There's nothing like a library. Whether I need some information about any topic that might come to mind, or I'd like to check out a movie that I've never seen, or I need to get a book that might be located across the state, a library can provide these services, as well as a snug place to read a book or meet a friend. These days, there is also various technology to use at libraries, and there are also usually different types of children's programming, book clubs and other activities in which to get involved.
I've always been a fan of libraries, and part of the reason for it is because it opens up a world of knowledge to everyone. Back in the day, it wasn't possible to just grab a book off of your shelf to check a reference. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that not that many people learned how to read, because there was little chance that they would ever come across a book. Before things like the printing press, books were handwritten and so expensive that only the very rich would have access to them. With the access to books and various media today on our handheld devices, that may be hard to imagine, but it's true. In the United States, the social reform movement to establish libraries and other public institutions took off in the early 1900s.
In this area, I imagine that it would be quite difficult to bring books, if I had to think of getting everything that I would need for a new life in an unknown place, into one wagon. Though I love books, I imagine that only the most important would make it onto that list. For that reason, the first libraries in the area were significant and important additions to the communities and the people whom they served. Many of the first libraries were much like the pioneers to the area; rugged and practical. One example, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2004, is the Dakota Club Library in Dewey County, the first library on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation.
The area that would become Dewey County was part of the land included in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. This treaty designated the boundaries of the land belonging to the Sioux tribes in present-day South and North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming. Through the next decades, however, these lands were continually reduced by other treaties and acts of Congress, including the reductions in 1877 and 1890 that allowed settlers to enter western South Dakota, as well as the Surplus Lands Act of 1909. This act provided 10,000 homesteads on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation for white settlers.
Now located on Main Street of Eagle Butte, the building that would become the Dakota Club Library was first used as a sod house, built by a pioneer in 1914 during the years when homesteading was allowed on the reservation.
The building moved to Eagle Butte in 1928, when it was donated to the Dakota Club, a women's organization dedicated to improving the community. One of the club's main goals was to establish a library, and this sod construction would help the club to reach its goal. It is considered one of the oldest buildings in the community. Shelves were added to the building, and the Dakota Club Library was born.
The library is also remembered as helping to create jobs during the Great Depression, and some of that work came about through the Works Progress Administration, which in 1935 took on the project of improving the building and creating an addition to it that is larger than the original building. During the project, the sod house was covered with a fieldstone veneer, protecting the sod.
I imagine there aren't too many libraries around that still have walls that include sod, but the Dakota Club Library, an important piece of our state history, still does. And it isn't just a piece of history-it's still a working library.