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 Andrew E. Lee, Frank M. Byrne, and William J. Bulow – will complete the Trail once placed, with all 31 former South Dakota governors represented in South Dakota’s capital city. Going forward, new statues will be added after each governor leaves office, beginning with Governor Kristi Noem.
A gallery of the Trail of Governor’s current 28 statues is posted here. The Trail is a remarkable accomplishment that would have been hard to imagine before it was announced in 2011. Since that time, more than $2 million in private funds has been raised to commission the life-sized bronze statues by James Michael Maher, John Lopez, James Van Nuys, Lee Leuning, and Sherri Treeby. (I wasn’t on the Trail’s board in the early days; the project had momentum by the time I joined after Pat Adam’s death; it has been a privilege to help see the project through.)
Below is a brief biographical sketch of the three 2022 governors, taken from the Trail of Governors website:
Andrew E. Lee
Andrew E. Lee was born in Bergen, Norway in 1847 and came to America with his family when he was four, settling on a farm in Dane County, Wisconsin. Lee came to Dakota Territory in 1867 and formed a mercantile partnership with Charles Prentis in Vermillion in 1869. The business operated for over forty years and made Lee one of South Dakota’s wealthiest citizens. In 1872, Lee married Annie Chappell and they had one daughter, Jessamine.
Lee served on the Vermillion city council and as mayor of Vermillion. In 1896, Lee was nominated for governor by a “fusion” ticket supported by Populists, Democrats, and a faction of pro-silver Republicans led by U.S. Senator Richard F. Pettigrew. Lee was elected governor by 319 votes, the closest margin for governor in state history, and was reelected on the Fusion ticket in 1898 by 370 votes, the second-closest margin.
Governor Lee struggled to enact much of his populist agenda, as the Populists and Democrats struggled to translate a successful election alliance into an effective governing coalition. Despite that, Lee had some successes. He strongly backed the creation of the initiative and referendum process, which voters adopted, making South Dakota the first state to do so. He created an agency to regulate and examine insurance companies, and made the State Railroad Commission, the precursor to today’s Public Utilities Commission, elected rather than appointed offices. Lee also authorized construction of Northern Normal School in Aberdeen, the School for the Blind in Gary, and a state hospital in Redfield.
During the Spanish-American War in 1898, Governor Lee contributed from his personal fortune to outfit the South Dakota National Guard unit that was mobilized and deployed to the Philippines, but he became a critic of the war when the troops remained overseas once the conflict ended.
After two terms as governor, Lee ran unsuccessfully for U.S. House in 1900. He was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1908, losing to Robert S. Vessey, and also received the votes of Democratic legislators for U.S. Senate in 1907 and 1909.
Lee retired to Vermillion and, following the death of his wife Annie, he married Myrtle Shepard in 1920. He died in Vermillion in 1934, one day after turning 87, and was buried in Vermillion. Lee’s nephew, Carl Gunderson, followed him to the governor’s chair, and the Lee Medical Building, home of the USD Sanford School of Medicine in Vermillion, is named in his honor.
Frank M. Byrne
Frank M. Byrne was the son of Irish immigrants and was born in a log cabin on his family’s farm in Allamakee County, Iowa. His only formal education was at a nearby rural school, where his teacher was Coe I. Crawford, another future South Dakota governor.
Byrne was attracted by the “Dakota Boom” to Sioux Falls in 1879, where he worked for homesteaders and then filed a claim in McCook County. In 1883, he moved to Faulk County, where he entered the insurance business and established a large farm. He later sold his farm and founded a successful land company. In 1888, Byrne married Emilie Beaver in Watertown, and the couple had five children who survived infancy: Carroll, Francis, Malcom, Joseph, and Emmons.
Byrne was elected to the first State Senate in 1889. He served as Faulk County treasurer, and then returned to the State Senate in 1907, where he served as appropriations chairman and president pro tempore. As a progressive, Crawford joined with Senator Robert S. Vessey to sponsor Governor Crawford’s progressive agenda. In 1910, Byrne was elected lieutenant governor, and in 1912 he won a close contest to become South Dakota’s 8th governor.
