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Dedicated to the early pioneers 

  We will continue to feature other early pioneers of Union County on this page. Many of  our ancestors were very influential in the development of Union County and the state of South Dakota in the late 1800ís, when Dakota Territory was still a vast unknown. Union County has been home to many politicians, authors, musicians and educators as well as several successful business entrepreneurs. Check back often as we update with new biographies of the early citizens of Union County, South Dakota. 


Axel John Beck          Axel John Beck 

 Axel John Beck was born in the country village of Timmersdale, Sweden, on May 6, 1894 to Carl Melcher and Anna Helena (Jonson) Back.  His father was a member of the Swedish military and had a sideline occupation as owner and operator of a lime kiln.  His home was on an eight-acre tract, large enough to provide rye for bread, grain for a milk cow and a pig or two each year to supply the meat products they needed.  The Becks had seven children:  Axel, Robert, Eric, Oscar, Alma, Hulda and Elin.  Axel's early years were spent assisting in the lime operation and common school in which he completed an eight-year course in six years.  Ambition for higher education became part of his plans.  In Sweden at that time, higher education was limited to children of families having wealth and little chance for those in families of the poor.  He knew that to obtain this education in his home country was not likely to be realized.  Then came a promise from an aunt in Alcester, South Dakota that she would make it possible for him to carry out his ambition for a higher education and pay the costs.  In March 1906, at the age of 11, he set out determined to take the chance for his future in the "land of promise" toward the west. He traveled alone with his clothing, a knapsack and $4.37 in cash as his only assets.

He was held at Ellis Island for 10 days with the conclusion reached by the officials that he should be denied entry and returned to Sweden.  After he telegraphed his aunt and a South Dakota congressman who interceded on his behalf, the initial decision of the immigration authority was reversed, entry approved, and permission was granted to proceed to South Dakota where he arrived in the middle of April, 1906.

After two years he left his aunt's home to live and work for another farmer in the Alcester area.  During that period his experiences included picking 4,000 bushels of corn by hand, that sold for 4 1/2 cents per bushel; spending several months learning the skills of blacksmithing; selling books and performing other odd jobs.  This was all abandoned as he finally made entry into the higher educational arena at Morningside Academy in Sioux City, Iowa.  He enrolled the second semester of 1912 and graduated in 1916.  Here he was involved in the Hawkeye Society, where he won all debates in the society and inter-society competition, and played on the football squad.  Also in 1916 he became a naturalized citizen.

During World War I, on July 18, 1918, he was inducted as a member of the Students' Army Training Corps Camp at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, and remained there until September 15, 1918. Out of about 5,000 students, 1,400 were commissioned as 2nd Lieutenants.  Judge Beck was one of these commissioned officers. He served in the Field Artillery at Camp Zachary Taylor, Kentucky, where it appears he was a junior officer of the 4th Company Convalescent Center.  He was honorable discharged May 6, 1919, at which time he had a silver chevron for service and a bonus of $60.00.

He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa, in 1920.  While at Morningside, he was member of the intercollegiate debate team and a regular for three years on the football team, having received honorable mention on the Iowa All State team in 1917 and 1919.  The Morningside Maroons football team lost one game in 1917 and that was to Knute Rockne's Notre Dame Irish, 13-0.  The Morningside annual described his football ability as follows:

"Swede", the big Viking, was the hardest fighter and the most consistent man on the line.  He charged hard and low and carried everything before him.  He still has some time in college and if not taken in to the army, should develop into one of the greatest line men Morningside has ever had.  He was not outplayed by an opponent during the season."  

Having received a scholarship, in June of 1920, he attended the University of Chicago Law School and received his J.D. degree in March, 1922.

After his admission to the Illinois Bar, April 12, 1923, he practiced in Chicago with Henry M. Hogan until 1924.  His wages were $7.50 per week and after trying a case which he won, were increased to $50.00.  In spite of this success, he decided to return to South Dakota to practice.  He moved to Alcester, South Dakota while awaiting admission to the South Dakota Bar, which he received on March 7, 1924.

After practicing in Alcester for several years, he then moved to Elk Point, Union County, South Dakota, where he formed a partnership with Thomas McInerny until 1936, when Mr. McInerny passed away.  Thereafter, he was a sole practitioner. His practice included probate, tax, business agriculture and trial work.

