Along the southeast coast of Norway, the "Land of the Midnight Sun," the land of countless fjords and resplendent cascades, the realm of good old King Oscar, is the little, aged, seaport town of Sandefjord. It was in this little Norwegian burg that the Hon. Richard 0. Richards, of Huron, S. D., came into being on January 2, 1866. Mr. Richards came from prominent old Norwegian and Danish maritime families. Very rugged, with light complexion, rosy cheeks and deep blue eyes, he is a typical Norskman and a splendid representative of that valiant race.

Sandefjord is a ship yard. Mr. Richard's father was a ship owner and ship builder, at the place. It was here that "Dick" as everybody calls him, spent his boyhood and secured his academic education. After completing his course he clerked for a short time in a ship-chandler's store.

Tired of his limitations, eager to seek a country where a man has a chance to become a leader on his own initiative without waiting for the rule of primogeniture, fired with ambition to try the New World, at the age of fifteen he struck out for America. Our Norwegian arrival went direct to Traverse City, Michigan, which he reached in May, 1881. In the fall of that year he moved to New York where for two years he acted as an interpreter at Castle Garden. After this, for about a year, he engaged in business as a ship broker in New York city.


Finding that America was not proving to be the immediate Eldorado that he had anticipated, he struck west again in 1884 and settled in Dakota Territory. Rumor has it that he reached the city of Mitchell, which at that time was only a village, penniless; that he was set to work on the streets as a vagrant; but that his ability was soon detected by his friends who got him a job as bookkeeper in the Mitchell National bank.

"Fail! Fail? In the lexicon of youth
Which Fate reserves for a bright manhood,
There's no such word as fail."

Does any man think that a fellow of young Richard's determination might fail? Would he get home-sick, give up and go back to the little old ship-building, ship-laden seaport town of his youth? Not on your life! Our young viking had better blood in his veins than that.

"So close is glory to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When duty whispers low, 'Thou Must,'
The youth replies, `I can.' "

"I can! I will!" said the determined youth who turned his face toward the line of greatest resistance, set his teeth, and buckled in.


Now, here we go! It is 1886. Young Richards is only twenty years of age. Most boys at this period in life still have mamma putting on their collar and ties for them, and are slipping around on the Q. T. asking dad for a little more spending money. Not so with Dick. Our adopted Norwegian youngster was making his own way. He had already demonstrated his ability as an organizer and had become manager of the American Investment Company for Dakota Territory. Then he became president of the National Land & Trust Company, the Consolidated Land & Irrigation Company and at present, the Richard's Trust Company.

Think of it! A poor ship builder's boy, an immigrant, a hod-carrier. Today only forty-four years of age, and one of the richest men in the state and in the northwest; president of a great trust company, owner of several banks, of vast areas of land and of numerous other interests. How did he get it? By application and determination. Jame Lane Allen's new book, entitled "From Poverty to Power," in which he shows that success is in the man himself, is laid around just such a character as this flaxen-haired personification of the vikings of old, this determined son of a Norsk, this born organizer and leader of men, this uncrowned knight of a sister world, this man whose personal magnetism and whose foresight command the admiration and respect of his friends and foes alike— the Hon. R. 0. Richards.


Whatever may be said against Mr. Richard's political views, no man who knows him has ever doubted his sincerity as a reformer. He believes that railroad and other corporate domination of politics should cease. He works to this end. It doesn't matter to him what faction or what man or set of men he works with, all he asks is loyalty to his cause.

Richards is the father of the progressive reform movement in South Dakota He began the fight in 1903 at Huron, over the postmastership at that place. He lost. In 1904, he brought out Coe I. Crawford as a candidate for governor on three reform issues; anti-pass law, primary law, and equitable railroad taxation. He lost. What next? Discouraged? Never! There is on the statute books of this state an initiative law which provides that the people themselves may present their own laws to the legislature, by petition. For the next few months Mr. Richards quietly went about the state during his spare time and secured 9,000 signatures to a petition to the legislature to enact a state-wide primary law. What happened? The legislature turned down the monster petition, on the claim that it was invallid. Discouraged? No! He had our legislators so badly scared that in order to square themselves with the people they enacted "The Honest Caucus Law." Encouraged? Yes! The fight must never stop till victory came. In 1906, he again backed for governor, his chosen candidate, Coe I. Crawford. This time he won.


Mr. Richards managed the primary campaign for the progressive wing of the party in 1908 and succeeded in nominating Governor Crawford for United States senator, and Mr. Vessey for governor. They were elected. But these gentlemen failed to carry out Mr. Richard's views. He began to scold them. Last February a meeting of the progressive forces was held at Huron. Mr. Richards, cognizant of his own strength, immediately announced that he could either "sink their ship or float it." They knew it also. In order to save themselves they made Mr. Richards manager of their primary campaign. He saved all of their former strength, which did not include the two congressmen and the state treasurer, losing to them only one office—that of state auditor. So much for his leadership.

But the end is not yet. Twenty progressive leaders signed at Huron last spring a compact drawn up by Mr. Richards himself in which they agreed if he would save their new ship at the June primaries they could in turn write into the state republican platform such additional reform measure as Mr. Richards might desire. When the time came they either couldn't or wouldn't "deliver the goods." This set the political pot to boiling. There are some of the progressive leaders in the state who never can again secure Mr. Richard's support. It is now an open secret that irreconcilable differneces have sprung up between them. Without his support in the future, some who won in the past can never win again.

Verily, verily; he can "sink their ship or float it."

Mr. Richards was married to Miss Grace May Durell, formerly of Mitchell, S. D., on January 8, 1891. Six children have been born to them, of whom four are girls and two are boys. Mrs. Richards is a native of Laconla, New Hampshire, and comes from old Revolutionary-war ancestry. She is descended on her mother's side from the Sargent-Pierce families, and on her father's side from the Hutchinson-Durell families, all very prominent in the history of New England, since the early days of that section.

Few men in South Dakota have given public questions more or closer attention than has Mr. Richards. He possesses an exceptionally analytical mind. He is quick to perceive selfish interests and evil causes, and able to suggest practical remedies. It is said of him that he posseses little or no diplomacy, and is not at all given to compromising on the principles he advocates. He has earned the reputation of being a good fighter for the public welfare, and ever faithful to the interests of friends. Nobody doubts the unselfish genuineness of his attitude on public questions, and because of his intelligence and ability and effort, we have today on the staute books of South Dakota laws like the primary, the anti-pass, the anti-divorce and other progressively restrictive measures. Mr. Richards has made himself a force to be seriously dealt with in the politics of South Dakota. His friends feel that he has already done much and is likely to do more.


©2002, Virginia A. Cisewski
All Rights Reserved