Private William Schuyler Reiser: From Farm Boy to Pioneer

Alternate Spellings of Surname: Reeser, Reiser, Rieser

 

The Corn Palace, embellished and expanded over the years after it was first built on Main Street in Mitchell, South Dakota in 1892, was a familiar sight to the Reiser/Reeser family, and was reportedly decorated with 3,500 bushels of corn (photo circa 1909, public domain).

Born in Ohio sometime around 1842, William Schuyler Reiser started out life as a farm boy in the rural heartland of the United States, but grew up to become a pioneer and family man whose oldest daughter changed the future of public education for generations of American children while his youngest attended a school made famous by one of the nation’s best loved children’s book authors.

Formative Years

A son of Pennsylvanian Hannah Reiser and Andrew Reiser, an Ohio native who became a successful farmer, William S. Reiser spent his formative years in the Buckeye State’s Mahoning County.

* Note: The family’s surname was spelled most frequently during William S. Reiser’s early years as “Reiser” or “Rieser,” but as “Reeser” in later life following his relocation to South Dakota. The spelling of “Reiser” is used throughout the early part of this biographical sketch since that was the spelling used for his surname in U.S. Civil War records, and then changes to  “Reeser” during the post-war part of this article since that was the spelling used on his grave marker.

Sometime during the 1850s, William Reiser relocated with his parents and siblings to western Pennsylvania where, circa 1854 and 1857, his younger sisters, Amanda and Laura, were born. Per the federal census of 1860, the family lived in Allegheny Township, Venango County. Also residing at the home at this time were William Reiser’s other siblings: George W. (aged 16), Thomas J. (aged 14), and Harry M. (aged 12), all of whom were Ohio natives; and Amanda (aged 6) and “Lora” (aged 3), both of whom were natives of the Keystone State. Their father’s real estate and personal property were valued by the census taker during this decade at $504.

By 1863, however, William S. Reiser was residing once again in Mahoning County, Ohio, according to Civil War military records.

Civil War Military Service

Norristown, Pennsylvania, circa mid-1800s (public domain).

On 16 December 1863, 21-year-old William S. Reiser enrolled for Civil War military service at the Union Army recruiting depot in Norristown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He then officially mustered in for duty that same day at Norristown as a Private with Company F of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and subsequently connected with his regiment via another recruiting depot on 8 January 1864.

Joining an already combat-hardened group of veterans who had been bloodied badly during the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina in October 1862, he understood he would face mortal danger, but did not yet realize that he was about to make history with his new comrades as part of the only Pennsylvania regiment to fight in the Union’s 1864 Red River Campaign across Louisiana.

On 25 February 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers set off for a phase of service in which the regiment would make history. Steaming first for New Orleans aboard the Charles Thomas, the men arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February and were then shipped by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride – this time to Franklin via the Bayou Teche – the 47th joined the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps. From 14-26 March, the regiment passed through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington while en route to Alexandria and Natchitoches. Often short on food and water, the men encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill the night of 7 April before continuing on the next day, marching until mid-afternoon.

19th U.S. Army Map, Phase 3, Battle of Sabine Cross Roads/Mansfield (8 April 1864, public domain).

Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down on 8 April during the back-and-forth volley of fire unleashed during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (Mansfield). The fighting waned only when darkness fell. The exhausted, but uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded. After midnight, the surviving Union troops withdrew to Pleasant Hill.

The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner who was the son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.

Casualties were severe during the Battle of Pleasant Hill. The regiment’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color-bearers, both from Company C, were also seriously wounded while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands. Still others were captured by Confederate troops, marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison camp near Tyler, Texas, and held there as prisoners of war until they were released during POW exchanges between July and November. Several members of the regiment never made it out alive.

Following what some historians have called a drubbing by the Confederate Army and others have called a technical Union victory (or at least a draw), the 47th Pennsylvania fell back to Grand Ecore, where the men resupplied and regrouped until 22 April. Retreating toward Alexandria, Louisiana, they then scored another victory against the Confederates, this time on 23 April at Monett’s Ferry in the Battle of Cane Hill.

Christened “Bailey’s Dam” for Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, the officer overseeing its construction, this timber dam built across the Red River near Alexandria, Louisiana in May 1864 facilitated Union gunboat passage (public domain).

