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Kingsbury County, D.T.

County in today’s southeastern South Dakota, created in 1873 and organized in 1879, named for George W. Kingsbury, editor, legislator, and historian.

A petition against the present organization of Kingsbury county has been presented to Gov. Howard. The reasons presented by the protestants are that the organization should be delayed until the railroad is permanently located and the principal settlements of the county better defined. – The Canton (D.T.) Advocate, July 26, 1879

A lot happened in the county in Dakota Territory where the Ingallses and Wilders homesteaded, where Laura and Almanzo married and their daughter Rose was born, where Ma and Pa and all of Laura’s sisters and her own son are buried. Even so, Laura Ingalls Wilder only mentions Kingsbury County when reading the text of her first teaching certificate, an official county document: Department of Education, Dakota, County of Kingsbury Teacher’s Certificate… signed by Geo. A. Williams, Supt. of Schools, Kingsbury County, D.T. See Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 25, “Unexpected in December.”

Kingsbury County was part of a parcel ceded to the United States in 1858 by the Yankton Indians, but became part of an Indian reservation by President Andrew Johnson for about two and a half years when he established a reservation for the Santee Sioux between the Big Sioux River and the James River. In July 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant rescinded the order and restored to the public domain the land between the two rivers. The county was created in 1873, surveyed in 1873-74, and named for George Washington Kingsbury (1837-1925), editor and historian, who was born in New York and came west while working for railroad civil engineers. He went to work as a printer on various newspapers, and in 1862, relocated from Kansas to Yankton, Dakota Territory, to began a forty-year association with the first newspaper in the territory, the Weekly Dakotaian; he started the Yankton Daily Press and Dakotaian in 1875. His five volume History of Dakota Territory was published in 1915.

Kingsbury County consists of twenty-four survey townships: Townships 109, 110, 111, and 112 North, and Ranges 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, and 58 West, of the 5th Principle Meridian. It is 24 by 36 miles in size and contains 520,960 acres. There are a number of lakes, including Thompson, Henry, Albert, Preston, Whitewood, and Spirit. The county is bordered by Brookings County on the east, Hamlin and Clark to the north, Beadle to the west, and Miner and Lake to the south.

The first white settlers took occupancy in 1873. In 1879, with the push of the railroad just beginning through the county, there was hardly a visible population, but by the following summer, there were homes and houses of settlers sprinkled over almost the entire surface of its rolling prairies. [— Daily Press & Dakotaian, Yankton, May 4, 1880.] There was less than $2,500 worth of taxable property there in 1870, while the tax lists for 1880 recorded $46,233.75 in taxable property, this not including homesteaders who wouldn’t own their property for years! The 1880 census recorded a population of 1,102 – 690 males and 412 females.


KINGSBURY COUNTY. While Kingsbury has experienced no such boom as have some of the newer counties just being opened up by the railroads, we can look back over the past season with a good deal of satisfaction. The news settlers that have come to make their homes with us, and they are many, are of the substantial sort, who have made their last move, and have settled down to stay here the balance of their days. The roving speculator is in the minority; he has gone on to the “end of the road,” where there is more bustle, more opportunities for sudden wealth, and vastly more opportunities for losing what he already has. our crops, with the exception of wheat, have been excellent and have brought good prices. the weather has been favorable for harvesting and all fall work, and winter has held off long enough to enable all to fully prepare for it. The towns of our county have all steadily prospered, and one new one has been started to meet the urgent wants of settlers.

Still there is much room left for new comers, and to those who are contemplating making Dakota their future home we would say, stop and give Kingsbury county a look before going further. And to those who are trying to eke out a living on rented land, or are growing old before their time trying to raise a mortgage from their own farms, we would say, come out and take a look at us, and if after that you still cling to the mud, stone, stumps and mortgage, your case is indeed hopeless. Good land can still be obtained from two to six miles from the railroad, and from four to ten miles from town, land that for richness cannot be surpassed anywhere along the line. Observations taken during the past three years have shown that Kingsbury county, situated as it is, on the divide between the Sioux and James rivers, is less liable to severe storms than the valleys of either of these rivers. It has been demonstrated that everything will thrive here that will grow anywhere in the same latitude. For stock and dairying purposes Kingsbury county is unrivalled. The low lying lands furnish the sweetest of hay, upon which cattle will fatten in the winter without grain, if decently housed, while the uplands furnish pasture from the time the snow is off the ground in the spring until the grass is covered with snow again. Our towns and markets are established. Goods of all kinds can be bought at a trifle above Winona prices, and from 25 to 50 per cent below the prices of the newer country further west. Here you will find good society. Our settlers are in the main foreigners, who have brought with them habits of refinement. School houses are springing up all over the county, and if you have a family of children you need have no fears that they will grow up ignoramuses while you are waiting for the county to develop, as would be the case in the newer settlements. Those coming in now will experience none of the hardships that the earlier settlers have had to contend with. Again we say, stop and give us a look over. If we cannot suit you, you will at least have seen a splendid country, one that is not excelled anywhere in the Territory. -December 1881, Lake Preston Times

TEXT OF MARKER, located on Highway 81 (454th Ave.) on the west side of 220th St. – You are about to enter KINGSBURY COUNTY. A region of buffalowes and Indians until 1870s, Indian mounds are found at Spirit Lake. In 1838 the Nicollet-Fremont party skirted the NE corner. In 1857 Inkepaduta’s renegade Indians passed through with two white women captives, victims of the Spirit Lake massacre in Iowa. In a skirmish several of the renegades were killed by Agency Indians near Lake Thompson. In 1857 Noble’s Trail was built west passing south of this Lake. The Yankton Sioux ceded the region to the government in 1859. It was part of huge Buffalo County, 1864, and of larger Hanson COunty in 1870. On Jan. 8, 1873, it became Kingsbury County, named for George W. Kingsbury (1837-1925) of Yankton, legislator, editor, and historian. Surveyed in 1873-75, general settlement began in 1878. The railroad came in 1879-1880. The county was organized Feb. 18, 1880 by H.W. Palmer, H.J. Burvee, and Benjamin Loken. De Smet, the county seat, was named for Father Peter John De Smet (1801-1873), Jesuit missionary. The county in 1880 had 1,102 people, by 1890, 8,562. Its area is 36 by 24 miles, or 552,960 acres. Lakes include Thompson, Henry, Spirit, Preston, Whitewood, Albert and others. Excellent waterfowl and pheasant hunting, and fishing are found here. Pioneer days have been depicted by three former residents of the county in Rose Wilder Lane’s novels, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s children’s stories, and Harvey Dunn’s paintings. (Erected 1958 by the County Commissioners)

The map below is a portion of an 1879 Dakota Territory map showing Kingsbury County and surrounding counties. Note the little body of water between the G and S in Kingsbury? That’s Silver Lake, which wasn’t shown on many early maps. For more recent maps, just do an internet search. Note the lack of town names in Kingsbury County, and that Brookings has yet to be designated in Brookings County to the east.

If you search for even earlier maps, you’ll see that part of Kingsbury County was originally called Wood County!


Kingsbury County, Dakota Territory (LTP 25; PG)