Govert's Govert

The origin of Govert, South Dakota, traces back to the 1909 filing of homestead claims on adjacent quarters of land by Govert Van der Boom and his friend and business partner, Howard Jacobs. The two men provisioned one homestead shack with groceries and hardware and became a magnet to homesteaders settling on government land in Township 15 North Range 8 East of the Black Hills Meridian, and to those settling beyond the border of the township. Community ties do not necessarily observe surveyor's stakes, or lines drawn in the dirt.

Jacobs and Van der Boom added post office boxes to the store, a desk for the notary, and a community newspaper they called the Govert Advance ... a crust of civilization to ease the hardships of homesteading in their isolated corner of the Harding County prairie. Then the community built a school to educate their children, to provide a place for worship, and as a forum for community gatherings. Govert, South Dakota, became a social and market focus of southeastern Harding County.

The origins of the partners could not have been more different. Govert was born 7 April 1883 in Holland. In 1890 he immigrated to Platte, South Dakota, with his parents and seven brothers and sisters. Howard was born 10 March 1880 in New York; his family came to America from England in the early 1600s.

Both men were bachelors when they arrived in Harding County in 1909 and married before they moved on. Mr. Jacobs and his wife, Laura Belle Tidball, left Govert in about 1916 for Rapid City, South Dakota, where he worked as a grocer. Mr. Van der Boom and his wife, Emma Vogt, left in 1929, moving first to Spearfish and then to Newell, South Dakota. The town left, too, in the 1940s when Mr. Van der Boom used the wood from the Govert store to build a rear addition to his Implement Company in Newell. For a lucky few original homesteaders, their descendants remain on the land today.

Was Govert a town? A population of five, being the Van der Boom family in the 1920s? A population of hundreds? The hundreds would include every family sheltered by a homestead shack within riding distance of the store, men passing through looking for work, women who relied on the Govert store for flour and sugar, their husbands looking for nails, or a bucket for the well, or hardware to fix a wagon wheel or plow, the children whose eyes grew large at the sight of the jar of red and white striped candy on the counter. The hundreds would include every homesteading family who walked to town or rode in by horseback or wagon to have a homestead document notarized, to post a letter or claim a package sent by the folks back home, or those who waited eagerly for the local news as seen through the eyes of the editor of the Govert Advance, and those who gussied up for the popular social events of the community. The hundreds would include parents who looked to the country schoolmarm to educate their children and the children who claimed the Govert School as their own.

The town of Govert returned to prairie grass long ago. Today the soul of Govert, South Dakota, exists only in the hearts of those who preserve its memory. I am the granddaughter of Govert and Emma Van der Boom, and that's what I want to do.

[The blog photograph of Govert Van der Boom is used with the permission of Linda Van der Boom Lavagnino.
Blog background picture of the Slim Buttes and Sheep Mountain as viewed from the Govert townsite  
was taken by Kathleen VanderBoom, August 2010]