Garretson, SD – History

The city started as a village in Palisade State Park in 1872. The railroad company decided to build a diversion point, (joining of two railroad tracks) and switching yards where Garretson is now located. Railroad officials offered the business people of Palisades free lots if they would move their business to the new town site. The new city was named after A.S. Garretson, a millionaire railroad investor from Sioux City, Iowa. The City of Garretson began in 1889, the same year South Dakota became a state. Some buildings and homes were moved from Palisades and many new ones built. Several businesses were built of hand quarried quartzite blocks. Many of these unique quartzite buildings were on the east side of Main Street and were destroyed in a fire in 1971. They were replaced by brick buildings.Today Garretson has a population of 1065 citizens.

Farming is our Major Industry

Farming is the main industry in the Garretson area. The businesses you see in the rural town generally relate to this vocation. The businessmen, farmer and workingman all depend on each other.

The sodbusters started settling in the area in the 1850′s. We were known as part of Dakota Territory. The native vegetation in the area then was tall prairie grass with a few trees along rivers. Much of the soil is the clay-loam type which is among the richest found anywhere. The average rainfall for this area is 22-26 inches per year to help produce bountiful crops. The lack of rainfall, no matter how good the soil is, affects not only the farm economy, but also that of a rural town. The world food market greatly controls the prices the farmers get for their products.

Corn, soybean, oats and alfalfa hay are the most common crops grown here. Like any industry, farming has changed considerably over the years. The sodbuster used horses for his power to pull two row equipment. Tractors used today can range up to 400 horse-power (or more) engines. Even 31 row planters can be spotted in fields but 12 row is more common. At one time every farm had a few chickens, hogs and cows.

Driving around the rural areas, you will occasionally spot redwood signs stating that the site is a Bi-Centennial Homestead farm. That means descendents of pioneers who homesteaded the land still farm there today.

The Famous James Brothers

Jesse and Frank James were perhaps the most famous outlaws of the Old West. The brothers were born in Clay County, Missouri in the 1840′s. Frank was the older of the two. During their teen years, they joined Confederate guerilla bands in the Civil War.

After the war, the James brothers formed an outlaw gang in 1866. They used the experiences they had during the Civil War of sneak attacks on Federal forces to make a living in robbery. The James gang robbed small banks in small midwestern towns, trains and stage coaches. They became heroes to many, because some folk believed they only robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. It is estimated the James gang had taken over $300,000 in their 15 year robbing career.

The James gang met their match in 1876 when they tried to rob the bank in Northfield, Minnesota. Two members of the gang were killed by Northfield residents in the attempt. Jesse and Frank were the only members of the gang that escaped the posse due to Jesse’s famous jump on horseback across Devil’s Gulch at Garretson, South Dakota. The James brothers had little success in forming a new gang and robberies after the Northfield attempt because they were recognized everywhere.

In 1881, Jesse took on the name of Frank Howard and posed as a cattle buyer at St. Joseph, MO. He was shot in 1882 by a young man, Robert Ford, for $10,000 ransom money. Frank gave himself up and was found not guilty for his crimes by a sympathetic jury. Frank held a variety of jobs until he died peacefully in 1915. A Jesse James weekend is held annually in Garretson with many family activities. Jesse James weekend is the last weekend in June. For more information please call 594-6721.

Red Quartzite “Gold of Minnehaha County”

Garretson is known for its tourist attraction of beautiful quartzite formations, but mining of quartzite is a multimillion dollar business in Minnehaha County. Three quarries of the pink to shade of purple rock are found in the County. Two are in or near Sioux Falls and the other at Dell Rapids. A 20 to 30 mile wide band of the pink quartzite stretching from the Wisconsin Dells to near Mitchell, South Dakota is the only measurable supply in the United States. Next to diamond, it is the hardest known rock. Because of its durablility, the crushed rock is shipped nationwide to be used in road building, as an additive for asphalt and concrete, and railroad track beds. Quartzite is also used in engine block for Ford and in building colorful panels for building around our nation.

