Gen. Conklin, of Clark, S. D., was born so long ago that nobody else living seems to know just when it was. Suffice it to say he was a large boy well along in his 'teens when the last one of the signers of the Declaration of Indpendence died. He thus becomes the connective link between two historical epochs. Conklin himself says it was somewhere between the hours of six and eight, on May 5, 1829, at Penn Yan, New York, that he entered life and gave notice to his proud parents that he was ready for his first meal.

Think of it! John Quincy Adams was president of the United States and a colony of prominent revolutionary heroes were still alive. The general has actually lived through three complete generations who have come and gone. He was married in each of them and helped to produce the particular generation in which he was at the time living.


The general has watched with keenest interest the development of our national history. During his life the Mexican, the Civil and the Spanish-American wars have all been fought—and won! He watched the spinning wheel and the hand loom give way to the modern factory; the cradle yield to the reaper and the latter to the twine binder; the flail superceded by the threshing machine; the top carriage supplant the stage coach and then both yield to the automobile; steam power giving way to electricity; the telegraph, telephone, cablegraph, wireless telegraphy and the aeroplane—all glide in and take their respective places in the onward march of our modern civilization. He was born before the first railroad was built in America. Today the country is permeated by a mesh of railroads as intricate in their interlacings as the organs of circulation in the human anatomy. When he was a boy it took five weeks to cross the Atlantic. Now it takes less than five days. He has tarried to see the north pole discovered, and then split in two by Peary and Cook for kindling wood; the south pole also located; and the western continent soon to be divided into two island empires by the Panama Canal. What an age through which to have lived!


With General Conklin life has not been a bed of roses, or one long sunny dream. Left fatherless at the age of three, ne was kicked out into a cruel world to hustle for himself. At the age of twelve, some of his kind friends (?), taking advantage of the New York law, apprenticed him for five years to a shoemaker and tanner to learn the cobbler's trade, but they made absolutely no provision for the lad's education. When he finally reached his eighteenth year, he went into business for himself. Then he began his education. While others slept, young Conklin was burning tallow candles over his books in an old attic.


Almost before we can comprehend it, we find him helping to organize the republican party in the state of New York and dabbling in politics. The writer is well along in middle life, yet Conklin had stumped the east for four successive republican presidential nominees, before the writer was born.

It was these early experiences on the stump that caused the young fellow to determine to fit himself for a lawyer. He kept faithfully at it until 1857, when he was admitted to the bar and became one of the most successful lawyers in that state.


Harkening to the call of his country, in 1862, he laid aside everything to help save the Union. President Lincoln commissioned him an officer. At the close of the war he was assigned to duty for three years under the treasury department with headquarters in Wisocnsin. Later on he served four years in the reconstruction service, with headquarters at New Orleans.


General Conklin finally quit the military service, went back to Wisconsin and started a republican reform newspaper. But in 1879, seeing that the tide of emigration was westward, he packed up his newspaper plant, and with it headed for Watertown, South Dakota.

He got out several boom editions of his paper. One consisted of 200,000 copies. It set forth the advantages of the new territory in such a neat, readable, appetizing way that the Northwestern railway company bought 50,000 copies for distribution along their line of road. The president of the road wrote: "It was worth more for the purpose intended than any carload of advertising matter we have ever invested in " The Milwaukee company also bought 40,000 copies of the issue.

Newspaper work was to his liking. Here he could unfold himself to the limit, so that as a person read his iconoclastic editorials he would fairly rise in his chair as he felt the tiny muscles of his scalp use his epidermis for a fulcrum and prick his hair on end. And the general took advantage of his opportunities. The old files of his paper still plainly disclose this truth.

There was in this territory at that time a bunch of usurers. Conklin kept after these fellows relentlessly till he finally helped to drive them frorn the state.


