History of Hyde County South Dakota
by John B. Perkins, 1908



The above expression is generally used by our people when they refer to the "Immaculate Conception Mission School" at Stephan in the south part of Hyde County. Father DeSmet passed to his reward about thirty-five years ago, and the location of the Mission School was in the heart of the field of his apostolic labors. An appeal was made to him frequently and urgently by Strikes-the-Ree, White Swan and other representative Indians to establish a Mission School where the Indian children could be educated, not only along the line of the usual school studies, but also in the proper care of the mind and body; in the ways of industry, in, the practical knowledge of industrial pursuits and in the paths of righteousness and an heroic Christian life. These appeals touched the heart of the saintly priest and he in turn made constant appeal to his superiors anti to the public for the establishment of mission schools among the Sioux Indians. Father DeSmet died before, these fondest wishes were realized, but they were not forgotten for later on, under the ceaseless desires of Bishop Marty, ands through the munificence of Mother Katherine Drexel, the Immaculate Conception Mission School in Hyde County was established in 1886 by the erection of their first buildings, and under the supervision of Rev. Geo. L. Willard, now deceased.

Father Willard was succeeded by Rev. Pius Boehm, 0.S.B., who is still at the head of that institution and his life has been devoted to its interests, although in many instances against the adverse circumstances of poverty, of want of means to keep his youthful wards properly clothed and feed.

In 1895 the main building was destroyed by fire, but by the contribution of a generous public, many improvements have since been made, among them a beautiful church, erected in 1900, at a cost of about five thousand dollars; also a building used for a laundry, sewing room, baths, and music hall with all the necessary stage settings.

During the first ten years of its existence, the Mission School was assisted in its work by contract with the Government, but since 1896 it has been maintained at private expense. The annual expenditures amount to about seven thousand dollars.

The following letter written by Father Pius Boehm to the Department at Washington sets forth many facts which are of interest to the reader.

Stephan, Hyde Co., S. Dak.,
Aug. 31, 1890

To the Hon. T. J. Morgan,
Com. of Indian Affairs,
Washington, D. C.


Owing to my absence your circular letter, dated Aug. 7th, remained unopened until yesterday. I hasten to reply.

The Immaculate Conception Mission School at Stephan, about 16 miles north of Crow Creek Agency, S. Dakota, was established in the spring of the year 1886, under the auspices of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, Washington, D.C., by the lately deceased Very Rev. Geo. S. Willard. A little cottage was erected then, which served the double purpose of a residence and temporary school. I found on my arrival here, Jan. 21, 1887, five Indian pupils in attendance and a school building 40 by 10 ft. on the way to completion. After many difficulties had been overcome, I managed to open school May 1st of that year, in the new building, with an attendance of 33 Pupils, and supported by the Catholic Church.

In the fall of the same year school opened under contract with the government, Rev. Vincent Wehrle serving as its superintendent; the writer, in the capacity of a procurer. Passing through many trying ordeals, on account of the distant location from the civilized world, the tardiness of the government to pay the quarterly dues, the hard winter, which covered the prairies with mountains of snow, etc. etc., we succeeded in keeping about 90 pupils not only alive, but laid the foundation to their advancement to civilization, by imparting to them the first elements of education.

The school year had scarcely closed when the superintendent was called to another field of labor, and the fact became more and more apparent that a separate building had to be erected for the accommodation of the many applicants desiring admission. In due time arrangements were made with the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions under the directorship of Very Rev. J. A. Stephan, Washington, D. C., and the new building had so far progressed in the fall of 1888 to receive a number of children. Unfortunately, the building to which the girls were transferred could not be completed until the spring of the present year, for want of means. During the fall and winter of 1888 and 1889 we had 130 pupils enrolled; for 100 we had contracts, and the balance schooled, boarded and clothed gratis.

The fiscal year commencing July 1, 1888, to June 30, 1890, passed under my personal supervision with an enrollment of 112 pupils. Owing to the singular wording of our contracts, which allowed us only pupils who had been attending our schools the year before, and pupils who had been at no other school 12 months previous to June 30, 1889, we could not average over 95 pupils on our quarterly reports. I always considered this unfair. Schools are erected to educate children. When parents desire to send their children, we are requested to take them, and it has always been to me a matter of curiosity to know why pupils of other schools, desiring to enter ours, should not enjoy the same privileges as those who were here before, as far as compensation is concerned. It only places a heavier burden on our shoulders. Very often too, such children, for some reason or another, if refused at the school they wish to enter, on the basis of remuneration, will attend none at all and the grand object in view, the education and civilization of these children, for which the schools were established, will be to a great extent impeded, if not frustrated.