In the late 1890′s and early 1900′s, the rock was used extensively to build ornate buildings. Stone cutters from Europe came to help build many large buildings from quarried blocks that are found on Main Streets in many of the area towns including Garretson. The stone was also used as foundations of many area homes and barns. The rock is no longer used extensively in building construction. Quartzite also played another important part in the history of South and North Dakota. The 360 mile border between the two states was marked with 720 quartzite markers, one every half-mile.

Quartzite is relatively easy to mine locally because the rock is located close to the surface. The local quarries are expected to produce stone for many more decades. When it is time for the quarries to be reclaimed, they will probably be used as man-made lakes or for water reservoirs. While in production, the companies are required to follow air and water standards. Trees and other landscaping help contain the dust and keep the mines hidden. Because of safety rules, none of the quarries are able to offer tours.

Garretson Legends & History
Written by: Don Schubert

If it were not for the railroad, Garretson would probably stand where Palisades State Park is located.  However, it would have been known as Palisades, not Garretson.

White settlers began moving into rough terrain near Split Rock Creek, where Garretson is now located, by the mid 1800’s.   However, most settlers abandoned the area after the Minnesota Massacre in 1862.  They did not begin returning until a military reservation and Fort Dakota were established in Sioux Falls in 1865.

From 1872 to1880, the area saw a large growth in settlers.  S.W.Patten, one of the original founders of the village of Palisades, constructed a flour and feed mill on Split Rock Creek.  A small village sprang up around the mill when a post office was built in 1878.  The village was first called Pleasant Valley, then Palisades.

In 1886 silver was discovered just down river from Palisades.  S.W. Patten was instrumental in discovering the silver.  The location of his mine,  Merrimoe Loade, can still be seen today as a large depression on the land on the North West side of the river.  The assay of the ore proved to contain such a low percent of silver, however, it just was not feasible to continue mining or expand investments.

The Willmar-Sioux Falls railroad line came through in 1888 and the Village of Palisades was already thriving, fueled by a large number of new settlers.  In 1889 the Sioux City and Northern Railroad was built by a group of investors from Sioux City which connected with the Willmar-Sioux Falls Railroad line about one and a half miles northeast of Palisades and brought the death of Palisades and the birth of Garretson.

It has been reported that this junction was supposed to have occurred at the location of the town of Sherman thereby guaranteeing the future of that town, and it would have secured the locations of the village of Palisades at its original location.  However, it appears some investors saw an opportunity to salvage some of their investment by moving the junction to land they had control over.  The businessmen of Palisades were offered free building sites if they would move their businesses to the new location of the town, which was then named Garretson.  One of the investors, A.S. Garretson of Sioux City was a driving force behind this and the railroad.  The town was renamed Garretson after A.S. Garretson.

The movement of the businesses and the development of building sites of the junction of the railroads sealed the doom of the Village of Palisades and did little good for the location of the town of Sherman.  The move from the Palisades to the Garretson site took place in 1889, the same year that South Dakota became a State.  Garretson was incorporated as a city and the articles of incorporation were filed on August 22, 1891.

Although the legacy of the James Boys dominates area folklore, theirs is not the only legend.  And it is certainly not the first.

Early settlers to the area were told a tale by Native  Americans concerning the history of the Spirit Canyon, as they knew the rocky gorge at Garretson.  In a time unrecorded, an Indian Warrior.  Ha-ShootchGa proved a troublemaker of the first order, setting one tribe on the other at gatherings and trading sessions, telling each side that the other was cheating them.

There lived among one tribe a spirit-protector, Iktomi and as he walked the banks of the Split Rock Ha-ShootchGa insulted him, questioning Iktomi’s bravery and skill.  A tomahawk duel resulted, with Ha-ShootchGa turned and fled as Iktomi drew back his own weapon.  With his eyes aflame, the Spirit sent his weapon streaking after his enemy and, as it slashed into the ground at the fleers feet, it burst into a shattering lightning bolt that cleared the rock and opened the Devils Gulch of the Spirit Canyon.  And Ha-ShootchGa’s tomahawk, as it came hurdling back to earth, sliced out the Palisades.

