- The Dakota Sunset Museum showcases area history and houses 125 yrs. of obituaries. Museum Website: Dakota Sunset Museum Website
- The Potter County Library in downtown Gettysburg is the home of Potter County genealogy books as well as the Heritage Quest and Ancestry.com databases. Potter County Library Website
GETTYSBURG - Past and Present
Veterans of the Civil War founded Gettysburg in 1883. The group sought to name the new town Meade in honor of General Meade, renowned for his leadership in the Battle of Gettysburg. When the Post Office rejected that name because it was already too popular, Captain John W. Kennedy, a member of Gen. Howard’s 11th Corps during the Battle of Gettysburg, submitted the name Gettysburg instead. That was accepted. One hundred eight years later, Gettysburg, SD, and Gettysburg, PA, became “sister-cities” because of their shared heritage.
The founding veterans laid claim to the area through the government program of scripping. History relates that in the very beginning the town was made up of two tents, one called a wedge tent just large enough to shelter one person, the other a wall tent, being 8x10 and considered a great luxury, and a covered wagon known as the Prairie Schooner. What water they had was hauled from the now dry creek bed of Artichoke.
But all did not go well. Personal differences interrupted the deal the founding men had made. After some months, Captain Bryson stepped in and offered free lots to anyone who would move his buildings from the old town site into Bryson’s addition. By the spring of 1884, the problems had been licked and the entire business block had been moved.
The first church service was held in a tent the second week after the men arrived. The first church building in Gettysburg was located above a tin shop on Main Street. The first school was organized in 1885 above that same tin shop. For a long time the Buffalo House, a frontier hotel and boarding house, was the recreational center for the little settlement. The first saloon is said to have sported a sign that read, “Who enters here leaves hope behind.”
The Post Office was established in 1883, as was the first newspaper. The first bank was established in 1884. Telephone service arrived in 1906 and the first volunteer fire department was organized in 1909.
Although the first physician, Dr. M.H. Willy, came in 1883 and drug store services in 1885, hospital services had to wait until 1952.
Legal services were here before Gettysburg existed. Samuel Cosand, a lawyer from Indiana, came to this area of Dakota Territory in 1881 and stayed the rest of his life.
The town has survived prairie fires, a Typhoid epidemic, blizzards, an Indian scare, and a devastating tornado.
There are 11 cemeteries in the area, some dating back to the 1800s. Most of the Civil War veterans are buried in the Gettysburg Cemetery and are marked by the traditional white military stones.
From 1955-1968, Eagle Peak, a high point near Gettysburg, was home to the 903rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron, locally known as the Air Force Radar Base. Today the Federal Communication Commission operates a facility on the site.
Gettysburg is the county seat for Potter County, but it wasn’t always so. The county, created in 1875 and organized in 1883, was first named Ashmore County in honor of a territorial legislator. In 1877 it was renamed for Dr. Joel Potter, a member of that year’s Territorial Legislature.
The county commissioners held their first meeting Dec. 27, 1883, at the temporary county seat in Forest City. In April of 1884, an election was held to establish a permanent county seat, and Gettysburg won by overwhelming majority. A fierce struggle ensued. Finally 100 men forcibly took the documents from the temporary courthouse in Forest City and moved them to Gettysburg.
The Oahe Reservoir bounds Potter County on the west. Most of the Indian village sites, Forest City, and the headquarters for the Cheyenne Indian Reservation located in that area were covered by waters from the Oahe in 1957. [Some local farmers and ranchers have noted that they didn't relocate until 1959.]
No one thing in Gettysburg has attracted greater attention than the famed Medicine Rock. It is reported that Lewis and Clark considered it unusual enough to mention in their journals. This 10’x20’ limestone rock was originally located on a bluff fifteen miles west of Gettysburg. Its significance is attributed to the imprint in the hard rock of five tracks of bare human feet. When first discovered, the heel marks were 2.5 in. deep. The early Sioux Indians believed these were the footprints of the Great Spirit, Medicine Rock. In addition to the footprints, there are two depressions at the lower end that resemble the claws of a large animal. The Medicine Rock currently holds a place of prominence at the Dakota Sunset Museum in downtown Gettysburg.
In 2011 Gettysburg is a friendly community of 1100 people and 200 licensed businesses including a medical center with a variety of services. Farming and ranching provide the economic base; however, recreational activities including hunting, fishing, and golf are beginning to play a larger role.