Speaking of contracts, I wish to add also here: Our contracts always provided for the defraying of traveling expenses of children and the clothing of those under the so-called $50 contract. I am requested to keep exact accounts, issue duplicate vouchers, as far as practicable, I give my oath as to their correctness, but nothing, not even an answer to my inquiries can be had. Maj. W.W. Anderson, the former U. S. Indian Agent at Crow Creek, visited Washington on business in January last, looking up also the reasons why the clothing for schools was delayed. The officer in charge, whose name I cannot recall, gave sound reasons for the delay, but protested most emphatically to send more than five months clothing, on the plea that half of the school term had expired. Thus we had to suffer the loss. Writer holds: If it is expected of us to carry out our share of the contract, it is only just that the government should shoulder that part belonging to it.


Of the first two years of our existence, the superintendents then in charge could make out a better report of their labors than the writer.

A donation of 160 acres of land, all fenced now, was made by the government for school purposes. Before school opened under contract with the government, about to acres were under cultivation. During the fiscal year of 1887, 35 more acres were brought under cultivation, or all the tillable land at our disposal. Another quarter section is anxiously desired. A great share of this was done by the boys. Corn, oats, barley, potatoes, melons, pumpkins, squashes, beans were cultivated, but, excepting the fall of the year 1888, our labors were badly repaid on account of the drouth. Statistics were sent to the Department but as they were always made out in advance of the crops, they cannot be accepted as a standard. This year our crops were a total failure. Even the hayland suffered from drouth, and what escaped the drouth was consumed by the prairie fires. As this repeats itself every fall and spring, and destroys much valuable property, the fruits of many days hard labor, means ought to be contrived to stop the nuisance of firing the prairie.

A rather large vegetable garden was cultivated by the boys under the supervision of the gardener and nearly 4,000 trees planted, during last year's school term; 3,ooo before.

Last year, nearly all the boys were rather small and not much work could be expected of them. For this reason, not much head way could be made in mechanical trades. Yet, two of the largest were more than fairly successful in making shoes. Some also tried their skill at carpenter work.

The stock yards, consisting of 130 head of cattle, 1 horses, 60 head of swine, poultry yard, were attended by the boys. Milking was done by them exclusively last year. Dairy work by girls.

The girls were trained in every branch of housekeeping, cooking, baking bread, etc., sewing, mending, knitting, etc. To the laundry the larger and medium sized girls were detailed. Some of them excelled in embroidering.

In the school room was taught to boys and girls, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, U. S. and Bible History and singing. To religious training and exercises was given three-quarters of an hour every day. The order of the day was: half day school and half day work. The smallest pupils, of whom no work could be expected, were occupied in the school rooms. In singing the girls excelled the boys last year. The latter seemed to take more pride in their band, which did real well, after only six months practice. Boys and girls swept their own rooms, made up their own beds; but dish washing was done exclusively by girls.

In the month of April, Miss E. Goodale, Inspector of Public Education, visited our school, passed some criticisms, no doubt, well meant, but in my estimation, overdrawn. Had Miss E. Goodale tarried long enough to inquire into the history of our trials and difficulties, she would have been more charitable in her criticisms. Certain it is, it would have been more beneficial to the general welfare if the good lady had communicated her observations to me, instead of telling me we were doing a noble work here.

Six entertainments were given during the year, on various occasions, where every scholar had an opportunity to display his talent in oratory, singing, etc.

Last year a corps of teachers looked after the wants of the children, besides 3 employees.

Excepting two instances, where disease took the form of an epidemic, measles in the fall of 1888, and La Grippe in winter of 1890, and some few cases of scrofula, the sanitary condition was very good, as long as the school exists. Dr. F. Treon, of Crow Creek Agency, who has been our physician during the period of 3 years, will gladly bear me out in the above statement. Though everything was done for the little sufferers, yet we lost four cases during the La. Grippe epidemic.

Trusting that the above embodies all the desired information, I wish, Honorable Sir, to remain,

Respectfully yours,
Pius Boehm,
Supt. of Schools

This Mission School being along the line of the progress and uplifting of our common humanity and an institution of local pride, the writer feels like giving it full and complete mention, and continued as follows:

Under Grant's administration the various reservations were assigned to the different denominations. Many of the Indians were clamoring for a sina sapa (black robe) and at a 4th of July celebration at Huron they presented a petition to the resident priest, F. F. Mahoney, a hundred or more, headed by Chief Tatankawanagi (Bull-Ghost). F. Mahoney made a visit in midwinter about the year 1885 to Crow Creek Agency and reported favorably to Bishop Marty. Soon (April 1886) F. Willard was requested to find a location about five miles west of the present location: Finding no water, he reported unfavorable and was ordered by the Bureau of the Catholic Indian Missions to go as far east until he would find water, hence the present location. This was the first school of the kind.