Next, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey, they helped to build a dam near Alexandria from 30 April through 10 May. Christened as “Bailey’s Dam,” this timber structure enabled federal gunboats to successfully traverse the fluctuating waters of the Red River. Beginning 16 May, Captain Henry Samuel Harte and F Company moved with most of the 47th from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza, and then to New Orleans on 20 June.

Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign

Still able and willing to fight after their time in Bayou country, the soldiers of Company F and their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania returned to the Washington, D.C. area aboard the McClellan from 5-12 July 1864 – but they did so without their commanding officer, Captain Harte, who was ordered to serve on detached duty as the leader of the 47th Pennsylvanians from Companies B, G and K, who were left behind because the McClellan was unable to transport the entire regiment. (Captain Harte sailed later aboard the Blackstone with Companies B, G and K, and arrived in the Washington, D.C. area on 28 July.)

After arriving on the East Coast and having a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, the bulk of the 47th Pennsylvania joined up with General David Hunter’s forces at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia, where the men from Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I assisted in defending Washington, D.C. while also helping to drive Confederate troops from Maryland.

Halltown Ridge, looking west with “old ruin of 123 on left. Colored people’s shanty right,” where Union troops entrenched after Major-General Philip Sheridan took command of the Middle Military Division, 7 August 1864 (photo/caption: Thomas Dwight Biscoe, 2 August 1884, courtesy of Southern Methodist University).

Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah beginning in August 1864, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was then assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia during the early part of that month. Over the next several weeks, the regiment then engaged in a series of back-and-forth movements between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a mimic war being waged by Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early.

From 3-4 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers then fought in the Battle of Berryville.

With F Company once again under the command of Captain Henry S. Harte by September, the opening days of Fall 1864 also saw the promotion of several men from Company F and the departure of a significant number of others who had served honorably but whose terms of service were expiring, including F Company’s Captain Harte, who mustered out at Berryville, Virginia on 18 September 1864. For Private William S. Reiser and other remaining members of the 47th, the fighting was not yet over – and they were about to engage in the regiment’s greatest moments of valor.

Battles of Opequan and Fisher’s Hill, September 1864

Together with other regiments under the command of Union General Philip H. (“Little Phil”) Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps, the members of Company F and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces during the Battle of Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon” and referred to as “Third Winchester”). The battle is still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign; the Union’s victory here helped to ensure the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.

Battle of Opequan (aka Third Winchester), Virginia, 19 September 1864 (public domain).

The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny at Opequan began at 2 a.m. on 19 September 1864 as the regiment left camp and joined up with others in the Union’s 19th Corps. After advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, the 19th Corps bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. Upon reaching the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with Early’s Confederate Army. The fighting, which began in earnest at noon, was long and brutal. The Union’s left flank (6th Corps) took a beating from Confederate artillery stationed on high ground.

The 47th Pennsylvania and the 19th Corps were directed by General William Emory to attack and pursue Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Some success was achieved, but casualties mounted as another Confederate artillery group opened fire on Union troops trying to cross a clearing. When a nearly fatal gap began to open between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan sent in units led by Brigadier-Generals Emory Upton and David A. Russell. Russell, hit twice – once in the chest, was mortally wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania opened its lines long enough to enable the Union cavalry under William Woods Averell and the foot soldiers of General George Crook to charge the Confederates’ left flank.

Victory of Philip Sheridan’s Union army over Jubal Early’s Confederate forces, Battle of Opequan, 19 September 1864 (Kurz & Allison, c. 1893, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

The 19th Corps, with the 47th in the thick of the fighting, then began pushing the Confederates back. Early’s “grays” retreated in the face of the valor displayed by Sheridan’s “blue jackets.” Leaving 2,500 wounded behind, the Rebels fled to Fisher’s Hill, eight miles south of Winchester (21-22 September), and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack by Sheridan’s Union men which outnumbered Early’s three to one. Afterward, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent out on skirmishing parties before making camp at Cedar Creek.

Moving forward, the surviving members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers would continue to distinguish themselves in battle, but they would do so without two more of their respected commanders: Colonel Tilghman Good and Good’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George Alexander, who mustered out 23-24 September upon the expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately, they were replaced by leaders who were equally respected for their front line experience and temperament, including Major John Peter Shindel Gobin, formerly of the 47th’s Company C, who had been promoted up through the regimental staff to the rank of Major (and who would be promoted again on 4 November to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and Commanding Officer of the regiment).

