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Henry Burvee

One of the earliest settlers in Kingsbury County, Dakota Territory, settling at Spirit Lake in 1878 in order to raise cattle.

H.J. Burvee has issued invitations to all who were residents of Kingsbury county in 1879, to attend a celebration at Spirit Lake on Saturday, June 18, and be his special guests. Dinner and boat rides will be furnished, at the expense of the host. An invitation is extended to everybody to attend and enjoy their celebration, and have a picnic dinner. Kingsbury County Independent, June 1887

Generally accepted as one of the first settlers in Kingsbury County, Dakota Territory – Lewis Christensen and Andrew Johnson had settled in the northeast corner of the county near Lake Albert within weeks of each other in June 1877 – Henry Burvee settled on the south shore of Spirit Lake in August 1878. He and/or his wife were even said to have given the lake its name.

Laura Ingalls Wilder doesn’t mention the Burvee family in her De Smet Little House books; the name appears once, however, in the manuscript for By the Shores of Silver Lake: Pa paused with the fiddle bow poised above the fiddle. “Do you realize, Caroline, that our nearest neighbor to the east is sixty miles away and our nearest west is forty miles? They say there is a bachelor living to the southeast, somewhere around Lake Thompson, and Burvee, the cattle man is nine miles northwest, but there are no roads and when winter shuts down, they might as well be farther off.

Mention of the people living near the Ingalls family during the winter of 1879-1880 was edited out prior to publication, but the paragraph would have appeared in Chapter 14, “The Surveyors’ House.”

The photo above is of the Burvees’ homesteading shanty, which has been moved to Ingalls Homestead.



Henry Jeremiah Burvee (the name is pronounced Bur-VEE, with accent on the second syllable) was born in McGraw (Cortland Co.) New York on January 21, 1847, to Elijah Burvee (1817-1867) and Melissa Cromwell (1828-1893). He was of French extraction and spoke fluent French, which enabled him to communicate with the Indians passing through Kingsbury County or summering near Spirit Lake.

Henry was said to have lived in Dickinson County, Iowa, near its Spirit Lake. In the early 1870s, he lived in neighboring Kossuth County, Iowa, with his sister Elizabeth and her young daughter. In February 1874, he filed on a homestead in Minnehaha County, Dakota Territory, in Section 31-102-50. On the next section homesteaded Lilly and Robert Foster with some of their children; other Foster children had claims nearby.

Henry Burvee married Robert Foster’s daughter, Lillian Ann Foster, on July 12, 1875, in Sioux Falls, and they lived in the region until moving north to Kingsbury County by way of Madison. Henry and Lillie had two daughters prior to moving to north: Cora Melissa, born September 10, 1876; and Cassie L., born February 20, 1878. Four more children were born in Dakota: Duane Scott (February 9, 1882 – September 13, 1913), Grace May (March 4, 1884 – January 3, 1973), Jewell Wallace (May 30, 1886 – May 17, 1935), Raymond James (July 18, 1890 – May ??, 1976), and Henry (April 5-8, 1896), who was born after his father’s death.

Henry Burvee was indeed a cattleman. According to Romanzo Bunn (who wrote to De Smet News editor Carter Sherwood in 1922), Burvee had a herd of cattle, which he brought north from Minnehaha County to range in the fringe of timber at Spirit Lake. Appointed one of the first county commissioners in Kingsbury County, Burvee was involved in the up-building of the area. The map portion shows the location of Burvee land between Spirit Lake and Mud Lake. Mrs. Burvee was one of the first as well as one of the last homesteaders in Kingsbury County. Late in life, she discovered that a 38-acre parcel of land at Spirit Lake had never been filed upon, so in February 1920, she filed on Lot 8, Section 30-112-56, having a shanty built there and living in it. The claim was proven up by her children after her death.

Although De Smet’s Old Settlers’ Day is said to have been started in Esmond on June 8, 1887, Henry J. Burvee also invited old settlers to a picnic celebration at his claim on June 17 of that year, in honor of the organization of the county. Burvee, like Charles Ingalls, had been present for the 1880 county organizational meeting held at Amos Whiting’s farm north of De Smet, and residents who had been in De Smet in 1879 were invited as special guests. Dinner and boat rides were furnished by the Burvees. Henry Burvee continued the tradition for a number of years, also having celebrations on the Fourth of July when De Smet chose not to celebrate. An official old settlers’ association was formed in June 1889 during an anniversary celebration honoring Ella and Robert Boast, with Charles Ingalls and family present. This was the beginning of De Smet’s Old Settlers’ Day, still celebrated each June.

Henry Burvee died at age 47, on October 27, 1895, and he was buried in Spirit Lake Cemetery. After the death of his wife in June 1921, his body and that of daughter Cassie, who died at age 2 and was buried on the farm, were moved to the De Smet cemetery to lie beside the wife and mother.

