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The following is transcribed from the Milbank, SD newspaper, November 1937


In an essay contest recently sponsored by the South Dakota Library association, Mrs. L.F. Keller of this city had the honor of being awarded second prize. Her essay dealt with her grandfather, the late Lee Amsden, who was widely known. Feeling it will be of interest to many readers, we print it below:


My story of my pioneer grandfather, Lee Amsden, is a 13 year old's remembrances of a 70 year old man's reminiscences.

Grandfather Lee Amsden, the eldest son of a blacksmith, was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, in the 1850's. An older sister and a younger brother completed the family.

The blacksmith died when the youngest son was still a baby and the mother went to work to support the children. This left the children to look out for themselves and the eldest spent a great deal of time in the back room of a saloon across the alley from the mother's place of employment. He learned to speak German before he learned to speak English.

Sometime during the moves the family made, they arrived in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. Grandfather pictured reservation Indians filing into town for government supplies, the youngest clad in breech-cloths.

When grandfather was still a child, his mother married a Mr. Kibbe. When Lee was about 11, he had an attack of inflammatory rheumatism that kept him in bed for nearly a year and left him so he could never again walked without a cane or a crutch. I remember his saying that all during the time he was ill, his step-father never entered the room.

Grandfather attended the college in Northfield, Minnesota. While going to school he worked for an old country doctor and ate at Pancake Hall, so called because pancakes were the mainstay on the menu.

The old doctor wanted Lee to stay on with him as a sort of an apprentice, but Lee decided that he did not want to be a doctor.

Two years before the present Grant county was officially "settled", Grandfather and his brother, C.S. Amsden, started for Madison township with one wagon. Here they build a sod shack and homesteaded on quarter-sections side by side. Of that period I remember grandfather telling of polishing their "case" table knives by pushing them up and down in the prairie sod.

After the homestead was settled, grandfather returned to the "home" community to marry Kate Morton. According to the story, Kate was named by a neighboring bachelor, since she was one of the younger of a large family and the parents had run out of ideas for names.

As the obituaries say "to the union six children were born, two of whom died in infancy." Providing for the remaining four kept grandfather busy but he managed to study a little medicine on the side. Not what the old doctor wanted, but veterinary.

In 1902 the family moved to Milbank because of the additional educational facilities and Lee and his brother C.S. bought cattle and shipped to the cities. However, Lee kept up his study and practice of veterinary. He also started auctioneering and soon devoted all of his time to these two professions.

It was one of his policies that when he was called on a veterinary case, he went regardless of the weather or the roads. In spite of the fact that he was so badly crippled and could not move without a cane, it was not until he was nearly 60 that he had a helper.

His auctioneering filled a great deal of time. I remember being at a sale later when grandfather was working with another man. The other auctioneer was trying to sell a baby's bed. Grandfather stopped him and said, "now, if you have more than one baby, you could lay them crosswise." That was before the Dionnes.

About 1920 he started going blind. However, he continued to drive his open car down town every day, driving almost by instinct. Later, when he was totally blind, he continued to shave himself and wrote his personal letters with the aid of a board he designed. I can still see him, patiently keeping track of this last word and spacing the remainder of the sentence.

Though he was blind and crippled grandfather was never "licked" and he made great use of his talents.

I remember him saying that he could always tell whether it was my father or my brother who was turning the cream separator because each one had a different rhythm.

About two weeks before he died, his toddling granddaughter entered his bedroom. She had not made a sound, but he said, "Good morning, Alice."

Grandfather had a deep sense of humor. I remember him telling of a doctor making an examination of his teeth. The doctor was telling him which ones should come out. Grandfather replied, "I'll take them all out if you want me to." He had a very realistic top plate.

In spite of his handicaps, grandfather asked no favors because of his condition. After several months of suffering he passed away in the spring of 1927. Grandmother Kate had died 10 years before. They lie side by side in the Milbank cemetery in the land where they had pioneered.

Mrs. L.F. Keller,
Milbank, South Dakota
Jolly Madison Club

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