Photo by Marcus Heerdt/Fall River County Herald-Star
Kenny Hargens stands next to his uncle Charles Hargens, Jr.’s artwork in the lobby of the Mueller Civic Center. Ken gave a presentation on Charles, who was born in Hot Springs and was a nationally-renowned painter and illustrator.
By Marcus Heerdt
HOT SPRINGS – The 18th annual Fall River County History Conference was held at the Mueller Civic Center on Saturday, Jan. 21, and was attended by a large crowd of about 100 people.
“We had a good turnout this year with a full lineup of interesting speakers,” said Carol Sides, president of the Fall River County Historical Society. “This is the largest annual fundraiser for the Pioneer Museum and we are happy to have so many people in attendance. We hope that you come to the conference once, get hooked on history, then come again.”
Sides added that the Pioneer Museum had 3,543 visitors in 2022 from all around the country and world.
One of the featured and most lively presenters of the day was Joyce Jefferson, who portrayed herself as and told the story of Sarah “Aunt Sally” Campbell (1823-1888), the first known non-native woman to enter the Black Hills.
Campbell was born into slavery in Kentucky prior to the American Civil War. She earned her freedom at age 14 and made her way up the Missouri River into Dakota Territory. Campbell then signed on to work as a cook and laundress with the 1874 Black Hills Expedition led by Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer. She later homesteaded in the region and mined for gold herself. Campbell is buried in the northern Hills at the Vinegar Hill Cemetery in Galena.
Jefferson’s enthusiastic and humorous performance included storytelling, singing, and a little dancing as well, with audience participation throughout.
Other presentations that focused more on Fall River history included those about a famous artist and the state’s southwestern-most town.
Kenny Hargens gave an informative presentation about his uncle Charles Hargens, Jr (1893-1997). Charles was a painter and illustrator who was born in Hot Springs. His father was Dr. Hargens, who operated Hargens’ Sanitarium, which is now an apartment complex on Almond Street.
Charles later studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and also at an art academy in Paris.
Once returning to the United States, Charles became a prolific artist and illustrator for private businesses such as Coca Cola and the Stetson Hat Company as well as magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Boys’ Life. He created more than 3,000 magazine covers and 300 book covers, including some for western novels by Zane Grey.
Currently, there are two original oil paintings by Charles for sale at the Riverfront Gallery in downtown Hot Springs.
Scott Lockwood presented on Ardmore, one of the county’s smallest communities located on the Nebraska border. In fact, Lockwood said that Ardmore presently has one permanent, year-round resident.
The railroad came to the Ardmore area in 1889, first calling the location “Siding No. 5.” It is said that the railroad renamed the small community after a woman named Dora A. Moore (1866-1950), a schoolteacher who homesteaded on the site that would become the town.
Lockwood showed old photographs of the town’s buildings, homes, businesses, and churches. At one point in its history, Ardmore had a brick-making plant that supplied the bricks for many of the town’s buildings.
In the early 1900s, James Middleton Riley (1851-1913), better known as Doc Middleton, came to Ardmore and opened a saloon. Doc was one of Ardmore’s most notorious residents, as he was a famed outlaw, convicted murderer, and horse thief. He reportedly stole 2,000 horses during his life of crime.
Ardmore’s population reached its height in 1930 when it boasted 261 inhabitants, but it has since dwindled to just one. However, perhaps the greatest concentration of people ever to be in Ardmore at one time is when President Calvin Coolidge visited in 1927. Eight thousand people came to see him.