Another legend of the Gulch concerns the story of Nellie Harding.  Nellie, her father, mother, and brother were headed to Dakota Territory in a covered wagon.  While camped on the banks of the Sioux River, the family was murdered by some Indians led by a white renegade.  They captured Nellie and brought her to the Devil’s Gulch.  The young girl’s lover, Dick Willowby, had a vivid dream of the event at his home in Wisconsin.  He immediately set out to rescue his Nellie and found her with the captors at Devils Gulch. Dick started shooting at the small party. The only one left alive was the renegade and he appeared with Nellie.  A shot from Dick’s pistol meant for the renegade killed Nellie.  Dick pursued the renegade for five miles, each shooting at one another.  Dick was mortally wounded, but the renegade’s horse stumbled causing his rider an instant death.  Dick dragged himself back to his Nellie and died with her in the Canyon.

The other legend of Devils Gulch. Of all the mysteries surrounding Devils Gulch at the North end of Garretson, one of the least known lies beneath the surface of Split Rock Creek.  Legend has it in 1876, the outlaw Jesse James coaxed his horse to jump the ravine over the creek to evade a posse that was close behind him.  But less well known is the story of the bottomless pit, said to exist beneath the water east of where Jesse James reportedly jumped.  In a creek channel that runs anywhere from four to ten feet deep, the pit has been plumbed to a depth of 600 feet without ever finding the bottom.  Geologists who have been to the site suggest the bottomless pit might have been formed by an ancient earthquake.

A road off 5th Street in Garretson leads you to a tree-hidden canyon known as Devil’s Gulch.  It is a natural chasm, which features scenic rock formation of red quartzite.  Next to diamond red quartzite is the hardest rock there is.  Devil’s Gulch was formed millions of years ago during the glacier age.  Devils Gulch also known as Spirit Canyon, is part of an impressive display of Nature’s power.  Hundreds of thousands of years were necessary for flowing water for the Split Rock’s small tributary to slowly cut its way through the solid red quartzite that composes the area’s bedrock.  Some geologists say the process was aided by a large earthquake before recorded history, an idea given support by the Indian legend of a tomahawk duel between Native Warriors.  The rock has been dated to an age of twelve hundred million years ago, and in some places is believed to be three thousand to four thousand feet thick.

While standing at the footbridge in Devil’s Gulch, imagine the outlaw Jesse James riding as fast as his horse could gallop because a posse is hot on his tail.  Jesse approaches the chasm and quickly summarizes the situation.

The story begins at the September 7, 1876 robbery of the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota.  The gang forced its way in, killing a bank clerk, leaving two of its own member’s dead in the street.

Fleeing Southwest towards Dakota Territory, the six remaining members of the gang split up to elude the following posse.  The well-known outlaw youngers, Jim, Rob, and Cole, along with Charlie Pitts, separated themselves from the James Brothers and headed Northwest from Mankato, they were captured at Lake Hansha, Minnesota.

Frank and Jesse pushed on to Dakota Territory, and followed the Split Rock Creek as it crossed the border.  Just North of Garretson, Frank followed the river to the West bank while Jesse rode on the East side not knowing Devil’s Gulch laid ahead.  As he circled back west, he pulled up short when faced by the Devil’s Gulch.

With the posse closing down on him, he spun his horse and spurred it towards the chasm.  With the lawmen watching, Jesse’s horse hurled itself across the twenty-foot gorge.  With his pursuers left behind, Jesse rode a mile North where he joined up with his brother Frank.  The pair holed up in a rock cave Northwest across the river from the Gulch.  Legend says the brothers hid out several days in the area, also making use of cave south of Garretson, in the Palisades State Park before working their way back home to Missouri , arriving in Mid-October 1876.

Jesse James was gunned down in 1882, but his legend lives on in Garretson.