Penn's first turnkey brought world to Dells
April 03. 2013 3:02PM
Territorial Governor Nehemiah Ordway approved a bill on Feb. 8, 1881, previously passed by territorial Legislative Assembly providing for the location of the territorial penitentiary.
Twenty-two months later, on Dec. 13, 1882, William Wesley McFarland admitted the first prisoner to the Penitentiary in South Dakota. Charles W. Hunt, a convicted murderer, was one of 30 prisoners transferred from Detroit, Mich.
This honor, most likely just the luck of the draw, gives William McFarland the distinguished title of being South Dakotas first “Turnkey”.
During this time period most employment was in agriculture. Farm laborers were paid with food, board and a small amount of cash. However, a job at the new penitentiary was highly sought after due to the fact it paid cash. Dishwashers, guards, contactors and the warden were all paid with cash.
McFarland homesteaded in Moody County for a time before his employment with the penitentiary. He held that position for several years and then moved to Dell Rapids. During his time living in Dell Rapids he was the town marshal, and was later appointed postmaster at Dell Rapids. In his later years, McFarland moved back to Sioux Falls where he was employed as a courthouse bailiff.
On March 31, 1930, just two weeks after the death of his wife, William Wesley McFarland died from the effects of pneumonia. He is buried in the family plot at the Dell Rapids Cemetery.
Throughout our history we have had many authors, singers, teachers and inventors who have gone out and influenced others in some way, sharing just a bit of Dell Rapids with the world.
In the case of McFarland, I believe he brought his experiences of the world to Dell Rapids. We may never know what brought McFarland and his family to Dell Rapids, but we do know his stay here made Dell Rapids a little bit safer.
Many of us have lived in Dell Rapids all our lives, our ancestors moving here, perhaps to homestead. Some of us have deliberately moved to Dell Rapids, maybe for a job, location or family. What brought you to Dell Rapids? Why have you stayed to raise your family here?
What is your story?