Nearly 100 people visited Bluff View Cemetery Monday night to witness six of its occupants come back to life.
Those living guests learned some key information about those six past and now deceased residents of Vermillion interred in the cemetery through the help of actors and information printed in pamphlets handed out at the start of the Clay County Historical Societys Spoken History Cemetery Tour.
The theme of Monday evenings event was A County of Culture and the individuals who briefly came to life during the tour all played a key role in the development of the communitys and regions music, art, literature and research.
The tour included visits to the graves of George William G.W. Collins, portrayed by Steve Gapp and Oscar Howe, who was represented by Paul Sneve.
Cemetery tour participants also stopped by the headstones of William Henry W.H. Over, who was represented in living form by Larry Bradley and Mabel Kingsley Richardson, portrayed by Sara Lampert.
Stops were also made at the graves of Herbert Schnell, portrayed by Art Rusch and Gertrude Belle (Walker) Shaw, who was characterized by Kelsey Collier-Wise.
I want to thank Joni Freidel for being the chair of this operation, Wess Pravacek, director of the Austin Whittemore House and a member of the Clay County Historical Society, told the tour participants before they were guided through the cemetery. We are all a lot smarter than we were a couple weeks ago, learning more about all of these wonderful people that have gotten us to where we are now.
Thats what this is all about, she said. We hope that after you leave here tonight and ... when you hear the name W.H. Over, youre going to know a little bit more about his history as a man. These are the things that we want you to take back (home) with you when you leave today.
Gertrude Belle (Walker) Shaw
(Oct. 12, 1904 Dec. 23, 1966)
I was born to Thomas Walker, who was a prominent businessman in Sioux City, Iowa, but had to flee to Clay County because of his pro-prohibition stance that got him on the wrong side of a number of mobsters, said Gertrude Belle (Walker) Shaw, portrayed by Kelsey Collier-Wise. He relocated to Vermillion where he had his family myself and my seven siblings, five sisters and two brothers.
Shaw was very musically talented and graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1928.
In 1929, I married Edwin Shaw who was a biochemist at the university, Shaw said. We had three children Mary Jane, Gertrude and William. Gertrude was a musician; she ended up playing the cello at the Eastman School of Music in New York and I was very proud of her as I was also a musician and played violin in the University Orchestra for 46 years.
Information provided in the historical societys pamphlets noted that Gertrude and Edwin had a stormy marriage with reported nocturnal pursuits in their night clothes. The couple divorced in December 1965.
We divorced and I was not interested in reconciling with him which is why I am here (in the cemetery, buried) with the Walkers, Shaw said. He is somewhere else. We had loud arguments in the streets and it was not a great union, unfortunately.
She described her life as amazing.
I was very involved with the Civic Council, the American Association of University Women and the Daughters of the American Revolution, Shaw said. I was a long-time member of St. Pauls Episcopal Church which is also the home to a small library of my religious books which still bears my name.
I relocated to Bluff View Cemetery in 1966 and have been happily here ever since, she said.
George Willard G.W. Collins
Aug. 20, 1869 - Oct. 22, 1939
George Willard G.W. Collins was a dentist by trade, but played a big role in bringing music to the Vermillion community in its early years.
Being a dentist, there were a lot of people in the community who would pay me for my services who couldnt afford by giving me an instrument or giving me some clothing or giving me some food, Collins, portrayed by Steve Gapp, said. Id take these instruments, Id clean them up, Id make them usable and Id donate them to the poor people in the community who couldnt afford them and wanted to learn.
I strived for a life of service and that life of service was instilled in me at a very young age, he said.
Collins parents lived in Michigan and in 1863, relatives of his father learned that Native Americans in the area of what is now northwest Iowa and southeast South Dakota were fleeing from that area, prompting his family to move to Elk Point, Dakota Territory.
They sent letters back to the family and friends saying this is a land of opportunity. My family along with a lot of other family and friends picked up and moved to Elk Point. So many moved there that they actually started a community. That community was known as New Michigan, he said.
His father, E.C. Collins began to farm near Elk Point, but wasnt really known for farming. He was known as Rev. Collins even though he was never schooled in religion and he was never ordained.
He was a prolific reader and he believed that his life should follow the teaching of the Bible, Collins said. He would perform weddings, funerals and Sunday worship services.
E.C. Collins passed away when G.W. Collins was an infant. G.W. Collins began school in Elk Point and eventually graduated from Vermillion High School. When he was 11 years old, he received his first German coronet and at the age of 15, he was part-owner and publisher of the Elk Point Courier newspaper.