Battle of Cedar Creek, 19 October 1864

Alfred Waud’s 1864 sketch, Surprise at Cedar Creek, which captured the flanking attack on the rear of Union Brigadier-General William Emory’s 19th Corps by Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate army, and the subsequent resistance by Emory’s troops from their Union rifle-pit positions, 19 October 1864 (public domain).

It was during the Fall of 1864 that General Philip Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s farming infrastructure. Viewed through today’s lens of history as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents – civilians whose lives were cut short by their inability to find food. This same strategy, however, almost certainly contributed to the further turning of the war’s tide in the Union’s favor during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864. Successful throughout most of their engagement with Union forces at Cedar Creek, Early’s Confederate troops began peeling off in ever growing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally and win the day.

From a military standpoint, it was an impressive, but heartrending day. During the morning of 19 October, Early launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. Early’s men were able to capture Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles – all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to historian Samuel P. Bates:

When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he rode rapidly past them – “Face the other way, boys! We are going back to our camp! We are going to lick them out of their boots!’”

Sheridan Rallying His Troops, Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia, 19 October 1864 (U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

The Union’s counterattack punched Early’s forces into submission, and the men of the 47th were commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions:

When the final grand charge was made, the regiment moved at nearly right angles with the rebel front. The brigade charged gallantly, and the entire line, making a left wheel, came down on his flank, while engaging the Sixth Corps, when he went “whirling up the valley” in confusion. In the pursuit to Fisher’s Hill, the regiment led, and upon its arrival was placed on the skirmish line, where it remained until twelve o’clock noon of the following day. The army was attacked at early dawn…no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.

Once again, the casualties for the 47th were high with more than 170 members of the regiment killed, wounded, or captured and carted off to Confederate prison camps. Sergeant William Pyers, the C Company man who had so gallantly rescued the flag at Pleasant Hill was cut down in view of his drummer boy son and later buried on the battlefield. Perry County resident and Regimental Chaplain William Rodrock suffered a near miss as a bullet pierced his cap. Privates Addison R. Geho and Rainey Grader of Company F were killed in action while Privates Josiah H. Walk and William H. Moll were wounded in action, but recovered and ultimately returned to continued service with the regiment.

Following these engagements, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester, where they remained from November through most of December. Rested and somewhat healed, they were then ordered to outpost and railroad guard duty at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia. Five days before Christmas, they trudged through a snowstorm in order to reach their new home.

1865 – 1866

Spectators massing for the Grand Review of the Armies, 23-24 May 1865, at the side of the crepe-draped U.S. Capitol, flag at half mast following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (Matthew Brady, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Assigned in February to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah, the men of the 47th moved back to Washington, D.C., via Winchester and Kernstown. By 19 April, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were once again responsible for helping to defend the nation’s capital – this time following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Encamped near Fort Stevens, they received new uniforms and were resupplied.

Letters home and later newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th Pennsylvania indicate that at least one 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer was given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others may have guarded the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their imprisonment and trial.

Then, as part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania also participated in the Union’s Grand Review on 23-24 May.

Ruins of Charleston, South Carolina as viewed from the Circular Church, 1865 (U.S. National Archives, public domain).

On their final southern tour, Private William S. Reiser and his fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June. Attached again to Dwight’s Division, this time they were assigned to the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South. Relieving the 165th New York Volunteers in July, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania next quartered in Charleston at the former mansion of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury.

Finally, beginning on Christmas day of that year, the majority of the men of Company F, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers – including Private William Schuyler Reiser – began to honorably muster out at Charleston, South Carolina, a process which continued through early January. Following a stormy voyage home, the 47th Pennsylvania disembarked in New York City. The weary men were then shipped to Philadelphia by train where, at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866, the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers were officially given their discharge papers.

Return to Civilian Life

The main building of the Iowa College for the Blind in Vinton, Iowa (shown in this 1895 public domain photo) would figure prominently in the life of William Reeser’s family during the late 19th century.

Following his honorable discharge from the military, William Reiser returned home to his family and friends in Ohio, and resumed life on the family farm in Mahoning County. According to the 1870 federal census, he resided there as a 28-year-old with his parents and siblings: Jefferson (aged 23), Henry (aged 21), Amanda (aged 16), and Laura (aged 13). Both William and his brother, Jefferson, worked the land with their father, whose farm and personal estate holdings were valued by the census taker that year at $8,929, while their other siblings attended school.

