2021 Trail of Governors preview

This Friday, the Trail of Governors in Pierre will unveil and place three new statues. The unveiling is at 10 AM in the State Capitol rotunda.

The new statues – of Governors Charles H. Sheldon, Coe Crawford, and Carl Gunderson – had been slated to be unveiled in June 2020, but the unveiling was postposed by a year due to the Covid pandemic.

With this unveiling, the Trail will now feature 28 statues. Statues of the remaining three former governor – Andrew E. Lee, Frank M. Byrne, and William J. Bulow – are to be placed in 2022. At that point, the Trail will be complete and statues will be added, beginning with Governor Kristi Noem, after each governor leaves office.

Last year, this blog posted a gallery of the Trail of Governor’s current 25 statues.

Below is a brief biographical sketch of the three 2021 governors, taken from the Trail of Governors website:

Charles H. Sheldon

Charles H. Sheldon was born in Vermont in 1840. His father, a hatter who had come to Vermont from Montréal, died when Sheldon was four, and Sheldon worked as a farm laborer and a store clerk while receiving limited schooling. During the Civil War, Sheldon served in the Union Army.

Following the war, Sheldon moved to Illinois, where he married Mary Waters in 1868. Their two children died in infancy, and Mary died in 1874. The following year, Sheldon married Martha Frizzell in Grantsburg, Illinois. They had three children: James, Ethel and Charles Jr.

In 1881, the Sheldons came to Dakota Territory, eventually settling near Pierpont. Sheldon became a local Republican leader and a popular platform speaker, serving in the territorial legislature from 1887 to 1889. He was elected to be the South Dakota’s second governor in 1892.

Shortly after taking office, Governor Sheldon had to deal with the fiscal crisis caused by the theft of the state treasury by the outgoing state treasurer, W. W. Taylor, and Sheldon signed legislation to require periodic reporting on state funds. The Panic of 1893 struck shortly after Sheldon took office, leading to falling commodity prices and a weakened farm economy. Sheldon also signed legislation limiting South Dakota’s status as a “divorce haven,” lengthening the residency requirement from three to six months.

Sheldon retired to his farm after leaving office in 1897, but continued to be a popular platform speaker for Republican candidates. The year after he left office, in 1898, Sheldon died while on a speaking tour, succumbing to pneumonia at the Bullock Hotel in Deadwood. He was interred at Homer Cemetery in Pierpont.

The statue of Sheldon, by sculptor James Michael Maher, is slated to be placed on Capitol Avenue, near Capitol Lake and across the street from the Civil War Monument.

Coe Crawford

Coe I. Crawford was born on his family’s farm near Volney, Iowa in 1858. After attending school, he became a teacher, and among his students was another future South Dakota governor, Frank M. Byrne. After earning his law degree from the University of Iowa, Crawford came to Pierre, Dakota Territory, where he started a law practice in 1883. The following year, he married May Robinson and they had two children, Miriam and Irving. May died in 1894, and her sister, Lavinia, moved to Pierre to care for the Crawford children. Crawford married Lavinia in 1896, and they had three more children: Robert, Oliver and Jeanette.

In Pierre, Crawford represented the Chicago and North Western Railroad and served as Hughes County states’ attorney. He served on the final territorial council, and was a member of the first State Senate, where he drafted the state’s original taxation statutes, as well as statutes creating the Board of Charities and Corrections.

In 1892, Crawford was elected attorney general, and he led the effort to locate State Treasurer W. W. Taylor after Taylor stole the state treasury and escaped to Latin America. In 1896, Crawford ran for U.S. House, but lost in the Populist sweep that year. The following year, he moved to Huron to become general counsel for the Chicago and North Western Railroad.

Following the death of U.S. Senator James H. Kyle in 1901, Crawford hoped to be appointed to replace him. When the appointment instead went to conservative Republican “boss” Alfred B. Kittredge, Crawford aligned himself with the emerging progressive movement, ultimately resigning from his position with the railroad. After losing the nomination for governor to Samuel H. Elrod in 1904, Crawford defeated Elrod in 1906 and became South Dakota’s first progressive Republican governor.

Governor Crawford passed a comprehensive package of progressive reforms, including the state’s first direct primary law, new regulations and higher taxation on railroads, regulation of food and drugs and of telephone service, free textbooks in private schools, the prohibition of baseball and theatrical performances on Sundays, and a ban on the sale of cigarettes to minors. He also ended South Dakota’s status as a divorce haven, requiring one year of residency for divorce.

After one term as governor, Crawford challenged Senator Kittredge in the first Republican primary for U.S. Senate, narrowly defeating him. In the Senate, Crawford remained a progressive, and he came to support Theodore Roosevelt’s “Bull Moose” candidacy against President William Howard Taft in 1912. This led to a challenge to Crawford in 1914 from Congressman Charles H. Burke of Pierre, a Taft ally, and Burke defeated Crawford in an upset.

Crawford returned to Huron, where he resumed his law practice, remained a popular platform speaker, and continued his service as a trustee of Huron College. He died in 1944 and was interred with in a family plot in Iowa City, Iowa.

The statue of Crawford, by sculptors Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby, is slated to be placed near the intersection of Pierre Street and Capitol Avenue, in front of the headquarters of the South Dakota State Bar Association.

Carl Gunderson

Carl Gunderson was born in a log cabin on his family’s homestead near Vermillion in 1864. Gunderson’s father served three stints in the territorial legislature and his uncle, Andrew E. Lee, was mayor of Vermillion and South Dakota’s third governor.

Gunderson obtained a degree in civil engineering and surveying from the University of South Dakota, making him the first USD graduate to be elected governor. In 1892, he married Gertrude Bertleson, a fellow Vermillion native. The Gundersons had four children: Helene, Florence, Carol and Norris.

Gunderson filed a homestead claim in Clay County and also operated a large wheat farm in Aurora County. He represented Clay County in the State Senate from 1893 to 1895 and from 1899 to 1903, and served as president pro tempore of the senate. From 1904 to 1911, Gunderson was a federal Indian allotting agent. In that role, he oversaw 10,000 Indian allotments and located town sites including Timber Lake, Eagle Butte, and Dupree, giving each its name.

Gunderson returned to the State Senate in 1916. In 1918, he moved to Mitchell, and in 1920 he was elected lieutenant governor. Gunderson was elected governor in 1924. At the age of 60, he is the oldest newly-elected governor in state history.

A fiscal conservative, Governor Gunderson’s election brought to an end the state’s progressive era. After the state legislature overspent his recommended budget, he required state agencies to revert eight percent of appropriated funds. He repealed an insolvent state bank depositors guaranty law and ended the rural credits program after discovering embezzlement by the treasurer of its board. Although Governor Gunderson increased spending on higher education, he proposed the closure of the South Dakota School of Mines and of normal schools in Spearfish, Springfield and Madison to save money.

In 1926, Gunderson withstood a primary challenge from Secretary of State C. E. Coyne, but lost the general election to challenger W. J. Bulow, who became the state’s first Democratic governor. Many Norbeck loyalists and progressives supported the Democrat, and Gunderson’s loss was seen as a personal defeat as every other statewide Republican candidate was elected that year.

Gunderson twice sought to return as governor, losing the Republican nomination in both 1930 and 1932. He died of a heart attack in 1933 at his home in Mitchell, and was buried at Bluff View Cemetery in Vermillion, which was built upon Gunderson’s original homestead.

The statue of Gunderson, by sculptor James Van Nuys, is slated to be placed on the Governor’s Mansion grounds, near the intersection of Washington Avenue and Cabot Street.