Not long after receiving his coronet, a bitterly cold winter with massive snowfalls struck the region, he said. During those winter months, he taught himself how to play the coronet. During the spring of 1881, the weather was still cold and his family and community members noticed that water was flowing down over the ice of the Missouri River.
Soon people from Vermillion and Burbank and other communities began to come to Elk Point, saying that a huge ice jam had destroyed their communities.
Collins three older brothers were old enough to join other men in rebuilding the communities that had been destroyed.
Although I was too young to be a laborer, Id take my coronet and I began hanging out in the Methodist Church, he said. A lot of people, after a hard days work, would come to the Methodist Church and Id blow my horn and laborers would reach into their pockets and give me a penny.
I had so many pennies by the time I was 15 years old I was able to buy-in to the Elk Point Courier, Collins said, and I became a publisher.
He kept reading about the formation of the University of South Dakota. Classes began there in 1883. He eventually enrolled there and decided to organize the first university band there, which happened to also be the first university band in all of Dakota Territory.
After graduating from USD, Collins enrolled in the College of Dentistry at the University of Michigan. He paid his way through dental school by performing as a cornet soloist. He graduated in 1894 with his doctoral degree in dental surgery and married Marguerite Loss on June 14, 1894, in Flatrock Michigan prior to returning to Vermillion.
Collins became involved in the Methodist Church when he returned to Vermillion. He organized Vermillions first orchestra and also became highly involved with Chautauquas that were being held in the region during that time period.
His musical activity lessened significantly after the birth of his son G.R. in 1894. He grew up to be a dentist and joined his fathers practice, and, like his dad, was also a musician, playing the clarinet.
A daughter, Stella, joined the Collins family in 1896. She died when she was 2, and the family eventually grew with the birth of a son, Edward Lowell.
After the birth of our children, I became more involved with community things. I became a Mason and a member of the Scottish Rite, he said.
Collins was an El Riad Shriner and Grand Commander of the Knights Templar for South Dakota from 1920-21. He also held leadership positions with the South Dakota Dental Association for many years.
I was very active throughout my life, always because I was thinking of service -- service to God, service to my family, service to my community, he said.
On the day of his funeral following his death on Oct. 22, 1939, every business in Vermillion shut their doors for an hour. Hundreds of people throughout South Dakota came to Vermillion to attend his funeral.
Mabel Kingsley Richardson
Sept. 21, 1874 - Feb. 1, 1962
Participants in the cemetery tour found Mabel Kingsley Richardson standing near her grave. She was brought to life by Sara Lampert. They learned from her that during her adult years, she wrote what likely will be a permanent part of the USD and Vermillion community -- the words of the USD Alma Mater, The Pioneer Song.
She was born in Lodi, Spink County, Dakota Territory to George Richardson, who was from Canada and Anna Kingsbury from Illinois. She was the second oldest of five children -- Nellie May, Ethel, Arthur and (Bertha) Bird.
In 1900, my father and uncle moved to Vermillion and built a house on the corner of Cedar and Yale. It still stands today, Richardson said. I lived in that house my entire life. Im proud to be country-born and born in South Dakota. If I had to do it all over again, Id be born in the same house on the same hill by the same river, though I would have liked more books.
She said she never married, for her work was her life. She graduated from USD in 1902 and was a charter member of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority as chaplain and historian. In 1907, she graduated from the University of Illinois Library School and started a position as the USD librarian.
When I started, we had 15,000 books and when I left 34 years late we had a 106,000 volume collection, Richardson said. They named the collection after me.
Her sister Bird also never married and Richardson and her sister lived together in that house at Yale and Cedar. Bird was assistant librarian at the USD library, and the two sisters would walk to work together every day and spend their lives surrounded by books.
She was a wonderful gardener and a self-taught artist, too, Richardson said. In fact, one of her combs is in the W.H. Over Museum. She died six years before me, and she left me these instructions: I leave you everything I have and dont forget to water the flowers.
In a freak accident, Richardson lost one of her eyes.
In those days if you prick yourself (in the eye) with a coat corsage pin and it got infected, you lost an eye, but one eye which, God willing, was good because you only need one eye to read and I loved to read, she said. I surrounded myself with books and literature; I wrote poetry and the lyrics to songs. In 1922, my poem Pioneer Song became nationally recognized. Today, its the alma mater of the University of South Dakota and its played after every basketball game.
