Druggist and early schoolhouse builder in De Smet.
Only bid for construction of new graded schoolhouse made by L. E. Sasse for the amount of $4,635. Moved that he be hired. – De Smet Leader, July 1884
Not a character in the Little House series, Lewis Edward Sasse and his wife Elizabeth (Persons) Sasse are mentioned in Pioneer Girl, where their name is spelled “Sassie,” a hint as to pronunciation of the surname. In the memoir, Mrs. Sasse is one of the quartet of singers who perform at a literary society meeting. The others are said to have been Hattie Bradley, Charley Trousdale, and Gerald Fuller.
The Sasses are also mentioned in Laura’s “The Road Back” diary published in A Little House Traveler. One June 12 (1931), Laura wrote: “…Grace and I went to Sassee’s drugstore. Saw Mrs. Sassee and Merl. Mrs. Sassee is like herself only more so. Strong faced and dispositioned as of yore. She is running the store.” The Sasses’ son, Merle, had been certified as a pharmacist and he and his mother had taken over the store after Lewis Sasse’s death. Although Laura doesn’t seem to care for Mrs. Sasse, the couple was close friends of Mary (Power) and E.P. Sanford in De Smet, and Merle Sasse was in the same class as Rose Wilder.
The following biography of Mr. Sasse was published in 1898:
LEWIS E. SASSE is a prominent druggist of De Smet, Kingsbury county. He also deals largely in jewelry, books, stationery, paints, oils, etc. Mr. Sasse was born in Fulton county, New York, August 26, 1852. His parents, John F. and Charlotte (Jordan) Sasse, were both natives of Germany, where they married. They came to this country about 1849 and settled in Fulton county, where Mrs. Sasse died. Mr. Sasse subsequently married Miss Mary Noble, and in 1861 removed to West Bend, Washington county, Wisconsin. Later he went to St. Charles, Minnesota, where he now resides. Mr. Sasse is the father, by his first marriage, of eight children, William F., deceased, Gust, August, Mary, Lewis E., the subject of this sketch, Louise, Frederick and Anna; and his second wife has borne him three sons and two daughters, John, Emma, Gusta, Charles and Frank. Lewis E. came with his father to Wisconsin and then to St. Charles, Minnesota, where he received most of his education. In 1881 he came to De Smet, where he was employed by C.W. Siefield to buy and ship grain. In 1884, Mr. Sasse, in partnership with Dr. E. G. Davies, established a drug store at De Smet. This business arrangement continued until 1886, when Mr. Sasse purchased the Doctor’s interest and became sole proprietor. Two years previously he had begun the study of pharmacy which he soon completed, becoming a registered pharmacist. Under his able management the business which he directs has reached large proportions, while its proprietor has gained an enviable reputation as a careful compounder and prescription druggist. Mr. Sasse is a Republican politically, and has always been active in local public affairs. On the 26th of July, 1880, Mr. Sasse married Miss Elizabeth Pearson, who is a daughter of Edward and Eliza (William) Pearson, and was born July 14, 1860. Mr. and Mrs. Sasse are the parents of three children, Mina R., Merle B., and Retta M.
— Memorial & Biographical Record, An Illustrated Compendium of Biography (Chicago: George A. Ogle & Co., 1898), 341-342.
Although most of his career in business was as that of a pharmacist, Lewis Sasse came to De Smet in 1881 as an agent for the G.W. Van Dusen Grain Company, their elevator on the north side of the railroad tracks capable of storing 15,000 bushels of grain and facilities for handling 50,000 bushels per day. In the early years when schoolhouses were being built all over the county, Sasse went into the contracting business with Matthew Wilkins. They were hired to build the graded school building in De Smet (mentioned in Little Town on the Prairie) and many others, both in Kingsbury County and in neighboring counties.
The drug store started by Lewis Sasse and Dr. E. Gomer Davies was the second one in De Smet (George Bradley’s drug store was first), but when telephone lines were installed, Sasse & Davis’s phone number was “1”. The store changed locations on Calumet Avenue a number of times. Following the death of Merle Sasse in 1936, who took over as pharmacist after his father died, the business was sold to Kermit Buchele, whose drug store building (in the original Fuller Hardware location) was a familiar sight to tourists for decades and now houses the new-in-2015 Wilder Welcome Center.
The Sasse Pharmacy was always a popular spot in De Smet, with Mr. Sasse a friendly and congenial businessman. He bought a gramophone and a large supply of records and invited locals to come in and listen to music anytime. He put in a top-of-the-line soda fountain in 1896 and opened an ice-cream parlor in the back of the store the following year. In 1913, Mrs. Sasse and Merle had a gasoline-powered ice-cream machine installed, allowing more cool treats to be served, as now the ice-cream machine crank turned itself!
The Sasse home was built on the corner of Joliet and Third. In the 1940s, the large home was restructured into apartments, and is still an apartment house today. As an adult, Merle Sasse lived in another historic home in De Smet, the first schoolhouse attended by Laura and Carrie Ingalls, now part of the Laura Ingalls Memorial Society complex on Olivet Avenue.
Lewis Sasse and other family members are buried in the De Smet Cemetery.
Sassie [Sasse] family (PG)
Mrs. Sassie (PG)
Mrs. Sassee [Sasse] (LHT)
Merl Sassee [Merle Sasse] (LHT)