Governor Byrne advocated for a state bank deposit guaranty law and for the creation of state agencies to regulate railroads, banking, and insurance. He created the State Highway Commission and oversaw the first planning and construction of the state highway system. Governor Byrne reformed the prison system and abolished capital punishment. He also authorized Custer State Forest to establish the state buffalo herd, with a purchase of 36 American bison from Scotty Philip in 1914.
Byrne was reelected governor in 1916. In 1918, he mounted an unsuccessful primary challenge to incumbent U.S. Senator Thomas J. Sterling. From 1921 to 1925, he served as the first commissioner of the newly-created state Department of Agriculture in the administration of Governor William H. McMaster. Following his retirement, Byrne moved to California for health reasons, where he died in San Francisco on Christmas Eve, 1927.
William J. Bulow
William J. Bulow was born on his family’s farm near Moscow, Ohio in 1869. He attended local schools, but dropped out as a teenager, believing he had all the education he needed. When Bulow attempted several years later to enroll at the University of Michigan to study law, he tricked the dean into admitting him by having his history teacher take the required examinations in his stead. The ruse worked, as he earned his law degree in 1893.
That same year, Bulow came to South Dakota. He initially practiced law in Sioux Falls with Joe Kirby, one of the state’s leading attorneys, before opening his own practice in Beresford in 1894. In 1898, Bulow married Katherine Reedy, and they had three children: Maurene, William Jr., and Kathleen.
Bulow served one term in the state senate, and one term as mayor of Beresford. He was also the Beresford city attorney and served on the school board and as a county judge. In 1918, Bulow’s wife, Katherine, passed away. Three years later, he married Mrs. Sarah Farrand, a Beresford widow who operated a millinery and clothing business.
In 1924, Bulow’s good friend and neighbor, Andrew S. Anderson, was the Democratic nominee for governor. Six weeks before the election, Anderson was trampled to death by a roan bull that went berserk. Bulow was persuaded to take Anderson’s place as the nominee, and he lost the election to Republican Carl Gunderson. Two years later, Bulow challenged Gunderson again, winning in a rematch that made him South Dakota’s first Democratic governor.
As a conservative Democrat, Governor Bulow enjoyed the support of many progressive Republicans, retained many Republican appointees, and attempted to run a non-partisan administration. He insisted on a balanced budget, vetoing a budget that overspent and calling a special legislative to pass a revised budget bill. Governor Bulow created a commission to create a World War I memorial, leading to the construction of the Soldiers and Sailors World War Memorial building. He also pardoned “Poker Alice” Ivers, the colorful Deadwood madam, after she was convicted of bootlegging and operating a brothel at the age of 77.
In the summer of 1927, Governor Bulow welcomed President Calvin and Grace Coolidge to the Black Hills, after Senator Norbeck successfully led an effort to make the State Game Lodge Coolidge’s “Summer White House.” State officials’ efforts, including improvements to the State Game Lodge and stocking thousands of trout in a nearby creek, led Coolidge to extend his stay from three weeks to three months. Custer State Park’s Sheep Mountain and Squaw Creek were renamed “Mount Coolidge” and “Grace Coolidge Creek” in honor of the visit.
In 1930, Bulow successfully challenged incumbent U.S. Senator William H. McMaster. A self-described Jacksonian Democrat, he believed in a small federal government and resisted President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal-era measures, including his Supreme Court packing plan. As an isolationist, Bulow also opposed U.S. involvement in World War II and Roosevelt’s aid to the allies, until the Pearl Harbor attack.
In 1942, Bulow was defeated in the Democratic primary by former Governor Tom Berry, a fellow Democrat who strongly supported President Roosevelt. Bulow remained in Washington DC, where he joined a law firm. He died in Washington in 1960. In 2021, South Dakota History published excerpts from Bulow’s heretofore unpublished autobiography.