"An honest man is the noblest work of God." Sam Elrod is an honest man. When he was denominated "Honest Sam," he was at once elevated to the class of "Honest Abe." Governor Elrod is honest as a private citizen. He was honest as a public servant; honest with his constituents, honest to the state of South Dakota and honest with our sister state of North Carolina

On Septembert 21, 1901, Simon Schafer of New York city, presented to South Dakota $10,000 worth of North Carolina bonds issued during Martin Van Buren's administration. To each of these ten bonds were attached fifty-eight interest coupons of $30 each. This made the total amount due on them, $27,400. The donor made a request that if the bonds were ever collected, the proceeds should go to our state university.

That wizard on corporation law, Col. R. W. Stewart, today one of the high-priced attorneys for the Standard Oil Company, was employed by the attorney general of this state as special counsel to prosecute the claim. The Colonel waded in, tried the case before the United States supreme court, and won it. Then the trouble came. Honest Sam ascended to the governor's chair. Here is what he did; recommended to the state legislature that they pass a special act giving it all back to North Carolina, less the expense of the suit. Following are a few things which he said about it:

"We took it away from our sister state, North Carolina, simply because the law said we could. Might did not make right in this instance. If the state of South Dakota returns said sum to the state of North Carolina, it will do more to cement the states together than anything that has happened since the Civil War when the relations of the states were so seriously strained.

"Morally, we have no right to one cent of this money and we ought to be brave enough and true enough to give it back. "This money was clearly intended for our university. She can use it, but it is tainted money. I would send this money back to North Carolina for her university and appropriate a like sum for our splendid university. It will be no burden on our people." On April 3, 1906, another public-spirited New Yorker, the Honorable E. L. Andrews, offered to donate to South Dakota $50,000 more of North Carolina bonds, which with accrued interest amounted to about $150,000. In declining this large gift, Governor Elrod said:

`"Your kind offer is declined for the reason that it seems to me to be against public policy and good conscience."

So much for the honesty of Sam Elrod, a man who was never known to defraud or to attempt to defraud the state or a private citizen, out of a single cent.

Elrod is of German extraction. He was born near Coatsville, Indiana, May 1, 1856; secured his early education in the rural schools, and then completed his scholastic preparation at De Paw, graduating with the class of 1882, and taking his A. B. degree. In '85 his Alma Mater honored him with his A. M.



Like many others who have won distinction, young Elrod carne from the humbler walks of life and rose to prominence through self-exertion, rather than through influence. While at De Paw he did janitor work and assisted in the local post office evenings, in order to pay his way through school.

On June 22, 1882, he walked out of De Paw with a 17x22 sheep pelt under his arm, that told the whole story. Eight days later, with his boyish heart pulsating for a new victory, he stepped off the train at Watertown, S. D., and three days later, July 8, he was admitted by Judge Kidder to the practice of law.

Catching a construction train headed westward, he climbed on and went to the end of the line—Clark, S. D. In fact he went beyond the end of the road, for he walked in the last half mile. But Sam had no rich dad to back him. He was dead broke. Something had to be done—and awfully soon. He got together a small pile of lumber, put up a typical western shack with his own hands, stuck out one of those little signs that make a young lawyer feel so wonderfully good in the region of his chest, did his own cooking and washing, and life's battle was on in earnest.

The city of Clark was just being started. Emigrants were flocking in along the new line of railroad. They needed advice. Sam Elrod's services were in demand. The friendships formed between him and these ealry pioneers have remained to this day as bonds of trust; and as a result Honest Sam has had about everything on the political map that he has asked for.

They elected him postmaster in 1885, and two years later made him probate judge. He declined re-election to the judgship, but instead he went after the states attorneyship of Clark county, and got it— holding this office altogether ten years.

However, in 1904, Sam Elrod's political stock shot skyward. He went to the Sioux Falls convention occupying a seat of honor beside the mighty Kittredge who was driving the old political machine now lying in the scrap-heap of eternal usefulness, licked his wary opponent, Coe 1. Crawford, to a frazzle, and was nominated by the republican party as their candidate for governor of South Dakota, Crawford took his defeat good-naturedly, climbed onto the band wagon helped to elect Elrod, and then came back two years later and whipped Elrod to a frazzle. (We are not well enough informed on Rooseveltian philosophic slang to know what two frazzles equal.)


Two things conspired sort of automatically to bring about the defeat of Elrod and cause his downfall, politically: the material to be used in building our new state capitol, whether it was to be Indiana or South Dakota stone, and the enactment of a statewide primary law. Elrod, as is characteristic of the man, took a decided position on each issue, and he was right on both. Still he went down to defeat before a lot of clap-trap that was a bugaboo, but an eloquent thing for campaign purposes.


A new capitol building had to be constructed—and at once. The constitution prohibits the legislature from contracting debts beyond $100,000, except to repel invasion. Money was scarce. Bedford, Indiana, stone could be procured and shipped to Pierre for the construction of the new building for $100,000 less than Sioux Falls' granite, quarried in our own state, could be procured for. Elrod, as head of the capitol commission, stood solidly for the Bedford stone. His opponents, for political purposes, raised the question of "state pride" and of building it of stone quarried in our own state, regardless of cost; went before the people on this issue, licked Honest Sam who was up for renomination; and, then, lo and behold you! the fellows who led the fight, after they got into the saddle, turned right square around and constructed the building of Indiana stone. So that, as a matter of fact, even his political enemies, when once they came face to face with the practical side of the proposition, admitted that Honest Sam Elrod was right.


