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Dakota Life Preview: Greetings from Timber Lake


Dakota Life heads to Fort Thompson, South Dakota on April 11th. Here is a preview of some of the stories you will find in the episode that premieres at 7 p.m. (8 central) on SDPB TV-1, Facebook and YouTube. Plus, a look back at some of the past stories we have brought you on Dakota Life.
When you study the history of this place we call South Dakota, one of the first things you learn is just how much history there is to study. Not just the history of our present day, not just the history of the American Frontier, not just the history of the Native American tribes, but history over millions of years. For example. Around 100 million years ago, this land was covered by a large inland sea known as the Western Interior Seaway. It brought a tropical climate to our area along with tropical plants and wildlife, and when it receded, it left its historical record. The shoreline of this sea ran right through what is now South Dakota, making our state a treasure trove of marine and terrestrial fossils studied today by Paleontologists and Geologists.

Scientists tell us that around 13,000 years ago, people first arrived in the area. Over the last millennium, this area was home to the Arikara, the Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa and Arapaho. The Sioux arrived here in the 18th century.

The Homestead Act of 1862 opened present-day South Dakota to European settlement. Between the 1860’s and the 1920’s settlers came into the area, proving up their claims and establishing counties and towns. Named for William Dewey, the territorial surveyor-general at the time, Dewey County was created in 1883 and organized in 1910. The entire county lies in the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Indian Reservations and is one of five South Dakota counties that are contained within Indian reservations.

As settlers came, towns sprang up. Green Grass, La Plant, Lantry, Eagle Butte, Swift Bird and Whitehorse. The County Seat, Timber Lake was founded in 1910 with the arrival of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad.

The Siouan language family, including Lakota-Dakota-Nakota speakers, inhabited over 100 million acres in the upper Mississippi Region in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Conflicts with the Cree and Chippewa, as well as the lure of the Great Plains buffalo herds, encouraged the Sioux to move farther west in the mid-17th century. The Lakota acquired horses around 1740 and crossed the Missouri River shortly after. They lived in organized bands, warred and raided, and depended on buffalo for food and clothing.

The terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 placed the Lakota on one large reservation that covered parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, and four other states. After the Indian Wars of the 1870s, the U.S. Government created several smaller reservations, including the Cheyenne River Reservation in 1889. Since then, roughly half of the Reservation was confiscated by the United States government, and the damming of the Missouri River starting in 1948 submerged an additional 8 percent of the Reservation.

The name Sioux is part of the Ojibway/Chippewa/Anishinabe word Nadowesioux, which the French shortened to Sioux. The term Sioux refers to three groups: the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota. Today, four Lakota bands, the Minniconjou, Itazipco, Siha Sapa, and Oohenumpa call the Cheyenne Indian Reservation home.

Earlier in the program, we mentioned that in Timber Lake, even the biggest dreams are possible. The best example just might be Timber Lake native and Green Bay Packers tight end Tucker Kraft.

Honing his skills early on, Kraft attended Timber Lake High School, where he played running back, middle linebacker, and punter on the 9-man football team As a senior, Kraft rushed for 1,405 yards and 24 touchdowns and was named first-team All-State. He went on to play for the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, where he was named consensus FCS All-American and All-Missouri Valley Football Conference. And in May of 2023, the Green Bay Packers picked him in the third round of the NFL Draft with the 78th overall pick. Tucker received the call surrounded by friends, family, and well-wishers at the AirKraft Spraying airfield and hangar in Timber Lake.

Originally called the Big Owl and Little Owl Rivers, the sheltered watersheds of the Moreau and Little Moreau Rivers provided traditional winter campgrounds for the Cheyenne and later the Minneconjou and Two Kettle bands of Teton Sioux. Like so many things in the 1800s, the names of the rivers were changed from Owl to Moreau, the name of one of the early French traders in the area. The grassland surrounding the rivers first attracted European settlers to the Moreau Valley. During the late 1870s through 1890s, cattle barons from southern states grazed thousands of cattle on this rich grassland.

Today, those same grasslands and rivers still attract people to the Little Moreau State Recreation Area. The idea for this place came about through a meeting of the Timber Lake Golf Club in February of 1932. Club members were discussing ideas for recreation and for employment opportunities as the great depression was underway. The members purchased 160 acres nearby and applied for and received federal funds, which were earmarked for employment of the destitute and needy. By July 4th of the following year, a celebration was held to christen the new recreation area.

Today, this prairie oasis is home to an abundance of animals and plants. Visitors may catch glimpses of red foxes, bobcats, and coyotes. Bird species include wild turkeys, sharptail grouse, gray partridge, pheasants, and snowy and great-horned owls. In the wintertime, bald and golden eagles call this place home. The park offers five non-electric campsites, a boat ramp, and a picnic shelter near the Little Moreau River. The Little Moreau Recreation area features countless opportunities for outdoor recreation with birdwatching, biking, boating, canoeing, and fishing.

While Newspapers in general, have had a rough time surviving over the past couple of decades, some still manage to thrive. Since the town was founded, The Timber Lake Topic has been the chronicler of people and events in this corner of the world. The Newspaper actually came together in 1913 when the Dewey County Advocate and the Timber Lake Tribune merged. The newspaper has been housed in the same building on Main Street since 1922.

One part of Timber Lake's history that did not make the news for many years was the secret life of Elizabeth Sudmeier. Born in Timber Lake in 1912, Elizabeth attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School for all her school years, playing violin in the orchestra. Without anyone knowing, Elizabeth served in the CIA from 1947 to 1972, serving as an undercover agent for twenty-five years. She was the first female CIA agent to handle assets in the foreign field, conduct full-cycle recruitment, and earn the Intelligence Medal of Merit for her clandestine work. Along the way, she served in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo and New Deli. Elizabeth Sudmeier died in 1989, and even today many details of her work are kept secret.

The Episcopal Indian Mission Church , Chapel of the Holy Spirit, as its officially named, or Old Stone Church as it’s known by the locals, was built in the summer of 1922 on the east side of Firesteel Creek, three miles south of the Grand River. Construction was supervised by Frank Waggoner, of Keldron, South Dakota. Volunteers quarried massive sandstone blocks from the prominent bluff a short distance away. The huge boulders were pried from the top of the bluff with bars and wedges until they fell down the steep slope where teams of horses pulled them to the construction site.

The church drew many people of many faiths for many years. In 2004, another group of volunteers came together to restore the building. Today, the Old Stone Church is not only a landmark in the area, but is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Don't miss Greetings from Timber Lake, Thursday, April 11th at 7 p.m. (8 central) on SDPB TV-1, Facebook and YouTube. You can catch up on past seasons of Dakota Life HERE.