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Unit 6


Homesteading & Town Building


Lesson 4
Good Roads and High Prices


     The year was 1905. A bold man drove his new Cadillac from Fort Pierre to the Black Hills. His name was Peter Norbeck (learn more about him in Unit 7). He was one of the first people in South Dakota to believe in the automobile. Not everyone was impressed. "The automobile is a plaything for idle minds and hands," wrote one newspaper editor. It was a "contrivance for killing people," he said.

     Going across country like Norbeck did was an adventure. Cars often broke down or got stuck in ruts or mud. They scared the horses and livestock. They churned up dust and splattered mud. People even wore special clothes for automobile trips—a long coat, hat, and goggles. But cars were a new kind of transportation. They were different from trains. People could travel by themselves. They could go where they wanted. They were also faster and more comfortable than horses. Soon many people were using them. Others were building them. The Fawick Flyer was built right here in South Dakota—in Sioux Falls. It was the first car with four doors.

Horse pulling car out of mud
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

South Dakota License Plates
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     Roads were a problem, though. Most were rutted wagon trails. They were unmarked, and no one took care of them. There were no highways and no paved roads. Soon people wanted better places to drive. Joseph W. Parmley of Ipswich started working for better roads. He and others joined what was called the Good Roads movement. They talked to farmers and lawmakers about the importance of roads. They said that good roads would be good for business. In 1913, South Dakota issued its first license plates. By then, fourteen thousand automobiles were bumping their way across the state on unpaved trails. A few years later, the state began to build its first highways.


     Meanwhile, the countries of Europe had begun the First World War. It is called this now because by the end of it almost the whole world was fighting. The United States stayed out of it until 1917, but then it, too, joined the fighting. Thirty-two thousand South Dakotans fought in this war. They were from all over the state and from all backgrounds. Dakotas, Lakotas, and Nakotas, and European immigrants joined the armed forces.

Train Station
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society


U.S. Army Recruiting Poster
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     Most of them went to Europe. Weapons had changed since the army fought the American Indians. Bombs were now dropped from airplanes. Tanks and submarines killed from a long way away. Poison gases were used as weapons. People called it "The Great War" or "The War to End All Wars." It made Europe into a wasteland. But the warring countries still had to feed their soldiers and their people. They bought food from the United States.


     Food was now in high demand. Farmers and ranchers got good prices for what they grew. South Dakota farmers saw that they could make more money if they grew more food. They borrowed money from banks to buy more land. Then the war ended. Other countries quit buying so much food from the United States. Prices for crops went down, and farmers and ranchers made less money. They still had to pay taxes on the extra land they had bought. Times became hard. Many farmers and ranchers could not repay the banks. Many quit farming.


Sow the Seed Poster
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

     Yet the war also brought positive changes. All American Indian men who had served during the war became full citizens of the United States. Women earned the right to vote in 1920 (learn more about this in Units 7 and 8). Shortly thereafter, all Nakota, Lakota, and Dakota people also gained full citizenship. The 1920s began with hope and a new sense of freedom.

contrivance (n.), an invention

demand (n.), the state of being wanted for use

issued (v.), put forth; sent out

positive (adj.), hopeful or to the good