Again, Conklin is a prolific writer and speaker. It is doubtful if the state has as yet produced another man who can pin so many adjectives to a noun, indulge in such superlatively classical complex sentences, put into the imagination such vistas of thought, and lift the soul into such realms of comprehension as he. His style will at once he caught by reading the following extract from one of his arguments made in the court of Clark county:

"Nature in her bountiful munificence has provided us with a safeguard against the monsters which a violation of her laws has brought into existence; as the morning light in the east warns us of the coming day, and the darkness at noontide of the approaching storm; so nature hangs out upon the face of man a record of the light or darkness that dwells within; with an indelible finger she traces upon the features of every living creature of our race the history of their virtues or their vices, whether the man is to be loved or admired or detested; advertises to the world whether he loves peace or contention; whether he strews the highway of human life with flowers or with thorns; whether he lives to bless or curse his race.

Look this man Hoskins in the face and tell me whether he makes peace or trouble in this world of ours; hatred, revenge, and all the evil passions which language can express hang out in bold relief from every feature and tell you why he chose darkness rather than light to commence this prosecution; why he crept to your home and roused you from your slumbers at midnight to listen to his perjured deviltry. Go to the seven-hilled city of Rome, that summit of perfection in art, and search until you shall find the most accomplished delineator upon canvass of the human face and human character that the art world can furnish; employ him to visit all the great commercial centers and cities of the known world, and require him to descend into all the slums and dens, and hells of vice and infamy and human degredation, and to study faithfully the lines of character and debauchery and crime chiseled upon the human face; then have him search out the condemned felons in all the jails and penitentiaries of the civilized world and study with care every shade and shadow of the emotions and passions that crime traces with indelible characters upon the features of its victims, from boyish innocence to hardened crime; then let the artist repair to his studio and there by years of patient toil have him paint one fiendish face, the character lines of which shall express all that is low and vile and licentious and dishonest and devilish that he has seen and studied and then bring that picture here breathing from every outline all that is loathsome, inhuman, dishonorable and infamous, and hang it upon the wall yonder for us to gaze upon, and it would be a thing of beauty, a paragon of loveliness compared with the face of this man Hoskins."


After all, the proudest achievement in General Conklin's life was his organization in 1901 of the South Dakota State Guards (now National Guards). At the extreme age of seventy-one, Governor Herreid commissioned him Adjutant-General and assigned to him the thankless task of organizing the military forces of the state.

The old guards had been absorbed by the First South Dakota Infantry, United States Volunteers, that served so valiantly in the Philippines. They had all been mustered out. There wasn't a semblance of a military organization left. Conklin rebuilt the establishment from the ground up.

Within nine months he organized two regiments of infantry, consisting of twelve companies each, and four troops of cavalry; held one state encampment of seven days, and two of five days each, and had but an insignificant appropriation, $3,000, to do it with. An officer of the war department, commenting on his success, said:

"The organization of the National Guards in South Dakota by Adjutant General Conklin is without parallel in the organization of militia in time of peace."


But above all, the old gentleman loves to be referred to as a reformer. He seems proud of the fact that the reforms enacted in South Dakota and elsewhere within the past few years are nearly all measures advocated by him over a quarter of a century ago. He has been in every campaign since 1856, including the primary and the general election last year. He was twice a member of the Wisconsin legislature, fathered the Press Association of this state, and he is now president of the Clark County Bar Association, and vice president of the Clark Commercial Club.


Early this year the General suffered from inflamatory rheumatism, erysipelas and pneumonia, which was followed by a stroke of paralysis, leaving his entire left side helpless. Yet with the aid of electric massages, he has been largely restored to his former ruggedness.

Recently he dictated for publication a complete history of the town of Clark. His memory astonished his townspeople. A great many had forgotten the details and the dates which he used, and it seems incredible that he should have remembered them.

The old general has never felt assured of the hereafter. With him it has always been a matter of doubt. But incidentally, during one of his trips to Chicago, a few years since, he was induced to call on a spiritualist. At his request she called back the spirit of one of his former wives and asked her a question about some private family affairs that had been bothering the general for many years. She gave him a direct reply. Since then the General has been meditating.

(Later.—Since the above was written and first published, General Conklin has adopted the Christian faith and united with the M. E. church. Congratulations! General.)


©2002, Virginia A. Cisewski
All Rights Reserved