In the years following the Homestead Act of 1862, Americans moved westward and Dakota Territory came alive as new homesteads covered the prairie. These early settlers chased down dreams of a new life and new home, bringing with them an indomitable spirit of courage.
On the edge of South Dakota’s Black Hills, the Piedmont Valley Foothills became home to many new homesteaders who not only cultivated the land, but a vibrant community as well. Although more than a century has passed since the pioneering days, there are certain things that time cannot change.
The story of one pioneering family opens a window to local history and reminds us that the values nurtured so many years ago still live on.
In 1917, nearing the end of World War I, the Albert and Anna Opstedahl family moved to South Dakota from Iowa. Along with many homesteaders in the early 1900s, their families were immigrants and had moved to South Dakota with dreams of building a new life. Third generation from Norway or the “Old Country,” the Opstedahls carried with them not only a rich history and deep love for the land, but dreams full of hope.
In recalling the move, Albert looked back on traveling to SD as something found only in books. He and the older children traveled with the few cows, two teams of horses, farm machinery and household goods by immigrant car, while some of the family traveled on a passenger train.
As their travels brought them to the Piedmont Valley foothills, they found a land of beauty and promise. Bearing evidence of rich history and times past, teepee rings covered the hills and new trails stretched out.
With their journey at its end, the Opstedahl family put down roots and built a community. Their children attended the nearby one-room schoolhouse just a mile away, at the corner of what is now Elk Creek Road and Erickson Ranch Road. Later, their first car was a Model T Ford, the iconic automobile of the 1920s.
In 1937, the youngest son of the family, Arnold Opstedahl, married his sweetheart Gladys Bren, who had grown up just a couple of miles away. Amid the struggles of America’s dustbowl era of the 1930s, the newlyweds bought what is referred to as the old Sam Hill place. In time this property became known as the AR Ranch. The family built a Hereford cattle operation, milked cows, and raised chickens. They farmed the land through drought and hail storms, and put up hay in the summer along with the local ranchers.
The neighborhood community grew stronger with each generation, branding cattle together each spring and sharing in the struggles that are inevitably a part of ranch life. Embracing the strong work ethic, grit and determination that South Dakotans value, the community of homesteaders was strong. The Opstedahl children recall riding horseback through the timber and trapping bobcats in the nearby area.
As recorded in a South Dakota historical journal*, Arnold Opstedahl reminisced about how the AR Ranch had at one time been home to a post office and store, and served as a stopping place for freight en route to Deadwood. Their daughter Loretta (Opstedahl) Tibbs remembers finding old mule and ox shoes, evidence of the 19th century thoroughfare.
Looking back on the AR Ranch and its history, Ronald Opstedahl, who is now in his 80s and resides near Union Center, says that it hasn’t changed with time. Despite the dramatic improvements in local infrastructure and residential expansion from Rapid City, the area has remained a peaceful spot where the Piedmont Valley foothills and prairie meet.
Today a portion of the AR Ranch has become AR Ranch Estates, offering residential lots and homes on acreages. Located six miles north of Rapid City off Erickson Ranch Road, the AR Ranch Estate’s expansive Black Hills views and protected valley provide the serenity of country living just 10 minutes from Rapid City. The AR Ranch estates honors the pioneering heritage of its past and welcomes a new community. More information on the AR Ranch Estates can be found at www.arranchestates.com
*Echoes Thru the Valleys, Southwestern Meade County
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