If there is a schoolma'am, a school dad, or a school officer in South Dakota, who doesn't know R. S. Gleason, of Sioux Falls,, agent in the Dakotas for the American Book Company, of Chicago, they ought to consider the fact as prima facie evidence that they are back numbers, and, well —use this article as a letter of introduction and get acquainted.

Where Gleason came from, we do not know. At any rate the first anybody heard of him he was in Lapeer county, Michigan; next he came forth from some normal school over there, with a lamb pelt, properly engrossed, under his arm, and began to teach a country school. The next time he showed up and left his "footprints on the sands of time," he was superintendent of schools in Kingsbury county, South Dakota. He entered this position on October 1, 1888, and served two years and three months under territorial days. At that time county superintendents were elected at the regular school election in June and took their respective offices the following October.


The old territorial plan was exactly right, and ever since statehood there has been an eternal and righteous clamor to return to the old plan, so as to get the office of county superintendent as far as possible out of politics.

At the inception of our statehood, Gleason was again elected superintendent of Kingsbury county and re-elected two years later, thus serving out his entire limit under the constitution. This, added to his territorial service, gave him six years and three months of continuous service in the county superintendent's office, —a thing that will never happen to any other superintendent in the state until the constitutional limitation of two terms has been removed.

Writing on "Kingsbury County's Transcendency," under date of May 20, 1909, we said of Gleason:

"Kingsbury county was first given distinction in the educational world by one of her ex-superintendents, R. S. Gleason, now agent for the American Book Company in North and South Dakota. Gleason was a strong county superintendent, a good organizer, a member of the committee that prepared our first state course of study and a recognized educator who rose to the presidency of the state educational association. Today, he is the most liked and disliked of any man in the state—liked for his natural likeableness, and big heart; disliked by a lot of fellows whose natural tendencies (unconscious to themselves) border on socialism and cause them to hate every man who works for a big corporation."

Strange! isn't it? what a narrow view some people take of things. Practically every business, both public and private, is today incorporated. A state is a corporation, and may sue and be sued; so also is a county and a school district. Thus every state official, every county official and every school teacher, is a "corporation hireling." The same thing is true in private business. Unless a man is merely running a pea-nut stand, ten chances to one he is working for a corporation. Why should a book agent be singled out for criticism?


That side of Gleason's character which stands out the most conspicuous in our state history, is the constructive ability which he has at all times manifested in things educational. Up to the year 1889, when the state educational association met at Yankton, the county superintendents of the state had never been given formal recognition in that body. At the Yankton meeting, Gleason, as superintendent of Kingsbury county, arose and offered a resolution establishing the department of county supervision as a component part of the state organization. He was ignored. Being a splendid parliamentarian, he awaited his chance to get the floor. At the proper time, he gained his feet, and forced the chair to recognize him. Then and there, there was "something doing," and from that day the department of county supervision has been one of the strongest features of the state organization.

It was at this meeting that R. S. Gleason offered another resolution which has had more to do in the development of our rural schools than all other special resolutions combined. It provided for the immediate creation and use of a course of study for the rural schools of the entire state. The resolution was adopted; but many of those who voted for it, merely thought to get the matter out of the way,—remaining firm in their convictions that nothing would come of it, because there were no available funds with which to pay for the printing of such a course, even though one were drawn up, submitted to the association and adopted. The chair appointed Gleason of Kingsbury, Bras of Davison, and Lange of McCook, as a committee of three to prepare the course.

It was hastily but accurately done; presented to the convention, and adopted. The fellows who at heart were genuine —"re-actionaries" and who had purposely let it go through, raised question of funds. Gleason was not to be outdone. He and Harry L. Bras of Davison county, held a conference. They decided to pledge $500 for the publication of the course. It was done, and at the next meeting of the association, in 1890, the entire edition was bought by the superintendents of the various organized counties of the state. Yes, and more than that! The sales exceeded by 2,000 copies the number published, so that a new edition had to be brought out at once.

