As time goes by, I am becoming more aware of the fact I am getting older. It’s not just that person who looks back at me in the mirror or the fact my high school class is planning its fortieth class reunion for later this year.
The real moment of truth dawned on me recently, with the dedication of a new museum, of which its past activity was a big part of my childhood, now existing only in my memories.
Jim Woster, a former commission man, rallied the troops so that on March 1, 2017, a museum dedicated to the legacy of the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Stock Yards held its ribbon cutting.
How perfectly timed this was when you remember that March 1st was the traditional moving day for renters of farmland. At one time over fifty percent of our farmers were tenants. Maybe that number is similar today, but in history past, you lived close to your rented ground. Each section of land was home to several producing farms here in Iowa.
The museum has a rustic country look and feel inside and out. It reminds a person of being in an old barn. Perhaps it should since the building was constructed of native rock in the 1800’s, and it’s long believed it was a horse barn for a creamery in Sioux Falls. It hasn’t been used much through the years, just waiting for some purpose.
Its location is ideal, across from the original stockyards site and located in Falls Park. It is the falls on the Big Sioux River which gave Sioux Falls its name. The park has visitors daily, and on mild days local people and tourists turn out to see the fall’s beauty, enjoying God’s awe-inspiring creation.
Folks who don’t get to witness daily farm life now have the opportunity to see the important role agriculture still plays in our everyday lives. Not only does the museum highlight the historic stockyards, but it also devotes half its space to entertaining and interactive fact-filled displays, educating the museum’s guests that the food on their tables still has its beginnings on a farm.
The sound of livestock is heard throughout the museum. It is through pictures and oral recorded history from the many different people who were involved with the stockyards that the story is told.
A Bit of History
The stockyards first opened in 1917. Several attempts had been made in Sioux Falls before that to have a stockyard, but each one failed. Finally, some Colorado businessmen made it happen.
They knew farmers in the area were shipping their livestock by rail to stockyards in Chicago (1865), Omaha (1883) and Sioux City (1884). Sioux City was the closest, approximately eighty miles south.
Further away, the Fort Worth Stock Yards were incorporated in 1893. Oklahoma City had just opened Oklahoma National Stockyards Company in 1910. Many locations across the United States were showing up on the stock ticker.
Sioux Falls already had John Morrell, which provided a market for hogs, so they decided to build on what was already there.
A successful stockyard not only brought money to those who worked in the yards but supporting business also thrived. When farmers had a closer market, and more options for selling (competition) they expanded their livestock numbers.
The cow/calf man of the far western plains knew he had a market for his calves because farmers in eastern South Dakota, northwestern Iowa and southwestern Minnesota grew the corn necessary for fattening those calves up into nutritious beef.
At first, both rail and trucks were used to transport the calves. Later, it became the truck solely, and its operator was continuing to provide income to families.
It also took feed companies, fencing, concrete for building bunks, silos and the blue Harvestore. It took equipment to grow the crops needed to feed the livestock. Banks were necessary for financing farming operations; sometimes this proved a bonanza and other times disaster.
Radio stations, such as WNAX in Yankton, SD gave the markets many times during the day. I wonder how many good farm wives like my mom had the radio tuned to that station so they could catch the markets so they could answer their farmer’s questions, such as, “What’s the market doing today?”
When televisions became available the markets were a significant portion of daily newscasts. One station devoted an entire twelve minutes to the day’s markets!
Sometimes, farm families would take the day off to come to the yards to watch their livestock sell. Think of how much money they spent in the local stores when their cattle brought in prices beyond their expectations. But even if they fell short, there were still necessities needing to be bought while they were in the big city.
Dining out, a rarity for most farm families was also one of the perks of selling cattle in the stockyards.
Yes, the investors in the stockyards were right: Build it, and the town will flourish.
The organized confusion at the yards provided plenty of entertainment for us farm kids, who had seldom left the farm. It was a big day when we got to tag along and listen as the men urged the cattle from pen to pen. It always amazed me how they kept things organized, knowing which cattle belonged to whom. They had to because my dad knew just which pen of cattle he had trucked in.
Walking on the catwalk above the cattle gave a birds-eye view of the activity below. That was pretty important to the commission firms who had their little buildings right where the action was.
Dad had two or three that were his favorites. The men always had a welcome smile for him and called him by name. “Kenny, let’s have a look at those cattle.”
I wish farmers still heard those words today, and I wish I had had a camera to record those historic days in pictures. The stockyards closed its doors for business in 2009, ending an era in our history.
Visit stockyardsagexperience.org or call (605)-332-1917 for more information.