Act of Excellence: Keeping Historic West River Trails Alive

Read about Roy and Edith Norman’s story at the SD Hall of Fame

Norman’s Act of Excellence: Early settlers traveling through South Dakota from the Missouri River west to the Black Hills followed one or another of several old trails, such as the Fort Pierre to Deadwood Trail. River boats and railroad trains brought travelers and freight to Fort Pierre. From there, the journey continued by ox-drawn wagon train, by saddlehorse or on foot across the plains. In the 1970s, a Stanley County ranch couple determined that the old trails should not be lost to history. Roy and Edith Norman created signs that marked the various trails taken by Indian tribes, military unites and west-bound settlers. The Normans, now deceased, studied surveyors’ maps for the 1800s to locate the trails that crisscrossed the west-river country. They researched the paths, and Roy created signs by burning letters into pine boards. He recorded the location of each sign on a home-made map. In recent years, a project has been underway to refurbish those signs, which are much the worse for wear after 40 years of South Dakota snow, rain, hail, sun and wind. The Second Century Development Corporation of Midland, S.D., received a grant to restore the old signs, and Lynn Briggs has been directing the project to recreate the nearly 400 signs the Normans originally placed along the trails. “This is something that shouldn’t be lost,’’ Briggs says. Briggs began surveying the trails in the summer of 2014 and making replacements signs that resemble the original Norman signs as closely as possible. He spent as many as 20 to 30 hours making each sign. Briggs says the history needs to be kept alive. The signs help keep history alive for any traveler willing to leave the main highways and follow the trail signs down section lines and over fields and pastures. It’s a retracing of an important part of the history and development of the West and an effort that will serve to educate and enlighten future generations of South Dakotans.

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