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Arts & Life

Marksmen leave their mark at Fort Meade

Fort Meade Rifle Range
David Super
/
Little remains of the wooden frames that were used to raise and lower targets for soldiers who practiced their marksmanship skills at Fort Meade until 1943 when the 4th Cavalry Regiment left for fighting in World War II.

This interview posted above is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

More than 600 marks. A team of archaeologists has recorded every inscription on the stones that make up Fort Meade's old rifle range target wall.

It's part of an effort to preserve the history of Fort Meade, which operated near Sturgis from 1878 until 1944.

It was considered graffiti at the time, but what does it tell us about the countless men who called the fort their home?

Ross Lamphere with the Sturgis Meade County Historical Society joins Lori Walsh on In the Moment. He talks about the ongoing work to document the history of the fort and previews a planned excavation at "Soap Suds Row."

Transcript

Lori Walsh:

You're listening to In The Moment on South Dakota Public Broadcasting. I'm your host, Lori Walsh. More than 600 marks. A team of archeologists has recorded every inscription on the stones that make up Fort Meade's old rifle range target wall. It's part of an effort to preserve the history of Fort Meade, which operated near Sturgis from 1878 until 1944. It was considered graffiti at the time, but what does it tell us about the countless men who called the fort their home? Today we welcome Ross Lamphere with the Sturgis Meade County Historical Society. Ross, welcome. Thanks for joining In The Moment.

Ross Lamphere:

Well, thank you, Lori. I appreciate the opportunity to be with you today.

Lori Walsh:

Help us set the scene, if you will. Why was the fort originally established and how did it evolve from a mission standpoint?

Ross Lamphere:

Well, as you've already mentioned, Fort Meade was established by the U.S. Army in 1874, or excuse me, 1878, and it lies just on the east side of Sturgis, South Dakota, out in the western part of the state. It was, I suppose, established initially after the Battle of Little Bighorn, and they were trying to protect gold-seekers who had come in after Custer's expedition into the Black Hills in 1874. But the rifle range really wasn't constructed until a little bit later than that, probably in the late 1800s, and it served the area well up until probably 1944.

Lori Walsh:

Can you tell me about some of the specific markings that have been found thus far?

Ross Lamphere:

Well, it's an interesting grouping of different inscriptions on there, and the majority of the inscriptions actually identify part of the year that the trooper maybe served there. There's multiple occurrences with days and months. The earliest inscriptions were probably very faint, because they were perhaps inscribed back in the 1920s, but there's things from numbers, letters, different inscriptions of even a profile. So yeah, it really varies as to what we have found on that.

Lori Walsh:

When you look at what the marks tell us about the men who made them, what comes to mind for you?

Ross Lamphere:

Well, it's interesting what a variety of people served there, literally from all over the nation. However, there are some local people, the names or initials at least have been noticed. It's a little difficult to exactly date all of them. Most of the inscriptions were probably in the late pre-World War I and World War II. It'd be probably between 1935 and 1944, with the peak of inscriptions was probably the year of 1943, so it was just leading into World War II.

Lori Walsh:

Ross, I want to talk about the ladies before we let you go. There's also a field study to explore this tent city that makes up Soap Suds Row. Tell me a little bit about the laundresses that made Fort Meade their home.

Ross Lamphere:

Thank you. Yes, there's a lot of misconceptions about military laundresses, but the military had laundresses since the early 1800s, and Fort Meade was probably a Cadillac of accommodations for them. They actually built 13 different homes along Bear Butte Creek that housed the laundresses, and of course, they were actually employed by the military, by the army, and they would do the laundry of course for both the officers and the enlisted personnel. We are looking forward to getting into an archeological dig just in a few months to excavate that area to see what types of artifacts that we can come up with.

Lori Walsh:

So, a note to listeners, this is all part of this ongoing Preservation Council effort to interpret the history and the pre-history influence of this area, influence of Native Americans and Indigenous people, the fort and all that entailed to that army installation. Ross Lamphere is with that preservation society. Thank you so much for being here with us today. Any final thoughts on the importance of this work for future generations?

Ross Lamphere:

Well, so much history can be lost so quickly. We were very fortunate to have received a 90-year lease from the Meade School District, that's mainly the Sturgis school area, and within the boundaries of that, we find the firing wall, the Soap Suds Row, and probably the most exciting part of it to me is the Native American history. It is just steeped in background. Actually, on this property was found a rock back in the 1960s, it had petroglyphs on it.

Lori Walsh:

Wow.

Ross Lamphere:

And we've been very fortunate to have the assistance of a Dr. Linnea Sundstrom from the University of Wisconsin and she actually [inaudible 00:06:57].

Lori Walsh:

Ross, we're going to jump in and hit pause on that, I'm afraid to say, in the interest of time, but you're welcome to come back and talk to us about that in the future. We appreciate your time today. Ross Lamphere with the-

Ross Lamphere:

Thank you so much.

Lori Walsh:

... Sturgis Meade County Historical Society.