But shortly thereafter, William Reiser began his own family. Upon marrying Catherine (Stofflet) Patterson in 1871 (according to the 1915 South Dakota State Census), he also became a father to Lilly A. Patterson (c. 1867-1950) – his wife’s daughter from a previous marriage. The trio then became a foursome sometime around 1874 with the arrival of daughter Mable Reiser (1873-1906).

Bitten by the pioneer spirit (as evidenced by the 1905 South Dakota State Census), William Reiser moved his family to the Dakota Territory in 1882, where they became residents of the town of Mitchell in Davison County and members of the Methodist church there. It was also sometime around this time that the spelling of their surname was changed to “Reeser” (as confirmed by the surname spelling used for federal census records and their respective gravestones).

Tragically, daughter Mable developed health problems as she matured. Described later in her life as “creeping paralysis,” the disease weakened her eyesight until rendering her blind by 1889. As a result, her parents sent her to Vinton, Iowa, where she was enrolled at the Iowa College for the Blind (the same school which had been attended from 1877-1889 by Mary Amelia Ingalls, the sister of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the popular children’s book series, Little House on the Prairie).

According to the website of the Iowa Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, because no school for the blind existed in South Dakota at the time of Mable Reeser’s illness, missionaries assigned to the Dakota Territories often advised parents to send their children to the school for the blind in Iowa.

Typically students arrived in Vinton by train and were met at the depot by a horse-drawn bus. New students would enter the Main Building through a back door which was near a comfortable, well-lighted sitting room used by the Principal. Although steam heat had been installed, its frequent ineffectiveness made the wood stove in that room a welcome source of heat for the new arrivals. After a conference with Mr. Carothers, new students were frequently presented to Lorana Mattice, the highly competent blind teacher whose warm, friendly manner soon put them at ease. Parents were encouraged to stay with their newly enrolled child the first few days, until the child began to get acquainted with the new surroundings.

The school made an impressive appearance to newcomers. The north and south wings of the school with their long verandas, and the even longer veranda across the back of the building, commanded an outstanding view. A gravel path led from the stone gate to the front porch with its wooden steps. A stone wall between two and three feet high fronted the east edge of the campus. All of these, along with the curving cinder driveway and the many trees and shrubs, helped create the distinctive image.

Departmental offerings were extensive and included the following:

Academic courses:
Spelling, arithmetic, grammar, history, geography, physiology, natural and mental philosophy, algebra, rhetoric, chemistry, zoology, raised print, New York Point, literature, civil government, political economics, plane and solid geometry, and botany.

Music courses:
Vocal, harmony, piano, pipe organ, violin, guitar, flute, clarinet, and cornet.

Industrial courses:
Brooms, mattresses, hammocks, fly nets (for horses), cane seating, piano tuning, carpet weaving, sewing, knitting, and bead work.

Examinations were consistently held on the last Friday of every month and the last Friday of every quarter. Final exams, covering the entire year, were conducted during the last week of school. Advancement into the next grade was based upon the student achieving an average of 60% or more in the class standing. If a student failed to achieve the 60% standing after six years, they were considered a candidate for dismissal. Absolutely no allowances were made for sickness or absences….

[More about what life was like at the Iowa College for the Blind may be found online here.]

Mable Reeser’s attendance at the school in Vinton was documented in the Twentieth Biennial Report of the College for the Blind, which confirmed that she was a native of Pennsylvania who had been a resident of Plankinton in Aurora County, South Dakota at the time of her admission to the school on 14 January 1892, that she had been blind for three years at the time of this admission, and that her condition was “congenital.”

Sometime during her stay in Iowa, Mable Reeser met Edward A. Lichty, a son of Cyrus and Adell (Cox) Lichty. After marrying on 9 June 1897 in Black Hawk County, Iowa, the young couple appear to have experienced difficulties, however, because shortly after the turn of the century, Mable Reeser was documented as residing once again with her sister, Lilly Patterson, at their parents’ home in South Mitchell, Davison County, South Dakota. She then passed away on 31 May 1906 in Mitchell, and was laid to rest at the town’s Graceland Cemetery. The Mitchell Capital noted her passing in its 1 June 1906 edition as follows:

Miss Mable Reeser died Thursday morning [31 May 1906] at 6 o’clock, after an illness which lasted several weeks. Funeral services will probably be held Saturday morning, but an announcement more definite will be made tomorrow.

