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Friday 4 February 2022

Calamity-less Julia, Her Typewriter and The Black Hills of Dakota

Take me back to the Black Hills

The Black Hills of Dakota

To the beautiful Indian country

That I love

- Song from the 1953 western musical film Calamity Jane, starring Doris Day  

Julia Talledge in 1907

Days before the death of her estranged father in April 1907, a stunningly beautiful 24-year-old Julia Theo Talledge packed up her typewriter in Ash Ridge, Wisconsin, travelled to Huron, South Dakota, boarded a train and headed 116 miles west, for the Hills – the Black Hills, the Black Hills of Dakota. She would remain in South Dakota for the rest of her long life, mostly in sublime backwoods isolation but constantly, thanks to her typewriter and her typing skills, much in demand and extremely active. Julia had learned shorthand and typing at the Huron Business College before returning to live with her mother in Wisconsin, after her father had decamped for Colorado. Julia knew that even on the wide open prairies her typewriter could earn her a good living. And so it proved to be.

After the death of her mother, Julia, the third youngest of 13 siblings, and her younger brother Royal Elliot ‘Roy’ Talledge had visited relatives in South Dakota in the spring of 1900, and she had fallen in love with the vast flat land of the West River country. Over the next six years Julia saved and plotted to return, permanently. She kept in contact with a land agent called Bill Hudson, who located newcomers on claims west of Fort Pierre.

Julia stepped off the train at Pierre at 2pm on Saturday, April 6, 1907. She had already made a claim on a block of land on Mitchell Creek outside Midland, a small rural town in the south-eastern corner of Haakon County, laid out in 1890 and named from its location halfway between the Missouri and Cheyenne rivers. But she had failed to establish residence within the required six months, and on arriving in Pierre was told by the Government Land Office she had to remain on the land for 14 months without commuting. That made her think twice about her plan to build a 8ft x 10ft shack and live in the woods beyond Midland, and she was about to head back to Huron when the train conductor, Willis Fink, advised her to stay. Her first three nights in Midland she slept in a hotel bed with two other women in a room with 13 other guests.

Her shack, made of 4 x 2 uprights, rough boards, building paper and a rubberoid roof, was built in a day. The first night of hail, on July 6, 1907, “I sat on my cot with my parasol open over me and mackintosh spread over the bed, and I laughed and thought to myself if my friends back east could only see me now.” Pretty much confined to her claim for 14 months, Julia spent her first summer roaming the prairies and hills. To keep the claim she had to have five acres ploughed, fenced and planted. Julia stayed on the plot for three years, walking into Midland carrying a four-foot heavy switch to kill rattlesnakes on the road. She later bought an 8 x 16 shack and had it moved into Midland. An older brother, Albert Clarence Talledge, built her a house in which she lived from 1919.

Julia was the only shorthand-typist living on a homestead in the vicinity and her services were much in demand. On October 1, 1907, she was taken on full-time as a bookkeeper by a bank in Midland. In 1915 Julia became deputy to the Registrar of Deeds in Philip, west of  Midland, then joined the Home Land and Abstract Office. Julia returned to banking management in Nowlin, Quinn and Wall, further west of Philip, then south-east to Okaton – in all nine banks, eight along the line of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and one on the Milwaukee River.

On his visit to South Dakota in 1927, President Coolidge was declared "Leading Eagle", an honorary chief of the Sioux Native Americans at Deadwood. Here, from left, are First Lady Grace Coolidge, President Coolidge in war bonnet, Princess Rose Bud Yellow Robe, Chief Yellow Robe and Chief Standing Bear. Below, the President and First Lady pose outdoors at a party celebrating the 4th of July and his 55th birthday at the Summer White House, State Game Lodge and Resort, Custer State Park, South Dakota. 

In January 1919 Julia was sworn in as stenographer for the South Dakota Legislature in Pierre, going on to serve during 14 regular sessions and five special sessions. Two years later she made the news when she became the first female Justice of the Peace among legislative employees. One of the special legislature sessions Julia was involved in was when President Calvin Coolidge went to the Black Hills and made the State Game Lodge south of Rapid City his residence in the summer of 1927. Julia got to meet the President during his eventful stay. She had previously seen President William Taft in Pierre in October 1911.

President Taft in Pierre, South Dakota, in 1911. Julia said she could have reached out and touched the President. This is the same station at which Julia had arrived in April 1907.

By 1975 Julia had moved to the Wilge Nursing Home in Mitchell, 175 miles east of her beloved Midland. She died there in June 1978, aged 95.

Julia in Mitchell in 1975.


Unknown said...

Thank you for this. Julia would have been my father-in-law's aunt. I knew her name as someone who went to South Dakota, but never knew this much detail.
Jinny Talledge

Anonymous said...

Aunt Julia was my father’s aunt and a fun lady to visit. I remember her being a tall imposing woman with a very sharp wit. We often took her brothers- my grandfather Ben and brother Roy- out to Midland to see her. My father was a pastor and History teacher and was a favorite of hers. Thank you for all this info. Some of it I remember. I know that my father was extremely proud of his Aunt Julia and they corresponded right up to her death.
Rhonda Talledge Mataczynski- great niece

Laurie Cox/Stroppel Hotel Midland SD said...

Thank you for this posting. My husband and I own the Stroppel Hotel and Mineral Baths in Midland, SD. I am working on the application to put the hotel on the national registry. Julia Tallege has repeatedly come up. I had a niece of Julia's come visit the hotel. At that time I did not have the information to know how influential and how strong of a woman that Julia Tallege was. I wish I had that personal visit back with her niece.

I plan to do themed historical rooms here in the hotel and you can bet that Julia Tallege will be on the list of Midland's most influential people.

Anonymous said...

Email me at I have pictures of Julia’s typewriter from an exhibit in the Midland Museum