Thus it will readily be seen that Gleason has been one of the leading educational constructionists of the state. To him cannot be given too much credit for the splendid course of study which we have today, and which is rapidly being adopted by adjoining states. In the hurried development of every new state the pioneers in all great movements are soon forgotten—forgotten, yes, by the immediate beneficiaries themselves. Again, the splendid teachers' institute law which we have had on our statute books since statehood, until recently, was the immediate result of the untiring efforts of R. S. Gleason. The fight he made at Pierre to get two dollars apiece allowed for each teacher who enrolled at institute, as a fund with which to secure capable instructors, was the greatest achievement of his life. It would take a volume to describe what took place.

Again, Gleason has always stood for the consolidation of schools, state aid for high schools, and a smaller unit of school organization.


Gleason was rapidly forging his way to the front and gaining state-wide recognition for himself. Just then, one of the most natural things in the world happened—the American Book Company wanted him. Nothing strange or unnatural about that. A book agent's life is the most strenuous of any means of livelihood on earth. For these positions the large publishing houses demand leaders and not trailers.

Here was Gleason's opportunity. Still a young man, with many possibilities before him in the educational field, he looked far into the future and said to himself: "This educational game may not pay in the end. The fellows who follow it for fifteen years get sort o' sissified and are not good for anything else; those that follow it twice that long are not good for anything. I guess I'll quit it right now and connect myself with something that has a future to it."

So about twenty years ago, he became identified with the American Book Company, as their traveling representative in the two Dakotas, plus anywhere else in the United States or Canada, that they might choose to send him. At once the young fellow showed great possibilities in the book business. He was aggressive, polite, fearless, tireless, shrewd; cool under fire, and as resourceful as Senator Bailey.

Gleason soon proved himself to be one of the best book men in the United States. Single handed and alone he buckled in with an eagerness characteristic of the fellow: won South Dakota to such an extent that from 1897 to 1902, his company held ninety-three per cent of the total books adopted for all of the rural schools of the state. And, despite the fact that other book houses have since placed resident agents in the state, and are spending a lot of money legitimately to get a foothold, Gleason still maintains about eighty-five per cent of the business. The five-year adoptions take place again this year. What will happen none can foresee. The competing companies all have good men in the field, and a lively fight is sure to ensue.


As previously suggested, Mr. Gleason is a tireless worker. He learned long years ago that nothing gets results like good hard work; and that in the book business, as in other walks of life, there is no subsititute for it. He is a strong, husky fellow who never complains of feeling badly. For this reason, he is always "on deck."

For nearly a quarter of a century Gleason has been one of the most active members of the state educational association. When it comes to parliamentary tactics, he's always there "with the goods." A meeting of the association, without Gleason, would be a one-sided thing.


How vividly the educators of the state recall the awful catastrophe that happened during the 1909 session of the State Educational Association which convened at Lead, while the members were returning via the Burlington from a sight-seeing trip in Spearfish canon, when just above Deadwood a few miles one of the coaches overturned into the ditch and instantly killed the charming Miss Logan, primary teacher at Pukwana.

Miss Edith Sedgwick—Miss Logan's cousin who was recently elected superintendent of Brule county, was also pinioned under the car which was rapidly settling upon her, so that death was inevitable within a few minutes.

At this critical moment R. S. Gleason took his own life in his hands, crept under the sinking car, clawed away with his naked hands the gravel and debris that was holding Miss Sedgwick fast, pulled the dead girl's hands off of the live girl's face, liberated her and at great risk and the expenditure of heroic efforts, he released the Sedgwick girl and dragged her out, just a moment before it would have been too late. Patriotic man! He deserves a Carnegie medal and a cash prize from the Hero Fund.


The state teachers' reading circle was organized away back in the early nineties, or before. Each year, until very recently, two books have been adopted for the teachers of the state to buy and read. For nearly all of these years R. S. Gleason has been on deck, whipped all of the other agents, and had secured for his firm the adoption of both books. No other book agent in this or in any other state in the Union, ever equalled his record in this line, and we predict none ever will. Only one Gleason is given to every generation.

