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Daniel Loftus

Store-keeper in De Smet from 1880 until his death in 1921.

Loftus & Broadbent have been obliged to add more shelving in their store to accommodate their showy stock of goods. Their building is altogether too small for the amount of goods they carry. They have also put in a skylight, which is a great improvement. -De Smet Leader, May 1885

The Loftus Store and Daniel Loftus figure prominently in The Long Winter, as it is Mr. Loftus who is said to finance the Hard Winter wheat run made by Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland, then Mr. Loftus over-charges the flour-less townspeople for the wheat until Charles Ingalls steps in and makes him be reasonable about it. The February 24, 1881, Kingsbury County News reported that “the first grist of wheat was ground in De Smet on the 5th, by Dan Loftus. Dan makes a fine miller.” C.T. Lamson negotiated with Mr. Loftus to purchase a commercial coffee mill for $5, which he fastened to a drygoods box in Loftus & Broadbent; he ground about a bushel of wheat into flour per day during the blockade, first in the Loftus Store, moving to Mead’s Hotel, then to Fuller Brothers’, milling about 50 bushels in all that winter.

Newspaper articles in 1886 from Aubrey Sherwood’s files reported that C.T. Lamson negotiated for a $5 commercial coffee mill, fastening it to a drygoods box in D.H. Loftus’ store, and ground about a bushel of wheat per day during the blockade. He soon moved to the Exchange (Mead’s) Hotel, then to Fuller Brothers’, grinding wheat until the blockade was raised, “milling” about 50 bushels in all.

Daniel Henry Loftus was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, March 9, 1853, to Bridget and Patrick Loftus. His father was a miner, and Dan apprenticed as an iron moulder, a foundry worker who made molds used for casting items made of iron. His profession took him all the way to California in the 1870s.

In 1879, Loftus was in Volga, working as a land agent; he soon followed the railroad to De Smet, arranging with Albert Keep in the spring of 1880 to purchase Lot 19, Block 3. Daniel’s brother Patrick ran the railroad company store in Tracy, and was apparently his brother’s early partner in a general merchandise store in De Smet, then Clint Noyes, then William “Billy” Broadbent. Their general merchandise firm was known as Loftus & Broadbent until November 1, 1888, when Loftus bought out his partner. In the photo below, the Loftus Store is the building third from the left. An 1892 promotion read:

D.H. LOFTUS. Among the oldest as well as largest dealers in general merchandise in the town is D.H. Loftus. He commenced with the town, having located here in June 1880 and has built up a large business. He carries stock in everything to be found in a first-class store, dry goods, groceries, boots and shoes, crockery, etc.

Dan Loftus married Kate Cornwell on January 20, 1885. Helen Katherine “Kate” Cornwell was born in New Haven (Olmstead Co.) Minnesota, one of three children born to John H. Cornwell and Mary Helen (Lettes) Cornwell. Kate’s brother, Albert, married Lovenia Garland, sister of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first teacher in De Smet, Florence Garland. Kate and Dan Loftus had one daughter, Helen Maud (called “Tossie”), born in November 1885. Tossie Loftus and Rose Wilder were classmates in De Smet.

Helen Loftus graduated from De Smet High School in 1904 with other students who had Little House connections, including Laura Bouchie (daughter of Joseph Bouchie), Ray Perry (brother of Clyde Perry, a student of Laura Ingalls’s in the Perry School), Merle Sasse (son of Lewis Sasse). A few months after Tossie married Carl Fritzel in 1918, she died shortly after returning to De Smet from their wedding trip to Chicago, having become ill on cold and crowded train-ride home. Carl sold the house he had purchased for them on Second Street and moved to Iroquois, marrying again a couple of years later. Carl, his second wife, and sons are buried in the Loftus / Fritzel lot in the De Smet Cemetery.

Mr. Loftus was still working at the time of his death on October 10, 1921, with the store being taken over briefly by Mrs. Loftus. She sold it in late summer 1922 to Clifford Hammer of Volga. In 1926, the building was purchased by Madge Rodney, and she moved The Style Shop to the location, with Mr. Hammer moving next door to the Mallery Drug Store building (former Bradley Drugs location). Thanks to the popularity of the Little House books, the original building once again houses The Loftus Store, a great place to shop for souvenirs and other gift items.


Daniel Loftus (TLW 17-18, 26; PG)
     Loftus Groceries, Dry Goods and General Merchandise / Loftus’ Store / Dry Goods and Groceries (TLW 8, 18, 29; PG)
     De Smet Cemetery tour file for LOFTUS / FRITZEL families