In 1936, Richardson collected her poems into a volume entitled Killdeer.
Its filled with poems about my childhood on the prairie and poems about the Great War -- World War I, we call it now, she said. Those were hard times.
Richardson retired from the USD Library in 1941 after 34 years. She outlived her siblings and Herbert Schell was one of her pallbearers.
Oscar Howe Mazuha Hoksina
May 13, 1915 - Oct. 7, 1983
Early in my life, I discovered how much I enjoyed drawing, said famed artist Oscar Howe, portrayed by Paul Sneve, as he stood near his grave. I would draw constantly -- just random lines, circles and lines, straight and jagged, and then I would find images that would appear out of these random lines.
Later, I would develop a way to draw these images out, he said. I would approach art that way my entire life.
Howe was born on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota to George Tikute and Ella (Not Afraid of Bear) Howe.
Early on in my life, I was sent to the Pierre Indian School where I was raised and I find it interesting that as a child, the goal of boarding schools was to kill the Indian but to save the child, Howe said. They didnt want us to act Indian. They wanted us to learn how to be white. In spite of that, I still listened to the stories of my parents and my grandparents. I learned our histories and how important our people were.
Howe graduated in 1938 as salutatorian of his class from the Sante Fe Indian School in New Mexico, where he was encouraged to pursue art.
I got a bachelors degree at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell and after that I went to teach school in Pierre of all places, he said. I served in World War II in Germany where I met my future bride, Heidi, and during all of this time I was making artwork and displaying artwork all over the country.
Howe found employment with the WPA for a brief time and completed murals in Mobridge and Mitchell, where he even designed some of the artwork for the Corn Palace.
Eventually I went to Oklahoma where I studied and received my master of fine arts at the University of Oklahoma at Tulsa, he said. Also at Tulsa is the Philbrook Museum and they specialized in Indian art that they would display. I would display there many, many times. I would win competitions, I would have one-man shows and its ironic that it was the one place that would cause me the most grief.
In 1958, art that he entered in a competition there was removed because the museum thought it wasnt Indian enough.
My whole life, I had been taught that I was too Indian and now Im not Indian enough, Howe said. It really made me angry. I wrote them a letter and I told them that the only qualifying factor to declare something Indian art is that it should be made by an Indian person.
He did win the Grand Purchase Prize at the Philbrook Museum and used the $350 he received to bring Heidi to the United States from Germany. They were married June 29, 1947 in Chicago.
Their only child, Inge Dawn, was born in Talihina, Oklahoma in 1948 when Howe was illustrating Indian costumes.
Heidi started serving as his manager. His art appeared in 60 solo exhibits and received 15 grand or first place prizes and other awards for paintings of strong colors, pulsating space, dynamic movement and abstraction.
After I received my master of fine arts, I was offered a teaching position at the University of South Dakota, he said, and I taught there for 25 years. In 1980 I retired and then, in 1983, I passed away.
He said he enjoyed his time on campus because every now and then, I would get a Native student and I could help this student make art the way they wanted to. I could help them do it the best way they could and the way they felt that they should as a Native person. This is all that made me happy.
Howe said he loved St. Pauls Episcopal Church in Vermillion.
I designed a mural for above the altar. It was a profile view of Jesus as a Native American on the cross only hes not attached to the cross; his hands are not quite touching, he said. There are two eagle wings behind him that symbolize the presence of God because the eagle is the only animal that has seen the face of God and lived to tell about it.
Howe said that, sadly, the vestry and the priest at that time thought the mural was too Indian. It made me very sad that they rejected my art and Im sad that when I died, it was not there, but if you go there now, its there. Its been put there, and that priest -- hes not there.
The mural is named Indian Christ.
The artists tombstone includes one of his quotes: In art I have realized a part of the dream that presents a true image of the Dakota Indian as I understood him and his culture.
Howe said he is just an Indian.
Im the boy that was born on the Crow Creek Reservation. My Indian name is Mazuha Hoksina, Trader Boy. Thats who I am, he said. All I wanted to do was to make art the way I wanted to, to portray the Lakota Indian the way I saw the Lakota Indian and not how other Indians saw him.
Howe said his art is at least as important as the works of Matisse or Picasso.
Not because it was so great, but because what it enabled other people to do, he said. Because of my small contribution, Native art students are able to learn to make art the way they see it should be made. They should not be constricted or held back or told what their artwork should look like. Thats why its important.