Another thing that helped to put Governor Elrod under the rear wheels of the political band-wagon, was his state-wide primary law. In his first message to the legislature, among a lot of negative things, he said:

"We think there is no pressing need for the enactment of a primary election law providing for direct nominations.  *  *  *  "Such a law is expensive both to the tax payers and to candidates. If such a law is enacted, it will cost twice as much to make nominations as to conduct the general elections. Taxes are already too high  *  *  * 

"Once such a law is enacted, the poor man  *  *  *  will be eliminated and the man of dollars will win, and too often he will be a weak and unqualified official."

On each of these separate propositions—intrinsic parts of the whole —Sam Elrod was right.

(1). No need for its enactment. Instead of enacting a statewide primary, Elrod's administration enacted the "Honest Caucus Law"—the best, the least expensive, the safest and the sanest caucus law ever placed upon the statute books of ours or of any other state in the union. It was gotten up by Hon. John Holman, assisted by Judge Smith (now of the state supreme court) and other able legal talent. It was so honest and guarded the caucus so closely and so well, that the progressive element in the republican party won every office in the state, and it is the only time they ever did it. (This law was repealed two years later.) The results justified Elrod's position.

(2). Expensive to taxpayers and to candidates. —A statewide primary was passed two years later. Two primaries were held under it in 1908, one for delegates to the national convention, and one for state and county officers. The first one cost the taxpayers of the state $52,000, and the second one cost them, $76,000; total for one campaign's nominations, $128,000, let alone the expensive election which followed.

Now, for the candidates! Their sworn statements on file with the secretary of state should reveal the truth. From the, standpoint of amounts expended, Senator Kittredge heads the list with $1,368.78. Here are some more near the head of the class: L. A. Munson, $1,300; Wilbur Glass, $1,000; Charles Burke, $900; Crawford, Martin Browne and Vessey each over $500. In fact twenty-five republican candidates swore to a total, expenditure of $12,403.90. The seven democratic, eleven socialist, and ten prohibition, candidates did not file sworn statements. (The law seems to have been enacted for the regulation of republicans only.) They no doubt averaged $25 dollars apiece. In addition there were 636 candidates for the various county offices, throughout the state. This does not include about eighty candidates for county commissioners. These fellow's sworn statements on file with the different county auditors show expenditures ranging from $15 to $500; and in one case $1,250. (The fellow was defeated.)

(3). Poor man superceded by rich. —Nothing equals a statewide (or nation-wide; we shall perhaps soon have one) primary in gradually taking the government out of the hands of the honest poor and placing it in the hands of the selfish rich. Wisconsin and Illinois were two of the first states to enact the statewide primaries. Wisconsin got a $107,000 United States senator, and Illinois got a $100,000 one. The principle of the primary is right, but it will always prove a humbug until it places office-seeking on such a basis that it cannot be auctioned off.

These statistics have not been introduced herein for the purpose of reopening at this time a discussion of the merits or demerits of the primary, but to vindicate the position on its operation taken by Mr. Elrod. The recorded facts, as well as his prophecy, show that it produces a "government of the (rich), by the (rich) and for the rich)."


Be it said to the everlasting credit of Mr. Elrod that he was a sensible, economical governor. In his 1905 message to the legislature, he said:

"I beg of you, pass no law that will make it necessary to increase taxes, rather set an example that will lead to tax reduction. Create no new offices unless absolutely needed; they will be a drain upon the treasury which the tax payers ought not to be called upon to supply. We must keep the state progressive but at the same time we must administer her affairs with a scrupulous regard for strictest economy. Conservative administration protects capital and insures work for the laborer. *  *  * 

"In a word, this legislature, composed of business men, should keep appropriations within the revenues. You should manage this business intrusted to you by your constituents the same as you would your farm, your bank or your store. In plain and simple words, you should not contract debts without providing the money with which to pay them."

As a result of Honest Sam's economical policy, the state taxes in 1905, the first year of his administration, amounted to $879,829 22. 22. In 1906, they amounted to only $442,804.76. Compare his two years with those of 1909 and 1910 when the state taxes for the first year were $1,279,081.24, and for the second year (the non-legislative year when they should have been cut in two) $1,345,899 62. For the years 1905-6 they totalled $1,322,33.98; while for 1909-10, they reached $2,624.917.86 or just double. And in addition to this showing, the charitable and penal institutions were so wisely handled during Elrod's adminstration that, despite the small appropriation which they received, they turned back into the state treasury, at the close of his term, $45,628.11.


Sam Elrod is a man who has an ideal home life. Two years after locating in Clark, he had prospered so well that he slipped back to Coatsville, Indiana, and married Miss Mary E. Matsen.

The Elrods have two children, one, a daughter, Miss Barbara, aged 18, who graduated this year from the Clark high school, and a son, Arthur Mellette Elrod (named after our first state governor), aged 14.

The year of his graduation from De Paw, at Greencastle, Indiana, Mr. Elrod united with the M. E. church and he has since remained a devout and consistent member.

Defeated for the republican nomination for Congress by Charlie Burke in 1898, defeated for governor by Coe I. Crawford, and again by R. S. Vessey, he has tasted the bitter with the sweet, yet he has always retained his poise and been loyal to his friends. When told that he could gain his political prestige by breaking loose from Kittredge, Martin, Burke, Herreid, et al, he cooly replied, "I have come up with these men, I am willing to go down with them."

Sam has prospered immensely. Today his little shack has given way to one of the finest homes in the state, where he and his family reside and enjoy to the fullest extent the blessings of life. And he is charitable also. Not long since he gave $500 to one institution.

Such has been the varied career of one of our state's worthy political sons. May the future crown him with a just reward!


©2002, Virginia A. Cisewski
All Rights Reserved