Arthur C. Van Metre


It is with feelings of respect and admiration that the writer essays the
task of entering a brief memoir of one of the earliest pioneers of the 
great territory of Dakota, a man of distinct individuality, intrepid 
courage, exalted integrity and noble generosity, Arthur C. Van Metre, 
who lived up to the full tension of the early life on the great western 
frontier, whose life was one of adventure and many vicissitudes and who 
left his impress on the history of the territory and state. We can not 
do better than to quote somewhat fully from an article concerning him 
which appeared in the Stock Journal of Fort Pierre at the time of his 
death: "Arthur C. Van Metre, familiarly known as 'Van,' is no more. 
Sunday morning (January 18, 1903), while walking along the road on Bad 
River, he fell into the arms of Carl Mathews, who was with him, and died 
almost instantly, aged sixty-four years, nine months and sixteen days. 
He was born at Winchester, Virginia, on the 2d of April, 1837, and there 
attended school until he had attained the age of eleven years, when he 
went to Missouri, where he remained with relatives until he was sixteen, 
when be joined the General Harney expedition as teamster and went to 
Fort Leavenworth, being with him on the Platte and coming to Dakota in 
1855, when only seventeen years old. In the following year he assisted 
in building the old fort, which stood about four miles north of the 
present site of the city of Fort Pierre. He married Mary Aungie, a 
five-eighths Sioux Indian girl, in Sioux City, Iowa, on November 28, 
1858, and located on the Vermillion river, Dakota, where the town of 
Vermillion now stands. It was then but an Indian village and it was 
there that his eldest daughter was born. She was the first white child 
born within the limits of the territory of Dakota, but history has not 
hitherto recorded the fact, because of the Indian blood in her veins. 
He built the first ferry on the Vermillion and transferred all the 
government troops as well as the Indians. He coveted for his children 
what circumstances had denied to him personally, and saw that they were 
all well educated. His son John T. was admitted to the bar in 1890 and 
was the first man of Sioux extraction ever given that distinction." 
                "During his early years in Dakota he endured all kinds of
hardships. He was thoroughly conversant with Indian life and customs and 
was present at the signing of the treaty opening the Sioux reservation, 
at the Cheyenne river agency, in 1889. It was through his influence that 
Chasing Crow, a full-blooded Sioux Indian, from Bad river, signed the 
bill when the hostile Indians threatened to kill the first man who put 
his name to the treaty. He acted as interpreter at that time, as he was
well acquainted with the language of the Sioux. He was a very successful 
manager of his affairs and was at one time one of the wealthiest men in 
Clay county. He was one of the founders of Vermillion and was an active 
participant in many of the transactions which are recorded as a part of 
our state history. Arthur C. Van Metre was one of the noble characters 
who, leaving the advantages and benefits of civilization behind, plunged 
into the unknown regions of the new west. To all who knew him there is a
feeling of sadness for the loss of a dear friend."  
               It may be said farther in connection with the subject's 
life here in the pioneer era that he was with General Harney in his various
movements in the west until 1857, and during much of the time he was the
driver of the General's private ambulance. He was appointed to carry the
government express for the government from Sioux City, Iowa, to Fort
Randall, Dakota, and in the connection met with many hazardous experiences 
and hardships, often holding out in the accomplishment of his purpose when 
old and more experienced men quailed from the ordeal. On one occasion he 
was compelled to kill his horse and lie by its side in order to keep from 
freezing, while he often found it necessary to hide in the brush to avoid 
the hostile Indians. His wife was a daughter of Henry Aungie, who was of 
three-fourths Indian blood, his ancestry being French on the paternal side. 
He was an interpreter for the American Fur Company, and his wife was a 
half-breed Indian, her ancestry being Scotch on the paternal side. Mr. and 
Mrs. Van Metre became the parents of five children, namely: Viola, who is 
the wife of Lewis D. Bentley, of Evarts, this state; Jane E., who is the 
wife of Charles W. Waldron, of Fort Pierre; Alvira K., who is the wife of 
William P. Oakes, of Fort Pierre; John Todd, who was named in honor of 
General Todd, and is a lawyer by profession, territory and state. He served 
as one of the early being located at White Earth agency, in Minnesota, in 
the government employ, while he was sent by the government to attend the 
golden jubilee of the late lamented Queen Victoria; and Charles Luther, 
who is a successful farmer and stock grower on the Bad river, Fort Pierre 
being his post office address. Mr. Van Metre was devoted to his wife and 
children, who were ever the objects of his most solicitous care and 
unqualified affection, and while he was a typical frontiersman his noble 
characteristics were most gratefully shown in his home life. In 1858 he 
located in Vermillion, being the first white settler in Clay county, and 
he there engaged in farming and trading, while at one time he was there 
engaged in the livery business. In 1876 he went to the Black Hills, upon 
the discovery of gold, and was one of the owners of the first mill 
established in this section for the handling of the ore. He established a 
freighting business to Deadwood and bought and sold supplies on his own 
account. He lost heavily in these ventures, by reason of the unsettled 
condition of affairs in the hills, one of the powerful companies causing 
him to be unable to continue his operations in opposition. After returning 
to Vermillion, in 1878, he disposed of a portion of his landed interests 
in Clay county and moved to Brule county, where he engaged in trading and 
stock growing, soon recouping his fortunes to a considerable extent. In 
1882 he located in Pierre, and in the same year went to Montana with his 
sons and sons-in-law on a buffalo hunt, and on the expedition several 
hundred of the animals were killed, while the subject had his sight nearly 
destroyed by the premature discharge of his rifle. In 1883 he returned to 
Dakota and took up his abode in Fort Pierre, establishing a ranch on the 
Bad river and continuing to be engaged in stock raising and trading until 
his death, which resulted from heart disease, his wife having passed away 
on the 15th of July, 1894, a true-hearted, noble woman and one who was 
ever his faithful and loyal companion and helpmeet. Mr. Van Metre was a 
Democrat of the old school and rendered much service to his party in the 
sheriffs of Clay county and in 1879 was elected to the same office in 
Brule county, while fraternally he was identified with the Masonic order, 
being affiliated with the lodge at Vermillion. In concluding this brief 
memoir we quote from an appreciative estimate written by his long-time 
friend, John L. Jolley, at the time of the death of the subject:
"Good bye, Van! The memories of the many happy hours your old friends 
have passed in your genial company will live while life lasts. All is 
good that we can remember about you. The world at large may not sing 
your praises, but in the heart of hearts of all the old settlers of both 
Dakotas you have a place, and each old friend, in the quiet of his home, 
will shed many burning tears when he learns that our old happy, merry, 
brave, honest, gallant, kind, generous, chivalrous and unselfish 'Van' 
is no more." 

Copied from - "History of South Dakota" by Doane Robinson, Vol. II (1904) pages 1408-1410


The material on the site is intended for free personal, non-commercial use. Commercial use of any of the materials presented on these pages is prohibited. Please do not consider any information on this site as a primary source, all data should be verified by you, the researcher. If you encounter any problems or have a question/correction, you can Email me at Scott Van Metre