Farmer 10 per cent, teacher 8 per cent, lawyer 14 per cent, editor 18 per cent, poet 22 per cent, historian 28 per cent; total 100 per cent, of symmetrical manhood; such is our analysis of Doane Robinson, our present state historian.


He was born on a farm, near Sparta, Wisconsin, October 19, 1856. There he spent his boyhood years and his teens, remaining with his father as boys of the former generation were wont to do, until he had reached his majority. Then he struck westward and filed on a hometsead in Lyon county, Minnesota. Here again he became a tiller of the soil.

Robinson's experience and observations on the farm, while a boy, ripened his judgment concerning crops, so that today he is regarded as an authority on prospective grain yields, not only in South Dakota but throughout the west; indeed the grain markets of Minneapolis fluctuate according to his forecast.


Our Subject was but five years of age when the Civil war broke out. Facilities in the wilds of Wisconsin at that time were not the best for securing an education. Young Robinson worked on his father's farm, and attended a country school for a few months now and then during the winter. Still, his studious habits found reward, and he finally fitted himself for a teacher. During the five years spent on his Minnesota homestead he taught school during the winter months.


While yet a young man Mr. Robinson saw that if he got ahead in life it would be through strenuous efforts on his own part, owing to the lack of educational advantages in his early years Therefore, during the time spent holding down his homestead, and while he was teaching school he spent his evenings reading law. In 1882-3, he took the senior year in the Wisconsin law school. Leaving the school he struck west again, going farther than he did the first time, and settled at Watertown, S. D., where he established himself in the practice of law.


After a few .years, tiring of his chosen profession—law, he gave it up to enter the editorial field. For several years he edited the "Monthly South Dakotan," a magazine devoted to a spicy review of the early history of the Dakotas. He finally sold the magazine to the Educator School Supply Company of Mitchell.

But Robinson, the poet, is far the most fascinating of all. In this field he launched out more than in any of the others, except history. But the latter is limited by the facts it records, and the former has no limitations whatsoever, except in the ability of the author.


His best poetical productions were published in the "Century Magazine;" later they were gathered together and published in a neat little volume called "The Coteaus of Dakota."

In his poetry, Robinson confines himself mostly to various dialects. He is always spicy and entertaining; always original and terse. His poem entitled "About Sunrise," is brim full of good things and causes one to live over again the joyous spring mornings in Dakota when the dew is on the young grasses, and when in the distance you can hear the prairie chicken sounding his solemn notes, Ding—Dill—Doo." We quote only the last stanza:

"The soft sunlight
   Comes flashin' out,
And 'fore you know
   What makes your singer go,
You join the happy shout—
   The song without the words
Sung by the mockin'-birds.
   I ain't got no ear for singin',
So I jest keep on a-flingin'
   Clods up in the apple-tree,
Until 1 couldn't nowhere see
   A bird within a mile of me."

His "Plowin'","Morning in Galilee", "Helpin' Hay," and several other choice selections are equally refreshing.

Several years ago we remember reading, of cutting out and preserving, a little ditty of his entitled "Consistency." The thing about it which caught our attention then, and which engages it yet, is the wonderful amount of suggestion contained in those few poetical words. It follows:


Reproach me not, though it appear,
   While I true doctrines teach,
I wholly fail in my career
   To practice as I preach.

Yon guide-post has through countless days
   "To London" pointed on,
Nor once has quit the angled ways
   And up to London gone.

When we were young, twenty-seven years ago, we rode a bare-backed, western-fed donkey, and on him herded cattle on Dakota prairies, ten miles south of Huron, along the Jim river. Anything about herding always distresses us, except Doane Robinson's poem:


No end of rich green medder land
Spiked out with ever' kind of poseys.
Es fer as I kin understand
They's nothin' else on earth so grand
Es just a field of prairy roseys.
Mixed up with blue, gold-beaded plumes
Of shoestring flowers and peavey blooms.
Take it a warm, sunshiny day,
When prairys stretch so far away
Ther' lost at last in smoky gray,
And hulkin' yoke-worn oxen browse
Aroun' the coteaus with the cows,—
The tipsy, stag'rin day-old calf,
Mumbles a bleat and slabbers a laugh—
And yearlin' steers, so round and slick,
Wade in the cool and sparklin' creek
While cute spring bossies romp and play
With Ponto in the tall slough hay.
Ye picket out the gentle Roany,
Yer knowin,' faithful herdin' pony.
And tumblin' down upon yer back
Wher' gray sweet-smellin' beauties bide
In posey beds, three counties wide,
You take a swig of prairy air,
With which old speerits ken't compare.
And think and plan, and twist and rack
Yer brains, to work some scheme aroun'
To get a week to spend in town.

Recently Mr. Robinson issued a pamphlet containing only four-lined poems, entitled "Bits of Four." From it we culled the following:


Nor envy thou thy neighbor's gift;
   He covets thine in vain;
The eagle through the azure drifts,
   The salmon threads the main.


To thirsty lands, where once in rhythm rolled
   Foam crested waves, to fret the rock girt coast,
There comes to frolic in the sea path old
   The perished water's insubstantial ghost.


Only a few are the friends I have won;
   Hearts of my heart in Love's cement set;
Trusting me, spite of the ill I have done—
   Thanks be to God, I hold all of them yet.


Youth pleads,—God taught his children so—
   "0 give me joy; my happines asure."
Age prays,—God teaches men to grow—
   "All peace be thine; 0 may thy joys be pure."


Ye curse me, but for fear of me
A man and maid from sin are free
Why, e'en the priest is more discreet
Because I wander in the street.


Robinson is the only state official who didnt' get his job by popular vote, nor as an appointee of the Governor. He was chosen by the State Historcial Society, after the position of State Historian and Collector of Vital Statistics had been created by legislative enactment. In all probability he will continue to hold down the job as long as he may care to.

He is the author of "History of South Dakota," published by Bowen & Co , Indianapolis; of a "Brief History of South Dakota," published by the American Book Co.; a "History of the Sioux Indians," and dozens of miscellaneous historical articles.


Doane is a jolly good fellow, with an even, happy temperament, always delightful to meet and hard to break away from. One feels as though he had met his brother and you somehow hate to part. When a sight-seer reaches Pierre and inspects our new capitol, after treading on that cuss-ed, dis-cussed-ed $1,200 rug in the governor's office, which refused to remain on the floor during the recent primary campaign. if he desires to know the significance of those weird high-priced Indian pictures painted on the walls of the rotunda, all he has to do is to ask for Doane Robinson, and he will receive an hour's lecture, gratis, that will keep him assimilating for several months to come. Try it! and be convinced.

While practicing law at Watertown in 1884, Doane was married to Miss Jennie Austin, of Leon, Wisconsin. Their wedded life brought into being two sons—Harry, aged 24, and Will, aged 19. But Mr. Robinson's life, like that of all the rest of us, has had its thorns. Mrs. Robinson was suddenly snatched awayfrom him by the Grim Reaper, January 23, 1902. Hereunto related are the words of Taylor:

"Life is just a little
   Of the good and of the bad,
Of things that make us happy
   And the things that make us sad."


©2002, Virginia A. Cisewski
All Rights Reserved