History of Meade County

Gen. George C. Meade

Gen. George C. Meade

Meade County was named after a union civil war general at Gettysburg. Fort Meade, which lies adjacent to the City of Sturgis corporate boundaries, was home to the Fourth and Seventh Cavalries.

"Voters in eastern Lawrence County voted 690 to 29 in favor of segregating from Lawrence County to become Meade County.  The vote in Sturgis was 359 to 3," according to the Sturgis Weekly Record of Sept. 1887. The landmass organized in 1877 as Lawrence County thus was divided in 1889.  The eastern and largest part of the separation was named Meade in honor of the nearby cavalry post which had been established in 1877.  Fort Meade was named by army authorities for Gen. George C. Meade, a union commander at the civil war battle of Gettysburg.

Today, Meade County covers more than two million acres, but when it was created in 1889 it included only the southern area of the county.  Ten years later, two counties on the north, Scobey and Delano, were incorporated into Meade.  

This is the first official entry written in longhand in "Book A" on March 25, 1889.  In compliance with Section 3 of an act entitled, "To create and establish the County of Meade, and for other purposes passed by the Eighteenth Legislative Assembly, the Territory of Dakota, the commission appointed in Section 2 of said act, namely Max Hoehn, Daniel P. Flood and W.C. Burton, met at the city of Sturgis, Meade County at 2  o'clock p.m."

The temporary commissioners were directed by the territorial government to meet before the first Monday of April to issue a notice of election.  Thus, that was the first official act of Meade Commissioners.  May 7, 1889, was to be time to elect 12 county officers and select the location of the county seat.

Residents were to elect three commissioners, a sheriff, treasurer, register of deeds, county attorney, judge of probate, assessor, superintendent of schools, coroner, and surveyor.

Newspaper reports indicate selecting the county seat was drawing far more interest than choosing the county's first elected officials.

John Hall apparently was held in high esteem, even though he was not successful in getting Milford named the county seat.  He was elected state representative from Meade County in 1902, 1906, and 1908.

The amount of bonds to be posted and wages were problems for the new county officers.  Bonds were set at $500 for the register of deeds; $1,000 each for the judge of probate and the coroner; the sheriff's bond, $800; the assessor's, $2,500; and the treasurer's bond was by far the highest at $30,000.

The treasurer and register of deeds salaries were set at $2,000 per year; the county attorney, $600; superintendent of schools would earn $200 a year.

The commissioners elected were Sam Martin, Bland Herring, and Elliot Nichols.  Meade County was now organized, officers elected, but there was no courthouse.

Upper Main Street, Sturgis

Upper Main Street, Sturgis

Early day pioneers had a much harder existence.Max Hoehn, who had been appointed a temporary commissioner to organize the county, did not want the position then.  Instead he ran for the clerk of courts office.  During the following decade he would serve as the county's auditor and commissioner.

D.P. Flood, another appointed temporary commissioner, sought the treasurer's position on Nov. 4, 1890, and served one term.

Sturgis officials cooperated fully in organizing county affairs.  The first commission meeting was held at city hall.  The county leased the upper floor of the city hall for $1 per year.  Later it rented another room in a building at Main and Second Streets.

Meade County's birth certainly was not without pain.  The commission had many problems.  There were liquor licenses to investigate, equipment to be purchased.  There was a rash of petitions from all over the county "praying" that this or that bridge or road be built or repaired.  There were an almost equal number of petitions "praying" that certain roads be moved or closed.

As the county became fenced, roads which had indiscriminately followed the topographic lines of least resistance became nuisances and land owners petitioned that roads be moved to boundary lines.

Tax levies and petitions to lower taxes were unbelievably numerous.  In 1889, commissioners were still receiving requests for property tax reductions levied ten years earlier.

In the minutes of the Lawrence-Meade county joint session of July 1889, Meade County debt was listed at $156,851.12, and the 1889 assessed property valuation as $3,391,950.

Expenses were carefully listed.  A cord of wood for heating sold for between $2.87 and $3.  The wolf bounty was $3 per scalp.

Financial times also must have changed.  On April 12, 1892, a resolution was passed discontinuing the wolf bounty.  The reason:  "Owing to the financial condition of the county, and it appearing to the board there was no money in the General Fund to pay the same, and that Legislature not providing any means by which a tax could be levied to pay the bounty on wolf scalps."

Today's commission still deals with liquor, road, and tax issues like its predecessors did 113 years ago, but wolves are gone.  Instead, agendas cover international pipe lines, unfunded state and federal mandates, energy, and planning and zoning issues.

Information for this article was gathered in part from the Sturgis Tribune, Aug. 3, 1966, Courthouse Open House Edition, and the Sturgis Tribune/Black Hills Press Centennial Edition, Oct. 25, 1978.


Quick Tidbits

Meade County is located in the ranching area of western South Dakota. It is mammoth in land mass encompassing more than two million areas making it the largest county in South Dakota. In fact, it surpasses the states of Delaware and Rhode Island in land size.

In addition to the agriculture industry, Meade County can boast of having Ellsworth Air Force Base in its southern boundary which is home to the world's most strategic bomber, the B-1.

Just adjacent to its county seat of Sturgis, is the Fort Meade VA Medical Center. This federal facility annually addresses the medical concerns of tens of thousands of veterans. This VA facility transitioned from one of our country's earliest frontier calvary posts which was home to both the Fourth and Seventh cavalries. It was at this military installation that the Star Spangled Banner was first required to be played; later it housed World War II German prisoners of war; and today it is also a national training facility for U.S. Army officers.

Although Meade County is 140 miles from its northeast corner to the southwest corner, it is sparsely populated. It has five organized municipalities. Sturgis and Box Elder are both classified as first class cities, based on population. The other three communities are Faith, Piedmont, and Summerset. In addition, there are numerous other small towns and post offices located in the eastern and northern portions of its border.

Each August nearly a half million tourists descend into the area to attend the world's largest motorcycle rally in the world, Sturgis.


Meade County Demographics

Land area: 3,471 square miles

Water area: 11.8 square miles

Population density: 7 people per square mile

December 2009 cost of living index in Meade County: 82.1 (low, U.S. average is 100)

Industries providing employment:

Educational, health, and social services: 20.3%

Retail trade: 14.2%

Type of Workers

Races in Meade County, South Dakota

Median Age

Median resident age: 33.4 years

South Dakota median age: 35.6 years

Males: 12,258 (50.5%)


Frontier Life in Meade County

Meade County Government News

  • February 2012 (PDF)