However, in 1905, he lost one book; and for each of the next five years he got only one book. No man can play lucky always. There is an element of chance in all human undertakings, even unto marriage. Poor Gleason, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred eleven, after all the advance wires he had laid, went down to overwhelming and inglorious defeat. The Reading Circle board not only turned him down, but they went far beyond, and instead of adopting two books as had heretofore been done, they adopted or recommended five; yet they did not give the old master, of the game a single look in. Accepting their verdict with that high minded sense of forgiveness characteristic of a Caesar, the old book agent of the Dakotas settled back in his chair, lit his accustomed cigar, and soberly remarked. "I guess the steam roller is at work. I think I know how Joe Cannon feels." But R. S. Gleason is no quitter, and he is not "too old to come back." Mark the prediction!

(Later—The R. C. board recently met at Aberdeen. Gleason "came back" and secured one book.)

This incident brought out one of the greatest traits of Gleason's character—his coolness under fire during a book fight. Although naturally high tempered, he has schooled himself to a degree of patience that has earned him many a victory. Still, when he does "break loose," he reveals a repertoire of choice sarcasm as biting as that of Disraeli.


Last summer the five-year book adoptions took place in a neighboring state. Gleason had been in Michigan on private business. Stopping in Chicago on his return, the American Book Company's western manager said to him, "The last fight takes place over in ——— tomorrow. I believe you better jump into it on your way home." In thirty minutes R. S. Gleason was aboard the "Denver Flyer" headed for the firing-line.

Arriving after dinner, he found the fight completely lost. Agents of a half dozen firms had "beat him to it" and had "sewed up" the entire proposition;—at least so they thought. That night while the self-conceited victors sat in the hotel corridor, smoking cigars and exchanging jokes while they congratulated themselves on their supposed victory for the morrow, R. S. Gleason was at work —hard at work—showing to the various members of the text-book board the new books which be had to offer and explaining the relative merits of each, and their superiority over those of his competitors; and the next day when the adoptions took place only one firm was patronized.

That evening a "big" book agent, with a smile on his face, stood on the depot platform of a little city in——waiting the arrival of a delayed train, stuffing newly signed, five-year book contracts into his pockets until they bulged most spaciously, and the next morning R. S. Gleason stepped off the train at Sioux Fall, South Dakota, flushed with the consciousness of victory, and ready for another fight.

During the battle of Marengo, a staff officer rode up to Napoleon on a foaming charger, and shouted. "General, the battle is lost! The infantry has given way; the cavalry are retreating for refuge, and several of our field pieces have been captured." Napoleon, with one leg resting over the horn of his saddle, remained calm. Taking out his watch, he cooly said: "It is only ten minutes past four o'clock. The sun is still high in the heavens. We yet have time before dark to re-organize our forces and fight the battle over." He gave orders; they were obeyed, And that night as the sun sank to rest, it seemed to take a lingering look at one of the greatest victories in Napoleon's whole military career.

At four o'clock in the afternoon R. S. Gleason was completely routed. At sunset he came back—the unchampioned master of the situation.


A book agent grows to have the keenest intellect found among men. He "lays his lines" during one campaign—wins; comes back a few years later for another adoption, discovers that new faces have superceded those that were once in authority, and finds that he must try his case all over again before a "new jury." This experience is repeated over and over again. He puts into each fight the best there is in him. Finally, gray hairs begin to appear, his crown begins to grow bare, deep furrows sink even deeper into his manly brow; and in a few years more he has made his "last fight" and is quietly laid away,

"Unwept, unhonored and unsung,"
while younger blood, thoroughly trained in the psychological art of handling men, comes forward to take his place, and he is soon forgotten. Does it pay? Perhaps.


©2002, Virginia A. Cisewski
All Rights Reserved