Former newsman Chuck Cecil writes a book about South Dakota’s horse era

Chuck Cecil
Farm Forum

A book saluting the farmers and their horses who smoothed South Dakota’s rough edges and squared up its corners during the state’s first half-century has been released by South Dakota author Chuck Cecil of Brookings.

“Grandpa’s Horses” is the retired South Dakota newspaper publisher’s 25th book. The l30-page, large format book recounts the state’s horse heyday from the late 1890s to the 1930s.

With nearly 300 photographs, and stories, the book tells of the contribution the horse made to South Dakota’s growth, development and culture.

“It’s one of the most complete accounting of South Dakotans and their horses ever written,” he said.

South Dakota’s horse population of nearly 820,000 peaked in the mid-1920s. Most of them were on South Dakota farms, but they were also hard at work in the cities and towns, from the loading docks and fire halls in Sioux Falls to the gold mines and western ranches, to the gaming fields, rodeo arenas, show pens and racetracks throughout the state.

The book not only illustrates the importance of the horse in every aspect of pioneer life, it also recounts the early years when the horse and the automobile coexisted, and how South Dakotans transitioned from dobbin to the Tin Lizzie automobiles.

One un-successful legislative suggestion was that motor vehicles use the roads and the horses and horse-drawn equipment use the ditches.

There’s also a section about the state’s horse art, including the creative work of artist John Lopez of Lemmon, who sculpts horses from iron remnants, many from the horse-era years.

A portion of the sales of “Grandpa’s Horses” will be donated to the state’s only horse-drawn museum, which is a part of the Brookings County Museum six-building complex in Volga. More about the book can be found on the museum’s website,

A 1920s threshing crew prepares for another day in a field near Volga, with the steam traction engine’s need for water to make steam power provided by the water tank wagon at left. Behind the engine is a rack of straw for fuel. The threshing crew awaits in the background. This is one of more than 270 old photographs in the new book about South Dakota’s horse heyday from the 1890s to the 1930s written by former South Dakota newsman Chuck Cecil of Brookings. Courtesy photo