The clean-up of dad’s old acreage and buildings is finally complete. Many of the items needing further sorting and culling have ended up in my little house, making the ultimate selections more urgent. While going through a box containing mom’s things, I discovered a large book about a tiny town in South Dakota called The Capitol City Saga. It was written by my maternal grandmother’s paternal aunt, Adeline Gnirk.
This book was researched and written long before there was such things as the Internet and Ancestry dot com. Gnirk’s labor of love was the result of personal interviews, newspaper files, official records, and family archives. The history of Burke and Gregory County, South Dakota coincides with that of the Gnirk family.
This 388 page book was written at the request of a chapter of the Gregory County Historical Society. It was published by the Gregory Times-Advocate in 1979. This was just in time for Burke’s 75th anniversary.
She begins the book with a time-line of the general area beginning before the Louisiana Purchase. She enumerates events after the Dakotas were granted autonomy from Nebraska Territory. Which, in turn, was soon divided into the two Dakota states. This enabled the founding of Gregory County on the border with the new state of Nebraska. Prior to 1897, Burke County residents who lived within a “three-mile strip” were uncertain as to whether they lived in South Dakota or Nebraska. After 1897, it turned out that they lived in Nebraska.
Gnirk writes that Gregory County was named after C.H. Gregory, a US Army officer from Fort Randall when the area was still part of the Sioux Reservation. She recounts that the area was settled by people taking advantage of the Homestead Act. Most of them were poor and lived in sod houses. In 1898, Gregory County was officially organized and the county seat of Fairfax was selected in August of that
Some of the book’s illustrations are copies of documents written out in cursive either on plain paper or letterheads of companies, political entities, or Western Union Telegrams. Otherwise, small black and white photographs of people or buildings are reproduced on most of the pages.
Gnirk included histories of churches, 4-H clubs, businesses, railroads, and most interestingly, families. There is a large portion of the book devoted strictly to pictures of area families, their humble farmsteads, and homes. This section is followed by biographies of individuals and families who had either lived in Gregory County at one time or lived there up to 1979.
I was surprised at how interesting small, inconsequential towns in an uncelebrated county in South Dakota are. Gnirk was not a famous writer or historian. She wrote the book in a colloquial, semi-journalistic style. Her commentary was colored with popular phrases and current trends of the 1970s.
The book is a rare tidbit of Americana that few people will ever know or even care about. Out of curiosity, I searched online to see if it was still available. There is one short entry on Amazon dot com with no description other than it is a hardcover version worth $75 for sale through a seller in Dallas, Texas.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes a former Gregory County resident. “My father was always most hospitable, and no stranger or Indian was ever turned away in time of need, but always invited to share the claim shanty for the night when caught in a blizzard on the open prairies of South Dakota.”