GEO. A. SILBY
AN EXTEMPORANEOUS ORATOR
It was away back in the fall of 1892. Grover Cleveland was struggling with Ben Harrison to
wrestle from him the presidential crown. The night before election had arrvied. A political meeting was called
to be held in the old, low-roofed, tin-covered skating rink in the city of Mitchell, that formerly stood where
today stands the beautiful home of Mrs. 0. H. Perry on west Second street. The students of Dakota Wesleyan had
been extended a special invitation to attend. They were present en masse. The rink was filled to its utmost
Presently, a short, square-shouldered gentleman, clad in a Prince Albert, accompanied by a few
associates, came in and took his place on the platform. He was roundly cheered,. In a moment he was introduced
by an admiring champion. Then for three hours and fifteen minutes he held his enthusiastic audience spell bound.
The issue was the tariff. The speaker's fund of information was inexhaustible.
Toward the close he grew superbly eloquent and pictured in classic verbiage the grand old ship
of state steaming into the republican harbor, with her undaunted chief, President Harrison, standing triumphantly
at her helm.
And the oratorwho was he? General George A. Silsby, we reply, the state's most gifted
extemporaneous speaker. Here is a born orator, a man with an original style of oratory, peculiarly his own.
Well read, scholarly, and with a superfluous abundance of words always at his command, he is constantly in
readiness for a speech, long or short, and he always makes good. General Silsby has a way of starting his
audiences to thinking at the inception of his opening remarks; then he gradually draws them into the current of
his own thought until they are submerged and engulfed in a baptism of spontaneous eloquence that is soul
entrancing. His personal appearance, his gestures, his peculiar manner of using the rising inflection at the
end of his sentences, his clear, outreaching, penetrating voice, his unbroken current of words, his witall combine
to make him a platform orator of unusual charm and power.
SILSBY, THE POET
General Silsby, in addition to his oratorical powers, is also possessed of a keen poetical
instinct. Writing poetry comes to him without effort. That which he has turned out for Decoration Day and for
other occasions, is superb. What might he do if he were to apply himself to the task more intensely! At
Christmas time, this year, without any previous meditation, he sat down hurriedly at the typewriter and spun
off spontaneously the following Christmas ditty to his life-long friend, Honorable 0. L. Branson. One needs to
scan it but hurriedly to detect within it the great natural ability back of it.
GEO. A. SILSBY
TO MY FRIEND, 0. L. BRANSON
The old year is dying;
And soft winds are sighing,
While Christmas stands at the door.
Friendsphis are strongest,
And last the longest,
When cherished forevermore.
Brings out the prediction.
That our's will last for all time:
'Tis cherished with love
That springs from above:
And nurtured with thoughts sublime.
So I bring you this toast,
But with no idle boast;
"A merry Christmas to you:"
May kind Heaven fore-fend,
My very best friend,
Who always proved loyal and true.
His Decoration Day addresses are usually well-seasoned with his own original poems. He seems
able, with but little effort, to produce an inexhaustible supply of them. We remember one preserved from his
Memorial address in May, 1907. It follows:
Oh! starry flag, with field of blue.
With stripes of red and stripes of white;
Thou standest for the things most true
For Honor, Justice, Right.
We gladly hail this emblem pure,
This banner of our country's pride;
For you our sons will ere endure;
For you our noblest died.
From heaven's high dome you richly shine,
And radiance cast on all around:
Thy form speaks of a love divine
That knows no captive bound.
Oh! starry flag, forever wave,
For Freedom pure, and righteous laws;
Within thy folds conceal no slave,
Nor treasure any flaws.
FROM BOYHOOD TO MANHOOD
Born in Rockford, Illinois, March 28, 1847, General Silsby was a lad ten years of age when the
Lincoln-Douglas debate took place at Freeport, Illinois; and he is one of the few persons, living today, who
can truthfully say that they heard one of these debates.
On the morning of the day that this particular debate took place, his father said: "Come,
George, help to hitch up the team and we'll drive to Freeport to hear the speeches today by Lincoln and Douglas" Here
was the opportunity of a life time. The boy was at that plastic age in life when impressions are easily made
and sink deep. He carried away with him part of the addresses, and, above all, the spirit of the occasion.
