonel Ruth was born in Carmichaels, Greene county, Pennsylvania, March 5, 1844. His father, Peter Ruth, was also a native of Pennsylvania, of German extraction, born September 16, 1819. He married Mary Horner, who was born in the same state November 19, 1821. She was of German extraction on her father’s side. After marriage Mr. and Mrs. Ruth settled in Carmichaels, where our subject’s father died, October 31, 1858. Mrs. Ruth still resides there, the mother of six children: Thomas H., the subject of this sketch; John W., Sarah C., William H., and Lora B. and Ara B., twins. Thomas received his education in the common schools and at Greene Academy, Carmichaels, Pennsylvania. On the 6th of June, 1863, he enlisted in Company C, Fifty-eighth Pennsylvania Infantry, in the ninety-day service. After his term of enlistment expired Colonel Ruth returned to Carmichaels, and in 1868 went to Page county, Iowa, where he soon afterward began buying cattle for West & Company, of Hawleyville, Iowa. After a time he engaged in the business for himself. In 1876 Colonel Ruth removed to Greenfield, in the same state, where he started an abstract business, writing a complete set of abstract books of the county. February 28, 1880, he came to De Smet, and in June of that year established the bank of which he is now president, and which, from a small beginning, has grown to be one of the large and solid financial institutions of South Dakota. His brother was a partner with him in this venture, the firm name being A. Ruth & Company. The bank was incorporated in 1886 under the state law, with a paid up capital of $25,000. John Armstrong became its president and Colonel Ruth cashier. On the first of February, 1892, Mr. Ruth succeeded to the presidency of the bank, and Mr. E.P. Sanford, of whom a sketch will be found in this work, was installed as cashier. The Kingsbury County Bank is one of the oldest in the middle eastern section of the state, and has been known for many years as a well conducted and very conservative institution. Colonel Ruth, in addition to his city interests, is the owner, with his brother, of 1,120 acres of fine farming land in Kingsbury, Beadle, McPherson and Campbell counties. He is an ardent Republican, and has always taken a lively interest in political and public questions. In 1889, Colonel Ruth was elected mayor of the city of De Smet by a handsome majority, and in 1890 was the successful candidate on the Republican state ticket for the office of commissioner of school and public lands. He was re-elected in 1892, serving in all four years. He was for many years a member of the South Dakota National Guards, and in 1884 organized Company E, of the First Regiment of De Smet, of which he was elected captain, and subsequently became major, then colonel, in which capacity he served until 1897. He is also a member of Harvey post, No. 82, G.A.R., at De Smet.

Colonel Ruth married Miss Lora Galbraith, November 11, 1879, in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania. She was born May 30, 1844, and was the daughter of Dr. William and Mary (Hiller) Galbraith. Mrs. Ruth died August 10, 1893. Colonel Ruth remarried May 1, 1895, his bride being Miss Amelia M. Bell, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Bell, of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania. Colonel and Mrs. Ruth have no children.

Memorial & Biographical Record, An Illustrated Compendium of Biography (Chicago: George A. Ogle & Co., 1898), 285-286.


Ruth, Thomas
     Banker Ruth (TLW 18-19; PG)
     the bank / Ruth’s bank (LTP 16; THGY 20)
     bull chases Laura and Carrie (PG)
     buys out the lumberyard (TLW 18)
     buys last sack of flour (TLW 19)