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Preserving Pettigrew's Past

June 24, 2012, 9:55 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Preserving Pettigrew's Past

It's a larger than life monument to remember a larger than life South Dakota politician.

"He was kind of a leap first, look later kind of guy," artist Darwin Wolf said.

He was South Dakota's first U.S. Senator and helped develop the state's largest city. To make sure that Richard Franklin Pettigrew's legacy isn't lost a Sioux Falls group is raising money to erect a 15-foot bronze monument of the politician.

For the past few years Wolf has been sculpting the image of Pettigrew.

"We need not just a school and a district named after him and a museum. I think there needs to be a visual recognition," Wolf said.

Back in 2005 Wolf thought it was odd that there was no visual recognition of the man who helped South Dakota become a state and developed many areas of Sioux Falls.

"You read his biography and it's like the history of Sioux Falls. He brought in the railroads, street cars, and developments. He was kind of the initial chamber of commerce promoting South Dakota," Wolf said.

Pettigrew was born in Wisconsin and after attending law school came to Sioux Falls in the 1860's with a U.S. surveying crew. He worked as a surveyor, attorney and real estate developer but eventually went to Washington D.C. to represent Dakota Territory in Congress.

"He was somewhat of a celebrity because the frontier Senators coming back had such great pioneer stories. He'd sit in Washington and tell stories for hours," Wolf said.

"This is a guy that brought one of the wealthiest bankers in the United States at the time to invest in some of his projects," former South Dakota State Senator and author Tom Dempster said.

Pettigrew pushed for South Dakota to become a state and then became the state's first U.S. Senator. It’s those historical accomplishments that have Wolf and the Minnehaha County Historical Society pushing to enshrine Pettigrew at the entrance to Falls Park.

"Sioux Falls is an important place and there are stories that need to be told and you can not understand Sioux Falls if you don't understand Frank Pettigrew, as he was called," Dempster said.

The Pettigrew monument will sit at the entrance to Falls Park because he brought a lot of industry to the city, like the Queen Bee Mill, which still sits at the park today, but he then later realized the area of town needed to be preserved.

"He helped to industrialize the falls area and trash it, literally, and then seeing the error of his ways, he began to see that we needed to save some of this ground and he was very adamant about reclaiming the falls, cleaning it up, and saving that ground out there," Wolf said.

That's why Wolf's sculpture has Pettigrew holding the letter that he wrote to the city to preserve the falls area.

"Now it's a little bit of I told you so a hundred years later," Wolf said.

But in order to make sure that the statue can be cast in bronze and placed near Falls Park Wolf and the Minnehaha County Historical Society need to raise money. They've already raised more than $50,000 but need about $45,000 more before the end of the year.

Dempster, who is writing a book about the early years of Sioux Falls, is now helping with the fundraising because he believes Pettigrew's importance needs to be showcased.

"It was just a name, just really didn't mean that much to me. I knew that he was very controversial figure, now all of a sudden in doing this research and talking to people like Darwin and people in the historical society that breathes life into him," Dempster said.

They hope the monument can breathe new life into a monumental figure in South Dakota history.

If all the money can be raised before the end of the year Wolf hopes to have the sculpture cast in bronze and in place at the entrance of Falls Park by May 2013.

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