That same newspaper then followed up on 8 June 1906 with these additional details:

At the Methodist church Saturday [2 June 1906] at 10 o’clock funeral services were held over the remains of Miss Mable Reeser, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. S. Reeser. There was a fine collection of beautiful flowers from the friends, and the attendance was very large, a number of the pupils from the rooms of Miss Patterson, a sister of the deceased, being present. The music was furnished by the high school girls, and Mrs. O. P. Auld, of Plankinton, and Mrs. H. S. Wilkinson sang a duet. Rev. H. S. Wilkinson delivered an impressive serlady [sic, should have read “sermon”]. The interment was made in Graceland cemetery. The deceased was 33 years old, and for the past 16 years she has been blind, which was brought on by creeping paralysis, and which affliction finally brought about her death. She graduated from a high school at her Iowa home just before she became blind, and later was educated in a school for the blind at Vinton. During the years of her afflictions she has been a patient sufferer.

“You can lift up a man if he stumble,” said Teddy Roosevelt in a speech before a large crowd in Mitchell, South Dakota on 6 April 1903 (public domain).

A year later, William Reeser received word that his U.S. Civil War Pension would be reissued at the rate of $12 per month (on 29 April 1907, but retroactive to 5 March). Subsequent increases were then awarded to $15 per month (February 1912), $23 per month (June 1912), $30 per month (1917), $40 per month (1918), $50 per month (1920), and $72 per month (17 July 1922).

In 1909, The Mitchell Capital noted in its 9 December edition that William Reeser had been elected as an officer of his local Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) post:

At their regular meeting Monday evening Ransom Post, G.A.R., elected officers for the coming year. S. Cattrell was elected commander; Phil Lucas, senior vice; O. N. Sheehe, junior vice; William Reeser, surgeon; J. H. Nolt, chaplain; William Nash, quartermaster; A. G. Pringle, officer of the day; and David Zarr, officer of the guard.

Delegates were also elected to the state G.A.R. encampment at Watertown next June. They were E. J. Greaves, L. R. Bingham, and Phil Lucas. The alternates elected were O. N. Sheehe, Dan Tenney, and David Zarr. Only route business was transacted besides the annual election.

By 1910, William Reeser was working as a janitor for a local public school, and was documented by the federal census as residing at 316 West 2nd Avenue in Mitchell, Davison County, South Dakota with his wife and unmarried stepdaughter, Lilly A. Patterson, a 42-year-old public school teacher. Census records also noted that family matriarch, Catherine, had given birth to four children during her lifetime, only one of whom (Lilly) was still alive, that she had been married to William for 35 years, and that three other teachers also resided with the family at this time: Cora Trager (aged 27 from Iowa), Bessie Barm (aged 24 from Illinois), and Sybil Baird (aged 27 from Pennsylvania).

* Note: Lilly A. Patterson continued to grow professionally, garnering recognition for her leadership in the public schools of South Dakota. In 1904 and 1905, she taught eighth grade at Davison County’s West Side school. By 1911, according to George Washington Kingsbury’s History of Dakota Territory, she had been appointed as secretary on the board of directors for the County Superintendents’ Department of the State Teachers’ Association. In 1914, The Mitchell Daily Republican noted in its 4 November edition that “Miss Lilly Patterson” was serving as the “superintendent of public schools” in Davison County, South Dakota. Multiple newspaper mentions during this period of her life, in fact, documented her repeated election to the post of county superintendent of schools, as well as her involvement in teacher professional development and student academic initiatives which contributed to the improvement of the schools under her authority. The Mitchell Capital reported in its 28 May 1914 edition that the Davison County schools had had a “very successful year,” noting:

‘The year’s work on the whole has been very satisfactory,’ said Miss Lilly Patterson, county superintendent of schools…. ‘During the past eight and nine months the schools of the county have made considerable advancement and are comparing very favorably with the larger schools in Mitchell.’

According to Miss Patterson one of the encouraging features in county educational work has been the movement in many of the districts to extend the school year to a period of nine months, instead of eight….

The 13 August 1914 edition of the same newspaper then reported that she was paid a salary of $375 for the months of April, May and June, reimbursed $17.35 for “mileage to visiting schools,” and advanced an additional $2.00 “for holding exams.”

Like her father, she was also actively involved with Grand Army of the Republic activities both at and beyond the local post (Ransom) level. In 1922, for example, she served as a member of the annual encampment planning committee, according to the 4 May 1922 edition of the Argus-Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; previously, she had traveled to the national encampment in Boston, Massachusetts as a member of the delegation from South Dakota.

