Elk Point

The Beginning...Few towns have such a romantic beginning as Elk Point.  It was named by Indians long before settlement of whites was every dreamed of.  Lying between the Missouri and Sioux Rivers, surrounded by timber, it was a runway for elk.  This was known as the "elk point".  In 1804 the Lewis and Clark expedition tied boats at the Missouri River edge.  Wandering inland, they hunted buffalo where the town was later to be located.  

The founder of Elk Point, the Honorable Eli B. Wixson, was born May 6, 1833 at Wayne, Stueben County, New York.  He came to Sioux City in 1865 and for a time was engaged in the daguerreotype business.  He came to Dakota in 1859, and settled at Eli B. Wixsonthe present site of Elk Point. In the spring of that year, the water almost completely covered this section of the country.  From the point of the northwest bluff of Sioux City, Wixson could see a large body of water covering nearly all the land except the locality which is now the town of Elk Point, which had remained above water.  This and its distance from Sioux City, were strong arguments in favor of his locating here.  He was the first white man to settle at this location.  His first house was built of logs and was 12x16 feet with a dirt floor and dirt roof.  In this crude structure Mr. Wixson kept hotel and grocery store at the same time.  In 1862, a 20x30' log hotel was built that contained not only hotel accommodations, but also a post office and a station for stage coaches traveling between Sioux City, Elk Point and Fort Randall. 

It is known that the town was surveyed in 1861 and incorporated in 1862.  John R. Wood was president.  On January 17, 1867, a patent was issued to the city of ElkFirst Store Buildings Point with Eli B. Wixson as president, and signed by U.S. President, Andrew Johnson.  The town contained 105.63 acres of land.  The first mayor of the town, appointed in 1873, was H. H. Blair.  

Post Office...By a petition of only thirteen names, a Post Office was established in Elk Point in 1860.  Mr. Eli B. Wixson was named the first postmaster.  The mail was carried once a week each way by a four mule team, from Fort Randall, Dakota Territory to Sioux City, Iowa.  There was no established mail route in Dakota.  The box rent at that time is reported to have been very low, all the letters being kept in a cigar box.  Mr. Wixson resigned in 1863 and the Honorable A.L. Edwards was appointed to the position.  Other early day postmasters were: C.M. Northup, Josiah Talcott and James E. Blair. An item from the local paper in 1870 reported, "We now have daily mail each way to Yankton (capitol of Dakota), carried in the large, comfortable, four horse coaches of Hedges & Company.  We have a large, well arranged office with 117 letter boxes."  

Newspapers...Only eleven years after the first settler arrived, a weekly newspaper was published in Elk Point. The paper was called "The Elk Point Leader" and Frank O. Wisner was the editor.  The first issue was dated March 17, 1870.  In November of 1871, L.B. Redpath started a paper called "The Union County Courier", but it only ran for two weeks and was sold to the owners of the "Elk Point Leader".  A business directory of the town was to be found on the front page of the early issues and then a story covered the rest of the space.  Later on it seemed politics took over most of the paper. The inside always carried many large advertisements and the local news.

The Railroad...Elk Point, not being a river town, was restricted to land transportation of wagons drawn by either horses or oxen.  After a spell of wet weather, what roads there were, would be impossible for travel by any means.  In 1872, the nearest railroad was at Sioux City and thus goods and building materials could be freighted no farther.  To the early settlers that was a great distance to haul these supplies so vital to their existence. 

On January 24, 1872, a meeting was held to hear Judge W. W. Brooking, president of the proposed Dakota Southern Railroad.  He stated that his company had already purchased 500,000 tons of iron for the railroad and, in his opinion, trains would be running from Sioux City to Yankton by January 1873. In order to insure that the railroad would no miss them, the Judge proposed that Elk Point citizens raise $25,000 Elk Point Depotand donate a piece of land 150x300 feet for a depot. On August 28, 1872, this item appeared in the local paper: "The railroad will be finished to this point in a short time, the road was being graded and the ties put in place--and we learn that the cars will run no farther than Elk Point until Clay county votes on bonds as required by the company."  On October 23, "Mr. Sheafe, our lumber merchant, has just received 25,000 feet of pine lumber, the first freight passed over the new railroad."  The Dakota Southern was later absorbed by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. 

Early Schools...The first school in Elk Point was built in 1861, its dimensions were about fourteen by twenty feet, and was built of logs with a dirt roof.  This was also the first school in the county, and was taught by N. J. Wallace.  E. E. Collins became the first Union County Superintendent of Schools in 1865 and organized the first public school district.  As Elk Point grew, the need for a larger school became apparent.  Elk Point School 1890The realization of a new school house came to the town of Elk Point some time in 1877.  The following description was given by Mr. Fate: "It was a two room frame building with a platform in the center of the front end.  The platform between the rooms extended from the rear to within a few feet of the platform where folding doors took its place.  When these were folded back the platform commanded both rooms. "The first annual commencement of the Elk Point High School was held June 20, 1885.  A class of four graduated, consisting of Winnie Blair, Etta Davis Bert Wallace and Will Wixson.  Willie Wixson returned the following year as an instructor.

An eight room brick structure was erected in 1890; the high school occupied only one room with the grade schools using the other seven.  Recitations in high school were held in the belfry, which also served as a cloak room.  In about 1902, a building was purchased from the First Baptist Church for $300.00 and moved to the school grounds, to be used for the primary grades.  This 1890 building served the community until 1913.

County Courthouse...Historically, Elk Point has served as the County Seat since 1865. On April 10, 1862, the first Legislative Assembly of the Dakota Territory provided for the organization of the original county.  The same Legislative Assembly First Union County Courthousepassed an Act naming the County Seat of Cole County "Victoria", located on the claim of Joseph Chapillion, near McCook Lake.  In 1864, when the county boundaries were rearranged, Richland was named as County Seat.  This site was voted unsatisfactory by the people in 1865, and it was then fixed at Elk Point where it has remained.

The first building was built in 1867, with improvements made to it in 1879.  At this time the old building was moved to the center of Court Square, raised on a brick basement, and two wings built, one to the north and one to the south.  1879 Union County CourthouseThis was to result in a structure 34x60 feet, called then "a real ornament to the town." 

This structure stood until 1976 when it was deemed structurally unsafe, and plans were made to replace it with a newer structure.  Since the building had historical significance, the National Park Service dispatched a photographer to take detailed photographs, black and white prints for a pictorial report to be retained by the Office of Archeology and Historical Preservation in the Department of the Interior at Washington, D.C. The new building was constructed on approximately the same site occupied by the previous structure.  Ground breaking ceremonies were held March 29, 1977.  Construction of the new facility was completed May 9, 1978 and officially accepted by the County Commissioners. Dedication  of the Union County Courthouse was held Saturday, October 7, 1978, being the third courthouse constructed on the same site deeded to Union County in 1867 by Elk Point's first citizen, Eli B. Wixson.

Elk Point Quasquicentennial Book 1859-1984
A Century in Review, Elk Point, South Dakota 1859-1959

Original Midi Composition by Bruce DeBoer
Compositions are copyright 1999 by Bruce DeBoer
 "Kate's Tears." from Earth Tones