New news from 1891

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Farm Forum

We’ve arrived at South Dakota’s first year after quasquicentennial.

If you think that’s a mouthful to say and a challenge to spell, you’re right.

So let’s just call it our 125th anniversary. Just wait 49 years when the state’s sesquicentennial arrives.

Pres. Grover Cleveland signed the omnibus bill admitting both North and South Dakota on Nov. 2, 1889,

Seventeen months and two days after he’d signed the bill, Watertown area farmer S.A. Robbins’ house blew away.

You’re the first to read about that post quasquicentennial event because it’s been hidden away all these 123-plus years in Mr. Robbins’ little leather-bound logbook.

Robbins scribbled neatly and succinctly in his book that day. “House blew away.”

How this informative diary got to the Brookings County Museum isn’t known, but its tattered pages have languished there for years. We know it belonged to S. A. Robbins because one of his flowery calling cards is still tucked away in the cover pocket of the book, and a shadow of his signature in ink on the leather cover.

There’s also a calling card of Emery Robbins, whom I assumed was his son. Are any of you out there related to either man?

Robbins was faithful in recording in his log book his bank loans and payments, what he paid for goods necessary to survive in those early days, and notes about when his cattle, hogs and horses birthed or were bred.

In reading some his notations, you’ll be pleased to know that he probably didn’t know how to spell “quasquicentennial” either. In fact, months after the 1889 bill was signed, he was still using “Watertown. D. T.” on his notations, indicating statehood wasn’t that big a deal for him.

As to his spelling, I’m basing that on how he wrote some of the items on his shopping list. He spelled them Caro Sene, Shugar and Spenders. In 1891, he paid 15 cents for caro sene (kerosene), 50 cents for shugar (sugar) and got a deal on spenders (suspenders) at 25 cents a pair, or “pare.”

He also bought “poster stamps” for a dime, a “spoll” of thread for his wife for a dime, invested $2 in a “raszor” and $1 for “one pare over halls.” Robbins also spent $51 for a “yoak of cattle.”

On another of his infrequent shopping trips to Watertown, he spent 85 cents for “drows” (underwear), got a bath for a quarter and spent another quarter “stabling” his “yoak of cattle.”

He also borrowed money, including $35 from the Fairmont Bank at ten percent for Christmas gifts. That was a week before he signed a note to a neighbor for $14 plus ten percent “for a bull.”

On a 1891 July shopping trip he wrote in ink that he spent a dime on “2 glas bears.”

Then, perhaps concerned that his wife would read of this indescretion, he crossed it out.

His cropping record for 1892 includes wheat bringing $2.65, barley $1.34, “sukhtash” $1.34, oats, $11.88 and flax, $1.50.

In September of 1891 Robbins paid $5 for two hogs. In 1893, he hired a stud for his team, writing that “Bolly took the horse the 24th of May” and Fanny “took the horse the 19th of June.”

In a notation in 1896, he wrote that his “sow took the bor the 23 of Jany.”

Thanks to Mr. Robbins, his notes taken when South Dakota was just a pup give us insight into some of the costs and hard work of farming 125 years ago. My apologies to him and his progeny for pointing out his spelling errors.

He isn’t alone on this.

I make speling erors all the tim.

If you’d like to make a comment, e-mail the author at cfcecil@swiftel.net.