The following biography of Mr. Burvee was published in 1898:

HENRY J. BURVEE, deceased, of whom a portrait appears [here], was one of the best-known pioneers of Kingsbury county, and, up to the time of his death, October 27, 1894, took a leading part in the affairs of the county which he had helped to organize. Mr. Burvee and several of his companions journeyed from Minnehaha county, South Dakota, in the year 1878, to what is now Spirit Lake township, in Kingsbury county, and, in consequence of their peculiar situation, the weirdness of the scene and the wild desolation before them, they gave the place on the little lake before them this spectral, but withal beautiful, name. Mr. Burvee was born January 21, 1848, in Cortland county, New York. His parents were Eliza and Melissa (Cromwell) Burvee, and he was the older of two children, the younger bearing the name of Wallace. Henry worked upon the paternal homestead until he attained his majority, and then removed to Iowa, securing a farm near Alonga. He remained in the Hawkeye State upwards of four years and then decided to seek a home further to the westward. He accordingly disposed of his Iowa interests, started upon his long journey toward the Dakotas. He arrived in Minnehaha county, Dakota, in the year 1873 and immediately settled upon a government claim. He cultivated this for perhaps five years, and then, for reasons which will be explained further on, he gave it up and resolved to push even further north. A local paragrapher has touched upon the most interesting part of Mr. Burvee’s history so cleverly that the following quotation is given from one of his articles: “Becoming dissatisfied with farm work, Mr. Burvee determined to realize the life he had planned for himself as a boy, which was to raise range stock. This would require unlimited grazing ground, and an abundant supply of water, to gain which would necessitate removal to a less thickly settled region. It was Burvee’s desire also to find timber in order that the stock might be sheltered less expensively, and that he might be abundantly supplied with fuel. In 1878 he started overland with his two brothers-in-law, James and John Foster, traveling northward to the present county of Kingsbury, then unorganized and unmapped north of lakes Thompson and Henry. In June of the same year their camp was pitched on the southern extremity of Lake Thompson. Early one morning, without waiting for breakfast, Mr. Burvee mounted his horse and set out to take a survey of the surrounding country. On the plains of the Dakota, when a bright sun appears after a night of heavy dew there is often produced a mirage most beautiful and striking. Such was the condition on the June morning referred to, and there appeared to this solitary traveler, far toward the north, a beautiful wooded lake. The distance he did not pause to calculate, but, hurrying back to camp, told his companions of what he had seen. All soon joined in the pursuit of the phantom mirrored in the sky, and after a long, weary ride of over eighteen miles, they found it–not, indeed, the misty picture reflected in the clouds, but a real lake, shaped like a horseshoe, with its limpid depths as clear as crystal and its surface glistening like a great, glassy floor. Above all there seemed to pervade a death-like stillness. Seeking for a good view the party mounted an elevation of land near by, upon the top of which they discovered an Indian burying mound. This one grave, keeping its eternal watch over the lonely lake- this quiet resting place whose silence had heretofore been unbroken by civilized man- this mound, surrounded as it was by the far-reaching and unsettled plains- this strange scene appealed strongly to the superstition in the natures of these three travelers, standing alone in this weird, unknown place, and, with thoughts of some warrior, happy in the hunting grounds above, they christened the body of water before them “Spirit Lake.” It has borne that name to this day. Mr. Burvee soon afterward pre-empted a claim, which included the Spirit Lake Grove, and there settled down to live, and carry out the cherished plans of his life. He was one of the three men appointed to organize Kingsbury county, and was one of the first county commissioners, holding office for three years. For a long period thereafter he was a member of the Spirit Lake township board, and did much to aid the growth of the county, not alone by his public acts, but by private and individual efforts whenever the chance would present itself. In political matters he was an unwavering Democrat, and an enthusiastic worker for the principles of his party. Mr. Burvee married Miss Lillie A. Foster on the 12th of July, 1875. Mrs. Burvee is a daughter of Robert and Lillie (Scott) Foster, and was born October 17, 1856, in Canada. There were seven children born to Mr. and Mrs. Burvee, whose names and dates of birth follow: Cora, September 10, 1876; Cassie, February 20, 1878, now deceased; Duane, February 9, 1882; Gracie, March 4, 1884; Jewell, May 30, 1887; Raymond, July 18, 1890; and Henry, March 27, 1895. Mrs. Burvee is now residing with her children upon the farm in section 20, Spirit Lake township. The death of Mr. Burvee was keenly felt by the people of Kingsbury county, to whom he had endeared himself by his many amiable qualities, and by the many services he rendered to the community as a pioneer, a public man and citizen. Mr. Burvee rightly earned a place in the history of South Dakota, and when that wonderful, fascinating work shall be written his struggles, exploits and success will be given their just meed of praise.

Memorial & Biographical Record, An Illustrated Compendium of Biography (Chicago: George A. Ogle & Co., 1898), 626-630.


Henry Burvee (SSL manuscript)
     De Smet Cemetery tour info for BURVEE