SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — She saw a “sea of people, they were just extended out as far as you could see” from her view on the stage.

That’s how Rita Anderson (Aughenbaugh) described the crowd at the KELO-TV Gold Rush Day on Aug. 27, 1961. KELO-TV organized the major event to celebrate the centennial of the Dakota Territory. The event drew an estimated 150,000 people. It included the chance for about 1,400 people to dig for prizes including the top prize of $10,000. The event also included a talent show with the chance to appear on the Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour New York City. The expenses would be paid by KELO-TV.

Anderson and her sister, Marilyn, tied as winners of the talent show as the Aughenbaugh Sisters, a talented baton-twirling duet. Anderson was a sophomore in high school when they competed in the Gold Rush.

“It was so exciting. It was amazing the number of people that were there,” Anderson said of the Gold Rush crowd.

Before she took the stage, Aughenbaugh had an idea of the size of the crowd. She lived on a farm near Iroquois, about two or three miles from the Gold Rush site at Manchester. DeSmet is about 12 miles from the site.

“The one thing I remember is that the DeSmet Boy Scouts…they set up lemonade stands in DeSmet selling lemonade because the traffic jam was so far it extended all the way back through DeSmet and on the other side for people trying to get to the Gold Rush show,” Anderson said.

The crowd was large but Anderson and her sister were seasoned performers. Anderson had been twirling baton across South Dakota and the country since she was four. The sisters, including a third sister, Joanne, had performed with the South Dakota Rural Electric Association (REA) band.

“We were so intent on our performance and doing a good job and catching the baton for sure and not dropping it… I was more concentrated on that,” Anderson said.

The Aughenbaugh sisters, far left, on stage for the announcement of the winning performance on Gold Rush day.

Anderson said the performance earned them a tie for first place with a quartet of boys. She believed those “good looking” boys came from Iowa, Anderson said as she laughed.

The quartet wasn’t the only thing that caught her attention. Although Clint Eastwood presented the sisters with the award, “we were more enraptured with the cook, the old guy that was the cook, on the show (Rawhide),” Anderson said. “He was a character.”

Eastwood wasn’t as popular then as he is now, Anderson said.

Paul Brinegar, who played the cook Wishbone on the TV series Rawhide, was one of the celebrities at Gold Rush.

Several months later Anderson, Marilyn and their mom flew to New York City for the Gold Rush winners to be on the Ted Mack show.

“I was young. It was my first time in New York. My first time on a large commercial airplane. Being on national TV. The thrill of it all,” Anderson said of how the New York trip remains a vivid memory even after years of other travel since then.

Memorabilia from the appearance on the Ted Mack Original
Amateur Hour. Photo courtesy of Rita Anderson

Anderson said it was a five-day trip that included a rehearsal day and performance day for Ted Mack. She believes KELO-TV arranged the trip which included the guide, a woman who lived in New York and knew all the hot spots.

They dined at the Stork Club in Manhattan one evening. The club was a famous dining spot in the city.

When the server started the bananas foster dessert on fire at the table, Anderson was enthralled. “I was so in awe of this dessert,” she said.

“We twirled fire baton all the time but still for them to do that at the restaurant was amazing to me,” Anderson said.

The sisters didn’t win the Ted Mack variety show competition. Viewers called in their votes to select the winner. That wasn’t because of a poor performance or because South Dakota voters didn’t vote. It was in large part because South Dakota viewers saw the show days after it was taped. The New York audience saw it much sooner and could vote earlier, Anderson said. The votes from South Dakota didn’t count, she said.

The sisters continued to twirl baton after the Gold Rush thrill. They were head majorettes for the South Dakota State marching band. Anderson teaches twirling today.