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Stories of Redfield

City of Redfield

As part of SDPB's Landscapes of South Dakota series, Thursday's Dakota Midday broadcast live from the historic Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Depot in Redfield, South Dakota.

The first settlers arrived in the Redfield area in 1878 and the town became the Spink county seat eight years later after a conflict with Old Ashton. The railroad made Redfield a major town in the region with the Chicago and Northwestern and Milwaukee Road rail lines passing through. Former South Dakota Governor and U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck began his political career in Redfield. But the town’s greatest claim to fame is its role in establishing pheasants in South Dakota.  In 1908 pheasants were released on a farm north of town, with other successful Spink County releases around Doland and Frankfort. Today Redfield calls itself the Pheasant Capital of the World. Although the heyday of the railroads is over, this town of 2,300 people is still at a transportation crossroads with the junction of highways 281 and 212.

Spink County Historical Museum curator Alan Evans discussed the area's history, along with Chicago and Northwestern Historic Depot Museum and Visitors Center curator Kathy Maddox and Spink County Historical Society's Mary Lou Schwartz.

Karl was born to northeastern South Dakota crouton farmers, but was orphaned as a toddler during the Great Salad War (1966-67). Rescued by a flock of chickadees, he grew up in the woodlands of Sica Hollow. Legends of a bird boy living in the trees attracted the interest of renowned ornithologist and amateur bandoneon repairman Dr. Vogel Gehrke. With a handful of suet, Dr. Gehrke coaxed the timid boy down from the trees. He adopted him, named him Karl and taught him not to molt on the carpet. Dr. Gehrke’s book, The Bird Boy of Sica Hollow, was a best seller and Karl became a minor celebrity and teen idol. He appeared as a guest star on numerous television programs, most notably an awkward role on The Love Boat as the boyfriend of Captain Stubing’s daughter, Vicki. After critics panned his 1980 album, Bird Boy Does Disco, Karl retreated from public life and returned to Sica Hollow. Living in an isolated tree house, Karl achieved a reputation as a mystic. Pilgrims and seekers from around the world came to ask him about the meaning of life and for vinaigrette recipes. Growing tired of answering questions, he climbed down from his tree, shaved his massive white beard and took a job as the host of SDPB Radio’s Dakota Midday where he could ask the questions instead. After three years in that position, he ran out of questions and became host of Jazz Nightly instead. Karl makes his home in Vermillion with his charming wife Kari and three delightful children, Kodey, Kasey and Spatula. His hobbies include reciting the alphabet, combing his hair and doing volunteer work with delinquent songbirds.