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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 in 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 his brother Asa 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.src=”” align=”right” />

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 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.

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, and daughter of James and Elizabeth Bell of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania. Wilder introduced Florence Bell in These Happy Golden Years (Chapter 16, “Summer Days”). Thomas and Amelia had one son, Edwin James Ruth, born 1902 in De Smet.

Banker Ruth’s Home in De Smet. In 1884, Thomas Ruth bought a lot on Third Street in De Smet. In 1894 he began building a substantial home there in anticipation of his second marriage. 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 house is still standing; it is currently the Prairie House Manor Bed & Breakfast.

Thomas Ruth left De Smet in around 1906 and moved to Florida temporarily in hopes that his failing health would improve. He then moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where he died in 1908; he was buried in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania.

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 Eliabeth 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)