Seventy-one years after the last issue of the Govert Advance was published, re-constructing Govert, South Dakota, is more a matter of words and memories, than a matter of boards and nails.
In the late 1940s, Govert Van der Boom pulled down the last of the planks from what was once the Govert Store where, for nearly 20 years he stood proudly behind the counter serving the Govert community. With the planking stacked in the back of his truck, Govert toted his load south to Newell, South Dakota; or maybe his sons did this for him. And there the wood sat behind the offices of the Newell Implement Company until Govert Van der Boom was motivated to create something else, and he built an addition to the rear of his implement business.
What thoughts went through Govert Van der Boom's mind as the townsite was restored to the level of the prairie grass? Govert always spoke with fondness about the prairie town named after him, and we can be confident that, as the town was disassembled, Govert gave in to a yearning for what once was. This is where he tended the store and the post office, where he visited with his neighbors, where he and his Emma raised three boys from babies to walking, talking, reasoning boys and young men.
Govert Van der Boom must have reflected on the church services that united the community, on all the newcomers he pointed toward the best land in the township and how he and Emma helped them settle into the community. Too many memories ... the PTA meetings, receiving postal deliveries and sorting mail for neighbors to pick up at the store ... all the trips to Newell and Belle Fourche to provision the store, and trips to Buffalo to take care of legal matters at the county seat. He must have smiled at the memory of reading the Govert Advance every Thursday, a practice he continued in Newell until that very last issue was published in 1943.
Govert must have remembered all the changes, beginning when he and Howard Jacobs claimed homesteads in 1909, continuing through the years of building up a town, a community, until the time when nothing was left. All that modernization, all that change. He might remember when he added the windmill to the well, or when the telephone was strung under Mr. Laflin's guidance. Without Mr. Laflin's experience in the telephone business before arriving in the township, Goverites might never have had a telephone connection with each other or with the outside. Those were heady times.
I expect my grandfather stood on his townsite the last time, just like I did my first time, turning a slow circle from the Slim Buttes on the north, toward Sheep Mountain to the east, south to the breaks, over the open prairie to the west ... and then, Granddad and I, together, completed our circle back to the Slim Buttes. The Slim Buttes would have been what lifted Emma's eyes from the dishes in the kitchen sink.
The first time I made that slow motion survey of the horizon from my grandfather's homestead, I knew to sigh ... even though I was still quite unconscious of why I was sighing. When my grandfather stood there on his land, he must have sighed for remembering. I sighed because I had no memories, which may have been the greater loss.
Not many people remain on that corner of the prairie today. You might be surprised any of the families held tight to the land. But land pulls people, and that land in Govert township claimed the allegiance of many families. Some people left because it was time. Others never shook off that connection to the land and to their piece of the prairie; they couldn't leave. The descendants of Charles Laflin, the editor of the Govert Advance are there; including the Brinks. The Martys are still there, the Jensens, the Donohues. The Lales still own land there.
Perhaps, because Govert is now a memory, words have become our best tools. Still, tangible "shards" of memory in the form of "artifacts" prove to the doubting that this town of Govert existed in time and space. For that reason, I'm adding a page to this blog to catalog Govert artifacts. You can access this page on the right panel of the blog under "PAGES". The Govert Archive page will change from time to time, so you might want to check back ... from time to time.
Words are a great tool, but what you can see and touch adds another dimension to the story.
Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate