Navigation Menu+

Henry Hinz

First man to build on the townsite of De Smet (a saloon!), and boarder of the Ingallses in the Surveyors’ House in early 1880.

That day a young man came with a load of lumber from Brookings. He was going to build a store on the townsite of De Smet. He wanted to stay while he was building and Ma could not refuse for there was no other place. His name was Hinz. – manuscript, By the Shores of Silver Lake

Henry Valentine Hinz was born in Sheyboygan (Sheboygan County) Wisconsin, on October 21, 1854. He was the eldest son of Louis and Anna Hinz, who had come to America from Germany. Trained as a cobbler (shoemaker), Henry was one of the first to check out the townsite of De Smet, Dakota Territory, as a possible business location. In January 1880, Henry traveled west from Volga, finding the Ingalls and Boast families living on the shores of Silver Lake. He returned to the townsite the following month, and was one of the first young men to erect a building. Because the townsite had not yet been surveyed, men had to guess where the lot lines would be. Henry wanted his business to be closest to the railroad tracks, but he missed the mark by two lots, ending up building on what would be designated as Lot 10, Block 1, located on the west side of Calumet Avenue (Main Street). In the photograph at right, the Hinz building is the smallest, sandwiched between the building on the Cheever lot (left) and Commercial House hotel (right). This is the second building on the site. After using the original 16×24 foot structure, it was torn down and this “larger” store was built, one that almost filled the lot’s 25-foot width. Royal Wilder’s building was south of the Cheever lot; when this photograph was taken, Royal’s building had been torn down and replaced with garage.

Little did the residents of De Smet know, but Henry Hinz didn’t open a shoe shop in De Smet, but a billiard hall serving liquor. Hinz and his partner, Henry Hall, went in and out of the liquor business as often as De Smet voted in and out the matter of license. A liquor license cost $400 at the time, and each time they had to stop selling liquor in De Smet, they merely moved their business to a neighboring town for a while. A licence was granted during the Hard Winter of 1880-1881, but business was light, mostly because nobody had any money to spend on liquor. In her handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that Mr. Hinz’s supplies of drink were the only supplies that lasted through the winter. “A man might have taken a drink occasionally but we never saw or heard of anyone drinking and no one got drunk through all the hardships,” she wrote. The place was always popular, though; Hinz had put up 500 tons of slough hay prior to the Hard Winter, and loiterers sitting around and twisting hay could keep the stove red hot and themselves fairly warm. Hinz was said to be one of the men who, along with Charles Ingalls, traveled to Volga by handcar to help clear the railroad tracks of snow.

October 22, 1889, Henry married Randi Distad, a hotel waitress and sister of the De Smet creamery manager, Oliver Distad. Randi had been born in Norway in 1865 and came to Dakota Territory in the 1880s. The Hinzes had eight children born in De Smet: Mabel (born 1890; she married Joe Larson); Hazel (born 1892, who died in 1918 during the flu pandemic); Carl (born 1893; he moved to Oregon); Henry, Jr. (born 1895); Lillian (born 1897; married Arthur Hanson); Marion (born 1898); Ruth (born 1903); and Edward (born 1906). In town, the family lived in a house on the south side of Second Avenue; they also had a homestead and preemption claim northeast of De Smet, in Section 19 – Township 119 – Range 55. The Hinz sisters all became teachers. Until the mid-1960s, brothers Henry and Edward ran a grocery store in De Smet.

Henry Hinz had several jobs in De Smet. After closing the billiard hall and saloon, he opened a shoe repair shop in 1907, then worked in a stove factory. He served as sheriff, street commissioner, and chief of police at various times in De Smet.

Henry Hinz died April 29, 1938, in De Smet; he was buried in the De Smet Cemetery.


Henry Hinz / Henry Hinze (SSL 24-25; TLW 11; PG)
     Hinz’s store (SSL 24)
     De Smet Cemetery tour info for HINZ