South Dakota’s Presidential Independence Day
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
It was an eventful Fourth of July week 90 years ago when President Calvin Coolidge spent the holiday in the Black Hills. He and First Lady Grace Coolidge came to the State Game Lodge at Custer State Park that summer to escape the noise and congestion of Washington, D.C. Arriving in mid-June, they planned to stay for three weeks but enjoyed South Dakota so much they extended their stay to three months.
There were two birthdays being celebrated that July Fourth: the nation’s and President Coolidge’s. Coolidge turned 55. In his recently released book, “Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills,” Seth Tupper describes the events of that day.
A crowd gathered outside the Game Lodge and a Montana cowboy band played some western tunes. When the Coolidges emerged from the lodge, a local Boy Scout troop gave the president a gift: a mare with a white star on her forehead. To go with the horse, the Boy Scouts also gave the President a saddle, bridle, boots, a red western shirt and a purple neckerchief. Coolidge also received a gift from the cowboy band: a pair of white chaps with “Cal” sewn on them.
After the gathered crowd had enjoyed a picnic lunch and cakes prepared by White House staff and volunteers, Coolidge put on his new western gear and modeled it for the crowd.
The next day, on July 5, 1927, the Coolidges traveled to the northern hills to watch the Belle Fourche Roundup. It was literally their first rodeo and Cal donned a ten-gallon hat which had been presented to him by the event’s organizers. The President probably didn’t know what to think at first. But after the “wild cow milking” event – where a group of cowboys competed to be the first to fill a jar with milk from beef cattle – it was clear he was having a good time.
The following week, one of Coolidge’s aides, Edward T. Clark observed, “He is actually enjoying himself in these strange clothes and with a new kind of people. It seems to me that for the first time in his life he is actually playing.”
There are many unique ways to celebrate Independence Day here in South Dakota. However you are spending this Fourth of July – whether by attending the Belle Fourche rodeo, the Lennox parade or the Fort Pierre fireworks display, I hope you take some time to enjoy yourself. Like our thirtieth president did, get out and play. Our Independence Day is truly a cause for celebration.