Charles Henry Sheldon Biography


This biography appears on pages 611-612 in "History of South Dakota" by Doane Robinson, Vol. I (1904) and was scanned, OCRed and edited by Maurice Krueger,


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CHARLES HENRY SHELDON, second governor of the state of South Dakota was born in LaMoille County, Vermont, the son of Greshem and Mary (Brown) Sheldon, and was the third in a family of four, consisting of two sons and two daughters. Greshem Sheldon was a hatter by trade and for many years was a resident of Montreal where he owned an independent business, but, meeting with reverses, died in 1844, a poor man, when Charles was but four years of age. Mrs. Sheldon lived to be eighty-six years of age, dying in 1890 at the home of Charles, whose constant are she had been throughout his life. The early life of Governor Sheldon was a hard struggle. His mother was very poor and he was compelled to work from his earliest recollection to eke out the family expenses. Until approaching manhood he found employment on farms and then for several years in small stores; nevertheless he managed to pick up a good deal of elementary learning and from his childhood was passionately fond of oratory, in which he constantly trained himself. His sympathetic nature made him a natural abolitionist and when the war broke out, when he was in his twenty-first year, he promptly offered his services, but upon his first enlistment he was, upon physical examination, for some reason rejected. He enlisted again on the 23d of November 1861, and was duly mustered into service in Company E, Seventh Regiment Vermont Volunteer Infantry. His military service was highly creditable and at the close of the war he had won the position of second lieutenant of Company I of the Seventh Regiment. After the war he settled in Golconda, Pope County, Illinois, where he engaged in mercantile business, and later he was connected with a large tobacco commission house at Paducah, Kentucky.


In 1880 Governor Sheldon removed to Dakota and settled upon government land near Pierpont, Day County where he opened a farm and built a home, which he maintained until his death. In 1886 he was sent to the territorial legislature and in 1892 he was chosen governor of the state, which position he filled with credit for four years. There have been no more difficult years in the history of the west than the four during which Charles H. Sheldon held the governor's chair in South Dakota. Before he had been in office six months the great national panic of 1893 was on and the period of depression continued throughout his term. To add to the embarrassments of the period, came the almost total crop failure of 1894 and upon the heels of that the Taylor defalcation of January I, 1895, by which the state treasury was robbed of every dollar. Throughout all of these trying experiences the Governor labored unceasingly to maintain the state's credit and with results as good as could be hoped for when adverse conditions are considered. At the close of his second term he retired quietly to his farm and lived in simple comfort until the campaign of 1898 came on, when he responded to the call of his party to engage in a speaking campaign in the state and was assigned to a series of appointments in the Black Hills and made one of his most powerful speeches in the city of Deadwood on Saturday night October 15. Almost immediately following the close of his address he was taken with a chill. Pneumonia followed and he died at the Bullock Hotel on Thursday morning following, shortly after his wife and son reached his bedside.


Governor Sheldon was twice married. His first wife was Miss Mary Waters, of Pope County, Illinois, to whom he was married shortly after the war and whose death occurred in 1874. She left him no children. He was married in 1875 to Miss Martha Frizzell, of Johnson County, Illinois, and the union was blessed with three children James B., Ethel and Charles H. James died in 1894, while a student at Brookings College. Governor Sheldon was a man of marked ability, of good and strong impulses and his memory is cherished in South Dakota by a host of friends.