Oddly, the 1920 federal census taker chose to describe William S. Reeser as a 77-year-old fireman for an apartment building who was a native of “Russia” and whose parents were also Russian natives (lineage data which is contrary to all other data found in U.S. census and military records for the Civil War veteran). This same census sheet also noted that he resided at 322 West 2nd Avenue in Mitchell, Davison County, South Dakota with his wife and their 52-year-old daughter, Lilly Patterson, whom the census taker described as a bookkeeper for a local hardware store. Also residing with the family at this time were roomers P. E. Krogan, a 34-year-old South Dakota native who was employed as a bookkeeper for the “Non Partisan League,” and Maude Fuller, a 26-year-old Nebraskan and stenographer with a local bank.

Death and Interment – South Dakota

According to records of the Grand Army of the Republic’s Ransom Post, William S. Reeser answered his final bugle call on 22 June 1923 when he passed away in the town of Mitchell, South Dakota. He was laid to rest in the same cemetery where his daughter Mable had been buried 17 years earlier – Graceland Cemetery in Mitchell, Davison County, South Dakota. His widow followed him in death three years later, and was laid to rest beside him.

What Happened to Daughter Lilly A. Patterson?

Main Street looking north from 2nd Avenue, Mitchell, South Dakota (c. 1950s, public domain).

Retired from her leadership role with the Davison County public schools, Lilly Patterson never married, and continued to reside in the town of Mitchell for the remainder of her days. The federal census of 1930 documented her residency as a lodger with the family of Lewis Shuster at 3rd Avenue in Mitchell while the 1940 federal census confirmed that she had relocated to 600 West 1st Avenue in Mitchell by 1935, where she remained there through at least the time of the 1940 federal census.

Finally, after a long full life during which she was a pioneer both geographically and professionally, Lilla A. “Lilly” Patterson died in Mitchell, Davison County, South Dakota at the age of 83 on 3 June 1950. She was then laid to rest beside her parents and sister at the Graceland Cemetery. She rests there still.

 

Sources:

1. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2. G.A.R. Election: G.A.R. Elects Officers and Delegates to State Encampment at Meeting Monday Night. Mitchell, Dakota [South Dakota]: The Mitchell Capital, 9 December 1909.

3. Kingsbury, George Washington. History of Dakota Territory, Vol. III. Chicago, Illinois: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1915.

4. Lilly Patterson, in Rural Schools Nearing Close: Very Successful Year Over Next Week – Annual Meetings in July. Mitchell, Dakota [South Dakota]: The Mitchell Capital, 28 May 1914.

5. Mabel Reiser, William Schyler Reiser, and Catherine Reiser, in Cemetery Record Search. Pierre, South Dakota: South Dakota State Historical Society, retrieved online 5 November 2017.

6. Mable Reeser, in In Town and Country: Matters of Interest That Happen in the Course of a Week. Mitchell, Dakota [South Dakota]: The Mitchell Capital, 1 and 8 June 1906.

7. Mable Reeser, Edward A. Lichty, William Reeser, Catherine Stofflet, Cyrus Lichty, and Adell Cox, in Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934 (Blackhawk, Iowa, 9 June 1897; FHL microfilm 1,034,536). Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch.

8. Mable G. Reeser, in Report of the Principal: Statistics of Pupils Enrolled, in Twentieth Biennial Report of the College for the Blind Located at Vinton, Benton County to the Governor of Iowa. Des Moines, Iowa: G. H. Ragsdale, State Printer, 1891.

9. Reiser, William and Rieser, William, in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

10. Reiser, William, in Roster of Deceased Comrades from South Dakota G.A.R. Annual Journals, 1884-1937. Pierre, South Dakota: South Dakota State Historical Society, retrieved online 4 December 2015.

11. Rieser, William and Catherine S. Rieser, in Pension Payment Cards. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Veterans Administration, 1907-1925.

12. Schmidt, Lewis. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown: Self-published, 1986.

13. South Dakota State Census. Pierre, South Dakota: 1905, 1915, 1925, 1945.

14. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C. Pennsylvania, and South Dakota: 1860 (as “William S. Reiser”), 1870 (as “William S. Rieser”), 1910 (as “William S. Reeser”), 1920 (as “W. S. Reeser”), and 1930 and 1940 (“Patterson, Lilly A.”).

 

 

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