When Father Boehm arrived here, Jan. 21, 1886, over a sea of snow from Highmore, coming up from Fort Smith, Arkansas, in company of Bishop Marty, his spirits were at the lowest end of the thermometer. The Indians learning that a priest had arrived, a few days after paid their respects and a caravan of thirty-five teams or more arrived. Father Boehm peeped through the window and, tenderfoot as he was, was not very favorably impressed by their appearance and examined whether his six shooter was in good condition for active service. He was not so much afraid of the bucks, but much more of the squaws, who had from five to six knives stuck around their belts in full sight. Later on he learned these were for the purpose of carving beeves and that was the women's job.

All afternoon was spent in pow-wowing and this is the reception Father Boehm got. Chief Bull-Ghost made a very complimentary speech, but Standing Elk's remained in his memory ever since:

"God made the earth, and all this land was made for the Indians; (making a sweep with his brawny arm to take in everything God ever made,) the white man is coming in here to root up the ground like the pigs, and if you came in for our land, we will kick you out."

This did not raise Father Boehm's spirits to a very high degree and timid as he was, he sketched his reply and here it is. (Through an interpreter, James White, whom Father Boehm had brought from Yankton.

We are strangers, but friends-we left good houses and homes and came here. Why did we come here? Is it after the Indianís land? No, we know the Indians are poor; we know too the government and some white men cheated them out of very much. Why are we here in such an uncivilized land, far from home, in a wild country, where there is no cultivated land, no one to cheer you, no barking of friendly canine (he, saw quite a few since), no birds to sing the songs of the forest, etc.? It is for the Indians' welfare and the welfare of their children. We wish to show and teach them the sweets of the white man's ways. For this purpose the Immaculate Conception Mission School will be established and we shall do all we can for them. They shall have plenty to eat, they will get three suits of clothes every year, medicines when they take sick; we shall teach them to read and write and make nice things and be like white people. You must send all your children and not let them run away and we, all want to be friends, etc. etc."

Father Boehm must have made some favorable impression if their "hows" were any indication, and handshaking was in order; but soon he was up a stump when they asked for meat and there was none. A frozen pig and a dog, however, were not declined and Father Boehm had an opportunity to notice why the squaws carried butcher knives.

This was Father Boehm's first experience with Indians and many times they ate them out of house and home, so that there was not enough left to make a meal. For weeks there was nothing to eat but black coffee, bread and potatoes with their jackets on, spiced with the humorous remark of Bishop Marty on his first visit "put plenty salt on." Things grew desperate toward Easter, 1887, and Father Boehm sent in his resignation to three different points in order to abandon the work. Instead of it being accepted, substantial relief arrived in the form of a big check and after an elapse of 21 years and more, Father Boehm is doing business at the old stand still.

In March of the same year the first two sisters, Magdalene and Wilhelmina, O.S.B., came. The latter froze to death on that memorable 12th of January, 1888, mentioned elsewhere in this book.

The people of Hyde County know Father Pius well and this is the familiar way in which he is generally mentioned. To address him properly it would be Rev. Pius Boehm, O.S.B. He was born February 12, 1852, near the village of Troy, Indiana. His parents emigrated to this country from Bavaria, but when he was about a year old he was adopted by an aged uncle and aunt who were childless. His early education was received in the public schools at his home, but later, at the age of thirteen, he entered St. Meinrad's College and there completed his entire course of studies. He was an athlete in his younger days, was captain of his nine, an expert swimmer and saved the life of a fellow student. In 1870 he donned the habit of St. Benedict and took the name of Pius, by which he has since been known. He was first assigned to duty in Jasper and Ferdinand, Indiana, and afterwards spent several years as rector of St. Henry's church at St. Henry, Indiana, and in 1886 was sent to Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he organized the St. Boniface parish. Ill health caused his return to his monastery at Meinrad; but not long afterward he came to the Mission here.

Rev. Ambrose Mattingly, O.S.B. is principal of the Mission School and fills an important place there as missionary, teacher and disciplinarian. He was born in Eureka, Indiana, September 8, 1865. His early education was in the public schools, and at the age of fifteen commenced his studies for the priest-hood at St. Afeinrad's College. He entered the Benedictine Order July 25, 1886 and assumed his present position in the Immaculate Conception Mission School Aug. 30, 1888.

As a young man the former arrived in the early fall of 1888, passed through all the hardships of a pioneer, participated in the weal and woes of the institution, is today the missionary and moving spirit, and the photographer, who so kindly furnished these pictures.

Rev. Sister M. Edwards Shonly, Sister Superior at the Mission, was born at Mary Maryville, Mo., Feb. 22, 1876. She is familiarly known as Sr. Edwards, an affable and accomplished lady, untiring and energetic in her work, took up her burdens in the fall of the year 1896, borne them ever since heroically without interruption, is the mainspring and mainstay of the welfare of her little charges; she is best described as "little mother" of the house. Both have rendered invaluable services in their respective, spheres and to them the institution is indebted for most of its success.

Under Postmaster General William h. Vilas, the Rev. P. Boehm was appointed postmaster at Stephan, April 12, 1887, and has held the office to this date without interruption.

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From the files of:Thomas J. Guenthner