In 1027, he met his bride-to-be at Lewis Drug Store in Alcester, South Dakota.  On September 10, 1930, he married Georgia Clarissa Clark, born October 18, 1905, daughter of George F. and Bettie C. (Jones) Clark, of Hot Springs, South Dakota.  Of this union there were two sons born, Byron John, an attorney with the Morrison, Becker firm in Kansas City, Missouri and Overland Park, Kansas, and Craig Allen, an attorney with the Dorsey & Whitney firm in Rochester, Minnesota.

His credits include being an organizer of the Bank of Union County in 1943 and from 1947-1958 he served as president and chairman of its board; he was president of Thermoflector Corporation of North Sioux City, South Dakota until 1960.

Being a staunch Republican, he served as Union County Republican Chairman from 1936-1941, and served as a delegate to several South Dakota Republican state conventions.  He was elected to serve as National Committeeman from South Dakota in 1948, and served in this capacity until 1957.

In 1950, the Republican National Committee elected a new chairman.  The candidates were Axel J. Beck and Guy Gabrielson.  Axel Beck lost by two votes.  He later served on the Executive Committee and a subcommittee on agriculture of the Republican National Committee.  In 1952, at the Republican National Convention, he supported Eisenhower for the nomination for President.  He served as a member and officer of the Commission on Uniform Laws for South Dakota; was a member of the National Conference on Uniform Legislation from 1938-1957; member of the Board of Education of Elk Point from 1945-1950, serving as its president in 1949.

As a result of Public Law 85-310, passed by the Senate in 1957 providing for appointment of another federal judge in South Dakota, President Eisenhower appointed him U.S. District Judge on March 4, 1958, at the salary of $22,500.oo per year.  Judge George Mickelson administered the oath of office at the courtroom in Sioux Falls on March 29, 1958 and he entered on duty April 1, 1958.  He remained in Elk Point, holding court throughout the state and in 1959 he moved to Aberdeen, which then became his official duty station.  He presided over court terms in Aberdeen and Deadwood.

Always a careful, prudent and industrious lawyer and counselor, he acquired in his area, an enviable reputation for reliability.  His outward appearance and demeanor is that of 'the solid citizen', what with his deliberate manner, invites recognition as a judge. (Quoted from the South Dakota Bar Journal, April, 1958).

Judge Beck worked each day of the work week, plus half a day on Saturdays, holding court in Deadwood and Aberdeen.  He became chief judge in 1965 following the death of Judge Mickelson, and held this position until June 11, 1966.  He had a on-term assignment on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals serving with Judges Harry Blackmun and Charles Vogel.  As a result of that work, he authored nine published decisions.  Among his other assignments was presiding at court proceedings in Iowa, Missouri and school integration cases in Arkansas.  While temporarily assigned to the federal court in Sioux City, he presided over a naturalization ceremony in the same court where he had become a naturalized citizen in 1916.

Upon taking senior status on October 27, 1969, his duties remained the same with the exception that he no longer regularly presided in Deadwood.

A criminal defendant, if a past football player or veteran, in Judge Beck's court could almost be guaranteed of probation for their trespasses.

Presentation of portrait proceedings were held in the courtroom of the Federal Building in Aberdeen on November 3, 1976, at 2:00 PM. Judge Fred J. Nichol presided sitting with Judge Beck and Judge Phil I. Hall, presiding judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of South Dakota. ( This was reported in 457 F. Supp.)

Among his honors include the Distinguished Service award from Morningside College in 1966; a member of the Living Endowment Committee for the college; Judge Advocate of the South Dakota American Legion, having been commander; State Bar of South Dakota; receiving his 50-year award in 1974; American Bar Association; American Judicature Society; Pi Kappa Delta; Gamma Eta Gamma; Conglist; Mason; and 32nd degree Shriner.  He was a member of the Methodist Church.

He died September 2, 1981, at the age of 87, in Aberdeen and is interred at Sunset Memorial Gardens in Aberdeen, South Dakota.  Pallbearers were Sigurd Anderson, F.G. "Bud" Tonner, Stan Siegel, Frank Gross, Gordon Campbell and Carlyle Richards.    

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