He recalls to this day and relates with some mirth, how Lincoln, when Judge Douglas was introduced, arose, as
a matter of courtesy; and how Douglas, much to the amusement of the audience, strutted over to Lincoln, and
looking up at him, (Lincoln was a head and shoulders taller than Douglas) said, "How long, 0 Lord, how long:"
and how Lincoln when he was introduced and Judge Douglas stood up, looked down at him and said, "The ways of the wicked are short." (It soon proved true.)
While a boy he attended the public schools in Rockford. In 1880, he got the "western fever" and
migrated to Dakota, settling on a homestead in Davison county, just west of Mitchell, in Beulah township, where
for two years he hatched it in a sod shanty. One year, while on the farm, he raised two acres of onions that
netted him $835.45. They were all bought and eaten by the citizens of Mitchell, except 100 bushels.
In 1883, Mr Silsby was given a position in the United States land office at Mitchell, and
later he was made chief clerk. The next year he was appointed postmaster at Mitchell, but he was removed two
years later by Grover Cleveland, for "pernicious activity" in political affairs. Knowing that if a democratic
president were elected, he would lose his position, Silsby was very active during the campaign. When it was
learned that Cleveland was elected, a crowd of enthusiastic democrats, led by Judge Hammer (deceased) marched
up Main street, carrying torch lights. They stopped in front of the postoffice. But the daunty Silsby was not
to be outdone. Looking up they beheld a banner which he had hoisted, on one side of which were these words:
"Onions will grow again. It will be summer by and by," and on the other side:
"To the victors belong the spoils."
General Silsby enlisted at fifteen years of age as a private in the 74th Illinois infantry,
April 5, 1862. Serving out his first enlistment, he re-enlisted in the 132nd Illinois. Having taken sick, and
having been reduced thereby in flesh until he weighed but ninety-three pounds, he was mustered out at Chicago,
December 6, 1864, for physical disability.
Shortly after homesteading in Davison county, he was elected captain of old Co. "I" of the
South Dakota state guards at Mitchell. He used to hoe onions during the day and then walk to town at night to
drill his troops. Governor Mellette appointed him inspector-general for the state. In this capacity his work
was so satisfactory that Governor Sheldon later on appointed him adjutant-general.
At the state republican convention held at Madison, in 1892, Harry L. Bras, of Mitchell, was a
candidate against Cortez Salmon, of Parker, for state superintendent. He brought out General Silsby as a candidate for temporary chairman of the convention. After a lot of dickering, during which
General Silsby's name was withdrawn from the fight for nearly an hour, he was put back into the race, but was
defeated by twenty-three votes by our present United States senator, Robert J. Gamble. Later on the General was
made permanent chairman of the convention and as a result of his impartial rulings during that stormy session he
was elected to the republican national convention as the first presidential elector-at-large from South Dakota,
casting his ballot for Ben Harrison for president. In 1902 General Silsby was elected mayor of Mitchell,
and during his two administrations the city showed a splendid growth; the large, granite city hall was built
without issuing bonds, and many other substantial improvements were made. He was our state's national bank
examiner from 1898, for ten consecutive years.
The General owns in the city of Mitchell one of the
most magnificent homes in the state: also another large modern dwelling, the large store building occupied by
W. H. Fritz on Main street and a large interest in the Mitchell Cattle Company which owns eight sections of
land in northern Hyde county, heavily stocked. At present he is secretary of the Mitchell Elks' Club with a
membership of 850, secretary of the Mitchell Commercial Club; a member of the G. A. R. and the Masons, and an
active member of the Congregational church.
One month and three days before his twenty-first birthday, he was united in marriage to Miss
Emily Derwent, of Rockford, Illinois today one of Mitchell's happy and energetic club women and leader,
blessed by a host of true friends, and active and enthusiastic for the city's general welfare. Two girls came into
their home. One of them is today Mrs. Maude Silsby-Nichols, of Faith, and the other, Mrs. H. E. Hitchcock, wife
of Senator Hitchcock of Davison county.
The Silsbys enjoy a pleasant home life; and although the General is very busy, and increasing
years are beginning to show their furrowed grooves, he is still the favorite orator for Decoration Day, for Old
Settlers' picnics and at state camp-fires. Splendid citizen!