Peggy Sanders: Event focusing on county history pays off | TheFencePost.com

Peggy Sanders: Event focusing on county history pays off

Peggy Sanders
Oral, S.D.

In Fall River County, southwestern South Dakota, we found a great way to preserve local history. We have an annual, one-day history conference with plenary sessions. This is how it all began.

Eleven years ago, I was a speaker for a Custer County, S.D., historical society monthly meeting. It occurred to me that our historical society should do something similar. Yet I knew if I brought it up, I would be put in charge. As I pondered, I decided a monthly program might be too much — especially for the coordinator. Instead, the plan for an annual fundraiser began to formulate in my mind.

I was a board member for the Fall River County Historical Society. When I presented the idea to the board, the other members figuratively patted me on the arm and said if you want to do all the work, sure — go ahead and try it.

This society board runs the Pioneer Museum in Hot Springs, S.D. The museum had been drowning in red ink but we had an entirely new board and a fresh start. We were all astounded once the conference was over to see we had made a handsome profit, which along with austerity measures instituted by the board, brought us into the black again.

“Since its inception we have called it the Focus on Fall River County History Conference simply because we wanted it to be primarily about our home county.”

Our family has been in the county for six generations, which made it easy to find presenters. The first year we had 10 speakers, and four of them were in their nineties. It was great fun. Written evaluations by attendees told us we needed more breaks, which would mean fewer speakers. We complied.

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Since its inception we have called it the Focus on Fall River County History Conference simply because we wanted it to be primarily about our home county. We have had three speakers during these 11 years whose chosen subjects were either general or on land adjoining Fall River. Speakers choose, research and prepare their own topics. Many of them utilize digital photos for their presentations and we provide assistance if they don't know how.

We've heard about agriculture through talks on harvesting ice, early county orchards, ranch life, construction of Angostura dam, homesteading on the Angostura Irrigation Project, how to read cattle brands, changes in harvesting methods through the years, and the gardens of Claude Barr. We have learned about the Sidney-Deadwood and Cheyenne-Deadwood stage trails, military forts, cavalry bugle calls, rural schools, the towns of Cascade, Igloo, Oral, Smithwick, Dewey (just barely in Custer County) and Edgemont, S.D. Presentations specifically about Hot Springs' sandstone architecture and quarries, Evans Plunge, Stevens Studio, rodeo, the 1893-built sandstone schoolhouse which now houses the Pioneer Museum, bathhouses, the water carnival and Calamity Jane in Hot Springs — including her overnight in the jail.

All but one of the conferences is available on DVD through http://www.pioneer-museum.com. (Be sure to use the hyphen.)

Should your community want to undertake such an endeavor I would be glad give you more details on what worked for us.

Peggy can be reached through peggy@peggysanders.com. ❖

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